Sunday, February 12, 2017

How Can I Help?

Years' ago, I got sucked into one of those downloadable courses with the headline, FOUR WORDS EVERY MARKETER NEEDS TO KNOW.

Bizarrely, I remember 2 things from the course - one is that people will excuse almost anything if you use the word "because." If you need to skip ahead in line, if you need special attention, whatever. We are a species that likes to make sense of things. If you give a reason, even if it is nonsense, people feel like they get it and are less likely to be angry, offended or taken advantage of.

The other thing is people who sound angry or swear are less likely to get help from other people. A lot of articles recently show that people who swear a lot are more intelligent, more honest, better able to handle pain and more in control of their lives, BUT when you are angry or seemingly volatile - other people can find you a little scary and just stay away. Studies also show that people who swear are imagined to be less competent.

I told this a friend and she said, "Wow. I wonder if that's why the last time I really needed help, I couldn't find anyone to support me." (I am ashamed to say that I was amongst her friends who wasn't present).

I had a friend who said when she had cancer, no one ever came to the hospital. She said she didn't feel like "broadcasting it" on social media. She was angry.

This also made me think of how some of my Muslim friends are reacting to the protests against the "Muslim Ban" and the Shepard Fairey, "We The People," illustration of a woman in hijab. Which I loved. [Not least because a couple of years' ago Muslim women who tried to show their patriotism by wearing flag hijabs (rather than flag daisy dukes) got them ripped off their heads or were massacred on social media.]


Personally, I have been moved to tears by the "Standing with Muslim" signs all over Brooklyn and New York City. As a Muslim in mainstream America, a lot of us were "stealth" practitioners You know, you let people get to know you a little. You show them how normal and regular you are - and then, when they're softened up a little - you tell them you are Muslim.



Muslim felt like a bad word. It was rarely said aloud on mainstream TV - except in describing terrorists or the misguided women who love them - on Homeland, Sleeper Cell or 24. Since I worked in fashion and beauty, I was at numerous events where Claire Danes was also in attendance. I always gave her a very wide berth. (It's a role, but I always felt creeped out.)

I was surprised by a handful of Muslim friends who hated the Shepard Fairey image (it's from a photograph of a women who does not normally wear hijab) or who felt co-opted by the Muslims praying in public. More than one person said, "They've never even stepped into a mosque in their lives and all of a sudden, they are marching in pro-Muslim rallies."

There are women of color who are insulted by the affluent white women who are marching and standing in solidarity. The white women often miss certain points of sensitivity.

My thoughts: One, from the perspective of advertising, since I have been steeped in it. Two, as a regular person, a single woman of a certain age in NYC.

One - Whether you veil or not, as a Muslim woman, you can't deny that it is a powerful socio-political symbol. It is immediately visible and it immediately aligns you with a group. Personally, I don't cover my head and don't believe it is necessary to my faith (a long blogpost explaining why). I do believe that if you want to, you should be able to cover.

I believe prayer and faith are personal choices and best performed in private. However, there is something powerful in the act of prayer or even meditation in a group, all that energy focusing on a greater good. On top of that, Muslim prayer is beautiful and dramatic because it is both physical and performed in unison. Watching hundreds or thousands of people prostrate all at once is a moving experience, that's why it's used over and over again in films and documentaries, both pro and anti-Islam.

In my opinion, Muslim prayer, performed as a flash mob is spiritually uplifting, beautiful to watch and can show people who are unfamiliar with it that it isn't sinister. It could inspire someone to join in. My taking part in a Jewish ceremony or saying a prayer in a church or a temple doesn't make me less of a Muslim, but it does make me understand, on a visceral level, that we are all human.

My experience has been a sense of love by my friends reaching out to say they support and stand with me. The people who have reached out to me have been Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Atheists, Agnostics. They have been black, white, brown and every variation in the spectrum. They have been gay, straight and trans. Some are not even friends. Some are acquaintances. Some are people I didn't even think liked me.

If you were amongst those people, thank you. Thank you. Thank you. You are acknowledged and appreciated. My eyes fill with tears when I say that. My heart aches. I hug you.

Two - As a single person past 40 in NYC, I realize this fastpaced city can be isolating. Everyone works crazy long hours, the cost of living is so high that almost everyone - no matter how well off they are - feels pinched in some way. You have to walk long distances no matter the weather, climb up and down subway and building stairs (in often in heels), carry heavy bags. In everything you do, there will be someone younger, faster, prettier, cheaper, stronger, richer breathing down your neck. On top of that, the entire city is always under construction and shifting the demographics. People who like to say, "Back in the day... " will have lots of fodder as things change at breakneck speed.

Finally, my long-winded point: how to get and accept help.

Unless you can accept people at whatever level they are willing to help, and accept it without judging their motives, you don't open the door for that help.

Lots of people are insincere. They help just because it's trendy or to bring attention to themselves - but maybe that's their way in. Everyone deserves a point of entry. Maybe all those "nice white ladies" marching will run screaming away when push comes to shove. Or maybe they will use their position of privilege to help others. Give them a space to do that. It looks like they are trying.

Maybe all the men marching at the "women's" rallies will think about women differently. Certainly the more bodies you get at a rally, the more effective it is at making an impact. We need men, too.

If you are angry - even if your anger comes from sadness, pain or loneliness, even if its justified - people will stay away from you. Most of us are scared of anger spilling over on to us. We all learned as toddlers to get out of Mummy's way, if she's in a bad mood.

I'm not saying don't be sad or hurt or angry - anger can motivate us to powerful action - but it also can isolate us. If you often say negative things about people you encounter, the people listening will wonder if they are up next. You leave your social media friends or listeners with a bad taste in their mouths and a sense of discomfort.

If you speak well of people - not flippantly, but consciously - what you say is nicer to be around. Being completely pollyanna is nauseating, but when you hear yourself getting in an "Oscar the Grouch" mood, try to stop it. Unless you can be as clever and funny as Fran Lebowitz, probably better to lay off.



If you ever want help, that is.

On top of that, you can only get help and support if you ask. Amanda Palmer wrote a book called the Art of Asking which had a brilliant premise - if you want help, you need to ask. If you are not a public person on social media and don't feel comfortable letting your friends know when you are struggling, then you need to call/email/text them personally and ASK (without bullying or intimidating).

First, as social animals, we are hardwired to want to help each other. It makes you feel good when you make someone else feel good. When others see you helping someone, it makes THEM feel good. That chain carries over into the actions of the others who see your actions. Each person who witnesses someone else doing something caring is likely to behave with compassion and/or empathy in his/her next social interaction. There is scientific data to back this up.

Next, it is a powerful thing to be vulnerable. Not all the time, because you can be a black hole of needs. It's great to be self-sufficient and independent. But sometimes, let your guard down. Let someone - or lots of people - know that you are struggling. In the end, we are all human beings. Appeal to someone on a human level and they will want to help you. When you let your guard down, you open yourself up to abuse, but you also give someone a safe space to step into. You let them rise to the occasion.

NYC is isolating. Social media makes FOMO out of control. Everyone else's life is infinitely more fabulous and wonderful. They all seem to be at parties or on amazing vacations while you are home in your raggedy, stained pajamas eating chocolate and lying in your unmade bed looking at their pictures. However, believing someone's life is their instagram feed is like believing you are as wonderful as your dog says you are.

Really want help, connection and love? Go help someone else. It's great to write in your gratitude journal, but then go help in a domestic abuse shelter. Do something for someone else that you wish someone had done for you. What goes around, comes around. It really does.

For all my friends of color who think white people hate them (not that lots of them are not scared of us), go find one or two and talk to them about what's really going on for you. Listen to them in return. Hug them if that makes sense. Don't beat anyone up, open a dialogue. If you talk to people about what you are feeling, without blaming anyone else for your feelings, it allows them to connect. It makes a bridge.

Ever notice how if your bag spills open on the subway in NYC, people will all get up and help you collect the contents? Some people won't because they have their own issues. But most people will look under those grimy benches and pick up your lip gloss or packet of tissues and give them back. They might ask you to check if your Metrocard or IDs are still there so you can get home.

One day, I was late for a class. I ran down the subway stairs, shoved myself through all the people who couldn't get on a packed train car. I threw myself into the crowd. Unfortunately, I slipped out and my leg got caught in the space between the train and the platform.

A huge group of people - most of whom I had just shoved aside - came forward and pulled me out of the gap. They dusted off my bags and helped me to my feet. They asked if I was all right.

No one asked about my religion or my political beliefs (even though I have badges all over my backpack).

That is what it means to be a human being.

We will only get through the next few years if we learn to be indivisible and use our different experiences and access to help each other. BECAUSE it's crucial to stand together.

We are here for you. Just let us know how we can help. Let us in.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The C-Word: Meals to Heal or Savor Health

When you have cancer - or another major crisis - every single thing you consume should be supporting your recovery. Since not eating when you are not hungry is natural, and fasting or limiting calories during chemotherapy makes it even more effective - never eat just to gain weight. Your meals should heal.

Talk about Fearless Healing ideas: Susan Bratton, who studied microbiology and finance, started a powerful new business when she watched one of her best friends succumb to cancer treatments. She says, "Food really matters. Doctors are just beginning to learn how important it is."

Susan Bratton serves meals that heal at Savor Health
A year or two ago, I wrote a post called, "What's Left to Eat?" That's what people say when I say I don't eat wheat, dairy, sugar or processed foods (or animal products that come from animals aren't organic and humanely-raised). I am not militant, I do eat a bite or two of someone else's homemade-with-love cooking to get some of their love in my body. I don't ask if the soy sauce has sodium benzoate in it.

At home, I am always testing out new recipes and new ways to make delicious, interesting food that feeds your wellbeing as well as your tastebuds and your need - because, let's face it, pleasure is a real need - for taste and texture.

All very well for me, because I am usually healthy and energetic these days. On the other hand, sometimes, you know you should, but you just can't face another thing. Or the people who are helping you with your meals are overwhelmed or don't know what to give you.

Susan started a food service called Savor Health that prepares and delivers healing meals to people with cancer or other systemic health issues. They have oncological nutritionists onboard who work with you to put together your most healing options.  To me, what was most interesting about Susan was her background. Unlike a lot of people in the wellness world, she comes from a background of science and finance. She was drawn to the hard facts that are often ignored. "I wanted to bridge the two worlds, the one of medicine and the one of alternative or natural healing. So I found well-designed studies that supported what I learned and could be trusted by the medical community."
Basically, she took things that practitioners of natural medicine have known for thousands of years and found ways to help oncologists, cardiologists, health insurance companies and even corporations understand how they work.

Even if you're not sick, eating well makes your skin glow and eyes sparkle, gives you more energy and actually makes you happier - so much better than a jar of expensive face cream.

So, much as I adore Moon Juice and Amanda Chantal Bacon (I really love her energy and her desire to help), this is a practical approach that you can start using immediately, especially in New York City. You can also stop stressing out your friends who are trying to figure out what to feed you!

Check it out and tell me what you think in the comments!

Monday, October 31, 2016

The C-Word: Staying the Course

Many people I talk to about getting healthier say the same thing to me, "It's too much, Ameena. Maybe you could do it, but I can't change my diet. I can't change my lifestyle."

Yes. Yes you can.

If you want to. 

I'm not trying to beat you up. But I know you can.

Think about this way - it's about long-term goals. Delayed gratification is very hard for people's brains to process. Myself, especially. I tend to be impulsive. When I want something, I want it NOW. I know the feeling.

You may realize you are able to do it in one way but not in another. Some people can save money. They say to themselves, "I'll skip going out to dinner or an extra drink for a bigger dent in my debt or my retirement savings." (I am not one of those people. Despite being middle-aged, retirement seems very far away. And my debt is amorphorous.)

For me, it's "I'll skip buying those boots or that coat, so I can pay the mortgage or rent." I can do short-term.

If you can think, "I'll skip that ice cream cone and my tummy/thighs/double chin will look flatter on Saturday night - or at the beach," which is just a few days' ahead, you can eat to stop or slow cancer or heart disease. If you can do a few crunches every evening, you can be stronger in less than a week.

The strict anticancer diet, which is very close to the Whole30 meal plan, is doable for impulsive people if you can think short term. You tell yourself, "If I skip the milk and sugar in my tea or coffee today, I will have so much more energy or no headache tomorrow." I can promise that you skip the grains and sweeteners (ALL of them, including artificial ones), you will definitely have a flatter stomach by tomorrow. Yes, you will probably feel a little worse while you detox (maybe for three days) and you will be dreaming about candy, but once you get rid of the addiction, you WILL feel and look amazing. Isn't that worth it? Three days to clear eyes and skin? 10 days to a glow?

Instead of thinking about giving stuff up forever, think about giving it up for a week. Or 30 days.

On evenings when you are tired and grumpy and the donuts are calling your name, you think, "Just til tomorrow. I won't eat them now and I will be so happy tonight. Then if I still feel like it, I can always get one tomorrow." When tomorrow comes, you do the same thing. Or maybe you think, "Just for an hour. I'll see if I still want one when I pass the next donut shop." Then when you pass the next donut shop, you say to yourself, "I'm almost home. I could make some sweet potatoes..." and so on.


why it's worth to stick to your anticancer diet. a cherokee proverb.

On the other hand, if you are a long-term thinking person, you say, "I'll skip sugar, dairy and grains so that I can make it to my daughter's wedding - or my granddaughter's wedding."

Or the way I think, "If I stay away from air pollution and toxins, exercise, meditate and eat organic and green today, I will remain self-sufficient and active until I die." Obviously, this is not totally controllable - I could get hit by a car or some other horrid thing, but similarly, I could lose all my retirement savings in a bad investment or if the economy tanks again.

Personally, I am less worried about leaving this world than I am about losing my autonomy and agency.

I don't want to spend the last years of my life being pushed around in a wheelchair and/or an institution. I really don't want other people making decisions for me or choosing what time I go to bed or what meds I take. I don't want to be in constant pain or feeble or lose control of my limbs.

I want to leave this world on my yoga mat, in a sufi meditation or on a surf board.

If you're a short-term person - can you change your lifestyle long enough to make it to your next doctor's appointment and see how your vitals have changed? Can you change it long enough to put your cancer in remission?

This is how I save for retirement. Eating lightly, no sugar and more greens, exercising more, sleeping well, taking supplements that reduce inflammation and strengthen my immune system, meditating - all that is better than health insurance at keeping you from diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

It's not hard to eat organic, humane and anti-inflammatory, look after your heart and stay away from toxins if you want to protect yourself from dementia and alzheimer's.

I know you can do it too.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The C-Word: The Beauty of Cancer

This may sound all superficial when you are in what feels like a life or death situation, but beauty products are actually crucial. We all know that when you are happier, you heal faster.  But also, when you look better, people treat you differently. We are only human.

Getting chemotherapy and planning my skincare

I felt hideous when everything started falling apart, not least because people would stare (just for a minute and then look away). I looked like a scrawny, hairless alien. I don't know if they thought I had cancer or something else, but people tended to give me a wide berth, as though my disease just might be catching. My daughters gave me a gift certificate to a place called Spa Castle - a gigantic Korean spa with all kinds of relaxing treatments - and I didn't go because I thought everyone would REALLY stare at me in a bathing suit. It didn't help that most massage therapists, nail salons, aestheticians, even dentists would refuse me treatment because they were scared of what the cancer might do - or my compromised immune system.

Friends would say, "You look great!" in a loudish, fakely cheerful voice. Or they'd tell me about someone else who had chemo and looked much worse. I ran errands, worked and was happy that I could, but I felt embarrassed about my looks. I went to see one of my daughters in her school play and, between scenes, I came out into the lobby and sat on the floor and cried because I felt like a leper.

A few weeks' later, I was in a meeting at an ad agency pitching, of all things, a haircare line, and feeling totally awkward. I mentioned to the table that I didn't need shampoo. My boss laughed, "No, you need Miracle-Gro!" Well, that broke the tension.

So.

How you look matters.

If you are reading this for a friend or family member who is sick, keep that in mind.

To start out, let's forget serious beauty treatments and think about discomfort. Your skin feels rough, hot, dry and itchy - or some combination of the three - during chemo and/or radiation. Unfortunately, almost any commercial product you apply will irritate the skin even further. Your eyes are often red, dry and swollen.

To start with, I didn't use any cleansers at all. My skin was just too dry. I rinsed it with water. If I attempted to use anything even slightly exfoliating, it made my cheeks sting. I only wore natural make-up products so I didn't need to remove them.

Some people suggest you splash water on your face and then apply a thin layer of sweet almond oil. This is the most basic level of care but it is best for babies with eczema because their skin is naturally plump and soft. Since oil just helps seal the moisture into your skin, it doesn't give your skin the cooling, soothing, quenching it craves.

During my 25+ years in the beauty industry, I used to joke that all the expensive skin creams worked about as well as Crisco with fragrance and a nice jar. It's not totally true.

Even post-chemo, you should probably keep this list in mind - what you really need for your skin is a three-part solution - 1. an emollient, 2. a humectant and 3. an occlusive. Many skin products incorporate the three, but if you don't find one that works for you, here's what you need.

The emollient is a moisturizer. It hydrates, softens and plumps up the fine lines. It feels good on the skin. The reason you can't rely on it alone is that it evaporates very quickly. Thus it can leave the skin feeling even dryer than it did to begin with.

Next, you need a humectant. Humectants draw the moisture from the air into your skin. Glycerin, coconut oil and hyaluronic acid (sounds scary but it's actually something your body creates to lubricate itself) are humectants. If you use too much of a humectant, it can make you skin look fresh and dewy, but it can also make it feel sticky to the touch, especially as the product dries - because it does dry but not completely into a thick gel.

So to top it all off, you need an occlusive. An occlusive seals in the moisture and protects and fortifies your skin's moisture barrier. The moisture on your skin not only makes the skin softer and more resilient, it creates a barrier to bacteria, environmental irritants and pollutants. Thus dry skin is actually more prone to infection.

For me, the best moisturizer during chemo was a simple Calendula cream. Look for brands designed for first aid, like Boiron or Thompson's, or for babies. Make sure it is unscented. It cooled the skin and soothed the itchy red rash. I still travel with a tube of this as my face is very sensitive to stress and different kinds of water. (Personally, after cleansing, I start with a Vitamin C product to help re-build the collagen, reduce the dark spots and splotches you get from chemotherapy and brighten the skin. Be careful with this though, as the wrong product can irritate the skin and cause MORE redness (and that's hardly what you need). Liquid Gold is the only brand I recommend for people with cancer, since it's natural and designed for sensitive skin.)

Then I used a humectant. A friend of mine was working for Estee Lauder and she sent me the Creme De La Mer serum, a rich gel - I think it was fortified with seaweed or algae - that, unlike most commercially-prepared products, didn't have a heavy scent or color. You can also use a pure hyaluronic acid or a natural rosewater and glycerin combination mist. I also love a product called Liquid Gold cell quench which is made of hyaluronic acid and plant stem cells. I spray on some rosewater and glycerin and then roll on a little cell quench and spread it around with my finger tips.

My favorite beauty products for people having cancer treatments - and my routine today.

For my occlusive, I then used a heavy moisturizer with a sweet almond oil base called Cleopatra's cream. It's made by a friend of natural, non-GMO ingredients - including antibacterial coconut oil and homeopathic suspensions of minerals and seems to be the ONLY thing that really hydrates my post-chemo dryness. It still smells lovely but not fake in anyway.

Last, I used a balm or oil at night. I've seen herbal shops selling calendula balms made of herbal extracts and essential oils. As long as it is not too scented, you could use that instead. I would test it on your arm and see how it feels. The Liquid Gold brand also makes a balm with vitamin E that is great for sealing in the moisture and healing.

Finally, moisture has to come from the inside, too. While you are having chemo, drink water like crazy and make sure you are getting your good fats - avocados, coconut oil, nuts, rice bran oil. I took 4 capsules a day of rice bran oil, two capsule of rosemary oil and four capsules a day of seabuckthorn oil.

Just remember that everything you apply to your skin gets absorbed into your blood stream, so if you wouldn't eat it, you probably shouldn't rub it into your face, especially when you are weak and your immune system is compromised.

One month after I stopped chemotherapy. My face well moisturized - just eyeliner but nothing else!
When you are all greased-up, let it soak in for a little while so that you don't look too slippery. Then it's time for make-up! There is a little-known brand called Illuminare which was actually designed to be super gentle for a breast cancer patient and is made out of natural minerals. It's a make-up artists secret as it blends really well, a teensy bit goes a long way and it is non-irritating, even if you fall asleep with it on. Since it has a high mineral content, it works as a sunscreen as well - very useful since the skin becomes very photosensitive during chemotherapy and radiation - and it actually helps your skin heal.

Illuminare makes eye products that do not irritate the eyes (but irritatingly, require separate brushes - though that forces you to clean them often which is good) and nontoxic lipcolors that last all day. One finds that one's lips not only get dry and cracked, they become pale.

I still wore my kajal every single day, unless my eyes got too stingy. Kajal is a South Asian eyeliner made of charcoal and healing oils. I use a brand called Hashmi Kajal. It's supposedly made out of Ayurvedic ingredients and protects your eyesight. It didn't bother my eyes, it's cheap and the only bad thing about it is that the plastic cap is really cheap and can break off in your bag and smear the waterproof stuff everywhere so keep it in a ziplock bag. I rinsed it in cold water between uses.


Apart from kajal, I am sucky at applying make-up myself but there are a million great tutorials on youtube. Watch them but, be super careful with the products you choose. It is not worth the discomfort of skin and eyes that are even more irritated than before. I tried my daughters' make-up and came home and cried again because of how much they made my eyes sting and my face hurt.

My friend Mary Schook showed me how to safely apply false lashes if I needed to go out. And these days, there are no shortage of brow products (it's amazing how weird people look with no eyebrows).  This was shot by my youngest daughter, Rara, and the voice-over is by Zarina. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4LvYyk7FDS8



Brush color on your brows - or where they were - slightly lighter than you think because it can very quickly look mad. When you first start, ask someone else to make sure you haven't turned yourself into Salvador Dali or Lucille Ball in the early 60s.

Most people undergoing cancer treatments become very skinny. Like 14 year-old bones sticking out scrawny. If you were never slim before, this is the silver lining. And here is your chance to try layering! While I'd recommend choosing fabrics that are very smooth and soft so as not to irritate your skin further, I used to start with a very thin, soft cotton t-shirt underneath everything because it gave me more options. I also found that a thin pair of cotton leggings under a loose shirt or dress were useful - because there were so many instances during treatment where one had to undress one part of the body or another. With layers like that, you could reveal an arm, a hand, a foot or a leg without leaving the rest of yourself exposed. That way, you feel like you maintain a level of dignity.

Since I live in New York City AND I didn't want to have to buy an entirely new wardrobe before, during and after treatment, I chose most stuff in neutral colors - black, white and gray - with accents in red or blue. I added a bright pop of color near the face - a scarf or hat -  to cheer myself up.

In terms of fragrance, when you really look odd, it's nice to smell sweet. A lot of people find that chemotherapy and/or radiation makes them nauseated and sensitive to smells, especially artificial ones. I found that, at my most nauseated, the scent of natural grapefruit oil was fresh and clean smelling. Lavender and Rosemary - but the natural oils, not the fake stuff - have a green, camphorousness that can cut through the nausea. They are both also calming and antibacterial. Personally, I also found natural rose and jasmine oils very soothing as well as sexy (and not much made me feel sexy at that time).

My suggestion is to go to health food store or natural aromatherapy place and test out some of the oils. Or ask people to bring you a few. Try a tiny bit on your wrist and leave it on for a while. Or put it on a sweater or sweatshirt. See if it smells nice or it makes you feel sick as the day goes on. If you can't handle any scented products at all, don't worry about it. But given the endocrine interruptors and other nasty effects of synthetic fragrance, I'd recommend you avoid them all together.

Also, look at the products in your bathroom. Shampoos, conditioners, bodywash, soaps and lotions can all irritate the skin and eyes - and they also penetrate the skin and enter the bloodstream. I would go as natural as you can manage. I used Dr. Bronner's Lavender soap (I didn't need shampoo), a natural toothpaste with no fluoride (another possible carcinogen) and food grade sweet almond oil or coconut oil on my body after bathing. Then I rubbed on a little natural flower oil. I used a Weleda's natural deodorant made mostly from baking soda and it seemed to work well.

If you are getting radiation, I recommend a 20-30 minute soak in 1 cup of epsom salt, 1/2 cup of baking soda and 1/2 cup of natural sea salt after treatment. Then take a shower afterwards.

I made a big effort to reduce the plastic bottles and artificial cleaning products - all my years of swimming laps made me adore the chlorine smell of Clorox Clean-Up - but you can get much less toxic cleaners made of hydrogen peroxide and they are just as effective at killing germs.

I did not wear a wig because I found them itchy, expensive and ugly. (Plus, I have fond memories of Sinead O'Connor and the model Eve as bad ass b@#ches). Since I underwent chemotherapy from October til February, I was partial to some extremely soft cashmere beanies made by Meg Cohen. These are the nicest, thickest cashmere I have ever felt and they are locally-made by the nicest person. It's a tiny business that behaves with the best ethics.

Think about it this way, if you are going to have something close to your skin (and your crown chakra), make sure it has good energy!

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Fearless Dessert! Crackpie made EVEN MORE addictive!

I am totally indebted to my friend Evangeline Kim for making this recipe. I had only once tasted a teensy bit of Momofuko Milk Bar's famous crack pie but since they used wheat and refined sugar, I didn't really go further. Cut to five or six years' later and she was telling us how delicious it was and offered to make one while staying here. I challenged her to make a version I could eat (without sugar or wheat). So here it is - and if you eat it warm, topped with a dollop of coconut cream - you will literally not be able to stop in until you have to lie down on the floor and unbutton your trousers in total surrender.

Personally, I would not make this myself as it is too labor-intensive and then I would just eat it all up if it was lying around the fridge BUT - it would be the best thing ever to take with you when you get invited somewhere for thanksgiving or a party and there are no desserts that you can eat and everyone is making you feel like a loser as they chow down. When you bring this, they will all be won over to your side. They will all be talking about how ridiculous it is that everyone can't eat healthy and it's so easy and delicious. 

Or eat it all yourself.

 
Organic, Paleo, Gluten-Free, NO REFINED SUGAR - even VEGAN - TOTALLY ADDICTIVE Crackpie

Ingredients - recipe adapted from the Bon Appetite one.
Servings: 4-10 (depends on people's self-control)
 
Cookie Crust

  • Coconut oil or grass-fed butter to grease baking pan
  • 9 tablespoons coconut oil or grass-fed, organic butter
  • 7 tablespoons coconut sugar or 4 tablespoons of monk fruit sweetener
  • 1 heaping tablespoon ground chia seeds mixed with 4 tablespoons of water (or 1 organic egg)
  • 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons old-fashioned oats
  • 1/4 cup almond flour
  • 1/4 cup coconut flour 
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2-1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Filling

  • 1 1/4 cup coconut sugar or 3/4 cup of coconut sugar and 1 tablespoon of monk fruit to taste
  • 1 tablespoon coconut milk powder (or colostrum powder)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 8 tablespoons coconut oil (or grass-fed butter) 
  • 6 1/2 tablespoons coconut cream
  • 3/4 cup avocado puree (or 4 large organic egg yolks)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 

Preparation (prep: 40 min, total: 15 hrs - It's long. Plan in advance.)

Cookie Crust
  • Preheat oven to 300°F. Line 13x9x2-inch metal baking pan with parchment paper; coat with coconut oil or butter. Combine 6 tablespoons oil/butter, 6 tablespoons coconut sugar in medium bowl. Beat mixture until light and fluffy, occasionally scraping down sides of bowl, about 2 minutes. Add ground chia seed mixture or egg; beat until pale and fluffy. Add oats, almond and coconut flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and beat until well blended, about 1 minute. Turn mixture out onto prepared baking pan; press out evenly to edges of pan. Bake until light golden on top, 17 to 18 minutes. Transfer baking pan to rack and cool cookie completely.
  • Using hands, crumble oat cookie into large bowl; add 3 tablespoons coconut oil/butter and 1 1/2 tablespoons coconut sugar. Rub in with fingertips until mixture is moist enough to stick together. Transfer cookie crust mixture to 9-inch-diameter glass pie dish. Using fingers, press mixture evenly onto bottom and up sides of coconut oil or butter greased pie dish. Place pie dish with crust on rimmed baking sheet.
Filling
  • Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 325°F. Whisk coconut sugar, coconut milk or colostrum powder, and salt in medium bowl to blend. Add coconut oil or melted butter and whisk until blended. Add coconut cream, then pureed avocado/egg yolks and vanilla and whisk until well blended. Pour filling into crust. Bake pie 30 minutes (filling may begin to bubble). Reduce oven temperature to 300°F. Continue to bake pie until filling is brown in spots and set around edges but center still moves slightly when pie dish is gently shaken, about 20 minutes longer. Cool pie 2 hours in pie dish on rack (If you can resist it. 30 minutes in is about when I ate the first half of the pie, I globbed the coconut cream on top).

    Chill whatever you can save uncovered overnight.
    The coconut sugar and coconut cream makes for a darker pie, but since there is slightly less of a sugar rush - and it's balanced with the higher protein and fiber - it doesn't knock you out quite so fast. But it DOES have fructose - so easy on it! Maybe try substituting Monk Fruit in places?
Can be made 2 days ahead. Cover so that no one knows what it is; keep chilled. Lock up your fridge.

Friday, September 16, 2016

The C-Word: Fearless Blondies!

I read somewhere that when you crave chocolate, you are actually craving protein and minerals so this is one solution - a snack that has both dark chocolate (magnesium!) and a highly-digestible protein, mineral, fat and fiber combination that helps in balancing hormones. Look up chickpeas to see how much you need them.

Overwhelmed with a sugar jones - usually because I haven't had enough sleep, am feeling anxious about something, my hormones are out of whack or I have a little candida - these blondies help curb them (or maybe surrender to them).

I bake a bunch and freeze some. They have that wickedly satisfying sweet-salty-chewy crumbly feeling which you can suddenly feel desperate for if you don't eat grains, refined sugar or processed foods. So here's my version of the great recipe from ambitious kitchen (I LOVE her). Mine are slightly lighter and cakier, hers are fudgier (they both have their benefits).

gluten-free, paleo, vegan chickpea blondies! 
Get out the food processor. Sorry to say that big old food processor is really a necessity here. I've done it in the vitamix and it doesn't come out as well. But you can try it.

Stuff you need:

food processor (or powerful blender)
spatula (to scrape it out of the food processor)
8 x 8 baking pan
oven

Ingredients:

1 can of chickpeas
1 tablespoon of ground chia seeds
4 tablespoons of water or vanilla hemp milk
1/2 cup of vanilla hemp milk
1/2 cup of peanut or almond butter (or sunflower butter if you want it to be nut-free)
1/4 teaspoon of baking soda
1/4 teaspoon of baking powder
1/2 teaspoon of sea salt (at the moment, I am into Hawaiian red salt) plus 1/4 to sprinkle on top
2 tablespoons of vanilla extract

1 bag of dark chocolate chips (get good ones, it will make a difference - this time we used callebaut - which DO have sugar but not a lot)

1 (more or less) tablespoon of coconut (or ghee or butter if you don't mind it not being vegan) to grease the pan.

Turn the oven on to 350 degrees.

In the food processor, just put everything in there, except for the chocolate chips, 1/4 teaspoon of the salt, the grease for the pan, the chia seeds and the hemp milk.

In a teacup, mix the chia seeds with the water or hemp milk to get a gloopy, viscous, eggy mixture. This replaces egg - though you can save time and just drop an egg in there to be more paleo. Add this and the rest of the hemp milk to the food processor.

Pulse, puree, whatever until the entire thing is smooth. Taste for sweetness and saltiness. I don't add sugar, but if you want, you could use whatever sweetener you feel good with - coconut sugar, stevia, lucuma, lankanto - I've heard good things about it, it's made of monk fruit and you can use it for cooking, but I've never done it myself. The chocolate chips are sweet and the nut butters are naturally sweet so just taste what works for you. If you add more flavorings, pulse a little more.

Open the lid of the food processor, dump in half to 3/4 bag of chocolate chips. Stir them around with the spatula - don't turn the machine back on or you will puree them too!

If you want to give them to someone who is not well or needs a little extra love, while you stir them up, think healing and loving thoughts. Imagine that people eating your blondies are immediately healed from whatever is ailing them. Imagine energy coming from your core straight into the batter. You can even say a little prayer and ask your Source to infuse your blondies with healing power. (Note: the person you are sending healing to can be you. We all need it sometimes).

That's how you "reiki" them.

Now grease the pan well with whichever grease you've chosen. I like some raw, sea salty, grassfed butter here but coconut oil tastes buttery too.

Pour the batter into the pan, use the spatula to spread it all out. Sprinkle the rest of the chocolate chips on top, use the spatula to squish them down a little. Sprinkle 1/4 teaspoon of large-grained sea salt around.

Put the pan in the oven and bake for 20-30 minutes depending on your oven. I've noticed big variations on baking times depending on the oven and the liquidity of the batter. The way to tell if they are ready is that they are slightly brown on the edges and have pulled away from the sides of the pan and the center is set and not jiggley.

Paleo, gluten-free, nut-free chickpea blondies!



Like that.

If they are undercooked, don't kill yourself. All the ingredients are perfectly safe and good raw and they will simply be more fudgey when they cool. If they are overcooked or slightly burned, they will probably still taste delicious - it's all good.

Even really picky kids and my dad will eat them (don't blow it like me and get all overexcited about the ingredients before they put them in their mouths so that they don't even want to try them).

I have been told I am a food fascist...but go out and make your own!

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Raw Ramadan - Fearless Fasting 2016

Yes! It's here! Ramadan again. While it's a long holiday - 30 days of abstaining from food, drink, smoking or sexual activity during daylight hours - for me, it's a magical month. The lights seem to sparkle more brightly. When you do eat or drink again, it feels almost ecstatic, the food fills your body with energy and radiance. When you rest while fasting, your sleep is deep and nourishing. And when a day doesn't go well, let's say I lose my temper or I'm especially tired or thirsty or irritable, I have 29 more do-overs to try and get better. I do whine about the length of time, but I am deeply grateful for it as well.

Not consuming, for me, has an interesting effect on my psyche. I speak less, I listen more. I have time to meditate, to read a new translation of the Quran (currently getting lost in The Heart of the Quran, meditations by the American founder of our order, Lex Hixon), Ibn Arabi, Jalaluddin Rumi or another mystical thinker. I notice that my senses are all heightened. Sounds are louder and sharper, scents are more complex and hypnotic, my skin and intuition perceive more precisely. Visually, I am constantly struck by the beauty and grace of the little things around me - plants and animals seem more deserving of attention and care.

Since while you are fasting, you are meant to feed others who are not as fortunate, so I get the pleasure of buying meals for homeless people on the street or helping others in small ways. And we all know that helping another person is really a gift for yourself. It reduces your cardiovascular stress, increases your resilience, regulates your neuroendocrine systems and stimulates your immune system. On an esoteric level, it opens your heart chakra - your emotional connection to the shared human experience.

I've said this before, but I always used to tell my daughters that anyone can give up eating or drinking. Many people do, for many reasons, but a true fast involves an abstention from the more difficult things to surrender: anger, dishonesty, disloyalty and unkindness of any sort. I am so far from perfect in this regard, especially when driving in the summer in New York City, but the effort toward that goal, the self-reflection, feels good. It is said that if you can't manage the secondary aspects of the fast, you shouldn't do the first.

It goes without saying that after not eating for 12 to 16 hours, your body is clean and quite sensitive to what you put back in it. Thus, you should really try to make sure your food is organic and as fresh and local as you can get it.  Your main goal at the beginning of the fast break is to reintroduce foods gently and slowly into your system - as well as eating nutrient-dense foods so you will have the energy to fast again the next day (just a few hours after you break!)


Fasting foods should be your medicine
I reduce caffeine little by little in the month before Ramadan so I don’t get horrible headaches. But if you need your coffee, tea or other caffeine fix – I suggest you wait until later in the meal. Breaking your fast with a cup of hot coffee could be jarring! Also, it’s a diuretic and rehydration is the first goal.

So here is the menu this year's Raw Iftar at the Sufi dergah! Do try these recipes but, don't stress yourself out and make them ALL at once. Try one or two at a time. Experiment with flavors, spices, tastes and see what works best for your body and your tastebuds. Play with the juicer, the dehydrator, the spiralizer and see what's fun and what's tedious.

Most of these recipes are even better if you make them in advance and let them sit at room temperature - or if it's very hot - in the fridge. Thus, you can make them early in the day and then take a nap when the afternoon spaciness overtakes you. You wake up to a ready-to-eat iftar!



Watermelon, Cucumber and Mint Juice
(serves 6)

This is a great juice to make in your juicer, if you have one, but because these ingredients are so liquidy, you can easily do it in the blender, too! This year, ours was made by Community Supported Juice in Gowanus, Brooklyn. They make their juice using fruits and vegetables from CSAs and the Brooklyn Green Market so everything is fresh and local and surprisingly affordable. Plus they put their juice in glass bottles which is better for keeping the enzymes and nutrients in tact.

½ - 1 small watermelon (depends on the size)

2-3 cucumbers

1 bunch of fresh mint



Directions:



Cut up the watermelon into chunks, but leave the rind on, just cut off the green skin. Watermelon rinds have a lot of hydrating properties and you want to use the whole fruit because it will make the juice less sweet. (Too much sugar as you break your fast will make your blood sugar surge – and release insulin too quickly – start slowly!)



Chop the cucumber and mint roughly. Since it is going through the juicer or blender, you can leave the stems on the mint, just make sure you rinse it well before using.



Little by little, add the watermelon and cucumber/mint mix to the juicer or blender. If you are using a less efficient juicer, you might find that the pulp comes out still very wet. In that case, just put the pulp back through the blender for a second squeeze. If you are using a blender, remember that you just want to liquefy the ingredients and you don’t want the process to heat or overly damage the enzymes.



Pour into glasses or serving vessel and chill – shake gently before serving - or drink immediately! Try and use this within a four or five hours as it becomes less effective as it oxidizes.


Raw Avocado-Pineapple Gazpacho right in front, Raw Carrot and Cabbage Pad Thai and then a green salad next.

Avocado-Pineapple Gazpacho
(serves 6)

This is a version of the one I made last year - but I switched up by adding some pineapple.
 
2 large avocados chopped

2 cups cubed cucumber (1 hothouse cucumber)

1 cup chopped pineapple

1 cup of fresh cilantro/coriander or cilantro sprouts

½ cup chopped onion

2 cloves of fresh garlic

1/2 green chili (jalapeno or Serrano, depends on your sensitivity)

juice of 1 lime

¼ cup of extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon of sea salt (more or less, to taste)

1 large beefsteak tomato

1-2 cups of filtered water to thin out



Garnish:



1 bell pepper diced

Coriander chopped



Directions:



Place all ingredients except garnish into your blender and puree until smooth. Add salt, chilies and/or more lime to taste. Chill or let sit in a cool place for at least an hour before serving so the flavors become more complicated than a liquefied guacamole! I added fresh pineapple for a different variation this year, the sweetness off-sets the chilies and the enzymes help the digestion. The fats in the olive oil and avocado satiate the appetite before the main meal. It is a good idea to have a soup before your main course as it soothes your hunger and keeps you from overeating! After fasting, it’s good to start slowly!

Egglant or Aubergine just waiting for their transformation!


Raw Eggplant/Aubergine “Bacon” or Jerky
(serves 6)

Head's up. The prep for this is easy, but it takes time. The "bacon" tastes better when left to marinate overnight and then the dehydrating time can take anywhere from 12 to 18 hours. That said, it keeps well - even for a month at time - in an airtight container with a silica packet or two from your supplements or seaweed snacks.


3-4   small white eggplants – or 1-2 regular eggplant

4 tablespoons maple syrup     

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons organic apple cider vinegar

3 tablespoons naturally-fermented tamari

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

1 teaspoon liquid smoke flavoring

½ teaspoon chili flakes

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

salt and black pepper to taste


Directions:


Whisk together all the ingredients except the eggplant in a bowl or an 8 x 10’ roasting pan. The idea is to marinate the eggplant slices in this liquid so a shallow wide container is better to cover more eggplant strips.

Peel the eggplant and cut them into long, relatively even slices. Thin, but not too thin, because when they dry, they become much thinner. You can leave the skin on but it becomes very chewy when it’s dried. I slice the eggplant by hand but I’ve heard people use a mandolin with success – I just don’t have one (birthday present, anyone?)

As you slice the eggplant, add them to the sauce and allow them to marinate (ideally, overnight, but even an hour is fine) until they soften.

After they are marinated, take them carefully out of the liquid – they will be soft and drippy – and lie them on a mesh dehydrator or oven tray. If they are very wet, put them on a teflex sheet first. You want as much of the marinade on there as possible. You can brush the slices with the extra marinade if you want.

Dehydrator


46°C - 52°C / 115°F - 125°F for 12-24 hours, depending on how thick your eggplant slices are. Mine took about 12 hours.



Oven

I haven’t tried the oven, but here’s what I’ve read - 75°C / 165°F for 1 hour. Turn oven off, open oven door and let trays sit in there for 30 minutes. Turn oven back on at 75°C / 165°F and cook for 1 hour. Repeat this process until the eggplant is crispy.

Carrot and Cabbage, ready to toss with the creamy, spicy almond butter sauce!



Raw Carrot and Cabbage Pad Thai
(serves 6) 

For the pad thai:
2 large carrots (choose the fattest ones you can find)

1/2 head of Cabbage, chopped like coleslaw

1 yellow or red bell pepper, chopped
4 or 5 green onions, chopped

2 cups mung bean sprouts
1 cup sugar snap (chopped) or snow peas (whole)
1 cup of cilantro, roughly chopped

½ cup basil chopped

½ cup mint chopped
1/2 cup cashews crushed
Lime slices, to garnish


For the sauce:
4 tablespoons raw almond or sunflower or other nut butter

2 tablespoons of coconut aminos – or natural tamari, it is saltier so do it to taste!

¼-1/2 inch of ginger root or 1 teaspoon minced ginger
1 teaspoon chili flakes
2 cloves garlic, minced
juice of one lime or ½ lemon
1 teaspoon coconut sugar
3 tablespoons of water


Directions:


Make the pad thai
Use a spiralizer to make the carrots into long noodles. If you don’t have a spiralizer or it requires too much arm strength, run vegetable peeler down the length of carrots, shaving off long ribbons. Put the carrot noodles in a bowl with all the other vegetables. Set aside.

Make the sauce
In a blender, spin the sauce ingredients, adding more water to get a smooth, creamy consistency and coconut aminos to taste. Pour sauce over carrot noodle mixture and toss to coat. Chill or let it sit in a cool place so that the flavors have time to emerge.

Before you serve, add the crushed cashews and the lime slices to garnish!

Kale and Brussels Sprouts Salad, top left, Cauliflower Rice, middle, Eggplant "Bacon," top right. Raw Falafel at the bottom.


Kale and Shaved Brussels Sprout Salad
(serves 4)
 
I adapted this from http://rawfoodrecipes.com/recipes/shredded-kale-brussels-salad/
Salad:
5 ounces, lacinato kale, rolled and thinly sliced, stems removed. 
5 ounces brussels sprouts, trimmed and shredded

¼ cup roasted hazel nuts 

Vinaigrette:

1/2 cup (60 ml) roasted hazelnut oil

1 small garlic clove

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 raw mustard

salt and pepper to taste



Directions:



Chop kale and brussels sprouts finely and toss to combine in a large salad bowl.

In a blender, blend the oil, garlic, lemon juice, mustard and salt and pepper until creamy. Drizzle the dressing over the salad and massage to coat, sprinkle with the roasted hazelnuts.

Allow to soften in the sauce before eating.


my best sous-chef and protege is the Bomb...

Curried Cauliflower Rice Salad
(serves 4)

This one is sort of a cheat because it isn’t totally raw. As an Indian, I have a horror of “raw” ground spices because, to my palate, they taste grainy and sharp. Also, many spices healing properties are activated by oil, especially turmeric. Simmering in warm oil and water releases their magic! If you have an auto-immune disease, look into the Indian spice mixture called, “Garam Masala” (basically, warming spices) instead of curry powder. You can find it in most Indian grocery stores.

           

1 head Cauliflower

3 tbsp Coconut oil – more if necessary – it will help keep you satiated and hydrated.

1 Onion chopped

3 cloves of Garlic chopped finely

¼ inch of Ginger root, chopped finely

1/2 tsp Curry powder/Garam masala

½ tsp Turmeric

1 cup of freshly-shelled Peas or chopped Sugar Snap Peas

1 cup of chopped tomatoes



1 cup sliced Almonds

1 cup of fresh Cilantro chopped



Directions:



Cut the cauliflower in half, then quarters and then break into smaller pieces. Add the cauliflower pieces to a food processer and pulse until you get a crumbly, rice-like texture. (A secret – you can buy this frozen by the bag at Trader Joe’s or in packages from a health food store – if you don’t have time).

Brown the onions in the coconut oil in a wide skillet, then add the garlic and ginger, turmeric, a little salt and pepper and letting the mixture simmer until the spice mixture has become a sort of paste.

Add the cauliflower to the skillet, scraping it out of the food processor bowl with a spatula.

Cook slightly for 4 minutes, stirring to make sure that all the cauliflower is coated in the spice mixture.

Remove from the heat, as the mixture cools, add the peas, chopped tomatoes, sliced almonds and chopped cilantro.

Allow the mixture to sit at room temperature or - as we did - chill and eat later!


Raw Falafel
(serves 6)

The prep for this involves 2-3 days to sprout the garbanzos/chickpeas and lentils and 2-3 hours of dehydrating - so just be sure to plan ahead with this one, too. These days you can find pre-sprouted beans and lentils in the salad section of the grocery store, so you can save time by getting those. Ours were adapted from http://rawmazing.com/recipe/falafels-the-raw-food-way/



3 cups of sprouted chickpeas and lentil

1 cup of finely chopped onion

2 cloves of garlic

1 cups of sunflower seeds

1/2 cup ground flaxseeds or chia seeds

1/4 cup of lemon juice

1/2 cup of parsley, chopped finely.

2 tablespoons of olive oil

2 tablespoons of ground coriander

3 teaspoons of cumin

1 tablespoon of tamari or coconut aminos



Prep 3 days in Advance - Sprout chickpeas and lentils. Place 2 cups organic dry beans in a jar, cover with water and let soak for 24 hours. Make sure there is plenty of room in the jar as these will expand quite a bit. Drain off water and rinse 3 times a day until little sprouts appear. Usually 2-3 days. Remember to keep rinsing as they can get moldy very easily.

Directions:
Starting with the sunflower seeds, put them in the food processor and grind until fine. Then empty the ground sunflower seeds into a mixing bowl. 

Put the garlic in the food processor and pulse until it is chopped, them add the sprouted chickpeas and lentils. Pulse until they are mashed. Then empty the mixture into the bowl with the sunflower seeds. Add the chopped onions, the parsley, the ground flaxseed, cumin and coriander, along with the olive oil, and the tamari and mix together until is a soft, uniform "dough." You can also put the entire mixture back into the food processor and mix it that way - but it can also make the falafels a little too smooth and sticky.
Wash your hands thoroughly. Rub a little olive oil in the palm of your hands and fingers and shape the mixture into small falafel balls and arrange them on the dehydrator trays. We then flattened them out because fast break was in a couple of hours and we wanted them to be ready faster!
We used my Excalibur dehydrator and put them in at 145 for 1 hour, then because everyone was hungry just thinking about them, we turned the heat up higher, to 165, for another hour. When we took them out, they were soft in the middle and slightly crispy on the inside. But a few got left in an hour or two longer and they were even better. I'd suggest you leave them at 145 for 2-3 hours.

Serve on a bed of sprouts and drizzled with tahini. 



DESSERT!


www.rawsometreats.com creamy, sweet, delicious tiramisu

For dessert, I was not quite as ambitious this year. I asked my friend Watt at Rawsome Treats to make us one of her incredible Raw Tiramisus and her raspberry-chocolate Trisome mousse cake. They are all vegan, raw, gluten-free and free of refined sugar! I will have to get the recipes some day. Here's one I found, but I haven't managed to make it myself (yet)! http://www.thisrawsomeveganlife.com/2014/01/raw-vegan-tiramisu-with-vanilla-cream.html


here's the trisome cake! Raspberry, vanilla and a crunchy chocolate crust and drizzle.

Here's the most important thing to remember - Ramadan can help you make incredible shifts in your physical and spiritual being. However you do it, start with Love. The loving energy you use to make and serve your food will nourish and heal those who eat it.