Toxins, be gone!

Namaste. I am cleansed.

A couple weeks ago, I did a raw food cleanse at the invitation of a friend. A local health cafe, that also moonlights as a social enterprise, puts on the cleanse every month. It’s five days. No dairy. No meat. No caffeine [dramatic pause for sighs of horror]. No sugar. No bread.

Whenever I nurse my food blog addiction, I’m always intrigued by stories of elimination diets, be it for health, wellness, cleansing or complete lifestyle overhaul. I have a soft spot for “OMG, I feel SO amazing” type talk. What does this ‘amazing’ feel like? Is this truly the only way to get there?

I eat relatively healthy on a consistent basis and given the hot temps and rug rats going around here, I eat for energy and stamina. Suffice to say, I generally feel good on a daily basis give or take a high or low. So was it possible to feel any better than I already did by eliminating something from my diet? Seemed harder to give up just one thing than everything all together.

Plus, did I mention they prepare and deliver 3 meals a day to me all week? No excuses.

Around 7am on Day 1, a medium sized box was delivered. Prior to its arrival, I received an email detailing what I would be consuming that day and what purpose the individual foods served as part of the cleansing process. So when the box came, I had an idea of what was inside.

Each day started with a booster – something to get the engines going and pistons firing. Everyday something different: chlorophyll, ginger juice, lemon juice with cayenne, and coconut oil. The booster was followed by “breakfast” – always a fresh fruit juice, perhaps with added flavorings like mint, basil, ginger, turmeric.

That’s all I had to get my day going. Around 9 or 10am, it was time for my [dreaded] green juice – a base of cucumbers, blended with other green things that changed daily (celery, spinach, basil, green apple, lettuce).  A little to healthy for my tastes.

By noon, that’s when the fun started. I was introduced to this new world called raw cuisine (and no, there was no sashimi or carpaccio). It wasn’t just carrot sticks and lettuce. On Day 1 I had a raw “pizza.” The base was made of almonds and flax seed (finely ground and shaped into a 4″ wide thin disc). It was topped with spinach leaves, tomato sauce, then a bruchetta-like tomato mixture and finished off with cashew “cheese.” Sound weird, I know. But really, it was so delicious and satisfying. Then I got to eat dessert – raw cheesecake.

By 4pm, I would drink either almond milk or coconut water. Dinner around 6pm, things like zucchini “spaghetti”, rainbow salad, raw falafal, raw pad thai. No repeats, dessert everyday. Cleansing = deprivation? Definitely not!

As the week drew to a close, I obsessed over how I would break the fast. I wasn’t having any strong cravings in the plate o’ nachos direction. In fact, I was just drawn to my routine home cuisine of simple, whole and mostly-healthy. But after a week of meals delivered, I sure as Shirley didn’t want to cook it myself! Oh, hello takeaway menu…. I ended up getting grilled sea bass but the delivery boy (cough, Roger) swapped out the steamed veg on the side for fries. Who was I to complain?

Over the course of the week, I felt pretty much great. Not ‘OMG Amazing’ but just regularly great and not a big difference from my normal state. Guess that means I’m not too toxic overall. Although I didn’t feel a whole lot different, what I most enjoyed was getting to know the raw cuisine and how flavorful it can be. So little of it tasted like health food.

The raw cuisine is well developed and there are no shortage of blogs and chefs out there sharing their recipes. It seems the key to the raw cuisine is a dehydrator, a really good food processor and a diversity of nuts. It’s unlikely I will adopt raw cooking full scale, but some things, definitely, especially when the superhot season rolls around and I can’t turn on my stove lest I slip and break my neck in my own puddle of sweat.

Were you wondering if I cheated at all over the week? Busted! On particularly hot days, I popped a few extra coconuts. I was still cooking dinners for the rest of the fam, so I snuck some blanched veggies here and there. Misdemeanors for sure. Unfortunately I made the felonious mistake of cooking some insanely good pork chops one night so, yep, had to get a bite of that action as well. What’s a little rogue pork chop when I’ve got rivers of toxins already flowing out?

I didn’t get many pictures of my food over the course of the week because I was usually too hungry to patiently stage a photo, but this will give you an idea of what things looked like:

Raw tea sandwiches: dehydrated beets, sweet potatoes and zucchini serve as the bread. Filled with savory cashew cream and green onion. Raw blueberry & lemon tart for dessert

Raw tea sandwiches: dehydrated beets, sweet potatoes and zucchini serve as the bread. Filled with savory cashew cream and green onion. Raw blueberry & lemon tart for dessert

Raw mushroom quiche: mushrooms mixed with cashew cream on an almond & flax seed crust. Raw cheesecake for dessert.

Raw mushroom & tarragon quiche: mushrooms mixed with cashew cream on an almond & flax seed crust. Raw carrot cake for dessert.

L-R: coconut oil booster, pineapple, ginger, tumeric juice, green juice, almond milk with raw cacao

L-R: coconut oil booster, pineapple/ ginger/turmeric juice, green juice, almond milk with raw cacao

Palm Sugar is the New Black

I like to bake. Having multiple sticks of butter in my grocery cart makes me happy. Sometimes I run into professional cooks at the store and they have kilos of butter in their carts and it makes my heart soar. Yes, I just admitted that multiple sticks of butter make me swoon. Part of the warm fuzzies come from knowing what lies at the end of many sticks of butter – pans of brownies so chocolately that come from bowls of brownie mix so thick and chocolately that, samonella be damned, your finger is going in (or maybe its just for a piece of toast). It’s my happy place. It triggers delusions of living on a farm where I churn my own butter, bake my own bread, grow my own kale and fuel my family with the most whole of ingredients.

That’s how I roll – whole, minimally processed, local fuel – as best I can.

Which is how I came to discover and fall in love with palm sugar – a natural sweetener. Here it is sold as sugar crystals, in blocks or as a thick syrup, common in local cuisine and available most places. Because of the reputation of palm oil, I always considered it a less-than-wholesome sugar. But then my nanny brought me 500g of Kampong Speu (a province in Cambodia) palm sugar (in thick syrup form) and its sweet caramelly taste blew me away. I became a woman addicted. I started drinking extra cups of coffee merely as a vehicle for eating the sugar. Then we moved onto pancakes and I was hooked.

Photo Credit: India Coconut Board

Photo Credit: India Coconut Board

It wasn’t just the taste I was hooked on. Palm sugar aligns with all my cosmic principles of eating whole, minimally processed and local. And as a bonus, it’s healthy! Sort of.

Photo Credit: Noble House

Photo Credit: Noble House

Palm sugar comes from the sugar palm or date palm tree, many of which grow here. Profusely. It’s similar to coconut palm sugar, but just from a different tree. A palm tree can take longer than a generation to grow, but once its producing sap, it can be harvested for 20 years. Sustainable, check!

Photo Credit: Phnom Penh Post

Photo Credit: Phnom Penh Post

To extract palm sugar, a wiry man will tie a rope around his ankles and monkey his way up a palm tree to tap it. The sap is channeled into a gourd and emptied twice a day. The sap is heated on a stove and turned into its various iterations – syrup or blocks. Because the water from the sap evaporates at low temperatures, the micronutrient composition of the resulting sugar stays in tact. Vitamins in sugar, check!

Palm sugar also boasts a lower glycemic index than other natural, minimally-processed sweeteners like honey (50 GI) and maple syrup (54 GI). Regular white sugar has a GI of around 65. A food’s GI indicates how quickly or slowly the sugar in the food is absorbed by your blood stream. The lower the number, the slower the burn and the fewer spikes and crashes in energy. Healthy, check!

Ok, just kidding. It’s not healthy, it’s still ultimately sugar with the same calorie and carbohydrate load as regular sugar. But it has a lot more going for it. Plus, it just feels RIGHT to use it to sweeten things for the fam.

I’m definitely late to the palm sugar game but I love that its a natural sweetener, locally available and retains some of its minerals and vitamins in processing. When possible, I use it interchangeably in recipes that call for white and/or brown sugar. It tastes sweeter to me, so I usually use a tablespoon or two less than called for. Because of its brown coloring, yes, it will change the color of your foods, so when color is not an issue (like in brownies!), go for it. The ultimate is having pure Kompong Speu palm sugar caramel (a geographical protection status) which has a much lighter color and just melts so nicely into whatever you add it too, like Zucchini Bread Pancakes.

So go ahead, on my authority, make those chocolate chip cookies with palm sugar and call it an energy bar!

Do you use palm or coconut palm sugar? If so, how do you use it? I’m never one to refuse a good recipe!





The Mighty Moringa

A tree – that could save millions of lives – grows in Cambodia.

In Khmer is known as ma’rom but in English it’s known as moringa, drumstrick tree or horseradish tree (among other names). Common in the Philippines as well, it goes by the name malunguy. Hardy and drought resistant, the moringa tree can be used whole or in parts for agriculture, medicine, food and nutrition. The leaves are nutritionally dense and contain greater concentrations of essential vitamins, minerals and amino acids than found in common foods (i.e. 4x the calcium, gram for gram, in milk).

moringa tree with drumsticks

Native to the Himalayas, it grows worldwide where food insecurity threatens populations – India, South America, Africa and South East Asia – due to its resilience and low-maintenance. Its beneficial properties have been known for centuries to traditional societies but in the past two decades, the knowledge of the ancients and medicine men is being corroborated via the the rigors of Western science.

Long appreciated in other cultures, the beneficial properties of moringa have already crossed the border into the Western world via the nutritional supplement market. You can buy it on Amazon and Oprah’s health guru, Dr. Oz, endorses taking moringa capsules daily. How much more credibility do you need?! Discovery Channel also dedicated a segment to The Miracle Tree.

The Leaves

The oval shaped leaves can be consumed the same way one would consume greens like spinach, chard or kale. They’re often added to soups or used to make sauces. Likewise, the leaves can be dried and pulverized for consumption as a tea, food additive or capsule.

moringa leaves

Inside 250 grams of moringa leaves – the equivalent weight of a cup of milk – you can find a greater concentration of essential vitamins and minerals than found in other common foods. Prepare to have your mind blown….

Fresh Leaves                                     Dried Leaves

4 times Vitamin A of Carrots             10 times Vitamin A of Carrots
7 times Vitamin C of Oranges           ½ the Vitamin C of Oranges
4 times Calcium of Milk                     17 times Calcium of Milk
3 times Potassium of Bananas         15 times Potassium of Bananas
¾ Iron of Spinach                               25 times the Iron of Spinach
2 times Protein of Yoghurt                 9 times the Protein of Yoghurt

Is your jaw on the floor yet?

moringa powder

There are both commercial and humanitarian endeavors that are tapping into this nutritional density. Commercialization is for the sale of the dried leaves as tea, powder and capsules to locals and abroad. Non-profits are pursuing the miracle of moringa by promoting its consumption as part of a holistic nutrition message, especially for young children and pregnant women. The powder can be mixed with infant formula and/or stirred into porridge and given to women who suffer iron deficiencies during pregnancies. In Africa, moringa is known as mother’s best friend as it assures adequate nutrition for their kids during low food availability.

And this is just the leaves! There is still the drumstick “pods”, the seeds, the bark and the entire tree!


The long green pods that grow on the tree are known in India as drumsticks and are enjoyed frequently in Indian curries and pickles. The pods contain the same amount of nutritional density as the leaves. Inside the pods are seeds that can be used for water purification and oil.

drumsticks voice of eden

The seeds are comprised of 40 percent ben oil which is a common ingredient in cosmetics due to its moisturizing, antibacterial, anti-oxidant, anti-inflamatory and anti-aging properties. It’s considered the most stable oil as it does not go rancid for up to 5 years due to its high concentrations of antioxidants. It’s also suitable as an all purpose oil such as olive oil.


The trees can be used for green manure and nitrogen fixing – two natural methods for channeling essential minerals, nutrients, and gases into planted crops. Likewise, moringa leaves and seeds can be processed in such a low-tech way to become a fertilizer for plants and growth promotant for livestock. As moringa trees grow easily and quickly, they can be used for shade cropping, grown intensively and harvested up to 4x per year.

Traditional Medicine

traditional medicine lightworkersxm

In the Senegalese language of Woloff, moringa is called nebeday - ‘never die’ in English -describes both its hearty nature and beneficial properties. Traditional medicine practitioners treat a wide range of conditions and illnesses with parts of the moringa tree, such as gastrointestinal problems, headaches, anemia, eye infection, diabetes, kidney stones and inflammations to name a few. In Ayurvedic medicine, moringa is said to cure 300 diseases!

Familiarizing myself with 5,000 years of knowledge has been time consuming and I’ve by no means exhausted its possibilities. I’m still amazed by how much potential is contained in one tree and I look forward to the moringa ‘gospel’ getting spread. Luckily the mantle of evangelism is not upon me. A few humanitarian groups and commercial enterprises in Cambodia are busy spreading the good word about moringa.

CAMA Services, in Battambang, is using morninga as a nutritional supplement for people living with HIV and AIDS to have enough energy to participate productively in their communities and minimize side effects from the anti-retroviral medications.

Baca Villa in Siem Reap is a social enterprise that is commercializing moringa trees for leaves, seeds and flowers to convert them into products that can be sold locally and internationally. The proceeds from the sales benefit the entire Villa which supports numerous education, hospitality training and health care ventures for the community.

A big USAID project in Cambodia, called HARVEST, utilizes morninga as part of its nutritional message directed at women.

The big players, globally, in the moringa game, however, are Church World Services, Trees for Life and ECHO.


A Touch of Paint

One thing that has always struck me in my experiences abroad is the lack of attention to curb appeal. Perhaps just a Western concept, but this Western girl would like to be beckoned with a little more charm.

Arusha and Phnom Penh have both been great places to live but on first blush, the beauty is found well below the surface. In the case of Phnom Penh, the majority of storefronts don’t call to you with cheerful exteriors to draw you in and induce you to choose them over their next door competitor. Sometimes you’re lucky to even have a sign posted outside telling you what kind of store it is, but often that sign is overwhelmed by telling you which cell company to use, which beer to drink or what cognac is en vogue at the moment. And often, all the vendors of one product are clumped together in one section, i.e. the mattress zone, the sports equipment zone, the tomato zone. When prices are equal, what are you going to do to get me into YOUR shop?

And I know, looks aren’t everything. There is so much soul behind an exterior. But still, you know what I mean. Consumers typically make initial decisions based on looks.

Phnom Penh has some fabulous architectural influences and knowing only squat about architecture, you can excuse any inaccuracies in identifying particular styles. What stands out most, to me, are art deco features coupled with colonial flourishes and mid-century details. There are modern lines to buildings that seem to contribute to both structure and function – letting the oh-so-hot air pass freely. Alongside those art deco features, you’ll often find the lines broken up by wooden shudders which surely served as pre-electricity air conditioning. A counter balance to some of these more handsome features, in my opinion, are the Pantheon-esque touches that come from thick metal fixtures or faux-marble pillars.

If the exterior walls of Phnom Penh could talk, they’d tell you they’ve seen some serious business. Forced evacuations, civil wars, electrification, disputed elections, changing tenants, modernization, paving of roads, sketchy behaviors, monsoons, leaky pipes and much more. And slowly I would like to hear all those stories. But wouldn’t it be nice to hear them through the gleam of a new coat of paint?

Power wash and a paint job, perhaps?

Power wash and a paint job, perhaps?

Some buildings have been cared for, even preserved, but more often than not a grey din pervades Phnom Penh as you drive along its major boulevard where once white buildings are now discolored by climate, age and whatever else is leaking off the roof. Sometimes the buildings aren’t grey at all but reflect a vibrant past with bold starburst yellow and white trim faded by the sun and overcome with age.

Rehabilitated and preserved, starting at top left: old Russian Embassy, Central Market, Library and old French colonial building turned into a boutique hotel (where we swim each week!)

Rehabilitated and preserved, starting at top left: old Russian Embassy, Central Market, Library and old French colonial building turned into a boutique hotel (where we swim each week!)

Phnom Penh calls itself The Charming City and indeed it has its seductive ways. But what a difference a new coat of paint would make!

Or maybe we could just begin with burying the power lines!

PP Building Facades2


Photo credit: not me! Various

Still Loving My CSA

[I wrote about this originally on Just Add Spinach today. Copied below.]

A few months ago I wrote about the CSA scheme they have launched here in Phnom Penh.  I’m still doing it and now it has actually been transferred back over direct to the farm – Discovery Farm.  I’m still loving it and am thrilled every time I manage to use up each and every green leaf in the basket.  Ok, let’s be real, that never happens.  How can a person (or two) consumer 24 mini heads of lettuce in one week?! Nevertheless, it’s definitely pushing me into new cooking territory and I love it.  It seems the more adept I get at working with the random veg box, the pickier my 4 yr old becomes.  Go figure.

In addition to my loyal followers, I took my love of the CSA to the national stage and managed to get it published in AsiaLIFE magazine.  AsiaLIFE is an English-language lifestyle & culture magazine published monthly in Phnom Penh.  I sent them a word document and they turned it into this pretty little thing.  Bucket list? You know it!

AsiaLife Screen Shot