Saturday, February 26, 2011

Slow Cooker Success

This week I made a fabulous stew in my crock pot, White Bean and Sweet Potato Stew with Collard Greens.  I used a recipe from the book Fresh from the Vegetarian Slow Cooker.  I have not made many recipes from this book but so far they have all been good.  The recipes usually have you cook a few things on the stove before adding them to the pot so the flavor is more developed than some crock pot meals.  This recipe called for sauteing onions and garlic before putting them in the crock pot.   I can't repeat the recipe as I did it exactly from the book, but it involved putting the sauteed onion and garlic in the pot, then adding in a pound of chopped sweet potatoes, a chopped jalapeno, two cans of white beans, a can of diced tomatoes, cumin, salt and pepper, bay leaf and veggie stock.  You cook on low for 6 hours. Toward the end you clean and cut up a bunch of collard greens and cook them in boiling water, and then when tender you drain them and add to the stew.  It was quite easy and very delicious.  It was a a bit sweet with a little kick from the pepper.  I would highly recommend it.  It is so nice to walk into the house to the yummy smell of dinner already cooked!
Tip:  When I steam veggies, or cook greens in water, I save the water left in the pan, adding it to a container in my freezer. When I need veggie stock for a recipe I thaw the container and instant veggie broth!  

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Broccoli soup

Yesterday I tried out a new recipe from Eating Well magazine, making good use of the three big crowns of broccoli I bought earlier in the week. I have made broccoli soup many times before, but always using frozen broccoli. This recipe was super easy, and used fresh broccoli.  It was delicious.

Broccoli Soup
Adapted from Eating Well 

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 stalks of celery, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tsp oregano
8 cups chopped broccoli
4 cups of vegetable broth
2 cups of water
1 cup of milk (I used 1%, can use non-dairy of your choice)
1 tsp salt and a good grinding of pepper

Heat the oil in a large soup pot.  Add the onion, celery and garlic and saute until softened, about 10 minutes on medium heat.  Add the oregano and stir until fragrant.  Add the broccoli, the broth and the water.  Cover and cook for 20 to 30 minutes, until the broccoli is very tender.  Turn off the heat.  Using an immersion blender, puree until smooth.  Return to low heat, add the milk and salt and pepper.   You're ready to eat!

I think this would be delicious made with curry powder and coconut milk, instead of the oregano and milk.  I also think you could use any vegetable.  I can envision zucchini or a combination of zucchini and yellow squash.  Or cauliflower, or carrots with ginger. It is a great technique that you can modify to your taste and to the season.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Whole Foods grocery store

I love to grocery shop.  I love the produce, fresh and crispy, piled high, the stacks of freshly baked bread, the bins of bulk foods, just waiting to be scooped.  I stopped by my local Whole Foods this week on my way home from meeting with a client.  I was inspired by our discussion about simple home cooking and all the benefits you gain from the practice.  I came home with a big tub of organic spinach, two big soft avocados, some French green beans, a bunch of collard greens, a big red pepper, and three huge crowns of broccoli.  Here's my loot: 

Unfortunately, despite all my good intentions I also came home with this: 

Containers of raw broccoli salad, maple glazed carrots, beets, tofu summer rolls, and chili tofu.  My dinner looked like this: 

It was delicious and healthy, but not the great veggies I bought.  Does anyone else do this?  You have a fridge or pantry full of food, yet you buy prepared items?  I am working on getting better - it mostly happens when I am at the store late after work and can't imagine cooking when I get home. Now the challenge is to use everything I bought before it spoils! 

Friday, February 18, 2011

Warm and toasty

My guest bedroom faces south and fills with sunlight in the morning and afternoon.  I have noticed that my kitties camp out there for the day, sprawling in the patches of sunlight on the floor.  They get all warm and cozy and snooze for hours!  It's like the ultimate comfort. Oh to be a cat!

There are times when we all need some comfort - to have our own spot in the sun to cuddle into. I find that I love my big bathtub.  Nothing like sinking down into hot water filled with fragrant bubbles, sometimes with a good book, sometimes just with my thoughts.  Other times a nap on my bed with the lovely coverlet I bought in Paris and stuffed into my suitcase along with my copper pot!  

Oftentimes people find comfort in food.  Although food can definitely take us back to the love we had in childhood, using food as a primary means of comfort or to cope with struggles in life often leads to issues with weight.  Food as comfort or food as reward absolutely contribute to the weight problems we find so rampant today.   Learning how to comfort ourselves without macaroni and cheese or a pint of Ben and Jerry's is a healthy skill we all can use.  Identifying when we are using food for something other than hunger is definitely hard and takes significant self-awareness.  Knowing that tendency and being able to direct yourself to the bathtub, or the garden, or whatever your comfort spot is can be one of the first steps in getting to a happy weight.

How do you find comfort or solace?  What is your spot in the sun?

Monday, February 14, 2011

fruit fast

This past weekend I did a three day fruit fast.  I must admit it was a very long weekend!  Why, you ask, would anyone ever want to just eat fruit for three days? 

I have been participating in a 40 day program at my yoga studio.  My studio is a  Baptiste power vinyasa studio which means that twice a year they conduct his "40 Days to a Personal Revolution" program.  It is a 40 day (can I say 40 days again?!) program in which you commit to practice yoga 6 days a week, meditate twice a day, do readings and answer excavating questions from his book, and meet with the group once a week.  There is also a food component where you keep a food diary, become aware of your food and your cravings, begin to eat a whole foods diet, and ultimately have the 3 day fruit fast.  This is my second time to do the program and third time to do the fruit fast.

Baron Baptiste states in his book that a fruit fast is a way for the body to completely empty out and clean itself.  It allows the metabolic organs to rest and recover.  He says he used to do a no-food fast but feels that a fruit fast is a better way, rather than eating nothing.  I was quite apprehensive the first time I did it, but it really isn't that bad.   You can eat all fruits, including tomatoes and avocado, and that avocado is a savior! I also decided that lettuce would be allowed even though it is not a fruit!    The fruit fast is much easier if you already have stopped caffeine and sugar. People in the group who are coming off of coffee have the hardest time. I have been eating very clean already so I had no trouble with that part.  I just felt hungry and wanted to eat something with some texture and something that wasn't sweet.  To eat something other than a pear or an orange,  I would make a little wrap by taking lettuce, putting a couple of slices of avocado in it and sprinkle on a few dried cranberries.  Or I would make a salad with lettuce, avocado cubes, craisins, and some lemon juice.  That really feels like a meal, although I did miss the olive oil dressing.
Yesterday afternoon I almost gave in.  I was craving some scrambled eggs! It was 3 pm, I was hungry, feeling very tired and irritable. I did a quick tally of my calories for the day and found the problem!  560 calories, and I had run-walked three miles that morning. Just not enough! I don't usually count calories because it is easy to get fixated on a number and for me, it gets to be unhealthy.  I ate my lettuce wraps and a banana and felt better, mostly just determined not to give up at the very end of the third day. 

I must say today I loved my granola, and had an egg salad sandwich for lunch that was delicious.  Food tastes so good when you haven't been eating very much.  I also feel really light and clean on the inside, if that makes sense.

Have any of you done a fast?  I know lots of people do the Master Cleanse, with the lemon juice-maple syrup-cayenne pepper drink.... Anyone prefer that or some other cleanse?  I would love to hear what other people have done!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Mochi: yet another breakfast option!

I am definitely a creature of habit. I will eat the same thing for breakfast for months on end.  I love breakfast and breakfast food and wake up hungry, looking forward to eating every single day.  So I get on a roll and go with it.  I think for probably a year I ate a fried egg on a whole wheat English muffin with a piece of soy sausage. It was delicious but I finally tired of it.  I have realized over the last year that it really is not in your best nutritional interest to eat the same things over and over.  A varied diet is what allows us to get all the nutrients, phytochemicals, vitamins, minerals, etc that we need in our diet.  As they say, you should eat the rainbow to get everything your body needs.

So I have been varying my diet to get a more wide range of nutrients.  That said, I am not a fan of vegetables for breakfast.  I just don't like that sort of savory food first thing in the morning, so I work on getting veggies in my diet the rest of the day, and just getting some comforting, filling food in me in the morning.

I read on Eating Bird Food about a snack they had on a beach vacation, mochi. I was intrigued and sought it out at my local Whole Foods.  I decided to try it for breakfast.

Mochi is a Japanese food made from whole grain brown rice.  It is an all-natural food with no added preservatives or additives.  It comes in a big block in the refrigerated section of the store.  You cut it into small about 1 inch pieces and cook for 450 for about 10 minutes. They puff up and get golden brown, crunchy on the outside and chewy on the inside.  I have tried the raisin-cinnamon, original, and cashew-date.  All were equally delicious.  The nutrition content is not protein (4 grams in my serving) but only 2 grams of fat and 240 calories.  You can find the nutrition info and the ingredients on the grainaissance website.  It says a serving is 1/8 of a package but I eat 1/4 of a package. You can see that the ingredients are simple and healthy:

Raisin-Cinnamon: Organic sweet brown rice, filtered water, raisins, cinnamon, sea salt.

So I think it is probably as good as a whole grain bread, but is a nice alternative to wheat and is gluten free.  I can only imagine that the pizza flavor would be a nice snack, and chocolate would be delicious!

Unfortunately, my boyfriend told me it looked like dog poop on a plate!   I disagree and find it to be a fabulous breakfast when you open up each little puff and fill it with some peanut butter or almond butter.

Has anyone else tried mochi?  What do you think of it?

And this picture has nothing to do with breakfast but is added just for pure cuteness.  Who wouldn't love this cute face?!

Friday, February 11, 2011


This week I decided to try a new-for-me vegetarian source of protein, seitan.  You may see it called "wheat meat." It is a traditional food in the Japanese diet and has been eaten by Buddhists for hundreds of years.  As I mentioned in a previous post, I have been eating primarily vegan  as I am trying to lose a little weight and optimize my health.  I have had a few eggs and a tiny bit of milk but I am looking for good sources of vegetarian protein. So I thought I would try seitan.  I picked up a package of White Wave, Chicken Style Seitan at my local Whole Foods.  Chicken Style should have been a big clue!  It has good nutrition stats:  for one serving (three servings in a package) - 110 calories, 2 grams of fat (no saturated or trans fat),  2 grams of fiber and 20 grams of protein! It has a little bit of iron and calcium but not much else in terms of nutrients. It does have a fair amount of sodium (770 mgs) or 32% of the RDA.  I perused all my cookbooks and finally decided on Irish Stew with Potatoes and Seitan from this new cookbook: 

This is a wonderful cookbook, filled with recipes that sound delicious but are vegan and lower in fat.  This is the first thing I have tried out of about 30 recipes that I have flagged.  I can't reprint her recipe since I made it exactly to her directions.  Basically it is potatoes, carrots, onions and green beans, cooked in a beer and broth mixture and then browned seitan is mixed in at the end. I only used about 1/2 of the seitan called for because I only bought one package and I needed two. Oh well.  I made the full recipe with 1/2 the called for seitan.   The beer makes it absolutely delicious (I used a Stella Artois).  There is also some lemon juice mixed in at the end which adds a nice brightness to what might be kind of bland.  The flavor overall was great - kind of a fresh comfort food.

Unfortunately for me, the texture of the seitan is exactly that of chicken.  Well no kidding, I bought "chicken-style" -  what was I thinking?  I could not get over how much it was like chewing on chicken meat, not a great thing for someone who hasn't eaten meat in 9 years!  Despite that problem I liked the dish and actually ate all 4 servings, once for dinner and then three lunches this week.  I would definitely recommend this to anyone wanting a comforting, filling and tasty stew.  I will certainly try seitan again, but next time probably not the chicken style! This is the only contact I want with  chickens or anything chicken-like! 

Has anyone else eaten seitan?  What do you all think?

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Hot cereal for cold morning

Today I woke up and again it was 30 degrees!  I went to a yoga class at my favorite yoga studio.  It was nice and cozy since the room is heated to about 90 degrees.  A great workout and a wonderful way to start the weekend!   Unfortunately when I leave the class wet with sweat I get chilled walking back to the car. When I got home I decided to make a hot cereal, not something that I usually eat.  It is good for your body to eat in sync with the season - warming things in cold weather and cooling things in the summer.  So here is my version of a warming breakfast.

Apple Cinnamon Hot Cereal   (Serves 2 or 3 hungry people)
2 cups almond milk, unsweetened, vanilla
1/2 apple, chopped
1 Tbsp cinnamon (I like a lot but it makes the cereal brown. You can use less)
splash of vanilla extract
pinch of salt
2 Tbsp pure maple syrup
1/3 cup Bob's Red Mill 8 grain hot cereal
1/2 cup thick cut rolled oats
2 Tbsp flax meal
1 Tbsp chia seeds

Start by chopping the apple.

Heat the almond milk with the apple, vanilla, cinnamon and salt.  Bring to almost a boil and then reduce the heat to low and cook about 5 minutes until the apples are almost tender.

Stir in the maple syrup and the grains, flax meal and chia seeds.
Continue to cook over low heat, covered, until thick and grains are tender, about 10 minutes.  Stir midway through.

Serve topped with nuts of your choice (I used pecans) and a drizzling of extra maple syrup.

I must report that although this tasted delicious, it did not keep me full. I was hungry in a couple of hours, which is exactly why I don't eat hot cereal often!

How about you, is a hot oatmeal or cereal right to start your day?  Or does it leave your stomach growling in two hours like me?

Friday, February 4, 2011

Ice and quiet solitude

I love a lot of ice in all my cold drinks.  Love the sound of ice cubes tinkling in a glass.  Love a drink full of crushed ice that you can sip through a straw.  Love that kind of "hotel"  ice with the hole in the middle that you can stick on the end of your tongue.   Don't like an inch+ of ice on the roads and coating all my plants in the garden!  Yes, we woke up to temperatures in the 20's and lots of ice everywhere.  In Houston!  Imagine!  I heard on the news tonight that there were more than 900 accidents today, two of which had fatalities.   I got off easy in that I got to work with only a minimal amount of trouble, the worst of which was a small slip getting down my back steps.

Unfortunately today I was supposed to travel to Miami Beach for a conference with the Institute of Integrative Nutrition (IIN).  I should be looking at something like this:
Instead I am home, wondering what to do with the weekend.  My flight was canceled yesterday before we even had a flake of snow or the tiniest piece of ice.  I could not get re-booked in time for the conference so I opted to stay home.

Tom is away at a school in UT until April so the weekend looms ahead with nothing much to fill it up. I am trying to think of the unexpected time at home as a gift.  I know there are many people who have children who have to do the soccer games-birthday party-play date routine and would long for two days of nothing.  I struggle with not having "plans."  Being single (with the boyfriend away) means unless I make a conscious effort to meet up with someone, I am left alone.  I have had many weekends where I had an unplanned silent retreat, not speaking a word all weekend unless I spoke to the clerk at the grocery store or called my mom.  A single friend once told me that the only thing he said out loud all weekend was "tall Americano please."  I know the feeling.  That is often the single life.

What is it that can turn time alone into a good thing, rather than a lonely 48 hours?  I have yet to figure that out, except I know it all has to do with attitude and perspective.  I think to truly take care of oneself and to live a full life you should be really comfortable being alone.  To have a silent retreat, not lost in mindless TV but a time for introspection.  A time to clean out not only a closet but the crevices in your mind, where you can harbor resentment, sadness, anger...any number of unexpressed emotions.  While you cook a soothing meal, work on a needlepoint or other craft project, slowly iron a stack of clothes, you can evaluate, speculate, plan....In this hectic society where we rush to work, wait an hour for a table at a popular restaurant, drive through parking lots looking for a place to leave your car so you can finish errands or buy more things, and get bombarded with advertisements everywhere you look (even on the back of the door in a bathroom stall!), it is easy to miss out on just being.  When are we supposed to find the time to just sit still and listen?  The Buddha says "All that we are is the result of what we have thought."   Yet many of us never take time to quiet the racing mind.  It jumps from one thing to the next, a constant rushing stream of shoulds, and have-to's and lists of things to do, people to call, bills to pay.  Is that who we are?

Alexandra Stoddard writes in her book Gracious Living in a New World: "When we slow down we have a chance to enjoy the experience of living rather than trying to race the clock. We need to take off our watches periodically and spend a day, or even a part of a day, with absolutely nothing to do on our agenda.  Only then can we truly follow our spirit and be spontaneous....We have a horror of having nothing to do, so we eagerly take up doing more only to discover that we're too rushed to enjoy doing anything.  In this frenzy we may often have a sense that life is passing us by and we will never get what we are looking for. In our hearts I think we know that by rushing and overproducing we are running away from any real hope of happiness.  The truth is that nowhere in our lives in there a richer potential for gracious living that in the present moment."

So this weekend I will try to bask in the solitude.  I hope that you all find the same quiet stillness.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Healthy Stir Fry

Last Sunday I spent most of the day at home, working on school work or just nesting around the house.  I was starved for lunch and decided to make a filling meal, something that would get me through my 6:45 pm yoga class.  I had already defrosted some fabulous Sczechuan sauce that I had put in the freezer some months ago, as well as some random pieces of tempeh that I had left over from making a vegan meatloaf.  I am trying to eat all the odds and ends that I can't bear to throw out, but that pile up in the freezer.  I had a veggie bin full of produce so I decided all combined it would make a good stir fry.

There's not really a "recipe" for this, so I 'll just walk you through what I did.  This is a great way to cook.  Use what you have, and end up with a healthy and delicious meal.  No plowing through cookbooks and special trips to the grocery store!

Start by chopping the veggies that you have.  I had onion, carrots, cabbage, baby bok choy and broccoli.

Heat a big wok or skillet over high heat.  I use a really big cast iron wok. Cast iron is great because it is naturally non-stick and does leach chemicals into your food the way non-stick pans do.  In fact it is a source of iron as iron does come out into the food, especially if the food is acidic.  Here is a great article on cast iron cookware.

Add a spoon of coconut oil to the hot wok.  I love coconut oil which does not break down when heated, is a good source of medium chain fatty acids, and is a natural antioxidant, used in some cultures as a medicinal product.  Depending on the brand it can be very "coconutty."  Experiment to find the one you like best, but try to chose an unrefined, organic version if you can.

Add the veggies in order of length of time required to cook them.  Stir continually.  I added the onions and cooked a few minutes, then the carrots, cooking for about 5 - 8 minutes, then added the cabbage and broccoli and cooked for about 3 minutes, then the bok choy, cooking for another few minutes.  Basically cook to your desired level of softness.  I am not a fan of almost raw, so I cooked mine until they were tender.

 Add the chopped tempeh.  You could certainly use any sort of left over protein that you have.  I think shrimp would be good but you could use chicken or pork loin, whatever you like and have on hand.  You certainly could skip protein altogether.  Cook for a couple of minutes.
Add a handful of chopped cashews. Keep on stirring.

Add  a couple of spoonfuls of the sczechuan sauce.  I had sauce leftover from these Ina Garten noodles which are really good,  but the recipe makes a ton. I made a 1/2 recipe of the noodles a few months ago but made the whole recipe of the sauce.  It has a ton of ingredients so it is worth doing once and saving what you don't need. It froze beautifully.  It was really thick when I thawed it so I thinned it a bit with a little water.  You can use any other sauce of your choosing.  There are a number of prepared sauces you can buy.  Just read the label and get the one with the least amount of sugar and unpronounceable ingredients.  You could also add just some soy sauce, a squirt of sriracha, a spoon of sesame oil, maybe a splash of rice wine vinegar.  Whatever sort of Asian stuff you have in the pantry!
Keep stirring and cooking until it is all mixed up.
I served this on a half of baked sweet potato but you could eat it over rice or over nothing...just in a big bowl.  It was delicious, kept me full for hours, and was packed with nutrients.  I actually only ate a piece of fruit after yoga at 8:30 and I was satisfied!  This made a ton so I ate a huge plateful, and have had it for lunch several more times this week. Unfortunately I put one servings' worth in the freezer, so I didn't make much progress on the freezer clearing project! :)