Love Is In the Air

Valentine's Day celebrates romantic love between sweethearts. But love is everywhere.

I had a great trip to New York recently. Not because New York is new to me -- I lived there for a decade and travel to the Big Apple more than once a month. And it wasn't because of random celebrity sightings (I saw Joan Rivers, Patricia Heaton and Cuba Gooding Jr.). It was a great trip because I lost my wallet.

My pocketbook vanished somewhere at LAX (the Los Angeles International Airport) before the first leg of my trip. Along with my wallet went important credit and membership cards, documents, about $100 in cash -- and my Social Security card.

Now, I don't normally travel with my Social Security card because it's the worst thing to lose. Social Security cards can be used for identity theft and as "proof" of legal status for illegal immigrants, so they're a hot item on the black market. They're very difficult to replace -- and the replacement number can give you problems with companies that use the Social Security number for ID (such as cell phone carriers).

Because I had my driverís license and one credit card in my pocket, I was able to continue with my trip without interruption.

Why am I telling you all this? Because today is Valentineís Day, a holiday that celebrates love and friendship -- two things that are essential for proper nourishment of our souls, spirits, bodies and minds. Losing my wallet turned out to be a wonderful experience that filled my heart with joy, appreciation and hope. Here's what happened.

Upon arrival to New York, I took the train from JFK Airport to Long Island, buying my ticket at a vending machine with my credit card. When the conductor came around to collect tickets, he discovered that mine was for ďoff peakĒ travel, and that I owed an additional fare of $2. I asked the conductor if I could pay with a credit card, and explained that I had lost my wallet. Although he didnít say so, it was obvious that he didnít believe me. The railroad has a policy that lets people pay by mail, which is what I ended up doing. Not knowing this, a fellow passenger offered to pay my fare. He was ready to help a complete stranger for no reason other than kindness.

After I got off the train, I struggled with my luggage while descending a long flight of stairs, and nearly lost my balance. Seeing this, a man ran over, grabbed my bags and carried them down the stairs for me.

The next day in Manhattan, I had trouble buying a subway ticket at a vending machine. The machine couldnít read my credit card. I noticed a gentleman waiting to use the machine behind me, so I stopped my transaction to let him use it. When he successfully got his ticket, he handed me two one-dollar coins for my ticket, and said "those work better." Before I realized what was happening, he was gone -- and I was holding two dollars -- yet another gift from another stranger. Without his coins and the fast tickets they produced, it turns out, I would have missed my train and been late for an appointment.

The following day, I took the train -- with all my luggage -- from Long Island to Manhattan again. As I got off the train, a lady came chasing after me to let me know that I nearly forgot my luggage. Another stranger. Another kindness.

Then, again with the luggage. I proceeded into the subway, and my rolling bag got stuck in the turnstile. But along came a nice woman, who went to the other side of the gate and liberated my bag from the metal claws of the gate. I thanked her profusely and headed to the subway platform. I boarded the train, which was so crowded that all seats were taken and many people were standing. And another act of kindness -- a man got up and gave me his seat.

Well, believe it or not, I survived the trip. Now, you might be thinking that I'm a Amira Elganforgetful klutz. I'm actually not. I just had what might have been a terrible trip, if it weren't for all those kind people.

And what happened to my wallet? Well, a few days after returning from New York, the airline called to say they found it and would mail it to me. When I received it, it rifled through the cards to see if any were missing. All my credit cards were there, but not my Social Security card!

Then -- in keeping with the rest my trip -- I found my Social Security card tucked deep inside a hidden compartment in my wallet, which is not where I keep it. Some anonymous stranger had cared enough to remove my Social Security card from its easily accessible location, and hid it away to prevent others from stealing it.

It should have been the trip from hell. But afterwards, I felt an enormous sense of peace, joy and, yes, love. Every problem, annoyance and bit of "bad luck" was cancelled and reversed by some stranger who rushed to my aid. It's really something to feel loved and cared for by people I have never seen before, and probably will never see again.

Happy Valentineís Day, kind strangersÖ I love you, too!

My News

I mentioned in my column above that I travel to New York City quite frequently. The reason is that I'm studying at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, which is affiliated with Columbia University.

Upon my successful completion of this professional training program in June, Iíll be certified as a holistic health counselor by the Institute for Integrative Nutrition and by Columbia Universityís Teachers College. I will also be eligible for national board certification by the American Association of Drugless Practitioners, which would accredit me as a professional practitioner.

For many years, I've helped families and individuals make improvements to their diets and lifestyles. Iíve done this with publications such as this newsletter and its associated blog. Iíve also taught cooking classes, written articles and columns for other publications and have provided one-on-one health counseling.

This professional program is providing me with additional training to broaden my practice, enhance my knowledge and amplify my ability to grow and develop both personally and professionally. I will continue to do what Iíve been doing, but a lot more of it.

Iím setting up a separate holistic counseling practice, dedicating at least half of my time to working with clients one-on-one, as a family or in group settings. My counseling sessions can be conducted in person or by phone. Iím currently working on a separate web site for my counseling practice (in the meantime, here's the temporary site). I will also offer private cooking classes and workshops.

Warning -- here comes my shameless pitch: Given that you are reading this, you are my perfect client because you are someone who cares about your own body, relationships, nutrition and overall wellbeing. I invite you to contact me and let me help you make the changes you always wanted to make, one step at a time. The first initial one-hour consultation is free.

When it comes to overall health and happiness, itís all connected; your food, your relationships, your lifestyle and you career are all part of the equation. Iíd love to help you find your solution.

How It All Began

My interest in food, nutrition and health began when my oldest son, who at the age of three asked where meat comes from (we were having hamburgers for dinner). When my husband told him that it was from a cow, my son spit the food out of his mouth, put his burger down on the plate, and refused from that point forward to eat ďdead animals.Ē He's turning 24 years old next month, and he is still a vegetarian. (He does make exceptions to his vegetarianism while traveling abroad in order to fully participate in the local culture. For example, he ate a scorpion in Thailand. Ugh!)

Having worked in the hotel food and beverage industry for many years, food was always at the center of my professional life. But my sonís refusal to eat ďdead animalsĒ forced me to think about nutrition on a different level. I wanted to make sure that, as a vegetarian, his dietary needs were met. Thus, my journey to learn about nutrition began.

It was a slow process for my husband and me to become vegetarians. We gave up read meat when my son did. Gradually, we abandoned chicken and later seafood. Eventually we gave up all animal products having been vegans for more than 15 years now, making occasional exceptions for reasons Iíll discuss in another column.

My education about health made me aware of just how horrible my eating habits were when I was a teenager. I moved to the United States at 13, and immediately discovered the wonderful world of fast food and sweets. I thought I was in heaven. In high school, I ate a "king size" Snickersí bar almost daily. I used to eat Cool Whip by the tub. I remember leaving my high school campus to go buy lunch, which usually consisted of a large order of French fries and a hamburger with a coke.

At the age of 15 years old, I had a lump removed from my breast. Although it was benign, in retrospect, I have no doubt that it could have become cancerous and that it was a direct result of my diet. By the time I was 21, I had a second (and last) lump removed. It was also benign, but almost certainly one effect of my low-quality diet.

My obsession with good nutrition and healthy living is driven in part by a desire to reverse the effects of all that junk food.

Iíve spent more than twenty years learning all I can about nutrition. Iíve long developed my own recipes because, in searching for great food to make, I discovered two colossal problems: Most recipes in vegetarian cookbooks aren't healthy, and most healthy recipes aren't tasty!

Iím fortunate that, throughout all these years, I was able to follow my passion even when I had other jobs. Iíve been lucky enough work at companies that supported my personal interests and life choices. I always wanted to go "full time" with health counseling, but decided to put that career on hold until my youngest turned 18 years old. That happened last year. Both of my sons are now adults and away from home.

While I devoted myself to making the most of my sonís last year as a minor, I began thinking about the next steps for me. I knew clearly that I wanted to grow and develop my lifelong passion of teaching balanced nutrition and healthy living. I also wanted something to focus my energy on. One of my newsletter readers shared some information with me that led me to learn about the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. It was a eureka moment.

After reading about the world-renowned faculty, the comprehensive approach they take in teaching the curriculum, the knowledge that I would be interacting with like-minded people and encouragement from my husband, I knew this was the perfect thing for me to do.

Iím half way through the program now, and it has been an incredible and fulfilling experience. While I found that I'm familiar with much of the nutrition information and dietary theories presented, it has validated and encouraged my passion for teaching nutrition and healthy living. It has also given me immense inspiration to do more of what Iíve done in the past: Helping people transform their lives for health and happiness.

I'd love to hear from you. Click here to send e-mail!

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Meaning In Life

"Believe, when you are most unhappy, that there is something for you to do in the world. So long as you can sweeten another's pain, life is not in vain"

-Helen Keller


Favorite Readings

Dozens of books have detailed what's wrong with industrial food production. Most of these, unfortunately, were ahead of their time and didnít become popular with the general public. Now, Michael Pollanís new book, "The Omnivoreís Dilemma," is getting attention. It's great to see a book on the subject -- finally! -- approach the top of the bestseller lists.

Here are other books that have not received the attention they deserve, and which I highly recommend:

The Way We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter by Peter Singer and Jim Mason.

Appetite for Profit: How the Food Industry Undermines Our Health and How to Fight Back by Michele Simon

Food Politics by Marion Nestle

Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser

Organic, Inc. by Samuel Fromartz

Diet For A Dead Planet by Christopher D. Cook

To keep up with vegetarian, organic and health-related research news on a daily basis, check out my Vegetarian Organic Life Blog.


My Boysí Pesto Pasta with Veggies

Click on the picture for a closer look!

(Serves 6 adults or two teenage boys)

This pesto pasta dish is dear to my heart because it was my sonsí favorite pasta meal growing up. Itís absolutely delicious and nutritious and it goes well with any vegetables.

Preparation time: 10 minutes Cooking time: 20 minutes

Time saving tip: Begin by boiling water in a large pot half full covered with lid.

Pesto Sauce:

This pesto sauce can be used in a variety of ways. Itís delicious tossed with pasta but it also makes a great sandwich spread. Try it in soups and salad dressings. Although this recipe has no cheese, it tastes even better and it is cholesterol free.

Get ingredients ready (use organic ingredients if possible):
6 cups fresh basil leaves loosely packed and not pressed down (2 large bunches)
1/2 cup raw walnuts
1/3 cup raw pine nuts (pignolias)
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
5 fresh garlic cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground pepper
Sea salt to taste

1. In a food processor or blender, combine basil leaves, walnuts, pine nuts, olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper. Process or blend (stopping once to scrape sides) until it looks like a smooth paste. Add or reduce amount of oil to thin or thicken the sauce. If not used immediately, store in an airtight container. The sauce will last at least two weeks in the fridge and six months in the freezer.

Cookís tip: Before placing the lid on the storage container spread 1 tablespoon of olive oil on the sauce as a thin layer to reduce discoloration.

Pesto Pasta:

Get ingredients ready (use organic ingredients if possible):
1 tablespoon safflower or canola oil
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil (plus more for drizzling pasta once cooked)
1 fresh garlic cloves (minced or pressed)
14 ounces fresh firm tofu, cut in small cubes (vacuum packed)
1 tablespoon dried basil
3 cups of fresh or frozen vegetables, raw, thawed out or pre-steamed (peas, edemames, corn or broccoli)
1 cup pesto sauce
1/3 cup raw pepitas or pumpkin seeds
16 ounces whole grain pasta, uncooked (my favorite: whole wheat rigatoni by Bionaturae)
Sea salt & freshly ground pepper

1. Boil water for pasta in pot half full of water covered with lid. Once water is boiling add pasta and cook as indicated on package instructions or until tender (usually 8 to 14 minutes). Set timer and stir occasionally to prevent sticking.

2. Meanwhile, in a separate large pot, heat safflower and olive oil over low heat and immediately add garlic, tofu and dried basil mixing well and sautťing for 5 minutes.

3. Once pasta is cooked, drain on colander, drizzle with one tablespoon of olive oil, mix lightly, cover with lid or plate and set aside.

4. Add pre-steamed or raw vegetables (depending on your preference) to the tofu mixing well and sautťing for 3 minutes. Add pesto sauce and pasta mixing well. Add pumpkin seeds and season with salt and pepper cooking for about 3 minutes on low heat (avoid over cooking to allow pesto to retain its nutrients intact) and serve. Leftovers may be kept for up to 4 days in the refrigerator.

Cookís tip: The pasta can be dried or fresh but should be organic and whole grain. Also, you can add more pesto sauce or a little bit of olive oil if it looks too dry for your taste. 



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This newsletter is not intended to provide and replace medical advice. The author and editor expressly disclaim all responsibility for any adverse effects resulting from any information, diet or exercise suggestions. It is imperative that the advice of a physician is sought before any diet or exercise programs are adopted.

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Copyright© 2003 - 2009 Amira Elgan. All Rights Reserved.