You know what? This is a tough time of the year for some of us.
I'm not talking about you people who suffer all summer long and thank the gods when the weather drops into the 60s and 50s.
I'm talking about people who tend to be chilly anyway, even in the summer. People whose feet are blocks of ice in bed, who complain about the air conditioning being too low, who press their cold nose into your neck and say OH YOU'RE SO WARM and sigh with happiness at being around somebody who is throwing off some heat.
Ring a bell?
I know many readers have found my blog (thank you google analytics) because of the post Curried Greens with Golden Onions and Cashews, or Melissa Gets Eastern and that means there is a lot of interest in ayurveda and how it relates to cooking--in fact that post is my second most popular of all time.
So I'm going to take this opportunity to talk about Vata, and how the fall is a BAD TIME for Vatas, and specifically how Masala Chai (Spiced Milk Tea) is freaking AWESOME for Vatas and anybody else who is feeling vulnerable in that department.
Out of the three doshas (that's body types), Vatas will usually be your wiry, thin folks--quick-witted, funny and creative. Vata can also be a secondary type, so you may be a Pitta (world-beater) or a Kapha (nurturer) but have a lot of Vata characteristics. When vata is unbalanced, a lot of things happen...dry, flaky skin; anxiety (or even paranoia); scattered energy/concentration; quick fatigue; constipation, insomnia, and cold hands/feet.
The fall season, with the temperature drop, the chilly winds and the increasingly raw weather is double trouble for Vatas, and by the way if you want to figure out what your dosha is, check out any of these sites and take a quiz: What's Your Dosha?, Deepak Chopra's Dosha Questionnaire, or Holistic Online.
So what to do if you're a poor Vata in the fall (and I don't mean a sunny apple-picking day, I mean a day like today when it's gloomy and raining and just really freaking depressing and your hands are turning white in patches because you can't get warm no matter how many cups of coffee you drink and your feet are cold and you have to go digging around for some warm socks).
Two things, Vatas. Exercise and spices. And fat. OK, three things.
Exercise gets the blood moving--especially into your extremities--and raises your energy levels. Fat...does some magical thing that warms you up. No, I don't mean by giving you a subcutaneous full-body insulating coat (though that does work too)--somehow it makes you warmer than low- or no-fat food. Feel free to explain the magic. And spice--well, that's a no-brainer if you've ever tried to eat kimchi or foods of that ilk.
So, you're asking, is this EVER going to turn into a discussion of Spiced Milk Tea?
Why yes, it is! Right now, in fact.
Spiced Milk Tea (Masala Chai) is Indian. You might have had it in an Indian restaurant, you might have had some variation at a coffee bar, you might have even had some from a supermarket box of tea. Masala Chai is AWESOME for a vata imbalance because it's hot, it uses whole milk (there's your fat) and it's SPICY. Here is how you make it for real, at home.
Take these whole spices: 8 cardamom pods, 1 cinnamon stick, 4 peppercorns, a pinch of fennel seeds, and grind them in a spice grinder. I use our handy dandy Magic Bullet.
Bring two cups of whole milk to a simmer, and whisk in the ground spices along with a scant 1/4 brown sugar, a tiny pinch of salt and 1/2 tsp. ground ginger. At the same time, bring 2 cups of water to a boil and throw in 5 tsp. of loose black tea. I went hunting around in the market and actually found some, much to my surprise.
That's nice! Ever since I discovered whole leaf tea I can't believe that bizarre stuff in tea bags--ground-up powder of some sort.
Boil the tea for one minute, then strain it into the spiced milk, which is simmering for three minutes to get the full spice effect.
And that's it, baby.
I drank two cups of masala chai and was happy as a little fuzzy puppy, though I must warn you that the dregs of your cup will have clumps of spices--I decided to strain my second cup. Here is what is the most awesome about this recipe--the black pepper. The recipe actually calls for white peppercorns if you have them, and I didn't, but still--that element of heat just hit my stomach and radiated outwards.
And Vatas--here are a few fall menu tips from a paisano:
--leave off with the cold cereal and/or protein shakes and eat oatmeal or eggs. Any hot breakfast.
--in fact, leave off cold foods altogether until next summer. Trust me.
--stews and soups are your friend. Make a big pot and enjoy all week.
--grilled cheese sandwiches
--leftovers, heated. Forget the lunch salads for now.
--fat is OK. Go ahead and eat the chicken skin.
--hot drinks! Check back here for my reports on Spiced Milk Tea with Saffron and Pistachios, Mexican Hot Chocolate, Irish Coffee, Hot Buttered Rum and Mulled Red Wine.
--Spicy foods. Seriously--get fired up.
--and...if you are sitting in front of your computer, freezing your ass off, get up and move around--run around the block, do some pushups, go to a kettlebell class...the world is not going to fall apart if you detach yourself for an hour. And you'll be so happy! And warm!