strawberry cardamom lassi

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The dining room in our house is in a large room off the kitchen with taller, exposed beam ceilings in what is the converted garage.  Being on the south side of the house, all the plants grow prolifically here and this time of year, that combined with the shrubs and trees outside make the room private and my own personal plant sanctuary. In this room being surrounded by soothing, green life, I can palpably feel all my routinely wound up nerves and muscles relax.

With each passing term in my nutrition program, the interlink between stress and dis-ease comes up. In this last week, like so many others, my digestive health professor discussed a recommendation for a client with many digestive imbalances to take at least an hour of complete downtime twice each day, during daylight. With something like every other post here relating to my own stress in some way, I guess you can say each term, these sorts of recommendations hit home.

Beyond plants or downtime, technology breaks and soothing music, there’s a lot to do with food and nutrition that can reset our symptoms (whether physical or mental), since so much of the body’s mood-regulating transmitters like serotonin are manufactured and reside in our gut. The Recipe Redux theme this month calls for Probiotic Cocktails and Gut-Health Mocktails since they’re apparently popping up on trendy drink menus. I’m not particularly up on or following trends at this point in my life, but I do appreciate that I can request locally brewed kombucha in lieu of alcohol at basically every drinking establishment here in Eugene, and drinking that instead of alcohol helps me feel a lot better afterwards since the over-stimulation of going out, eating perhaps a little too much, and socializing for hours can definitely distress my system, even before sugary and alcoholic drinks are involved.

And beyond the sometimes necessity and enjoyment of going out to do all the above, often I simply would rather invite friends over for an intimate tea or lassi party in my plant room. I just need slightly cushier chairs and a gauzy curtain transitioning it to the main house and the space will be ready. For sure, I’ve got the gut-health friendly drinks all prepped.

 

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For the occasion, I’ve made strawberry lassi, amped up with hints of cardamom. Lassi is a traditionally Indian drink, and though I can’t say for sure, it’s base of yogurt makes me believe it originated to soothe and balance the digestive system. Beyond yogurt, foods with probiotics — those that contain live beneficial microbes — and prebiotics — those that feed those beneficial microbes, can do so much for our health including enhancing how we utilize nutrients, preventing infections and regulating the immune system, balancing or modulating metabolism,  regulating inflammation, appetite, cravings, mood, and bowel movement, and much, much more. Basically all the things that are off in us in our modern society can be significantly restored by rebalancing and feeding our beneficial gut bacteria.

In this drink, I started with a base of plain, unsweetened coconut yogurt. Cultured non-dairy yogurt is not only a live, fermented food which directly contributes healthy bacteria to our gut ecosystem, but it is also an exceptional alternative to dairy yogurt for those of us that have digestive health complaints, since both dairy’s protein and sugar (lactose) are highly problematic and inflammatory for large populations of individuals. It’s important to start with unsweetened yogurt too, since refined sugar is one of the best foods to enhance all the problematic microbes that also live in our systems.

Then I added cardamom, because it’s been calling my name, and cardamom is a spice that acts in many ways similar to ginger. It is mildly pungent and anti-inflammatory and in addition to adding a lovely taste to these lassi, it can help the digestion wake up, utilize digestive enzymes better, and combat bloat and nausea. Whereas ginger is a very heating spice, cardamom is more cooling for this warmer season we’re transitioning into.

Lastly, chia seeds and honey both contain non-digestible carbohydrates which serve as food for our gut bacteria, i.e. they’re known as pre-biotics. And raw unheated honey, used in small amounts, can be dually beneficial, since it contains over 1 billion colony forming units of 13 unique strains of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species, making it both a probiotic and prebiotic, and containing nearly as many beneficial microbes as commercial yogurt!

 

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If you’re in the neighborhood and can use a little reprieve in my plant room with a glass of strawberry lassi in hand, let me know. I might just let you in. Or perhaps, I’ve given you food for thought on creating your own gut-healthy drink and sipping sanctuary situation.

 

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strawberry cardamom lassi
, makes 4 small glasses
1 pint whole strawberries, rinsed and halved
2 cups unsweetened plain coconut yogurt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground cardamom
1 Tbs. chia seeds
2 tsp. honey, use more or less to taste
a good squeeze from about 1/4 of a fresh lime

  • Combine all ingredients in a high speed blender and puree until evenly mixed. Start with a little less honey and add to taste.
  • Pour into glasses and enjoy right away. The longer it sits, the thicker it will get due to the chia, making it a little more spoonable rather than sippable.

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Rhubarb + Ginger Shrub (Drinking Vinegar)

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It is Recipe Redux time again(!) This month’s theme is Cocktails and Mocktails for May Celebrations. Since showers and celebrations with friends abound this time of year, we were challenged to share our healthy, colorful drink concoctions for festivities like bridal showers and graduation celebrations.

Generally, due to having a slightly finicky relationship with both alcohol and drinking my calories, I’m more in favor of drinking water, lemon water, or (hot, unsweetened) tea for most occasions. It is why I share few drinks here. Occasionally however, I enjoy a nice glass of something special at social events. Cider, wine, or slightly sweet and vinegary lemon ginger kombucha are then my go-to special occasion drinks.

 

 

Aside from those options, have you heard of drinking vinegars/shrubs? They are a quite old way to preserve seasonal fruits–and then drink them with or without alcohol. Shrubs have become quite popular in recent years as a flavor add-in to mixed beverages at nicer restaurants and drinking establishments, and when I first discovered them a few years ago, I went through a short phase of experimenting with vinegary blackberry, pomegranate, and orange concoctions. And then I forgot all about them.

We experimented with many traditional folk methods of using herbs last term in my herbal pharmacy class and the base recipe for a fruit + herbal shrub was the showcase during one week, so I went with the old-time method of reaching for the flavors of the season. What resulted was this rhubarb + ginger shrub which has equal hints of rhubarb, ginger, and vinegar, and is very mildly sweetened up with honey. I prefer the very plain jane method of enjoying just a splash of it in a glass of ice water, but it is often added to sparkling water, and in various ways to enhance cocktails.

 

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Rhubarb + Ginger Shrub (Drinking Vinegar)
The amount of ingredients here are part of the base recipe for fruit and herb shrubs, so if you’d like to experiment with other flavor combinations, choose any other fruits and herbs/spices to use in the same amounts. There are also several methods of macerating the fruit, which will yield slightly different flavor profiles. Here is a good video, if you’re interesting in exploring. 

1 cup chopped rhubarb
2 Tbs. freshly grated or minced ginger
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup raw honey or maple syrup

  • Add the chopped rhubarb and ginger to a clean pint jar. Add vinegar and honey and stir well.
  • Put a small square of parchment paper over the top of the jar and then cap the lid. The parchment will prevent the vinegar from breaking down the metal of the lid.
  • Let the jar macerate (infuse) in the fridge for one week. Try to shake up the jar about once a day for a better infusion.
  • After at least a week, strain the rhubarb and ginger from the vinegar mixture using a fine mesh strainer. Press out as much of the liquid as possible. If you have cheesecloth, putting a square of it over the strainer and then squeezing the rhubarb in your hands in the cheesecloth ball to finish straining will help get all the liquid out.
  • Then use right away or pour the liquids back into the jar and store in the fridge for up to a couple months.

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Herbal Allies // Ginger, Licorice and Chamomile Tea

Herbal Allies // Ginger, Licorice and Chamomile Tea

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I’ve spent the last three early mornings lingering over the breakfast table, laptop, morning books, and empty porridge bowl all pushed aside. Just me in the early morning stillness facing east towards the bright sun shining into my eyes, a big smile on my face. William came in this morning and asked me what I was doing. Chameleon-ing, I told him. I’ve been soaking up as much of the early morning sun and warmth as I can.

We’ve finally been getting a good stretch of sun and warm days here and it feels just about right as May is the best month, to my way of thinking. Given I’ll be making my way into a new decade in a few days, I’ve been figuring a good way to begin my birthday week celebrations is by starting each day basking in the sun with a mug of tea. It feels like the best sort of end of a decade indulgence.

 

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The other thing I’ve been doing lately is drinking this ginger, licorice, and chamomile tea. It is usually my evening/after dinner drink of choice as the licorice root is naturally sweet, chamomile is soothing, and ginger is warm and zesty.

In my herbal class last term, we experimented with different methods of making herbal tea. Certain herbs, like flowers or leaves, are better prepared by infusing them in freshly boiled water, as I’ve done here. Others, like roots, will have more of their beneficial constituents released by decocting them in gently simmering water for 15-30 minutes. The thing we learned though, is that though medicinally speaking, some methods of extracting might be better, either way will be fine depending on preference. It is something like the people that pour warm water into a mug and then dunk their tea bag in. When I’m offered tea prepared in this way, I often cringe and hesitantly accept, because it’s not the way I prefer my tea (i.e. strong, long-infused, and exceptionally hot, especially if it’s black/Irish tea). But I understand we all have our personal tastes and what might be ‘wrong’ in the recommended way of things may be just what a person needs.

So going against the grain here, I’ve found that I actually enjoy licorice and dried ginger root prepared in the easy infusion method of pouring boiling hot tea over and letting sit for 10-15 minutes, rather than simmering away on the stove. Luckily for me, the chamomile prefers this method too.

 

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I’ve chosen these specific three herbs because they particularly spoke to me to be infused together, but after thinking about their medicinal actions, I came to a good conclusion why:

Ginger // Common fresh or dried ginger is probably my most often used herb/spice, right after cinnamon. It is good in this tea as it is gently warming and pungent, and balances the sweet flavor of the licorice and slightly bitter properties of the chamomile. Freshly grated ginger root can also be used here. Ginger is exceptionally beneficial in controlling inflammation and muscular pain, increases circulation, and also aids in digestion.

Licorice Root // Despite the connotation with licorice candy, licorice root does not taste anything like the red or black ropes I loved to eat as a child. Licorice is an excellent herb for balancing the adrenals, balancing blood sugar, and helping decrease stress and inflammation. It is also soothing to the mucous membranes and GI tract, and makes for a good addition to an evening tea when we are winding down and might be craving extra sweets. Note: licorice should not be taken by those with high blood pressure. 

Chamomile // Chamomile  is an indispensable herb for evenings for so many reasons. Well known as a gentle, calming tea, these delicate yellow flowers help relieve irritability, stress, anxiety, insomnia, upset stomach, and much more.

 

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Ginger, Licorice, and Chamomile Tea, makes 1 12-ounce mug
Dried herbs are best purchased in small quantities in bulk from a natural foods store, if you have access. Alternatively, an excellent place to source them online is from Mountain Rose Herbs.

1 Tbs. dried chamomile flowers
1 tsp. dried licorice root
1/2 tsp. dried ginger root

  • Add herbs to a tea ball or basket and then set in a mug or tea pot. Pour 12 ounces freshly boiled water over the herbs, cover or cap the mug or pot, and then allow to infuse for at least 10 minutes and up to four hours. Drink warm or cold.