Tag Archives: recipe

summer calm herbal latte

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Did I tell you my summer term was a real whopper? I probably did because I complained and/or used it as a (valid) reason to opt out of a whole host of summer social activities that I wanted to partake in on many an occasion these past weeks. If I’m remembering correctly, I was singing the same tune last summer too so clearly I need to learn how to say no more to heavy lifting during the long seasons when I want to relax, socialize, and travel more. I somehow ended up taking three of the best but most time-intensive classes and most of my weekends for May/June/July were spent polishing off weekly deadlines and term checkpoints.

Realistically though, it wasn’t all bad. My herbal class textbook went along well with both my pathophysiology and personal life learnings, and I found myself scribbling this recipe for a summer calm herbal tea blend and latte in my notebook while reading the nervous system chapter on herbs on a day that I was also laying on the grass under the tree in our backyard, listening to the buzz of insects and children playing nearby, and feeling generally rather chill. So yeah, it wasn’t all tough going. I had a lot of relaxing afternoons where I could read or study from anywhere as long as I got it done. Many days, I chose outside in the backyard or the local forest.

And then it got hot and term project deadlines brought me indoors and reliant on the internet. And I forgot all about my recipe that includes a few nice herbs to infuse calm.

 

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Since we’re now closing in on just a few last weeks of summer and the back to school or work frenzy has got some of us a little higher strung, it’s definitely time to bring out this recipe. I might just be sipping on it a ways into the next season as well as it will be perfect for those cool, dark afternoons and evenings that are sadly coming our way. It’s got a few perhaps new-to-you herbs that are really good ones too.

 

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Skullcap, Scutellaria lateriflora // One of the best anxiolytic/nervine herbs for calming a racing mind, or at least I think so! Skullcap is one of the original herbs used in herbal medicine in the United States, and has a rich history of use here since at least the early 1800’s. In addition to being useful for anxious, nervous, and stressed mindsets, it is also a great anti-spasmodic for tight, painful muscles–both of these reasons are why I love it so much! Personally, however, I think its flavor is one that “grows on you.” When I first began working with skullcap, I found its stronger flavor slightly off-putting, but now I use it so much I tend to really favor it.

Holy Basil/Tulsi, Ocimum sanctum // With a very long history of use as a revered herb in India, and used there as a rasayana or rejuvenative, Holy Basil brings about health and long life. It is known as an adaptogen, meaning it will restore stress levels back to a balanced state, and also has antioxidant and neuroprotective qualities.

Lemon Balm, Melissa officinalis // In the springtime on my trail runs, I often stop along the way and rub my hands in the lemon balm, especially if I’m in need of a mood lift. The fresh herb smells and tastes very lemony, but in the dried form, it is much more subtle, and acts like a gentle mood elevator. Some studies also show it enhances cognitive function, and may even relieve some symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease like forgetfulness and irritability. It’s also great for stress headaches and improving focus.

Lavender, Lavendula angustifolia // Lavender is a mild nootropic herb, which means it “acts on the mind,” helping cognitive function. Additionally, it is good for nervous headaches, exhaustion, or anxiety. The essential oils in the flowers have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties as well, and I find their aroma just lovely.

 

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Summer Calm Herbal Latte, makes 1 large drink (18-ounces)
In the last step, I like to combine the steeped tea and warm milk in a liquid measuring cup and then have about a mug and a half of latte, as it tends to be the perfect amount for me. 

1 Tbs. summer calm herb blend (below, or herbal tea of choice)
3/4 cup nut milk
1 tsp. coconut butter
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract

  • Add herb blend to a tea ball or basket and then pour 12 ounces freshly boiled water over the herbs, cover or cap the mug or pot to capture all the beneficial essential oils, and allow to infuse for at least 10-20 minutes.
  • While the herbs are steeping, gently warm the nut milk, coconut butter, and vanilla extract on the stovetop or in a microwave safe dish.
  • Remove the tea ball or basket and carefully combine the tea and nut milk blend.


Summer Calm Herbal Blend

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.

2 parts skullcap
2 parts holy basil
2 parts lemon balm
1 part lavender flowers

  • In a jar, or other glass container, combine the dried herbs in parts, either by volume using tablespoons or measuring cups, or by weight. Then gently shake or stir the herbs, cap, and label with ingredients and amounts for future reference.

 

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Blackberry Hazelnut Butter Oatmeal

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I had a realization yesterday over my morning bowl of oats about how I have spent so much of my life worrying and anxious about the future and so little of it enjoying the day, the experience, and the moment. I have nothing positive to show for all the time spent on those worries. For the past few weeks, when anxiety and racing, circling thoughts start to grip me, as they often do, I’ve tried to take more of a noticing approach, and on some days, can consciously catch myself before my mind jumps in to the chaos, take a couple slow deep breaths, and remind myself the only thing I need to do is direct all of my attention into focusing on the task at hand.

In a similar way, I’ve also been working on eating with mindfulness more often, especially in the morning over porridge. I tend to be a floor person and spend the majority of my “down” time at home on the floor instead of in a chair or the couch. I really enjoy eating my porridge on the floor, sitting cross-legged in front of the big window in our main room, as I watch the morning grow brighter or with the sun warming my face. When I sit and eat slowly without distractions, looking out at the trees and watching the neighbor cats, I begin to experience the connection again, to taste the subtle sweetness and richness of the berries, the texture of the oats, and the hint of hazelnuts. I miss the subtle flavors when I eat it mindlessly while multi-tasking or when in an anxious “what’s next/what if” state of mind.

We enjoyed a wine tasting/sampling at a friend’s party over the weekend and we savored and made notes on six different rosé wines, trying to guess the country, price range, and style. I rarely drink and when I do it’s often in small amounts at social occasions like these, but I really appreciate the act of tasting wine or cider in this way, slowly, with a focus on the whole process:  tasting the beginning, middle, and ending notes and picking out the subtle hints of flowers, of cherries, of chocolate, etc.

Good food has complexity and deep flavors much like good wine or cider does–especially this time of year. Why don’t we appreciate it in the same way more often?

With my intention (again) this week being to focus on the task at hand, I’m going to put more emphasis on extending mindfulness to eating the meals I get to enjoy–and try to return to just eating each time my mind darts off in another in the future direction again.

 

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Blackberry Hazelnut Butter Oatmeal, makes 1 bowl

1 cup water

1/2 cup old-fashioned oats, gluten free if necessary

1 cup blackberries or boysenberries

1/2-1 Tbs. hazelnut butter, to taste

dash of salt

dash of cinnamon, if desired

sweetener of choice, if needed

  • In a small saucepan over high heat, bring the water to a boil. Pour in the oats, give the pan a gentle shake to distribute them in the water, and then turn to medium low.
  • Cook until almost done, about five minutes, and then stir in the berries.
  • Allow the berries to either meld completely in and cook down a bit, which will take a few minutes longer and have more of a jammy texture, or simply let them heat just a bit without breaking down.
  • Stir in the hazelnut butter, salt and cinnamon and heat just a minute or so longer.
  • Remove from the heat, allow to sit a moment to develop more flavor and pour into a serving bowl. Depending on the berries, top with your sweetener of choice as needed.

 

 

 

 


Roasted Sweet Potato with Cashew Butter + Za’atar

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No matter how healthy I think my relationship with food is, there are a few foods that I am still cautious about. They’re ones I was once told to eat more of, with the implication that they would lead to some good, healthy weight gain. Those stigmatized foods are ones I mostly enjoy in my diet now but still I tend to eat them in small amounts, less often and/or cautiously. William has gotten hooked on Trail Butter in the past months, and he’ll slurp down two or three packets after dinner when we have it in the house. I’ve watched each time with a little twinge of envy, not for the desire to eat the Trail Butter itself, but to be able to down heavy doses of nut butter without a thought for anything other than the taste. Nuts and nut butters are on my caution list along with seeds, bananas, eggs, avocados, and the one I’ve shared about before, meat.

 

It is interesting to me now, how stigma around a food is far less healthy than any food itself. As I mentioned in my last post, I’m taking a class right now about redefining nutrition and I really love the conversations we’ve been having about nutritionism, reductionism, culture, and the similarity between diets and religion. What I didn’t mention is that I’m actually at the beginning of a nutrition and integrative health graduate program, with a focus on clinical nutrition and herbal medicine. It’s exciting and scary to think about a future off in the distance which I’m sure will look far different than the one I now imagine. Perhaps the biggest theme I’ve learned in these past few years is that much joy can be found in learning to let go of control and live in the unknown. After spending the last several years exploring options and figuring out what is true to me, this step is another case of trusting what I feel to be true will lead in the right direction.

As I embark on the learning and forming of the next few years, I want to have my preliminary intentions dropped here in this space to guide and remind of the bigger picture, as I inevitably get bogged down in the details of shaping what’s to come:

 

– I set out on this journey because I want to serve others. Stepping away from teaching in my own classroom these last three years, I’ve particularly missed the ability to build deep relationships with students and see and guide their progress. I want to be able to see that I am helping make a difference again.

–  I’ve experienced many obstacles in my own pathway to health and had to navigate through the noise to find what is true for me. I’ve spent more time with specialists in the medical field in this last year than ever before because I still haven’t been able to kick whatever has been making my feet hurt. In the process, I’ve realized why it has taken me so long to trust this career direction is the right one for me:  In the past, I had many specialists tell me “eat this,” “gain this,” “add this,” “stop this,” “take this pill,” etc., without understanding my journey as a patient, as a really fucking scared human inside a body, feeling very much alone. In this last year, I’ve come to terms with the fact that I go into every new encounter with a doctor or specialist with my guard up, with a “you-aren’t-trustworthy-until-you-prove-yourself” attitude—because of how my physical recovery was handled in the past. And though I’ve had better experiences this last year, there are still some that were remarkably similar to those not-great ones in the past.

I get that behavior change is incredibly challenging and I want to always remember what it’s like to be “on the other side”, to be the patient, to understand that his or her experiences change the way the things I will say are taken. I want to remember that much of what has been said to me in helpfulness when I am a patient has been taken wrongly by my mind that is either “fixed in illness” or focused only on fixing the problem so I can maintain my current behavior symptom-free. I won’t be able to always understand another person’s point of view or get an interaction right all the time. But I’d like to stay mindful about a perspective and an experience different than my own and respond accordingly, in a way that is more personal and personable than “eat this,” “add this,” “do this,” etc.

– I chose a program with a focus on integrative health and a specialty in herbal medicine because I cannot believe that any aspect of health operates in a bubble. When I’m short-changing the healthy fats in my diet, beginning to restrict quantities, or having a day when I come home stressed and tired and eat mindlessly and then guiltily judge myself for having consumed “too much,” my actions and reactions are generally not about the foods themselves. I get that food, nutrition, diets, and health are more complex than the focus on only food itself, I want to learn more of how others experience that, and be able to bring that understanding into practice.

I’ve chosen to learn more of herbal medicine particularly, as the healing of many of my major ailments and imbalances these past few years has been facilitated through herbs, food, and mindfulness alone. My own experience with plants has been life-changing; and I’ve long felt a connection to plants as if they hold life’s answers. I simply cannot wait to know (and share) more. Of interest to me now is the intersection between herbal medicine and sports nutrition. I don’t know if this will be an area I focus on in the future, but there are currently quite a few herbs of interest among the athletic community, considered “superfoods” by many, to help the body adapt and recover from stress. I’m excited to delve into both the ancient traditional use of these plants as medicine, and the modern evidence-based science of continuing to use them now.  

– I believe there is great power in the mind and the human experience and I think we as individuals have a lot of power as patients and as self-healers. We tend to see our health as something to fix, or to have another person tell us how to fix with an “easy” answer. Most of us don’t view our bodies as friends, as guides, as part of our health journeys that have just as much to say (and perhaps more wisely than our rational minds) in how we become the persons we envision ourselves to be. I want to help others find their friend in their body, and reconnect their rational self with the self that already knows what it needs. I’m working on this myself these days. In fact, I’m thinking it might be both the biggest ongoing challenge and achievement I’ve undertaken.

 

So now, back at the beginning, I recognize I’m much like everyone else, down in the trenches with my own set of challenges:  The Recipe Redux theme this month is to try something new in this new year. My new discovery comes in the way of a snack that I started craving one day during a run in the wet, (wet, wet) Oregon rain. It’s got one of those in-small-amounts foods I mentioned above that up until now I hadn’t tried—Cashew Butter—slathered in little spoonfuls atop a roasted sweet potato (or microwave-baked for those of us who come in hungry with sweet potato now cravings), and a hefty pinch of za’atar sprinkled atop. Admittedly, I slid back into old patterns one day and tried it without the cashew butter because I was afraid of too many of those nuts (point in case, I’m a work in progress), but the sweet potato and za’atar were definitely missing their key ingredient. So if you try it, I suggest adding all the ingredients.

 

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Roasted Sweet Potato with Cashew Butter + Za’atar, serves 1

1 medium sweet potato, scrubbed and stabbed with a knife a few times to vent

1-2 spoonsfuls cashew butter

Za’atar, to taste 

  • Roast the sweet potato on a square of foil in an oven, preheated to 400 degrees F, for about 40-50 minutes, or until soft all the way through. Alternatively, if in a hurry, it can be microwave-baked.
  • Slice open the sweet potato, mash gently, and then spoon the desired amount of cashew butter atop, allowing it to sink in, soften, and melt slightly.
  • Then add a pinch or two of za’atar, and serve!


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