June 28, 2013

Impromptu Solstice Picnic

I love organizing picnics, but everyone is always so busy these days. Sometimes J and I will get out the grill and invite people over, but it doesn't happen often enough for my liking! With some last minute food inspiration and the fact that I really missed my grandma, I decided to have a solstice picnic.

I called my dad and in no time at all, a picnic was in the works for the next day. It was a small get-together with my parents, brother, grandma, and B.A., a dear family friend. Of course Tucker hitched a ride with me. He wouldn't miss a trip to the grandparents' house! Unfortunately, J was working all weekend and missed the festivities, but hopefully he can make it next time.

I have rhubarb to thank for the picnic idea. Sounds weird, I know, but it was my inspiration. When I got rhubarb in my CSA, I was determined to make something that wasn't a strawberry rhubarb pie, strawberry rhubarb crisp, or strawberry rhubarb jam. I love strawberries, but I wanted to discover rhubarb's possibilities without them. I found 3 recipes that met my expectations:

a rhubarb tea cake (that I made gluten-free) by Terry Hope Romero,

roasted rhubarb honey cardamom ice cream (make it vegan by using agave) by Fragrant Vanilla Cake,

and a grilled vegetable sandwich with rhubarb barbecue sauce by Edible Perspective.

Though all 3 of these will be cataloged with my "made and loved it" recipes, I have to say the sandwich was my favorite. I loved the barbecue sauce, and the leftovers are what sparked the idea to have the picnic.

My dad and I put together a vegan cook-out menu and went shopping for a few ingredients that were missing. We wanted the day to be stress-free; the intention was not to be in the kitchen all morning making elaborate dishes. I chose foods that we had most of the ingredients for and would also require minimal prep. I also wanted to make vegan food that everyone would try, and have healthier options than the standard picnic. When my mom suggested I pick up chips and dip, I got the idea to make a fruit dip instead. There's nothing like sour cream dip to encourage mindless snacking of potato chips. At least with the fruit dip, people would be gobbling up fruit. We came to a nice compromise; I made a fruit dip and she bought chips (sans dip).

Since I had most of what I needed (like already having barbecue sauce and pesto dressing made), all I had to do was pick up a short list of groceries, and do a little bit of prep. While the pasta was cooking and the onions were caramelizing, I cut up vegetables, and made the fruit dip. I bought some kombucha, too, so that I could drink something fun while everyone else had wine and beer. I was extra excited when I found Reed's kombucha at the store. People have been going nuts for the stuff, and I had yet to see it in our area. I got these three to try. The goji ginger seems to be everyone's favorite, but the hibiscus ginger grapefruit was my top pick for sure.

Our menu included:

  • Vegan Kielbasa with Carmelized Onion and Red Pepper. Rhubarb Barbecue Sauce.
  • Gluten-Free Pasta Salad with Kale, Corn, Cucumber, Carrot, Radish. Pesto Dressing.
  • Grilled Zucchini
  • Fruit Platter with Blueberry Dip
  • Beer. Wine. Kombucha. Citrus-Infused Water.

I wish I had a Pens beer koozie for my kombucha!

In addition to this menu, my brother brought watermelon and also meat for a few people, my mom bought an assortment of chips, and B.A. showed up with a few boxes (!) of cookies and cupcakes. All the food was so good, but I managed to fill myself up on fruit before the meal (I think next time I should have a fruitluck!) So, I saved half of my plate for later in the evening when I was hungry again.

We spent the afternoon into the evening on the deck, letting the hot sun kiss our faces and later the shade of the tree cool us off. My dad enjoyed a breather from his hectic work schedule, and my mom wasted no time finding a shady spot to curl up with her Nook. I never tire of hearing my grandma's stories, and was so happy to have a chance to lounge around and chat with her. Tucker roamed around looking for crumbs, slept in the sun, rolled in the grass, got freaked out by the ants 'attacking' him, and delighting in the wild smells that are absent in the city.

As the sun set, my brother taught my grandma a card game, Tucker passed out under the table, and I couldn't help but eat a few more pieces of juicy watermelon. This is summertime at its finest.

June 25, 2013

Savory Beet Juice with a Special Ingredient

There are a lot of juice recipes floating around, and most of them are made pretty sweet; some are much too sweet for my taste. Apples, lemons, carrots, oranges, pineapple, and beets are just some of the things used to mask any lingering bitterness from the greens or to appeal to ones desire for a healthy sugary drink. When I started juicing, my gut was wrecked by candida overgrowth and adrenal fatigue had me firmly in its grip. I was juicing to get well, and taste was not a factor in the end product (though I did use lemon and ginger to make it more palatable). I didn't use fruit in my juices at all because the straight sugar exacerbated my mold symptoms. The small amounts of fruit I could tolerate at the time were reserved for green smoothies only. With my juices, I was going for liquid green medicinal power all the way!

Now that I'm further along the path to recovery, I've enjoyed playing around with my juices to make new and exciting combinations. I want to create nourishing juice recipes that are as enjoyable for others as they are for me while still packing a medicinal punch. I still like to keep the sugar low most of the time, but I've been experimenting with a lot of savory sweet recipes. Fresh off the heels of my Ruby Noodle Salad, the beet is once again in the starring role of this full-bodied juice with it's pleasant sweetness and robust earthiness.

I've featured a savory juice before, my spin on the V8 juice for example, but today I've got one that is even better. Normally, to pump up the savory flavor, I'll use fresh herbs like parsley, cilantro, or dill. I took it one step further and added garlic to this one. Yes, garlic! I'd recommend starting small when introducing garlic to your juices. Because it is so strong, you don't want it to overpower the other components in the juice. And hey, if you're a juice aficionado or someone who loves to share, don't be shy about doubling the recipe!

Savory Beet Juice
makes roughly 16 oz

1 medium beet
1/3 large cucumber
1/2 bunch of purple kale
small handful of cilantro (around 15-20 sprigs)
1 lemon
1 inch piece of ginger, or to taste
1 small clove of garlic, peeled

-Rinse all produce and run through your juicer. Enjoy!

June 13, 2013

The Benefits of Beets + Raw Ruby Noodle Salad

Let's flash back to my April eats. April was the month that I was obsessed with red foods. I had so many beets, red bell peppers, strawberries, frozen cherries, frozen persimmons, grape tomatoes (ya, it wasn't quite tomato season, but I couldn't wait), red apples, goji berries, frozen raspberries, dulse, acai berry puree, red grapefruit and even hibiscus tea. Deep reds, orange reds, pink reds, purple-y reds. Ok, you get it.

While each of these foods have unique properties and particular benefits, in general, red foods are great for the heart and blood, they're rich in antioxidants and fight inflammation, and they protect against certain cancers. Some nutritional components like lycopene (tomatoes famously contain high amounts) are best absorbed when eaten with some fat. To make sure you're absorbing lycopene in your food, add diced avocado, a drizzle of cold-pressed oil, a creamy nut-based dressing, or any other healthy fat to your dish. (Keep in mind that while I'm talking about red foods here, lycopene is also abundant in many other non-red foods like parsley and asparagus!)

Let's zero in on the amazing yet often underestimated beet. I used to crinkle my nose at the idea of eating beets. My experience with them went no further than the mushy, tasteless canned beets found on salad bars. Yuck. Nowadays, I juice them, blend them, roast them, steam them, spiralize them, shred them. I never tire of ways to enjoy beets.

Beets are a phenomenal food for your liver because they lend a helping hand in the the detoxification process. Sometimes our bodies can be so toxic that the liver is overloaded and is not able to do its full job. The soluble fiber in beets neutralizes toxins by binding with them and carrying them out of the body. When I was detoxifying my body from candida overgrowth as well as the mold spores and other toxins that were permeating in the air at that house, beets were an important part of my diet for this very reason.

Another interesting fact about beets is that they are really high in betaine. Betaine lowers high levels of homocysteine, an amino acid that has been linked to increased cardiac events and possibly to increased risk for Alzheimers. (Side note: We vegans are not exempt from high homocysteine. High levels can result from low B12. Nudge, nudge. Take your supplement!) Betaine also increases stomach acid (more on that in a minute), prevents fatty liver deposits, and is used to treat depression in both whole food and supplemental preparations.

Other nutritional benefits of beets include: They're high in a slew of vitamins and minerals including B vitamins especially folate (B9) and niacin (B3), potassium, vitamins A and C (highest in the green tops), magnesium, and iron. They successfully reduce blood pressure. They promote healthy sex lives; in addition to the betaine which keeps the blood from clotting, they also are a great source of boron which is involved in sex hormone production. They help prevent skin, lung, liver, and spleen cancers and are especially powerful in the prevention of colon cancer. Beets are a potent source of both zeaxanthin and lutein, so they will keep your eyesight sharp and free from disease.

Remember how I mentioned lycopene earlier? While lycopene is responsible for giving red foods like tomatoes and watermelon their color, beets get their color from a phytonutrient called betalain. Betalains depend on gastric acid to break down. If you eat beets and have low stomach acid be prepared for what is medically referred to as beeturia. Don't mistake pink urine and/or pink and red poo for blood; it's undigested betalains!

The blood maintains a slightly alkaline pH around 7.4. That's where all the talk comes in about eating an alkaline diet for optimum health. The stomach, however, should be very acidic during digestion. It is the acidity of the gastric acid (yes, I know how redundant that is to write!) that keeps the bad bacteria at bay and helps facilitate the breakdown of food, nutrient absorption, and general smooth digestion. Experiencing beeturia is a sign that you are not producing enough gastric acid. How do you improve this? Well, one easy thing you can do is eat more beets and betaine-rich foods since they can increase stomach acid production.

I've noticed vast improvements in my digestion, but (and this might be kinda gross to you) not seeing red/pink when I went to the bathroom was an awesome visual reminder of how far I've come in my recovery. I've been eating beets very regularly since I revamped my diet, and in the beginning I had beeturia every single time I ate beets. Now I can eat beets and drink beet juice and there is nary a discoloration.

The last of my CSA sauerkraut

If your beets have tops (I try to buy mine with the tops intact whenever possible), you can chop them up and throw them in the salad, too. If you're not used to very bitter greens, I'd go light on them though until you're used to them. Also, be aware that beet greens are very high in oxalic acid which interferes with calcium absorption. Barring certain severe health conditions, avoiding oxalic acid isn't necessary. There are too many positives in eating these foods (like beet greens and spinach), and it would not be prudent to cut out of your diet completely. I see it as a gentle reminder that we should be eating variety. I eat or juice the beet greens that come on my beets, but I don't do it every day for weeks on end. Variety is the key here. Rotate your greens!

For several days, this salad made a filling and satisfying lunch for me. The sauerkraut I used came from my CSA. They had extra winter boxes and gave summer subscribers the opportunity to buy one of them. I was stoked that they gave us a bunch of sauerkraut and was throwing it on pretty much everything I made. It went really well on this salad. I'd suggest going easy on the salt in the slaw because the kraut will provide the salty bite for this salad.

Raw Ruby Noodle Salad  raw, gluten-free, vegan
makes about 4 servings

Beet and Kelp Noodle Slaw:

1 package of kelp noodles, rinsed and drained
2 small zucchini, shredded
3 medium carrots, shredded
1 medium beet, shredded
2 large handfuls of parsley, chopped
1 small handful of fresh dill, chopped
juice of 1/2 a lemon
dash of onion powder
dash of garlic powder
pinch of sea salt

-Place rinsed kelp noodles into a large bowl.
-Shred zucchini, carrots, and beets and toss with the kelp noodles.
-Chop parsley and dill. Toss with kelp noodles.
-Add lemon juice and seasonings and mix one final time.

To construct the salad:

Arugula greens
1 cup of slaw
1/4 c sauerkraut, preferably raw
1/2 small avocado, sliced

-Arrange a bed of arugula on each plate.
-Top each salad with 1 cup of slaw.
-Measure out 1/4 cup of sauerkraut (per salad) and spread evenly on top.
-Garnish with avocado slices.

June 06, 2013

CSA Spoils

 Gloriousness. Mountains of gloriousness.

This is our second year participating in a CSA. If you don't know, CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. Basically, you pay the farmer for a "share" of the season's produce. As a CSA member, barring farming catastrophes like drought, you get to enjoy the abundance of freshly-picked fruits and vegetables all season long! Since my grandparents' gardens are a thing of the past and I have yet to start a garden of my own, these weekly CSA boxes are the next best thing. And, since I'm such a salad freak, the first couple weeks are always my favorite. Greens, greens, and more greens.

There are tons of farms that participate in CSAs. Every farm has slightly different offerings, so it's best to look into all the options. Some offer exclusively organic. Others don't spray, but haven't gotten organic certification yet. You might find that you can only get a produce item you really love from one or two farms. Some have special items that can be ordered for an additional cost like mushrooms, coffee, or animals products like eggs, meats, and cheeses. Of course, I'm not too thrilled to see animal products offered no matter how "local", "grass-fed", or "organic" it is, but I do get pretty excited for the mushrooms.


Even though it's just J and I in this house, we get the family-sized share. With me eating primarily raw foods and J focusing on eating more whole foods, we devour more produce than the average family anyway! I'm really pleased with our first box, and I already have plenty of ideas of things to make. I'm not sure what I'm going to do with all the rhubarb. A lot of rhubarb recipes call for sugar, and that's not really my thing. I love the stuff though, so I'm sure I'll come up with something creative.

Pictured above: 4 heads of leaf lettuce, 1 bunch of chard, 2 bunches of radishes, bag of spinach, bag of mixed greens, rosemary, thyme, bunch of basil, 2 bunches of rhubarb, and a loaf of hearty 7-grain bread. The bread was a random add-on from them. Every so often we'll get something special thrown in. I see panzanella in J's future, maybe some pesto (how could I not?), raw chard soup, and many delicious salads!

June 03, 2013

Bye-Bye Funky Fridays: Channelling Inspiration

There are many ways to calm a negative energy without suppressing or fighting it. You recognize it, you smile to it, and you invite something nicer to come up and replace it; you read some inspiring words, you listen to a piece of beautiful music, you go somewhere in nature, or you do some walking meditation.” - Thich Nhat Hanh

It's easy to get swallowed up in the shallow details of the everyday, focusing on what needs to be done in order to be on track for the next day and the next day and so on. Instead of allowing life to flow, we can view even the pleasurable things as chores. It happens when we are out-of-touch with our lives, when it feels like there's more chaos than order, and when we allow the crazy things to dictate the level of our happiness.

When I wake up feeling like this, and it can easily magnify throughout the day. Lethargy turns into hopelessness, and before it's noon I would swear to you that the earth was trying to swallow me whole. I had a day like that recently. It happened to be the second Friday in a row that this happened (hence the title of this post). I spent the whole day unfocused, unproductive, and unhappy. My head was spinning as I tried to get through the day without having to deal with these emotions. Dusk approached, and exhausted from trying to outrun my feelings, I resigned myself to them. I took a deep breath in, and watched the nervous energy release with my exhale. I felt better. I was still in a sour mood, but at least I felt better about being in it.

Meditation has made me happy, loving, and peaceful—but not every single moment of the day. I still have good times and bad, joy and sorrow. Now I can accept setbacks more easily, with less sense of disappointment and personal failure, because meditation has taught me how to cope with the profound truth that everything changes all the time.” - Sharon Salzberg 

The next day, I woke with an intention to make the day great. Despite my restless sleep and tense body, I welcomed the day with a smile. Tucker and I got up together and – me donning a slinky sundress and him slipping into his purple harness – stepped out for our morning walk. It was breezy, but the air was still so hot and thick. Nonetheless, I breathed in the fresh air with gratitude. The chimney swifts were chirping and chattering, I had ample energy for a long river walk, and Tucker was in a particularly inquisitive mood. What a glorious day this will be, I declared!

Once back indoors, I poured a tall glass of iced tea that I had cold-brewed overnight. Though I had a busy schedule lined up for the day, I took some time to sit down and peruse the blogs I love most. A few posts in, inspiration began to sprout. As it grew within me, I felt all the stuck emotions wane, and I suddenly felt so much lighter than I have in months.

Unlike other times that I reached this state, I didn't feel this freedom because I ate organic plant fuel, nor did I feel it from a workout-induced endorphine rush. It wasn't due to uplifting social situations, nor was it from garnering support in a time of need. It sparked from hitting pause on my obligations and giving no expectation to my life at that moment. It was a moment for the lazy meditator. My mind was quiet and therefore my creative self, in its truest form, became alive.

I am honoring this experience by setting an intention right now. I've been interested in meditation for a really long time. After I got sick – and especially after being diagnosed with adrenal fatigue – I knew that meditation would lead to miraculous shifts in my life. While I knew all of that, I was slow to integrate the practice. I can know all I want, but the shifts will not happen until I start to do. I did a 21-day meditation challenge in March during which I began to notice some change in me. I've been meditating since then, but not enough that I could call it a practice. Though I found great peace through practicing gratitude and adopting a positive but grounded outlook on my life, meditation is one thing that never became a habit for me. That is about to change right now.

I am setting an intention to make meditation a part of my daily life. I want to get to the point that a daily practice is as essential to my well-being as eating greens. If I can make time to make myself beautiful salads everyday surely I can find the time for this. 

You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day - unless you're too busy; then you should sit for an hour.” 
- Old Zen Adage