Monday, August 24, 2015

Licking My Fingers

India is divided into 29 states, has 22+ languages and 720 dialects, various religions, and more than 2,000 ethnicities. For the first time, I had the pleasure of attending a South Indian Hindu festival called Onam this past weekend. 
pretty flower arrangement with South Indian Hindu lamps
Onam is celebrated by Hindus in the state of Kerala, located in southwest India. It commemorates the return of a Hindu King from the underworld, but can be considered a harvest festival. In Kerala it is celebrated for 10 days and includes traditions such as a huge feast, wearing new clothes (usually white or ivory), pookalams (flower arrangements) for the King, and attending a boat race.

Here in Phoenix we attended a one day festival at the Indo American Cultural & Religious Foundation. There was singing, dance performance, a lighting ceremony, and some other speeches. The only downside was that most of this did not take place in English, and as a result I could really only enjoy the dance performances.
They did, however, provide a delicious traditional feast. The best South Indian food I have ever tasted! The Onam sadya (feast) usually consists of small portions of 26 dishes served on a plantain leaf. This version took place on a plastic plantain leaf was under 20 dishes and super yummy.
Left to Right... 1st line: banana, plantain chips, plantain pieces fried in jaggery, pineapple chutney, cabbage dish, avail, fried okra raita. 2nd line: papadum, parboiled matta rice, lentil dhal
According to Ayurveda, any sadya is said to fulfill both the body and mind. Eating with your hands in general is said to aid digestion and the various dishes offer a balance between hot, cold, sour, sweet and spicy. Desert dishes were served towards the end of the meal.
It was definitely a fun meal to experience!   

Friday, August 21, 2015

Baking with your Canine (or Feline!)

Baking soda is sodium bicarbonate. It is usually used in baking and for deodorizing your fridge. But it’s also excellent for your dog or cat as dry shampoo! (It may also work on other furry creatures, but I have no experience to share on that).

I mix 3-5 drops of lavender essential oil with about 1 cup of baking soda (this mixture is also a wonderful natural carpet freshener – simply mix and sprinkle on the carpet about 20-30 minutes before vacuuming) and use it as a dry shampoo for my two dogs. I use lavender because it is known to be calming and flea and tick preventative.

I take a few pinches and rub it into their coat and then brush it through. It not only eliminates any odor they may have, but it is also a great supplemental way of preventing fleas or ticks, and makes their coats super soft!!

If by accident your dog or cat happens to nibble on a bit of powder out of curiosity that’s fine…but please do not let them consume a large quantity.

Now…if only they could truly help me with baking…

Thursday, August 20, 2015

What's Turkish for Drying Off?

Each shelf is 15 x 12 inches
There are 6 towels stacked in bottom shelf of my linen closet. You can’t do that with ordinary towels.

What you’re looking at is my collection of handwoven Turkish Towels, also known as peshtemals, foutas, or hamam towels.

I am simply in love with Turkish towels. They get softer as you wash them, they never leave any fuzzies on your body, and they dry super-fast!! A pet peeve of mine is towels that never dry fully, a common issue especially in apartment living.

They can be made of pure cotton, or blended with silk or linen. They come in all colors, including white, and can even be woven with pretty designs like my orange one below. Better to have them be hand woven than factory produced.

Due to their flatness, you can travel easily with them, because of their softness they can be used for babies, and their being so quick to dry makes them perfect for regular home use, the beach, or the pool.

I bought a few at a flea market, but they are also found online on Etsy, Amazon, Overstock, and independent sites. I admit they are pricier (average price is $20), so start with just one or two. Once you try a few you will discover whether you prefer the pure cotton or one of the blends. I personally like the pure cotton and the cotton linen blends.  

Follow me and donate your old towels now!! You can also cut up old towels and use them for cleaning. Either way, you will definitely discover a new love.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Tea Tea Bars are G Rated

For some people their morning coffee allows them that moment where everything pauses before a hectic workday. They can savor the bittersweet taste of coffee and focus on the tasks ahead. Unfortunately, I can’t drink coffee these past few years due to heartburn. But what I DO like to treat myself with is a chai tea latte with an alternative milk wherever I can find it.

It doesn’t matter the time of day, a chai tea latte is like a hug from your mom (if you have a nice mom). But the word “chai” actually means ‘tea’ in English (so 'chai tea latte' is redundant) so really what I’m referring to is a masala chai, where black tea has been blended with spices and often mixed with milk.

Apart from the jollies, a cup of masala chai is also packed with antioxidants due to its blend of spices.

If you’re looking for a great brand to try at home, I recently discovered Teavana’s Oprah Chai Herbal. This is not what they sell in Starbucks, but rather a blend with less cinnamon, and more rooibos than black tea. I feel this version is much more balanced than what is at Starbucks which can often taste too strong of cinnamon.
Check out all those spices!
I like this brand because although it is expensive and not organic you get the actual tea ingredients and don’t have to risk all of the contaminants that can come from inferior tea bags (as a side note: for the best tea bag brands that do not have bleached bags and inferior ingredients, look for Traditional Medicinals, Numi, or Alvita). The chai itself is not bitter, and you can taste the spices without it being overwhelming.
That's my cute jar I picked up in Amsterdam. I store my coconut sugar in there.
I don't have a fancy tea brewer for loose tea, so my husband came up with the idea to use the container from my Magic Bullet blender set with a perforated lid. We steep the tea and eventually all the solid pieces sink to the bottom and soothing masala chai pours out. It's such a pleasure that we often don't even add any milk!

Everybody is a Michelangelo

Michelangelo is considered one of the greatest artists. He painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, apparentlynot on his back, but still his works are awe-inspiring. 

He also once said, “Wise man say: " Forgiveness is divine, but never pay full price for late pizza."

But what I’m trying to say here is that a great stress reliever and time occupier is to do paint by numbers (this is a segue).

Paint bynumbers was invented in 1951 and marketed as "A Beautiful Oil Painting the First Time You Try." I think that is an apt description.

I don’t use oil paint - water colors work fine for me. You can also opt for coloring with pencils or markers, but then that means you’d be doing color by numbers - hah!

But here is my latest work of art - in progress. 

I started this blog so it will take some time to complete, but I will definitely feel proud. It doesn’t take much skill, but it does take patience. Also, you should be able to follow detailed directions so that you don’t paint the Orange 3’s Blue and the Blue 7’s Orange.

I bought mine at the craft store Michael’s, but you can also try buying them online, such as from here.  
It’s a great hobby overall, but it especially works for me to calm me if I’m having anxiety, because I’m lazy, it doesn’t require a lot of materials, and is relatively inexpensive. Give it a go!

P.S. Here is some further Michelangelo (the turtle) humor.

High Off Milk

“Milk- it does the body good.” 

Or so the commercials used to say. I guess I’m dating myself. But anyways if you’re lactose intolerant or going pure paleo, or trying to avoid all the sugar and other bad stuff in cow's milk, then cow's milk does not do your body so good. I feel hemp milk is the best - details to follow.

Alternatives to milk are goat milk, camel milk, nut milks, rice milk, soy milk, coconut milk, and hemp milk. Disclaimer: There may be more of course. I’m not a milk expert.

Goat milk is SUPER tasty, especially goat yogurt and goat cheese!! Two of my food loves. (I specifically recommend this brand of goat yogurt). 

Camel milk is tasty if you like whole milk, and apart from having more benefits than cow's milk it is also easier to digest because it is the closest animal milk to human breast milk. It is also excellent for diabetics, and there is some evidence it may improve symptoms of autism. Some cafes in Dubai even serve it in their coffees regularly. If you want to try, a great U.S. company that I've used that has both raw and pasteurized camel's milk is Desert Farms 

But if those are still upsetting you, or still too animal based, you could try rice milk. Personally, I find rice milk a bit too watery and it doesn’t taste good in coffee or tea IMHO. Tastes like rice in tea. Bleh.

I’m not really a fan of soy. It has its risks and benefits so I’m not anti-soy per say, I will eat high-quality tempe or tofu once in a blue moon if that, but I’m not a fan of soy in products.

Then there’s coconut milk which while tasty, and fine for cereal and baking, to me it still falls short if I’m adding it to tea (I guess you can tell I'm a fan of tea by now). 

Apart from the taste, another issue with the nut milks, rice and coconut milks, is that they are often preserved with the ingredient Carrageenan. There’s debate on whether this is really harmful or not since it comes from seaweed, but there is a risk that once processed it might be a stomach irritant to some, and as a person with acid and bile reflux and gastritis issues all due to a gallbladder removal - I prefer to stay away. 

Hemp milk is not only anti-inflammatory, but it is chock full of benefits. I have used it in tea, coffee, baking, oatmeal, and cereal and to me it is the closest thing to the cow milk in consistency and adaptability. I also feel it doesn't influence the taste of things its mixed with as much as the other milks. My favorite is the Unsweetened Vanilla Hemp since you get less of the hemp taste without tons of sugar.

The one thing it doesn't do is give you a high because although it is made from the hemp plant as 
Cannabis, it does not contain any THC. Hemp milk usually is not made with Carrageenan although this brand does have gellan gum. There is some fuss about that and some of this brands other ingredients, but alas I'm too lazy to make my own hemp milk and I find this is the best option for me for now.

I do plan on trying this other brand since it is completely preservative free, so I will let you know how that goes!why-our-product/c19cr

And for those of you who plan on sticking to cow's milk, then the best bet is to get whole milk that has just been pasteurized and not ultra - pasteurized. Even if you are watching your cholesterol, this is the main way to get any nutrients from cow's milk. Anything less than whole cow's milk or has been ultra-pasteurized is basically sugar water and can contribute to stomach issues. 

Green Eggs and Ham?

So this isn’t actually about eggs. Or ham. Or Dr. Seuss for that matter. But it is about (slightly) green food!

At a farmer’s market here in Phoenix, I stumbled across a vendor who adds matcha to oatmeal. Matcha is powdered green tea leaves and super good for you even more than just green tea.

If you’re not into foods being weird colors, then you may not want to give this a try, but I thought it was a great idea! It's a convenient way to get in your dose of matcha apart from teas or smoothies.

I bought her 6-pack of the blueberry variation out of attraction for the pretty packaging, and I also liked that her oatmeal was labeled as gluten-free (not all oatmeal is gluten-free due to contamination), but in the future I will re-create this on my own and not be so lazy. I also wished she had opted for organic blueberries since they are one of the Dirty Dozen.

This is the matcha that I have.

Some time ago I researched on taste and quality of 2nd harvest versus 1st harvest which I won’t go into, but you can trust my research abilities, or whatever venture out and find your own brand (but don’t tell me because I’ll feel slighted :p).

Overall, the oatmeal only becomes slightly green and you can hardly notice a difference in taste. Meanwhile, you are having a nutritious breakfast.

Grass-Fed on a Desert Road

I always eat like I mean it and I’m sure most people do so I’m not clear on what Carl’s Jr. hopes to encourage by this slogan, but what I really wanted to discuss was the new grass-fed, natural beef burger by them.

I’m big on grass-fed meat. Apart from all the reasons it’s good for you- there is also a difference in taste. This isn’t psychological because I had my dad try a steak unbeknownst to him that it was grass-fed, and he kept raving about how that particular steak was so tender and tasty. When I revealed that it was grass-fed he also agreed that it worth the investment, and this is coming from a very budget-minded person (and that was why he agreed it was worth it for ME not himself haha).

Anyway, if you’ve ever driven from Phoenix, AZ to Vegas you know that the stretch hasn’t changed all that much from what I imagine the Pioneer days were like. 

Yes, it's a breathtaking view and there is a highway and some other developments, but there are hardly any rest stops with options for the bathroom or your appetite. 

So we stopped at Carl’s and lo and behold I saw an ad for a grass-fed burger! 

It’s pretty darn tasty. If you’re in a pinch this is definitely a great option, and if you’re concerned with gluten you can apparently get it lettuce wrapped which I didn’t know, but wish I had. 

There are the naysayers who point out that it’s still a lot of calories (760) and the bun has like 60 ingredients, but I think this is a great option if you’re stranded and you find yourself perusing menus of only chicken nuggets and fries. 

Forget Bryon, Check out Bradstreet

I’m not one for super complex poetry because honestly even if I am able to arrive at an understanding of its meaning, I feel there is no true way to know what the author meant.

I remember my English teacher in high school for junior year was a real stickler for us simply soaking up and then spitting out her own interpretations of famous poems by Shakespeare, Yeats, Cummings, etc. and that always frustrated me.

For this reason, below is my favorite love poem of all time. 

Anne Bradstreet was the first woman to be recognized as poet in the New World. The above picture of her is rather woeful. It’s a picture of a painting of her at work. So maybe her expression is due to the long hours she had to sit for this painting to be rendered.

But moving along this poem is a bit Christian (which isn’t a negative thing necessarily), but to me it says all one would want to when pledging your undying love. I like how as a woman she doesn’t appear meek or too flowery. I feel this poem is all the more meaningful for its succinct, but also dramatic prose.


by: Anne Bradstreet (c.1612-1672)

I ever two were one, then surely we.
If ever man were lov'd by wife, then thee.
If ever wife was happy in a man,
Compare with me, ye women, if you can.
I prize thy love more than whole Mines of gold 
Or all the riches that the East doth hold.
My love is such that Rivers cannot quench,
Nor ought but love from thee give recompetence.
Thy love is such I can no way repay.
The heavens reward thee manifold, I pray.
Then while we live, in love let's so persever
That when we live no more, we may live ever."

The Road Not Taken

"The Road Not Taken" used to be one of my most favorite poems. I fancy myself as a rebel in society in that I’m fine doing my own thing, and this poem seemed to echo my strong stance on carving out and following your own path. My eighth grade class even recited this at our graduation ceremony almost as a pledge to the world.

But recently while browsing online I discovered that Frost really meant to comment on the annoyance of those who place too much meaning on arbitrary decisions! Frost would often go on walks with his friend Edward Thomas who would take a bit of time deciding which walking path to take. 
This was also brought up in the Netflix Original Series “Orange is the New Black.”

My reaction? 

This has sort of always been my mantra! Now I don’t know whether I should remove this from my Facebook Profile’s “About Me” section or not….decisions, decisions...:P

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Ella Wheeler Wilcox

"Laugh, and the world laughs with you;
Weep, and you weep alone.
For the sad old earth must borrow its mirth
But has trouble enough of its own..." 

So in coming up with the title for my blog I googled the phrase "Twilight Thoughts" and came across a poem entitled thus. I happened to like the poem which I will share below. 

But most interestingly! after reading a bit of the poet's bio, I saw that she is also the author of the famous lines above - previously I had no idea who had written them or how old was this saying! She wrote these lines after having become a widow. 

The poem below has the same melancholy, almost cynical tone, but also talks of concern for the well-being of others. 

At least this is how I read it - feel free to share your own interpretations below!

The God of the day has vanished
The light from the hills has fled,
And the hand of an unseen artist,
Is painting the west all red.
All threaded with gold and crimson,
And burnished with amber dye,
And tipped with purple shadows,
The glory flameth high.
Fair, beautiful world of ours!
Fair, beautiful world, but oh,
How darkened by pain and sorrow,
How blackened by sin and woe.
The splendor pales in the heavens
And dies in a golden gleam,
And alone in the hush of twilight,
I sit, in a checkered dream.
I think of the souls that are straying,
In shadows as black as night,
Of hands that are groping blindly
In search of the shining light;
Of hearts that are mutely crying,
And praying for just one ray,
To lead them out of the shadows,
Into the better way.
I think of the Father's children
Who are trying to walk alone,
Who have dropped the hand of the Parent,
And wander in ways unknown.
Oh, the paths are rough and thorny
And I know they cannot stand.
They will faint and fall by the wayside,
Unguided by God's right hand.
And I think of the souls that are yearning
To follow the good and true;
That are striving to live unsullied,
Yet know not what to do.
And I wonder when God, the Master,
Shall end this weary strife,
And lead us out of the shadows
Into the deathless life.