Modern Living: When Clean Eating Goes Bad

modern-living-chocolate-brownie-1Photo credit: Toa Heftiba

In my new semi-regular blog series on modern living, I’m taking a look at lifestyle trends — like fashion, make-up and eating — and exploring some of the issues related to our modern ways of living.


The other day, I was flipping through a magazine and spied something that made me roll my eyes: a ‘clean eating’ version of a chocolate brownie recipe. The recipe instructed to include baobab powder in the brownie mix: a so-called ‘superfruit’ powder formed inside the fruit of the African baobab tree. Continue reading

Advertisements

The ‘curse’ of the smartphone

Two months ago, I joined the 21st century. The keys on my trusty Nokia phone (which, at 14 years and counting, could be described as a senior citizen) began to freeze. One key went first and then another one. It made texting very difficult when I couldn’t use the most commonly used letter in the English alphabet (e, if you’re curious). Gradually all the others followed suit, in a kind of arthritic surrender. My phone switched on and off with no problem, but without the use of its keys, it was nothing more than a useless relic. Thus, I succumbed to the thing I have been resisting: I bought a smartphone.

Public domain image source

Everywhere you go, you see people glued to their phones. A few years ago, phones were functional: you could make calls and send texts and that was the limit of their capabilities. Does anyone remember the game, Snake? I used to enjoy playing that! But that’s so old-fashioned now, when today’s phones are all-singing, all-dancing pieces of technology.

In class, it is standard for people to pull out their notebooks and pens, followed by their smartphones, which they place on their desks as though they are a life-giving force to which they need to be permanently connected. One thing that really bugs me about smartphone use is when I’m talking to someone and they are staring at their phone. Whatever happened to manners? Put your phone away!

Public domain image source

Since purchasing my smartphone, I have made a conscious effort not to become somebody who stares at their phone all the time. It can be tempting to check it when I hear the ping of my email alert, letting me know that another message has landed in my inbox, but when I’m busy working at home, I leave it upstairs and out of earshot. Admittedly, despite my reluctance to get a smartphone, it has its uses. I like the to-do list app I downloaded because it allows me to stay uber-organized. But I won’t relinquish my Filofax anytime soon! Technology is useful but not when it becomes something from which we can’t tear ourselves away.

In the wise words of Steven Spielberg:

“Technology can be our best friend, and technology can also be the biggest party pooper of our lives. It interrupts our own story, interrupts our ability to have a thought or a daydream, to imagine something wonderful, because we’re too busy bridging the walk from the cafeteria back to the office on the cell phone”.

What do you think? Are smartphones the source of a modern-day affliction or do you love your phone?

How do you relax?

The past few weeks were strenuous in terms of my workload, enjoyable but strenuous! Regular readers of Cultural Life might remember that I hit a low point for a week or so when I started the final year of my BA in October, but I think that was simply due to adjusting back into the pace of the academic year. I was also feeling somewhat daunted by the first piece of fieldwork that I had to do for one of my modules. As I wrote in that October post, the class assignment was “the most advanced and demanding project I have done so far”.

However, flash forward a few months later: the project is finished, I turned it in last Monday and I feel happy with my work. When I printed out the project, MS Word told me the total editing time was 1906 minutes — 31.8 hours! That doesn’t include the time I spent finding people to interview, which entailed making lots of phone calls and utilizing social media, making several 2-hour round trips to interview people, transcribing the interviews and reading background literature on my subject. Overall, I estimate that I spent at least 60 hours on the project, but it was worth it! Whereas I felt somewhat downcast initially, the experience I had of carrying out this project has made me even more sure that the academic life is the life for me. I am intent on pursuing my goal of becoming a university lecturer. While I know there will be low points along the way, it’s good to reflect on the high points too because sometimes, when there are setbacks, it can be difficult to remember how the highs feel.

Public domain image source

This weekend is a brief respite before the Spring/Summer semester begins and I am making the most of doing nothing study-related! As Caitlin Kelly from Broadside Blog tweeted recently, “We all run ourselves at an industrial pace”, which is so true!

It does feel good being unproductive. I am taking this weekend out to relax; last night I went out for dinner with friends and today I went for a 3 mile walk, followed by too much time on my laptop, catching up on blogs and browsing online newspapers. This evening, I’m going to curl up in front of the fire with Hillary Clinton’s memoir of her time as Secretary of State. It feels deliciously unproductive and yes, I could be doing preliminary reading for the new classes which I start this week, but sometimes it’s good to just give ourselves a break.

How do you relax?

My kitty says "take a nap!"

My kitty says “take a nap!”

Eating Seasonally

One of my most popular posts at the moment is my recipe for Damson Plum Crumble Cake. On the list of search engine terms which have brought people to my blog, “damson dessert recipes”, “baking with damsons” and “damson cake recipes” appear frequently. This increase in searches for things to make with damsons began a couple of weeks ago; at this time of year, plum trees are laden with fruit.

Damson plum cake

The season is changing, the leaves are just beginning to turn and hints of fall are in the air, bringing to mind frosty mornings, log fires and home-made apple crisps. As Keats wrote in his Ode to Autumn, the fall is a “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness”,  a time of abundance which “bend[s] with apples the moss’d cottage trees/And fill[s] all fruit with ripeness to the core”. It is my favourite season!

September in the Forest, by Larisa Koshkina (Public domain image source)

The abundance of delicious fruit and vegetables at this time of year makes it easy to eat seasonally. But I think it is important to eat with the seasons as much as possible all year round. Even though you can buy strawberries at Christmas, cherries in January and apples shipped in from New Zealand, there are many benefits to cooking and eating by nature’s calendar:

  • It is more satisfying to know you are eating food that hasn’t been flown half-way across the world, generating environmentally harmful emissions in the process.
  • Locally grown, seasonal fruit and veg tastes better because it has been allowed to grow and ripen naturally.
  • Eating locally and seasonally supports small businesses and generates income for farmers and growers, thereby helping the local economy.
  • Buying seasonal produce can mean that you experience a world of fruit and veg varieties beyond what is available in the supermarket aisles, such as Heirloom tomato varieties, doughnut peaches and Romanesco cauliflower.
  • Many local/seasonal growers are also organic, growing their produce without the use of harsh chemicals and artificial sprays. Research supports the claim that organic fruit and veg is healthier than ‘conventionally’ grown fruit and veg (before the advent of modern chemicals, organic was the conventional way of growing). An analysis of over 300 scientific studies, published last month in the British Journal of Nutrition, found that “organic crops are up to 60% higher in a number of key antioxidants than conventionally-grown ones”. If you are interested, you can read about the research here.

Pumpkin squash, by Erich Mauber (public domain image source)

Ultimately, eating with the seasons helps you become healthier, boosts your enjoyment of food and supports your local community. What’s not to love?!

Do you make an effort to eat seasonally? If you need a little help to start following nature’s timetable, take a look at Eat the Seasons (US site) or Eat the Seasons (UK site) to find inspiration!

What Not To Say To People Who Are Worrying

I finally succumbed to the hype and read The Fault in Our Stars recently. Everywhere I go, I see piles of copies of it in book stores, posters advertising the movie and people enthusing about it on social media, so I thought I would try it and see what all the fuss is about. The latest craze in YA fiction, The Fault in Our Stars fits into a genre which is being called “sick lit”. First we had sparkly vampires (e.g. Twilight), then we had dystopian worlds (e.g. The Hunger Games and others) and now, “sick lit”, as YA books with themes of terminal illness are flying off the shelves.

The Fault in Our Stars (image courtesy of Goodreads)

The title of The Fault in Our Stars is derived from a line in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar: “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, for we are underlings”. It is a majestic title and the pages that follow are a sensitively written portrayal of a teenage girl, Hazel, who is suffering from terminal cancer. A medical breakthrough drug bought her a few more years, during which she falls in love with a boy, Augustus Waters, who has started coming to the Cancer Kid Support Group that Hazel attends.

Although the characters are vividly portrayed and Green’s writing made me feel sympathetic for Hazel and Augustus, I felt rather underwhelmed after I turned the last page. I read it quickly but do not feel compelled to pick up another of Green’s books. His writing, and The Fault in Our Stars in particular, has legions of fans. Am I missing something? Maybe I should try it again.

There was, however, one particular aspect of this book that I found thought-provoking: the way people use metaphors and analogies to describe serious illnesses, such as describing cancer as a battle or as a journey. To me, the phrase “cancer journey” sounds like trying to put a positive spin on it, when sometimes there isn’t one. Yet society constantly uses metaphors for things that we find difficult to talk about, such as illness and death.

It’s part of our incessant need to be positive, to reassure ourselves.  I have met similar situations myself, when well-meaning people say “I’m sure everything’s going to be fine”. But I know what it feels like for everything to not be fine. Right now, in fact, I’m feeling uncertain and fearful about the future because I am worried about certain things going on in my life at the moment, notably my mother’s need for further medical treatment soon. She was very ill less than two years ago and needs more treatment, otherwise she will become ill again. I am grateful for every day that she is with me but I worry about her a lot.

From my point of view, the least helpful thing to say to people who are worrying is “everything is going to be okay”. Instead of trying to quell someone’s worry with a well-intentioned but unhelpful platitude, just listen.

“Compassionate listening brings about healing” — Thich Nhat Hanh

Blog challenge roundup: the first 10 recipes

I apologize for the lack of activity on the blog for the past month. My weekly post schedule has slipped out the window but I’ve been busy, not to mention the fact that I spent two weeks of July hobbling around in pain, before having surgery on August 1st. Ideas for blog posts haven’t been flowing freely and I haven’t cooked anything exciting in the past month. But I intend to return from my hiatus this week so be sure to look out for frequent posts again and some more delicious recipes!

Recipes from around the world. Picture source: Map Of The World by Jiri Hodan

In the meantime, here is a roundup of the first ten recipes I have cooked as part of the blog challenge I set myself back in February. You can read about that in this post: I’m setting myself a challenge.

Recipe 1: Irish soda bread

For blog challenge recipe 2, Middle Eastern cuisine gave me one of my favorites: hummus

Recipe number 3. A trip to South America: Honduras

Blog challenge 4. I have a special fondness for Greek food and I was delighted by how these Greek koulourakia turned out. I have made this recipe many times since blogging about it and it gives delicious results every time! Greek koulourakia

Blog challenge 5. Nettle soup: this is an easy, money-saving recipe and, despite what you might think, tastes very good! European nettle soup

Blog challenge 6. A simple but yummy Indian curry: Indian curry

Blog challenge 7. Ah, this is possibly my favorite recipe so far from the ones I have cooked for my blog challenge: Valencia orange cake

Blog challenge 8. I threw a load of ingredients together for this and the combination worked very well: Italian-style pasta sauce

Blog challenge 9. A hearty dessert: Traditional English pudding

And finally, blog challenge recipe 10! These are too bad for anyone’s waistline but they are amazing! Blog challenge recipe 10 celebrated the Fourth of July by baking some American brownies.

I hope you will join me as I embark on the next ten recipes! These are the remaining countries and I have recipes to find and make for all of them: Canada, Australia, Mexico, the Philippines, Russia, Portugal, Singapore, New Zealand, South Africa, United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Malaysia, Taiwan, China, Czech Republic, Belgium, Brazil, Turkey, Japan, Austria, Serbia, Costa Rica, Norway, Georgia, Belarus, Romania, Slovakia, Nigeria, Egypt, South Korea and Myanmar.

Quite a challenge!