Monday, June 29, 2009

The Art, Pleasure & Health of Tea

Yesterday, I met a friend at Stella's Tea House in Denver which is a remarkable treat in and of itself. ( if you'd like a peek!) Walking into Stellas is like walking into a kind, fun, eccentric, eclectic old Granny's house. Multi level porches outside, rooms without end inside. Nothing matches but somehow it all works.

On a brisk fall day last year, my husband Greg and I stopped at Stellas to visit with my son, Zeke and his family. Zeke, ever the adventurer, popped inside and bought me a cup of tea, announcing, "It's a blooming tea. They put a pod in there that opens to a flower. The guy called it the 'white wine' of teas." (You can watch a lovely video on blooming flower teas at Leave it to Zeke to find a way to give his mom a drinkable flower.

Sure enough, the hot water began working its magic on the ugly peach-pit looking pod as it opened up and flowered into a work of floral art. The tea was wonderful tasting too -- green tea with a mild hint of jasmine. I took in the aroma, then sipped and smiled. "I could get into this."

This year I had to give up two of my favorite beverages: wine and coffee. For whatever reason, they both stopped agreeing with my head and stomach. I missed the taste of both of course, but even more I missed the ambiance, fellowship and experimenting with flavors within the genre.

So it is with no small amount of joy that I am grateful to discover Tea People, Tea Houses, Tea Aficionados. A new beverage genre to savor and discover!

Last week I sampled my first South African rooibos tea a la Starbuck's rooibos vanilla drink. It was love at first latte. In This is Your Brain on Joy we included research on aromatherapy to help balance your brain's moods. The fragrances of many teas from Earl Grey to jasmine proved a quadruple boost to joy: you get the scent, the warmth of the cup in your hand, the beauty of it all, and the taste of the tea -- all creating a happy multi sensory moment.

All this, and tea is actually great for your health as well.

My sweet mother suffers at night from heart arrhythmias. Last month she wrote that, "I've found if I drink a cup of green tea, my heart calms. It soothes me nicely and I'm able to get back to bed and fall asleep soon after."

Below are 33 more health reasons to consider adopting the lovely habit of the English, to start the day and pause the day with a nice spot of tea.

Top 10 Health Benefits of Drinking Tea
Lynn Grieger

There are lots of reasons why I enjoy a hot cup of tea: I love the aroma of various flavors of tea; holding onto a hot tea mug warms my hands on a cold winter morning; sipping tea in front of the fireplace is a great way to relax. And those are just the feel-good reasons. If you're not drinking tea yet, read up on these 10 ways tea does your body good and then see if you're ready to change your Starbucks order!

1. Tea contains antioxidants. Like the Rust-Oleum paint that keeps your outdoor furniture from rusting, tea's antioxidants protect your body from the ravages of aging and the effects of pollution.

2. Tea has less caffeine than coffee. Coffee usually has two to three times the caffeine of tea (unless you're a fan of Morning Thunder, which combines caffeine with mate, an herb that acts like caffeine in our body). An eight-ounce cup of coffee contains around 135 mg caffeine; tea contains only 30 to 40 mg per cup. If drinking coffee gives you the jitters, causes indigestion or headaches or interferes with sleep -- switch to tea.

3. Tea may reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke. Unwanted blood clots formed from cholesterol and blood platelets cause heart attack and stroke. Drinking tea may help keep your arteries smooth and clog-free, the same way a drain keeps your bathroom pipes clear. A 5.6-year study from the Netherlands found a 70 percent lower risk of fatal heart attack in people who drank at least two to three cups of black tea daily compared to non-tea drinkers.

4. Tea protects your bones. It's not just the milk added to tea that builds strong bones. One study that compared tea drinkers with non-drinkers, found that people who drank tea for 10 or more years had the strongest bones, even after adjusting for age, body weight, exercise, smoking and other risk factors. The authors suggest that this may be the work of tea's many beneficial phytochemicals.

5. Tea gives you a sweet smile. One look at the grimy grin of Austin Powers and you may not think drinking tea is good for your teeth, but think again. It's the sugar added to it that's likely to blame for England's bad dental record. Tea itself actually contains fluoride and tannins that may keep plaque at bay. So add unsweetened tea drinking to your daily dental routine of brushing and flossing for healthier teeth and gums.

6. Tea bolsters your immune defenses. Drinking tea may help your body's immune system fight off infection. When 21 volunteers drank either five cups of tea or coffee each day for four weeks, researchers saw higher immune system activity in the blood of the tea drinkers.

7. Tea protects against cancer. Thank the polyphenols, the antioxidants found in tea, once again for their cancer-fighting effects. While the overall research is inconclusive, there are enough studies that show the potential protective effects of drinking tea to make adding tea to your list of daily beverages.

8. Tea helps keep you hydrated. Caffeinated beverages, including tea, used to be on the list of beverages that didn't contribute to our daily fluid needs. Since caffeine is a diuretic and makes us pee more, the thought was that caffeinated beverages couldn't contribute to our overall fluid requirement. However, recent research has shown that the caffeine really doesn't matter -- tea and other caffeinated beverages definitely contribute to our fluid needs. The only time the caffeine becomes a problem as far as fluid is concerned is when you drink more than five or six cups of a caffeinated beverage at one time.

9. Tea is calorie-free. Tea doesn't have any calories, unless you add sweetener or milk. Consuming even 250 fewer calories per day can result in losing one pound per week. If you're looking for a satisfying, calorie-free beverage, tea is a top choice.

10. Tea increases your metabolism. Lots of people complain about a slow metabolic rate and their inability to lose weight. Green tea has been shown to actually increase metabolic rate so that you can burn 70 to 80 additional calories by drinking just five cups of green tea per day. Over a year's time you could lose eight pounds just by drinking green tea. Of course, taking a 15-minute walk every day will also burn calories.

1. Which tea is better -- green, black, white?
There really isn't enough difference to get overly excited about. All teas generally contain the same amount of flavonoids. Green and black tea come from the same plants, but green tea is dried for a shorter time and doesn't go through a fermenting process used for black tea.

2. Are decaffeinated teas just as good for you?
Some companies use chemicals to decaffeinate tea; others use a water process. The chemical process removes more of the beneficial polyphenols, so read labels carefully when choosing decaf.

3. How do you brew a perfect cup of tea?
For hot tea:
Bring one cup of water per tea bag, or teaspoon of dried tea, to a rolling boil.
Measure the tea into a glass container (plastic and metal pick up unwanted flavors).
Pour the boiling water over your tea and steep to the desired strength. Steep too long and you'll get an acidic taste.
For iced tea:
Brew your tea with boiling water, as described above.
Chill with ice and keep in the fridge.


Sunday, June 28, 2009

July 4th Watermelon Granita

What do you do with a huge chunk of a leftover watermelon and no room in the fridge?

Last week I made a granita and it's a wonderfully refreshing way to use up extra fruit. Perfect summer dessert I wanted to share with you before your July 4th weekend. Easy, easy. I had with breakfast, lunch & dinner last week. I liked it that much!

Fill a blender full of watermelon chunks
Squeeze juice of 1/2 a lemon or lime
Pinch salt
About 1/2 cup sugar (or substitute your favorite sweetener such as agave nectar, real maple syrup,honey or stevia) depending on tartness of fruit and to your taste

Blend on high for a minute or so, and pour into a large relatively flat tupperware container with lid.


Then you can serve it a variety of ways:

1) scrape it with a fork or a spoon and put in a small bowl to make a sorbet like dessert (best if you do this every hour or so... but will also work out if you forget).

2. chunk it back in the blender or food processor - whirl -- and enjoy a refreshing icey/smoothie (Put it in small Dixie cups for kids and send them out the back porch for a summertime treat) You can add a little water or juice if needed to get the blender going.

3. Fruit Soup -- serve it before it freezes solid, but just starts to get thick like soup, in a cold bowl with a big dollop of plain yogurt in the middle... swirl with a spoon.

You can also toss in other fruit you need to use up: berries, mangos, peaches, cantaloupe, banana ....
all work well with the watermelon as the base.

Enjoy your Independence from the stove today!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Introducing: Becky's Joy Bistro

(A little bistro in Austria that I captured with my camera on my first trip to Europe. I told my husband Greg, "I could just live in that picture and be happy for the rest of my life.")

Friends, Family & Followers (and okay, I'll throw in a few Romans & Countrymen for good measure)...

Lend me your ear! (Or how about both of your eyes?)

You may have noticed a name change & URL change to this blog you've so graciously been following. The story behind it all unfolded like this.

Rachelle Gardner, great friend, brilliant literary agent and social marketing expert met with me at Starbucks yesterday and grilled me like a life coach on Italian espresso. (With equally brilliant friend Lindsey O'Connor offering commentary and affirmation from her perch across her latte and my laptop.) Rachelle sat up straight as she warmed to her questions.

"Who are you, Becky?"

"What is your MAIN PURPOSE in blogging, facebooking and now twittering?"

"What do you love, what makes your heart sing?"

"What do you want to do in the next few years?"

Here's the list of responses I came up with in our lively, caffeinated conversation.

1. In one word, I think my life message is Joy

2. Besides the standard answers to "What do I love?" (God, hubby, family, friends, Colorado) I came up with --

Cooking: thinking about it, reading/sharing recipes, creating a meal that is a form of a tangible love. I do not know why I love it, but it soothes and tickles my brain.

Reading/Writing/Contemplating/Conversing about the following topics:
humor, brain health, joy & pleasure, God's love, good for you-easy-yummy food, family, using my journey from Pain to Joy to help comfort and encourage others

I began this blog with a simpler and more focused goal: to help get the word out about my collaborative book with Dr. Earl Henslin, This is Your Brain on Joy.

Soon, there will be another book to share: This is Your Brain in Love.

But I found that simply writing about brain related joy was not a big enough umbrella. On the side, I'm creating note after note on facebook to catch my thoughts of the day, recipes I want to share, subjects I'm interested apart from the book.

Thoughts I could capture and share via a blog, according to the insightful Mrs. Gardner.

This blog.

But what would I call it?

After reading all the recipes I post for fun; a friend on facebook suggested I open a little cafe and call it Becky's Bistro. Loved that. Another suggested I write a cookbook with my favorite recipes and relate them to my life. Loved that.

So this morning, in that time between sleeping and waking when creativity is at its peak because mental defenses are down... Joy Bistro floated to mind. Subtitled: A Pinch of Spice and a Dash of Life. Yes! That about covers it.

So this blog has now morphed from Brain on Joy to Becky's Joy Bistro and who knows what may happen next?

Life is change, expanding, stopping to ask questions about who we are, what we love, what God sees and does through our mortal eyes that uplifts life as we know it on earth.

Whether that is by a fascinating brain study, or a really good morsel of food or a funny story to tell on ourselves.

Welcome to my bistro. Wander in anytime, and I think you'll find something refreshing to sip and savor.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Blogging, Facebook, Twitter, Oh My!

I've been on facebook since just around Christmas and true confession: I was immediately hooked.

Yes, it is time consuming and that's the downside, no doubt. But while my husband watches sports, I'm next to him with my laptop humming, couch potatoing in my own unique way: chick-chatting at the big virtual, 24 hour, neverending Kitchen Table Conversation, filled with family and friends, they call Facebook.

Here's why I love Facebook:

1. I can peek in on our six adult children & find out about their days, the grandkids, and their moods -- all without being a pesky mom or mother-in-law. (Complete with pictures!) Is this a curious mama's dream come true, or what?

2. I have renewed 30 year old friendships ending in wonderful conversations, and face to face meetings. Love that. My friends have aged like fine wine, to a person.

3. Tomorrow I am meeting a fascinating new friend, a therapist, who read This is Your Brain on Joy, did an enthusiastic review and found me on facebook. She lives near me and we've observed enough about each other's lives to know, yes, we'd like to do lunch and maybe a real friendship!

4. I find cooking and sharing recipes fun and therapeutic; Facebook gives me an appreciative audience and test kitchen. I'm now in the process of creating a new blog inspired by FB friends, and who knows? A book may follow. ( I promise to let you know when Becky's Bistro is up and running!)

5. It's allowed Dr. Henslin and I to connect with readers of This is Your Brain on Joy, to hear great stories of how our book has changed lives.

So, this 50 year old woman has learned to facebook and blog. Proving you can teach an old mom some spiffy new social networking tricks. (And brain science tells us that when we learn something new our neurons began branching wildly-- keeping our brain cells active and alert. I think I've grown a live oak in my head this week.)

And tonight, I challenged my brain to learn yet another skill. Yes, tonight (drumroll please)...

I tweeted.

I don't yet know if I'll love Twitter, but "they say" that if you want to let people know about your books -- you must get out of your comfy nest, and tweet your little heart out.

I have to say that Dr.Henslin, in spite of wild month (one daughter graduated from highschool, another from college, and another got married -- all in 3 weeks time)beat me to the tweet. Oh, and did I mention he was hit by a car while riding his bicycle, sustaining a gash that required mucho antibiotics during this time as well? He's still limping in person, but he's flying in Tweetland.

So if you read this blog and you'd like to follow me on Twitter, my "Twitter name" is BeckyAJohnson and Dr. Henlin's is Drearlh.

As an aside, we just finished final edits for This is Your Brain in Love, to be released next February. The editors gave us thumbs way up! I am so proud of it, but more than that, I cannot wait to see it encourage and possibly even save marriages, the way that This is Your Brain on Joy is changing and yes, sometimes even saving lives.

That's something to smile about. And I guess, something to tweet about as well!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Where Are Your Happy Places?

(My daughter Rachel & son in law Jared -- in one of their Happy Places, on a cruise ship!)

I admit it. I am a Whole Foods Store Groupie.

On stressful days, I imagine setting up a little tent on the aisle with all the essential oils and body lotions (the "spa aisle") and just live there in the middle of the big sunflowers, fresh fruit and pungent cheese samples, the scent of coffee and baked bread wafting overhead, good mood music playing in the background. The employees there, I have noticed, are either perpetually joyful or mildly high. Save for a shocking swig of Kombucha tea ("an acquired taste" I was told no less than three times), everything I've bought at Whole Foods really does taste better than your average grocery store. Of course, the items often come with a higher price. But I'd rather buy one perfect organic peach that tastes as peachy as the ripe fruit I used to pick off my Aunt Etta's tree in Texas, than three peaches that taste like weakly flavored styrofoam.

So Whole Foods has made it to the top of my go-to list of Happy Places alongside my porch swing (overlooking my summer flower gardens), quiet beaches, and quaint bookstores.

My eldest son, Zach, who is about to board a fishing boat in Alaska, once told me that the knots in his brain seem to relax and unwind the minute he gets out in the country near a river or lake, fishing pole in hand.

Second son, Zeke, begins to grin at the thought of a mountain to climb or trail to bike (in summer) or a jazzy coffee shop where he can savor a good cup of joe or an inspirational read (in winter).

Daughter Rachel loves a spot of sun and her cup of green tea, preferably overlooking an ocean or a row of cute "browsy" stores. A connector, she likes having her laptop or blackberry nearby to stay in touch with those she loves.

Gabe, my youngest, seems happiest listening to music, sipping a glass a wine while he whips up a gourmet meal, before sitting down with his sweetheart, friends or family for good conversation or a ballgame on TV.

I often encourage people to notice the environments where they come alive and regularly go there, if not in person, than at least in their imagination! If you love the beach but it is the middle of winter in Chicago, play your Beach Boy music, create a beach room with white guazy curtains and pictures of the ocean, keep a beach bag filled with beach reads and make yourself a pina colada smoothie. Bring a taste of seaside to downtown!

A friend, Julie, was here this weekend who told me she went through a debilitating disease and could not get out of bed. A sweet older gentlemen came to visit her, bringing watercolors and some kind advice. "I know you are an interior decorator," he said, "so you must miss mixing colors and creating. Even if you've never painted before, I think you will enjoy this." Sure enough, she loved it! "As I put brush to canvas," Julie said,"I could actually feel myself smiling, a part of me healing and coming alive again. I really think I began to heal at that moment, slowly but surely." Until she could get back to her Happy Place, decorating homes for others, she brought a bit of her Happy Place to her current situation by mixing colors and creating beauty and design on paper.

Where are your Happy Places?

People are like flowers. Some blossom better with more or less sun, more or less water, in different types of soil and parts of the country. All unique. My comfort-loving daughter just went camping with one of her outdoorsy, all energy all the time, brothers. Where Zeke blossomed in the great outdoors (despite rain and roughing it); Rachel wilted. She made a note to herself never, ever, to do tent camping in the rain again and accepted that her Happy Place would have to have access to a good dry bed and a nice hot shower. Room service wouldn't hurt either.

Where do you seem to open up and relax and "flower" into your best, happiest, most peaceful self? Make a mental note and use it to your happy advantage. Your brain on joy will thank you.