Culture Shock, Over Easy

IMG_0822

Right now I am in a state of shock at my culture shock.  I’ve traveled and lived in other countries before, but this recent move to Al Ain, the green oasis of the UAE, has jolted me to the core.  As most definitions of culture shock will attest, everything I know, believe, think, expect is being challenged.  I am WAY OUT of my comfort zone.

The thing about culture shock is that it’s a cocktail mixed with a bunch of other things. It stirs up emotions you didn’t think you had, fears that were previously unknown and prejudices you thought you were too open-minded to have.  Yet they’re all there and they come up when you least expect them to and they push you to overcome them. Everyday.

When you’re uncomfortable, you seek comfort wherever you can find it.  It may be in a stranger’s smile or a song you hear.  It may be a Starbucks you spotted or a re-run of Modern Family.  It could just be the sunrise and the sense of possibility of a new day.  That’s what it usually is for me.  That and breakfast.  On our 3rd morning at the Hilton, Claire and I went down for breakfast and were greeted by the organic section of the buffet!  Organic!  Little surprises like these go a long way.  Now that we’re “home” in our apartment, it’s a cup of tea with 2 eggs over easy over rice and sauteed spinach (at home, in the USA, it would be kale).

In the quiet morning, with a delicious breakfast, I can gather myself and prepare to start fresh, again.  It’s what’s required when you’re in the midst of culture shock because all things, large and small, are different.  And, you notice them all!  It’s also a time of slowness and when I can really watch Claire.  It has been incredibly helpful to be with a child.  Claire notices things are different (she hasn’t seen many women wearing abayas or men in dishdashes before) but she doesn’t judge anything as good or bad.  She notices and she looks (sometimes stares in a way that only kids can get away with) but then quickly returns to whatever is occupying her attention at the moment.  When she hears the prayer calls, she simply does her sign language for “music”.  Music!  That’s exactly what it is, that’s all it is.  When she hears our cab driver speaking in Urdu, she laughs.  And he usually laughs back.

Little by little the differences are overcome by the similarities.  It seems impossible now because as soon as you walk out the door everything is hard, but it happens.  I know it does because it’s happened before.  It just takes time, patience, some laughter and deep breaths and lots of the tea you’ll find below!  Then, allow yourself to be surprised and you will be.

A few days ago we went to one of the malls, (much nicer and with so many of the same stores as back home), and I spotted a woman covered head to toe in her black abaya and hijab (head scarf), but with her face visible to all.  She was also wearing TOMS, just like I was.  As they say in Vietnam, “same, same but different”.  Indeed we are.

Miracle Tea*

1/2 oz. each of dried chamomile flowers, dried lemon balm, dried catnip leaves and dried lavender flowers.  Combine all the herbs and seal in a mason jar.

To prepare:

Place 1 T of the mixture in a glass jar and cover with 1 C boiling water.  Steep for 15 minutes and ENJOY!

*This tea has helped me plenty.  It’s from Aviva Romm‘s book, Naturally Health Babies and Children.  She calls it “teething tea” which we’ve used several times and has done wonders for as well.  It’s soothing, comforting and positively dreamy.  I re-named it Miracle Tea because it is miraculously calming!  Thank you, Aviva!

Cacao Rose Chai

Makes 5 C

Cacao Rose Chai

Sometimes nothing is better than a cup of chai.  It’s warm, spicy, sweet, creamy.  The blend of the spices and tea and milk (in this case coconut milk) are like a warm blanket on a cold day.  With a cup of chai, you slow down and breathe.  Literally.  According to Ayurveda, most of the spices used in chai are sattvic, or calming.  Sattva also denotes clarity, understanding and light.  Not bad for a cup of tea.

Chai is like curry.  There are a million and one ways to make it and they will vary quite a bit depending on what region you’re in.  This is exciting for 2 reasons.  First, for purists, there’s nothing like finding a traditional version…and really, it is quite special.  Second, it leaves room for plenty of interpretation and experimentation.  These recipes are made for the rest of us to get creative, to tweak and play with until they resonate with us.

I took the 2nd route and while this chai has many (not all) of the traditional spices, I decided to play with the tea.  Purists, I believe, would choose a black tea like Assam or Ceylon.  I chose Dark Obsession Chocolate Rose.  It sounds too good to be tea, and I assure you it is, but it’s still tea.  I try not to think too much about the decadent contradiction and just enjoy it.  Sometimes the best things just can’t be explained.  This special blend comes from Marie Belle’s in NYC.  If you can, go there.  It’s a treat like no other.  (So are gifts from there=) )

As for the nutritional aspect of chai:

Cinnamon is one of the oldest spices in history with uses in the Middle East, China and the Mediterranean.  Not surprisingly, it enjoys a long list of medicinal properties as well.  Cinnamon is known to improve circulation, counter congestion and treat nausea.  It is also a stimulant and an analgesic.  Cinnamon also aids in the absorption of nutrients, so feel free to use this spice in your savory dishes, too!

Star Anise is popular in Chinese and Vietnamese cooking.  Medicinally, it’s commonly used to aid digestion, as a diuretic and for pain relief.  It also does wonders for coughs.

Clove is a particularly strong spice that is also a digestive aid and treats nausea.  Cloves have pain-relieving and antiseptic attributes.  “Clove is also used to synergistically increase the potency of other herbal blends.”¹

Black Peppercorn was once the most important spice in world trade.  It is commonly used to support circulation, stimulate the flow of energy² and improve metabolism.

Cardamom is special.  Rebecca Wood describes it as tasting like lemon zest and eucalyptus.  She also says that cardamom acts as an antidote to the stress caused by coffee on the adrenal glands, which in my opinion makes chai a great substitution…if that’s what you’re looking for.  In addition to being a digestive aid, easing coughs, congestion and breathlessness and benefiting the lungs, kidneys and heart, cardamom also makes you happy!

Black tea isn’t often considered for its health benefits, especially not next to its more famous relative, green tea.  Still, it has some health properties to boast such as; inhibiting tumor cells, being high in antioxidants and strengthening the immune system.

I encourage you to get creative with your own recipes.  Maybe you like more cloves or perhaps you’ll try a green tea chai?  If you’re feeling a bit under the weather, definitely add some fresh ginger.  Whatever you choose, I assure you that this cup of chai will get you to slow down and smell the roses.

Enjoy, friends!

You’ll need:

6 C water

10-12 cardamom pods

1 cinnamon stick

4-5 black peppercorns

1 star anise

3 whole cloves

2 T Dark Obsession Chocolate Rose

To make:

1. Bring water and all spices to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 15 minutes.

2. Covered, let spices steep for 10 minutes.  Then, return to a boil and promptly remove from heat.

3. Add tea and let steep for 5-7 minutes

4. Strain and discard tea and spices.  Let tea cool to room temperature and then refrigerate.  Unless you’re having a cup immediately, then prepare as per instructions below, or to taste!

To serve:

1. While tea is settling, bring 3/4 C of milk (dairy or non-dairy) to a simmer and add to tea.

2. Add 2 T maple syrup or sweetener of choice.  (Optional-you could also add 1t vanilla extract.)

3. Serve in individual cups and ENJOY!

¹http://www.chai-tea.org/benefits.html

²Rebecca Wood, The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia

Berry Herbed Smoothie

Yields 4 Cups

I don’t have a juicer.  I know, I know, but my kitchen is small and space is quite limited.  So since I don’t have one, I have to find other ways of getting a variety of good greens into my blended smoothies.  (I also don’t yet have a vita-mix and since I don’t love chunky bits in my SMOOTHies, it’s sometimes a challenge.)  This one however is a home run.  The tartness of the berries and the hint of sweetness of the banana play off the slight bitterness of the parsley in a wonderful dance that ends with the pleasantly warm and sweet flavor of the mint.  Your tastebuds will be very happy with this one, as will the rest of your beautiful body!

The stars of this smoothie for me are the herbs.  Parsley is, perhaps surprisingly, such a powerhouse of nutrition!  It is special because of its volatile oils.  Myristicin is particularly valued for its anti-carcinogenic properties.  This oil has been shown to inhibit growth in tumors, particularly in the lungs.  Myristicin seems to also help neutralize certain types of carcinogens such as benzopyrene which comes from cigarette smoke and charcoal grill smoke.  If that were all parsley did, it would already be super-parsley, but there’s more.  Anti-oxidant rich parsley has an abundance of (water-soluble) Vitamin C and (fat soluble) beta-carotene, both of which play key roles in heart health and immune function.  It is high in folic acid, a critical B vitamin, and not just for pregnant women either.  Finally it’s an anti-inflammatory and a digestive aid.  Super-parsley or what?  For more info, click here.

Mint is also a digestive aid, is an anti-microbial and has its own anti-carcinogenic properties to boast.  It has perillyl alcohol which, in animal studies, has been shown to inhibit growth of liver, breast and pancreatic tumors.  It’s also a good source of more of those goodies, Vitamin C and beta-carotene.

Cheers to that!

You’ll need:

1/2 C parsley leaves and stems

7-8 largish mint leaves

2 C water

1 banana

1 T ground flax seeds

1 T coconut oil

1/2 t vanilla extract, optional

2-3 C mixed berries (I used blueberries, blackberries and strawberries*, but any combo of 2 or 3 would work well!)

1 T freshly squeezed lemon juice

4-5 ice cubes (if using frozen fruit, you don’t need ice cubes)

To make:

1. Place 1/2 C water in blender with parsley and mint and blend until herbs are finely chopped and you’ve got a deliciously fragrant green juice.  (You could add a bit of lemon juice here and take shots of this, too;)

2. Add banana, flax seeds, coconut oil and vanilla extract and blend until all well incorporated.  Lastly, add berries, the rest of the water, lemon juice and ice, if using, and blend thoroughly.

3. Serve with a sprig of mint.  Smoothies look great in small mason jars and add a bit of uniqueness when serving.

4. Enjoy!

P.S. For you non-vegans, a half cup of plain yogurt is a great way to get some protein and fat into this smoothie;)