mango kefir lassi {recipe}

2014-03-27 mango kefir lassiI ran across this link a few weeks ago and decided I had to try it.  It looked so simple, only three ingredients.  And they were ingredients I had locally.  Yay!  So, the next time I had some mangoes that were a little riper than I like to eat, I whipped this up and we all enjoyed some mango lassi.

Mango Kefir Lassi:

2 ripe mangoes
2 cups of kefir
1-2 tsp honey

*optional juice of 1-2 limes for extra zing (this helps if your mangoes are very ripe and have no tartness left)

This recipe is a great way to get in a healthy serving of probiotic-rich kefir.  It also tastes better to those, like Ryan, who don’t love drinking kefir plain.  Mango season is just around the corner here.  On every street, there are mango trees full of tiny green mangoes.  I can’t wait to enjoy more mango lassi soon!

Do you have any favorite drink recipes?

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jungle honey

2014-03-18 honeycomb by Melissa Crossett thelandinbetween.com Northern Laos-2 Ryan brought this home the other night.  A whole kilo of honey in the honeycomb.  It was being sold by some guys who had harvested it from the jungle.  It’s absolutely delicious!  It wasn’t the cheapest at $10 per kilo, but you can’t get honey more raw or local than this.  We even had to pick out some bees.

2014-03-18 honeycomb by Melissa Crossett thelandinbetween.com Northern LaosChewing on the waxy honeycomb itself is rather enjoyable, as well.  It’s kind of like chewing gum.  Ryan says he’s going to use the wax to make a candle when we’re done with it.  Ha!

Honey is one natural form of sweetener that we use on occasion.  Raw honey is full of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.  It has anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and anti-fungal properties.  It has many health benefits, including helping with allergies, digestion, blood pressure, etc…  All in moderation, of course!

Check out this link to see raw honey compared with processed honey.

standing desk

I don’t remember when I first heard about standing desks.  But after reading numerous articles on the dangers of sitting for too many hours each day, I thought I’d give it a try.  It started out as two plastic crates staked on top of each other to bring my laptop up to eye level.  It wasn’t ideal. However, I found that my middle of the night back pain went away immediately after transitioning to a standing desk.  It also seemed to give me extra energy.  Now I’m all in.

When we moved here, we didn’t have any desk at all, so I ended up slouching over my computer while sitting on our dilapidated couch.  That, combine with pregnancy, produced some pretty intense back pain at night, which sometimes kept me tossing and turning for hours.  Ryan decided that the best thing for me would be a standing desk, and that it was priority to get it built as soon as possible.

2014-03-15 standing desk by Melissa Crossett thelandinbetween.com Northern Laos-9

He sketched up a basic plan,2014-03-15 standing desk by Melissa Crossett thelandinbetween.com Northern LaosAnd set out to find some plywood… which he carried all the way home on his shoulder.2014-03-15 standing desk by Melissa Crossett thelandinbetween.com Northern Laos-3 2014-03-15 standing desk by Melissa Crossett thelandinbetween.com Northern Laos-5Elise got in on the action.  Don’t worry, the saw wasn’t plugged in.2014-03-15 standing desk by Melissa Crossett thelandinbetween.com Northern Laos-2Ryan made a solid frame for each level of the desk to support the low quality plywood.2014-03-15 standing desk by Melissa Crossett thelandinbetween.com Northern Laos-4 2014-03-15 standing desk by Melissa Crossett thelandinbetween.com Northern Laos-6He only got so far before it was time for another workweek. So I used the desk as it was for a few days.2014-03-15 standing desk by Melissa Crossett thelandinbetween.com Northern Laos-7 2014-03-15 standing desk by Melissa Crossett thelandinbetween.com Northern Laos-8The next free day he had, Ryan painted it a nice glossy white, as well as added another shelf on the bottom for the printer.2014-03-15 standing desk by Melissa Crossett thelandinbetween.com Northern Laos-10And here it is!diy standing deskThe screen is at eye level, and the keyboard keeps my arms at a 90 degree angle.  It all adds up to good posture and my back pain has basically disappeared.2014-03-15 standing desk by Melissa Crossett thelandinbetween.com Northern Laos-12I’m so glad to be getting some good sleep again, and of course, very thankful for my handy man.  Here is some more info on standing desks if you’re interested:

notsitting.com – a whole website dedicated to the how’s and why’s of standing desks

how to guide: standing at work and 15 tips for standing workstations

there could even be psychological benefits to a standing desk

Have you ever considered a standing desk?

shopping limitations

If you’ve read about our shopping options here, you’ll know that there are a lot of things not available here in Northern Laos.  So, what do we do about it?  Well, we go without a lot of things, but there are a few items that we stock up on when we go to Thailand.  The first couple months we were here, we had to leave every 4 weeks to renew our visa.  You can imagine the long lists we made knowing we’d be going over the border in a few weeks.

2014-03-01IMG_4367Now that we have our 1 year visas, we don’t have to leave, but went last month and will again in a couple of months to have another prenatal checkup.

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So, are you curious what things we make sure to buy when in Thailand?2014-03-01DSC_4780

These are the essentials that we restock each time:

1. baking soda – we use it to wash our hair and brush our teeth

2. grass fed butter – a healthy fat for cooking our morning eggs

3. apple cider vinegar – for multiple uses including hair care and upset tummies

4. coconut oil – another healthy fat for cooking, making nutritious treats like homemade chocolate, or using as lotion (101 uses for coconut oil)

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We rent a moped and enjoy the freedom of zipping around town running errands.  Yes, there is room for me on the back!2014-03-01IMG_4404We’ve also bought a couple of bikes which are our only mode of transportation over here.2014-03-01IMG_4410The bridge was not yet open on our first trip, so we brought the bike and all our other purchases and mail back on multiple tuk tuks, buses and a boat!   2014-03-01IMG_4413Now, the 4th Thai-Lao friendship bridge is open, so it’s getting a bit easier to move things across.  2014-03-01IMG_4674We already have a running list for our next trip in April.

It includes:

-new bike tires for my used Japanese bike that no one has parts for here

-a rake to clean up the yard

-and a backpack, as ours is falling apart

Of course we also pick up a few non-essentials like cheese, bacon and chocolate, which never quite last as long as we’d hope.

What kind of food items would you not want to live without?

easy paleo lunch

easy paleo lunch

As I mentioned before, in the past two years, I’ve dramatically changed my health by changing the way I eat.  The results I’ve had make it worthwhile to say goodbye to a few things like bread, pasta and processed sugar.  It wasn’t long ago that I was loosely diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome.  Eating Paleo has given me more energy than I’ve had in 10 years.  I’ve heard Paleo is currently a trending fad diet, but as you can probably tell, I’m not the kind of person who usually follows trends or fads – this way of eating really works for me.

In a nutshell, Paleo is getting back to the basics… meat, vegetables, nuts, fruit, and natural fats.  It means cutting out grains (we do eat rice), refined sugars, processed junk, and factory oils.

easy paleo lunchAn easy Paleo lunch that I do all the time is grilled chicken, sweet potatoes (with lots of butter) and green beans.  The kids love it, and so do I.

market Northern Laos

There are so many options for fresh veggies at our local marketmarket Northern Laos

The choices in greens alone, seem endless.  So far, we’ve only tried a handful.mug of broth

I also like to include a cup of bone broth with our lunch.  I’ve learned from Thai restaurants to sprinkle in some fresh chives and cilantro, which gives it a delicious flavor.  It’s also a nice comfort drink to warm us up on a cold day.

If you’ve never heard of Paleo before, you might be shocked to hear that I find it healthy to put lots of butter on our sweet potatoes and make sure to include a decent portion of meat in our meals.  Here are a couple of sites that I have found helpful to explain Paleo and its benefits.

Mark’s Daily Apple – The Definitive Guide to the Primal Eating Plan and the success stories are addicting!

Robb Wolf – What is the Paleo Diet?

Eat Drink Paleo – What is Paleo?

So many have lost weight, improved cholesterol, cured chronic pain, and improved their overall health and energy levels through this way of eating.

Have you heard of Paleo?  Would you give it a go?

a new addition

pregnancy announcement

I’m excited to announce that we’re expecting a baby mid August!  Though it adds some extra challenges to life here, we’re thrilled to welcome a new member to our family.  I had about six weeks of morning sickness.  Now I’m into my second trimester, and am feeling much better and ready to get back to normal life, or keep trying to figure out what normal life is here.

We waited to announce the pregnancy until we could get to see a doctor and hear a heartbeat.  Normally, this is simple, right?  Schedule your appointment with your choice of doctor or midwife, and then show up on that day.  Well, in our town the medical care is sketchy at best. So, we choose to go across the border to Thailand for any medical needs.  And while I’ve had some great experiences with medical care in Bangkok, I’ve never done anything in Chiang Rai, a much smaller city in the north.  There is no easy way to book an appointment, as far as I’m aware, so we just showed up.  I’m a research junkie and so read a few online forums to figure out which hospital to go to.  A couple people said that the public hospital had the best equipment and prices, so since we speak Thai, we felt that was a good choice.IMG_5573

Boy, was I wrong!  I wish I could have taken some pictures to capture the chaos in that place.  I did find the above picture online that shows some of it.  There were hundreds… probably thousands of people sitting in waiting rooms, waiting for their turn, waiting to pay bills, waiting for family members.  The hospital itself was a bit of a maze and the hallways and free spaces were lined with patients in wheelchairs or lying unattended on gurneys who looked like they might be on their last breath.  It was a bit disturbing, but we pressed on, anxious to find the news we had come for.

After finding the appropriate department and room, we were then faced with the challenge of getting the information we had come for.  First, they wanted me to take a urine test to prove I was pregnant.  I finally talked them into listening for the heartbeat and they found it loud and clear.  However, they still didn’t seem convinced, and wanted me to follow their protocol to have a blood test done to really prove I was pregnant.  I was not comfortable having any needles poked into me in this hospital, so tried to convince them to do a quick ultrasound to check on the baby.  After much discussion among themselves and waiting for nearly 45 minutes, I was finally approached by a technician to ask why I wanted an ultrasound.  He then tried to convince me that I was too early at 13 weeks to see much or get an accurate measurement.  I assured him that I’ve done this before, and asked if we could just try and see.

After having a bit of trouble, he did finally locate the baby.  He began trying to take a measurement, but he was zoomed in so far I think he was measuring a cross section of the baby’s big toe.  At this point, we started wondering what kind of training this guy had even had.  He finally called in another person who showed him how to zoom out and take a measurement from head to toe.  With her help, he was able to get an accurate measurement.  Later we wondered if this guy was even an ultrasound tech, or if they volunteered him for the job since he spoke a few words of English.  The nurse even ended up having to show him the button to print a picture of the ultrasound.  In the end,  we were thrilled with the good news we obtained there and that we got out of there without contracting any major disease (unless the incubation period is more than two weeks!)  Two lessons learned: don’t trust forums and good equipment doesn’t necessarily mean competent staff.

2014-02-12DSC_5577Once that was done, we had a few days to enjoy the pool…

2014-02-12DSC_5528relax…

2014-02-12DSC_5592and eat some delicious meals, which certainly contributed to the sudden growth of the baby bump!

We plan to go back and try a private hospital for another checkup in a couple months.  Then, we plan go back to the US for the birth this summer.  Medical care isn’t great here, and I’m not really up for an unassisted home birth, even though Ryan thinks he can pull it off.  Thailand has good options for medical, but that would mean being there for at least two months while we had the baby and did his or her paperwork, or we could just go home and be with friends and family and also go to a couple family weddings.  Win win!

Have you had any crazy hospital experiences?  I’d love to hear about it.

(photo source)

superfood: milk kefir

milk kefirSimilar to Grandma’s chicken soup, another traditional, easy and inexpensive way to improve your health is by drinking kefir.  Most people know that yogurt has beneficial bacteria (probiotics) in it that can improve your gut health.  However, while yogurt has 2-5 strains, kefir has 30 strains of beneficial bacteria and yeasts that repopulate the gut and destroy pathogens.  While we don’t drink pasteurized milk, especially UHT milk, because studies have shown that it is harmful for your health, we do drink cultured dairy in the form of kefir.

So, how do you make this superfood?  First, you need to find some milk kefir grains.  They aren’t actually grains, but a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeasts (SCOBY).  If you have a friend who makes kefir, you can ask for some of their extras.  I’ve also heard you can find them on craigslist.  Otherwise, there are places online you can order them.  I had mine shipped over from a lady in Malaysia. milk kefir grains Once you have your grains, you simply put a heaping tablespoon of the grains into a glass quart jar. milk kefir grains Then you fill it up with milk.2014-02-02DSC_4426And you spill all over the counter while you’re trying to photograph the process! 2014-02-02DSC_4429 Cover it up with a cloth and rubber band to let it breathe, while keeping any bugs or dust out, leave it on the counter or top of your fridge, and simply wait until it’s ready – usually between 24-48 hours.  In Bangkok, it was so hot, I’d have a quart ready every 8 hours, but here during the winter it can take up to 4 days.  You can always put it in the fridge for a day or two if you’re producing faster that you can eat it, or are going to be away from home for a few days. milk kefir You’ll know when it’s ready when it has thickened up and started to separate.  It will also have a distinct fermented smell. 2014-02-02DSC_4401Then, strain out the grains so that you can start a new batch. 2014-02-02DSC_4408 We use a spoon to stir it around in the strainer, especially if it’s gotten overly thick. milk kefir grains Over time, the grains will multiply. eating kefir grains If you don’t have a friend to give the extras to, or don’t want to make multiple batches, you can eat them or feed them to your kids or even pets.  My girls think it’s such a treat when I have extra grains. milk kefir After the grains are strained out, the kefir is ready to be enjoyed.  For additional probiotics, I dump half a capsule of probiotics into each of the girls’ kefir.  Milk kefir has a sour and slightly carbonated flavor.  We drink ours plain, as we enjoy the taste, but you can also mix it with fruit or a little bit of honey for some different flavors.  It makes a great base for smoothies, too. 2014-02-02DSC_4366Unfortunately, the only milk I can get here, is UHT boxed milk, which I’ve read is basically dead and void of any nutrition.  However, my kefir grains seem to still be thriving and happy, so I’m confident that I’m still getting beneficial bacteria.  Maybe someday I’ll have room to have a couple milk goats and then I can also get the benefit of raw milk.  Yum.

Kefir is a great source of not only beneficial bacteria, but also vitamins and minerals.  It has even been shown to play a role in the prevention and treatment of some types of cancer and tumors. (you can read more about the benefits here and here)  If you can’t tolerate dairy, you can also make kefir with coconut milk or sweetened water (but it requires different starter grains).

Do you drink kefir?  If not, would you try it?