This blue marble

– and yet it spins


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Sauna squeeze

Mon-6One late September night seven women squeezed into the oddest little sauna I have ever seen. There was sweat, steam, the fresh scent of birch twigs, and laughter. And there was nearly no light as candles would melt in the heat of the stove. Also, oddly, there was no water except for what was carried in in a bucket. Anyone wishing to wash themselves needed to do so outside, under the garden shower, in the moonlight (or in the main house bathroom).

I have understood these “sauna barrels” are all the rage in Denmark. And quite far removed from the Finnish purpose of sauna: a warm place to wash and scrub oneself as clean as possible. Furthermore, the Danes are currently much into “saunagus”: a scheduled program run by a sauna master in a public sauna or during a private event. This usually entails aromatherapy oils, steam, ice buckets, and potentially a relaxation or meditation exercise while people sit or lie down on the benches in the heat. Oddly for a Finn, the sauna master can also turn out to be a magician dressed in black-tie (how sweaty!) or a stand-up comedian. And if nothing else, he or she is expected to at least be able to spin towels in the air in a fancy way. All this is also quite far removed from the Finnish spartan sauna tradition, where not many words are spoken and certainly no tricks are performed as the sauna is a serious place for quiet and contemplation.

That late September night, seven women crammed into the sauna barrel. It was so dark we could not read the labels of the aromatherapy oils, so each scoopful of scented water turning into steam on the hot rocks was a surprise: mint, ylang-ylang, lemongrass, or something else? And there was much chatter and laughter, more than I am used to. Such joy took much space during that weekend, among new-found friends.Mon-5(Island of Møn, Denmark; September 2019)


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The last weekend of the summer

Mon-2The sunlight still brightened the beach sand to a brilliant white, even if it was the last weekend of September. For many hours during those three days, I sat on the cool sand watching the little swirls of water rolling in, perhaps all the way from German shores. Mon-4We were just seven women on this private weekend retreat, of many ages and cultures. The old white-washed farmhouse on the countryside of Møn island filled with moments of laughter, moments of silence, and the scent of delicious vegetarian food. Mornings were for yoga and reflection, afternoons for silent meditation and skinny dipping, and evenings for dining, sauna, and sharing.

It was as if the unusually long Danish summer ended that Sunday, when we locked the doors and began the drive back up South.Mon-1(Island of Møn, Denmark; September 2019)


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Warmth of the sun in a cup

curcuminWhisked into hot almond milk, curcumin latte is the warmth of the sun in a cup. This one comes with ginger, cinnamon, and black pepper for extra heat. Heat is good, not only in the winter, but also as a digestive for people whose bellies burn with a slow flame, like me.

Curcumin comes from turmeric, the ginger-resembling root that makes one’s fingers yellow when handling it. And as turmeric only contains a few percent of curcumin, quite a few roots have gone into one curcumin latte – for my good health. Yum.

(Brande, Denmark; June 2019)


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Time for a winter reset

kitchariWinter detoxes and spring cleanses never seem to go out of mode. To be honest, as a scientist I do not believe in quick “detoxing” (I also do not believe one can “wring toxins out of the liver” while squeezing into certain yoga poses). But I do believe in resetting metabolism: resetting energy intake and resetting cravings for salt, sugar, fat, pickles, candy – you name your own craving.

And so, nearly my entire adult life I have taken a timeout of one to three weeks, early on in the year, and focused on clean, healthy, often light food. I have tried a version of the “heart surgery diet” or the “cabbage soup diet” – mainly for excess fluid loss and carb reset, not weight loss. I have also tried three or four different Goop detoxes and found them insanely expensive, adventurous, and delicious.

The past few years I have used a version of an ayurvedic kitchari detox. My ayurvedic dosha is pitta – except for that some of it, and especially my digestive system, is kapha. The combination of mung bean dhal, lots of spices, pickled ginger, and a little rice just works. Especially if you have a slow metabolism or kapha imbalance, or just feel tired during the winter time you might want to give this a go.

The catch with this winter reset, first published on Oh Holy Basil, is that you really must like this dish because it is all you eat. Every day. The recommendation is a three-day diet but I throw in a light almond milk based smoothie every morning and combine that with the kitchari for seven days. Why on earth?? Because it gives my stomach a well-deserved rest. No surprises. No difficult-to-digest raw vegetables, bloating short carbs and sugars, and no chemical additives or caffeine or alcohol. Just highly nutritious, easy-to-digest, clean foods. Every day. And this dish is delicious, especially with the condiments of pickled ginger, shredded coconut, sesame seeds, and fresh cilantro.

My week-long simple reset is as follows:

Morning: Half a lemon squeezed into a glass of warm water, with a dash of cayenne pepper stirred through (to wake up my kapha belly). Followed by a 4 dl smoothie blended from a banana, almond milk, super green powder (think spirulina, wheat shoots, nettle), and maca powder.

Lunch and dinner: Kitchari with rice and condiments, as much as you feel like having. Have some more in-between meals if you feel hungry. If you go for an entire week, make sure you go plenty on the ghee or coconut oil, and cook the mung beans well. I prefer to sprout them for up to 36 hours in a bowl of water in room-temperature prior to cooking, to aid my digestion. I also add up to twice as much spices than in the recipe below (and go even heavier on the turmeric).

To drink: No alcohol, of course. No caffeine also means no black or green tea. Only that glass of fresh lemon water in the morning, followed by herbal teas and water. There are lots of gently and tastily spiced herbal teas out there. Not sure how much good they actually do, but for example the Pukka brand is good for exploration during a reset.

This is not a diet to lose weight; it is a diet for feeling good. You might end up losing some fluid and weight if you go for an entire week. If you do not feel your stomach, even after a heavy meal, this diet is probably working for you. You also do not need expensive adaptogens and Moon Dust (google it if you don’t know what it is) but I like to throw in the things I normally take: holy basil, maca, ashwagandha if I am under pressure at work, and vitamin D + calcium as well as vitamin B12 (as I am vegetarian).

An actual reset is also about resetting one’s mind. Try yoga, meditation, or just sitting in stillness, listening to sounds around you and to your own body. Read, go for walks in Nature, or take a bath. Try to spend less time consuming anything in your life that is not either bringing you a sense of calm or a sense of self-improvement (and that includes dramatic tabloid news, Facebook, and cat videos on Youtube).

The recipe for the actual dish follows below, with a grateful nod to Dillon at Oh Holy Basil. If you have tried this, or another “detox” / cleanse / reset you absolutely recommend, please drop me a line as I do like to experiment and improve.

INGREDIENTS

The dal:
  • 1 cup yellow split mung beans (not the whole green ones she says, but I’ve never found yellow ones anywhere), washed and soaked at least 6 hours, preferably overnight, see note
  • 2 tablespoons ghee or coconut oil
  • ½ teaspoon mustard seed
  • ½ teaspoon cumin seed
  • 5 cardamom pods
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • ½ teaspoon turmeric
  • pinch asafetida, if available, otherwise omit it
  • 6 cups water
  • salt to taste
  • 2-3 cups turnips, sunchokes or other mild root vegetables, thinly sliced into half moons
  • ½ bunch of kale or the reserved turnip greens from the turnips, sliced very thin
  • 1 lime, juiced
The best rice ever:
  • 1 cup basmati rice, preferably soaked for one hour, otherwise rinsed
  • 1 tablespoon ghee or coconut oil
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 4 cardamom pods
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups boiling water
Garnishes:
  • cilantro leaves
  • lime
  • shredded coconut
  • sesame seeds
  • melted ghee
  • ginger tonic, recipe follows

INSTRUCTIONS

For the dal:
  1. Drain and rinse the mung beans in a fine mesh sieve and leave them to drain of their excess water.
  2. In a medium pot, heat the ghee or coconut oil, cumin seeds, mustard seeds, cardamom pods and cinnamon stick over medium heat until the mustard seeds begin to pop. Immediately add the turmeric, asafetida and mung beans and cook, stirring frequently for about a minute. Add the water and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, partially covered and cook for about 45 minutes or until the mung beans have broken down, loosing their district form. Add the root vegetables and salt and cook for 15-20 minutes more, until they are quite soft. Add the greens and cook about five minutes more. Turn off the heat and add the lime juice. While the dal is cooking, make the rice.
For the best rice ever:
  1. Drain the rice in a fine mesh strainer and rinse a couple of times.
  2. Heat the ghee or coconut oil, cumin seeds and cardamom pods over medium heat and cook for about 30 seconds. Add the rice and cook, stirring frequently for a minute or two more, until the rice is well toasted but not yet browning. Add the boiling water and boil the rice, uncovered for five minutes. Reduce heat, cover and let simmer until all of the water is absorbed, about 10 minutes.
  3. To serve put some rice into a bowl and ladle the dal over top of it. Garnish with cilantro, a hearty squeeze of lime juice, the coconut, sesame seeds and melted ghee, if using. Top with a couple of teaspoons of the ginger tonic.

NOTES

If you forget to soak your mung beans overnight, do not dismay. You can do a quick soak by pouring boiling water over them and letting them soak for just one hour.

GINGER TONIC

This digestive tonic can be taken before meals to aid digestion and stimulate the agni. I also put some on top of my kitchari.
INGREDIENTS
  • a large piece of fresh ginger, peeled and cut into tiny cubes
  • lime juice
  • sea salt

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Place the ginger in a small bowl and coat with a liberal squeeze of lime juice. Sprinkle with a good pinch of salt and set aside to let marinate for at least 20 minutes.
  2. Cover and store in the refrigerator.

 

(Brande, Denmark; February 2019)


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The little house in the great woods

snowhouse-3That little house in the great woods is actually a sauna. Traditionally, a sauna has always been a separate building, standing apart from the main house. Possibly due to the risk of fire. Saunas used to burn down from time to time.

The two elements of a sauna are fire and water. For thousands of years they brought babies into life and guided dying ones in their last moments of this life. A flu is still often cured in the sauna, and hearts are kept strong by alternating between hot air baths and cold winter water baths. Saunas alleviate any kind of muscle ache, even women’s own kind of deep muscle ache.

And (in contrast to many American saunas) in a Finnish sauna there are no warning signs: no doctor’s consultation needed, no advice against entering if one is old, pregnant, or if one suffers of a weak heart or low blood pressure. Because there is no need: a sauna is not a dangerous place, quite the opposite. The combination of sauna and some common sense and listening to one’s body is beneficial for everybody.

(Loviisa, Finland; December 2018)


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To the lighthouse (and then the spa)

vejlefjord-3The lighthouse at Vejle fjord was much easier to reach than the one in Virginia Woolf’s novel. I recall it took the family ten years and a death in the family to finally set sail and arrive. Whereas we simply walked across the grounds of the old sanatorium and followed the path down the beach. vejlefjord-1The Vejlefjord sanatorium was built for wealthy Danes to “take the airs and waters”, especially if they suffered from tuberculosis (or “consumption”, as it was called back then). Today there still is a rehabilitation center, but it has given way to spa now installed in the new building. Two visits later I am still too consumed by the experience to manage one single photo from the inside. But imagine this: a simple, Japanese-inspired layout with natural stone and wood, lots of natural light, a forest sauna accessible by a walk outside (even throughout the winter), a hot outdoor pool, turkish baths and aromatherapy saunas and sound baths and light baths and meditation and yoga and spa treatments and free herbal tea and a healthy buffet and to top it all off: a thalasso spa with a salt sauna. One can easily spend 6 lazy hours without having the time to try everything offered.

Hence, no photos. Maybe I will manage during my third visit?
vejlefjord-4(Vejlefjord Spa, Denmark; November 2018)


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In Japan – for just an hour

yasuragi-2Japanese green tea, a chaise longue, and a Japanese-inspired view: this is all I had time to experience at the Yasuragi Spa in the Stockholm archipelago. Not the tranquil pools, nor the hot water baths in an airy outdoors-like indoor space, nor the saunas, nor the shiatsu massage and the lovely healthy snacks. Because nobody briefed me of the meeting location until a week before, and I had already booked my flights in and out, the same day. Unlike everybody else in the team.

Oh well. It was my second visit to Yasuragi. I spent a good twenty minutes in the lovely spa shop, silently vowing to myself to come back for a weekend of bathing and dreaming I was miles away in Japan.yasuragi-1(Hässleholm, Sweden; October 2018)