Happy New Year (round two)

I have always enjoyed the fact that Chinese New Year falls sometime around mid-January to early February, depending on the year (being based on the lunar calendar means the actual date changes every year). It means you get to have a happy new year a second time around, so if your resolutions haven’t been kept you can try again!

This year Chinese New Year falls on 25th of January. In China the mass exodus of people going home to their hometown has already begun with the two week long holiday more precious than Christmas here.

While celebrating the new lunar calendar is the obvious focus here, the main point for most people is the celebration of family and home. No matter where you are, a good meal is important, both as a symbolic gesture of good things (and meals) to come in the next twelve months and also from a nutritious point of view. Seafood, meat, vegetarian dishes, everything works.

This meal is about abundance without being ostentatious. It doesn’t have to be Chinese to be authentic Chinese New Year fare: think lobster linguine, scallops with spinach and broccoli, Japanese silken tofu with shiitake mushrooms and needle mushrooms. Plentiful does not have to mean heavy at mealtimes.

Decorate your home with satsumas (get those with the stalk and leaves still attached) as a sign of prosperity and eat them throughout the week. Red is the colour of good fortune so make sure to add a splash of red to your living space or better yet, wear it on the day. If black is usually your colour, then a pair of red socks will be a subtle addition.

There are many traditions the Chinese follow on the day but ultimately it all comes back to wishing others well and receiving well wishes from others graciously. It is all about the concept of paying it forward, or karma or very simply, kindness. For one day (and hopefully it reminds you for the rest of the year) the universal wish is to hope for a good future for everyone and to leave the stresses aside.

HAPPY CHINESE NEW YEAR!!

Start afresh in January

January is a time of new beginning and promise, of renewal and and reflection. We have come so far over the past twelve months and are now back full circle.

We have seen the crispness of the season change into a delightful world of dewdrops with a fluidity that only nature can have. In your own world bring that awareness to your mind and body and feed your soul.

Most of us know to have a physical ailment looked at when it first appears, but remember to also pay attention to subtle shifts in your mental world.

In Chinese culture, we use the word “heart” to describe what would be attributed to the mind in the West. If something is on your mind, your friend might call you up to discuss “heart matters” and that isn’t always about romantic issues, it could be finance, relationships, career, stress, parents, children, anything. The Chinese character for bored (悶) shows a heart framed by a door. When the heart is enclosed and not free-flowing, obstruction occurs.

Use the new year to open your heart: Declutter your mind palace and your physical home. I cherish many my many objects which may seem ordinary to you but are of great sentimental value to me, but I am also a person who keeps things “just in case”. With the new baby comes an amazing flood of paraphernalia and it has been difficult removing those “just in case” items. But I did it and six bags await the charity shop. It has been incredibly cathartic and also slightly symbolic.

Rebalance your heart channel with a restorative acupuncture treatment, or use essential oils to enhance positivity. Seek advice from an aromatherapist or just leave some mandarin peel to dry in your home. That citrus freshness in the winter is delightful.

Simple cold and flu remedy

The excitement of the holiday season finally got to me and lo and behold on Boxing Day I woke up with the sniffles and a sore throat that seemed to go all the way to my ears. Swallowing was painful and I was starting to feel miserable.

This simple cold and flu remedy though can save the day. Consisting of just three ingredients, ginger, lemon and honey, it soothes just where it’s needed.

Some people are often wary of ginger, which is a very “hot” food-type, as they worry that too much “hot” food can make their bodies “heaty”. This is not a concern here as the lemon and honey helps to balance out the heatiness, which is the beauty of Chinese medicine.

Also for those of you who don’t like sweet drinks, the amount of honey is minimal here and is to help with the soothing action of this remedy. Of course you can add more if you like it to be less tangy.

You will need:

1 ginger root: about 5cm / 2 inch portion. Shave the skin off and cut into thin rounds about the thickness of a coin.

2 organic lemons: cut into thin slices, leaving the rind on. If you’re feeling really unwell, buy the lemon juice at the store but fresh is better.

Raw honey: about 2 tablespoons. You can add more to taste.

Fill a medium pot about ¾ full and bring to boil. Drop in the ginger root and let to simmer for 5 minutes. Turn off the heat, add in the lemon and honey and cover with lid. Allow to steep for 10 minutes. Strain it into your cup.

I make a pot like this and reheat when needed during the day.

Spend some time reflecting this holiday season

The end of the year festivities is fast upon us. Lights in stores are twinkling and there is the wonder of ice rinks and mulled wine, hot chocolate and dashes after work to the parties.

I really like this time of year, it is especially nice crossing the bridges of London on foot and catching all the intangible excitement in the air. It could only happen at this time of year, the very last month, when it can often feel like being in the eye of the storm.

I know from experience in my practice, that the festive season and end of year celebrations can bring along quite a bit of stress. Stress at trying to fit all the meals and drinks in an already busy schedule, stress at shopping in the crowds, and stress at the human relationships that can sometimes feel overwrought with the extra added stress.

It can be easy to forget the meaning of December. Take away the cultural and religious significance and what you have is a time for us to be able to reflect. This is the bookend of the year where you can think about what the previous twelve months have brought.

What always surprises me is that when you take the time to have a brief moment and step away from the whirlwind that is life, a sudden onset of exhaustion can appear. One second you’re running from place to place, juggling the many hats we all wear in modern life and when you stop to think it can seem quite remarkable what we achieve in a day, in a week, in a year.

For some of us, the festivities are a joy – the busy buzziness of the season is something to relish. But for others it can be a bit too much or you may find yourself in the company of someone who isn’t the joy of the party. Other times a melting pot of stress and fatigue can turn into an explosion of unmeant words or actions. In those moments deep breathing and smiles really do wonders.

It is important to remember that while being the charming diplomat is always nice, it is not your job to make literally everybody happy. This is your time as well so enjoy the lights and have a wonderful December!

Turmeric can’t do a thing for you without these other foods

Finally! An article that doesn’t just list the benefits of one particular substance – it talks about needing other things with it in order to get its full benefits. This is the fundamental principle of working with Chinese herbs and nutrition: one ingredient’s function can be modified or enhanced depending on what it’s combined with.

Turmeric can’t do a thing for you without these other foods | The Hearty Soul

September checklist

After the freshness of spring and the long days of the summer, September is like the final stretch of the marathon. It has a completely different feel to the other times of the year: it beckons the end of one season but is still warm and bright enough to ease us into the beginning of autumn without plunging us into the darkness of the winter months.

For me, September is a wonderful time to enjoy the last of the Indian summer (which appears to be inevitable in London) and also anticipate the crisp, red leaves that will pop out by the month’s end. It is also a wonderful time to organise yourself, physically and mentally before the madness of the final quarter of the year.

1.  If you’re due for a check up, get an eye test and visit the dentist. Your eyes and teeth are with you for life, so knowing that they are all fine always gives you peace of mind.

2.  De-clutter your home. Who says you can only spring clean once a year? See what you have in your wardrobe and cupboards that you haven’t used for over a year and give it away. Making space allows you to fully appreciate what you have kept and also means you can then make way for new purchases.

3.  In this age of digital everything, it can be easy to save everything but keep nothing. Choose ten favourite photos you’ve taken over the past year and actually print them out on good old fashion paper. There is something special about being able to physically hold an image, just like our grandmothers used to do. You could display them in frames but I prefer organising them in an actual photo album. I find it a wonderful way to spend a “slow” day and it also gives me a reason to visit Paperchase.

4.  Inevitably everyone eats better in the summer. There’s something about dining al-fresco which prevents us from consuming vast amounts of stodge – even the afternoon teas tend to serve lighter fare. Carry this healthiness over into September and all the way through the later months. Focus less on super foods and more on colours and textures.

5.  Flu season is around the corner so prepare your system with propolis or daily doses of Echinacea. Chai tea or cinnamon is perfect for those windy days where you feel under the weather or if you’ve been caught in the drizzle.

Getting ready for spring

In the blink of an eye, winter is slowly coming to its end and giving way to spring. After a long season of darkness and what was really a late winter of bone-chilling cold, it is time to shake off the cobwebs and welcome the change.

I have been advising many of you during your treatments to stay away from the cold nature of juicing until the warmer months and now is the time to gradually introduce it to your day. Moderation is key so make it a part of your day, but not your entire day. If juicing is not really your thing then celebrate the freshness with warm salads. Asparagus on a bed of stir-fried kale and wilted baby spinach with some chopped tomatoes and feta cheese is a lovely thing to have on a sunny day. I love the addition of a soft boiled egg (or two) or some edamame beans add a great crunch.

Keen gardeners would agree with me that timing and preparation is key to a great season of bloom and that is the same with our bodies. We have harnessed the energy during the cold season and now we can slowly (and cautiously) start removing some layers. The British weather is unpredictable though so a scarf is still a necessity just in case the bright, warm sun decides to hide behind the clouds.

You may read articles about Liver being the organ of springtime and be told to anticipate unsettled moments of irritability. The truth is if you’ve been keeping well through acupuncture or other balancing methods like a proper diet and regular movement, then there should be no obvious signs of stagnation just because we are approaching the months of March, April and May.

Likewise, if your body is still tweaking and finding its place then you may still feel the aches or hot flushes or digestive issues. My advice: stay away from the pick-and-mix world of popular culture. Your body is your own and no broad brush stroke of an idea can describe you individually.

However, do take in the fresher, younger air that comes with the season of growth. Remember to take a long breath in – many of us exhale slowly and fully but sometimes forget to fill that exhalation with an equally long and full breath in. After all, inspiration isn’t only to inspire with ideas, it’s also the simple act of filling your lungs and being.

The simple power of a smile

A smile is a truly wonderful thing. It is the best make up for your face, easy to wear, suits all face shapes and sizes, and you never need to worry about forgetting it somewhere.

When you’re happy, a smile sings the message to the world. When you’re feeling low, wearing a smile can warm you right up slowly but surely from your core all the way to the extremities.

When you smile at someone, others respond to it subconsciously and the feel good effect enhances. Sometimes, there is nothing more magical than sharing a quiet smile with a complete stranger knowing that no words will ever be exchanged.

Consider this lovely passage:

“It costs nothing, but creates much. It enriches those who receive, without impoverishing those who give. It happens in a flash and the memory of it sometimes lasts forever. None are so rich they can get along without it and none so poor but are richer for its benefits.

It creates happiness in the home, fosters goodwill in a business, and is the countersign of friends. It is rest to the weary, daylight to the discouraged, sunshine to the sad, and nature’s best antidote for trouble.

Yet it cannot be bought, begged, borrowed or stolen, for it is something that is no earthly good to anyone ’til it is given away. And if in the hurly-burly bustle of today’s business world, some of the people you meet should be too tired to give you a smile, may we ask you to leave one of yours?

For nobody needs a smile so much as those who have none left to give.”

The Simple but Powerful Act of Smiling | Success.com

+ The article claims those lovely words were written by Dale Carnegie. Others say it might be from somewhere else as seen here (love the newspaper ads from 1927!) but either way, it definitely made me smile.

Sweet Potato Yaki Soba

Note from Editor: The following guest post is by the lovely Marie of Bain-Marie, a conscious food chef and writer based in London. She has kindly shared her delicious recipe using what she calls “swoodles” or spiralised sweet potato noodles. A delightfully refreshing and healthy dish, perfect for the summer days – enjoy!


Firstly a few things to get out of the way before we dive into the recipe. Did you know that sweet potatoes can be eaten raw (unlike its whiter, starchier counterpart: the potato which definitely cannot be eaten raw!)? And did you know you could spiralise sweet potato to make the most beautiful orange noodles. I like to call them swoodles. Poodles are potato noodles of course, see my recipe for Chinese Silky Potatoes for the most delicious spiralised potato recipe. But let’s face it, sweet potato wins the medal on both the colourful front and the nutrition front so I whipped up this yaki soba inspired dish on a chilly evening and the result is something to behold.

So here is a Bain-Marie take on a classic Japanese noodle dish, reinterpreted with a rainbow of seasonal vegetables (think rainbow chard, leeks, peppers, mushrooms), tamari, ginger, garlic, chilli, lemon juice and a touch of sweetness that comes from the “swoodles”. Truly a hug in a bowl. It takes minutes to throw together and the whole family will love it. We demo-ed this recipe at our Eat The Rainbow cooking class for children and parents and children alike couldn’t get enough.

The dish is both warming and comforting from the ginger and chilli yet so light and nourishing, making it the perfect quick evening meal so as not to go to bed having eaten anything too heavy. In true Japanese style, you can throw a pan-fried sunny side up egg on top of each serving and you’ve got yourself the most balanced and protein-rich meal. Or if you’re not veggie, feel free to add any other protein of choice such as some sustainably-sourced salmon, prawns or chicken. This is the perfect time of year to be loading up on orange foods like sweet potatoes that are bursting with beta-carotene, as it helps prepare your skin for the sun from the inside out.

With sweet potato love,

Marie

Sweet Potato Yaki Soba

Serves 2-3

Ingredients:

  • 2-3 (600g) sweet potatoes, spiralised on the smallest setting
  • 2 tbsp olive oil or avocado oil
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 shallots, finely sliced
  • 1″ piece ginger, peeled and grated
  • 1 tbsp dried red chilli flakes or 1 red chilli pepper
  • 4 cabbage leaves, finely sliced
  • 1 red pepper, finely sliced
  • 8 shiitake mushrooms (or oyster), sliced
  • 300g rainbow chard, spinach and/or kale (few large handfuls)
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 3 tbsp tamari soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp black sesame seeds
  • 2 spring onions
  • handful fresh coriander
  • dried dulse flakes or other seaweed flakes (optional but delicious for that traditional seaweed flavour)

Instructions:

1. Spiralise the sweet potato on the smallest setting. Heat the olive oil or avocado oil in a large wok and add the sweet potato noodles. Cook for 15-20 minutes on a medium heat, tossing every few minutes to prevent burning. You can add 1-2 tbsp of water to prevent sticking.

2. Whilst the sweet potato noodles are cooking, finely mince the garlic, ginger and chilli. Add sesame oil to another frying pan and add the garlic, ginger and half the chilli and heat gently until it is fragrant.

3. Slice the cabbage and red pepper thinly and add both to pan. Slice the mushrooms and rainbow chard then add all to the pan. Pour in the tamari and lemon juice, give it all a stir and leave to cook for a few minutes.

4. Finally, slice the remaining chilli (if using fresh chilli) and spring onions on a slant. When the sweet potato noodles are softened but still firm to the bite, remove them from the heat and gently combine with the stir-fried vegetables.

5. Plate up and sprinkle with lots of black sesame seeds, the chopped fresh chilli (or dried flakes), spring onion, coriander leaves and seaweed flakes. Enjoy!

For more healthy food inspiration, see other recipes from Bain-Marie.

How does stress affect your gut health?

Over the past few years, the mind-gut connection has filtered from the research world into the mainstream media. More and more information is now available on how the health of the gut can tell how stressed you are, how likely you are to fall ill and how long it will take you to recover. I have been following this research with great interest because in a completely unexpected way, the concept parallels one of the principles of Chinese meridian.

For centuries and definitely in the past few decades, Chinese medicine touted what seemed like a very bizarre concept: That how you eat, what you ate and your digestion could even remotely affect your stress levels and vice versa and then all that in turn could influence how often you felt unwell and how easily you would recover from illness. It is definitely an idea that takes a while for the brain to comprehend at first.

The idea is actually quite simple. Many of you are already familiar with channels and meridians, and the organ systems being similar to chess pieces that all have a job and main function. Some organ systems control the first line of defence while others are more systemic, they take a while to weaken but when dysfunction occurs, things fall apart quite spectacularly.

Among the chess pieces, the Spleen and Stomach functions in Chinese medicine are primarily focused on transforming what the body eats into nutrients and then transporting them to areas of the body where they are needed. But the Spleen doesn’t just toil away endlessly with no complaints. Like all of us, it expects a good work environment with regular hours and a good work-life balance. Like all good workers, it can work under pressure for a while but it won’t be able to do it forever.

A lot of modern lifestyle choices can feel like Victorian-era workhouses to the Spleen: the long hours, late nights, work stress, relationship stress, commuting stress, being put on hold for 30 minutes stress, lunch at the desk, late dinners, skipping meals, raw food, salads and smoothies all year round, constant snacking, sugary drinks, cakes and then more cakes. Individually (and most certainly collectively) any one of these factors over a long period of time can start to wear the Spleen down, and when that happens, it’s like trying to work with a constant hangover.

You feel like you’re walking through quick sand, heavy and lethargic, the brain feels foggy and the body seems weighed down or is actually weighed down with some extra pounds. There is bloating, loose bowels, and then sometimes constipation. If you’re a lady, there might be extra discharge down there. Stress becomes harder to manage and for some, apathy sets in so that while you would like to go out with your friends, when the day actually comes, pyjamas and sofa seem more inviting. Sleep is all you want but no amount of sleep makes you feel truly refreshed.

And now consider this picture from research on the gut and the trillions of microbes that live in your body:

There are receptors throughout our bodies that respond to signals from the microbes or the metabolites that they produce. For example, certain microbes can influence the production of the serotonin molecule, which plays a role in appetite regulation, food intake, well-being and sleep. That gives the microbes a tremendous ability to influence overall health states.

The LA Times recently interviewed Dr. Emeran Mayer who has been studying interactions between the gut and the mind for 30 years and is the author of “The Mind-Gut Connection”. He further describes the effects of stress and anxiety and how the gut microbiota responds:

When we experience these emotions — especially stress and anxiety — there is also a release of stress hormones like adrenaline and norepinephrine. They circulate in the blood and make your heart beat faster and cause sweaty palms. We are learning now that they also influence the behavior of the microbes in your gut because they have receptors for these chemicals.

It is fascinating to see how finally after all the years and from completely different angles, the importance of the gut is being understood and it is possible that more theories from Chinese medicine can be understood from scientific research.

Why feel emotions in our gut, and what microbes have to do with it | LA Times