Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Rice, Mung Beans, and Rice noodles with Turmeric, Fennel and Roasted Garlic

I was somewhat hungry this evening, but haven't gone shopping in a while, and therefore the fridge was disturbingly empty. Nevertheless, I managed to dig some leftover uncooked grains and beans from the cupboard, and with the help of a few spices, made something that might count as a decent dinner.

I think this would be much better if vegetables were added to the cooking water (carrots and celery come to mind).

1/2 cup brown rice
1/2 cup mung beans
1 cup boiling water
1 handful brown rice noodles (of the vermicelli ilk, broken into 2-inch pieces)
5 cloves garlic
1 heaping tbsp turmeric
1/2 tbsp fennel seeds
1/2 tbsp black pepper
(optional and probably recommended): chopped carrots and celery

Wrap garlic cloves in aluminum paper, and roast in oven for about 30 minutes.
While garlic is roasting, place rice and beans in pan with boiling water. Bring to a second boil, then add turmeric, fennel and black pepper. Lower fire to a medium and close lid.
After about ten minutes, add noodles. Mix well and close lid again.
After another five minutes, add peeled roasted garlic cloves; mash them a bit with a wooden spoon, either before adding or in the pot.
Continue to cook until rice and beans are tender.

Friday, March 21, 2008

A Very Short Post About Breakfast

One Asian pear.
One persimmon.
Two tablespoons of strawberry-mango quinoa granola.
Juice from one blood orange.
'Nuff said.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Spring Greens Stir Fry

I know I've posted numerous stir-fry recipes here and quite a few recipes for greens. But this particular combination was such a success that I really wanted to share it.

One of the advantages of shopping at the farmers' market is that there's always kind people to tell you what to do with the wonderful vegetables you buy. In Tel Aviv, the Chubeza farm used to email us a lovely newsletter with recipes. Here in Noe, I simply start a conversation, just like I did yesterday at the market, when I saw a bundle of greens that seemed familiar. They were curly and springy and happy. "What are these?" I asked the farmer.

"Oh", he said, "these are pea shoots".

"And what do you do with them?" I asked, perplexed.

"Stir fry", he said. "They're very yummy".

They were also a dollar a bunch. I bought the happy curly green shoots and made up the following recipe:

7-8 long pea shoots
10 leaves of rainbow chard
1 tbsp combination of soy oil and sesame oil (some stores sell them mixed in a bottle; if not, mix your own. Here's some info on how they interact when used for cooking)
4 garlic cloves
5-6 sundried tomatoes
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
a drizzle of soy sauce (optional)

It's kind of self-explanatory, but nevertheless: warm the mix of soy and sesame oil, slice garlic thinly and sautee. When aroma is released, chop up rainbow chard, pea shoots and sundried tomatoes and add them to the mix. After a couple of minutes, add pepper and/or soy sauce. Simmer for about five minutes total, until the tender greens begin to wilt (the volume will decrease significantly). Eat over brown rice or any other grain, or, in my case, be so excited about the veg and eat them before your grains are done!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Juice Fast Adventures

(image from Juicey Lucy's website)

I figured that some of you might want to hear a bit about the experience of doing a juice fast; the concept of not eating solid food for ten days may seem quite daunting for some folks. In fact, it is not a challenging or difficult thing to do if one is willing and able to pay for the logistics, and has amazing benefits.

The decision to go on the juice fast was rather spontaneous, though I'd been toying with it for a while. A dear friend had visited me from abroad, and, as a good San Francisco host, I ended up schlepping him with me to various fantastic restaurants and overindulging in food. I felt somewhat heavy and congested and had eaten a few things that didn't exactly agree with me; and so, when I met Lisa from Juicey Lucy's on Saturday morning at the farmers market, I told her I wanted to go on a juice fast for three days. She happily agreed, and the crew made me a set of five juices to go, packed in cute mason jars with handles.

Some experts in Traditional Chinese Medicine recommend going on a cleanse or a fast twice a year, most importantly in the spring. As Elson Haas explains in his Staying Healthy with the Seasons, the spring is associated with the liver and is a particular beneficial time for renewing the digestive system.

Five 16 oz. juices is more than enough food for one day, as I found out; I wasn't hungry at all, and the flavors were fresh and delicious. Each of the juices was different. Some of them were more earthy than others, heavy with beets and carrots; some of them had more liver cleansing properties and contained celery and cabbage. Lisa kindly put some apple in each of them, making them more palatable. The order of drinking them was quite intuitive, except that every morning started with 2 oz. of wheat grass juice, followed by an alkaline green juice with flax seeds.

After three days of cleanse I felt that I could go on for longer, and eventually did the fast for the full ten days. On busy working days, Paul delivered the juices to me in the morning in a cute ice box and I took them with me; nothing quite like going to a luncheon at work, having everyone around me eating sandwiches and fries, and feeling quite content sipping a reddish drink from a big mason jar!

In addition to the juices, I indulged in tea made of fresh mint, and, on occasion, in a clear broth I made with the remaining organic vegetables in the fridge. I recorded some of my adventures and feelings.

For the first three days I felt absolutely normal. I didn't feel pangs of hunger. Those days, on a weekend, helped me relax and go into myself; I was quite content sitting in the garden and knitting.

On Day Four I felt well, save for about half an hour of extreme exhaustion in the morning, that went away as suddenly as it came on. I was thinking about some vivid, colorful dreams I had, and really wanted to go back to sleep. Other than that, I could notice that my hair had gotten shinier and my skin was glowing. Swimming that day was big fun.

On Day Five I had a bit of a runny nose, but none of the splitting headaches juice fasters often report having. I was also a tad constipated; after discussing it with Lisa, she mixed up some psyllium seeds in my morning alkaline juice. That really did the trick.

On Day Six, had another half-hour exhaustion pit in the middle of the day while swimming in the pool. Fifteen minutes of rest and I was like new. I also realized I had lost some weight. And still, I wasn't hungry at all. Some of my juices contained things like nettles and dandelion greens, but there was always one the was tasty and sweet, which Lisa lovingly called "dessert". I noticed that my tongue had been coated in yellow, which is a typical reaction during a cleanse.

On Day Seven I noticed a few things. The exhaustion moments went away, and my swimming workouts were a joy. I even felt propelled to learn new things, and a lovely lady at the pool taught me how to do flip turns. In the evening I felt a tad hungry, but after having had some mint tea the hunger went away. I was very attentive to noise, too, and felt very calm listening to music and to the sound of the wind outside.

On Day Eight, a dear friend invited me to come to a jazz show at Yoshi's, which has a lovely sushi restaurant. Upon consulting with my juice people, I decided to eat miso soup and, possibly, a green salad. I got the salad first, ate something like three leaves and a few sprouts, then gave the rest to my friend (who enjoyed every bite). Just didn't feel the need to eat solid food at all. Then, the miso soup arrived - I drank the soup, which was delicious, and ignored the toppings (didn't feel like eating them somehow).

I also noticed a few other things:
1. My sense of smell had become very sharp. I could smell a cigarette from blocks away, and could identify which restaurants are on the other side of the street without even crossing it. Body odors in Muni were separately identifiable (not always a good thing!).
2. A white spot on one of my fingernails had disappeared.
3. My skin became incredibly soft and glowing. I did have breakouts once in a while, but they were very small and went away quickly.
4. While at Yoshi's, I realized that I didn't really enjoy alcohol very much. Of course, I didn't drink any (juice fast), but I probably wouldn't want to drink any even if I were eating. I realized I much prefer tea, and became determined not to drink things that didn't agree with me, even if social situations created a bit of a pressure to do so.
5. Bowel movements (sorry, guys, but want to be sincere and let you know everything that's happening): none of the dramatic, bulky, strange-looking detox stuff that people report on. Apart from slight constipation in day 3, which was promptly resolved the next day with some psyllium seeds, I felt absolutely fine.

On Day Nine I realized that, when I sang, I felt the sound vibrating in my entire chest. It positively tingled with the singing. I was happy and alert, and had some conclusions to ponder on during Day Ten.

First of all, I realized that I eat way, way too much. I don't need as much food as I eat. I should remember that, if I eat a big meal, the other meals of the day should mostly be fruit and veg.

Second, as mentioned, if I don't feel like drinking alcohol, I shouldn't drink it. There are tons of social situations in which I can have a cup of tea or juice while others have a beer. An occasional cocktail won't kill me, but it isn't much of a pleasure.

Third, I should remember to have whole grains (rice/quinoa/buckwheat) every day. It's really important.

Fourth, I should eat both raw and cooked veg every day. Raw is important, but winter is cold and I'm not a very large person. Cooked roots will do me good.

When Day Ten was over I had to give some thought to going back to eat again... I decided to combine a few solid foods with some juices, to make the transition easier. It wasn't easy to go back to solid food, as my stomach had shrunk, and the half-pomelo I ate in the morning was quite enough to deal with for almost the rest of the day. I did have some wheatgrass juice and an alkaline juice in the morning, and a smallish bowl of vegetable soup in the afternoon. Some carrot juice and a few spoonfuls of guacamole, with lots of herbal tea, did the trick.

A few more days of a similar diet - juice in the morning and the afternoon, a smallish soup or salad later - were quite good for me, and that's how I made the transition to eating again.

Many of the benefits have stayed with me; I've been able to keep the weight off, but more importantly, my senses are still sharp and I still feel terrific. I really recommend this. When done properly, with folks who look after you, are attentive to your needs, and make you delicious concoctions with fresh, organic vegetables, it is not a cheap pleasure, but if you can afford it, it is highly recommended.

One of the challenges is continuing to consume green superfoods. Alas, there is no easy wheatgrass juice source next to my house; so, I have a green food powder mixed with some organic apple juice for breakfast. Whenever I feel like having a juice with a meal, I have to settle on carrot, usually, because fancy organic juices aren't easily available daily near home or work. But every Saturday I bring my mason jar with me to the farmers' market, and let Lisa and her crew treat me to some lovely juice and one of their delicious tempeh burritos.

This is probably more than you wanted to hear about the juice fast; the bottom line is that it is a wonderful experience, not as hard or dramatic as it would seem (possibly because I was eating quite healthfully to begin with), and highly recommended. Thank you, Lisa, and everyone; and best of luck to those of you who would like to give it a try!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Book Review: Becoming Vegan

My fabulous feeling after the juice fast has propelled me to read more about reducing the amount of eggs, fish and dairy that I eat. I came across Becoming Vegan, hoping it wouldn't just be a diatribe about how moral it is not to eat animals; and it didn't disappoint me.

In Becoming Vegan, Brenda Davis and Vesanto Melina attempt - and succeed - to give an intelligent, nutrition-savvy reader a concise collection of all the information he or she needs to plan a vegan diet. While their style may seem a bit dense for readers who know nothing about nutrition, it is refreshing to read a food book that does not dumb down, or simplify, matters for the readers. The book is loaded with recent scientific findings about nutrition, and does not gloss over the possible deficiencies of vegan diets as some others do.

The book assumes that its readers have chosen to explore veganism due to ethical considerations, and its opening chapter provides a short history of vegan movements and organizations. I'm sure this is helpful for many people who might otherwise feel completely alone in their food choices. It then proceeds to tackle the big nutritional questions of enough plant protein, healthy carb choices, fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals. In doing so, the book maintains a healthy balance between numerical tables of nutritional values and practical, down-to-earth advice. Calculating our protein needs is simplified by a formula, and various options are suggested for doing so.

The book goes beyond offering the information, and actually makes menu suggestions for people with different caloric needs, ranging between smaller, inactive folks (1,600 calories) to athletes (4,000 calories). It has a special chapter designed for athletes, which provides good advice on nutrition during training. It also has fabulous information for pregnant and lactating women, which does not gloss over the concern about nutritional deficiencies and emphasizes the importance of feeding babies properly. Other specialized chapters are those aimed at seniors (with lots of practical ideas for simple vegan meals) and at people who are overweight, underweight, or suffer from eating disorders. These are very thorough, and they maintain rigorous scientific objectivity; at no point do readers feel that they are being lectured to, but rather respectfully offered useful information.

One quibble I have has to do with the book's overreliance on prepared commercial "fake meats". I understand the book focuses on the transition to veganism, a stage at which it might be easier for folks to look for store-bought substitutes for stuff they are used to buying. I also understand why such folks might be turned off by the usual vegan/raw literature that might push them to sprout, soak and dehydrate stuff, all of which is fine and good, but isn't very practical on a daily basis. And, I also understand that, in some cases, commercial processing might make some nutrients more easily available, as in the case of calcium. Nevertheless, in recommending lunch "meats", for example, the book neglects to acknowledge that some of them contain lots of wheat gluten and might be problematic for folks suffering from celiac or other intolerances. Perhaps some attention can be given to "the next step" of veganism in the next editions. Another issue has to do with the advice on "vegan diplomacy" offered at the end of the book, which might work in some social situations but not in others.

These are, however, very minor quibbles for an otherwise excellent and helpful book. I think anyone transitioning to veganism, or just in the process of minimizing animal products, would enjoy this book and get lots of benefits from following its information and advice closely. In a publishing market full of hype, superficiality, and dumbing-down, it's great to be regarded by authors as a responsible adult who can read tables, make choices, and personalize information.

My Favorite Wrap

My favorite wrap, these days - one that does not require any sophisticated cooking and relies on store-bought stuff - consists of the following delicious combination:

Sprouted Corn Tortillas!


Any kind of stone-ground mustard!

Tons and tons of fresh salad greens from the market!

And -

Baked Tofu, thinly sliced!

A good substitute for a sandwich, this is something you could not only eat at home, but wrap and take with you. And, given how busy I am (and the lack of time to cook to my heart's content), it'll have to do for a while.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Back! And bearing a quinoa salad offering!

Hi, everyone!

After a long LONG absence, I'm back! A few folks emailed inquiring when I'd be posting again... I was extremely busy - what with moving to a new country, starting a new job, getting a new home together - and didn't do much cooking. Things are beginning to settle down, so I'll do my best to start cooking delicious, healthy food again.

These days, I'm hailing from the beautiful city of San Francisco, where I shop for my vegetables in several wonderful places: the Valencia Farmers Market, a little grocery shop full of healthy wonders and devoid of pretension; the Noe Valley Farmers Market, close to my house, where every Saturday is like a block party of meeting neighbors, listening to local musicians, and seeing new and exciting vegetables; and the Civic Center Farmers Market, which happens every Wednesday close to work.

The beauty of shopping in farmers market need hardly be explained to those who have incorporated the experience into their daily routine. Somehow, the vegetables feel so much more alive when they are out in the open, sold by the people who lovingly grow them, and generate fun conversation and recipe exchanges among neighbors. There are always people selling ready-made healthy foods; in Civic Center, I can always get interesting salads and fun vegan, wheatless "lasagnas" from the young and enthusiastic crew of Alive!, and on Saturdays I enjoy fresh juices and fantastic tempeh burritos from Lisa, Paul and their crew of helpers from Juicey Lucy. Lisa is a fabulous person, and I recently got to know her and some of her family and friends while going on a ten-day juice fast.

The juice fast was a fabulous experience; I feel wonderful, and am as committed as I ever was to eating healthy and organic. It was almost difficult to go back to eating again; but, fortunately, this city really lures one into eating wonderful foods, so the difficulty was short-lived.

My schedule these days makes it difficult to cook much at home, but I do make fun stuff sometimes. Watch this space for reports about delicious wraps and date-nut rolls with raisins and coconut, and today, here's a quick recipe for a quinoa salad, which reminds me a little of tabouleh.

1/2 cup quinoa (white or brown, or mixed)
6 fresh celery stalks
1/2 cup fresh parsley
juice from 1/2 lemon

Cook quinoa in 1.5 cups water until ready; leave in pot to cool a bit. Chop celery and parsley into tiny bits. Mix with quinoa and lemon.