‘Hotter Than Hot’ Tea

Brahmastra Tea

I’m not even going to give you the long story behind this tea because it’s just way too long. Let’s just say it comes from traditional Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine origins. It’s great for fevers, colds, respiratory issues, kidney problems, etc. Basically, if you’re sick, this is a good tea. (Which is why I hate it, because it makes me think about being too sick to get out of drinking it.)

Anyhow, The Man has had a few respiratory issues lately, and rather than try the usual drug store fixes, I’ve been making him this tea. It’s not a pleasant “sit by the fire with a book and a blankie” kind of tea. This is medicine. So after I tell you how to make it, I’ll tell you a few ways to get your patient (or yourself to drink it).

Technically, the original tea is called Brahmastra Tea, but please don’t Google it because you’ll find yourself in the weirdest collection of page on esoteric Sanskrit scriptures, medicinal blogs recommending drinking cow urine, and Southeast Asian websites selling you hair-loss prevention tea. I am not kidding.

Just try this and if you have a question, let me know. My recipe is slightly tweaked so you can make a quantity to sip throughout the day.

Brahmastra Tea
2-3 lemons
Fresh ginger (about 3 thumbs)
2 tablespoons honey
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon powdered cayenne pepper

1. Put about 3 pints of water in a 2 qt. pot on medium-low heat.

2. You can scrape the brown skin off the ginger with a spoon and preserve the good rind, but I never have the patience. I usually just peel the ginger and slice it into slivers so I don’t have to saw across the fibrous grain. The smaller you can slice it, the more it infuses into your tea.

3. I usually slice a few rounds of the lemon for the pot, then squeeze the rest of the juice into it, but you can just use the juice if you like. Sometimes in a pinch, I’ll add some ‘fresh lemon juice’ from a bottle if the lemons I have look sketchy. Shoot for about 1/2 cup of juice or more.

4. Now for the cayenne. I’m not going to lie. If you have a low tolerance to spice, start off slow. This will burn even worse if you have a sore throat. It’s also good to be cautious if you have stomach ulcers or other digestive issues because, again, cayenne is hot stuff. So I suggest going with 1/8 of a teaspoon until you gauge your threshold. If you have a high tolerance for heat, you could probably go up to 1/3 of a teaspoon. Please be careful.

5. Simmer your tea at medium-low heat for at least 15 minutes, if not more. (When The Man is sick, I just have an ongoing pot on the stove that I constantly take from and add to.) Just before you strain your tea, put in the honey and give it a minute to dissolve. But don’t heat the honey too much or it negates the healing properties.

When you’re not feeling well, this is actually very comforting to drink. It just doesn’t taste wonderful. So there are a few things you can try to make it more exciting for your cranky sick person.

*Mix it with real lemonade, about 2/3 hot tea to 1/3 cold lemonade.
*Mix it with real ginger ale (Reeds, not the flavored HFCS stuff). About 1/2 and 1/2.
*Add mint tea. I sometimes throw two mint tea bags into the pot while it’s simmering. The mint cool effect balances out the warm cayenne.

I’m not a doctor so don’t sue me if you drink this tea instead of getting medical help.

And no, I’m not kidding about those wacky sites suggesting you drink cow urine. Really.

[Girl21]

Sexy Legumes

Well, what do you eat?

Growing up I had the fun, glamorous experience of being a vegetarian in the public school system. Whenever it came up (usually the first day in a new school, during lunch break), the other kids looked horrified and fascinated. From kindergarten through high school I got the same reactions. What do you eat?

It didn’t help that I was a bit chunky through high school. The general assumption was that vegetarians looked like waifs. Like starving heroin addicts. Oh, and that we supposedly smelled like vegetable soup. Huh?

The response of course was, “everything you eat except for the animal parts”. Often waving at my overly generous hips, I would elaborate on pizza, cookies, ice cream, and everything else that tastes yummy and can make you fat. To this day, I know some of those kids didn’t believe me.

Then I found a kid in high school that was trying to convert to being a vegetarian. He confided in me that he had only been eating rice and lettuce for a month and wasn’t sure he was going survive. Well, duh! We fellow vegetarians got together and gave him a quick education on nutrition. Maybe I’m biased, but I think that people with ‘alternative dietary habits’ tend to have a bigger education on nutrition than those ‘normal’ people. Survival skills.

The number one problem with being a vegetarian (besides the weird beliefs of the carnivores) is getting proper protein in your diet. There’s an ongoing argument about protein sources, so it’s a good idea to vary types of protein on a daily or weekly basis. And legumes are your BFF.

Legumes are peas, beans, soy, peanuts (no, they are not nuts), and lentils. There are many more that are not a common food source. They contain the essential amino acid lysine, but lack methionine. Which is nice because whole grains are rich in methionine and low in lysine. When you combine legumes and whole grains, you create the complete protein necessary to keep you going. This doesn’t mean you have to do this at every meal. Your liver stores various amino acids, so by keeping a balanced intake, your body can actually build protein as it gets the necessary parts.

If you look back at history and traditional meals of different cultures, you’ll see that meat at a meal was often a once-a-week thing (if at all, depending on wealth, the season, and environment). A lot of traditional meals already combined these two elements because people aren’t stupid and natural selection picks off the people that don’t eat properly.

In India there are a lot of rice and dahl combinations. Asian cuisine likes to combine soy with rice, and Indonesians like tempeh with rice. The Americas with a lot of Spanish and native influence combines beans with corn. Even kids like peanut butter sandwiches.

(Okay, don’t get all upset if I mention the word ‘tofu’. That’s another five-page essay in itself. People who don’t know it, think it’s like eating slugs. And people who know it too well, think it’s one of the worst things you can eat because it’s over processed. So we won’t even go into tofu right now.)

There’s always a lot of argument going on when you get people who feel passionately about eating ‘right’. So everyone has something to say about what the perfect diet is. I’m more of a moderation kind of person. The Man and I try to eat a wide variety of foods to not only fill our nutritional requirements, but to keep from getting bored, and learn to make different kinds of food. I feel like anything carried to an extreme is unhealthy. Whether that’s food, religion, politics, or even washing your hands.

Being a vegetarian is a challenge for many reasons. But like anything else, if you have a basic education in it, you can make good decisions. You know what GI Joe says about knowledge.

There are literally thousands of ways to bring legumes into your diet. And yes you can make it taste awesome. Don’t forget your whole grains along the way. When in doubt, put some cheese on it. That’s my usual M.O. Yummmmm!

[Girl21]

Ketchup and Cheese Sammies

Growing up, I had a friend who had those cool anything-goes parents. My friend got to play in her mom’s make up. The dad gave her brother a full case of Bazooka bubble gum for his birthday with the one rule that it all had to end up in the trash immediately post-chew. They had a black Lab mutt named Cucaracha that would climb the shed in the back and jump up on the house’s roof to bark at neighbors and buzzards. When I slept over there were no bed times, or rules about the TV (which was always on) or when to take a bath. It was very Pippi Longstocking.

On the other hand, there weren’t actual meal times, and no one claimed responsibility for grocery shopping regularly. And although I doubt we would get into trouble for using the stove, we didn’t know how to cook. To make matters worse, the dad was almost always out doing stuff or in his shop, and the mom often wasn’t feeling so good (in retrospect, the word would be ‘hangover’). So we were sometimes left to fend for ourselves in an empty kitchen.

This is the first place I ever experienced a ketchup and cheese sandwich. At six-years-old, it was love at first taste.

I am not talking about grilled cheese with ketchup. Just two slices of bread slathered in your standard ketchup, and then closed around whatever slices of cheese you have handy. I prefer a nice sharp cheddar or Swiss. That’s it.

Over the years, I also grew to love jelly and cheese. If brought to school and left in your backpack for the morning, the jelly soaked into the cheddar and crystallized a little. Or cream cheese and jelly. My sister went in the other direction and developed a life-long love of mustard and cheese sandwiches. And my brother went another route and does Sriracha and cheese.

I brought this up the other morning while The Man was getting his coffee and I was making his lunch for work. He was duly horrified at the thought of a ketchup and cheese sammie. After much dramatics, he allowed me my sandwich because he liked mustard and cream cheese on a bagel.

Not one to let something like that alone, I posted this on Facebook and got back a volley of other personal favorites which included PB&J with hot sauce, grilled cheese with jam, and avocado/cheese/honey. I think everyone has a secret comfort sammie. Something they eat that is fast, weird, and a little ghetto. But hits the spot and makes your belly purr.

My dad was a repair guy his whole life and every day he would take a PB&J to work and leave it in the sandwich baggie on his dash in the truck. It would sit in the sun and heat up and get all soggy and crusty. If he didn’t have time to break for lunch, or it was a particularly difficult afternoon, he would sit in his truck in the shade of a tree for a few minutes and eat that mangled, baked, dripping sammie like it was a cold beer and a pizza. Comfort food.

If you haven’t tried the ketchup and cheese version, I highly recommend it. Preferably at 2AM, in your PJs, leaning over the kitchen sink. Possibly while it’s raining. It’s awesome.

[Girl21]

No Shenanigans Mac & Cheese-off, 2011

No Shenanigans Mac & Cheese-offAs with most epic battles, it all started with two guys kicking dirt on each other. Somehow I got stuck in the middle, and innocent (okay, not so innocent) bystander.

I posted a link to a macaroni and cheese recipe to a friend on Google+ (the geeky version of Facebook). There was a bit of debate regarding the need for bacon, and amazement that Paula Deen’s recipe didn’t include mayonnaise (everything else she makes does). The Man got involved, being a back seat driver to my online conversation, and offering the opinion that his version was the best ever, end of story. That was the equivalent of a woman asking her friend to hold her purse and her earrings. The gloves were off.

Seeking further advice on the topic, I switched to Facebook and invited my foodie friends to weigh in on mac & cheese. I was surprised that everyone seemed to have the opinion that their mac & cheese was better than anyone else’s, and IT WAS ON!

Apparently there are very strong feelings about a dish that is basically noodles and cheese and a few other things. Screw politics and religion. Bring up mac & cheese among foodies and you’re going to have an argument on your hands. I suppose it’s because this is one of the most popular comfort foods in the US.

There are variations of macaroni and cheese around the world, including Switzerland (Älplermagronen, which includes potatoes), and the Caribbean (called macaroni pie). Even the French have a version, although they tend towards a traditional mornay sauce rather than our wacky cracky American cheesiness. And as always, the Italians take credit for inventing the whole concept.

Even among our friends, there was a vocal disagreement about what ‘real’ mac & cheese was. What shape pasta? What types of cheese? How many extra ingredients could go in before it was no longer mac & cheese? So many people were in on the pasta scuffle, we had to formalize the date and time, and fortunately friends at Loosey’s arranged for us to use the bar for neutral ground. The date was set for October 9th. A month of trash-talking, spying, comparing cheeses, and testing recipes gave way to the No-Shenanigans Mac & Cheese-off.

Seventeen versions of macaroni and cheese arrived to fight it out. There were a few ‘classic’ styles, but the rest were an amazing variety of flavors and ingredients, proving it’s not just cheese and noodles. Once the judges had waded through them all and gone into a back room to deliberate (and possibly throw up from that much mac & cheese), they arrived at winners for the veggie category and the carnivore category. And the best-in-show overall crown went to a version that incorporated lobster bisque into the cheesiness.

Of course the feeding frenzy after the judges were done was just as much fun. Competitors and bystanders devoured the entries, sharing foodie notes, drinking beer, and slowly clogging their arteries in a convivial atmosphere. Eventually everyone had to sit down or go home for a nap. That’s a lot of carbs and dairy.

The casserole dishes were barely being scraped clean when conversation turned to the next cook-off. The what? Yep, the general populace wanted another food fight. Sometime around the holidays. So stay tuned to see what the next competition is about. I’m thinking pie. I like pie.

Many thanks to Loosey’s for becoming our Mac & Cheese Thunderdome. 🙂

[Girl21]

Honey, Delicious Science

Honey

First of all, let’s get one thing straight. Honey doesn’t come from a bee’s bum. It’s vomit. Tasty vomit.

Secondly, there’s the popular stereotype that girls aren’t good at math. I’m calling shenanigans on that one. All worker bees are female, and bees excel at hexagons in their hives. Which is possibly the most perfect shape, according to those hipsters, the mathematicians.

These busy little women barf the nectar into their honeycombs, slurp it up to digest for a bit in their ‘honey stomachs’, and barf it again repeatedly until they’re happy with the quality. Then they fan it with their wings to evaporate most of the water. Once it’s passed bee-inspection, it’s got the shelf life of a Twinkie.

Honey has been collected for over 10,000 years and used for food, medicine, religious practices, and embalming (again with these wacky Egyptians). Old folk remedies are being vindicated by modern medicine, and honey is once more being recognized for its healing properties. From sore throats, coughs and ulcers, to serious burns and open wounds. It inhibits the growth of bacteria, and when exposed to oxygen, will actually form hydrogen peroxide.

But the most important thing about honey is that it tastes delicious. Almost every cuisine has a use for honey in food preparation. From stir-fried tofu, to milk sweets, to baking, to beer. We Americans are used to seeing honey mostly as ‘honey mustard’, or ‘honey barbecue’. Or in breakfast cereals. The funny thing is though, if you look at the ingredients list, sometimes it actually includes honey. Sometimes.

Honey is tasty when used properly in cooking. It’s also a famous source of “getting too drunk to remember what I did last night.” The ancient Indians (from India) and Greeks did love their little tipple of drink now and again in the form of mead. And the Vikings were big fans, spreading love of mead across Europe and beyond. It may explain why they got as far as the Americas.

Haven’t you ever had a few drinks and thought to yourself how perfect a frozen pizza would be for a late night snack–and next thing you know, you’re waking up in someone’s beanbag chair, cuddling an empty family-size Cheez-it box and clutching a doorknob to an as-yet-undetermined house? They probably had that same “oh, crap, where did we park the longship?” feeling when they woke up in Canada.

Mead is not the only form of honey that gets you in the wrong way. When bees make honey from the wrong flowers, it could get you drunk and even dead. Oleander is a no-brainer. It’s poisonous, and it makes a wonderful decorative shrub. Not a good honey. And several kinds of laurel and rhododendron make bad honey–locals beware that azalea is in this family. By bad honey, I mean dizziness, vomiting, irregular heartbeat, convulsions, and even death.

If all bees just disappeared (yes, we’re looking at that problem with Colony Collapse Disorder), many of the vegetables and fruit we enjoy would have no pollinators and they would stop producing. So honey or no honey, bees are more valuable than we realize in our everyday hum-drum lives. Some vegans feel we should refrain from eating honey as well, as this exploits members of the animal kingdom. Maybe bees figured it out and are just not showing up for work anymore.

Get your hands on some honey while you can. Good honey comes in a variety of colors and flavors. It doesn’t drip like water; it pours in ribbons like syrup. And it only has honey in it. A jar that lists ingredients other than honey should be rejected and scoffed at. Heating honey above 98.6 degrees starts to destroy any beneficial qualities, but it still tastes good. So eat honey plain in the raw when you can.

Many cultures equate honey with fertility. Probably why an affectionate name for your significant other is ‘honey’. Kind of ironic that something starting with lady bees throwing up, is honored as a magic elixir, that if it works, results in human women throwing up. For the first trimester at least.

[Girl21]

Bocce

If you are a food lover, you also have to be pretty active and work out regularly. I do. It’s the only way I can allow my love affair with cheese to continue and not start to look like a wheel of aged gouda. I also have been into sports throughout my life, from basketball with my dad, to street hockey in high school, and I like playing games that don’t involve a computer.

But I have a special place in my heart for a sport that can be played with a glass of wine or beer in my hand. And being annexed into an Italian family has introduced me to bocce. After a meal, there’s nothing like carrying a few bolas around the lawn while leisurely sipping a chilled adult beverage, and calling that a sport.

This is not the kind of bocce you see the serious old guys playing in the park on the long courses. This is hippie bocce, a meandering version of the game that allows for trash-talking, breaks to refill glasses, and all manner of random tangents.

It’s pretty simple. You toss the jack (the small white ball) somewhere on the lawn, and then take turns tossing or rolling your own bolas to get as close to it as possible. Knocking other people’s balls out of the way, or even knocking the jack somewhere else, is allowed and even encouraged. The point goes to the person who got the closest to the jack (two points if both of their balls were closer than any others). And the winner tosses the jack next.

You keep playing until it’s too dark to see, a majority of players need a drinks refill at the same time, or you’ve done measurably damage to a nearby house, car or other valuable property.

As you generally play this only in nice weather, I highly recommend a chilled white wine, a Belgian beer, or a snazzy sangria. It’s a good idea to stick to something that’s not going to get people to snozzled after an hour of walking and drinking, because (see above) once you do damage to valuable property and you hide all evidence of your bocce set, it will appear suspicious that you are all sitting in the kitchen desperately looking innocent.

Let’s assume you drink slow and have a nice game, you can tell people you played ball all afternoon and they’ll think you’re in shape and a total jock under that foodie exterior. I think that’s a win!

[Girl21]

Getting Your Dog to Eat

This is completely unrelated, but it’s to do with food, and it’s something I’ve had to deal with lately.

My old dog is terminally ill and has a hard time eating. She just isn’t hungry or can’t tell if she’s hungry or not. But she does need to eat.

I tried all kinds of things to get her interested in food, but talk about picky. She would turn up her big black nose and sulk off to a cool patch on the tiles for a nap. And she kept getting skinnier.

I’m telling you, I tried everything I knew she liked, and for dogs (who eat anything), this is a wide range of options. I searched the web for things people were suggesting to try, and still no luck. And the weight loss was getting to be a serious problem.

So on two different blogs I noticed a few notes about things for nausea in dogs, garlic and tomato sauce. Lightbulb! Italian food as a medicinal solution? Why the heck not?

Well, not so fast. Actual pasta sauce apparently was not the answer. Think, think, think. She was acting like a grumpy child, why not treat her like one?

Canned ravioli. I’m not proud. I bought that terrible so-called ‘meat’-filled pasta in cans, by a chef who probably wasn’t a chef. But it works. She loves it. I pour it on top of her regular food and she goes to town. She put on weight again, and stopped avoiding her food bowl.

So every week I make that walk of shame down the canned aisle to the grotto of bad food, and stock up on canned ravioli. I hope this helps someone, some day, somewhere. It’s helping her, and that’s what matters to me.

[Girl21]

Salad Days

“So what do you eat?”

Lord, if I had a buck for every time I heard that, I’d be driving the tricked-out Beemer I’ve been wanting. Admitting to being a vegetarian seems to elicit a reaction comparable only to a child finding a jellyfish on the beach for the first time. Suddenly you go from being a fellow human to something tentacled beamed down from Sirius.

I’ve been a vegetarian my whole life…including those formidable years in school, which is partially responsible for me being the well-adjusted optimist I am today. It’s kind of like A Boy Named Sue. Growing up as a vegetarian with an odd name has certainly earned me the Self-Confidence Badge in life. And of course, I’m fluent in Sarcasm as a result as well.

Later on in life, when going out to restaurants with non-vegetarian friends, you get the usual… “I’m sure you can eat here. They have salads. I think.” Yup. Because that’s what we eat. Salads.

Never mind that there as many kinds of vegetarians/vegans as there are individuals committed to their choice of diet. I don’t need to go there. I did try to break the stereotype when I could though. A little gentle education by example goes a long way. Maybe a few less people in the world think vegetarians eat only salads.

My big secret is that I really love salads actually. Not because I’m a vegetarian. But because they’re a yummy meal that can be ready in five minutes and cover all of the food groups and nutritional requirements you feel like owning up to. And since it’s all fresh ingredients limited only by your mood and creativity, you’ll never eat the same salad twice.

In public and with non-veggie friends, I try to make a point of NOT eating salads all of the time. Maybe I have a little chip on my shoulder and need to prove a minor point. But in the privacy of my own home, drapes closed to the world, I do partake of salads often.

Salad DaysSpinach and lettuce, with a little chopped curly parsley. Dried cranberries, blue cheese crumbles, white corn, and a drizzle of pesto Italian dressing. Maybe a light snow of pecorino or asiago cheese. Well that was just today. Tomorrow it will be a little different. Depending on my mood and what’s handy in the kitchen.

My salad habit will have to stay at home for the most part though. I dream of a world where vegetarians don’t have to squelch the urge to punch people every time they hear that question. Its a small dream and a tiny mission. But we can’t all be Mother Therese I guess.

[Girl21]

Food DJ

I’m in love with a food DJ.

What? Yeah, I said it. A food DJ. He is the Ron Hardy or Frankie Knuckles of food remixing.

Hm… I could go on a not-so-clever tangent using all kinds of DJ slang, but that would be annoying. Let’s assume you even know what phasing, bubble scratching, and hamster-style is and move on to the food.

So what is a food DJ? We were at brunch last weekend with friends, all single guys, and the three of them look over at my DJ with the admiration guys have for the silverback male of the bunch. He had masterfully layered, condimented, and sliced his meal into a magical combination on one plate. We’re talking about a full Southern brunch pulled together into a delightful fusion of food. A single land mass. A Pangea of breakfast yumminess.

I’ve been watching out of the corner of my eye since. Every chance he gets, he brings together flavors and textures, a little here, a little something else there. Nothing is plain. Nothing is straight up and simple. Umeboshi vinegar is a favorite base track. Organic stone ground mustard. Pecorino or gorgonzola cheese. Dried cranberries, fresh ginger, lime zest. The little thrills that change the deep, predictable flavors of every-day meals.

He is a musician with the cutlery, the salt and pepper mills, the chilli sauce bottles. There is percussion and bass in the cheeses. High feathery notes in basil and parsley. Indistinct, intoxicating vocal samples of garlic. Long, low grooves mixed over the rhythmic breads. Slippery transitions in olive oil from sharp pasta sauce to mellow whole-grain cappellini. Scratch beats of chocolate. Zig zag beats of garam masala.

Our house is his night club. Our kitchen is his DJ booth. I am his number one fan, hovering at his elbow. He spins the plates and drops the tracks together. And he closes his eyes, lost in the moment. Enjoying the flavors.

[Girl21]