Natural Living (Test)

I totally, utterly forgot about posting Tuesday.

This is why:

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Sweet Potatoes Can Save the World

Okinawan purple sweet potatoes

My friend calls me a yaki imo (roasted sweet potato) addict. He told students that I teach that I have “yaki-imomania”. It isn’t far from the truth. I’m crazy about them! They are sweet, carby, filling, satisfying, and nourishing – the ultimate healthy comfort food. They give me an extra burst of energy and mollify my troubled soul on days when nothing seems to go quite right. But I can always rest contented knowing that I’ve given my body and soul what it needs – a whole foods solution.I didn’t really embrace my love of sweet potatoes until I read the book Sweet Potato Power. There I learned about the glory that is all things sweet potato, realized there were other people out in the world as crazy about sweet potatoes as I am (some even somewhat close by!), and became totally convinced that sweet potatoes can, in fact, save the world.

Frazzled Scallops & Sauteed Mushrooms

I don’t know what it is about traveling. I love it, of course. But there is a small, homebody part of me that can get stressed out – aka frazzled, in Team Johnson vocabulary – about the actual traveling. I’m not afraid of flying or anything like that, and I’ve been traveling alone for quite some time. I’m not sure why leaving my nest gives me a little flutter of underlying anxiety (god help my future college-age children if I’m a ball of nerves about myself).

Of course, as if I didn’t have enough to prepare for a multi-week, cross-ocean trip – including food for a 12 hour plane ride since United is too silly to provide gluten-free meals! – I like to use big trips as a deadline for achieving stuff around the house: clearing out clutter, seeing friends that I have been too “busy” to connect with in the past month, even creating future recipes. And when I say “like”, I mean, this is an old habit that I fall back on in times of stress, which only makes me more stressed out. Makes perfect sense right? You’ve got a lot on your plate, so you might as well add some more! Eeesh…Really I should be doing these things a little bit at a time, day by day, getting energy-draining or clutter-clearing tasks done immediately. I’m slowly improving on this habit, but I do have a long way to go.

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Shop with a Cause #2:

Like most things, I jumped in headfirst last week in introducing my “Shop with a Cause” idea. That usually happens when I am super excited or feel strongly about something. I thought I’d take a post and introduce the mentality behind my idea before diving any further.I have several rules for myself  regarding shopping. I try to buy things only when I need them, and avoid impulse buying at all costs. I think to myself – would I rather have another bag, or this throwaway container of takeout food, or save those few dollars to go towards a trip (or another iHerb care package to myself)? Secondly, I donate 10% of whatever I buy for myself: clothes, body treatments, any small luxuries or trips, to support causes I care about. But you don’t have to make monthly donations to improve green solutions. In fact, I think it is better to make smaller donations in the form of consumer prices and still get something in return.* That is why I say “buy with a cause”.

So here’s an easy way to integrate green living into daily life: go shopping! Rather than bend over backwards to scrape up enough money for a donation or do large sum donations (not that I am discouraging that at all, but I realize it isn’t always possible to be as generous as you wish), you can easily support local and/or fair quality businesses and the products they produce by choosing carefully what you really need to buy and where you want your money to go.

When consumers let companies or businesses know that they want goods that are made sustainably and in a way that protects workers and the environment, companies respond to that consumer demand. Do yourself, your community, and your planet a favor and look for better options when shopping. Speaking of options, Japan has some amazing recycle shops (secondhand stores) where I can buy things I need for my household at a fraction of the price. As I’ve learned with the number of hand beaters and irons my family went through, after my mom’s original wedding gifts from 1981 crapped out a few years back, new is not always better. So check out your local secondhand stores!

Last weekend I bought myself a “new” dress for about $6. It’s a great way to recycle and avoid contributing any more waste materials by consumption.

Check out the Story of Stuff for a compelling reason to examine your levels of consumerism.

For any one who is interested, I just made last month’s round of donations to these organizations:

Oceana.orgsaving our oceans from being treated like a toilet (my words, not Oceana’s) and spreading the word about sustainable seafood
The Central Asia Institutecommunity-based education, especially for girls
Concern Worldwiderelief for the current food crisis in West Africa
Returning Veterans Projecthelping veterans address the physical, emotional and psychological challenges of coming home

Next Month:
Partners in Health – providing a preferential health care option for the poor
Henry Vilas Zoo, Madison, WI – one of the few FREE zoos in the country!
TBD

TBD

Food for Thought #5: Health vs. Weight Loss

I’ve covered cooking mistakes, having heart and finding creativity, holistic health, and self-love. I know what you’re thinking.
Ok so love is great and everything, but what do I eat????
I know. It boils down to that for me too. Food. Always. Really good food.

milkshakes can be part of a whole foods breakfast!

Yet with all my health struggles, I’ve been wrapped up in worrying about what foods were causing me problems (aka what I was eating/doing wrong) when really I needed to focus on a whole foods diet, eliminate toxins, and prioritize regaining my health.

What are whole foods? Foods that are unprocessed and unrefined. Foods that do not contain added ingredients or, more likely, chemicals. If you can’t pronounce it – it is not a food. Simple as that. Generally, the more packaging something has, the further away it gets from being a whole food and the closer it gets to being a frankenfood. These are products that are not foods at all, but a concoction of chemicals, GMOs*, and what used to resemble food. This fake food is equally addicting, yes addicting, and damaging to your health – think diabetes, exacerbated thyroid disorders, PCOS, obesity, and the whole litany of health issues plaguing us today. It’s not only about physical health, but holistic health. I know the terrible emotional and mental disruption and pain that is caused by eating fake food products and how these addicting substances can break the healthy relationship between mind and body.

No one deserves that. I’m not trying to judge or condemn the way people eat. I’m just trying to get everyone to recognize the difference between real FOOD and a concoction of packaging, chemicals, and unhappiness pushed on us by companies that care neither for our health or well-being but simply profit. I don’t want people to have diabetes, thyroid disorders, or any chronic health condition – I want them to be educated and empowered about their health. I don’t want people to suffer needlessly from the damaging emotional affects of addictive “food substances” – I want them to be happy!

Eating whole foods will make you feel better. You’ll be released from addictive substances found in fast, packaged and processed “food”. You won’t be blaming yourself for what you eat or feel out of control with constant cravings and mood swings. You will feel healthy, alive, and ready to tackle the beautiful mess that is life. Trade chemicals and addiction for scrumptious real food and happiness.

garden-fresh lunch

One easy step to start a whole foods journey? Start reading labels. People with food allergies are probably already used to this, but pay attention to what ingredients are in your “food”. If you can’t pronounce it, it isn’t food and you shouldn’t be eating it! Better yet, buy things without labels. Fish, sustainably-raised meat, poultry, and eggs,  raw fruits and tons of vegetables are the easiest examples. Of course your diet is not this limited,  because, first of all, there are so many things you can do with vegetables. I make quick pickles, soups, as many salads as there are cuisines to match, smoothies, curries and stir fries galore. Roasted vegetables are one of the most perfect foods, in my opinion. For carbs, I love all things squash – kabocha, butternut, acorn, etc – and of course my beloved sweet potatoes. I find these foods deeply satisfying, health-promoting, and happiness-inducing. But don’t listen to me alone!

Nourished Kitchen has a guide to Getting Started with Real Food
and love it too did a guest post on Paleo Parents: “Eating real food with little time or money”

whole foods snackeroo

For those of you who eat grains, whole foods can include things like brown rice and quinoa, etc. Beans are an option for some. Just make sure to buy things in as close to their original form as possible. Some of my favorite non-GMO brands are: Bob’s Red Mill (healthy grains, gluten-free flours, etc), Arrowhead Mills (quinoa), Eden Foods, Muir Glen (BPA-free canned tomatoes), US Wellness Meats, Lundberg Family Farms (for rice and wild rice), Mountain Herb Rose (cacao nibs and tea), Nutiva (coconut, chia and hemp), and Tropical Traditions (everything on that site!). More lists of GMO-free foods here.

Once you’ve mastered the habit of reading labels and recognized that frankenfoods do nothing but harm your body, no matter how great you “think” it will taste, you can move on to making more foods at home. I also make a lot of my own foods to avoid preservatives: when I can have nuts, I make my own almond milk. Making your food becomes increasingly important if you have to go on an elimination diet or other type of health-repairing eating plan.

Even though I already consider myself to eat a whole foods diet, I still have a lot to learn. I needed to quit microanalyzing every kind of food I ate and how it was affecting my weight-loss, and instead focus on the whole picture – my overall health. I’ve shed the anxiety that always came with trying to control my diet in order to lose weight. I’m much more at ease when I eat to be healthy rather than try and restrict and cut back in order to lose weight. Why we think deprivation is the norm is baffling to me – it is neither healthy physically or mentally. It’s easier to make healthy choices when I focus on improving my health rather then wrestling with body image.

That new, relaxed mindset also makes it much easier to eat a restricted diet in order to improve health conditions. Currently, in order to heal my PCOS, I am not eating fructose in any form (aka fruit), nuts, beans or legumes, grains, and the usual culprits of gluten, dairy, soy, and sugar. I remember two years ago I balked at the thought of not eating any sugar or even fruit. But that was brain-panic, covering up the real truth of what my body needed in order to get better. And now that I am focusing on HEALTH, it is frankly quite easy to overcome this challenge, because I know I’ll be able to eat fruit again in a few months or so after I’ve healed and avoiding certain foods will help me heal faster and more effectively.  My health is more important than any temporal challenge of not eating Japanese peaches. As you regain your health, it is much easier to see the benefit of making careful food choices rather than panicking over what you will “lose”.

whole foods dinner. oh momma…

Speaking of losing, if you want to lose weight in the long term and keep it off? Then you need to forget about the word “lose” in any form – concentrate on being healthy instead. Especially if you are fighting some chronic condition, you aren’t going to be able to lose weight effectively if you aren’t healthy. Sometimes with certain conditions, rapid weight loss and adrenal-exhausting types of exercise can actually damage our health in the long term!** Luckily, most of the things you do to improve your health also work with weight loss goals, especially if you’re stuck in the lovely catch-22 of something like PCOS, where you need to lose weight in order to heal from PCOS, but you can’t lose weight effectively because you have PCOS! (Same goes for a lot of thyroid disorders)

So instead of getting lost in that quagmire of weight loss frustration, I’m taking charge with my new “gain health” plan:

1.  eliminate toxins
Ok so what does that mean for me? Eliminating toxins and focusing on nourishing food – no more food from cans (BPA!), no more eating out where things are fried in vegetable oil, and watching what kind of packaging the food I buy comes in. This may seem daunting to some at first – don’t worry. Knowing what goes into your food is the first step. Email me if you are really lost, but start slow and make gradual changes. That way you can stick with a whole foods eating plan, rather than being overwhelmed and trying to do it all at once.

The Whole30 Plan might be an option for some of you who need extra guidance.

2. experience food
I have a bad habit of eating while standing, grabbing food and shoving it in my mouth, and just kind of eating without really paying attention to what I’m doing. So I am concentrating on preparing and enjoying my food – not shoveling stuff into my mouth mechanically while I do other work.

3. recognize the difference between a mind-based craving and what my body actually says
Most of the time I crave stuff because I see it or think about it, not because my body is really hungry or wanting something. This falls under my general rule of less thinking and more feeling.

4. No eating after 8pm This one is just more of a practical thing. I tend to make more mind-based, not body-based, choices about food as the evening wears on. Eating too close to bedtime stresses out my adrenals, and eating late it is usually some sort of mental or emotional response rather than a response to actual nourishment that my body needs. It’s just easier to make better choices earlier in the day. Set yourself up for success!

5. focus on healing
My health is one of my most important priorities, which is not only physical but also my emotional response to eating and my mental and spiritual health as well. When I focus on a long-term goal of healing, it is much easier to remain in tune with my body and keep practicing self-love.

Of course, this is all combined with a personal exercise program that includes yoga, running, swimming and strength training once per week. These are just examples of what I do. I think it is most important to exercise while doing something you like, so you continue to stick with it and enjoy it.  Yoga and running make me feel good. Swimming is new so it keeps things novel and interesting in my routine. I do strength training because, while mentally I’m not in love with it, I feel stronger and know that I am stretching and growing in my ability. So don’t worry so much about what you think about exercise – just hold on to how good it makes you feel.

What ways are you gaining health in your life? What inspires you to exercise? What are your favorite whole foods?? (Next week I am going to talk about mine, and share some great new recipes!)

one of my favorite whole foods – sweet potatoes! I’ll eat them for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert.

Food for Thought #4 Self-love, an introduction

Food for Thought #6 How Sweet Potatoes Can Save the World

More reading:

*GMOs are a whole ‘nother ball of wax and a topic for many many blog posts. If you want to learn more, start here.

First Guest Post: Blueberry Avocado Smoothie!

The other day I was searching for an email my brother had sent me and I typed “Joe radish” into the search bar. We tend to like the same sorts of food – and by like I mean rave like addicts – such as grilled vegetables, coconut anything, and of course sweet potatoes. We email at least 4 times a week, and a majority of those emails are about food. I love having a person in my life who gets as excited about making and sharing food as I do. I mean, how often do you pair a person’s name with a vegetable in your search bar? I thought I’d share a few of our missives first before moving on to this gorgeous, quick and easy recipe, perfect for an energy-packed breakfast or afternoon pick-me-up.

it’s go time

Kate:
ahhhhhhhhhhhh your produce box makes me so jealous!!!! salad and green smoothie every week, holla. and KALE. oh momma kale…

***

Joe: got some beef stew meat. What veggies should I put in it?
Kate: Hmm beef stew…sweet potatoes. Traditional is carrots, potatoes, peas. I think any kind of root veggie would be great: rutabegas, parsnips, acorn squash, butternut squash. Butternut squash! That would be really good. Spring onions. Garlic? I can’t think of any American produce right now….some sort of spinach or spinach family…Chard! No , kale. KALE.
***
Kate: Yeah if you could post it that would be great! You can also put your website up there too and get your name out. Btw, are you friends with civilized caveman on facebook????!!!!

Joe: yes walter yes
***
Joe: also, thought you would like my eating adventures… went to yoga first thing this morning and then was having a hungry day.  breakfast was:

9 over easy eggs
2/3 bag baby spinach
2 GF bagels with almond butter and sliced strawberries and banana
1 apple
handful baby carrots

was surprised by the quantity, but I think it was partially because I had a hungry day yesterday too and never quite satisfied the hunger…

Kate:
I do enjoy hearing about your eating adventures. What kind of GF bagels do you get? probably an extra hungry day from all the travel and whatnot. I can’t believe you eat an average of 7-9 eggs! and he’s roughly the size of a barge! Gastoooooooooon….

***
Joe:
today I made pecan-encrusted and walnut-encrusted chicken, and I think it is my new favorite thing.  I also want to try it with hazelnuts and try nut+salmon.  I also roasted my first kabocha squash!
Kate:
AHHH SO HUNGRY TODAY.but those nut encrusted things sound sooo delicious, esp the salmon right now. do you add any other spices? I’m feeling some nutmeg with those hazelnuts, but just a dash. also have you tried herbamare?  its really good
SQUAAAAAAAAAAAASH. I’m buying an oven with my next paycheck. roasting here I come…ps I am drinking this tea called “healthy tea” (or herushii, as the japanese say) and it has carrots, reishi, orange peel, some other random stuff I dont know, but it is for my “Beauty Feeling”. what a country
***

As you can see, my brother does most of the intelligent communication – asking questions, telling stories, sharing recipes and brainstorming ideas. I usually respond with emphatic capitalization of the foods I want to eat in that very moment. Can you turn vegetables into an onomatopoeia? One amazing oversight is that I haven’t included any of the other 10,000 emails where we use the word awesome repeatedly. But having someone like Joe to share food adventures, questions, and inspiration with is nothing short of awesome and awe-inspiring. I’m incredibly lucky to have him as a friend, role model, and brother. And we’re lucky that he is sharing his smoothie-making magic with us today! This guy is a wonder at the juicer, blender, and grill:
Blueberry Avocado Smoothies, by Joe Johnson of Feeling Terrific

Rushing to work and don’t have time to make a big breakfast? Need a summer cool-down but don’t want to reach for ice cream or sno-cones? Just want to experience the fantastic flavors of your favorite fruits and vegetables blended together? Green smoothies to the rescue!
I personally have a smoothie for breakfast every workday. It only takes a few minutes to prepare and I can enjoy it on the road while driving to work. I pack my smoothies full of fruit, greens, and healthy fats to keep me satiated and steady all morning.This version starts with blueberries, my favorite of fruits. I usually get frozen wild blueberries at Trader Joe’s, which remind me of picking blueberries with Kate near our grandparents’ house.

I made another version that used cucumber instead of blueberries – SO GOOD

Coconut milk was a staple in my smoothies until I discovered something better: avocado!
Avocado is an under-used smoothie ingredient that makes any drink incredibly creamy.
Start adding ¼-1/2 an avocado to your smoothies and I guarantee you’ll never go back!
The healthy fats keep my blood sugar stable and keep me full all morning – no crashes like after donuts or coffee.

I throw a handful of greens into my smoothies to give me extra energy and vitamins. Amazingly, they blend right in and you don’t even taste them. I usually use red or green kale, but swiss chard or spinach work well too.

Top your smoothie off with a superfood like raw cacao powder, maca, ground flax seeds,
or chia seeds, and you’ll truly have a breakfast of champions! This version includes chia
seeds, which become awesomely gelatinous and interesting when soaked overnight.

Blueberry-Avocado Smoothies

1 cup frozen blueberries (organic, if possible)
½ ripe avocado
Handful red kale
1 T chia seeds soaked overnight in ½ cup water
2 cups water (add more for a thinner consistency)
(optional) few drops stevia for added sweetness

Place all ingredients in blender and blend until smooth. Pour and enjoy!

Makes one Joe-sized breakfast, or two large smoothies.

with avocado and a dash of lime

***
I really enjoy kale in my green smoothies as well, but since you can’t get kale here in Japan (yet) I used komatsuna, which is a less-bitter cousin to fully-grown spinach. I recommend using baby spinach in green smoothies for it’s milder flavor. If you want to try regular spinach, I suggest steaming them first. Or you can make a silky green soup for another fantastic way to pack in greens during mealtimes! But back to smoothies, I totally agree about the fun texture of soaked chia seeds. It reminds me of the bubble tea that everyone used to go crazy for in college. I never liked it (too sweet, amazingly), but it always looked like fun to eat.

soaked chia seeds

So dive in to some great smoothie combinations and let us know what you think! I’ll leave you with one last email….
Kate:
AWESOME BREAKFAST THIS MORNING. I put my xmas meal leftovers into a cabbage wrap~ one was sunflower seed spread with tomatoes, avocado, roasted cauliflower, and sprouts. The other was mashed spiced sweets [sweet potatoes], balsamic chicken, perfect onions, and a pickled fig. Trying to do a new blog post on squash and vegetables, but my recent pictures arent uploading and I just formatted my camera! augh, distracting myself with  a snack of half a roasted sweet [potato] too. and I:m going home to make more chestnut soup!

did you find a suitable blender in MI? made some fresh almond milk last night, havent done that in a while and it was delish.

I LOVE FOOD
are you scheming? [skiing]

***
Joe: I like how we seem to be making similar diet changes independently…

Kate: well, auntie patty told me they used to say we had our own language. maybe its food-based
***

Oh. It definitely is.

***
Joined the awesome bandwagon at Diet, Dessert & Dogs Wellness Weekend July 5-9
Happily submitted to Fit & Fabulous Fridays #39

Green Tips: Buy Local & Shop for a Cause

Over the next few weeks I’ll be covering a theme I like to call “Shop with a Cause”. It’s about supporting local businesses, companies, and products that work for you, your health, and are sustainable or provide opportunities for others to lift themselves up. I’m all for donating to a good cause (here are many of my favorites), but in the words of the much more eloquent Nick Kristof: Because trade often benefits a country more than aid. I’m a strong supporter of foreign aid, but economic growth and jobs are ultimately the most sustainable way to raise living standards.
Today I want to focus on supporting your local community. Why buy local? Think about what you want to put your money towards – the CEO of a giant big box chain or the local family-owned store that has been a landmark in your town for generations? The prices may be a little different, but think of it as making a donation to improve your community, and you still get your goods or services on top of it! I always choose to buy local, and you can get more information from the 3/50 project here. When you buy local, everybody wins.One striking fact from the 3/50 project stays with me: For every $100 spent in locally owned independent stores, $68 returns to the community through payroll, taxes, and other expenditures. If you spend that in a national chain, only $43 dollars stays here. Spend it online and nothing comes home.

So there you go. You can help out your local community, support sustainable products and solutions, and contribute to businesses and companies that work to improve the situation of everyone on the planet. All by shopping! Keep an eye out over the next month as I cover shoes, chocolate, clothing articles, and, as always, whole foods!!!

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More reading: Africa on the Rise, by Nicholas Kristof
The 3/50 Project: Saving the Brick and Mortars Our Nation is Built On