The Angry Chef has a Right to be Mad

imagesAs someone who reflexively rolls her eyes when she hears the word “detox” I can appreciate where The Angry Chef is coming from.  I’m one of those yogis who has, at times, felt guilty for eating pizza, virtuous for making her own kale chips, and silly for believing the health claims of dubious supplements.  I’ve watched my weight balloon to nearly 200 pounds on a diet of spaghetti, beans and Guinness and subsequently plummet to 118 when I chose a dangerously restrictive food path. Fifteen years ago, while too fat and again while too thin, I was vulnerable and open to the promise of any trendy, celebrity-promoted magic elixir. Even today, it doesn’t take much for me to fall under the spell of so-called “health gurus” like the pseudo-doctor Gillian McKeith mentioned in Anthony Warner’s (The Angry Chef) Guardian editorial.

Over the past few years, while dealing with the mental health issue I wrote about here, I gained serious poundage. I’m currently on the high end of a healthy weight and committed to maintaining my health while bringing my weight down and increasing my fitness. It’s a slow process – and it should be.

That’s why I appreciated Warner’s hard-edged message. And why I appreciate the reasoned sincerity of authors like Michael Pollan, Dan Barber and Ruth Reichl.

My foodie path leans far closer to vegan, but it’s their relationship to food and consequently to their bodies that I appreciate.

What Warner writes about coffee can be applied to every morsel we eat. Food is not ‘good’ or ‘bad’.  It just is. And our beautiful bodies need the calories that food provides in order to thrive. We can choose to be vegan and we can choose to be omnivores but aside from an individual’s ethical considerations of eating meat our choices are not ‘good’ or ‘bad’. They just are. If we choose too much or too little it will show.

We are not toxic. Our beautiful bodies have amazing systems for eliminating substances that don’t support our health and wellness. Gwyneth, take note. If we do our best to keep our skin, liver, kidneys, lungs and intestines functioning we’ll save $425 because we’ll have no need for this.

Keeping our bodies beautiful – and what I mean is keeping our bodies healthy, glowing, and physically fit – requires that we eat enough calories to sustain life and that we move enough to burn the excess.

Our lives are complicated enough. Let’s make living simple.

 

Gazpacho Season

You wouldn’t know it from the recent cool, breezy weather – but it’s almost gazpacho season here in the Bay Area.

IMG_3499I love gazpacho. It’s beautiful, bright, and easy to make. It has a refreshing bite that is perfect and cooling on a warm summer day. I’ll serve gazpacho in small cups as part of a weekend brunch or in bowls with a healthy sprinkle of spicy chickpeas and some flatbread for dinner.

A person might consider gazpacho as a soup so easy to make that no recipe is required. Chop a few vegetables, add some tomato juice and Bob’s your uncle. But I don’t believe that’s true. There’s a delicate, nuanced balance in the best gazpacho that isn’t easily achieved if you’re a gazpacho novice. For a hobbyist like me, it’s best to use a recipe – even if it is only as a guide.

This time I chose the gazpacho recipe from America’s Test Kitchen’s (ATK) new vegan cookbook. That’s right, ATK has a vegan cookbook. And it’s a good one. It’s called Vegan for Everybody and it promises “foolproof plant based recipes for breakfast, lunch, dinner and in-between.” In addition the fantastic recipes, it explains to the reader why the recipe works and then, at the back of the book, includes the full nutritional content for those recipes. As I am currently obsessed with tracking every move and morsel, I find this extremely helpful.

It would be wrong of me to reproduce the entire recipe here – you’ll have to beg, buy orIMG_3503 borrow the book for all the details. I will tell you that it includes tomatoes (natch), red bell pepper, cucumber, sweet onion, sherry vinegar, garlic, tomato juice and ice cubes.

Under normal circumstances it doesn’t seem right to mess with any recipe from the hallowed halls of ATK – especially if it’s a new recipe. But I have enough familiarity with gazpacho that I thought I could go a little bit rouge. I added celery to my gazpacho because I like it’s natural saltiness. I added one little turnip for no particular reason other than it was begging to be used.

And although ATK serves us a chunky gazpacho, I used an immersion blender. Serving unblended gazpacho, as the ATK recipe calls for, is a little like pouring tomato juice over a salad, right?

IMG_3505Finally, after allowing the gazpacho to chill for several hours (and the ice cubes to melt), it was ready to serve. To be honest, it’s even better made the day before, when all the complex flavors of the vegetables have had a chance to snuggle up to one another.

I topped the gazpacho with spicy chickpeas and a squeeze of fresh lime juice.

Delicious.

Imperfect Babaganoush

IMG_2490One of the most lovable qualities about my partner Ben is his genuine interest in people. He possesses an extraordinary talent for striking up a conversation with anyone, anywhere. That’s how we ended up with a membership to Imperfect Produce.

We found Imperfect Produce a few weeks ago at the Santa Clara Yoga Expo where I was helping to assemble the Team Dharma booth for Samyama Yoga Center. Imperfect delivers a box of produce to your doorstep that otherwise would have been thrown away – potatoes, apples and avocados that are too small, carrots that are misshapen, peppers with blemishes, watermelon…well…I actually can’t figure out what made the watermelon imperfect.

According to Imperfect’s website, at least 20% of produce is passed on by groceries each year. Where does that produce end up? Not on our tables, that’s for certain. And probably not at homeless shelters or soup kitchens. Produce that is nutritional sound but not pretty enough for your local Whole Foods is thrown away.

Until now.

Imperfect Produce asks us to consider where our food comes from. To think about the fertile earth, the working land, the men and woman who plow the soil, plant the seeds and collect the harvest. It asks us to participate by honoring the labor that goes into putting that apple in our hand.

That doesn’t mean I wasn’t skeptical at first. I was certain our produce boxes would be filled with ugly and obscure food past its prime. Food that I didn’t know how to cook or wouldn’t want to cook. I was certain Ben and I would be doing the very thing we were trying to avoid – wasting food.

I was wrong.

The produce is beautiful. Our last box was filled with peppers and pluots, plums and carrots, and the round and wonderful watermelon that I devoured. Oh. And an eggplant.

The humble aubergine eggplant.

Our eggplant was flawless. And it was destined to become babaganoush.

IMG_2486I don’t really like babaganoush. It’s too oily and sometimes too smoky. But it was calling me (something else I love about Imperfect Produce – I have to think…ahem…outside the box and create dishes I rarely consider). So I pulled out my Zahav cookbook and found a recipe for roasted eggplant salad.

I began by washing and halving the eggplant then heating it on my non-stick griddle. I didn’t have to add oil, which was great. I set the griddle to 275 and came back periodically to check on its progress. To avoid an overly smoky flavor, I let the skin turn black but didn’t let it char. Once it cooled, I spooned the IMG_2489flesh – which at this point was like pudding – into a bowl. For one cup of cooked eggplant flesh I added one clove of garlic, a large pinch of salt and a quick glug of olive oil – I’m guessing about two teaspoons. Of course it’s not babaganoush without tahini. I stirred in just under a tablespoon.

It went into the fridge to chill and to give time for the flavors to get to know one another.

That night it was served with a tomato salad.

Ben has another quality that never fails to put a smile on my face. Aside from an unfortunate run in with a plate of brussels sprouts two years ago he’s loved every dish I’ve brought to our table. Even not-so-smoky babaganoush.

ps…by the way, Imperfect has the option of delivering a box of produce to a family in need for $12. We like these people. We like them alot.

Progress Report #1: Re-Grouping After My Get Up and Go Got Up and Went

IMG_3464I knew a fresh chapter was about to begin when I set my sights on the local stationery store. When life is about to take a turn, I buy notebooks. It’s a compulsion. And last Tuesday it was a compulsion I couldn’t resist. Twenty minutes after walking through the doors of Village Stationers I walked out with an empty wallet but a full heart.

I wish I could explain my obsession with new notebooks. Perhaps opening the cover to a fresh and unmarked white page reminds me that stories can change and that while life is unpredictable we can choose how we move through it’s bumps and detours.

That’s supposed to make us feel better, right? Knowing that we can choose how we navigate the course of life. Except sometimes life is heavy and the weight of it pulls us under the surface. Our spirits are stuck in the muck and trying to move forward is as difficult as swimming though quicksand.

July was a bit like that for me. I was stuck. I lacked gumption. I ate more than I should and exercised less than I could. And even though I made a commitment with friends to revisit the ‘detox’ that my NCLP and I easily completed a few months ago – the detox that was the springboard for this blog – I didn’t make it past the fourth day.

I’d be fibbing if I didn’t say that I wasn’t disappointed. But we all become stuck from time to time. A little backslide on the road to health doesn’t mean it’s the end of the journey. What it does mean is that it’s time to regroup.

Hence the notebooks.

I remember when I joined Weight Watchers. It was 2004 and I had about eighty pounds to lose. I didn’t tell my friends. I went to the meetings on my own. I did the work. I was accountable only to myself. I don’t know if it was a fear of failure or the fear that sharing my news would somehow dilute my intention but I kept my secret until it was obvious my body was changing.

But now we share everything with everyone. And I’m contemplating how it would feel to reveal exactly what my intentions are and how big I’m dreaming. Am I at the point where I want to tell the truth of who I am? My hopes? My disappointments? If you knew the dreams I dream would it help them come true?

Maybe.

But for now I’m going to open my brand new notebook and take some time to figure out what those dreams are and then I’m going to hold them close to my heart for a bit.

Chilled Summer Porridge

I love porridge oats…any sort of porridge, really. Steel cut are my favorite. I prepare them the evening before so they can soak overnight in water, dairy milk or my current personal favorite – cashew milk. Sometimes I go rogue and combine ½ steel cut oats with ¼ kasha and ¼ quinoa flakes for the earthy taste and layered texture.

But hot porridge and warm summer mornings don’t mix. Instead I make ‘chia porridge’. Prepared the night before so the seeds can expand, all it needs in the morning is a bit of sliced fruit and maybe a sprinkling of crunchy walnuts or almonds.

This recipe is an amalgam of several chia puddings I’ve tried over the past few months as an after-dinner dessert. I was surprised at how delicious it was for breakfast. Plus this porridge is packed full of energy and Omega-3’s.

Chilled chia porridge with sliced mango and strawberries, a drizzle of soy milk, fresh pressed juice and matcha.  Set for the day (or at least until lunch!).
Chilled chia porridge with sliced mango and strawberries, a drizzle of soy milk, fresh pressed juice and matcha. Set for the day (or at least until lunch!).

Chilled Chia Porridge for Two (prepare the night before)

  • 6 tablespoons chia seed
  • 2 cups liquid: choose your favorite dairy milk OR non-dairy milk OR use ½ water with ½ your milk of choice.
  • 2 sliced figs or 2 sliced dates (I prefer dates)
  • 1 tablespoon of honey: optional – especially if you use the dates
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
This is how the chia seeds will look when you whisk them into the milk.
This is how the chia seeds will look when you whisk them into the milk.
  • Whisk the ingredients together.
  • Set a timer for five minutes and whisk again. Repeat at least one more time. As the chia seeds expand, this step will help to incorporate the seeds through the liquid.
  • Chill overnight.
  • Serve with your choice of sliced fruit.
  • Enjoy!

Health and Wellness

CIMG2922What is the difference between being in good health and being well? It seems a simple enough question to answer. Good health is all about the body, isn’t it? Good health is being free from disease; it’s keeping those things that diminish our health – high cholesterol or blood pressure, furred arteries and rampant glucose – in check. But wellness? That’s not as easy to pin down. Being ‘well’ – as the word implies – has a soulful depth to it that is beyond blood results and heartbeats.

For me, recognizing the difference between health and wellness is similar to realizing there is a difference between being cured and being healed. We can be cured from an illness in the physical body yet still need emotional healing. We can have our physical health and yet not feel emotionally well.

I want both, of course. Who doesn’t? Health and wellness. Always. Is that possible? I don’t know. As certain as there are times when we experience the peak of health there will be times when illness finds us. And as much as I would like to believe that I embody wellness, it simply isn’t true. There are times when we are ill. Times when we are the picture of health. Times when we our hearts beam with wellness. Times when we feel spiritually broken.

Our health and wellness swing on two graceful continuums that, from time to time, intersect. When they do – oh! – when they do! Those moments are the reason why we take the stairs instead of the elevator, watch in awe the setting of the sun, enjoy deep insights with dear friends and choose broccoli over bacon (sometimes).

It’s Tahini Making Time!

This past Sunday brought to an end our 21-day “reset.”  My NCLP and I enjoyed three weeks sans animal products, alcohol, gluten, sugar and caffeine.  Sort of.  While he was a master of discipline, I waved a white flag at caffeine and substituted my four cups of coffee per day for one cup of matcha.

So what did I learn?  I’m still processing.  And, truth be told I’m still riding the reset.  I’m not too eager to pull the coffee press from the cabinet and morning porridge minus that sprinkle of brown sugar is just as sweet.  NCLP and I are in no hurry to embrace animal products – we were vegetarian to begin with so slipping into a virtually vegan lifestyle isn’t that difficult of a stretch.

But I’m not making any promises.  I miss goat yogurt and labane.

What I enjoyed most about the reset was the meal planning.  I guess I never really knew how much I enjoyed being in the kitchen.  It made me happy to be there.  I loved how the parameters of the reset encouraged me to be more creative.  We weren’t restricted to raw salad.  We had warm bowls of porridge in the morning loaded with berries, nuts and dried fruit, grilled mushrooms and assorted vegetables on a bed of quinoa drizzled with artisanal olive oil from the farmer’s market at dinner.  Lunch and snacks were light – miso soup with rice noodles or hummus on flax crackers.  Frozen banana “ice cream” or chocolate and chia seed pudding.

On the last day of our reset I added a new appliance to my not-so-well appointed cooking space – an Omega Juicer.  It’s a masticating juicer.  That means it grinds the fruit and vegetable slowly.  This promises less heat and less oxidation.  In other words, a fully loaded end product.  So far I’ve loved it.

The Omega Juicer can also process nuts and seeds.  It has attachments that allow the user to make pasta.  Since my gluten-free pasta making skills are none-existant I’m going to hold off on that.  Instead I’m going to try my hand at tahini making.

The first step?  Soaking sesame seeds.  I’ll see you in four hours. Photos to follow.