Monday, August 29, 2016

Simply Real: What Exactly Is Health?

Simply Real: What Exactly Is Health?

Welcome to the very first post in a new series that I am calling “Simply Real”!  Think of it as a crash-course on everything you’ve always wanted to know, but maybe were too embarrassed to ask because it seemed so simple. Many food and health blogs these days (my own included until now!) have a bit of a problem with tunnel vision. We share fun, creative recipes and challenging workouts that seem easy to us, but not everyone starts or functions at the same level. This series is intended for those of you who are just walking into the world of healthy eating. After all, not everyone has the opportunity to grow up learning how to cook and eat healthily, or attend culinary school, or get a degree or certificate in nutrition, and you shouldn’t feel bad or miss you on the fun if you didn't. As I love to say, you should never stop learning, especially when it comes to your health. I hope that this series will teach you how to start your own adventure in health and wellness, and that it inspires you to keep learning and continue growing along the way to your health goals.

                Over the next few months, I will take you step by step through basic cooking and prep methods, spices and flavor development, alternative diets, nutrition concepts, and more. My goal with “Simply Real” is to demystify health food, and give you options. I’ll never tell you that “this is how you should eat”, because I don’t believe there is one way of eating that’s right for everyone. I will, however, give you the building blocks to make informed decisions for yourself and your family when it comes to food. And with that, we’ll begin with one of the most common questions I get asked:  what exactly is health?

Health and What it Means
                Before we get started with the fun stuff (food!), let’s look at the word "health" itself. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines health as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”. There are many definitions of “health”, and it’s such a subjective word that there were several times during my schooling that we were encouraged to create our own definition for the word. The WHO definition is my favorite of the “official” definitions because I believe that health is more than a mere physical state of being. It includes the body, mind, and soul, and if any one of these is unhealthy, then the whole person suffers.
                I have experienced this personally myself: I struggle a lot with anxiety, and at times, depression. During times when I’m not mentally healthy, I have this awful habit of not eating. At that point, I’ve neglected my physical and mental/emotional health, and probably my spiritual health, as well. It begins a horrible loop of negative actions that take a bigger toll on my health than any one factor on its own. You need to take care of every aspect of yourself to be truly healthy. I won’t say that adopting a healthful diet will magically make all of your problems disappear; that’s never the case. However, learning how to better manage your diet can help you to notice and destroy the bad habits I’ve described above, and it can help you feel better physically. Plus, I have a degree in nutrition, not in psychology or theology, so I'll stick to my area of expertise ;)

As we begin this first part of the series, I encourage you to write down what health means to you, and really think about it: are you “healthy”, even according to your own definition? Set two or three goals for yourself based on the definition you've created, and post it somewhere you will see it every day to motivate and encourage you.

Next week, we’ll look at what “health food” really is!

Saturday, August 13, 2016

The Basics: How to pick your own cactus fruit!

If you follow me on Instagram (@keepingitrealblog), you may have seen that a couple weeks ago, I took a detour on a day trip to pick some prickly pear fruit. I used the fruit to make some candies, which I featured the recipe for on this blog a long time ago (like actual years).

I was delighted to see that Phoenix Public Market was hosting a workshop on desert foraging – more specifically, on foraging prickly pears and their fruit! Peggy Sorensen is an expert on desert foraging, and hosted the workshop. Her mother – the absolute sweetest and most adorable lady I’ve ever talked to – was in the audience and talked to me about her daughter and how amazed she is at what she does after the presentation. Seriously, made my day. I also got to talk to Peggy herself afterwards, and she was excited that I was going to be writing about my day and “getting the word out” on edible desert food!

Although I’d harvested prickly pear fruits a couple times before, I learned some great information today! I also got the answer to the pressing question I had last week – what do I do with the seeds?

Basics of Processing a Prickly Pear Fruit (and Pad!)

- First and foremost: be a good steward! Us humans can be greedy and it’s easy to take more than we need simply because it’s there. Sorensen made a point to let us know to be sure to leave fruit on the plant for the birds and bugs that eat the fruit. The fruit also adds a splash of color to the desert, so let it be beautiful!

- It’s actually best for most people to find plants on private property and ask the owners if you can pick their fruit. A lot of “wild” plants may be on owned land and it’s a little sketchy to harvest in a lot of areas, though experienced foragers will tell you where you can safely harvest in the wild J

- Use tongs to gently twist fully red fruits off the plant. Put the fruit in a paper bag or a box. The tiny spines won’t poke through, and you can shake some of them off as part of the first step of removal.

- Sorensen boils her fruit for about 10 minutes. This softens and dissolves the tiny, painful spines as well as sanitizes the fruit, removing any botulism that could be on the plant.

- Remove the spines by burning on a grill or with a torch, or by soaking and rinsing 3-4 times.

- To juice the fruit, there were several methods – the one I use is to place the fruit in a blender and puree. You can also freeze, thaw and smash through a colander; process in a juicer, or use a press.

- You can use the juice to flavor teas and water – just start out using a little at a time. Many people of European and African descent are sensitive to large amounts of the raw juice and can get a little sick. If you start small, you become tolerant to it.
                - use the juice to make jelly candies or jam
                - make syrup for pancakes, ice cream, flavoring drinks, etc.
                - if you make your own kombucha, you can even add it to that during the second fermentation.

Some other cool things I learned

- The pads (green part) are edible, as well, and I’ve eaten them before. La Santisima, a taco shop in Phoenix and Glendale, as some amazing tacos featuring grilled prickly pear pads. You can grill to remove spines or peel and grill to cook. They’re similar to a pepper in texture.

- The pads are also an amazing natural remedy for infections, minor burns, and sunburns. Sorensen said she believes that the pulp and juice from the pads is more effective than aloe vera used this way.

- Filet a prickly pear pad by using tongs to hold the pad. Trim off the sides of the pad where the spines, are, then slice the pad through the middle. You can then score the juicy side of the pad and use that as a poultice for sunburns, or you can cut it up and cook it or grill whole like a steak.

- There are OVER 2,000 edible and medicinal plants in the Sonoran Desert and mountain desert alone. I learned that almost every part of both Palo Verde trees and Mesquite trees are edible – think of all the resources we have access to that we aren’t using simply because of a lack of education on the topic.

- Almost every variety of cactus and its seeds are edible – and they’re super nutritious! “Upright” cacti like saguaros have seeds that are oilier and you can blend into a seed butter. They were called the “salmon of the desert” because of their omega fatty acid content.

- THE ANSWER TO THE PRESSING SEED QUESTION: if you have a strong enough blender, grind the seeds fresh and wet, then dry the pulp in the oven on the lowest setting – break it into powder after dried. Or, dry the seeds out beforehand, brush the dried pulp off with your hands, and pulse the dried seeds in a coffee grinder.

When I spoke to Peggy after the presentation, she told me she was hoping to start teaching classes in –guess where – the west valley, particularly for the city I live in! I’m excited to learn more and hope that she’s able to start this soon. I would love to learn more about what our beautiful desert home has to offer! If you read this blog and are interested in learning more, when I find out more information about this, I will be sure to share it here and on the Instagram!

A 'lil update

Gosh, it’s been a while, hasn’t it? I’ve been up to a lot of exciting stuff lately, and it’s all coming together to shape my future – where I want to live, what I want to do, and how I’m going to do it. To sum up the last several months, I’ve been getting more active in the local community here in Phoenix in a couple of ways:

- I started volunteering at Mesa’s Garden Pool. Check them out by following the link! This was a huge step for me career-wise, as I am not only helping others in the community by volunteering there, but I’m also learning a ton about gardening, urban farming, and sustainability.

- I applied to be a part of the collaboration team for the startup business Delighted By Dessert Hummus. I tried Mackenzie’s amazing hummus about a year ago when she was still in Phoenix selling at farmers’ markets. She was the absolute sweetest person to talk to, and her business and mission to "spread your glitter" reflects that. Now, she’s expanded her business, and her hummus is in stores on the east coast. I’ve gotten the awesome privilege to be a part of their ambassador program –  though they aren’t in AZ yet (no hummus parties til then!), I have the opportunity to learn from successful like-minded entrepreneurs who incorporate care for people and the planet into their business models.

- It’s swim season for Special Olympics again – probably one of my favorite parts of the year. The energy and enthusiasm these athletes have is absolutely amazing. Their openness and eagerness to express love, gratitude, and genuine excitement is contagious and so inspiring to me to be open to others. I always have a blast coaching them, and I can’t wait to see the fun that this season brings.

For more frequent updates and pretty pictures, be sure to follow the Keeping It Real instagram: @keepingitrealblog