Since I have known what it felt like to be really stressed out, I have been intensely fixated on the slow and fast beating and skipping of my own heart. It was my third year of university, my first year living away from home in a city two and a half hours from where I grew up that I became really driven to do well in school. Where drive and determination lead the way, a proportionate level of stress is sure to follow closely behind.
I think it all began with a conversation I had with my microbiology course lab partner, Lisa. I told her that I was planning to do a double major in Microbiology and Biochemistry and she replied with a frustrating amount of doubt and discouragement. She knew someone who had followed that same path and believed the feat to be a futile one.
Although, up to that point I had never been overly academically competitive, I refused to be told that their was something scholastic that I could not do. I could not imagine that completing a jam-packed schedule of science courses would be overly difficult. I forged ahead, signed up for the full semesters of classes educating me on an invisible world and lied awake many nights with cue cards of molecules, microbes and medicines rotating about in my mind.
It was during those sleepless nights when I began to notice my heart and to really contemplate what my heart was. What it looked like, how it beat, how it played a vital part in keeping me breathing and moving and thinking and living. When I was really stressed, tired, dehydrated and especially when I was hungry I noticed that my heart would flutter. It was a flutter that would, just for a fraction of a second, take my breath away.
It never worried me too much, but when I would go to the doctor and they would listen to my heart I would always ask, "It sounds okay?" or "You don't think it is beating too fast?". Once I was told I had a heart murmur, but for most young and healthy people, this does not mean much. A few years ago, the fluttering and beat-skipping of my heart had me so paranoid that I started to solicit the doctor to run some tests and figure out why my heart would periodically feel like it had decided to skip a beat or two. Nothing came of it, all of my tests were normal except for one, I had really low iron.
I took some iron supplements for awhile, but this metal has a constipating side effect. My focus on eating nutritiously may have been born out of an interest in getting iron from a meat-free diet. This is when I started to find ways to pack things like quinoa, tofu, lentils, chickpeas, spinach and potatoes into my diet. I read that using a cast iron skillet was also an efficient way to add iron to food. From there, I started to think about all of the different so-called super foods and started to investigate ways of getting as many of them as I could into my body.
As I grow older, and as I continue to push myself through the challenging world of science and research, I am always thinking about my heart and my brain. I want to keep them young and healthy and well fueled. So my food choices, the fact that I eat a lot of vegetables and whole grains, are motivated by my desire to nurture the parts of me that keep me alive.
When my heart skips a beat it reminds me that I should drink water, eat something with iron in it and get some rest. At about noon everyday, when I am zipping through my to do list at work and all of the sudden my brain starts to feel foggy and my eyes start to cross it reminds me that my brain needs fuel, a boost, before I will make it through the rest of the day.
This quinoa is the perfect lunch, brain and heart food to make you feel like you can tackle the second half of a long day. I like to keep my lunches light, otherwise I suffer from a serious three o'clock energy crash. Although a salad is not super-filling I find it energizing in a way that a heavy meal just is not. Refreshing, invigorating and delectable, just the way me and my heart like it.
Roasted potato, mushroom and green bean quinoa with tarragon, dijon and lemon dressing
1 potato, peeled and chopped into 1 cm cubes
1 cup chopped fresh green beans (2 inch pieces)
12 mushrooms, cut in quarters
2 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
Extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup fresh tarragon leaves
3/4 cup dried quinoa
2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tbsp dijon mustard
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp chopped fresh tarragon
1 tsp honey (maple or agave syrup for vegans)
1. Preheat oven to 375F.
2. Heat water to boil on stove, add chopped potato and boil potato about 4 minutes.
3. Drain potatoes and allow to cool.
4. In a bowl, toss green beans, mushrooms and potatoes with crushed garlic, sea salt, olive oil and tarragon.
5. Roast vegetables for 20 minutes, tossing once halfway through cooking.
6. Meanwhile, cook quinoa in a pot of boiling water for 10 minutes. Drain quinoa and set aside.
7. Make dressing by whisking together the listed dressing ingredients or shaking them together in a tightly sealed jar.
8. In a bowl, toss the quinoa and roasted vegetables together with the tarragon dressing.
9. Serve quinoa and vegetables warm.