Spice Up Your…Dreams?

spicy ghost

As someone who almost never remembers the last night’s dreams, I have always been interested in what influences the kinds of dreams we have and how we recall them. One popular belief, which my parents swear by, is that spicy food induces strange, if not frightening, dreams. I’d taken it as common knowledge until I mentioned it to Ingrid and Hokuma while preparing a Mid-Week Delicacy involving peppers, jalapeños, and hot sauce (come back Wednesday for the recipe!) – they were surprised, having never heard of such a thing. I became curious about the legitimacy of the claim, so, as per usual, I took to Google for a bit of research.

Given that spicy food can have some pretty extreme impact on the digestive system, it seems logical to me that it could also have intense effects on the brain. After all, spicy food includes a wide array of side effects, such as making you hot, teary-eyed, and thirsty. Why wouldn’t there be some subconscious mental effects as well?

spicyWell, in 1992, the University of Tasmania tested how having Tabasco and/or mustard as part of dinner affected the sleeping patterns of healthy young men. The participants didn’t achieve deep sleep for as long as the control counterparts did, which the study implies is likely due to the changes in body temperature caused by capsaicin. Capsaicin, a compound found in most peppers, stimulates a nerve cell protein that typically only gets triggered by physical heat – hence, describing something spicy as being ‘hot.’ Since the compound raises your internal temperature, it becomes more difficult for your body to cool itself to a lower, sleeping temperature, so your brain is more active as it performs thermoregulation. As your body has more difficulty achieving REM sleep, the sleep stage in which dreams occur, your brain experiences REM pressure, which Dr. Gary Wenk of Ohio State University describes as “an onslaught of powerful dreaming that we denied ourselves earlier in the evening.” It’s the same reason that so-called fever dreams are known to be bizarre and sometimes scary.

dinner chicken indianHowever, a lot of other research has shown that dream patterns are less likely to be affected by what you eat than by when you eat. In other words, a late-night meal or snack will likely cause you to dream more intensely if you go to bed soon thereafter. This is because any food, no matter how mild, will stimulate the brain as it raises your body’s metabolism and temperature, prompting more mental activity. The larger, fattier, greasier, and/or spicier your last meal is, the more effort your body has to exert to break it down and lower your temperature, and the more likely you are to have wacky dreams or nightmares. To try to prevent these, just allow at least two hours to pass between dinnertime (or late-night-snack-time) and bedtime. Fiery food doesn’t seem to have as much of an effect as some people think, but, for good measure, you can wait an extra hour before going to bed and drink some cold milk if you had a lot of peppers or hot sauce.

Another key thing is not to worry that you might have a bad dream after a big or spicy – the anxiety might be what ends up negatively influencing your sleeping brain! Just enjoy what you eat.


Fasting for wisdom and appreciation


Happy Ramadan Friends!

This week I joined millions of Muslims, albeit for only 4 days, to fast (no food or drink) from sun up to sun down. While not being a religious person, I knew there were many benefits to reap from detoxing the body.

The human body is a machine that runs on food, rest and upkeep. Sometimes we forget to take care of it and suffer from the buildup of everyday wear and tear. These four days helped me tidy up the body, but also the mind. And all the clear thinking left me with new wisdom and appreciation for the small things that are overlooked or taken for granted.

Here are three small reasons why I’d recommend all of you to fast (not for religious purposes, but for personal ones).

1. Fasting makes you productive.

saynotofoodwaste.fasting.blog.detox.health.happy.wisdom.appreciate.gift2When you are overwhelmed, bored, stressed or simply wanting to take a break, food looks like a good distraction. Getting up to go to the kitchen, or introducing a new flavor to your life promises to make you happy. In reality, it just pushes the important things aside. When your life revolves around food, it declines in productivity. This week, when I wasn’t distracted by thoughts of food, I executed many tasks and activities I’ve been putting off. In a short time I became the living and breathing motto of Nike: “Just do it!”. This new change suited me well. I felt accomplished and satisfied, and will likely adopt it for good.

2. Rationing helps you appreciate each bite.

saynotofoodwaste.fasting.blog.detox.health.happy.wisdom.appreciate.gift3If you have something in abundance, you stop seeing it as something ‘special’. Restricting my food intake to the hours of dawn and dusk meant that I had a short time to indulge in good food. And prolonged times of fasting meant my stomach couldn’t accept large volumes of nutrition, so I could eat only the healthy and essential things. I filled my body with protein, vitamins and limited the sugar. The result is that each slow bite was delicious and fully appreciated by me.

3. Detox does wonders to your body.

saynotofoodwaste.fasting.blog.detox.health.happy.wisdom.appreciate.gift6Restriction is good for you! It means that you have more energy to shift your body’s focus from digestion towards recovery and clean up. Giving your body time to breathe and take care of itself means you can start enjoying clear skin, clear mind and more positivity to open your eyes to the beauty scattered around you! Most importantly working on your willpower makes you more confident and secure in your abilities to accomplish even what seems like the most daunting of tasks.

Fasting is a blessing that should be enjoyed every now and then to realign your body and mind, and to put yourself back on the right track. After this holiday weekend I think I might go back to fasting for at least another week! Want to join?

If you’ve been fasting or tried it in the past, did you experience any of the positive effects listed above?

Happy holiday, friends!

Midweek Delicacy Time: Inside Out Lasagna


Inside-out Lasagna I’ve been craving lasagna for over a week now. There have been so many ways I’ve imagined it both with and without meat. If I saw a vegetarian friend I’d wonder how I could get the sauce layer the right thickness. What kind of texture would the different layers have.

I would go through this process for all my friends and then reality would set in. For over a month I have been traveling staying in different houses. I have groceries, but less access to store things for too many days. Since I am leaving soon and can’t carry what I have left, I decided to put together the important components of lasagna and did the layering in the cooking process and how things are incorporated together. This change allowed me to shorten the time for this dish compared to a normal lasagna and achieve the flavoring with the different textures of a good lasagna.

While I made a vegetarian version, feel free to add a meat or just use what is available to you. The basics listed below make it easy to adapt and achieve the flavors and textures of a great lasagna in a wonderful, playful mess. This is great for kids as well.

Happy eating friends!



Serves 6-8

1 lb Linguini (Use your favorite pasta. If you use lasagna pasta, break it up into big pieces before boiling)
1 28oz can Plum Tomatoes whole
1 Zucchini, sliced and sautéed
1 Yellow Squash, sliced and sautéed
1 Onion, sliced and sautéed
3 large Basil leaves
1 Bay leaf
2 cloves of Garlic
1 cup Basil & Parsley, chopped
1 cup fresh Ricotta
3 cups Mozzarella, grated & divided
1 cup Parmesan, grated & divided
Olive Oil
Salt to taste


  1. In large sauce pot heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Add whole garlic cloves lightly crushed andIMG_1537 a pinch of red pepper flakes; cook until the garlic is golden. Crush a 28-ounce can of plum tomatoes into the pot with a wooden spoon; rinse out the can with 1/2 cup water and add the water to IMG_1542the pot. Add 3 large basil sprigs and bay leaf; simmer, uncovered, until the sauce is thickened, 15 minutes. Discard the basil, bay leaf and garlic; season the sauce with salt.
  2. While the sauce simmers prepare your vegetables (or meats). Once cooked set aside to be combined.
  3. IMG_1600Preheat the oven to 450º F. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil; cook 1 pound of linguini until very al dente, 2 or 3 minutes less than the label directs; drain.
  4. Stir into sauce the chopped up basil and parsley with ricotta cheese.
  5. Once the cheese is well incorporated add in zucchini, squash and onions. Tip: Add in any cooked meats or other prepared vegetables now.) IMG_1605
  6. Toss the cooked pasta with the sauce and half of the parmesan and half of the mozzarella.
  7. IMG_1618Spread in an oiled 3-to-4-quart baking dish. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the pasta. Bake, uncovered, until browned, about 15 minutes. Let rest 15 minutes before serving.

In Defense of Buying Local

market prices

In last week’s post about how to buy local on a budget, I said “the one critique” I’ve repeatedly heard about locally-sourced food is the price. Actually, I’ve heard a good deal of skepticism voiced about farmers markets, namely that vendors don’t necessarily raise their animals as humanely or grow their produce with as minimal chemical intervention as one might assume. And that’s true: as with the ‘organic’ label, you can’t take all claims of sustainability at face value. You need to read the fine print, literally or metaphorically – the latter of which might entail interrogating the vendor a bit. Right now, though, I want to briefly address a common argument of economists.

market shoppingIf everyone subsisted solely on what was available to them locally, we would be worse off. I’ll avoid using the economic jargon of comparative and absolute advantage, but, basically, we would be forcing ourselves to grow things that could be much more easily grown elsewhere. This would essentially waste huge amounts of time, money, and energy that could be better put towards specializing in select products. It would mean higher prices to the consumer as well as more environmental detriment via inefficient energy consumption. Not to mention that our diets would also be constrained by the season and regional climate, as some things simply do not grow in certain parts of the world.

In light of these points, raised by my economics professor and in articles all across the Internet, I think I should clarify my approach to buying local. First off, I focus on produce and meat; the breads and cheeses that I find at the farmer’s market are delectable, but I treat myself to them as I would anything at a grocery store. With produce, however, I genuinely believe that fruits and vegetables taste better when they are fresher. Farmers markets also offer a lot of heirloom varieties and ‘ugly’ pieces of produce that you wouldn’t find in your average grocery store due to cosmetic standards, thereby preventing waste of perfectly edible, albeit funny-looking food. As for meat, I’m always willing to pay a little more for something that hasn’t been raised on hormones or in horribly intensive conditions, mainly for the sake of humaneness. Bearing all this in mind, though, I will concede an important caveat: I don’t buy everything local, nor would I ever want to, specifically for the reasons described above. Some fruits and veggies at the farmer’s market are simply too expensive for me, which could also indicate that they’re grown inefficiently. Moreover, I love food and diversifying my diet far too much to ever want to give up on imports.

produce ingredient3So, here’s my take on it: locavorism isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, but the idea behind it isn’t entirely wrong. While it is environmentally beneficial to buy certain things locally, especially when it means preventing waste by supporting ugly food, there are more ecological costs to consider than long-distance transportation. This article makes some good points to that effect. And, of course, you can’t forget the prices. It’s best to stick to relatively inexpensive produce (although most foods will be a bit less cheap than at a supermarket) and check the details behind the meat to see if it’s worth the price.

As a final disclaimer, I want to emphasize that these are my personal beliefs, based on experience and some background information on both sides of the issue. Sure, I could’ve done more extensive research, but this is a blog post, not a dissertation. Feel free to comment with opinions, including disagreements or criticisms, so long as they are civil.


Bite sized wisdom from flowers

Dear Friends,

We are in the midst of the summer season. Birds chirrup, flowers bloom and our hearts skip with happiness at the sight of all this beauty.

Seeing so many colors and varieties I always wondered: How can plants be fragile and yet stay agile? My continued search for answers left me with the following thoughts.

saynotofoodwaste.sunshine.wisdom.bitesized.happiness.dream31. Patience, love and care.

Essential blocks of any successful relationship, project or outcome depend on these three building blocks. When patience is there it makes room for much-needed communication, when love is around we always see the positive in what interests us, and care ensures that all this is sustained for long periods of time. No plant, human or project can survive without these essential components.

saynotofoodwaste.sunshine.wisdom.bitesized.happiness.dream22. Instinct or choice?

It is a desire of many to be wild, young and free, but life shows us these things come and go. A plant that is wild can be anything, but it won’t nourish you as the one you cultivate and work on. And while it will fend for itself, it won’t feed a village. One proverb that carved itself into my memory is: Walk alone to go fast, walk together to go far. Sometimes our instincts beckon us to freedom, but most important is the freedom of choice.

saynotofoodwaste.sunshine.wisdom.bitesized.happiness.dream3. Look to the sun.

Plants that obtain sunshine, warmth and positivity flourish. Those who can’t reach this vital source of energy wither and die. Light is what keeps our planet living, and that’s no exception for humans. To lead a fruitful and fulfilling life we too need positive energy. Staying optimistic and trying to see the good in any given situation is the secret to a happy life. Let’s find this source of energy in our lives and look to it with a smile.

Hope you enjoyed this post. Let me know if you have any observations to share in the comments below.

I’m off to live, love and give!

Midweek Delicacy Time: Garam Masala Chicken in Cherry-Wine Pan Sauce

Chicken in Cherry-Wine Pan Sauce

Chicken in Cherry-Wine Pan SauceWhen looking for inspiration my favorite pastime is visiting a local farmer’s market. This past weekend I visited the farmers market in old town Kensington, MD. The cherries caught my eye, and I knew I wanted them to be the focus of my next dish. Unfortunately, they were so good I ate them all before the end of the day.

Cooking with what is in season always gives you the best value for taste, texture and nutrition. It is also another way to eat healthy and save money. Food that is in season is always cheaper and there is also the added benefit of local produce lasting longer since it doesn’t have to travel so far.

Happy eating friends!



Serves 4

4 Chicken breasts (about 1-1/2lbs)Chicken in Cherry-Wine Pan Sauce
extra virgin Olive oil, for brushing
Salt and Pepper
1 1/2 teaspoon Garam Masala (substitute the following combined cinnamon, cumin, nutmeg, coriander)
2 tablespoons Butter, divided
1 Shallot, chopped
1 cup Red wine like Cabernet
1/2 cup Chicken broth
2 Tablespoons Balsamic vinegar
12oz fresh pitted sweet cherries NOT sour cherries (if frozen, do not thaw)
1 teaspoon chopped fresh Thyme
juice of 1/2 Lemon


  1. Brush the chicken breasts on both sides with extra virgin olive oil and season with garam masala, salt and pepper. In a large skillet over medium heat add 1 tablespoon of butter. When pan is coated evenly with melted butter, brown chicken on all sides  3-4 minutes a side. Remove to a plate then tent with foil to keep warm.Chicken in Cherry-Wine Pan Sauce
  2. Melt 1 Tablespoon butter in same skillet then add shallots and saute until tender, 2 minutes. Add wine, chicken broth, balsamic vinegar, and fresh cherries, simmer until sauce is reduced by nearly half, 3-4 minutes.
  3. Add thyme then continue to reduce sauce until slightly thickened, 2-3 minutes, pressing down on cherries gently with the back of a wooden spoon.
  4. Return chicken to the skillet, top with cherry sauce. Transfer skillet to oven. Bake, uncovered, at 350° for 20 minutes.Chicken in Cherry-Wine Pan Sauce
  5. Remove skillet from oven then add in lemon juice. Be sure to incorporate it well then serve.

Three Tips for Buying Local on a Budget

big tomatoes

When it comes to buying produce, I try to get as much as possible from farmer’s markets or local grocers rather than supermarkets. Not only do smaller growers tend to raise their crops more organically (i.e. with fewer pesticides or hormones) than massive corporations, but you also get the comfort of knowing that the food hasn’t had to travel alci seasonalthousands and thousands of miles to get to your table. That saves hundreds of gallons of fuel that would have otherwise been spent cooling and transporting the food across the country, much less the world. Not to mention that the local food is much tastier because it’s fresh.

The one critique I keep hearing when it comes to locally-sourced food is price. When I encourage my friends to shop at our city’s farmer’s market, they typically say something like, “I love the farmer’s market, but it’s so expensive! How can you afford to go there every week?” Without going into the economics of it, I’ll admit that local food tends to be less cheap because small producers don’t have the kinds of business models that allow big manufacturers to keep prices low. When grocery stores sell a pint of blueberries for $2.99, many people feel that the positives of buying local still don’t justify spending $5 for the same amount. However, there are three simple tricks you can use to buy locally and economically.

1. Browse before you buy

Since all the vendors are growing their produce in the same climate and season, most of them offer the same variety of fruits and vegetables. For the shopper, that translates into multiple price options. Just last week, I saw potatoes being sold at $3/lb., $3/pint, $4/quart, and $5/quart. Before making a single purchase, walk the entire market, make price comparisons, and then buy accordingly.

2. Remember why you’re there

It’s incredibly easy to get enticed by things like fresh breads, pastries, and nut butters, especially when samples are available, but you must resist! Try to concentrate on buying produce and whatever else you planned to buy, because treats can cost a pretty penny. The two, age-old pieces of advice ring just as true at local markets: don’t shop hungry and bring a list.

3. Try something new

market vegetablesThe farmer’s market is a great place to discover new varieties of food. This slightly contradicts my advice of sticking to a shopping list, but if you see an appealing piece of fruit or vegetable for a low price – cheaper than whatever you had planned to buy – you should go for it. Buying food that you might not yet know how to cook is a great way to expand your culinary repertoire.

I realize not everyone is fortunate enough to live near a well-publicized farmer’s market, but look around online – or just walk around your town – and you might find some good local options. Being eco-friendly doesn’t have to be hard on your wallet.


Bite sized wisdom: Plant science


Dear Readers,

seedsofopportunity.saynotofoodwaste.foodquote.life.sustainable.live.happy.free.give.travel.curiousHave you ever found yourself leaving things until the last minute? Moments when you overestimate the time you have and underestimate the time it takes you to do something.

In about a few minutes I’ll be leaving on a trip.

You might be wondering…why is this girl sitting writing this when she could be packing her last minute items and checking important documents. Well, I don’t have a valuable answer other than – I put this off until last minute.

And while this is possible to resolve thanks to new technology and inventions, in most cases in nature what you let slip from your hands rarely comes back. This is especially true of time and missed opportunities. Best example of opportunity is of course a seed that bears hidden fruits. Unfortunately, if you don’t plant the seed just in the right time with the right care nothing will grow of it.

Time is a special gift called life and we are the seeds of opportunity.

Lets sow them and start blooming!

Midweek Delicacy Time: Vegetarian Stir-Fry

Vegetarian Stir-Fry

Vegetarian Stir-FryThere is nothing like a delicious stir-fry. Did you ever wonder what the secret is to a good stir-fry? I have included and adapted the fundamentals of real Chinese stir-frying for your home to help you achieve that depth of flavor and wonderful textures throughout. Be sure to read through before beginning to make sure you have the equipment essentials and understand how to prep.

One key element to Chinese stir-frying is high flame, otherwise known as “the taste of the wok”. Not all of us have gas stoves. Not to worry, for electric stoves use a large sauté pan or skillet at least 12 -14 inches. In fact, do not use a small wok. If your wok does not have girth, opt for the larger pan. The smaller woks will steam or braise your food.

This adapted version of Chinese stir-frying will have you creating dishes that will rival your favorite Chinese restaurant. Many of us enjoy adapting the recipes we see and I would love you to do just that, using what is available to you. For the recipe below treat your proteins similarly to the tempeh simply adjust the cooking time based on your protein. Match the vegetables and aromatics as set below. Double the time for larger vegetables such as broccoli, eggplant,…etc.

Happy eating friends!



Serves 4

8oz TempehVegetarian Stir-Fry Ingredients
1 1/2 pounds Shiitake Mushrooms
3 Scallions
1 medium fresh Bok Choy stalk
5 tablespoons Canola oil (if you don’t have Canola oil use an oil that can take high heat such as Safflower oil)
3 Garlic cloves
1 1/2 tablespoons Ginger
1 red Chili
3 teaspoons Cornstarch
1/4 cup Tamari Soy sauce
1/2 cup Rice Wine Vinegar
1 teaspoon Oyster sauce
1 1/2 teaspoon Honey

Vegetarian Stir-Fry

  1. Place the tempeh in the freezer for 20 minutes. (this is to slice the tempeh thinner.)Vegetarian Stir-Fry
  2. Prep the aromatics. Mince the garlic, peel and julienne the ginger, and seed the chili and chop up finely. Reserve in a bowl together.
  3. In a small bowl or cup add cornstarch and just enough water stirred in to create the texture of heavy cream.
  4. In a bowl or measuring cup mix the tamari sauce, rice wine vinegar, oyster sauce and honey.
  5. Take the tempeh out of the freezer and slice it fairly thin, about 1/8 inch thick. Toss in enough sauce to coat and allow to marinate while you prep the vegetables. Reserve the remainder of the sauce for later.
  6. Cut the vegetable with maximum  surface area exposed. Cut the white part of the scallion and firmer part Vegetarian Stir-Fry Ingredients
    about 1 1/2 inch long and half lengthwise. Slice the green portion thinly. Reserve both parts separately. Cut the white part of the bok choy 1 1/2 inch long and half lengthwise. Cut the leafy part 1 inch thick then half the pieces. Reserve both parts separately. Slice the mushrooms and cut away any tough parts off on the stems.
  7. Heat your empty wok / sauté pan on highest flame/highest setting for 1-3 minutes (wok/pan should be so hot, you can hold your outstretched hand 1 inch above its surface for no more than 3 seconds); add 3 tablespoons of canola oil. (For wok swirl the oil down the sides as you pour. Rotate pan so bottom is evenly coated. Drain Tempeh then add to pan and stir-fry until seared and about three-quarters cooked, about 2 minutes. Spoon tempeh on plate.
  8. Swirl in 2 more tablespoons of canola oil and be sure everything is evenly coated. Add the larger cut pieces of the scallion and the white part of the bok choy. Don’t stir too much at this point, because you want the vegetables to brown, about 2 minutes.Vegetarian Stir-Fry
  9. Add the aromatics and the mushrooms to the pan stirring lightly. Once the mushrooms start to glisten and are just tender, about 2 minutes, add in the leafy part of the bok choy. Stir-fry until the leaves start to wilt, about 2 minutes.
  10. Return the tempeh to the wok/pan and stir in. Add in the remainder of the sauce. As soon as the liquid starts simmering, stir up the cornstarch slurry in its cup, and pour a thin stream all around the wok/pan into the sauce. Stir the entire contents of the wok/pan together immediately; the liquid will thicken right away over the high heat. Vegetarian Stir-FryThe sauce should be lightly thickened not gloppy.
  11. Finish off with a small amount of sesame oil (like a quarter-teaspoon) drizzled over and stirred in just before serving. Transfer to serving platter and top with the thinly sliced green scallions.

Reservations: A Food Waste Game-Changer?

alci fast food
Chef Ugo Alciati, Guido Ristorante presso Tenuta di Fontanafredda - Serralunga d'Alba 12050

Chef Ugo Alciati, Guido Ristorante presso Tenuta di Fontanafredda

While I was researching the presenters and exhibitions at Expo Milano a couple of weeks ago, one article title immediately piqued my interest: “Ugo Alciati: Limiting food waste with set menus and reservations-only restaurants.”  Sure enough, the interview with Alciati revealed that his restaurant, Guido, focuses on providing the freshest food and avoiding waste by only offering a fixed menu and, more uniquely, requiring reservations. I say ‘more uniquely’ because fixed menus aren’t actually that uncommon in the gourmet food world; many chefs design their menus monthly, weekly, or even daily to take advantage of market-fresh, seasonal ingredients. The idea of using reservations as a means of waste prevention, though, was something I had never heard of. Alciati has reinvented the phrase ‘reservations only’ from pretentiously implying, ‘Our restaurant is so popular, you can’t possibly get a table as a walk-in,’ to, ‘We’ll only prepare enough food for the people we know are coming.’

Needless to say, I am absolutely delighted by Alciati’s innovation. As he describes in the article, restaurants all over the world could cut their waste in half by adopting this approach, which would not only be a huge environmental win but would translate into lower prices for diners. After all, the restaurant wouldn’t have to compensate for buying and making tons of food that gets thrown away at the end of the day. Plus, the food would taste much better day-of than reheated from the freezer (although, admittedly, freezing leftovers is a great waste-fighting technique).

However, I also realize how impractical it would be if, indeed, every eating establishment employed this rule. There would be no such thing as convenience or fast food, no last-minute decisions to eat out because you don’t have time to cook. If you were walking around and hunger suddenly struck, you’d be out of luck unless a vending machine or grocery store was nearby. Furthermore, the strategy only works if the restaurant knows what the patrons are going to eat, which would require fixed menus or including food orders in the reservations. Frankly, that degree of planning would take a lot of the fun out of eating.

seafoodThat being said, the ‘reservations only’ tactic is not to be dismissed. Our society is too obsessed with convenience for it to become mainstream, but I think it is completely feasible for other higher-end restaurants to follow Alciati’s lead. The central approach can also be adapted to be slightly more accommodating, such as setting aside a few walk-in tables that incur an additional charge on the diner’s bill. With gourmet food prices already being the way they are, it honestly isn’t that outrageous.

Always happy to hear about innovators in the fight against waste,


PS. I recommend reading the rest of the (short) interview with Alciati, in which he talks about how much he loves cooking with milk.