Monday, March 31, 2014

"Looks Like the Brain, Good for the Brain!"

The title of this post is a quote that the father of one of my teachers in nutrition school said to her one day while he was munching on walnuts. Not only is it an adorable thing to say, it is also 100% true!

On the last day of my most recent trip to Artsakh, our host-family of Saro and Hasmik gave Monika and I a huge bag of walnuts from their own backyard as a goodbye gift. While it made walking uphill to the mashootka stop a little bit more difficult, we were very excited to have shelled walnuts to take home.
My first couple of times buying walnuts from the shugas in Yerevan were almost always met with disappointment because they had been rancid the majority of times. Vendors would shell them and leave them out either in the sun or indoors for who knows how long (but of course insisting they were "fresh") and it would result in them going bad. Walnuts contain omega-3 essential fatty acids (EFAs - which you can read more about here) which are sensitive to both light and heat, and you can tell when they have gone bad by the indicative bitter taste. This is true with flax oil as well as walnuts, the former of which I have completely given up on finding fresh in Armenia, so I just attempt to make it myself instead. By consuming fresh walnuts, they are indeed "good for the brain" as EFAs are crucial for the development of our nervous system, and coat and therefore protect our neurons. Walnuts are also a good source of manganese, copper, zinc, and the skin-strengthening vitamin E!

Once walnuts are shelled, the best thing to do in order to keep them fresh is to put them in the freezer. This will significantly lengthen their shelf-life (up to a year, even!). You can eat them as snacks, incorporate them in salads for a protein/nutrition kick, and add them in desserts. Because of the beneficial oils found in walnuts, it is best not to heat them, or at most heat them lightly in order to preserve these important oils.

We don't have the standard walnut smashers in Yerevan (or in our home specifically), so we resort to modernized caveman styles (upgrading from our time in Georgia, of course) with a hammer and a bag.
My room mates and I will enjoy them as snacks, and I will then incorporate them into a raw chocolate. Post about that coming soon, time to get smashing!
Fun-fact: When I went vegetarian and then vegan, on top of the constant "you will never get enough protein/iron/B12" talk, self-appointed "experts" would also tell me that I could only get EFAs from fish sources. I'll take my brain-shaped walnuts and flax seeds over fish any day!

Friday, March 28, 2014

The Making of 'Jingalov Hats'

My fourth article is up on The Armenian Weekly - focusing this time on the legendary jingalov hats! You can check it out here!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Local Adaptogenic Power: Nettle/Եղինջ!

Spring in Yerevan is more exciting this year for a few reasons:

1- It is still snowing back home in Canada as my dad showed me through this picture of an eagle or hawk "munching" on a squirrel in our front yard:
2- Spring this year is on steroids and is therefore actually just summer in disguise (except at night).

3- GREENS! Glorious greens to get us all out of the winter-slump at prices that I still cannot believe. Spinach, beet greens, tarragon, and much more!

Today I will focus on one, and that is nettle, or եղինջ (yeghinch), which I learned about in our herbal medicine classes and happily discovered in Armenia about 2 years ago. It is commonly refereed to as a weed, but is, surprise surprise, very nutritious, which locals here seem to know very well! I have mostly seen delicious thick stews and soups made with it which I have not been able to mimic yet.

It is an adaptogen, which you can read more about here, and also high in iron. While I will continue to have my maca from Peru, it is great to know that there are local options for getting our adrenal glands some support! Bonus: it costs only 100 drams a bunch while it is in season, which is roughly around 25 cents.
Until I master making the soups I have tried, I prefer boiling a bunch of it and then letting it steep before draining the liquid into some bottles and then putting it into the fridge.
Since it is very warm in Yerevan now, I am not very tempted by tea, so I just drink it cold throughout the day. You can also mix it with different herbs and make a fusion tea, but for now, I am enjoying it solo!
Pro-tip: it is called stinging nettle for a reason! While not all types of nettle "sting", the one in Armenia does, so if you pick it be careful! Herb-picking post and tips coming up soon!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Some Tips on Running!

The sun has been shining and the weather has warmed up in Yerevan. My dad let me know in Canada it was still -20 and that there was snow and my sister confirmed this by showing me through the power of skype. How to celebrate? A run in the sun!

Mona the German was the one who introduced me to the wonders of running back in 2011. She changed her entire running schedule to accommodate my work schedule and we began meeting in the mornings. My first try must have been the most frustrating thing ever for her as I had to stop constantly while she was already a pro. But instead of running ahead and just assuming I would catch up, she would run a bit, come back to meet me and run in circles around me while encouraging me to continue. A blonde little inspirational bumble bee buzzing around me. It was adorable and it worked. I continued after she left and even ran on the icy streets of Yerevan during the first freezing winter I was here for. I fell and hurt my knee twice but NO REGRETS!

I tried different times, different routes and different ways to stay hydrated before and finally found the way that worked best for me: in the morning after just drinking lots of water. Evening runs can be great in terms of endurance as there would be a lot of energy from the meals eaten, but I found that it is too easy to get caught up in plans and continuously postpone running. I like doing it the first thing in the morning as it gives me lots of energy throughout the day, I feel great generally as a result of it, and I sleep much better. When you sleep, your brain still uses up the glucose in your body (nonsensical dreams apparently take up a lot of mental energy) and will then use the glucose stored in your liver (glycogen), so those levels would be lowest right when you wake up. This can be why it is wise to eat something before running so you have better energy and therefore endurance, but besides a couple of times when I was feeling particularly groggy in the mornings, I tend to be okay with just some water.

The streets in Yerevan are also not very pedestrian-friendly, so I prefer going in the mornings as well since it tends to be a little calmer. There are some good routes in the center, but for the special days when there is a group of people interested, Hrazdan is my favourite choice. The view is fantastic and the route is long enough to consider it a power run. There are less cars and the dogs seem to be just curious enough to pay attention but lazy enough to stay in sleep-mode. The last time I went, as I attempted to tell Mona through the power of sign language that there was a dog and her puppy nearby so we should slow down, I apparently forgot how to multi-task and fell forward in the most awkward way possible, and layed there for a few minutes in confusion while the mother dog began her bark-fest at me. I deserved it and I continued running with two bloody knees and a taxi driver did the "eya" sign to me. Stiff upper lip.
Pre-fall happiness
After running, it is best to eat something carbohydrate-centered because even though you may have enjoyed your run, it does put your body in a state of stress, and your cortisol levels rise as a result. Insulin keeps our cortisol levels in check, so when you eat carbohydrates after your run, you are allowing this process to occur and you won't feel stressed out for much longer!

I have taken a non-intentional break from running but will continue soon. Bloody knees, here I come!

Some facebook running groups in Yerevan here and here for those interested!
(Photo by the German Mona Hinrichs)

Friday, March 7, 2014

Tofu Takeover!

Mona the German did not arrive to Armenia empty handed. Although the jean jackets she brought with our Meat Punx logo were the highlight, the tofu package was a close second. A little too close if you ask me:
Jean jackets > tofu ?!
Tofu can be a vegetarian's dream, if you know how to work with it. Often the butt of cruel meat-eater jokes, it is called tasteless, bland, gross, and so on. EVERYONE'S LOSS, I say! Tofu is delicious and can fit in with so many meals and provides a great protein-boost as well, as it is almost a complete protein (read more about complete proteins here). Little tricks include removing any of the water in the tofu package and freezing it, then letting it defrost. The new thawed tofu will develop little holes within and will become as absorbent as a sponge - so whatever meal you put them in, they will suck up all the flavour and taste amazing.

We saved the tofu package for a special occasion, which I think just ended up being a "hey we have tofu" kind of occasion, and decided it was time to consume it all. Mona the German loves to cook so she did all of the preparation while I finished some work. We make a platonic marriage seem too easy, I know.

We looked in our cabinets and found sunflower seeds, quinoa that was begging to be used and we also had spinach and lettuce handy. We decided on a hearty salad, and we had just bought mustard from the Haleb shop, so we were excited to experiment with the dressing as well. Combining the tofu with the quinoa, seeds, and veggies made this meal a complete protein, so we were happy about that as well. Mona cooked the quinoa, placed it over the bed of greens, cut the tofu in strips and stir-fried it while simultaneously roasting the sunflower seeds (activating the enzymes). She made a delicious dressing featuring the mustard and some local apple cider vinegar, and created this beauty:
Verdict: delicious and filling as a result of the protein combining, and still light and refreshing! Complete with protein, soluble fiber, and raw food (enzymes). Also the apple cider vinegar mimics stomach acid so it helps with digestion as well. The German is ready to make some local man a wonderful bride, I think.

Side-note: Anytime I think of tofu I think of this band, and my title was inspired by this song. Check out the fun song about tofu and enjoy the beginning intro when one of the band members asks people not to bring their dogs to punk shows. Never cool, man.