Monday, December 17, 2012

Holiday Eating with Ease

"Sometimes you just have to take what you're given
and eat it."

Our friend, Jon, who stayed with us recently said this in passing after I'd offered him free reign to some leftovers in my fridge. At first, I was a little bit offended. What was wrong with my leftovers? Nothing, but as a low-budget traveler, this had been his reality for the past 7-8 months. Jon had just spent those last months on the road, as a support driver to two of our other friends, who were walking across America ( to raise awareness about pet therapy and animal rescue.

As I thought about what he'd said more, it dawned on me how much I had to learn from that statement.

First, it brought me to the realization that I am so fortunate and abundant to be able to have access to and to be able to choose very high-quality foods for myself. Not everyone can get there hands on fresh organic produce at all. Many more can not afford it. The good news is that our bodies are miraculous things and know what to do with most of what we give them.

As someone who is constantly trying to be in control of my food - by buying my own ingredients, cooking most of my own meals, and being prepared when I'm out and about - I felt suddenly enlightened, thinking about what Jon said. Especially as I've been struggling over the holidays, when there are handfuls of parties and cookie tins and dinners to attend, and I DON'T have a lot of control over what's in my food as much.

"Sometimes you just have to take what you're given and eat it."

When you're at Grandma's house for the holiday dinner, eat what you want. You don't have to eat everything you're givenIf you're not sure if she used butter or margarine... it is going to kill you? Or, the better question: Is it worth worrying about? Especially during this once a year celebration of family and friends and abundance?

Yes, I think it's important to be good to yourself and listen to when your body is hungry and when it's full and to know what foods make it feel good and what foods make it feel like crap. BUT it's not worth stressing over.

What do you think?

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Healthy Holiday Drinking

Fact: Alcohol impairs our judgment. It makes us feel uninhibited.

And it doesn't have discernment about where those effects play out. One of the top triggers for overeating is... those drinks we have before and during the meal or party.

We feel more loose and free, our natural gauges for hunger and satiety get confused, it's easy to lose track of how much we're actually eating or how our body is feeling. Another fact: alcohol numbs us.

Most of us aren't ready to swear off drinking (myself included), but here are some tips to keep your body, digestion, skin and self feeling better while you enjoy:

1. Buffer your alcoholic drinks. Follow each glass of alcohol with a glass of water. I know maybe you've heard this before, but it really works. Make it delicious: get some bubbly water and squeeze in some lime or lemon and a little cocktail mixing straw. Slice in a strawberry. No one even has to know it's non-alcoholic. Stay away from juices, you want to hydrate and replenish your body with water not sugar. Alternate alcohol - water - alcohol - water. And if you sense you don't really want another alcoholic drink, listen to you!

2. Look out for empty calorie sugary drinks and cocktails that will spike your blood sugar and throw off your body's sense of satiety/hunger, energy and your mood.

Dr. Weil recommends these healthy holiday drinks:
  1. Sparkling non-alcoholic punch. The calories can vary, but most holiday punch can easily be diluted with additional sparkling water to reduce calories and sugars. If you are making your own punch at home, use unsweetened cranberry juice concentrate.
  2. Red wine. The antioxidant activity of red wine has been linked to heart health benefits, reduced stress and even preserving memory. Limit yourself to a six-ounce glass; it typically has about 120 calories.
  3. Hot toddy. A combination of lemon, honey, cinnamon, cloves and brandy, this beverage has between 100 and 150 calories and provides some vitamin C thanks to the lemon juice.
  4. Champagne. This celebratory drink has about 90 calories in a four-ounce glass.
Try searching online for "mocktails" that use fresh fruit juice and aren't loaded with sugar - you can make them for a party with the option of adding alcohol as you or your guests would like. You might be surprised how many people would be pleased to know they can enjoy a fresh fancy drink without the added calories and effects of alcohol.

Or try my own Sparkling Chiagria recipe below! Chia helps give your body some fiber and a little dose of anti-inflammatory omega 3's to help you stay feeling balanced and satiated. Plus the fresh pomegranate and lime/lemon juice is full of healthy antioxidants and vitamin C to keep your immune system strong during this season of colds. Wins all around...

Sparkling Chiagria
sparkling or still water
splash of pomegranate juice
squeeze of fresh lime or lemon
1 tsp of chia seeds
red wine, optional

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

What to Eat After You've Been BAD

I just came off of a weekend of rich dinners and cheese plates and fried chicken and wine and desserts galore... whew. It started an eating pattern - aka a "falling off the wagon" or "derailing of the train" that I've been feeling really guilty about.

(the most delicious, gourmet, healthy
and hearty thing you can dream up)
I first and foremost want to challenge and reframe (change the frame or perspective) on my own belief that "I was bad." This is all about compassion and realizing that even when it looks like we're self-sabotaging, we're usually just using the coping tools we know work best.

It's holiday time and it's stress time for many of us. My weekend of overeating rich comfort foods, especially chocolate and sweets, is my default way of - very literally - comforting myself, feeling soothed, and getting instant relief and gratification. I was giving myself relief in the way I knew was easy and worked.

At least for that instant... problem is, eating all that stuff made my body feel tired, heavy, swollen, bloated and achy in the joints. Plus guilty. A loud voice in my head kept saying, "There you go again! Can't you control yourself? How are you ever going to fix yourself? Get a grip! Green smoothies and salads for the rest of the week for you!" I wanted to punish myself.

But I know from experience that punishment and guilt wouldn't get me feeling better and back on the path to eating healthy.

So I got up in the morning and listened to my body and my cravings. I wanted tea so I had some tea. When I was hungry, I went to the kitchen to make up some breakfast. I wanted something sweet and rich... oh boy. But I knew, deep down, I wanted to eat something that would make me feel good and that I would know was good for me. I decided it was going to be an epic oatmeal morning. I could have it all: healthy, hearty, rich and with enough sweet to satisfy.

I don't mean to brag, but... I do make epic oatmeal bowls. This morning it was oatmeal cooked with cinnamon, nutmeg and a dash of salt. In the bowl, I stirred in half a chopped apple, a spoonful of sunflower seed butter (peanut or almond are so good too!), a drizzle of blackstrap molasses, a handful of granola and a few crumbled walnuts for crunch.

When circumstances feel hard, or you're being hard on yourself, know that it's a signal that it's time to be so good to yourself.

Remember to:   
  1. See yourself with compassion and understanding, you've been doing the best you could.
  2. Give yourself more goodness, not punishment: look ahead toward what you want, not back at what you don't. Make it as good as possible. The key to sustainable healthy eating? You're worth the best stuff out there, you deserve the fixings on your oatmeal, a little butter on your broccoli.
  3. Ask yourself what you really want and need to feel satisfied. Listen to your body and your hungers.What foods and - perhaps more importantly - non-foods, do you need to feel fulfilled?

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Secret to Staying Sane & Happy Amidst Holiday Chaos

Happy Thanksgiving!

Simply click to watch! 

Self-Loving Activities (that take almost no extra time... you can do these TODAY):
  • Get enough sleep
  • Trading foot rubs with a friend or family member
  • Saying "no" when you're feeling overwhelmed or over-extended
  • Treating yourself to something beautiful (like flowers!)
  • Wearing comfortable clothes and clothes that make you feel confident and attractive
  • Dancing around your house
  • Giving away excess possessions
  • Drinking tea
  • Taking a walk around the block by yourself or with a loved one
  • Spending an extra 2 minutes in the shower to breathe and let the water roll down you
  • Taking a nap
  • Asking for help
  • Lighting a candle
  • Take some slow, deep breaths in and out (5 breaths is enough to lower your cortisol!)
What do you do to stay sane? How do you take care of yourself in small ways? Please post below!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Imperfect Perfection: A Video

As I was swinging back into my week on Monday, after being stranded on the East Coast for over a week (thanks, Sandy), I started to feel the MEGA STRESS flooding in. I couldn't stop thinking about all the things I was feeling behind on, the blog entries I "should" have written (watch out for that word!), the giant To-Do list on my desk...

So I got thinking about my expectations for myself and what I make it all mean about me when I don't live up to my perfect vision of who I think I should be (there's that word again!) and what I think I should be doing.

I decided to do something that scared me, but felt right. I made you a VIDEO! It's not perfect, but I decided that it might never be. (I definitely drop a "more happier" in this video... my grammar perfectionist is bugging out!) We may say we're ok with not being perfect, but how does the expectation of perfection play out in our lives? The outside world will have you believe you're never there.

How can we define "perfect" for ourselves? For our lives, our bodies, our diets, our actions, our project, our masterpieces, our careers, our relationships??

Hmm... here's some food for thought and a fun way to play with, embrace and enjoy more imperfection in your life.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Cheeseburger Confession

I must confess: I ate a cheeseburger the evening before teaching Friend Your Blender, a class all about super easy, fast meals.

And you know what? I enjoyed and loved the whole thing up! No feeling guilty or anything...

How did I do it? I CHOSE to eat and enjoy and love it. I had some last-minute ends to wrap up before heading out. I'd decided I was simply going to order some food or stop and pick something quick up. My first choices weren't open yet. I could hear a voice in my ear whispering "cheeseburger cheeseburger cheeseburger." I realized I was craving something hearty and comforting meal. Probably some of my nerves talking. Maybe my body needed the protein and iron. Either way, it was what I wanted.

My "gotta-walk-my-talk" concerned inner health coach, who was about to teach a class about healthy eating, was having a fit and saying, "No, that's not an option tonight, what a hypocritical thing to do! Make yourself some soup!" But I didn't have any ingredients on hand and I'd already packed up my blender for the class.

I decided to get honest and real with myself. On any other night, would I consider a cheeseburger? If I was feeling good and grounded and knew I could get a good-quality burger, the answer was... yes... So I had to get over my not-so-quiet voice of judgment and listen to what I wanted.

So I gave myself permission and ordered a high-quality Niman Ranch burger with a salad on a whole-wheat bun. It was delicious. I felt great. I loved every bite. And then I went off and lead a fantastic class.

And to be really really honest, I feel like I was more true to myself by eating and really enjoying the burger than by denying myself and not feeling satisfied with whatever else I chose. No need for all that fuss and guilt I used to carry around with me. Or the next-day punishment of limited eating. It is an act of self-love to listen to yourself and give yourself exactly what you want.

I don't advise always listening to the whims of your cravings, but I DO find it's really important to know and recognize where your cravings are coming from. It's important to know what you DO really want (not just what your taste buds or instant-gratification self want) for yourself. And when the time is right, DO give yourself permission to "indulge" consciously and with full lip-smacking enjoyment.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Spaghetti Squash and Kale - Two Ways

I can't get enough. The squash and kale are taking over my food life! And I love it. What's great is that both of these meals took 10-15 minutes to pull together from scratch because the squash was already made!

On the left: Ripped up raw kale tossed with spaghetti squash and leftover quiona. Creamy hummus dressing (just thin with a little water, some lemon or apple cider vinegar and stir), plus pickled onions. S&P. Done & Yum.

Next morning breakfast. I could eat this every day. Sauteed some chopped kale with garlic in olive oil and a crumbled leftover piece of bacon. Tossed in the squash. S&P. Removed from pan. Cracked two eggs into it. Flipped. Viola! Amazing.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Kabocha Kale Thai Curry

Made this curry last night in as much time as it took to cook the quinoa (aka about 25 minutes). I had pre-baked my kabocha squash earlier in the week when I had my oven on, not sure what I was going to do with it yet, but knowing it would be better to have cooked rather than raw squash. It's a great example of how pre-roasting early in the week saves a lot of time later.

Besides the rich, satisfying curry flavor, here's why I get excited about this dish:

Kabocha squash (pronouned kah-bow-cha) is a Japanese variety of winter squash, sweeter even than the more well-known butternut, in some cultures revered as an aphrodisiac. It's packed with vitamins C and A, beta carotene, fiber and a significant amount of other vitamins and minerals. They are a great source of antioxidants and are a great anti-inflammatory food. Quickest way to prep it is to steam it (only takes about 7 min), though I often roast.

Kale is a powerhouse, one of the most nutritionally dense foods you can eat. For 1 cup cooked (36 calories), you get 1328% of your vitamin K, 354% of vitamin A, 89% of vitamin C, 10% of your fiber, 9% of calcium, plus some omega-3 fats and 5% of your protein (more here and at all other links!). Eating it boosts your energy, strengthens your immune system, promotes natural detoxing, fights free-radicals and cancer, and lowers your cholesterol. If there is one mega-super food to start finding ways to get into your diet every week, this is it.

Quinoa is an ancient grain with a full protein profile (contains all 9 essential amino acids) - so don't balk at this recipe being vegan. You're getting arguably one of the best sources of protein on the planet here. Quinoa's also known for it's high antioxidant levels, anti-inflammatory phyto-nutrients, and high levels of minerals. It's also gluten-free.

Coconut milk is higher in calcium than regular milk and contains protein as well as a wide range of vitamins and minerals, including iron, potassium, and many of the B vitamins. Do not be afraid of the fat (I always buy and eat full-fat products) - the saturated fat in coconut is made up of short-chain and medium-chain fatty acids which the  body quickly turns into energy instead of storing as fat. Therefore, even though it’s high in saturated fat, coconut can aid in weight loss. It's also known for aiding in digestion and boosting the immune system!

Kabocha Kale Thai Curry
Any winter squash (pumpkin, butternut, delicatta) can be substituted in this recipe.

1 cup quinoa
1 yellow onion, chopped into 1 inch pieces
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 very large bunch of kale (or more, whatever you like)
1 medium-sized kabocha squash
1 can full-fat coconut milk
2 tablespooons red curry paste (buy pre-made)
1 lemon
cayenne pepper (optional)

Rinse quinoa under cold water until it runs clear. Combine with 2 cups water. Bring to a boil, stir, reduce heat and simmer, covered (no peeking) for 20 minutes. Turn off, allow to sit for a few minutes then fluff with a fork.

In the meantime, chop onions and garlic. Saute with coconut oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until onions are translucent. No need to stir constantly.

While that is happening, strip kale leaves from stems and rip into rough pieces. Combine with onions and saute until just wilted. Season with a light sprinkle of salt.

Add coconut milk and stir in curry paste. Reduce heat to medium-low so it can simmer while you cut up squash (remove skin, cut into 1-inch cubes). Add to pot, stir to combine. Add salt to taste. This curry powder is not very spicy at all, so if you want to kick it up a notch, add cayenne.

Turn off heat and squeeze half of lemon over curry. Stir to combine, taste and adjust any other seasonings and serve spooned over quinoa in bowls. Makes about 5 servings.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Quinoa-Corn Basil Salad & Retreat Photos

Last weekend, I cooked for a yoga retreat with Pedro Franco and Chrisandra Fox at Harbin Hot Springs. Here are some shots of our first meal. The weather was HOT and dry, so I kept it summery and fresh for us... using the last of the summer tomatoes!
heirloom tomato, cucumber plate with basil, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, s&p

add baby spinach (dress as you'd like style) plus quinoa-corn basil salad (RECIPE BELOW!)

served right in the kitchen!

It was a weekend of grounding, soulful yoga + soaking in hot springs + good, clean food. YUM.

I'm always amazed how much a few days of really clean eating (no meat, dairy, added sugar or processed foods - all fresh stuff from scratch, baby) can reboost and cleanse my body. Even though I aim to eat well all the time, I'm far from perfect.

If you're feeling a little heavy or clogged up, pick a weekend to set aside to feed yourself delicious, fresh and clean foods and take extra-special care of yourself (relax, massage, walks, quiet time with people who raise you up). You deserve it all.

Quinoa Corn Salad with Basil
This salad is a delight to make in the summer when fresh basil and corn are in abundance. If you’re a newcomer to quinoa, this is a good recipe to try as an introduction because it’s tasty, quick and easy. You’ll have time to prepare the basil, red peppers and onion while the quinoa is cooling. For a striking presentation, serve the salad inside hollowed-out beefsteak tomatoes.

1 1⁄2 cups uncooked quinoa, rinsed well and drained
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups fresh corn (from about 4 ears)
1⁄2 cup diced jarred roasted red peppers
1⁄2 cup finely diced red onion
1 cup tightly packed basil leaves, finely chopped
2 Tbs. olive oil (try playing with flavored varieties!)
3 to 5 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (1-2 lemons)

In medium saucepan, combine quinoa, salt and 3 cups water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Cover, reduce heat to low and simmer 15 minutes. Turn off heat, uncover allow to sit for 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork.

While quinoa is cooking and cooling, prep your corn, roasted red peppers (I've used sun-dried or fresh tomatoes here instead with great results), onion and place in the bottom of a large mixing bowl.

When your quinoa is cooled a bit (this salad is great warm or chilled – I often just use leftover quinoa), scoop into the same mixing bowl, top with basil, olive oil and fresh lemon juice. It should be enough to give the salad a distinct lemony edge. Season with salt to taste, garnish with a few whole basil leaves. Serves 4.

AND BEYOND: I've found this to be a great starting place to playing with grain salads. Sub in other veggies, herbs, vinegars, nuts and seeds, olives, even fresh or dried fruit.

Take this recipe idea and run with it – use this to make the stuffed peppers, tomatoes, squash or eggplant OR collard green wraps below!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Pickled Onions - An easy DIY condiment

Some of our friends always kid that everything they eat at our place is homemade. It's mostly true. I derive a lot of joy and a sense of control and accomplishment out of making my own food!

Making your own condiments is surprisingly simple and easy - these two take 5-10 minutes active time each and last for weeks in the fridge (if you don't eat them first). Plus, there's nothing like the satisfaction and tastes of homemade. 

Feel Good About Your Food: Onions are cleansing and detoxing for the body, alkalizing, and boosting for your immune system, especially RAW.

Be aware though - cut onions - when not preserved readily attract bacteria. DO NOT cut and save parts of onions. Use or toss.

Pickled Red Onions 
1 red onion                 
1 lemon                   
red wine vinegar           
sea salt                   

Cut ends off onion, slice in half, remove peel.

With cut side down, using a sharp knife, slice onion as thinly as possible, keeping your fingers curled under and safe.

Transfer onions to a  non-metal/reactive bowl.
Squeeze lemon over bowl, sprinkle with red wine vinegar (tablespoon or two) and sea salt (about a teaspoon).

Use your hands to churn and mix everything. They might feel a little slimy (this is totally normal).

Allow onions to sit for about 10 minutes - you will notice they soften quite a bit.

Taste one and add more vinegar, lemon or salt if you'd like.

When they taste good, stick them in a jar and eat as you'd like.

Try these onions on everything from salads to cooked greens to crackers and sliced cheddar cheese!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

My Pantry (or How I Make It All Happen Consistently)

What's in my pantry? Having ingredients to work with on-hand is tantamount to making easy, healthy food for yourself that you feel good about.

Start with the flavors and ingredients you know. What did you grow up eating? What cuisines do you like and what ingredients do you find in them? If you don't know, google some recipes and explore.

Getting well-stocked is a really fun, adventurous project. Buy just one new thing each time you shop and do some playing and cooking with it to see what it's about.

Extra-Virgin Olive Oil (for dressings, drizzling, and medium-heat cooking)
Raw Extra-Virgin Coconut Oil (for all-purpose and high-heat cooking, roasting and salads)
Raw or Toasted Sesame Oil (look for unrefined or Hot varieties, if you're the spicy type)

Balsamic Vinegar (my go-to all-purpose for dressings and for bringing more depth of flavor when cooking)
Raw Apple Cider Vinegar (with the "mother" - read more about it's amazing array of health benefits for my favorite brand, Bragg's)
Red Wine Vinegar, Brown Rice Vinegar (secondary vinegars, great for Italian and Asian cuisines, respectively)
Lemons (in my opinion, the best, freshest way to make the flavors of any dish pop, squeeze fresh over your dish right before serving)

Natural sea salt (full of trace minerals and does not raise the blood pressure - It is the insufficiency of other minerals that cause the body to hold on to and keep water inside the cells, raising blood pressure)
Whole pepper grinder: (pepper tastes so much fresher and floral when freshly ground, try it and never go back - more on pepper and health benefits and concerns)

Natural Sweeteners
Raw honey (great for allergies and supporting the local bees)
Maple syrup (grade B is most flavorful, organic isn't necessary)
Coconut Palm Sugar (granulated, low-glycemic, my go-to replacement for white sugar in baking)
Agave Nectar or Brown Rice Syrup
Stevia (look for natural varieties, green liquid or powder is best as it is unrefined and has the same taste with way more nutritional benefits)

Tamari or soy sauce
(look for organic, as this will mean non-GMO, and wheat-free if you have gluten sensitivities) or Bragg's liquid amino acids (a savory, less salty condiment, which I love to get in a spray bottle)

Good-quality Mustard, Mayo, and Ketchup (so you feel prepared to dress things up - read the label and look out for high fructose corn syrup, anything you can't pronounce, and trans fats. For the mayo - look for one made with olive oil and cage-free eggs - Spectrum brand is fantastic)
Pickles, Sauerkraut, Olives (for extra crunch, punch and fun)

Sweet: Cinnamon, Ginger, Nutmeg, Cardamom, Allspice
Spicy: Red Chili Flakes, Cayenne, Chili Powder
Savory: Cumin, Paprika, Turmeric, Curry Powder
Italian savory: Basil, Oregano, Rosemary, Parsley
Indian: Garam Masala, Turmeric, Cumin, Cayenne, Mustard Seed

Bulb of garlic and a yellow onion (the base flavoring for most of my dishes, soups and sauces, chop and saute for added savory sweetness and complex taste)
Brown Rice, Lentils, Oats, Quinoa (or other whole grains and beans/legumes - more on their health benefits and how to ease digestion here! - that you love, I always make sure to keep quick-cooking ones on hand - oh, and popcorn kernels!)
Pasta, noodles
(for when you really need a quick meal, saute up some garlic, onion and veggies, toss in some beans, drizzle with oil and call it dinner)
Assorted raw nuts and seeds (dress up any dish with a little crunch, I also grab these for a fast snack with some fruit to tide me over) 
Canned or boxed beans, tomatoes, broth, soup (makes eating quickly in a pinch so much easier - when you use something, restock on your next shopping trip)
Whole-grain Crackers (Read the ingredient list on everything that passes your lips - if you don't know what it is, don't buy it. Look for 100% whole grains, no funny stuff.)

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Always Have Something - Whole Grains

The easiest way to make sure you've got an easy meal in no time flat is to have cooked whole grains already in your fridge. When I use the last of my grains (or before that), I start my next batch. My favorites are the ones you put in the pot, set to simmer and then leave until the timer goes off.

If I've made nothing in advance, quinoa (which cooks in 15 minutes) is my go-to, because it's quick and nutritious - a full source of protein.

Gluten - There is a lot of awareness about gluten sensitivity, intolerance and Celiac's disease surfacing these days. Glutenous grains do tend to be "heavier" in the body, meaning they take more effort to digest, so even if you don't notice any adversity to it (which I don't myself), do take notice of how you feel when you eat a lot of it, since there is a lot of gluten-heavy wheat everywhere (too much of it makes me feel sluggish). Getting away from processed foods will make this significantly easier.

Grains with gluten:
wheat, barley, bulgur (cracked wheat), kamut (a wheat variety), rye, spelt

Gluten-free grains: 
brown rice, buckwheat (aka kasha), oats/oatmeal (though questionable due to content and contamination - look for certification), amaranth, corn, millet, quinoa, wild rice, teff

Soaking - I do this when I remember to. When I don't, I just skip this step and make a note to myself to do it next time. Soaking helps grains to cook down softer and quicker, and to be more easily digested and nutritionally available to our bodies. Read more about the why and how of soaking at Just Making Noise, a great blog for recipes and reference.

Cooking - Varies a lot by grain. Here is a great chart with measurements, cooking times, and yield basics for most basic whole grains from the Whole Grains Counsil.

How to get started - Pick one grain (like brown rice or quinoa) that is an easy substitute into your meals. Buy organic. If your local grocery store has a bulk section, it's a great way to save money by not paying for packaging. I store my grains at home in glass jars (save your mayo and salsa jars). It's also a great way to try out a small amount of something new. Make a big batch this week - cook double what you think you'll eat so that you only have to cook once to eat many times. Grains reheat and freeze wonderfully.

Whole grains are chewier and have a nuttier, fuller flavor than refined grains. You and your family may find this unfamiliar at first. But after a month or two, refined grains may start to taste plain and uninteresting in contrast. Stick with it until your palate adjusts and you'll reap the health and taste benefits!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

My "Famous" Roasted Tomatoes (and Sauce)

We've been getting the last of the heirloom tomatoes in our CSA box and at the farmers' market.

Capitalize whenever your oven is already on: I had the oven heated up to bake bread this weekend so I looked around for whatever else I could roast while I was at it. I chopped up some tomatoes and garlic, tossed with a few glugs of olive oil and some sea salt and made this outrageous (Evan calls it my "famous") roasted tomato sauce - though I find it hard to claim fame from something I put so little effort into.

Popped them into the oven at 400 degrees F for about half an hour... though, typical me, I didn't actually time it. I took them out when they looked done. That's how I've found roasting works best.

Simply smash the tomatoes with fork and you've got sauce. Blend them if you want it smooth or just eat them whole and chunky. They fall apart when you touch them. You can add herbs or some freshly ground black better, if desired, but I love letting the sweet ripe simplicity of these amazing tomatoes shine.

Spoon over any cooked plain whole grain, pasta, or bread. Serve with some high quality cheeses, olives, and a green salad and you've got a simple meal that will make you feel like you're savoring the heart of Italy. A nice glass of red wine (for the antioxidants, of course) steps it up to a date night.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

How to Get Ahead: Roasting (think meal planning!)

Whenever I turn my oven on, I capitalize. Whatever has been sitting around in my fridge too long, or whatever I'm going to want to have on hand to eat later in the week - goes in.

Tamar Adler's book An Everlasting Meal will teach you basics and comfort in the kitchen, fresh-ingredient Italian-style. (If that's your style, order that book immediately.) The third chapter, called How To Stride Ahead is all about roasting. One-stop cooking for a whole week.

Watch the nuts and bolts basics in Tamar's beautiful video:

Roasting Basics:

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. (If I'm making something else at another temperature, go with that, but be aware that cooking time will be effected.) 
  • Gather veggies to be roasted. Set out a rimmed pan or baking sheet for each type (as cook times vary). 
  • Chop veggies - similar sized pieces among like types, to ensure even cooking. I almost always leave skins on, unless veggies are not organic. Beets are the exception: roast whole, in skins, with a bit of water and olive oil, covered tightly with aluminum foil (see video).
  • Spread veggies on baking sheets so they have some room (no piling over overlapping).
  • Drizzle with olive oil and a sprinkle of salt. Toss to coat (I use my (clean) hands).
  • Place in oven and roast until fork-tender. Different veggies with have different cook times, which will also vary according to their size. Keep a watchful eye while you get something else done. I clean up the kitchen while roasting is happening. Perhaps you will put on a pot of rice or other grains to cook. Perhaps you will boil eggs.
  • Allow veggies to cool before storing in (preferably glass) containers. Old jars work wonders.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Easy Tool for Your Box: Saute

Get out your ingredients! The actual cooking process happens quickly, so prep your ingredients ahead of time. Here you'll see me saute kale with fresh garlic (you can use regular garlic and/or onions).

Kale secret: with left hand fingers, pinch kale at base of stem where the leafy part starts. Hold onto the stem with your right hand while you strip up the stem with your left, removing the toughest part. Rip leaf roughly and toss into colander.

Always rinse veggies (usually best to do before chopping/ripping ... oops!). Perfection in the kitchen is a myth.

Have all ingredients handy: greens or other veggie you want to saute (such as peppers, green beans, zucchini, carrots, cabbage, etc.), oil, salt, pepper. Heat pan over medium high heat then add about 1-2 Tablespoons oil (coconut oil and olive oil are my favorites). When you're making veggies, make them delicious.

Add onions and garlic, saute for a minute until soft, but not browning. If they are sticking, add a splash more oil and lower heat slightly.

Pile on the greens! If you are sauteing or stir-frying multiple kinds of veggies at once, add them based on how long they take to cook. (Check out this wikihow for basic cooking lengths).
I use a lid to help trap the steam from the greens so they will wilt quickly and all at once. Not necessary, but makes the cooking process even faster, which I like. If sticking is happening, add a splash of water to "deglaze" the pan.
Test your veggies (pull them out, cool, and eat) for done-ness. When they taste good to you, they're done, generally a fork-tender level. Sauteing generally only takes a few minutes. Season with salt and pepper while still in the pan and serve immediately! If you're making other things to accompany, you can put a lid it and let it sit on the stove, then reheat quickly and serve when it's time.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Confidence in the Kitchen

This month, I've decided to document all the basic cooking tricks and techniques that keep me eating the healthy food I love at all times. I want you to challenge yourself to carve out some small chunks of you-time in the kitchen. If you feel comfortable in the kitchen, stay tuned, this is going to change your world.

Kitchen-time IS you-time.

These are the tools that help me to eat what I want to. So much of the food out there is full of excess sugar, salt and mystery ingredients and additives. A HUGE part of getting healthy and feeling energized in your body is giving yourself the food you know will get you there. Get this down, and your body will practically take care of itself.

What self-sufficient cooking is all about:

1. Make what you like and know. For me, that's fresh Italian food. When you like and know the flavors of something already, it's a lot easier to replicate. Think about your go-to's. What did you grow up eating?

2. Keep it simple. Don't start, like I tried, with recipes that take a lot of time, steps, techniques and gourmet ingredients. Start with the easiest things you can think of and if it's too plain, add condiments as you eat!

3. Think ahead. Stock your kitchen up with the basics. Once you have a bottle of extra virgin olive oil, some salt and fresh pepper, soon you'll be able to whip up almost anything into deliciousness whenever you feel like it. No one likes to cook dinner when they're already hungry if it means you have to go back out and shop first. I'll post my favorite go-to condiments and basics later this week! Until then, clean out and save your glass jars.

4. You get to say what it is. Some of my best meals were things that I completely made up, or that turned out totally wrong. In either case, put it in a pretty bowl and make up a gourmet name for it. The best part about cooking for yourself is that there's no pressure to impress. Just trust your taste buds. And fudge the rest.

5. Eat quality. You are a quality person. And you are what you eat. When you give yourself the good stuff, you'll find it's more satisfying, you eat less, and you appreciate it more. This is the secret to easy cooking. When you start with the good stuff, you barely need to do anything to it to make it taste incredible.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Changing the Mirror Game

Something to write on all of your mirrors! I saw this piece from the SF Mirrors Project the other day near the train stop for Ocean Beach.

It made me think about my experience with mirrors. In high school, I spent hours obsessing over the way my body looked in the mirror, practicing sucking in my stomach, pulling back the "pudge" over my hips so they'd look slimmer, watching myself do situps and crunches, nit-picking over ever blemish on my face, eternally fighting with my body... UCK.

We all want to love and accept ourselves more - so start getting aware:

How much time do you spend looking in the mirror?
When you see yourself looking back, what do you say to yourself? Are you kind or mean?
What judgments do you pass on yourself?
What do you make your body mean?

What would you like to be saying to yourself? ... Now SAY IT.

Start choosing to change the mind game you're playing with yourself!

Choose the most loving, affirming, and healthy thoughts you can conceive of...

For more ideas and inspiration for your mirros, check out the SF Mirrors Project Gallery and Louise Hay's daily affirmations.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Whipping up Stuffed Peppers

A crowd to please? No problem. Whip up some gourmet stuffed peppers (or squash, zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes) and wow them and yourself.

I almost always make these when I have leftover grains (above is black rice combined with quinoa, mix and match style) and with whatever veggies and scraps I have around. Or I use a grain salad - such as this Quinoa-Corn Basil Salad, one of my favorites.
  • 1 medium veggie per two people, sliced and insides removed/scooped 
  • cooked grain or grain salad/stuffing and/or beans 
  • add-ins: chopped onion, garlic, veggie scraps, greens, herbs, corn kernels 
  • optional: ground meats, other veggies, chopped olives, cheese
Preheat your oven to 400F. Put the veggie halves you want to stuff on a rimmed baking dish with a little water as soon as you've halved them, oven ready or not. I usually cook mine through (usually taking 15-20 min) before stuffing them, then just heat/melt the stuffed versions together.

Prep your grain mixture. Start with the Quinoa-Corn and Basil Salad or make up your own (basically grains + veggies + herbs + seasonings).

If I'm starting with plain grains, I first saute some onion and garlic in a large skillet, add and cook any finely chopped veggies I want (plus ground meats if you'd like).

This recipe idea is so forgiving and a great way to practice getting comfortable cooking without a recipe! Have a tasting spoon handy and taste everything as you go along. Learn the flavors of the kitchen.

For best results, the grain mixture should taste well salted before being stuffed into veggie shells (since they are plain).

Stuff your grain salads into your halved veggies, sprinkle with cheese, if desired and bake until soft, melty and hot, about 5-10 minutes. If I want the cheese to brown, or the top to come out crisped, I finish them under the broiler for a few minutes, watching them carefully. Serve with a green leafy salad and sharp knives.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Why a "High Quality Cry"

Can you remember the last time you cried?

I mean, really let it loose and cried? I heaved for about twenty minutes after watching Brene Brown's Power of Vulnerability TED talk (but that's a whole other post)...

Our culture is big on the no-cry attitude. It's often portrayed and interpreted as a sign of weakness or instability - and is very much linked to our gendered expectations of behavior. Men and women both face some major stereotypes around what it means to cry - it's unfortunately often seen as a sign of weakness, lack of stability or self-control, or an emotional breakdown...

Did you know that crying it out is actually part of our natural learning and healing process?

If we don't allow ourselves (or others) to cry, we actually inhibit our ability to move through our experiences pain - and move on to the better life. Crying helps us heal, grieve, move through sadness, and experience relief when we've been overwhelmed.

Check out this amazing article, High Quality Crying, from the Interchange Institute's blog to learn more about:
  • the reasons why it's so important to have quality crying time
  • what it does for us
  • how to get the most out of your cry
  • why letting yourself and others "cry it out" is the best approach for happy living

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Making More Vacations In Your Life

August is the time for vacations and relaxation. "Where did you go this summer?" is the big question on people's lips come back-to-school time. But do you ever get back still feeling like you need a vacation? Or feeling like once a year just isn't enough?

We live pretty jam-packed lives these days. We work hard, we run around to get it all done and cram it all in. Most of us only get two weeks vacation these days, if we're lucky. Well, what if that's just not enough?

Stress lowers our immune function dramatically and contributes to the development of many common medical problems - cardiovascular disorders and diseases, high blood pressure, skin issues, weight gain, diabetes, lowered immune defenses, chronic pain and even infertility. Yikes!

Stepping back from daily life to relax is one of the number one things you can do for yourself.

Think about the last time you got some quality relaxation time. How did you feel afterwards? How was your productivity, energy, focus, patience, awareness, attitude, motivation? So much better, right?

My relaxation space. (Even the cat chooses to relax here.)
So how can we create more vacation experiences in our lives so that we can have more of the good life all of the time?

1. Create a retreat space in your home. My aunt told me of a quote she'd heard on Oprah that "Your home should rise up to greet you." - and it's one of those things that hit the nail on the head for me. Your home - or a space in your home, at the very least - should be a place where you can feel safe, relaxed, inspired and refreshed (everything I want from a good vacation!). Create that space, even if it's just an armchair in a corner, where you can unwind, reflect and get some perspective.

2. Plan mini self-care or relaxation-based day-trips. Prioritize them. Leave the rest of the day open. Don't rush. Pack a picnic for a nice, long, slow hike. Go for a spa day with your friends. Bring a blanket and find a field to lay in. Keep it simple, but make plans and stick to them (no plan is a plan too)! Invite people who help you relax and unwind - and let them know that that's the point. You'll all be grateful you did.

3. Spend time in nature. Notice the changing of the seasons. Notice that you, too, are a natural creature who is always in flux, going through cycles and rhythms, experiencing shift, change... erosion, even. Smell the air, listen to the birds and the wind. Be present. Climb mountains. Spend time at the peak, enjoying the view.

4. Try meditation and mindful breathing, the ultimate "vacation anywhere" tools, as far as I can tell. For me, they are techniques that help me get curious about the barrage of thoughts going on in my head, while grounding me in the rhythm of my breathe and the present moment. Even when it's noisy and busy all around, it's about knowing you hold a sanctuary within.

Relaxing, grounding yourself, and getting perspective is what improves the goodness factor in the rest of your life. This is why we owe it to ourselves, our families, friends and coworkers to take some time for ourselves. When we feel recharged, refreshed and energized, we show up as the best version of ourselves.

How do you create mini step-back vacation experiences in your every day? How to you relax and get perspective?

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Blackberry Cobbler

Blackberry Cobbler

1 ½ cup whole wheat pastry flour (any flour of your choice is fine too)
½ cup maple sugar
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
9 tablespoons cold butter, cut into pieces
1/3 cup water

Berry Filling:
2 tablespoons cornstarch or 1 teaspoon agar agar flakes
¼ cup cold water
1 tablespoon lemon juice
4-6 cups blackberries
1/3-1/2 cup maple sugar

Preheat oven to 400F. If you have a 10-inch cast iron skillet use that, otherwise grease a 9x13 inch baking dish.

Mix together all topping ingredients, except the butter and water, in a large mixing bowl. Add the pieces of cold butter and, with your clean hands, crumble and mash the butter into the flour mixture until it is all integrated into a crumbly dough. Add the water and finish mixing with a spoon to just combine. Do not overmix. Set aside.

Combine all berry filling ingredients in a bowl on the stove and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring. When boiling, pour into baking dish. With your fingers or a spoon, roughly break up and distribute the topping dough over the berries.

Bake for about 20 minutes, or until the dough looks solid and dry (it should be firm to a tap from your finger, not mushy or liquidy in any way) and the mixture is bubbling happily. Serve hot or room temperature, with vanilla ice cream or fresh whipped cream if your heart desires.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Blackberries: Celebrate the Season!

Evan and I went blackberry picking last weekend! Sorry he only took a butt shot...
Came home with a couple pounds... I'd say half a gallon.
Blackberry honey jam.
Whole wheat blackberry pancakes!
(For dinner, yes!)
Blackberry crumble
times two!
Oh, yeah... with a little Straus organic vanilla ice cream. I don't mess around when I'm celebrating.
Evan obviously didn't like his.

If that doesn't make you want to celebrate, I just don't know what will! If you go pick yourself some blackberries, I'll type up that blackberry cobbler recipe for you to make this weekend...