My Whole30 Recap

It’s finally over. After 30 days of the strictest diet I remember being on, my caveman and I broke the fast, so to speak. We had some foods we’d been missing during our program, but didn’t find the same appeal. My bacon seemed a bit sweeter and not as satisfying as I’d remembered. A single piece of gum hurt his teeth. We went out to dinner with friends, where I ate polenta with my meal and he drank a beer with his. And for dessert, we both ate a dark chocolate truffle torte, complete with port cherries, chocolate meringue and izzy’s chocolate ice cream.

We both got very little sleep and had upset stomaches. ūüôā We both got very little sleep. I think part of this is from the minute amount of caffeine in chocolate, and some (for me, anyway) is from the sugar rush. I didn’t realize how big of an effect it would have on me. I’m not saying I’ll never have sugar again, but I am looking at it in a whole different way now. I like the way I felt and performed on a strict Paleo diet and, while I don’t think it’d be healthy to fanatically stick to it 365 days a year, realizing how much non-Paleo food throws me off both physically and emotionally definitely will make me hesitant to fall back into old patterns. I will just have to think–what do I crave more right now? A rush, or a feeling of well-being? Another question to ponder: how close do I need to stick to this diet to see such great results?

And since many people are more interested in body comp than health and performance and everyone’s asking: my overall weight loss was about 6.2 lbs. of fat. I’m definitely a lot leaner and lost that fat right where I wanted to–belly fat, back fat, etc. (In comparison, I lost 7 lbs. of fat in *6 months* on the Lean Eating for Women program.) 6 pounds in just 30 days is an incredible amount of weight for me since I didn’t feel like I had that much to lose and you can definitely see the difference. My caveman has also leaned out considerably and was already quite lean to begin with. We’re both definitely looking at food differently than we were before the program…

Bonus Poem of the Month: Howl

HOWL by Allen Ginsberg

For Carl Solomon


I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by
madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn
looking for an angry fix,
angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly
connection to the starry dynamo in the machin-
ery of night,
who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat
up smoking in the supernatural darkness of
cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities
contemplating jazz,
who bared their brains to Heaven under the El and
saw Mohammedan angels staggering on tene-
ment roofs illuminated,
who passed through universities with radiant cool eyes
hallucinating Arkansas and Blake-light tragedy
among the scholars of war,
who were expelled from the academies for crazy &
publishing obscene odes on the windows of the
who cowered in unshaven rooms in underwear, burn-
ing their money in wastebaskets and listening
to the Terror through the wall, [Read more…]

My Whole30 Experiment: Week 1 Recap

No sugar? No bread? No beer?! I wrote last week about my decision to do a Whole30 after attending a Whole9 Foundations of Nutrition workshop in Minneapolis. Since that post, I’ve been inundated with e-mails from people wondering how I was feeling, what my energy level is like, any results so far, etc.


Our food selection has been delicious. We couldn’t be happier with the meals in Everyday Paleo. They provide great variety, flavor, etc. in addition to being nutrient-dense. Our meals are incredibly yummy.


Last time I went Paleo for 30 days, I added chocolate once a week or so. And I’m not going to lie–my brain tells me I could really use a chocolate ice cream bar right about now. Sugar elicits the same response as dopamine, and it’s unrealistic for me to expect these desires to just disappear after seven days. However, I am noticing my taste buds recalibrating. Foods I normally wouldn’t have thought of as sweet (like almonds, or celery) now seem very sugary and I look forward to even a small bite of fruit (which I’ll admit I normally would’ve wanted to put whipped cream on). Feeling full and satisfied after meals helps with this a bit, and trying to find protein or fat-rich foods instead of sugary ones is helping a bit.


So far the cost has not been too over-the-top. My caveman and I have been spending an average of $80-$90/week (each) on groceries. This is lower than it could be since we already invested in a freezer full of grassfed beef, but higher than it could be since we had to buy some staples, like olive oil. As mentioned, we’re following the meal plan from Sarah Fragosa’s Everyday Paleo cookbook. Were we actually making all of our own meals rather than using the meal plan, we likely would include less of certain ingredients we don’t have around (but it may not taste quite as good.) We’re also buying organic produce whenever possible. $340 for a month per person (or $680 for a couple) seems a bit steep, but we are saving on eating out which can easily run $200-300/month if you go out once a week.


One of the first things I noticed on Whole30 is that my energy has been pretty steady (as well as my digestion). I did notice some lethargic feelings at the tale end of the week, likely¬†resulting from a quick drop in carbs. This is pretty typical and goes away after a week or two once the body shifts from carb-burning mode to a more efficient fat-burning mode. But I’ve been sleeping more (and better) and have not had the energy rollercoaster ride I get from quick sources of energy (like junk food).

Effects on Performance

I just started a new training program, so it’s too soon to judge. I’m on a conditioning cycle and my conditioning definitely still needs work as I’m feeling a little sluggish. I do expect things to even out soon, though, especially after reading a post on low carb Paleo Crossfit. I will keep you posted.


My recovery is actually surprisingly good. I did about 7 hours of BJJ last week in addition to my conditioning workouts, and I’m pleased to say my bruises and sore muscles healed up quicker than I’d expected.

Body Comp

I haven’t noticed any changes yet, though my caveman insists I’m a bit leaner.

Assorted Observations


Part of it is probably a nervous habit, but I’ve been having a very hard time without chewing gum. I’m sure part of this is due to the sugar/dopamine fix, but I also get really paranoid about having bad breath–so I’ve been brushing my teeth extra. Nobody has said anything to me so far, aside from one person asking me if I just ate curry! I guess I can deal with that…

Butter and Bacon and Jerky, Oh My

I don’t mind cooking with coconut oil and adding olive oil to salads, but sometimes eggs in butter are pretty tasty. I kind of miss the flavor. We have not been able to find bacon and jerky that’s Whole30 compliant in our stores, so are doing without. (I know there’s some available by mail order, but it’s spendy, and then you have to wait for shipping.) So this is one of the hard parts right now–missing out on some flavors I like.

More March Reflections (With Tunes)

My March reflections are late, due in no small part to being swamped these past few weeks. To make up for it, I’ve added 6 bonus songs in April’s soundtrack.

Anyway, here’s my March reflections:

Overarching theme: The never-ending winter

In the kitchen: Elk burgers. Paleo dinners. Lots of birthday dinners. Too much sugar.

In the library: Unfortunately, surprisingly little. Mostly health and fitness magazines.

On the screen: Adjustment Bureau. Black Swan. Next 3 Days

The wishlist: More sleep. (I did get an app to measure it, to no avail.) A new gi that fits. Koral, maybe? Or Atama?

The soundrack: April Tunes, from me to you. Enjoy! (Note:¬†This mix tape is a reminder that there are awesome punk rock songs that are not Screeching Weasel–since I just don’t much feel like listening to them after the Ben Weasel altercation. If you like punk rock and riot grrrl bands, you’ll enjoy the mix. If you don’t, there’ll be a new theme next month.)

MMA Conditioning

Yesterday, I wrote about my Paleo experiment, and I’ve talked about the importance of sleep. Now I’d like to touch upon a workout program I’m playing with, which is based on the book Ultimate MMA Conditioning by Joel Jamieson, the former strength and conditioning coach for Pride.

Block periodization

The book has a fair amount of theory on the energy systems used in mixed martial arts and protocols to develop them. The training approach is based on blocks.¬†Block periodization (also known as conjugate sequence periodization) is nothing new. It was formed and tested by Verkhoshansky in the Soviet Union and has been used by Chris Carmichael, Lance Armstrong’s coach.

In this case, there are five 8-week blocks for general endurance, general strength, explosive speed and power, power endurance and fight preparation. Each block emphasizes a main quality and then you can pick a secondary goal as well.  There is a 7-10 day deload period between blocks, and two 5-week phases with two weeks of overlap.

My Reasons

Why would I do this program when I’m not an MMA fighter? Several people have asked me that already. Here’s my reasoning.¬†First of all, even though I’m not a fighter, the blocks emphasize areas of fitness I’d like to develop. Who doesn’t want to be stronger, more explosive and have better endurance? I like that I can work some of my secondary goals (pull-ups, kettlebell work, etc.) within the framework of this program and that there is such ample opportunity for individualization. And I like that it is so comprehensive and that each block builds on the next.

Second, I’m so psyched to experiment with conjugate sequence periodization. I’ve done tons of programs emphasizing linear periodization that get stagnant and boring (and lead to overtraining), and I’ve done programs that are so randomized that they may be interesting but don’t really cause improvements. This system appears to be so much more advanced and elegant than complex or concurrent periodization for various reasons, and I like the idea of adapting in a particular area and a secondary focus, while maintaining other areas–and working adaptations which don’t interfere with each other, and developing different areas in a way where they build on one another.

Third, my sport of choice is Brazilian jiu jitsu–which emphasizes many of the same pathways as MMA. Now granted my technique is not developed enough to require peak performance (as I learned so painfully this past weekend when I lost *three* BJJ matches at a tournament in a minute or less), but I still am holding out hope that I can get there one day.¬†And forth, as a fitness enthusiast (read: geek), I like keeping up to speed with what’s out there and trying different things.

The Details (Equipment and Goals)

My only equipment for this program is the book, fitness equipment and ¬†a heart rate monitor. For the latter, Joel recommends the Polar RS 100 for its lap function, which can track average heart rate and heart rate recovery. It’s not cheap (around $110) but it’s incredibly comfortable with lots of features I haven’t figured out how to use yet.

I’m starting on the general endurance block. Pre-testing can include your resting heart rate, your heart rate recovery (you want it to get to 130 or below within a minute of training), or running as far as you can in 6 minutes and tracking your average heart rate, distance and speed. VO Max and lactate threshold are other expensive tests you can run.

I personally despise running and have the goal of completing this entire program without it, so decided to focus on the resting heart rate which should drop by 5-10 beats per minute during this block. 49-54 beats per minute is excellent for a male athlete between the ages of 26-35, and for a female athlete, 54-59 is considered excellent. I am currently at 63 and would like to get in the excellent range.

General Endurance Block, Phase A

As mentioned, phase A and B last for 5 weeks each, with 2 weeks of overlap. The first phase focuses on cardiac output, and you can choose a secondary goal (tempo, HICT, low volume HRI, etc.) while also emphasizing technique. (Phase B focuses more on work rate, but I’ll write more about it once I get there.)

When I did Joel’s Bioforce testing, my strength and explosive power were my strongest points, with muscular endurance and aerobic fitness at the lowest, and anaerobic somewhere in between. So I’m letting that guide which protocols I choose.

The program says that 3 days of training is sufficient, assuming you are training in your sport as well, but otherwise with cardiac output you may need a bit more than that.

Protocol Selection

Cardiac output will be my main emphasis: 3 days a week of biking, bag work, etc. (jogging, swimming, jumping rope, etc. is also acceptable) with my heart rate between 130 and 150. Since I’m only 32, I’d like to work towards the higher end of that. I’d like to eventually get to the higher end time-wise as well. I am starting out with half an hour and trying to get to an hour and a half. (90 minutes at 150 beats per minute 3 days a week is my ideal, but I am starting at 30 minutes at 130-ish beats per minute 3 times a week).

For secondary goals, I can choose from the tempo method, HICT and low volume HRI. These complement the endurance cycle but also increase different metabolic pathways.

The tempo method entails 3-4 exercises, with 3-5 sets of 8-10 reps and 6-8 minutes rest between sets. The exercises are pretty standard ones (squats, bench presses, deadlifts, pullups, rows) but the timing is different: two seconds concentric and 2 seconds eccentric per rep, with no pause at the top or bottom (so 4 seconds total).

HICT (high intensity continuous training) helps recruit higher threshold muscle fibers. It involves 1-2 sets of hill lunges, hill bike rides, spin bikes, Versaclimber, etc. at a low speed (20-30 RPM on the spin bike) for 10-20 minutes per set. There is a 5-10 minute rest between sets and your heart rate should be in the 150s or low 160s.

And HRI (high resistance intervals) are your hill sprints, sled drags, spin bike, etc. with 10-12 seconds per rep and then resting until your heart rate is back down to 130-140. This should be done under the anaerobic threshold with only 15 to 20 reps.

What This Looks Like

Because you’re only supposed to do tempo 1 day a week and HICT two days a week, but can do as much cardiac output as you want, my weekly programming could look a bit like this:

Day 1 Tempo, HICT, cardiac output

Day 2 HICT, cardiac output

Day 3 low volume HRI, cardiac output

This will obviously be changed around depending on timing and what else I have going on in each given day. For example, I only did cardiac output yesterday so will have to do HICT today in addition to BJJ training.

Still, here’s what a sample first week might look like (keeping in mind that it will increase in the latter weeks):


  • 30 min bike ride (HR at 130-150)
  • 10 min hill bike ride (HR 150-160)
  • 3 sets, 8 reps, pullups/deadlifts/rows/squats at tempo–8 min between sets


  • BJJ


  • 30 minute workout: 10 min each bag work, jumping rope, jogging (HR at 130-150)
  • 10 min hill bike ride (HR 150-160)


  • BJJ


  • 30 minute bike ride (HR at 130-150)
  • hill sprint, 15 reps, 10 seconds each, rest ’til HR at 130-140


  • BJJ

Anyway, there’s a great thread on Joel’s book on the Performance Menu forums, and Joel’s website ( has a forum as well. But I’d be happy to do my best to explain anything that’s unclear. I’ll also post updates as I progress through the different phases, so expect the next one in 3-4 weeks when I’m starting phase B of the general endurance block, and another one at the end of the block when I assess the results. 8 weeks of programming times 5 blocks ¬†with a week in between is almost a year’s worth of programming, so keep checking back!

Friday Musings

  • I got a really bad haircut this past week. It was so not what I ordered. I knew it was a red flag when my hairdresser told me she usually cuts curly hair by straightening it first so it’s easier. Anyway, I wanted my hair long enough to put into a ponytail, and my hairdresser chopped off way more than that. Then when I mentioned it she started talking about bobby pins and things. OMG. Maybe someone who isn’t sure they understand directions should get clarification?
  • To make matters worse, this hairdresser then gave me referral coupons. As if I’d want to refer friends to the woman who messed up my hair. This happened to me before when I bought mittens off of etsy. They didn’t fit right, so why would I order other things from her or send my friends her way? Whoever’s teaching about referrals should also teach about customer satisfaction. Hint: if someone’s asking for a refund, they probably don’t want those 10% off cards.
  • For some reason, everyone on Facebook keeps commenting on an old album of mine called “My New Haircut.” The album is from last October. People telling me how good my hair looks when I don’t have most of it anymore really makes things worse. ūüôĀ
  • I’m getting ready to start the Whole30 challenge on Monday, complete with meal plans from Everyday Paleo. Giving up sugar, even for a short period of time, always brings up a lot of issues. I’ll be blogging my way through this one.
  • With the improving weather, I’m also planning some morning bike rides. And I’m also planning on sleeping earlier. I know that this introduces multiple variables into ¬†my Paleo experiment, but we’ll just have to live with that, won’t we?
  • Did I mention that I’m excited about the weather? And biking? And GARDENING, even?
  • I am very behind on reviewing books, videos, websites, products and events for the site. I will be catching up, I promise.
  • I’m competing in a BJJ tournament at my gym Saturday morning! Hopefully, it will go better than last year.
  • Feel free to play along by leaving your very own musings in the comments!

How To Lose Weight While Sitting On Your Ass and Eating Ice Cream (Or: Dallas Was Right)

I have tiger blood. Okay, no, not really.

Most diet and fitness experiments are planned and measured. Faithful readers recall my 30-day Paleo experiment or my recap of Gluten-Free January. Of course, there are dozens of other people doing experiments all over the place (like Johnny B. Truant, who’s documenting his experience on the slow-carb diet and biphasic sleep. And you, dear reader, probably have some experiments of your own brewing in the lab.

I didn’t plan on running a sleep experiment, but when we published an article by Dallas Hartwig of Whole9 in the Performance Menu on the value of sleep, I felt like I should put my money where my mouth is and take a look at my sleep schedule.

I’ve been getting adequate sleep for quite a while, as the negative effects of sleep deprivation have already been beaten into my head by none other than Robb Wolf.¬†But ever since I gave up teaching for freelance writing and editing, which coincided with a move from the Sonoran desert to the Midwest in the winter, I’ve been going to bed in the wee morning hours and getting up in the very late morning–sometimes even afternoon. It’s hard not to. I’m a bit of a workaholic and like staying up and working when my phone isn’t ringing and I can safely ignore e-mails. Plus the godawful Midwestern weather makes it hard to get up early.

my poor knee (or back of leg, to be specific)

However, Dallas’ case was convincing enough that I decided to get to bed early for the month of February. Something about cortisol and the adrenal system and how you should get to bed around 10. Lights Out goes into lots of detail on the science of it if you want to geek out on it. That book recommends 9pm, which I think is insane. Even 10pm was very difficult for me (since I’d been used to, say, 3AM) so I moved to 11pm–still way better than 2:30, right? After a few weeks of this with no visible results, I hurt my knee pretty badly. I hyperextended it, irritating the meniscus and bursa sack, and likely strained both my hamstring and vastus medialis.

It’s been about three weeks since then, and I’ll reluctantly admit that I haven’t been doing so well on the regimen front. As this article title indicated, I’ve been sitting on my ass and eating ice cream. It’s true. I *have* been eating very good Paleo meals (thanks in no small part to my kick-ass boyfriend), but they’ve been supplemented by more than my fair share of Julie’s Organic ice cream bars (and coconut ice cream). I’ve been slacking on fish oil and supplements. I haven’t done any upper body work (even though I can). I’ve mostly just been throwing a pity party.

Instead of lifting weights and going to jits, I’ve been sitting on my computer, working round the clock.¬†My gym time (where I’d be working on guard escapes and submission set-ups) and home gym time (where I’d be working squats and presses) has been replaced by 1 set of 15 reps of three different rehab exercises, every other day.

So I was surprised when I found myself getting buffer. It was quite befuddling since I’ve been doing virtually no exercise and not eating as well as I could be. I didn’t think I’d lost any poundage (I hadn’t since I’d checked) but I just stepped on the scale and¬†noticed I’ve lost ~3-4 lbs., and that’s at night (not the morning fasted state).

I was very confused about this new development, until I remembered I’d been going to bed earlier for the past 3 weeks or so. (Damn it, Dallas was right!)¬†Unfortunately, this means my late night work sessions will have to be a thing of the past. The good news is that I can if I go to bed early *and* work out as much as I was pre-injury, I might be unstoppable! Other good news is that I’m now even more psyched to attend the Whole9 seminar in a couple weeks. I may even share a few tidbits, so make sure to check back!

And if you see me posting at 2AM, make sure to call me out! I can’t lose these gains I worked so hard for¬†slept so hard for!

Book Review: The Four-Hour Body by Tim Ferriss

I had mixed feelings about the Four-Hour Body before I even started reading it. On the one hand, ¬†I bet Tim Ferriss would be a blast to hang out with. His writing style is almost addictively engaging, and I’ve noticed all of my fitness gurus (and non-fitness gurus) dropping his name with alarming regularity. (I could list at least a dozen people I really respect who have mentioned him in phone conversations or on their blogs in recent weeks, but I won’t.) I’m sure he’d be a blast to hang out with and is great at parties. And Tim¬†Ferriss probably doesn’t need my book review. He’s got an army of followers and 833 5-star reviews on Amazon. People are tripping over themselves to write about the guy. And the review of his book in the New York Times, albeit negative, probably helped him sell even more books.

On the other hand, I approached the book with skepticism. I am no fan of the Four-Hour Work Week. In fact, if I believed in hell, I’d even go so far as to say that there would be a special place reserved in it for FHWW adherents–specifically, the ones who I’ve worked with on projects right when they decided said projects were not part of the 20% of their tasks worth doing (and left myself and others others to pick up the pieces), or those who have no problem with confusion, broken chains of communication and lack of a human element in their work life, or think it’s okay to waste other people’s time with bizarre requests to accommodate their (almost entirely outsourced) businesses so they can go traipsing about on prolonged vacations while VAs (from less privileged countries) do their level best to keep everything together.

As much as 4HWW annoyed me,¬†Four-Hour Body is a testament to Ferris’ time well-spent. While ignoring and outsourcing huge parts of his life, he spent hours in which he wasn’t vacationing exploring ways to be a ninja: gaining muscle, speed, strength and longevity. I can respect that. Who hasn’t spent hours at real jobs gazing out the window or cubicle and wishing they were, instead, pushing the limits of human performance?

The Four-Hour Body is nothing if not well-researched, and for every gimicky chapter promising (for example) good sleep for a handful of overpriced items you can buy through affiliate links embedded in the book, or weight loss by sitting on ice, there are chapters that are tremendously useful and well-researched. From lowering bodyfat to adding muscle, reversing injuries to improving one’s strength, sleep, running, swimming, longevity and even sex life, the book is absolutely jam packed with detailed information and resources. I found the posterior chain chapter particularly cogent.

The book reads like a lunch buffet, imploring readers to pick only the sections they like. But like a lunch buffet, you run the risk of putting too much on your plate and then feeling really sick afterwards and not being able to finish your meal… especially since each chapter pimps so many products that I’d hesitate to recommend the book to anyone on a budget.

I also found the title a bit misleading, as many of Ferriss’ protocols were complicated and time-consuming, and I don’t know if one could easily see results in just four hours a week. (I, myself, exercise 3-5 hours a week, and spend 2-4 additional hours a week in my sport of choice, and spend at least 5 hours a week preparing home-cooked meals. That means I spend 10-15 hours a week on my body, not counting 56+ hours of sleep.)

But the book is well-researched enough to provide appropriate guidance for a wide variety of activities and goals, and in a far more engaging manner than other books you’ll find. Ferriss comes across as a teeny bit smug, but he’s on the reader’s side, and if nothing else his cult following will help you find other s attempting to experiment with his techniques (such as punk rock business consultant Johnny B. Truant, who is experimenting with the Slow-Carb Diet this month). (I, myself, am partial to the Paleo diet, but…uh, that has nothing to do with this book review. Except that I can’t in good conscious write about slow-carb without mentioning it.)

Bottom line? Look through 4HB in the book store, see if there’s chapters you like, and if you have the time, motivation, desire–and probably money–pick up a copy. Otherwise, maybe try the library?

Yael’s Variety Hour: Science, Warm Fuzzies and Snow Fatigue

Welcome to my weekly variety hour, where I post the most  thought-provoking, amusing or otherwise interesting articles gathered from around the interwebz each Wednesday.

Snow fatigue?

Yes, some of us are sick of winter. Here’s some warm fuzzy stories that might cheer you up.

  • Modern-Day Kick Ass: If you haven’t seen the movie, it’s a fictional account of humans dressed like superheroes fighting crime. But here’s a REAL real-life account of the same phenomena.
  • Wanna track the Taliban? There’s an app for that, created by a soldier who put thousands of dollars into the project. The idea came to him in a dream.
  • *Help* Others Shine Not just let them shine. Brilliant in its simplicity, as Charlie Gilkey’s writing always is.
  • Bohemian Rhapsody. On a ukulele. We got to see Jake Shimabukuro perform this live, but this is the next best thing.
  • Penchant for exotic meat? This may not seem as warm and fuzzy as the other heroic posts, but for those of us who have¬†been watching The Wild Within and are now craving strange things we can’t hunt, this is a great resource (but not cheap).

The next set of articles all happen to be science-y. I didn’t plan this theme, but it just kind of developed. The circumstances were right. ūüėČ

  • Ancient Body Clock Discovered: Science Daily writes about a recently discovered mechanism controlling the 24-hour clock of all life forms, from human cells to algae.
  • The Truth Wears Off.¬†Jonah Lehrer asks if there’s something wrong with the scientific method.
  • Bio-based? What does that even mean, and why is the Grist calling it “organic’s scary cousin”?

Shameless Self-Promotion

I have a piece in this month’s Taste for Life, a custom publication you may be able to find in your health food store or co-op. So check it out if you get the chance! I wrote about the Heel detox kit.

Top Five Reasons Why Women Should Lift (Heavier) Weights is my contribution to the Strength Guild, an awesome new blog that just launched.

It’s February, which means the new issue of the Performance Menu is out. For just five bucks you can read articles on squatting (from Matt Foreman), mass gain (from Dan John, one of my heroes), sleep (from Whole9’s Dallas Hartwig) as well as the second part of my interview with sports psychologist Bill Cole, about the importance of mental preparation for athletic performance. The issue also includes Paleo-friendly recipes.

Food For Thought

20 Questions That Could Change Your Life: Something to contemplate, especially if you’re stuck indoors due to weather.¬†Have a great rest of week!!!

Finding Warmth in the Heart of Winter

Note:¬†This post is a reprint from December 2009, and was part of last January’s herbal blog party.

“…Come close to me, oh companion of my full life;
Come close to me and let not Winter’s touch
Enter between us. Sit by me before the hearth,
For fire is the only fruit of Winter.
Speak to me of the glory of your heart, for
That is greater than the shrieking elements
Beyond our door.” -Kahlil Gibran

Leaving the Sonoran Desert for Western Wisconsin in the winter is one way to assure that the weather will remain on my mind throughout the day. Although I’ve survived winters in Philadelphia, Cleveland, Chicago and Oxford, the disparity between riding my bicycle in my shorts during Tucson sunsets and navigating ice, snow and freezing rain in Eau Claire makes for quite a stark contrast. But I have to remind myself that this isn’t the first time that I was taken aback by the cold: bitter, startling, numbing. And although I’ve found a lot of foods and herbal allies to help ease the pain, it is the ones that I tried in community that warm my heart and help me stoke the fire of memories while planting the seeds for better days in the weeks and months to come. Here are the ones I remember best.


When I left Illinois and Ohio in the fall of 2002 to complete an internship in drylands permaculture, I spent four months sleeping outside. For someone accustomed to sleeping in a heated room indoors, even the 50’s seem painfully cold. Although I experimented with prickly ash tincture, it is the breakfast spices that I remember. Our motley crue of interns would hang out in the communal kitchen, concocting breakfast surprises for the rest of the gang. Although warming herbs and spices can send blood out to the surface (making it colder when going back outside), this wasn’t much of an issue since we were simply waiting for the sun to rise so we could go outside and work. When it was my turn to cook, I’d add different combinations of all the warming foods and spices I could think of: garlic, onion, cayenne pepper, black pepper, cumin, rosemary, you name it. These go quite well with eggs (or potatoes for the vegans) and can be accompanied by chai or ginger tea. Ginger tea is easy to make–just boil 6 cups of water, add a couple teaspoons of grated, peeled ginger root and let is simmer on low heat for 5-15 minutes. The tea can easily be combined with other medicines–a couple sticks of cinnamon if you’ve got a bad cold, a tablespoon of osha root and/or wild cherry bark for bronchial problems (add a nice dose of honey to that one) for some examples. Or, make chai by boiling raw milk and water and adding a stick of cinnamon, a bit of fresh grated ginger root and small amounts of black peppercorns, cardamom pops and fennel seeds. Simmer for 15 minutes to an hour, and sweeten with raw honey.


One of my friends who is an acupuncturist often speaks of all of the clients he gets each New Year. They all come to him wanting acupuncture and Chinese herbs to help them lose weight. He tells them to come back in the spring, because he sees winter as a time for nourishing and rest. He recommends a diet comprised of protein with plenty of soups, root vegetables, teas and limited raw food. Although there are a variety of Chinese herbs that are good for building immunity (astragulas and rehmennia among them), the flavors tend to leave a lot to be desired. A really great warming Indian spice that is also used in Chinese medicine, though, is asafoteida (sometimes referred to as hing). It can be found in Indian grocery stores, as well as some natural food stores. Although it can be served as a milky emulsion, I prefer it fried and cooked. It is a great ingredient in curry. In India, the spice is fried and added to ginger, black pepper, cumin seeds, pillpi long pepper, ajowan, nigella seeds and rock salt and often served with rice and ghee (clarified butter). I like using asafoteida in curries and stirfrys, along with warming oils such as sunflower or sesame. I sprinkle nuts on top, too.


While studying abroad in Oxford, I was invited to a Christmas party in which the most delectable beverage was being served… mulled wine! Although not exclusive to the UK, they do sell mulling spices in the grocery stores… Anyway, I was so taken by it that I asked a wise elder I was studying with, Katy, for her recipe (as follows). Simply take a large pan, pour in a couple bottles of red wine and up to half a bottle of brandy and add cinnamon sticks, whole cloves and maybe star anise. Heat gently and hold it just below the boiling point for about twenty minutes to allow the spices to release. Add sugar if the wine is very dry, or even water–taste throughout and adjust as needed. Although Katy wouldn’t add orange or lemon slices to the delectable concoction, some people like to. Other spices are also sometimes used so feel free to experiment! Sometimes people put all the spices in a little muslin bag (or a square of muslin with string round the top) so that you don’t get little bits of clove in the glasses. Remember to serve warm! Don’t drink alcohol? Mulled cider is also quite tasty!


Although I am still quite new to Eau Claire, I will always remember our Winter Solstice party at Phoenix Garden… Fire is quite warming and not just physically, and there’s something about spending time around good people who want to help make the world a better place. All the layers of clothing, wool mittens, down comforters and medicine in the world won’t warm your heart the way community will… here’s to a year of nourishment, connection and community!