Sweet Summertime Melon Chunks with Crumbled Feta and Fresh Mint

Sweet Summertime Melon Chunks with Crumbled Feta and Fresh Mint (from “Diet Simple Farm to Table Recipes”)

It’s melon season and a vast number of varieties are now available, and will be for quite a while. These days melons come in an amazing array of colors, shapes, textures, and flavors. Use a combination of any melons for this very simple, yet elegant recipe.

Sweet Summertime Melon Chunks with Crumbled Feta and Fresh Mint

By Katherine Tallmadge, M.A., R.D.
Excerpted from “Diet Simple Farm to Table Recipes: 50 New Reasons to Cook in Season!

This is an unusual combination of flavors and textures, and a delight on the palate. Use any kind of melon that happens to be in season.

Serves 8

2 pounds melon chunks (about 1 small cantaloupe or seedless watermelon)
½ pound Feta Cheese or other similar cheese
8 small mint leaves, Chiffonade (Basil will also work)

Combine ingredients in a large bowl and serve!

The New “Flavorburst” Melons from Spring Valley Farm and Orchard

I’m In Tomato Heaven Recipe! Greek Salad with Heirloom Tomatoes

Cherry Tomatoes From the Farmers Market of All Shapes, Sizes, Colors, Textures and Flavors!

I’m in tomato heaven! Tomatoes are my favorite vegetable (maybe because they’re actually a fruit!). It all started with my Grandmother. She would plant dozens – or it seemed like dozens to a child – of tomato plants every year in her huge vegetable garden. We’d pick them ripe from the vine, and eat them while still warm from the summer sun. I’ll never forget how soft, juicy, and red throughout they were. I feel so lucky that today, we have our Farmers Markets growing these kinds of spectacular specimens… of all shapes, sizes, colors, textures, and flavors!

Heirloom tomatoes are old varieties of tomatoes which have been passed down through generations. They are tastier, but more delicate, because they’re bred to be picked and eaten right away – they’re not bred to travel (as many of the tomatoes in the grocery store may be). Heirloom varieties have natural resistance to pests, disease and are better able to tolerate local conditions without too much extra energy, pesticides or water. Locally, organically produced food saves water, energy and encourages a region’s unique varieties of fruits and vegetables.

Greek Salad with Heirloom Tomatoes
excerpted from “Diet Simple Farm to Table Recipes: 50 New Reasons to Cook in Season!” by ME (only $4.95)

Serves 8

Ingredients:

Vinaigrette:
2 Tablespoons Freshly Harvested Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 Tablespoons Freshly Squeezed Lemon Juice (1 Lemon)
1 Tablespoon Chopped Fresh Oregano or Basil (or 1 tsp dried)
1 Clove Garlic, Minced (optional)
Salt and Pepper to Taste (Salt is not necessary with the cheese and olives)

Vegetables:
2 cucumbers, peeled, seeded and sliced into a half-moon shape
1 onion, peeled and chopped coarsely
1 medium yellow, purple or green bell pepper, cored, seeded, chopped into large bite-size pieces
1 cup pitted Kalamata or other Greek Olives
4 Heirloom Tomatoes, quartered, and cut into large, bite-size pieces (or any vine-ripe tomatoes)

4 ounces Feta or Goat Cheese, broken into small bits

Instructions:

Combine the vinaigrette ingredients in a large salad bowl and whisk until blended. Add the cucumbers, onion, pepper, and olives and toss into vinaigrette. Let sit for twenty minutes to marinate. Add the heirloom tomatoes and cheese when ready to serve.

Tomatoes are one of the “superfoods.” Men who consumed 10 or more servings of tomato products a week had a 35% decrease in risk of prostate cancer relative to those who consumed 1.5 servings or fewer per week. This is largely attributed to “lycopene” in the tomatoes, which is also in other red fruits such as watermelon, pink grapefruit and guava. Men with lycopene levels in the top 20% had a 46% decrease in risk of heart attack compared to those in the bottom 20%. Lycopene is a potent scavenger of gene-damaging free radicals. But don’t expect to get it from a supplement. You must eat the tomato as you need the whole food to receive the benefits! But because lycopene is fat-soluble, you must eat the tomato with an oil of some kind for it to be available to your body.

Lycopene (Red fruits such as tomatoes, watermelon, guava): Many studies have shown that lycopene-rich foods reduce the risk of prostate cancer, but the mechanism behind that reduction was not well understood until now. A recent study found that lycopene has a substantial protective effect against prostate cancer by interfering with the genes that would allow the prostate cancer cells to grow and survive. The American Institute for Cancer Research recommends that men take advantage of lycopene’s cancer-preventing effects and fill their diets with foods such as tomatoes, watermelon and guava.

Summer Peach and Fresh Kale Salad with Toasted Almonds and a Balsamic Vinaigrette


One reason I look forward to peach season is being able to make this recipe. This year, the peaches are abundant, sweet, juicy, and dense. Take advantage and find ways to include them in your recipes and meals, even if it’s just biting into a whole one and letting the juice roll down your arms. This salad is always a hit, perhaps because we’re naturally drawn to its variety of flavors, textures, colors, and shapes. Variety is the most significant reason we choose something to eat!

Salad With Summer Peaches, Fresh Kale, Toasted Almonds and a Balsamic Vinaigrette

6 Servings

3 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Tablespoon Balsamic Vinegar
Salt and Pepper to taste

6 Handfuls of fresh Kale (or other greens), washed, tough stems removed, and torn into bite-sized pieces, or ribbons
2 Cups Fresh Sliced Summer Peaches and/or any seasonal Berries
2 Ounces toasted slivered Almonds
½ Sweet Onion, peeled and sliced

In a large bowl, add the olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. Whisk together. Add the kale, onion, almonds, and peaches and toss together. Serve immediately.

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Katherine’s Mantra for Transforming Your Life: Never Give In!

Katherine Tallmadge: Tree Pose July 9, 2017

Katherine Tallmadge Feeling Good: Tree Pose July 9, 2017… Ommmmmmm

Thank you for writing me with your well wishes over the past few weeks. Your responses to my articles documenting my recent personal challenges have been heart-warming. I’ve especially enjoyed hearing your stories – many of you my clients – of how the skills I’m sharing in these pages are ones that have helped you maintain your healthy and happy lives. And I’ve felt privileged to hear about your own life challenges through which you are working.

People look at my life and think it’s easy for me, and sometimes even tell me I couldn’t possibly relate to them or help them. I’m writing my story to disabuse you of that notion.

“I’m no sacrosanct preacher looking down at a congregation of sinners. I’ve been there … And I know what it takes to come back from those depths of despair  – and to stay on top!” I said in my book, Diet Simple. And I’d like to demonstrate how you can do the same, like my clients have, through the many years I’ve served them, and continue to do so.

I’ve been documenting my life’s recent transformation because I believe the steps I’m taking are relevant to anyone who wants to change their lives for the better. Everyone goes through hard times, and one of the most difficult, yet important skills for maintaining a healthy and happy lifestyle, is recovering from set backs.

One of my mantras through the years that I borrowed from Winston Churchill has been, “If you’re going through Hell, keep going … Never give in, never give in, never, never, never!” It is not always easy, including for me. That’s because we’re human and imperfect. But I firmly believe that we must live by this philosophy when it comes to doing good in the world or for ourselves.

In fact, studies of successful weight loss maintainers found that one of the differences between people who lose weight and keep it off versus those who relapse and gain their weight back is recovering from slips, instead of allowing them to snowball; seeing “mistakes” as normal, being kind to oneself, and getting over them.

My best case study demonstrating how powerful your response to slips can be is of Melissa, who spent many years struggling with her health and her weight. Today, Melissa is 50 pounds lighter than when we first started working together, maybe 15 years ago, and she’s kept it off for the past five years. But her journey was not an easy one. Melissa has insulin-dependent diabetes and was sent to me by her doctor to lose weight and improve her health. She desperately wanted to lose weight. She was 5’5″ tall, and slowly gained weight through her adult life until she weighed 200 pounds. She and her doctor wanted her to weigh under 150.

Like many people in Wahington, DC, Melissa is a highly educated, hard-working professional. She successfully directs a non-profit organization helping abused children. You could say Melissa – and her husband, John – are “workaholics.” They live for their work.

For at least ten years, Melissa would successfully change her habits and lose weight. Sometimes 20, sometimes 30 pounds. She’d feel happy, healthy, on top of the world; she loved the way she looked. But inevitably, when she’d go through difficult times – perhaps a holiday, a stressful family event, or a challenging work situation – she would slip up. And of course, you’re thinking, that’s normal, right? Well, Melissa didn’t feel that way. Any deviation from what she thought she should be doing made her feel so terrible that she’d fall into a depression. She was a perfectionist; and hard on herself. She started cancelling appointments, and wouldn’t return my calls. She disappeared. I lost contact with her. She gave up, felt ashamed. I felt terrible.

But amazingly she’d come back within a year or two – or three, though unfortunately having gained some, if not all, of her weight back. I was always happy to see her and pleased she was trying again. After about three failed attempts, we had (another) serious heart-to-heart about her perfectionism. We discussed her “disappearances,” which always led to weight re-gain. We discovered they were related to a slip she was ashamed of, or a time her work load or family life got too busy. She promised to never lose contact again. She agreed that no matter how hard things got that we would work through it together, no matter what.

Many times during our sessions (often by phone because she was so busy), Melissa would feel down and want to give up. But she promised to get in touch the next day(s) and to keep our appointment the following week, even if she felt she didn’t do well. This time we worked together, she kept her promises. Over time, she got used to “slipping up” now and then; she started regarding her slips as normal… okay…  to be expected… and sometimes even planned as “splurges” or “taking a break.” Melissa had to learn how to get through the tough times, to put up with being too busy or stressed, feeling unsuccessful, or not getting results. And eventually, she’d always bounce back.

I enjoy staying in contact with Melissa. She sends me photos of herself at a gala, or in a new fabulous outfit, so I can see she’s having fun and staying fit. I like to keep up with how she and John are doing, and appreciate her staying in touch.

You could say I have a rewarding job. I would agree with you! Now, if I could only be perfect… Hmmmm

Working Through the Pain: Priming Your Mind for Change

Katherine Tallmadge Resting After Yoga Class

Katherine Tallmadge Resting After Yoga Class

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but we humans don’t always think or behave rationally, even when it comes to our own self-interest. In fact, we can be so stubborn that we stand by while watching our own self-destruction. Sure, we want to make positive changes in our lives, and may even know what to do, but often can’t seem to overcome our inertia.

Changing your thinking, your emotions, and perhaps parts of your self-image may be necessary for becoming happier, healthier, more energetic, or achieving your ideal body weight.  In the third installment describing my recent life transformation, I am sharing my progression through these steps (for the umpteenth time in my life), toward recovery from some difficult times.

Whether healing from an illness, surgeries, or even just experiencing a long run of being too busy to exercise or take care of yourself… Beginning again, becoming fit, or healthy can be a painful process and can seem almost impossible to achieve.

In my case, after knee and back surgeries, spending a good deal of time being sedentary, and even bed-bound, I tried jumping back into life too quickly many times. These false starts had the effect of delaying my healing, furthering my pain, exhaustion, and depression. I had to learn to take baby steps (funny, something I’m told I’m very good at helping my clients with while working toward improving their lives). I had to notice how my thinking, self-talk, emotions, and even my own identity were interfering with my successful recovery.

One of my revelations was that my self image as a fit and physically active person affected me negatively and slowed my progress for a couple of reasons. First, my inability to be physically active while recovering from surgeries made me perhaps more depressed than would be expected. That depression kept me from the world, isolated, and of course, we all know, that made my situation worse: physically and psychologically. Second, when I finally got the will to start moving, I didn’t know how to start slowly. I jumped right in, taking difficult yoga classes and walking too much. That caused pain and discouraged me from continuing to try. And this prolonged my convalescence.

After many such failures, I decided to try joining the world again. But this time, taking my own advice and doing it one baby step at a time! For this to work, I had to change my thinking. It is the cornerstone of any behavior change: Noticing your thoughts and deciding how to react to them. I decided it was time  to notice the negative thoughts in my head that led to counterproductive behavior. Noticing self-defeating – and irrational – thoughts, such as “I’ll never be myself again,” or “I don’t want to go out and be seen unless I’m completely back in shape,” allowed me to change them to more rational and productive thoughts, such as, “of course, I’ll always be myself! And, besides, a little improvement is good for anyone,” or “people will still accept and like me, even if I’m not in great shape.”  This officially is “cognitive therapy,” an accepted pre-requisite for behavior change, and one I use extensively to help my clients. My willingness to begin this process allowed me to accept my humanness, my need to proceed slowly. I decided to share my experience after finding so many people were surprised that this process could be difficult for me, the “expert.” I also wanted to share my experience so others would feel assured that this transformation is possible for anyone.

Before you can change the way you think, though, you’ll need to develop a sense of urgency about your goal, if you haven’t already. A sense of urgency, according to The Dalai Lama in “The Art of Happiness” – and scholars in this important field of psychological research, can be achieved two ways:

1) Remind yourself of your positive vision for success. For example, visualize yourself at your ideal fitness level, your goal weight, or see yourself feeling happy, healthy, energetic, and confident (see “Dream” in my book, Diet Simple), and

2) Ponder the negative consequences of not making a particular behavior change (a little fear can be a good thing – but just a little). I mean, after all, did I really want to feel terrible for the rest of my life? This may seem like an absurd question to ask yourself, but when your behavior doesn’t lead to positive outcomes, what else could the counter-productive behavior mean? What outcomes could you possibly expect besides negative ones? You may try this yourself by asking, for instance, in the morning as you’re considering two options: getting out of bed to exercise or sleeping just a little longer, “Do I want to feel good today? Or do I want to feel crummy today?” Another example, as you’re driving home from work and deciding to grab some carry-out or to go home to eat the healthy meal you’ve already planned. Ask yourself: “Do I want to achieve my weight loss goal (insert positive vision here) or will I accept being the same weight and having the same health problems for another year?” “Do I want to stop taking these darn medications or will I be taking them forever – and even increasing the dosage? What will my doctor say?” “What kind of example am I setting for my children, my spouse? Is this a behavior I can be proud of?” etc. You get the idea…

ACHIEVING INCREASED HAPPINESS

Outlining the consequenses of your actions and acting on your long term goals, as opposed to momentary desires, helps you grow as a person and become a happier person, according to scientific research. It increases your general happiness level because you are making decisions which contribute to your long-term goals.

THE DOWNWARD SPIRAL OF GIVING IN

Usually, when we do something that feels good momentarily, such as giving in and staying in bed for 30 more minutes of sleep in the morning instead of exercising, or grabbing a coffee cake at the coffee shop when we originally just planned on buying coffee, our happiness level may increase (“oooh, this feels yummy!”) – but it’s only a temporary blip of happiness. It goes back to the same level it did before – once the temporary experience wears off – and nothing changes for the better in our lives. We may even become more depressed as we continue to “give-in” to these unfulfilling momentary desires and dive into a downward spiral.

MAKING THE HARDER, BUT MORE SATISFYING CHOICE

If, instead, we say to ourselves, “I’m getting out of bed NOW! I’ll feel terrible if I don’t, and I’ll never achieve my goals,” or “Will stopping to get carry-out change my life for the better? I’d be better off going home and eating something healthy as I want to lose weight, lower my cholesterol, etc,” or “I really don’t need that coffee cake, and I’ll feel terrible after eating it, and will it make me happier at the end of the day?” “Will this increase my happiness for the short term? Or for the long term?” Another more extreme example might be a drug addict relapsing. It feels great momentarily, but the feeling doesn’t last.

When you make a more thoughtful decision, which contributes to your longterm health – physical or psychological – you are more likely to achieve your life’s hopes, dreams and goals, you can actually increase your happiness level, feel happier more often and grow as a person.

WHY IT’S NOT ALWAYS EASY

It is not always easy in our society to make the healthy decision. It’s easier – and the norm, in fact – to be unfit, overweight and unhealthy. But, I’m convinced it is possible to be healthy in an unhealthy world with planning, practice, determination, and support (I’m here any time you need me!) – Besides, what’s the alternative?

It takes effort to train your mind to work this way, but this is how we become better people and we advance as a society.

Meditating on the Potomac: First Steps to Overcoming Barriers to Regaining My Identity

My friend Katy and I Experiencing Mindfulness While Kayaking on The Potomac River

My friend Katy and I Experiencing Mindfulness While Kayaking on The Potomac River (Photo by Ari from Nauti Foods, the floating “food truck” on The Potomac River)

I’m sharing my journey toward getting my life back, after some rough times, almost losing my health, and my sense of self, because I know the process can be difficult – and even painful – for anyone. I know, because it’s been my job – and my passion – for more than 25 years: helping my clients transform their health and their lives to better themselves and to increase their happiness. Ironically, I haven’t experienced these joys for myself for quite a while, so it’s my turn to tough it out. And I can tell you, after many setbacks, it’s not for sissies!

In my story’s first installment, I described the importance of mindfulness as a foundation for self understanding and successful life change. It reduces anxiety, helps you focus, and leave worries about the past and future behind.  This helps you work through problems more effectively, according to scientific research from the National Institutes of Health. I needed to keep my focus on the present, to relax, to feel hopeful, and to force myself out of my depression. I needed to be willing to work at overcoming my exhaustion after almost two years of knee and back pain, ultimately leading to surgeries on both, and sidelining me for the duration.

You see, I spent a lifetime being physically active. This was a part of my identity, a way I excelled in the world. I started gymnastics in pre-school (it was called “tumbling” then). I went on through my adulthood to continue practicing gymnastics, cheerleading, dance, swimming, scuba, fencing, climbing, skating, archery, aerobics, strength training, stand up paddle boarding, yoga …You name it, I’ve done it, and excelled almost immediately at anything I tried (even basketball, though I’m 5’2″).

It’s funny that I only recently realized that this loss of my physicality may have been the underlying cause of my depression and endless exhaustion – because it was an integral part of my identity and self-worth. I never realized how much pride I took – wrongly or rightly – in being fit, active, and in exceptional (not just good) shape. I was always a leader, a teacher, and set the example for thriving and living a healthy life. I bounced back from negative experiences easily, and taught my clients to do the same. But somehow I couldn’t this time. I actually felt embarrassed to let anyone know, outside a few of my closest friends and family, just how badly I felt. I stopped exercising (by necessity), I gained weight, I stopped going out, I stopped socializing, and even dealing with my business. I isolated myself, even though I knew this behavior was hurting my health in every way.

I finally came to understand why I was not recovering as expected while listening to a friend’s account of his wife’s reaction to the fear of potentially losing her singing voice (she’s a singer) after the successful removal of a stage 1, non-malignant cancer on one of her vocal cords. The experience left her inconsolable, silent, uncommunicative, miserable, and angry with everyone. No amount of love, support, or reassurance from the experts helped. Her reaction and behavior went beyond normal proportions. Why? Perhaps because using her voice was an integral part of her identity, and the fear of losing it, even an irrational fear, was too frightening to face, let alone talk about, or deal with.

Facing and working through that kind of loss and fear can be paralyzing. Admittedly, it’s taken me way too long to begin my recovery. And every day I’m too tired – or too stubborn – to advance, I damage myself further.

If you inexplicably don’t take steps to improve your life in ways you know would be helpful – and your loved ones are encouraging – perhaps exploring how your self image has been or will be affected, will help get you started. This is a major barrier to overcome for anyone trying to change a habit, even one which is self-destructive.

Mindfullness has been essential for me to finally start taking the small steps toward getting my life back, and feeling like myself again. (Funny, taking small steps is the cornerstone of my life-change programs, and my book, Diet Simple.) Studies clealry show you can achieve mindfulness through meditation. But I believe any activity that absorbs your heart and mind, relaxes you, and focuses you on the present moment, can improve your mindfulness. Mindfulness allows you to work through your worries more effectively, to let go of thoughts and feelings that won’t help, while concentrating on positive behaviors that will advance you toward your long term goal of increased happiness, however you define it.

This weekend, mindfulness came to me through kayaking with a friend on the beautiful Potomac River. What wonderful resources in Washington, DC (we rented a kayak from the Key Bridge Boathouse)! I was able to step into another world, completely relax, and focus on Mother Nature, just a few blocks from home. A couple of weekends ago, I escaped to the Pennsylvania countryside. Music and reading elevate me too (anything but the news, please).

Personalize your way of becoming more mindful so you can start making small steps to improve your life. And try to be patient with yourself.

More later ..

Katherine Tallmadge Enjoying The Peace of Mother Nature

Katherine Tallmadge Enjoying The Peace of Mother Nature (Photo by Katy Handley)

Katherine’s Crepe-Style Swedish Waffles with Succulent Strawberries

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This week’s strawberries were especially sweet and succulent. I experienced a very decadent way of enjoying them while relaxing during a recent respite in the Pennsylvania countryside, with my friend, Anna: Smothering heart-shaped Swedish waffles. These aren’t ordinary waffles; they’re crepe-thin, crispy, buttery, and simply divine. Traditionally served on “Waffle Day,” in Sweden, celebrating “Our Lady’s Day,” on March 25th, 9 months before Christmas (also known as the Christian holiday of “Annunciation”). Enjoy…

Katherine & Anna’s Scrumptious and Luxurious Swedish Waffles with Strawberries

Serves… You decide the number!

3 eggs
1 dl (3.4 ounces) Flour
6 dl (2.4 cups) Whole Milk (or 1% Milk)
1/4 cup melted, cooled Butter (or Canola Oil or Walnut Oil for a nutty flavor)
Pinch of Salt, Sugar, or Vanilla (optional)

Topping:
1/2 cup (or more) Plain Yogurt or Whipped Cream
1 cup (or more) Strawberries
1 teaspoon Maple Syrup
A sprinkling of chopped Roasted Nuts (optional)
1 sprig of fresh Mint (optional)

Whisk the ingredients together in a pitcher. Grease the waffle iron with butter or oil for the first waffle. Since butter (or oil) is in the recipe, the waffle iron will not need to be greased again.

Pour a small amount of the mixture into the Euro Cuisine Eco Friendly Heart Shaped Waffle Maker per product instructions. When golden brown, carefully lift the waffle and place in the center of your plate (smother in butter if you’re being especially care-free and decadent). Place the yogurt, berries and roasted chopped nuts, if you wish, on the waffle. Drizzle maple syrup on top. Finish with a sprig of mint.

NOTE: Using butter and whole milk are occasional treats, I recommend using them sparingly. When Anna and I prepared them last weekend, we used 2% milk and butter in the recipe. I topped my waffle with Chobani nonfat plain yogurt with a little maple syrup drizzled on top. Anna used whipped cream!

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How A Little Help from my Friends and Mindfulness Meditation Saved my Life!

Katherine Tallmadge practicing Mindfulness Meditation in the Countryside

Katherine Tallmadge practicing Mindfulness Meditation in the Countryside

I’ve experienced tough times during the past couple of years. Of course, I’m no exception. We all have tough times. That’s life, isn’t it? “You can’t feel joy unless you’ve felt pain… blah, blah, blah…” Yes, I know already! How about a little joy, folks? God? Higher Being? After being in pain and inactive for so long, I’ve gotten to the point where I’m physically and mentally exhausted and depressed. Symptoms like debilitating headaches and stomach pain have now taken over and are keeping me from living life fully. I had to change, but it’s been tough. I’ve been taking one step forward and two steps back for a while.

We’ll talk about my personal “issues” (no one has “problems” any more!) during the past couple of years in my next installment. For now, I’ll be in the present and try to talk you into the same. You may know that I work with clients helping them turn their lives around, to live healthier, happier, and more energetically, through gentle counseling in nutrition, exercise, spirituality, stress management, and life organization. So, I feel fortunate to know the process. I thought I would share my “metamorphosis” with you, so perhaps you might gain some insight for yourself

Attempting to recover, my first step has been allowing myself to have more positive experiences. I say “allowing myself” because I had to take action to get out of my negative state. No one could do it for me. I forced myself to start listening – and responding – to the friends, loved ones, and health care professionals in my life to get out of isolation, back to socializing a little more with good friends, participating in good causes, and exercising a little. This meant “working through the pain,” an admonishment I came to detest, but one I knew was true (I had already been evaluated medically).

I started reading a book recommended by the Reverend Timothy A.R. Cole, the rector of Christ Church Georgetown, called “The Book of Joy,” co-authored by The 14th Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmund Tutu. Two of the most positive, spiritual, and productive men on earth who have suffered unheard of atrocities. If they can overcome their obstacles – exile, refugee life, apartheid, targets of hate and prejudice – can’t we?

In “The Book of Joy,” both spiritual leaders emphasize meditation or prayer as the foundation of a happy life. They meditate, pray, have quiet time, for several hours every morning. Can I do that? Will I do that? Should I expect my clients to do that? Well, probably not. But, I’m going to turn my life around using these methods – my own way. In the 1990s I worked with – and sent my clients to – a psychologist specializing in biofeedback (Karan Kverno, Ph.D. no longer in private practice), and I knew the deep breathing techniques were scientifically proven to help many health conditions, but I had gotten away from the practice.

Second step: I decided my personalized way would be Mindfulness Meditation with a little yoga thrown in. I do a little in the morning, and spurts here and there through the day. And if I can do it, you can do it – that is, in your own way. Like you, I’m a hard working professional (and I’m including stay-at-home Moms and Dads). I don’t have a lot of time. But as a health care professional and life coach, I know by many years of experience that there are certain priorities in life that cannot be ignored, or the consequences are dire.

Changing the way you think and calming your mind are the cornerstones of understanding yourself and achieving any behavior or life change. But you have to learn how to be “mindful” first. “Mindfulness is the ability to be present, more focused, and clear; for concentration to be more sustained, and for attention to be on what’s happening, instead of on thoughts, memories, and associations,” said Jack Killen, when he was the Deputy Director of the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

“There is neurobiological research that demonstrates that mindfulness engages pathways in the brain… [they] allow your brain to be focused on what is here and now… [so you’re] more able to think through a problem, less likely to be distracted by issues that won’t help,” said Killen. “Meditation is one way of exercising neurological pathways in the brain which help us become more mindful.”

So, how do I or you choose a way to become more mindful… a way that fits your lifestyle, beliefs, and personality? Here’s what I did this weekend toward this goal: I left the city I love to visit a good friend in the beautiful and serene countryside of Pennsylvania. My Swedish friend, Anna, is one of the warmest, kindest, most loving people I know. She exudes elegance in a simple, down-to-earth (very Swedish) way. I love visiting her.

On the way to the Pennsylvania countryside, I called a few friends I haven’t talked to in a while. That felt good. I was enjoying the drive. My headache was disappearing. When I got there, my happiness was overflowing, my headache was gone. Being in the countryside, and being with a good friend, somehow motivated me to get out of bed early (my headache came back, ugh!). I started with a cup of coffee (strong, smooth Swedish style), then sat in a comfortable chair facing the trees. I began deep belly breathing, centering my mind on the moment, checking each part of my body for signs of stress, and then relaxing it. I put on some favorite music (rock ‘n roll was my pleasure at the moment). I spontaneously got up and started dancing. I continued with the deep breathing and started some yoga exercises. My headache finally left me again. The worst of my stomach pain was gone went I recently went off anti-inflammatory medications I was taking, based on my doctor’s and pharmacist’s recommendations.

Am I cured? No. I have a long road to hoe. My headaches and exhaustion – which are probably largely related to the stress left over from the issues of the past couple of years – are not entirely gone, but at least I know I have some control over them. I have to work at my deep breathing, stretching and light exercising continuously. Training your brain to be more mindful “is a bit like going to the gym and working out your muscles. It takes time and practice for the beneficial brain pathways to become established, similar to building muscular strength and flexibility,” said Killen.

Along with the breathing exercises, I need to make an effort to stay in touch with and socialize with the people I care about. But those are only steps one and two! I still need to work on much more. Getting back to exercising my body more regularly is the next big hurdle. I don’t know how long it will take to get to my former fit self, or even a better self. But at least I’m off to a good start. And you can be, too! But be sure to check with your doctor so any serious medical condition is ruled out.

I’ll keep you posted!

Springtime Strawberry and Goat Cheese Salad

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Strawberries are finally here! The Farmers Markets are brimming with them. The first fruit of spring, strawberries signify new beginnings and everything that’s good. Of course, the easiest way to eat them is right off the vine. But you can use them creatively in recipes  – not only in desserts, but in savories, too. The following salad, from my good friend Mike Gardner, can be served as a side dish or a main course.
Mike Gardner’s Springtime Strawberry and Goat Cheese Salad
This is a great salad for a hot day.  Let the strawberries sit long enough to absorb the balsamic vinegar flavor while you take time to catch up with friends and enjoy the summer day.
Ingredients
For the strawberries:
1 pint of ripe strawberries, if they are large, cut them in half
1/2-3/4 cup balsamic vinegar
For the salad:
Baby spinach
Baby arugula
Goat cheese crumbles
1 small red onion, sliced
1 ounce of toasted almonds
For the dressing:
3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp dijon mustard
1/4-1/2 cup olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
Directions
Prepare the strawberries by placing them into a bowl and add the vinegar.  Let them sit for a while to absorb the flavor of the vinegar- an hour or better.  This can be done at room temperature.
In a separate bowl. make the dressing by combining the vinegar, dijon mustard, salt and pepper.  Slowly stream in the olive oil, tasting for flavor balance.  If necessary, add additional mustard to taste.
When ready to serve, combine equal parts of baby spinach and arugula.  Add in the sliced red onion, and lightly toss the salad with a small amount of dressing, adding more as necessary slowly dressing the salad as to not drench it all at once.  Add the goat cheese crumbles and almonds.  Lastly, plate the salad onto a chilled serving plate.  Using a slotted spoon, remove the strawberries from the vinegar and place them on top of the greens.  Finally, top with fresh ground pepper and serve.

Four Tips for Choosing the RIGHT Olive Oil

Photo from Georgetown Olive Oil Co.

Photo from Georgetown Olive Oil Co.

My clients regularly ask me how important using olive oil is. Of course, we have all heard about olive oil’s health benefits. But there is still understandable confusion. I’m regularly asked, “How does olive oil compare to other oils? How does it work? What kind of olive oil is best? How much should I use?” My answer: It depends…

These are important questions as more and more science is finding that the nutrients in olive oil, called “polyphenols,” are responsible for its superior health benefits. Increased longevity, reductions in cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, obesity, diabetes, and various cancers, are among the benefits, confirmed a 2015 review of studies published in the British Journal of Nutrition. But olive oils can vary significantly in their polyphenol content. There are four times more phenolic compounds in high quality extra virgin olive oil versus low quality or refined olive oil – 232 mg vs 62 mg per kilogram of oil – so it is important you choose the right olive oil.

“99 percent of olive oil’s health benefits are related to the presence of the phenolic compounds, not the oil itself,” said Nasir Malik, NIH Scientist.  “And without the polyphenols, you might as well use the less expensive canola oil.”

Surprisingly, when tested by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, polyphenols were low in most commercially available olive oils. They also didn’t live up to international quality standards defining extra virgin olive oil. These standards require an acidic pH, necessary to protect the nutrients. And the olive oils’ pH had degraded – even in the highest end gourmet shops – according to studies conducted at the University of California at Davis Olive Center.

That’s because olive oil’s polyphenol content diminishes, and its acidic pH degrades over time, as days, weeks, and months go by after harvest. Other factors play a role, too: the harvesting methods, the age of the trees, the ripeness of the olives, the processing, and the storage. Since time, heat, and light affect polyphenol content, choose olive oil that:

  • Is no more than one year old (look for the harvest date on the label),
  • Is in an air-tight, dark glass, or tin container,
  • Is stored in a cool environment, and
  • Smells and tastes like olives, which could be fruity, grassy, or peppery.

Is olive oil better for your health than other oils? The answer is yes, according to a new study in Nutrition & Diabetes. For one, “The risk of type 2 diabetes reduced by 13% with increasing intake of olive oil up to 15 to 20 grams per day (3 to 4 teaspoons),” according to the study.  When refined olive oil, or other oils, were compared, fresh extra virgin olive oil was more beneficial for the prevention and management of diabetes. It was associated with lower fasting blood glucose, and Hemoglobin A1C, a three-month average of blood glucose and an important marker for diabetic complications.

Other studies have found high polyphenol olive oil improves health in many ways:

  • Increasing levels of good cholesterol (which helps clear artery-clogging fat from the bloodstream),
  • Improving artery wall health and functioning (important for healthy blood pressure, blood flow, reducing blood clots, and the risk of cardiovascular disease), and
  • Reducing oxidation and inflammation processes involved in many diseases from infections to cancer.

To take full advantage of your olive oil’s flavor and health benefits, save your recently harvested, high quality extra virgin olive oil for drizzling on vegetables, salads, or anything! When cooking with high heat, i.e., stir frying, use canola oil or nut oils instead, as they can be less expensive, and have higher smoking points so can tolerate higher temperatures without burning.

My favorite vinaigrette: Mix 1 or 2 tablespoons of olive oil with 1 or 2 tablespoons of freshly squeezed lemon juice, salt and pepper. The proportion of olive oil to lemon juice depends on how tart you like your vinaigrette. You can also add a smidge of mustard or herbs. Serve!

One shop in Georgetown which consistently sells high quality olive oils is Georgetown Olive Oil company. It is locally owned and operated at 1524 Wisconsin Avenue. The shop displays rare-to-find information, such as the oils’ date of harvest, provenance, and detailed descriptions. And you can taste any of the oils at any time. I highly recommend this cozy and friendly specialty shop where they clearly understand what makes a great olive oil!

For more detailed information on olive oil, read my Washington Post article: “Most Olive Oil is not as Healthful as You Think” 

Georgetown Olive Oil's Varietals EVOO-2016 CRUSH (olive oil color is determined by the olive from which it is made)

Georgetown Olive Oil’s Varietals EVOO-2016 CRUSH (olive oil color is determined by the olive from which it is made)

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