Too Much Garam Masala

A scary thing happened the other day. Liza, my daughter, had a bad reaction to something at an Indian restaurant in Curry Hill in New York City. I found the food we were eating to be much too spicy, but when I looked up to see the fear on Liza’s face, I knew something was terribly wrong. “I feel funny. My heart is pounding. I can’t breathe,” she said. The rapid heartbeat, chest discomfort, breathing difficulty, burning, and tingles all came in waves. Liza was having an allergic reaction. Within an hour, the discomfort and the daze were completely gone, but I blamed the episode on that over-the-top spicy garam masala.

A typical Indian garam masala spice blend recipe has black and white peppercorns, cloves, cinnamon, black and white cumin seeds, and cardamom pods. This particular blend was full of chili and other spices too. As it turns out, cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, and nutmeg are medicinal herbs that can cause an allergic reaction. Clove oil and other aromatic spices contain eugenol, which has caused anaphylactic shock. Reputable sources like the Physicians’ Desktop Reference and the University of Maryland Center for Integrative Medicine confirm it.

Liza recovered completely, but a lesson was learned: herbs and spices are more than scent and flavor; they are pharmaceutical substances with therapeutic properties. Paracelsus, the Renaissance physician, said it best: “The dose makes the poison.”

You thoughts: Have you had an allergic reaction to food? Do tell….

I Wanna Be a Lobsterman

This is my brother, Peter. He is a lobsterman, actually the captain of the boat. A lobsterman is like a farmer except that agribusiness is not involved. There are no giant commercial farms owned by multinational corporations, no chemicals, no antibiotics, no genetic modifications, and no Monsanto beating down the door. Some people find lostering romantic; I find it dangerous. Same thing, I guess. I asked Peter about catching lobsters, and he told me this is how it’s done:

  • Get a fishing boat. Rig it to catch lobsters. Load 1600 lobster pots. Hire a four-man crew.
  • String bait, 3 to 4 skate to a string. Load 43 barrels of skate and a few pallets of poggies (menhaden) because the lobsters like a blend.
  • Steam from Rhode Island out to the coast of Maine where your lobster pots are already in the water. They are strung with line, 50 pots attached, 25 fathoms (150 feet) apart.
  • Drop anchor and haul in the pots with an electrical lift. Expect 10 lbs of lobster in each pot.
  • Land – Band – Bait (Land: bring in a pot and put the lobsters on the table; Band: place rubber bands around the claws and put the lobster in a tank of cold, aerated water; Bait: reload the empty pot with bait.)
  • Set Back: The pots are stacked on the deck in order: first pot in is the last pot out. Lower the lines while the boat is moving. Whatever you do, don’t tangle up the lines!
  • Repeat for 4 or 5 days, and then steam back to port.
  • Pack Out.  Back on shore, pump down the water from the holding tanks. Separate the lobsters into 100 pound crates.  Hoist the crates into a refrigerated truck.
  • Drive the truck to Boston where the lobsters are graded and sold: Select, Cull (one claw), Chicken (1 – 1.5 pounds), and Soft (this lobster has molted, only the cooked meat is sold)
  • Get paid. Hang around for a few days. Hope the crew stays out of jail. Get up and do it again.

    Your thoughts: Do you eat lobster?
    Lobster Nutrition: A 3-ounce serving of cooked lobster has only 76 calories, <1 g of fat, 16 g of protein, 413 mg of sodium, 184 mg of cholesterol, 160 g of calcium, 1.8 mg of iron, and a decent amount of potassium, zinc, other trace minerals, and niacin (vitamin B3.)

Please Join Me on TV


For a good time, I highly recommend being on live TV. On Monday, I was on the PIX11 Morning News in New York City talking about “Back-To-School-Week: Food Swap.” What a blast! ADinfinitum, a public relations agency that promotes healthy lifestyles with brand strategies and campaigns, placed me, and I got to talk about my favorite Olympus Greek Yogurt and two other cool foods, KAMUT® khorasan wheat (more to come) and B-Amazing! (amazingly healthy vegetarian) food bar.

To start, PIX11 is in the “Superman Building,” The Daily News Building, also called The News Building, and the fictional Daily Planet. It was the first vertically soaring, modernistic skyscraper without ornamentation in Manhattan. And look at the 4,000 pound glowing globe in the intact Art Deco lobby, circa 1929. The News Building is easy to get to, near Grand Central Station at 220 East 42nd Street. It is worth the visit.

Up in the station, it is not so fancy: low ceilings, bad coffee, busy bees. Sue Taggart, the owner of ADinfinitum and her team, along with the stylist from the station, arranged the food while I was busy with makeup, mike-up, practice, and changing into my big shoes. (I am vertically challenged and so I need a wardrobe of 5-inch platform heals!) Finally, it is show time with Suki! Sukanya Krishnan of PIX11 Morning News is a real live wire, all about having fun in the morning. And since FUN is my M-O (along with food and nutrition), Suki and I got along great. (Live footage of the segment is available on YouTube for a limited time. See below.)

Your thoughts: Glasses or no glasses? Liza says glasses. “They’re hip like Tina Fey.”

An Over-Extended Family’s Dream

That would be a visit from me. 🙂

Meet the Sharkey family, a working couple with two small children. I helped them to make over their family diet. They were in “damage control” mode and they couldn’t see the forest from the trees. I teased out the issues and then recommended small, simple, specific changes that added up to something significant. Now, they are practicing forever. (Join the club.)

You can read about the Sharkey family intervention, “Hectic to Wholesome,” in Consumer Reports Food & Fitness, a magazine devoted to family health. See my lifestyle suggestions, product recommendations, and “kid friendly” recipes.

Want to schedule an appointment with me? Read about my services.

Your thoughts: Can you relate to the Sharkey family?

Where Farm Stands Are Built on Trust

Last week, I was back in the coastal farming community that I call home, Tiverton/Little Compton, Rhode Island. Amazingly enough, this bucolic place manages to stay old-fashioned, mostly because it is out-of-the-way, but also because it is owned by old farmers, rich people, and townies, all of whom seem content.

The Honor System

I am happy to report that several self-serve roadside farm stands are operating there. Be it berries, tomatoes, dahlias, sunflowers, eggs, bread, or whatever else, this is how it works: the customer drives up, reads the signage, makes a selection, tallies the purchase, and leaves the money in the cash box. The retail business operates of itself while the farmer tends the farm.

As it turns out, trusted people don’t steal. In a story, The Psychology of the Honor System at the Farm Stand, NPR interviewed Michael Cunningham, a professor who studies good and bad behavior. He told NPR, “trust seems to be at least as strong a motivator as guilt.” Consider this: the customer trusts the seller to sell a good and safe product and the seller trusts the customer to pay. Cunningham explained, “I get something delicious and I also get a good feeling about myself. Both of those things make me feel good about the world. I’m in a good place. It’s a win win.”

Cunningham found that about “25 percent of people are consistently honest, 25 percent mostly honest, 25 percent are dishonest, and 25 percent are erratic.” Still, the honor-system must be worth it to the small farmer, and, remember, a small town sees all.

Your thoughts: Should more businesses be built on a trust model?

What Ever Happened to Gluttony?

When I was a full time nutrition counselor, I remember a day when I saw two women who each gave me pause to consider. With both, the conversation was about when to stop eating after the start of a meal. The first woman, an English war bride, shared her granny’s advice: “Always leave room for one pancake.” (What? Wow! Brill…) The second woman, from Lebanon, said the Qur’an advises: “Eat with one third of your stomach and drink with one third and leave one third of your stomach to breathe so that you may think.” On a Hunger-Fullness level scale of 1 (empty) to 10 (stuffed), they were saying to stop eating at around 7.5 or 75 percent full.

Eat and Drink but Not to Excess

The Qur’an recommendations got me to thinking about religious rules pertaining to overeating. Not that I am promoting any one religion because I’m the “spiritual but not religious” type. Nor am I condemning those who binge-eat emotionally. God knows, they suffer. Rather, I don’t know why we’ve forgotten the long traditions warning us not to over eat. (7-Eleven Double Gulp at 50 ounces, I’m talking to you.) Let’s consider these words of admonition against gluttony:

  • “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit….” (Ephesians 5:18)
  • “And put a knife to your throat if you are given to appetite.” (Ephesians 5:18)
  • “Have the wisdom to show restraint.” (Proverbs 23:1-4)
  • “Eat and drink, but avoid excess…”  (Taha: 81)
  • Do not overeat, over drink or over indulge in sex. (Rules of Hinduism)

Your thoughts: There must be more. Share your religious truths about overeating.

My Mondays Are Meatless

Here it is the second Monday after the commotion started when a USDA headquarters interoffice newsletter encouraged employees to choose meatless meals on Mondays in the company cafeteria.

Meatless Monday” is a worldwide public health campaign to go meatless for health one day a week. A New York City ad man from Don Draper days working with Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and other big-league players started the crusade. (It shows the power of working across silos.) The USDA newsletter article was not an official position, but it offended the National Cattleman’s Beef Association and a few Republican senators, and so the USDA retracted the statement, removed the newsletter, and apologized to the beef industry. The Meatless Monday folks were not directly involved, but free publicity is good.

It’s All About the Cooking 

Volumes of research show the vegetarian diet is much healthier than a diet full of meat. Not that I’m against meat, a little is nice, but I learned how to be a vegetarian back in my hippie days, and so beans, grains, nuts and seeds, tons of vegetables, and eggs and cheese are simply my staple ingredients. Being a vegetarian is not about “Choose My Plate” with segmented meals, meat-and-potatoes style. Vegetarians tend to eat mixed dishes where grains, beans and cheese become a full meal salad or dish for the first time around and for leftovers.

A recent survey showed that 28% of Americans don’t know how to cook. (I wonder what the others call “cooking.”) Since that 28% is just starting out, they should learn how to cook vegetarian-style. I can attest to the long range health benefits. Here are three meatless recipes that I am cooking this week: Mary’s Wild Rice Salad (bring it to a party); Skillet Gnocchi with Chard & White Beans (impossible to stop eating); Mollie Katzen’s Moosewood Cookbook Zucchini Feta Pancakes (a summer classic). In August, I try to serve every dish with tomatoes and sweet corn on the side.

Your thoughts: Were you aware of Meatless Mondays? Do you take part?

An Herb Garden Grows in Brooklyn


The Brooklyn Botanic Garden is like my backyard. I live that close. This week, I am enjoying the Herb Garden, a wildly lush kitchen garden like none you’ve never seen. The Herb Garden’s annual beds are planted with regional crops we know as food from around the world. The plants reflect the cultural diversity and culinary traditions of Brooklyn. Today’s round-the-world tour takes in The Americas, North, South and Middle, displaying corn (maize), squash and sunflowers; The Fertile Crescent and Sub-Saharan Africa, with millet, sorghum, soba (buckwheat) and okra; Southeast Asia abundant in basil and hot peppers; and the Northern Mediterranean region abounding with artichokes, herbs and beets. Then there are the medicinal herbs, echinacea and bee balm, and the ever-present kale. And this is just a bit of what’s happening. The warm weather crops, tomatoes, peppers eggplant and corn, are not ready to harvest. I hope I don’t disappoint the curator. Enjoy the tour. (Click on the pictures to enlarge.)

Your thoughts: Do you have a favorite botanic garden?