August 27, 2012

Link Love and a Recipe for Stuffed Green Peppers

Me and this pretty lady have been cooking up a storm. 

As I mention in my “About Me” page, J has been making the switch to a vegan diet. He eats completely vegan except for the occasional designated “cheat day". Some hardcore vegans might scoff at the thought of him having a cheat day. I prefer to be encouraging; I think it's counter-productive to be outraged at someone for not changing on another person's timeline. I don't judge him. This is a man who held nary a vegetable to his lips for the first year we were together. He says he needs the cheat days right now to stay 100% on every other day. I trust him and his process, and it's working for him so far. His taste buds have even been changing, so some of the foods he used to crave are no longer appealing to him.

J's worked jobs in the food industry and is great at making meat dishes, but has some difficulty creating vegan dishes. Just in the last couple months, he's gotten so much better at conceptualizing vegan meals. I give him tips and ideas all the time, but what he really likes is for me to do the cooking. Sometimes we're a cooking duo, too, which is really fun. He's a creature of habit, and when he finds food he likes, he sticks to it for a long time. I've seen him eat the same rice and bean bowl with homemade salsa and guac way too many times to count. Roasted potatoes w/ onions, ketchup, and vegan sausage? Yep, he was stuck on that for months. I like a little more variation in my meals, but I do see an upside to his fixation. All he needs is a few solid vegan meals to fall back on, and he won't stray for lack of choices.

I've had really good luck with recipes in the last few weeks. I've tried so many and only had one failure. I tried vegan cheddar ice cream, but the texture was off in a big way. Not sure what went wrong with that. I've certainly found a few new gems to throw into the current rotation.

The all-star line-up was led by Elenore Earth's cheesy spaghetti. We were so not ready for this explosion of flavor. We both inhaled it before capturing the beauty in a photo. I only had one zucchini, so I added a pack of kelp noodles which lent a nice crunch to the whole thing. I chopped a bunch of tomatoes and basil and scattered them atop the spaghetti. Along with the hemp seeds, these garnishes elevated the bowl to new levels. J, who doesn't like to compare vegan or healthy foods to their meat-laden or unhealthy counterparts, couldn't stop the flood of nostalgia. He kept thinking back to fettuccini alfredo and white cheddar macaroni. J is a pasta lover and not one to eat vegetable noodles, so I was a little surprised by his enthusiasm for these zuke noodles. This one's a keeper.

Peaches are rolling in with our weekly CSA pick-ups. I was immensely pleased with both the cardamom-scented peach ice cream and the roasted peach and ginger chia pudding I made. The ice cream got rave reviews from friends and family. It was the best I've had in a long while. With my second batch, I made a gluten-free almond amaretto cake to be served alongside it. It was wonderful. The chia pudding's flavor peaked the day after making it just as Gena suggests. I've never roasted peaches before. They were so tasty! I'm reluctant to turn on the oven most days, but this was worth it. 


We had some CSA beets hanging around, and I wanted to do something different with them. I made this hemp beet granola and beet sumac hummus. This was my first time using sumac and I really liked it. For anyone unfamiliar with it, it was kind of like a tangy, sweet paprika. I made a salad base of arugula and parsley and topped it with tomato, zucchini, beet hummus, lentil eggplant dip, and my leftover carrot pulp from my raw tomato soup. The colors were so vibrant!


Some other notable recipes I tried were: strawberry pumpkin waffles. (Yes, I've been on a Choosing Raw recipe kick these past few weeks.) The subtlety of the pumpkin paired well with the jam-like strawberries. This pina colada ice cream was devoured rapidly. I've never had raw plantains and wanted to try it out. I found this super easy recipe for plantain pudding and loved it. It had a delightful orange hue. It was great alone, but I also enjoyed a bowl with a whole kiwi tossed in.

When we signed up for the CSA this year, they asked if there was anything we didn't want in our box. I thought, “I'll take anything and everything!” In my zeal for all things veggie, I forgot about green peppers. Green bell peppers are immature red bell peppers. Since I'm not fond of their taste and have heard that they can be hard to digest, I don't bother with them. I get more antioxidants and vitamins from the red ones anyway. We have been accumulating a number of green bell peppers, and I decided to use them to make stuffed peppers. I haven't had them since I was little, but thought it would be fun to make. Normally, I'd love to add in fresh garlic and onion, but they have recently been bothersome to my digestion. I've made a notation in the ingredients if you want to make these additions. These made a filling meal for my dad, J, and I. 


Stuffed Green Peppers serves 4

4 green peppers
1 cup water
1 package of dried mushrooms (7g), cooked and chopped
2 T tomato paste + 4 oz mushroom stock
2 t coconut oil
1 stalk celery, diced
1 carrot, diced
½ cup wild rice, cooked
½ cup quinoa, cooked
¼ cup zucchini, chopped
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
large handful of chard, chiffonaded
¾ t smoked paprika
¼ t cumin
½ t basil
½ t oregano
1 T gluten-free tamari
3 T nutritional yeast
black pepper to taste
½ cup chopped walnuts
vegan mozzarella shreds, opt.
tomato sauce, opt.

-Cut the tops off the peppers and remove the ribs and seeds. Place in a baking dish.

-Cook wild rice and quinoa and set aside. (I made a big batch of both and had enough use for other meals throughout the week.)

-Rinse off mushrooms. Add them to a pot with 1 cup of water and bring to a boil. Boil covered for a minute, then shut off the heat. Keep covered for 10 minutes. Strain mushrooms and reserve 4 oz of liquid. Mix tomato paste into liquid and set aside.

-Preheat oven to 350.  In a large skillet, heat coconut oil. Add in carrots and celery. Cook 3-5 minutes on medium heat. *

-Add in quinoa, rice, remaining vegetables, and spices. Cook until warmed through or about 3 minutes. Then, stir in the walnuts.

-Fill each pepper with the grain and vegetable mixture. Top with tomato sauce if desired. Add tomato sauce or a very thin layer of water to the bottom of the pan to prevent the dish from drying out and to keep the bottom from scorching.**

-Cook 30-40 minutes, sprinkling cheese on top when the peppers are almost done.

*If you want to add in onion and garlic, do so at this point. I'd probably add about 1/2 small onion and 2 cloves of garlic.
**Alternatively, you can cover in foil and cook. In that case, you don't want water in the bottom of the pan because it won't evaporate and may leave your peppers soggy.

August 20, 2012

Creamy Raw Tomato Herb Soup

When it comes to my cooking abilities, I'm fairly confident that I can whip up something satisfying no matter the circumstance. Give me a random hodgepodge of ingredients, and it'll look like a mini version of Chopped in my kitchen. In the event that I'm feeding someone who is scared to try new things or has dietary restrictions, I can always come up with a healthy dish that pleases the company. I like expanding my repertoire by trying recipes from other cultures, broadening my horizons by using new spices/blends and superfoods, and giving myself options by testing out substitutions.

One thing I've never completely figured out is raw soups. It seems simple enough. It is a savory version of sweeter smoothies I make all the time. Same concept, different flavor profile. I think the problem is that I think too much about it being a soup and end up muddling the flavors. Cooked soups get rich flavor from several things that are not available to me when making it raw. Cooked soups often begin with sweating onion and garlic in oil, followed by a hearty stock and sometimes a bouquet garni, all of which infuse the soup with a mouthwatering aroma.


When it comes to my own recipes, I'm used to winging it. I'm not yet comfortable doing this with raw soups. I've made a few raw soup recipes that were very good (like Natalia KW's savory green smoothie and the celeriac and green apple soup from Raw Food, Real World), but haven't been able to make anything recipe-worthy on my own until now. Again, I think I'm making it harder than it needs to be. Some things that I think would be useful to me when making raw soups are things like sun-dried tomatoes with their concentrated, tart sweetness, umami flavor in nama shoyu or nooch, and nuts/seeds or avocado to give the soup a creamy consistency (instead of potatoes or beans/legumes which I'd use in creamy hot soups).
When I saw the image and description of the Peters Pot soup from Quintessence on a recent Choosing Raw post, I made a beeline for the kitchen. I was mostly driven by a hankering for some dulse, which might just be my favorite seaweed. The Quintessence soup was an inspirational starting point and my recipe kept evolving as I went along. I kept wishing I had a yellow pepper, but made due with the red pepper I had in the fridge. Yellow and orange peppers are some of my favorite vegetables, but it's uncommon to find them organic around here. At least I can find organic red ones, right? This lovely soup resulted after just one try! I could eat a whole batch of this soup straight from the blender. Perhaps I'm starting to get the hang of this raw soup thing. 

Have you eaten at Quintessence before? It is high on my list of restaurants to eat at next time I'm in New York. Everything I've seen from them looks outstanding. If you try out my soup, I'd love to hear what you think in the comments section below. Enjoy!

Creamy Garden Tomato Soup 
raw, vegan, nut-free*, gluten-free, soy-free. makes 6 cups

1 ½ lbs. tomatoes (about 4-5 medium-sized tomatoes)

1 medium cucumber, seeded and chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
1 avocado
1 cup carrot juice, (4 large carrots, juiced)
1/2 c basil, tightly packed
1/4 c parsley, tightly packed
1 heaping T dill
2 t dulse flakes
1 t raw coconut aminos*
1/8 t turmeric
dash white pepper
hemp seeds, garnish
basil, chiffonade, garnish

optional garnishes:
diced cucumber and red bell pepper**
chopped chives
dulse flakes
other chopped herbs

-Juice the carrots. 
-Add the juice with all other ingredients into the blender. Blend until smooth. 
-Add garnishes if desired.

*If you don't have coconut aminos or are allergic to coconut, you can use nama shoyu, tamari, or braggs liquid aminos. They are all slightly different in the strength of flavor, so I would start with 1/2 t and increase from there. Also, if you have food sensitivities, note that these substitutes contain wheat and/or soy.
**Sometimes I'm not in the mood for a strictly creamy soup. Diced veggies add texture and a nice crunch. Don't load the soup with them though! A little bit will do the trick.

August 18, 2012

Be Well: Nature Is Our Teacher

“You gotta swim
Swim in the dark
There's no shame in drifting
Feel the tide shifting and wait for the spark
Yeah you've gotta swim
Don't let yourself sink
Just find the horizon
I promise you it's not as far as you think”
-Jack's Mannequin

I've been ruminating on some serious things lately, but be sure to check in on Monday for a lighter post, a raw soup recipe that will surely delight the tastebuds! My kitchen is overflowing with fragrant tomatoes from my CSA, so there's no way I could keep them from making a star appearance. And now on to today's thoughts.

I sometimes get caught up in an endless cycle of troubleshooting when something feels off in my body. This stems from having to figure out most of my problems on my own, as one may have deduced from my last post. My thoughts race from one hypothesis to the next. Did I eat something wrong? Is it because I didn't get enough sleep? Is it because of a stressful encounter with an intense person? Did second-hand smoke aggravate me? The voice of reason inside me tells me that while it's smart to be aware, being overly analytic isn't in my best interest. During one of my head-spinning dissections of my every feeling, I came across a great video with a moving analogy for the struggles and failures that we encounter in life. We really can interpret many useful lessons from the nature surrounding us. When we are tuned in and ready to listen, nature is our best teacher. You can find the video here.

After the video, I was pensive in thought, wanting to shed my unanswered questions – I don't want to become like stagnant water – in favor of flowing toward the well. As I was pondering my move forward, I received word that a beautiful soul had passed away. She was best friends with one of my best friends, so it was no surprise that we had a natural affinity for one another. Living in different cities, I only spent a handful of times with her, but time is arbitrary when it comes to kindred spirits. She was a fellow vegan who I remember to be genuine, kind, and uniquely herself. I loved her endearing, quirky sense of humor. I was so saddened to hear of her passing, and I am sending peaceful thoughts and an abundance of love to her family and friends during this difficult time.

My emotions and thoughts about this news gave me great pause. I want to be well, I truly do. I want to banish my worst days, not only for myself and my quality of life, but for those I hold dear to my heart. I want to be there for them when they need me and be well enough to share endless joyful moments. Fixating on unexpected paths will not get me anywhere. I must let the current carry me and trust in the process, for in nature's wondrous balancing act – for good and bad, in triumph and heartache – all things must pass.

“Now the darkness only stays the night-time
In the morning it will fade away
Daylight is good at arriving at the right time
Its not always going to be this grey

All things must pass
All things must pass away”
-George Harrison

August 09, 2012

Free As a Bird: My Blue-Framed Beauty

Before I get into today's topic, I wanted to announce that I am featured on The Blissful Chef's blog in a post about the dehydrator (plus recipes!). For those of you unfamiliar with Christy's work, I'd suggest checking her out pronto. Her dishes are equally beautiful and delicious, and her obvious passion for healthy plant-based cuisine shines through in everything she does. I'm so grateful to her for giving me space on her blog here.

Today is a momentous day because I rode my bike for the first time since I got sick, not only because of my illness's effect on my endurance, but also because bike maintenance funds have been permanently rerouted to health funds. That means it's been two years since pedaling around on my beloved bike. I can't believe it. Recently, J spent one of his off-days in the bike shop and lovingly spruced it up for me. I couldn't be more thankful to him, and he couldn't be happier to see the wide grin across my face as we breezed down the river trail!

I used to ride upwards of 30 miles a day between work, school, trips home in between, hanging out in various parts of the city, cruising on late night summer rides with friends, riding in Critical Mass at the end of every month. My muscles would ache in disagreement on any day that I decided not to ride. There was nothing that made me feel more free, more on top of the world than coasting down a winding hill as fast as I could, wind in my hair, my body zigging and zagging in tandem with my bike. It was the utmost accomplishment to push myself beyond the barrier of “I can't...” and turn it into “I must, I will...” finish climbing up this hill. Screw hopping off and walking. I was stronger than that.

In my early 20's, I volunteered at a community bicycle program 2-3 times a week. Since I have much more of a “dissect abstract theory” brain rather than a “construct an apparatus” brain, I was proud of myself for learning something out of my comfort zone. During this time, a crazy sequence of events occurred that led me to the bike I have now. 

My first self-built bike had been stolen by some kids who also stole my friend's car. I'd called in the cycling cavalry for a fruitless city-wide bike hunt, and I had to scramble overnight to find a replacement for my main – and shall I mention free? – method of transportation. I became the butt of my friends' jokes because my interim bicycle was a tiny, red road bike. I looked like a circus clown on a toddler's trike. I eventually found a friend willing to part with her spare bike for a month or two, and I was able to maneuver the city much easier. In the meantime, I kept my eyes open for another bike that I could fix up and call my own.

One day, a friend of mine expressed interest in building a bike. Enthusiastically agreeing to help, I told her we could get started that day. When we got to the shop, I started weeding through the piles of donated bikes. We always received a great number of donations, but many of them were in sorry shape. After years of neglect, parts were stripped or rusted off, wheels were bent, frames were cracked. We'd salvage the parts we could and recycle or throw away the rest. Another obstacle besides the quality of donations was size. We got a lot that were child-sized bikes as well as large men's ones, but not much for those of us between 5'-5'6. I spied a blue frame among the wreckage that looked like it may fit the bill. I threw some wheels on it and instructed my friend to hop on. This is a glimpse into my mind at that moment, “Crap. If only she were a little shorter it would be perfect. It's such a cool-looking bike, too. What a shame. But, oh...wait. I'm a little bit shorter than her. Oh. Snap.”

And so, that is how I found my blue-framed beauty. Though it is of little value save the sentimental kind, I love it still. It underwent some major, and I mean major, reconstructive surgery to bring it back to life. As cheesy as it sounds, it is now returning the favor by helping to bring me back to life. Cycling wasn't my biggest athletic loss due to my illness (In fact, the one with the most severe and lasting impact is something that I have yet to come to terms with losing – intense heartbreak that is best saved for a future time), but I always knew it would be an integral part of my recovery process. Finding an exercise routine that doesn't leave my adrenal glands sputtering is a real challenge. Yoga has been good to me, but my body loves variety when it comes to moving and shaking. What body doesn't? Returning to cycling for all that it gives – enjoyment, transportation, and healing – is sure to bring about remarkable progress.

August 03, 2012

Morning Rituals and a Mango Berry Smoothie

There are two morning essentials that I can't do without; lemon water and greens. After my body has spent the night restoring its cells, I want to give it something back: a good dose of highly absorbable nourishment and hydration. I also find that it's easier to eat healthy throughout the day if I start off that way.

I always begin my day with a liter of lemon water. If it's a hot day or I feel dehydrated, I might drink more water before moving on to anything else. Adrenal fatigue can cause dehydration. On my bad days, I drink tons of water. Eating a diet of water-filled fruits and veggies helps immensely as well.

Despite the acidic taste, lemons are alkaline in the body. This is helpful because the average American eats way too many acidic foods, and the body has to work extra hard to stay in balance (this is referred to as maintaining homeostasis). Lemons have vitamin c which gives your immunity a boost, and they stimulate peristalsis (coaxing the muscles that keep your pipes clean). A glass of lemon water 20 minutes or so before a meal can be useful because it aids in bile production in the liver which is very important for proper digestion. When someone comes to me asking for nutritional advice, lemon water is always part of my recommendation. I've always gotten good feedback from those who have incorporated this into their daily routine. I thought I'd mention that while I feel best with a liter of water in the morning, everyone is different. That is what works for me. Just remember to listen to your body. If you're thirsty, drink up. If not, don't force it.

As far as greens go, I need to have them in the mornings in some form. It's the best habit that I've picked up since my sickness started. Late last year, a dear friend visited me. Those few days were treated as a special occasion, and I loosened up on my regimen a bit. While making waffles for breakfast one morning, she asked if I could tell a difference in my energy and mood if I didn't start the day with greens. I paused for a moment and was a bit sad that I couldn't feel a change. I did, however, weigh the option that my happiness from seeing her more than made up for the surge of greens to the system. 

Well, the waffle maker was being finicky and we were having too much fun to rush things. I was beginning to get hungry and the scraps from the mess-ups weren't satisfying my growing hunger. I threw together a quick salad and was instantly energized. Sometimes it takes breaking a habit to realize what it is doing for me. People with sub-standard diets often think they are healthy enough despite lack in energy or the ever-expanding pill collection in their medicine cabinets, and they attribute their “normal” health problems to aging or genetics. They eat junk that makes them feel like junk and don't realize how good they can feel with certain foods. Here I was eating relatively healthy waffles and forgetting how bad I could feel without my greens!

I generally consume my morning greens in liquid form. I go through phases of making a 3-4 cups of green juice that I sip on throughout the morning, and other times I get hooked on making green smoothies. During my smoothie phases, I'll sometimes make smaller juices during the day. In rushed situations or times that are not conducive to making either, my go-to is a couple tablespoons of Healthforce Nutritionals Vitamineral Greens.

Because of my SIBO issues, I try to keep the spotlight on the greens and low-glycemic fruits in my smoothies. Higher glycemic fruits seldom make an appearance. I don't use fruit in my juices. Instead, I like to throw in a lemon and a big knob of ginger in to tame the bitter greens.

People can get caught up in the smoothie vs juice debate, but don't think it should be a “one or the other” thing. They are both great in their own ways. Green juices give you concentrated liquid nutrition without the energy expenditure of digestion and at a much higher volume than would be possible with the intact fiber-rich food. Green smoothies provide fiber and the blender “chews” your food, breaking open cell walls and increasing the availability of nutrients to your body. If you want a gigantic flood of nutrition immediately, you want to juice. If you want to tack on extra greens to an already substantial meal, go for the juice. If you want a meal in a glass that's full of fiber, fats, carbs, superfood boosters, etc, choose to make a smoothie. A well-balanced smoothie can be a meal while juices are usually a healthy snack consumed at the beginning of the day or in between meals.

For the past couple months, I have been in smoothie mode. My juicer does get lonely sometimes, but I can never part from it for very long! I had ½ a mango and some coconut water leftover from a couple of recipes I made yesterday. Since I've been strawberry crazy lately, I could think of no better food to pair the mango with. 


Mango Berry Green Smoothie 
serves 1

1 cup mangoes
1 cup strawberries
1 cup coconut water
1 heaping handful of spinach
1'' piece of ginger, chopped
1 scoop protein powder
squeeze of lime juice

*Blend all ingredients until smooth. Serve.