My Holiday Gift to You: World's Best Chai Tea Recipe

Do you want to make your own masala chai tea from scratch? I'm talking about the best effing chai tea in the word, mind you. This is my mom's recipe, and it's BEYOND delicious. Would I lie to you, dear reader? No, I would not.

I'm cutting and pasting the instructions she emailed to me below, so that your tastebuds can have orgasms too. You deserve it. (Remember, you can always buy what you need at your local health food store to try it out once or twice, and then buy in bulk online if you want to save money regularly).

"I use the following site to buy ginger (cut and sifted), decorticated cardamom and cinnamon:

http://www.kalyx.com/store/prodpage.cfm

It's soooo much cheaper than at Whole Foods or other places that sell spices out of jars. I buy by the pound. At the end of each item listing, there's a letter, e.g., K. It has to do where the item is located and shipped from. If possible, try to order stuff from the same place because shipping is much cheaper that way.

I don't measure the ingredients in my basic mix, so the following is approximate. You can adjust according to your personal preferences.

Chai mix:

1 cup ginger, cut and sifted (this is what it's called. You don't want powdered or dried ginger root)
1/3 cup cinnamon pieces (I find 1/4-inch works well)
1/4 cup decorticated cardamom seed
1-2 Tbs. coriander seed
2-5 bay leaves (love the bay!)
2 Tbs. black pepper

Bay and pepper are the secret ingredients. Pepper isn't so secret, but it gives chai its warmth. I sometimes add a tablespoon of whole cloves, but often don't bother.

Put everything in a food processor and run just enough to break things up a bit. You're not trying to pulverize stuff, just get a little more mileage out of it.

Be very careful not to inhale deeply over the ginger or the mixed spices. It will make you sneeze like crazy. Trust me.

Chai concentrate (makes enough for 8 cups)

6-1/2 cups of water
4 Tbs. chai mix
8 bags black tea, e.g., English Breakfast

Bring water and chai mix to boil in large saucepan. When it reaches a boil, turn it down and simmer uncovered for 10 minutes.
After 10 minutes, turn off heat, add tea bags, cover, and let sit for 20-30 minutes. I've sometimes forgotten about it and let it sit for a couple of hours and it still turns out great.

Pour through strainer into clean pot or bowl. With a wooden spoon, press on the spices and tea bags in the strainer to get all the liquid out. Pour chai into glass or plastic container and refrigerate. Keeps about a week.

To make chai:

Put 1/2 to 3/4 cup of liquid chai into cup. Add milk or soymilk to fill, microwave till hot. You can add sugar if you like it sweet, but most soymilk is sweet enough."

I know, I know. You gotta work for good chai from scratch. But if you do, I swear you'll thank me. I live for Mom's chai (and for what it's worth, I NEVER add sugar). Try it out and report back!

SIP SMART!

Alright tea aficionados, tea novices, and tea-curious folk,

You're in luck, because I'm the proud new owner of my VERY OWN signature green tea blend at Adagio Teas called "Sip Smart"! This is absolutely one of the coolest things that's ever happened to me. My very own tea! And trust me, it's delicious. Adagio is the real deal and their stuff is top shelf. Two cups of "Sip Smart" in place of your regular cup of joe and you'll be on FIRE, I guarantee you. It's caffeinated, but a lot more hydrating than coffee. Plus, you can enjoy more of it without getting jittery or sour in the tummy.

If you're looking for a healthy way to kick-start your day or combat your afternoon slump, I think you'll really love this tea blend (my custom mixture of green pekoe, hojicha, and mighty rooibos leaves). If you've never prepared loose leaf tea before, all you need is hot water and a strainer. I love Adagio's all-in-one infuser, "IngenuiTea" and recommend it highly. Soak a pinch of leaves for 3-5 minutes, and enjoy. That's it!

The entire popSiren team made their own blends too, so between the five of us, you're totally, 100% covered. Oh, and I'm looking to trounce Corbin in the stats, lest you think that this is all in good, clean fun. You know me better than that, don't you? I want to drink, I want to win, and I want you! Spread the good word, and SIP SMART!

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Food For Thought

I read tons of blogs every day. Many of my current favorites I've stumbled across accidentally, such as Mihow.com. I don't know the woman who created it, but she's a fellow cat lover, has an insanely cute baby, and writes really well. I feel like reading her stories for the past six months has enabled me to know her intimately enough that she and I could have coffee and enjoy ourselves. That's more than I can say for most of the strangers I cross paths with every day.

Mihow (AKA Michelle) recently linked to a provoking New York Times article about knowing the animals we eat that I think you should read. Even though I'm a pescetarian with vegan aspirations, I try not to judge anyone else's eating choices. After all, I read dlisted.com almost every day, which is arguably more damaging to my body than rBST. I also have a lot of leather shoes. But I do think that if we were all more actively involved in the process of putting meat on the dinner table or on our bodies, we'd be weighing our ethical decisions more often. Just something to think about.

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Real Genius

Apparently, when you cut wheat out of your diet, you have to think about it all the time. Because as soon as you stop thinking about it, YOU WILL EAT WHEAT. It's in everything, including the soy sauce at the sushi restaurant I went to in order to not eat wheat. It's also in beer, which would seem self-explanatory but I let's just say I can be a little slow on the uptake when it involves not drinking a pint of pale ale. Wheat is also in Newman-O's: Snack of the Gods, which I already knew, except that the other day when I got to work around 8:30 a.m. I was technically still asleep and not thinking coherently, so when I noticed that someone had left a half-eaten bag of Newman-O's on my desk I started shoveling them into my mouth as quickly as possible before they were taken away from me. That's what I do in the morning. I shovel wheat. While sleepwalking. At work. And it took not eating wheat for me to realize that I had a problem.

Suffice it to say that my wheat-free experiment has been aborted due to lack of information and self-control, and will not be revisited until further research is conducted. And by conducting research I mean bathing in walnut sourdough bread with two sticks of butter and a Guinness.

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Not to Mention Newman-O's, Snack of the Gods

In an effort to pinpoint why I'm so itchy and low-energy lately, I'm embarking on a crusade against wheat. That's right, no wheat for two weeks, because according to what I've read on the internet, consuming wheat and skin allergies go hand in hand for a lot of folks.

If that doesn't prove helpful, I'm going to cut out all gluten (which is found in almost everything, including the wheat-free rye bread I bought at Whole Foods yesterday). At which point I'm going to cry and cry, because as I see it, life isn't worth living unless you can devour a pot of angel hair pasta in bed during reruns of The Sopranos on A&E.

If I come up empty at the end of those four weeks, I'm going to be out of ideas, and probably very bitter.

Oh, and this experiment will not go into effect until after Thursday evening. I mean come on, I'm already a vegetarian. Without stuffing and pumpkin pie, it would be a dark day indeed.

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Colon Watch 2007

Things I've eaten post-Master Cleanse this week, in order of appearance:

  • A small reservoir's worth of diluted orange juice
  • 2 ruby red grapefruits
  • 1 apple
  • 2 fruit smoothies (1 banana, scoop of blueberries, scoop of raspberries, splash of soy milk)
  • 1 nectarine
  • 2 tomatoes
  • 7 spoonfuls of crunchy almond butter
  • 1 large bowl of shrimp wonton soup with rice noodles
  • 1 Amy's cheddar cheese burrito
  • 4 pieces of Neuhaus dark chocolates

I probably dove back into the hard stuff a bit soon, but what the hey. Life is short.

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The Master Cleanse: Day Ten

It's over!
It's over!
It's over!

I'm tres excited to be easing back into the land of the eating tomorrow morning. Even if it's just juice and veggie broth, it's a start. The Master Cleanse fast has been an interesting journey, but I'm ready to be normal again.

I lost about six pounds over the last ten days. That's not much compared to many people, who, depending on their starting weight, claim to lose 20 or 30 lbs in the same amount of time. I like to think it's because I ate pretty healthily to begin with and didn't need to shed as much. Who knows? Everybody's different. I fully expect to gain back the weight as I'll be returning to my former pescetarian diet (hello, sushi!). For the record, my itchy skin is thriving as if nothing happened, so it's either not a food allergy, or I'm also allergic to lemons, maple syrup, cayenne pepper, or a combination of all three.

I will honestly say that I never experienced euphoria at any point during the cleanse. I either felt fine or not fine, but I never felt excellent. Even though the hunger went away after a few days, the psychological yearning for food never did, and that was pretty unpleasant at times. I've read a lot of accounts of people feeling "amazing" from fasting. I wish I could say the same, but there's no point in embellishing. For me, it was more of a mind-over-matter challenge, and I'm glad I didn't give up.

Fasting enthusiasts argue that it may take upwards of 20 days to achieve that "fully cleansed" aura, but I'm not willing to wait it out. Ten days is plenty. If it hasn't passed through by now, it probably doesn't exist. And anyway, I really must be getting back to my cheese and crackers. 

Oh, and I appreciate all the encouragment and feedback. Really. It was fun to share this experience with all of you, and knowing that you were cheering me on (or ridiculing me, whatever) really did keep me from quitting a few times. So, thanks. I'll go ahead and step off the podium now.

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The Master Cleanse: Day Nine

Today was a-ok. I took another yoga class and came out feeling like a million bucks. I'm also ecstatic that tomorrow's my final fast day! I've gotten pretty used to my routine, and while it's been nice not having to spend any food or drink-related money, I'm ready for this experience to be over.

For those of you wondering what I'm going to eat first, the answer's rather anti-climactic: orange juice. Yes, I have to ease myself back into regular food slowly, starting with OJ, vegetable broth, and then salads and assorted fruits and veggies over the course of a few days. Supposedly I've turned my stomach into a delicate flower that will reject anything else I try to feed it immediately post-fast. But if I had my way and could eat absolutely anything I wanted, I'd probably go for a tuna melt. With extra cheese. Something to look forward to next week, I suppose.

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The Master Cleanse: Day Eight

Ok, yesterday was obviously a bad day. Today is better.

A big part of my mood has to do with the time of day, which always starts out well. I wake up at 6 a.m., do my bathroom-salt water flush-bathroom dance for at least an hour, mix and measure out six servings of lemonade, get ready for work, and so on. I'm too busy to care that I'm not eating a greek omelette. Well, almost too busy. Greek omelettes are pretty fabulous.

During the day, I'm fine between my lemonade and plain water for a good eight hours. However, around 6 p.m. liquid fatigue sets in and I start getting antsy. My mind wanders through dessert menus (and always rests on the chocolate cheesecake). Getting through the next few traditional dinner hours are the worst. I really like to cook, and I feel pointless sitting around not making anything. My bad mood reaches a crescendo around 8 p.m. and in an effort to stay busy rather than undress a package of Annie's Mac 'n Cheese with my eyes, I usually write these updates. So, yeah.

Today really is better, though. I went to my first yoga class since starting the cleanse, which was a very good call. Not only did it feel great physically, but I think all that breathing and stretching helped melt away some of my negativity. I got a little weak at times during the class, but at no point did I feel like I couldn't handle it. Probably should have been doing yoga from the beginning.

Last night, I seriously contemplated throwing in the towel early. But today's a new day, and I'm pushing on. I'm so close.

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The Master Cleanse: Day Seven

I'm sick of this cleanse. I want to eat. I want to chew and swallow. I want pasta. Beans. Cheese and crackers. Hell, I miss food so much I'd consider a piece of turkey. Whatever breakthrough I made early in the week seems to be receding, and fast. What's wrong with me?

The last two days I've had bouts of heartburn, presumably from all the cayenne pepper. I know Master Cleanse believers will tell me that it's just my body expelling toxins, but I'm not so sure. What if I'm just frying my organs? My itchy skin certainly isn't clearing up. And I don't know why I'm the only person who isn't "eliminating" solids, but that hasn't happened since I stopped eating seven days ago. I keep waiting for a big payoff, but I'm starting to think there isn't one.

I really don't want to quit, but I definitely don't want to feel this way for three more days. Sigh.

PS- Patty noted in the comments that someone must be posing as me again, since I said a long time ago that I wouldn't post in the comments anymore. Patty's right, I did say that. But I've changed my mind. I like being part of the conversation.

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The Master Cleanse: Day Six

I had one less serving of lemonade today, which was a relief, because I'm getting tired of squeezing lemons. Today was a bit of a challenge. Someone stocked our office kitchen with microwave popcorn and the smell almost drove me insane. If there's one food I like almost as much as nachos, it's popcorn. Life is so cruel.

Dramatics aside, I'm fine. I miss food terribly, but no real issues to speak of. I've lost a few lbs and my face is starting to look gaunt, though I'm sure I'll plump right back up once I start bathing in sourdough rolls and brie again. I have to say that my "food" allergy (itchy skin, gets flushed easily) hasn't disappeared at all, which leads me to think that it's not actually food that's the culprit, but something else entirely. Great. I know I have four days left, but I was hoping for more results by now.

Oh, and for those of you keeping track, still negative on the eliminations. Booooooring.

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The Master Cleanse: Day Five

I'm halfway done! It's no longer a challenge mentally, but I'm starting to get a bit bored avoiding all social activity that involves food and/or drink. I feel a little left out when everyone else goes to lunch, or goes on a cookie run, or even hints at going across the street to the wine bar. I know I could take my self-control up a notch and join them, lemonade in hand, but it's not quite the same. Besides, being in a restaurant might send my head spinning, since my sense of smell is off the charts. I'm literally smelling the neighbor's food as I type this. And they aren't barbecuing.

Without getting too graphic on this prim and proper blog, I'm not exactly experiencing the... err... eliminations that other people seem to have on the cleanse. Am I to believe that my pipes are just naturally spotless? Or is the best yet to pass? Eww, sorry. I'm running out of material. Can it just be day 10 already?

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The Master Cleanse: Day Four

I had an especially stressful day at work today, almost as if the gods felt I deserved to suffer for getting Labor Day off. That said, my Master Cleanse progress continues to go well. I was really worried that I'd get to work and freak out or break down or throw a lemon at someone, but I didn't. I did, however, manage to spill enough maple syrup on my brand-new desk that ants will probably be drawn to it for the duration of my employment.

I definitely wasn't hungry at all today. I saw someone eating a cookie and it depressed me briefly, but the moment passed. I'm finding that a total of seven servings (112 oz.) of lemonade and lots of water in between easily gets me through the day. Yes, I have to pee every 2.5 minutes, but at least I'm satiated. I'm throwing lots of cayenne pepper in there, too, just to make things interesting. It pays to like spicy food when fasting. And I'll take all the entertainment I can get.

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The Master Cleanse: Day Three

I think I've had a bit of a breakthrough. Today my food cravings are totally muted. I still wish I could eat a sourdough loaf in seven seconds, but it's more of a faraway, nostalgic feeling than a day-ruining, "I'm going to die if I don't stuff my face, sir, so please hand over your lunch" yearning. I'm also the least spaced out I've been so far, and no headaches!

This afternoon I forced myself to go into Whole Foods to stock up on grade B maple syrup and buy 4,000 more lemons. Yesterday I might have cried while walking past the fresh tamales, but today I kept my composure. The deli area smelled incredible, but I was able to appreciate the aromas without feeling like I needed to put the aromas in my stomach. It's a weird sensation, and a little hard to explain. I guess I just feel disconnected from food, not unlike how I felt when I first gave up red meat and gradually stopped craving Sequoia cheeseburgers.

Now that I've discovered the Master Cleanse forums, I'm obsessed with how everyone else is doing. A lot of people fall off the wagon, but just as many make it through the full ten days (or more), and everyone who succeeds is extremely proud. Many of them are looking to drop a lot of weight, which seems a bit misguided to me. I mean, clearly we're all losing a few pounds by not eating, but it's going to come back eventually, right? Maybe if the fast helps people lose the urge to eat unhealthy food going forward, it can be the start of new habits.

Tomorrow I'm back at work, which should be interesting. I've been spoiled over the long, stress-free weekend, but the real test is about to begin. Wish me luck.

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The Master Cleanse: Day Two

I'm feeling ok today. A little low on energy, but nothing too dramatic. Luckily, the last couple weeks I've cut down my green tea intake to a single cup in the morning, so there isn't much caffeine withdrawl to suffer through. Last night around 9 p.m. I almost caved and ate a waffle (nights have always been my snacking weakness), but I knew I'd feel like a loser afterward, so I drank my tea and went to sleep instead.

For those of you wondering what the Master Cleanse entails, here are the dirty deets:

  • Night before first fast day: drink laxative tea before going to bed

Fast days 1-10:

  • Morning - Mix 2 teaspoons of unrefined sea salt into 1 quart of warm water. Drink. Stay near a bathroom for the next hour.
  • Throughout the day - Drink "lemonade" cocktail comprised of 16 oz filtered water, 2 tablespoons grade B maple syrup, 2 tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice, and a pinch of two of cayenne pepper. You can drink as many of these as you want, but making it is kind of a hassle, so I prefer to make two servings at a time.
  • Night - laxative tea before bed.

That's all. Talk about saving money on food.

The salt water flush is mildly unpleasant to drink, so I've been chugging it down as quickly as possible, just to get it over with. I've read on the internet that people have the hardest time with this part of the fast. I don't blame them - it's like swallowing a quart of seawater. Still, doable. But I'm not kidding about staying near the bathroom.

The lemonade itself is actually yummy, and the cayenne pepper gives it a spicy kick. I'm supposed to drink at least 6 servings of the stuff throughout the day, along with lots of water. I had 8 yesterday, and only stopped there because I ran out of lemons.

Note to self: buy more lemons.

I miss eating, though, and it goes deeper than hunger pangs. I miss rich tastes and textures. I miss my friends that I'm avoiding because I don't want to be tempted by sushi or red wine. I miss treating myself to a handful of chocolate chips after vacuuming the house. I miss TV, which I've turned off to spare myself from food commercials. I miss watching butter fry on an iron skillet. I know this is all heavily psychological, but being without food is depressing.

Then again, it's just my second day. It's not like I have to say goodbye to food forever. I'm going to eat nachos again, and they're going to taste as good as I remember them. I've heard the first few days on the Master Cleanse are the hardest, which is why I chose to take advantage of the three-day weekend and not have to watch my co-workers slobbering over their super baby burritos and tuna melts. Come Tuesday, I hope the temptation to eat has waned considerably, otherwise I fear I might hurt someone.

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The Master Cleanse: Day One

Fasting is exhausting. I'm halfway through the first day of what is supposed to be a ten-day fast, and my head is throbbing. I'm dreaming of tearing through a loaf of sourdough walnut bread. I want bread so bad it hurts. Oh, to chew, swallow, and digest! Thankfully, I really like my lemon/maple/cayenne cocktail, and I can have as many of them as I want.

I started the Master Cleanse in order to spend several days literally flushing my body free of food and toxins and see if some of my allergies lighten up. I've also always been curious about fasting and wanted to see if I could hack it. I have a huge appetite and love to eat... can I actually survive this?

I'm pretty sure I can survive the first day, but if the sourdough cravings continue tomorrow, I'm screwed.

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RE: I'm pretty sure black beans are better for me than pinto beans, but still

Hi again New Spot Mexican Restaurant on 3rd/20th Streets in San Francisco's historic Dogpatch district,

20 minutes is just too long to wait for a super baby veggie burrito to go. It wasn't even crowded today. What are you guys doing back there? Nothing spoils my appetite like an unorganized kitchen. The spell has been broken. I am free.

Thanks!
Sarah

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I'm pretty sure black beans are better for me than pinto beans, but still

Dear New Spot Mexican restaurant on 3rd/20th Streets in San Francisco's historic Dogpatch district,

I have an issue with your establishment. But not for the reasons you might think. Let me explain. See, I love Mexican food. Nachos are my idea of a perfect meal. Ask anyone. I know that this isn't your problem, but it's just that last week I starting working about half a block away from you. Once I became aware of your existence, I naturally felt it was my civic duty to sample your offerings. I chose what I thought was a relatively harmless "super baby burrito". You know, like a super burrito but not so big that I want to hibernate for seven years after eating an entire one. Obviously you know what I'm talking about - it's on your menu. Silly me! Anyway, the issue I have is that the super baby burrito is way, way too tasty (I always order the veggie/black bean version if that helps put things into perspective). In fact, I've eaten one every day since my first day on the job. It's troubling, New Spot Mexican Restaurant. Very troubling. I'm sort of afraid that I might not be able to NOT buy one tomorrow, too. And then the next day after that. For all eternity. Which, understandably, makes me a little nervous.

So I'm hoping you might be able to just refuse service to me when I come up to the counter tomorrow around 12:35 P.M.? Or better yet, lock the front door when you see me coming up the sidewalk? If I got all the way to the counter you might feel trapped and give in to me, because I can be very persuasive about ordering Mexican food if given the chance. So yeah, locking the door before I get in might be a better idea. I'm fairly easy to spot. I'm that rather small woman on her cell phone that's always sprinting toward your restaurant. I know it probably seems like I'm running FROM something, but in all honesty I'm just excited to eat.  If locking the door screws up your lunch rush, I totally understand. My next suggestion would be to just remove the "super baby burrito" option from your menu altogether. Then you don't even have to worry if you see me loitering about, because the issue will have already been disposed of.

Thanks in advance for your cooperation,

Sarah

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