Archive | July, 2013

Holy Wow!

29 Jul

…that’s the only name I can come up with for the smoothie I just made. The nectarines I bought at the farmers market Saturday were on their way out already, so I juiced ’em, and then blended the juice in the Vitamix with some frozen papaya and pineapple. And there you have it. Holy. Wow.

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It’s so easy…

28 Jul

One of my intentions in starting this blog was is to emphasize that the barriers to a healthier diet are only in our minds. I have found this true time, and time again. Believe me when I say that I am no four star chef, but once I equipped my kitchen, fridge and pantry with a few simple tools and ingredients, it became effortless to eat well.

This morning I did most of this week’s produce shopping at my town’s local farmers market which was abundantly stocked with a wide variety of fruits, vegetables and herbs. I’m sure I spent more money than I would have at the supermarket, but everything I bought was fresh, organic and at peak nutritional value.

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When I got home I used the greens I’d bought to make a simple salad. My taste for bottled dressings has really diminished, but I find its quite simple and quick to whip up a vinaigrette, or when I’m feeling slightly more motivated, something creamier like my fave, lemon tahini dressing. Another bonus to making my dressing is that i can supplement it with a smidgen of wheatgrass powder or spirulina, or any other superfood supplement of my choosing.

While my salad and vinaigrette flavors were melding, I blended up a variation on the strawberry-cucumber smoothie in Julie Morris’ book Superfood Smoothies, which I highly recommend. Mine left out the mint (because I didn’t have any), used about half as many strawberries (because that was what I had) and substituted coconut water for water. Plus, I added my favorite smoothie addition, some avocado. Oh, and I left the skins on my cuke, mostly because I’d already chopped it when I realized the recipe said to peel it, but no matter. The result was pure delight — creamy, fresh-tasting, tangy and smooth and the perfect accompaniment to my salad.

All of this took about a half hour, cleanup was easy, and I was totally full and satisfied. Plus I have enough salad for a few more meals. So. Easy.

Aside 22 Jul

I really enjoyed reading this intereview with Jo Robinson, author of Eating on the Wild Side about phytonutrients — or polyphenols.  It contains some fascinating facts and myth-busters.

In her book, Robinson argues that today’s produce contains far fewer nutrients than the foods of our ancestors — funny, because just yesterday my sister and I were pondering the question of whether a visitor from the ancient past would recognize the vegetables and fruits we eat today either by sight or by taste!

But I digress.  Robinson’s practical advice describes how to navigate today’s grocery stores and farmer’s markets to find the most densely nutritious food.  For example, she advocates choosing leafy lettuces over head lettuces:  “When a lettuce variety forms a head, the leaves inside don’t have to produce phytonutrients to protect themselves from UV light.”  Makes sense, and better still, “if you go to these leafy ones—especially ones that contain some red color—some of them are equivalent to what you’d find foraging.”

She busts the myth that organic automatically means more nutritious, citing studies that suggest that the fertilizers used in conventional farming actually increase the phytonutrient content of some foods; and describes how quickly some of our most nutrient-rich vegetables — kale, broccoli, leaf lettuce and spinach, for example — lose much of their value through respiration by the time they get to the supermarket shelf.  Guess I better start get going on those kale chips while there’s still time!

Speaking of thyme (ahem), Robinson says it, along with oregano are two of the most nutritious herbs — and that parsley pesto is apparently even better for you than basil pesto!  (Extra bonus: it’s cheaper too!)

Finally, waiting 10 minutes after you chop your garlic before adding it to a recipe activates the chemical compound allicin, which is anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-cancer.  I’ve known this fact for years, yet conveniently “forget” when I’m actually in the kitchen.

Antidote for a hot day

19 Jul

photo(4)I made a refreshing (and freshly juiced!) apple and lemon smoothie the other day, and used what was left over to make ice pops.  Since then, whenever I make juice or a smoothie, I save a little and pour it into a mold or two.  Voila!  Instant childhood memory come to life.

Urban farming

16 Jul

Today I made a lovely pesto made from basil (and kale!) I purchased at an urban farm in my city-in-the-country.

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This farm stand is open 3 afternoons a week and also sells chard, string beans, onions, leeks, broccoli, squash, cukes, just to name a few, plus a number of herbs, all harvested in a former parking lot:

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While I appreciate the abundant selection of farmer’s markets here in the Hudson Valley, there’s something extra special about getting your veggies, almost from your own backyard. To learn more about urban farming and its contributions to sustainable living, here’s one place to start.

Smoothies (and avocados)!

15 Jul

Chocolate banana smoothieOne of my favorite ways to get lots of nutrients in a small package (or glass!) is by making smoothies.  Smoothies can be made from just about any fruit or vegetable, and can include all sorts of healthy additions, like wheatgrass powder, spirulina, hemp seeds, cacao powder…the list goes on.   It’s easy to sneak nutrient-rich green vegetables in like spinach and kale — but my favorite smoothie addition, by far, is the avocado.  When added to smoothies it makes them creamy and luscious without altering the taste.  Not to mention, it’s really healthy!

The avocado contains 20 essential nutrients, and boosts the absorption of two key carotenoid antioxidants – lycopene and beta-carotene.  And don’t fear the fat!  The fat in avocados is monounsaturated, which is good for you.  This amazing fruit is  cholesterol free, and cholesterol lowering, plus it regulates your metabolism which helps prevent weight gain. What more could you ask for?

Here’s a quick recipe for a chocolatey smoothie I just made myself today for lunch!

Chocolate Spinach and Avocado Smoothie:
1 frozen banana
1 cup hemp milk (or other non-dairy milk)
1 cup coconut water
1/2 cup frozen spinach
1/4 cup cacao powder
1 tbsp mesquite powder
1 tbsp coconut sugar
3 tbsps ripe avocado
1 cup ice

Mix in a blender (I prefer Vitamix) and enjoy!

The Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary

8 Jul

The Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary is located a short drive from me in Willow, NY. I attended their July Jamboree yesterday and met some pretty fetching fellows, like this guy:

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Lambs having lunch. Well, except this very patient one.

The sanctuary rescues and rehabilitates animals that are used for food, and allows them to live out their lives in a cradle of compassion and respect. This bull was rescued from a local veal operation when he was six months old, and about the size of a dog. Today he weighs 1800 pounds. I’m not sure but I think he was flirting with me.

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Dylan

The farm is also home to about a dozen goats. These animals are torn from their mothers as infants so that we can consume goat’s milk and about one million goats a year are killed for their meat in the United States alone.

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Resting goat.

One of the pivotal moments for me on my journey towards an animal product-free existence was footage from the movie Vegucated captured in a meat processing plant. It showed such extreme mistreatment of pigs on their way to slaughter that I spontaneously wept at the sight. It was therefore a true gift to observe the absolute serenity of these two gentle souls. Now that I’ve seen it, I’m not sure there’s anything cuter than a pig napping in a mud pool.

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Mud bath snooze

I just love the fact that each of the animals at WFAS gets a name — reminding visitors that they are individuals, sentient and worthy of lives of dignity. There are many ways to give back to WFAS for the wonderful work they do. All gift will be matched through the end of this month.

Happy 4th of July!

4 Jul

 

I’ve got some kale crisping in the oven, some raw, vegan brownie bites setting in the fridge and I’m heading out to buy some hamburger buns for the veggie burgers I’m bringing along with these other delicacies to a potluck BBQ.  We’ve been getting a ton of rain here on the East Coast lately so I”m grateful for sunny skies!

What’s an ORAC?

3 Jul
Orange Goji-Berry Smoothie

Orange Goji-Berry Smoothie

One of the most frustrating aspects of trying to eat “well” is sorting through the abundant and often competing information out there about what that means. The varied opinions and the speed at which these opinions change, is dizzying, and it seems like the loudest voice at any given time wins the public relations game.

Lately I’ve been reading a lot about ORAC scores, and what they might mean for me. ORAC (which stands for oxygen radical absorbance capacity) is a measurement of the antioxidants in the foods we eat. The narrative is this: we should eat foods that have a lot of antioxidants because antioxidants fight free radicals, which contribute to the effects of aging on living organisms.

However, both of those theories — that antioxidants in food fight free radicals in our bodies, and that free radicals contribute to aging — are controversial, and depending on which camp you fall into, that makes the ORAC score of your food either very important or entirely moot. The USDA, which once measured and published ORAC scores for a wide variety of foods, no longer considers ORAC scores, or the free-radical theory, as valid. Of course, the USDA is a government entity subjected to extensive lobbying by the food industry which would very much like us to keep buying their processed and modified foods, which unfortunately calls into the question the veracity of the USDA’s research. Dr. Andrew Weil, M.D., a prominent health and wellness expert, says “cumulative [free radical damage] probably* accounts for many of the degenerative changes of aging and for a lot of age-related disease” but advises a tempered approach to using ORAC to determine what goes on your plate.

The bottom line, for me, is that ORAC scores in and of themselves do not provide particularly useful information about the plant-based foods we eat or why they are or aren’t good for us, and that there may be more practical methods–possibly the ANDI score–of comparing some foods over others, if you feel the need to do so.

*emphasis mine

Almost Vegan

1 Jul

Quinoa SaladI am not a vegan, but i eat a mostly vegan diet. I like to say that I am 95% vegan, 98% vegetarian and 2% whatever I want. Becoming “more vegan” has been a gradual — very gradual — process. When I was in my 20s I was what I like to call a junk-food vegetarian. I didn’t eat meat, but I wasn’t very strict about it, and I ate very little in the way of plant-based foods. In fact, I think my diet consisted mostly of pasta, pizza and chocolate chip cookie dough. I also didn’t have a very clear idea about why I was a vegetarian. Health was only a weak motivator since I had little regard for my well-being. I had a vague understanding of the environmental impacts and societal consequences of industrialized farming, but I wouldn’t have been able to speak very clearly about it. In short, my motivations were a mystery, even to me.

After I moved to New York City in my late 20s I adopted a diet consisting largely of takeout food. I switched back to eating meat because I was sick and I didn’t know why and I hypothesized that perhaps I wasn’t getting enough protein from my junk-food diet. (In fact I was sick because I had an undiagnosed medical condition, but I’ll save that story for another post). My weight (and my self-esteem along with it) yo-yo’d. Periodically I would embrace a diet or lifestyle craze. Fit For Life helped me lose 30 pounds though I gained it back because I couldn’t maintain its strict combining rules. I tried Atkins, consuming mostly hamburgers and cottage cheese but it didn’t work for me. I would periodically get into juicing, then burn out, or get really into working out at the gym, then stop abruptly.

Eventually…and I’m really jumping ahead here, like 10 years ahead, I started to adopt a healthier way of life. I use the phrase “way of life” very intentionally, because I stopped dieting altogether and just began to embrace foods and styles of cooking I had shunned previously. Last summer (the summer of 2012) I decided I would experiment with going completely vegan from Memorial Day through Labor Day, and it was a revelation. I discovered exciting kitchen appliances like the Vitamix which I used to make non-dairy rice milk and salad dressings, in addition to a wide variety of green (and other-colored) smoothies. I found quinoa to be an excellent substitute for pasta and a wonderful companion to lentils and other beans and legumes. I learned it is possible to make cookies — delicious cookies — without using milk or eggs. And most importantly, I learned that a vegan diet is not in any way austere or ascetic, and that I could live this way without feeling even the slightest bit deprived. In fact, I felt more fulfilled than ever, and I lost 15 pounds effortlessly.

At the end of that summer my nephew got married and I used the opportunity to take a week off to travel to Virginia for the wedding and some vacation time. Of course, I rewarded myself for surviving my vegan summer by eating anything I wanted while I was away — and I got sick. Very sick. When I returned I went to a gastroenterologist convinced that I had stomach cancer. Several months later – after an endoscopy, a CAT scan and lots of blood work that provided no explanation for my deterioriating condition, it occurred to me that maybe I needed to go back to the vegan diet I’d embraced, and felt good on, over the summer. I did, and I began to feel better immediately. Bye-bye gastroenterologist.

Examples of times when I am not vegan include the following:

  • occasionally I indulge myself by putting cream in my coffee
  • if I am at a social gathering I do not inquire as to whether there is dairy in the birthday cake – I just eat it
  • sometimes when I’m at a Japanese restaurant I get fish sushi instead of vegetarian sushi
  • when I dine out on special occasions I give myself carte blanche to get whatever’s on the menu
  • Also, i can’t imagine a life completely devoid of pizza. Not yet, anyway. Progress, not perfection.

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