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Thursday, November 3, 2011

Enjoying the last of autumn's bounty

Long Island had its first frost this past week. We were caught by surprise with snow, hail, and freezing temperatures on Halloween weekend. Many delicate garden plants succombed to the frost, but the hardier cold-weather crops are still going strong. This September, we enjoyed an abundance of fresh figs from my backyard tree. October was marked by chestnuts and persimmons from the trees of friends and neighbors. I harvested some beautiful butternut squash that grew accidently in my garden from organic seeds in last year's compost. I still have some carrots, arugula, mustard greens, and baby bok choy coming up in my garden. My weekly CSA box is teeming with cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, gai lan (delicious chinese broccoli), broccoli rabe, baby pak choy, cabbage, kale, collards, turnips, turnip root and greens, and arugula. The veggies in the cruciferous family are the nutrient superstars of the plant kingdom - packed with tons of vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals to fight cancer. Not to be forgotten are the other nutritious, antioxidant-rich veggies in my fall CSA boxes: sweet potatoes, yellow and red potatoes, carrots, lettuce, green beans, cranberry beans, beets, celeriac, acorn and butternut squash, fennel, onions, garlic, shallots, and scallions. Fall definitely makes me nostalgic for working on the farm!

string beans, figs, and squash blossoms from my garden

I'm still trying to balance school, work, and prepping healthy meals for myself. I recently discovered a ridiculously easy and delicious way to make use of about half of my weekly CSA box. For the past several weeks, Danny and I have arranged a large "Buddha Bowl," which is basically cooked grain + raw veggies + dressing. This allows us to incorporate raw food in a quick and easy way, with tons of leftovers to bring to work and school. We managed to put together the following Buddha Bowl in less than an hour (while the brown rice and quinoa was steaming): onion, shredded carrot and turnip root, baby pak choy, avocado, garlic and ginger (simmered with the quinoa on the stove), hemp and sesame seeds, black olives, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, flax oil, toasted sesame oil, ume plum vinegar, cayenne, red pepper flakes, black pepper, dulse flakes (seaweed seasoning). We served the veggies and dressing over the grains with tahini and sauerkraut, which is over new favorite topping for everything! Although the veggies are raw, if you mix them with the hot grains they will soften and and have a cooked quality. You seriously can't go wrong with a Buddha Bowl...just throw in whatever you have on hand with your favorite dressing! Here is the original inspiration from Kris Carr's Crazy Sexy Life.

A few other Autumn happenings:
  1. The Northeast Organic Farming Association held the New York Locavore Challenge during the month of September to promote eating and acting locally and more sustainably. I played my part by eating organic food from my CSA and garden, riding my bike to work, and taking the train to school. I recently came across this cool blog promoting local living on Long Island
  2. My town hosted a haunted house called Darkness Rising this year that donated 100% of its profits to local charities. It turns out that this haunt was hosted by my sister's friend, who used to hold the event at his home each year. It was voted best haunted house in the tri-state area this year! I didn't have a chance to attend, but I heard from coworkers that it was awesome! 
  3. Huntington-based Healthy Planet will be having its annual Turkey-Free Thanksgiving event on Sunday, November 20. The event features a vegan potluck and a speaker on sustainable living. Last year almost 200 people attended the event, and I won runner-up for the best dish! 
  4. I have been meaning to get involved with Long Island Food Not Bombs, an organization that holds weekly events to provide groceries, warm meals, clothing, and other items in low income communities on LI. They will be holding their annual Thanksgiving Bonanaza at the Hempstead Food Share on Sunday, November 20 (unfortunately I can't make that event because I will be at the Turkey-Free Thanksgiving!).
Hope you have a happy un-turkey day!!

pumpkin and butternut squash from my garden

my mom got creative with the butternut squash for Halloween

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Vegan Adventures in Ecuador and More...

            Sorry to keep you all waiting for a new post for nearly TWO MONTHS! I spent the last two weeks of August in Ecuador. My sister is studying abroad there for 5 months, so my cousin and I went to visit her. We were only supposed to stay for one week, but thanks to Hurricane Irene, we got to stay an extra week! Ecuador was beautiful and amazing, and there is way to much to talk about here, but I'll give you a quick summary of our trip highlights: lots of hiking (including to the 4,800m refuge of one of the highest active volcanoes in the world), mountain biking down that same volcano, horseback riding, visiting two volcanic crater lakes (and riding a mule up one), shopping at indigenous markets, tubing, ziplining through the cloud forest, visiting butterfly/hummingbird/orchid gardens, touring the colonial and modern areas of the capitol city Quito, dancing to reggaeton and salsa in the clubs, and visiting a traditional shaman! 

               I was honestly worried about eating vegan in Ecuador, but with some flexibility and a basic knowledge of Spanish I was able to get by. Ecuadorians are not familiar with the term "vegan," and to them "vegetarian" just means no red meat. I was able to find several veg-friendly restaurants in the capitol city, but aside from those places I was able to make do by ordering rice, beans, and vegetables. Ecuador has the most amazing variety of tropical fruits. I couldn't even identify half of them and had no idea how to pick out the ripe ones. Ecuadorians serve fresh fruit juice with every meal. When they can't make them fresh, they use frozen fruit pulp. I tried guanabana, maracuya (passion fruit), mango, banana, naranjilla (small bitter orange), mora (blackberry), durazno (peach), tomate de arbol (tree tomato), uvilla (ground cherry), pitahaya (dragon fruit), taxo, and more. Ecuadorian eating patterns took a bit of getting used to, because they eat "desayuno" (breakfast) and a very large "almuerzo" (lunch), but they do not really eat dinner. Most families just eat leftovers from lunch or a small snack during the evening. This way of eating actually makes more sense, because large American dinners take too much time to digest before bed. 
           We flew back from Ecuador on Labor Day, so I didn't even get a chance to breath because I had classes the next day. I missed my first week of grad school due to our delay in Ecuador, so I have been playing catch-up the past few weeks in school. I am going to Hunter College full time now for the graduate program in nutrition, and it is a lot of work! I have 4 classes each week, but we were told in orientation to expect at least 36 hours per week of outside school work. That's a full time job! I am still working at Starbucks part-time as well. It's tough, especially as a nutrition student, to sacrifice healthy eating and exercise to get school work done. Unfortunately, I have been eating less raw foods since cooked foods are often more convenient and involve less planning. I find myself having to eat out more often as well, since I have less time to cook. However, I have found easy ways to make sure that I always pack a healthy meal to bring to school and work:
  • Salads - add some beans, sprouts, nuts, seeds, or tofu to make a complete meal; buy pre-washed and chopped lettuce mix to save time
  • Fresh fruit - as easy as it gets!
  • Trail mix - make your own to save money
  • Good old PB&J! - sprinkle on some flax, chia, or hemp seeds for a healthy boost and sneak in some bananas or raisins
  • Hummus and veggies
  • Make 1-2 large dishes for the week and separate into individual containers
Oh and be sure to carry it all in a cute reusable lunch box like mine! 

Some recent recipes worth noting:
  • The Best Spinach Quiche Ever - this tofu-based version seriously rivals the best quiche made with cheese, eggs, and cream!
  • Baklava - I found some organic, vegan phyllo dough in Whole Foods, and this recipe certainly put it to good use! It was surprisingly easy to make and tasted just like the authentic restaurant-style dessert. 
  • Stuffed Bitter Melon (Karela) - the only recipe I've tried that can somewhat tame the bitterness of the super-nutritious "karela." This vegetable is used in Asia to treat diabetes and detoxify the liver. It is definitely an acquired taste, but its health benefits are so great that it is worth trying. 

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Food As Art

My mom worked in the art field while I was growing up. So naturally I was always drawing, painting, or working on an arts and crafts project. Until recently, I never thought to turn food into art. One of Danny's coworkers is an art specialist, and she introduced him to "watermelon sculpture." We checked out some YouTube videos on the subject and became intrigued. One particular series of videos, by Chef Chang, seemed really easy to follow. We decided to start with an easy flower design. One thing we noticed was that Chef Chang used a special "bird beak knife" to carve intricate designs in the watermelon. I was able to find this set on Amazon, but you might already have a thin carving tool in your own kitchen. After some hesitation, we dove right into carving and surprised ourselves with the end result!                                                                                                                       

You don't need to create a fancy sculpture to create food art. By simply paying attention to detail as you plate your dishes, you can create a satisfying work of art. I have found this to be especially important in raw food. The color and design of raw food dishes provides an additional sensory experience that makes the meal even more enticing. You can play up the natural colors and shapes of raw fruit and vegetables to enhance the taste, smell, and texture of a dish. This is also a useful technique in getting kids to eat more fruits and vegetables. Kids are drawn to anything visually appealing. You can use food design to make meals "fun" for kids (remember the old "ants on a log?"). 

Here are some of my recent creations that look just as great as they taste....

Strawberry Banana Parfaits for my mom's birthday
luscious chocolate avocado mousse, cashew vanilla cream, strawberries, and bananas layer to form a dessert that looks decadent, but is healthy and comes together in a snap

Raw Swiss Chard Salad
rainbow swiss chard, thinly sliced carrot (I usually shred them, but my garden carrots just looked so beautiful this way), onion, raisins, almonds, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, apple cider vinegar, dijon mustard, and maple syrup

Southwestern Purslane Salad
Purslane is a highly nutritious edible weed that adds a delicate quality to any salad. It makes a beautiful garnish to any dish as well. Here I added tomato, cucumber, onion, avocado, and a Southwestern style creamy chipotle cashew dressing

And some other pictures of my recent culinary adventures 
(though not as visually appealing as the pictures above)....

My first attempt at veganizing my past love, quiche, was a success! 
Tweaking this recipe, I created a rich filling that included kale, swiss chard, 
broccoli leaves, and leeks. I also used an organic spelt flour crust that I found in 
Fairway Market (it's probably carried in Whole Foods as well).

Vegan Diner Night!
TLT's (tempeh bacon, lettuce, tomato, and hummus) sandwiches, cole slaw, 
pickles, and sauerkraut - way healthier than my typical high school lunch!

(Almost Raw) Thai Peanut Noodles
zucchini noodles, carrots, onions, cilantro, raw peanuts, peanut butter, lime juice, 
olive oil, maple syrup, mellow white miso, and tamari 

And from the garden...

garlic is finally ready!

and big fat carrots!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Another Way to Save Money: Eat Local & Seasonal!

Aside from being a CSA member and growing my own garden, I rarely check the stickers on produce in stores to see where my fruit and vegetables are grown (A quick tip: if the PLU sticker code begins with #9 it is organic, #4 is conventional, and any other number is most likely genetically modified - avoid these!) Since grocery stores have no season, I am guilty of eating out of season as well.

Eating local and seasonal can benefit:
1. the environment - shorter shipping distance = less resources used
2. your health - local and seasonal produce is often higher in nutritional value (nutrition begins to degrade as soon as fresh fruits and vegetables are harvested)
3. your wallet - produce is often cheaper in season because it is more abundant and when you buy directly from your local farmer at a farmers' market, you cut out the middle man! (aka the grocery store)
It's a win-win situation!

Check out this link for seasonal produce in NY State (you can look up other states on the website as well):
New York Harvest Calendar

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Getting the Most Out of Your Vegetables: Using Stems, Stalks, Leaves, Flowers, and Seeds

I recently came across an article from The New York Times titled, "That's Not Trash, That's Dinner," and decided that its topic would be the perfect follow-up to my DIY post. The article discusses how you can stretch your dollar (and your CSA box or garden) by using all parts of a vegetable or plant. The article points out that we have become so familiar with the packaging and form of fruits and vegetables sold in the grocery store and served in restaurants, that we don't realize that the "scraps" are functional or edible. I began to realize this last summer when I interned at Sophia Garden, an organic CSA farm. I would bring home vines of leaves from our sweet potato crop, and saute them just like spinach with garlic and oil. Farmer Steve taught me that purslane, a common garden weed, is edible and highly nutritious (did you know that purslane was a favorite food of both Ghandi and Hippocrates?) The tiny white flowers that bloom on arugula is spicy-sweet and can be tossed into salads.

This summer has been my first attempt at an organic garden and my first time as a CSA member, so I have been getting the most out of my vegetables and plants by trying the following:

  • Using other greens, such as arugula and swiss chard, to make pesto
  • Trimming the curly garlic scapes that shoot from my garlic plants to make pesto
  • Battering and frying yellow squash blossoms (my parents still eat this, but I have to pass on it since the batter has egg and cheese)
  • Shredded broccoli stems to make broccoli slaw (or juicing the stems - there are tons of antioxidants in cruciferous vegetables like broccoli!)
  • Simmering herb stems to flavor a vegetable broth or soup (you can strain them out after)
  • Pickling green tomatoes that have not ripened at the end of the season
  • Sauteing beet greens, turnip greens, and broccoli leaves or throwing them raw into salads (let them marinate in lemon juice or vinegar to soften if eating raw)
  • Roasting pumpkin seeds with oil and sea salt
  • Juicing anything else or placing the scraps in my compost bin (any raw fruit or vegetable that is not too moist can be thrown into compost)
  • Letting some of my crops dry out and extracting seeds from their pods to save for next season
  • Hanging fresh herbs from the ceiling of a very dry room to make my own dried herbs and teas
Click on the link for The New York Times article above to find even more suggestions for maximizing your vegetable usage. Some of the parts that we traditionally discard from our fruits and vegetables can be the most nutritious parts of a plant (e.g. the rind of citrus fruits contains most of the antioxidants - so juice your citrus fruits whole and use the rind for zest!)

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

DIY Vegan- Have Fun & Save $$!

Lately I've been into DIY (Do It Yourself) culinary projects:

  • Rolling my own sushi using recipes from Veganomicon: The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook
  • Making my own seed milk with a nut milk bag. I recently tried making hemp milk this weekend. The verdict: super fast and easy to make (just blend...straining is optional) and very healthy (lot's of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids!).
  • Making soy yogurt in the Euro Cuisine Yogurt Maker that I got Danny for his birthday. We found that to make yogurt with soy milk, we have to strain it in paper coffee filters for an hour or so after incubation to thicken it. The result: rich, creamy greek-style yogurt!
  • Aging raw cashew cheese using this recipe from Rawmazing. Perhaps I didn't let the sprouted wheat berries ferment long enough, because my cashew mixture didn't have an aged cheesy flavor. I added some onion powder, scallion, parsley, salt, pepper, and nutritional yeast and voila! - herbed cashew ricotta.
I certainly save money going the homemade route. I also feel this sense of accomplishment in doing so. How many people can say they ferment homemade yogurt overnight? 

World Cuisine 48297-99 Tri-Blade Plastic Spiral Vegetable SlicerLast weekend I made a complete raw meal to let everyone sample at my aunt's BBQ. I finally bought a spiralizer (see the photo at left), and I love it! It is really easy to use and takes seconds to clean. It quickly cuts vegetables into long spaghetti-like strands or into thin chip shapes, making raw vegetables easier to chew and digest. Since I got zucchini in my CSA box last week, I made zucchini spaghetti using my spiralizer. I made a raw marinara sauce with fresh tomatoes, sundried tomatoes, bell peppers, and herbs and "not meat balls" from walnuts and herbs. Both recipes were from Raw Food Made Easy For 1 or 2 People. Everyone who tried the dish loved it and thought that it tasted very similar to real pasta. (I even served the spaghetti to Danny's 5 year old brother a few days later and he seemed to enjoy it once he got over the idea of eating "cold pasta.") I was able to use the abundance of arugula in my garden to make arugula pesto. I tweaked the recipe a bit by using only 2 cloves of raw garlic and omitting the cooked garlic, and using 1/4 cup hemp seeds + 1/4 cup nutritional yeast in place of the parmesan cheese. My 93 year old grandpa almost polished off the entire bowl! I'm glad I was able to sneak some more veggies into his diet, because he certainly loves his meat and cheese.

For dessert, I made the melon salad with mint, basil, and lemon vinaigrette that I made for the potluck last weekend. I tried another dessert recipe from Raw Food Made Easy For 1 or 2 People, and like everything else I've tried from that book, it was delicious and easy! I made the Tropical Fruit Tart with a coconut, macadamia, walnut, and date crust and a simple filling of fresh mango blended with dried mango. I garnished it with fresh strawberries and kiwis. This pie was not as rich and filling as the Chocolate Tart I made a few weeks ago, but it was perfect for a light summer dessert. 

I've been trying to plan my meals for the week every Tuesday (that's the day I pick up my CSA veggie box). My CSA box is always a surprise, so I wait to see what I get and then pick up any additional items I need at the grocery store. My garden has been providing me with sugar snap peas, lettuce, arugula, mustard greens, herbs, and now yellow squash and carrots, so I really need to coordinate my meals for the week so that nothing goes to waste! (And luckily nothing ever does go to waste, because I juice any extra fruits and veggies and compost the scraps). Yesterday I made a salad recipe from my CSA's newsletter to use up the radicchio, golden beets, white onion, and scallions from last week's CSA box. I added arugula from my garden, dates, hazelnuts, and used raw cashew cheese in place of the feta. I spiralized the golden beets and added some balsamic vinegar to bring out the natural sweetness of the beets. This recipe is definitely a keeper! 

heart-shaped beet!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

A Food Filled Weekend

I kicked off the holiday weekend with a potluck with Danny's coworkers Friday night at Captree State Park on Long Island's south shore. Anticipating the usual fare of burgers and franks, we brought our own homemade "Southwestern Black Bean and Sweet Potato Burgers" from Kris Carr's Crazy Sexy Diet. I found it odd that most of the recipe ingredients were listed by weight in ounces. I didn't have batteries for my mom's food scale, so I had to estimate the measurements. I must have used way too much corn meal, because the burgers came out a bit dry and gritty. I was able to salvage them by serving them on Ezekiel sprouted grain burger buns with tahini, lettuce, fresh lime juice, and a tequila lime salsa. The lime and salsa provided a bit more moisture and enhanced the southwestern flavors. I made so many that I had leftovers for a few days, and the burgers definitely improved with age. Since it was a potluck, we brought a fruit salad to share. I tossed watermelon, cantaloupe, and pineapple with a mint and basil vinaigrette from Food Network's Giada DeLaurentiis. I used honey instead of making the simple syrup and substituted a lemon liquor that my dad brought back from Italy in place of the amaretto. I think most people at the potluck were scared to try the salad because of the flecks of green (mint and basil) on the fruit. Those who did try it loved it (Danny and I ended up eating most of the bowl by ourselves)!

On Sunday, Danny and I made our second attempt at rolling sushi. We followed the "Spicy Tempeh Nori Rolls" recipe from Veganomicon like last time. We made some slight changes, but we had great success again. This time we used raw, untoasted Navitas brand nori sheets. It definitely had a fishier taste and chewier texture than the toasted Eden Foods nori that we used last time. We also tried using a Japanese short grain brown rice to  make it a bit healthier. The brown rice tasted great, but was slightly less sticky than the white sushi rice. So although we didn't attempt to make any inside-out rolls, the sushi still held together nicely with the brown rice. We had some of our friends and coworkers taste the rolls and they loved them.

On Monday, I went to Danny's family BBQ for the fourth of July. His mom made lots of dishes that we could eat too. My favorite was her olive tapenade, which she makes simply by processing green Sicilian olives that have been packed in oil, garlic, herbs, and spices. It makes a great spread for bread, crackers, or vegetables. Later in the day I stopped by my friend's BBQ after work. She's vegan as well, so she had a great spread that included her famous berry cheesecake and chocolate cupcakes. Another friend made this summery "Sweet Corn & Black Bean Salad" from Whole Foods recipes.

I almost forgot! This weekend I made my first homemade raw vegan milk! Using a recipe for sesame milk from Jennifer Cornbleet's Raw Made Easy, I made a creamy dairy-free milk that is rich in calcium. The first step is to soak the raw nut or seed of your choice for a few hours (other popular choices for "milks" are almonds, hemp seeds, cashews, and brazil nuts).  Then place the nuts/seeds in a blender with water, dates (I used coconut sugar instead), and optional flavoring (vanilla extract, carob, cocoa, etc.). Once the mixture is smooth, place in a nut milk bag or in cheesecloth to strain out the liquid. Using only 1 cup of sesame seeds, I made about 3 cups of sesame milk. I use a small amount in my muesli each morning, so one jar of sesame milk will last me about a week. Overall, this is an easy and economical way to make your own raw and healthy milks. I bought a pound of raw organic sesame seeds in the bulk bin of a health food store for only $2.50. That means that each 3-cup jar of sesame milk only costs me about $1! That's a lot cheaper than the $3 per quart boxes of nondairy milks that come packaged with sugar and other additives. I've heard of ways to use the leftover nut/seed pulp as well, so I will have to try that next time.

                                              Sesame milk and my new water!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Homemade Vegan Yogurt!

Danny mentioned a few months ago that he wanted to start eating yogurt for its probiotic benefits. At nearly $2 a container, soy yogurt was not really in his daily budget. So for his birthday I bought him the Euro Cuisine Yogurt Maker (I know, not your typical gift for a 24 year old guy). It's basically a covered tray that incubates the yogurt at about 100 degrees F for 8-12 hours. The basic process is as follows: bring 40 oz. of milk to a boil, remove from heat and cool to lukewarm, whisk in 6 oz. of plain yogurt with live active cultures, pour into glass containers and incubate in yogurt maker for 8 hours. After 8 hours the yogurt had a sight curdled appearance with liquid that had accumulated on the top of each jar and the yogurt tasted very sour. We refrigerated the yogurt overnight, hoping that it would firm up a bit more and taste better once it cooled. By the next morning the yogurt had not changed, but I was determined to salvage it. I found this article on "Greek-Style Soy Yogurt" on Fat Free Vegan and gave it a try. I fitted a strainer over a bowl and placed 2 large paper coffee filters in the strainer. The I poured my homemade yogurt into the filters and set it in the fridge for about 2 hours. The result: thick and creamy Greek-style soy yogurt that tasted just like the dairy version I used to love. I prepared it in my favorite way with honey, cinnamon, raisins, dates, walnuts, and hemp seeds. The only downside is that the original 42 oz. of yogurt is reduced to about 20 oz. because the liquid "soy whey" is lost after straining. This liquid is probably very nutritious, so I will have to think of a way to use it in my cooking or baking without lending a strong sour flavor. The homemade yogurt was definitely cheaper than store bought yogurt:

32 oz. container of organic vanilla soy milk from Costco: about $1 
6 oz. Whole Soy Plain organic yogurt: $1.69
TOTAL: $2.69 (still much cheaper than the 16 oz. tubs of Greek yogurt I used to buy at around $5 each)!

I can't wait to experiment with different flavors and milks (coconut yogurt...yum!)

Other recipes I tested this week that you MUST try:

  • Chocolate Mousse Tart: Another amazing recipe from Jennifer Cornbleet's Raw Made Easy for 1 or 2 People; completely raw, vegan, and gluten-free; a crust made of walnuts, pecans, coconut flakes, dates, and sea salt; a filling made with avocado, dates, cocoa powder, carob powder, and vanilla...sounds like heaven right? 
 fresh sugar snap peas from 
my garden complete the meal!
  • Quinoa and Sprouted Bean Salad: On my recent trip to Costco I also picked up a huge bag of organic quinoa and TruRoots Organic Sprouted Bean Trio and made this recipe from the TruRoots Facebook group page (I have already made my own adjustments below):
                Simply Sensational TruRoots Sprouted Bean Trio Salad
                Makes 4 to 6 servings
    • 1 1/2 cups sprouted beans, cooked according to package directions
    • 1 1/2 cups quinoa, cooked 
    • ½ cup diced avocado
    • ¼ cup diced red onion
    • 1 clove garlic minced 
    • 2 tablespoons lime juice
    • 1-2 teaspoons soy sauce
    • ¼ teaspoon or less of chipotle chile powder, depending on heat
    • ¼ cup chopped cilantro
  • Swiss Chard with Raisins and Pine Nuts: One of Jennifer Cornbleet's recipes...who knew swiss chard could taste so good raw? The swiss chard is marinated in lemon juice, which softens it, giving it a cooked quality. I also added some chopped almonds for extra crunch. 
  • Sprouted Wehani Rice: I sprouted Lundberg Wehani Rice in my Easy Sprout Sprouter, but cooked it over low heat for about 10 minutes because it was still a bit crunchy (sprouting definitely cuts down on the 1 hour cooking time!) I tossed in some maple syrup, olive, oil, cranberries, pepitas, and scallions. 
  • Sauteed Beet Greens: Don't throw out the leafy tops of your beets! They are super nutritious and taste like spinach or swiss chard when cooked. You can toss them raw into salads, but my beet greens were mature and thus a little bitter. I tweaked this recipe by subbing maple syrup for the sugar and adding a drop of liquid smoke in place of the bacon (I cooked the greens in a tsp. of coconut oil rather than bacon grease). 
This is my first summer as a CSA member and I'm loving it! I get 2 huge bags of organic local vegetables each week for just about $20 a week. You could never walk out of Whole Foods with that much for $20 (and most of it wouldn't be local!) I've been eating so many more vegetables than I usually do, and the variety each week allows me to try new recipes. Last week I got a surprise from my CSA...a pint of strawberries! Apparently the weather has caused a "bad season" for the strawberry crop on Long Island, but these were seriously the best strawberries I've ever had! Aside from joining a CSA, I recently found these articles on ways to save money eating organic and vegan:

Curing fresh olives from my aunt's farm in Sicily
...a treat from my dad's recent trip to Italy

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Good News (And A Long Awaited Update!)

So the good news is....I got into the graduate program in nutrition at Hunter College! I will be starting this fall at the brand new public health campus in East Harlem (a 2 hour trek from my house, but the facilities will be greatly improved). I am currently taking a nutrition 101 level course at Hunter in Manhattan this summer. It's the last prerequisite course I need for the masters program, but most of the information is review for me, so I have an A+ at the moment.

The bad news is...well there really is none, aside from the fact that I haven't updated in 2 months! I was busy studying for finals in May, and I just got back from an 11-day trip to London with my boyfriend a few weeks ago. The trip was great: we saw more sights than humanely possible in 11 days, took thousands of photos (which I have yet to upload to Picasa), and tried some amazing vegan food. We initially had trouble locating places to eat in the "most vegan-friendly city in the world," but once we learned our way around we found some really great vegan and raw cuisine restaurants.

The incredible raw food we tried in London as well as the abundance of fresh veggies I've been getting from my CSA and garden this spring have inspired me to add more raw/living foods to my diet as well. I recently read Kris Carr's Crazy Sexy Diet and became interested in her healthy and positive way of eating and living. Kris Carr is only in her 30's but has survived cancer by trading her standard American diet for a high-raw vegan lifestyle, complete with green juices, yoga, and meditation. Her book is written for everyone, not just for cancer patients, and it discusses a lifestyle, not a "diet." Here are some of the things I've been reading and trying since discovering the Crazy Sexy Diet:

  • Juicing - I got hooked on juices at the new Organic Corner health market and juice bar; I bought my own Breville juicer for a great price on Craigslist; I also read The Wheatgrass Book by the "the mother of living foods," Ann Wigmore. 
  • Sprouting - I bought an Easy Sprout Sprouter and have been watching instructional videos on Sprout People to learn how to sprout different grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. I have tried lentils, sunflower seeds, and walnuts with great success using my new sprouter. 
  • Raw/Living Foods - I was always turned off to raw foods because of the expensive equipment needed to prep the food (VitaMix blenders, powerful food processors, dehydrators, spiralizers, etc.). I recently ordered Jennifer Cornbleet's cookbook Raw Food Made Easy for 1 or 2 People, and the only equipment required is a basic food processor and blender. I have been able to make some really great recipes so far using only my mom's ancient La Machine and my Tribest blender. Since no cooking is involved, I have been able to prepare meals faster as well. 
Aged cashew cheese with flax crackers 
from Saf restaurant in London

Raw nachos with guacamole, salsa, and hummus 
and a root veggie and goji berry salad with lemon and maca dressing 
from Inspiral Lounge in London

My raw marinated cremini mushrooms 
stuffed with a sunflower seed and sundried tomato herb pate

I will elaborate on all of these things in future posts, because there are so many health benefits of juicing, sprouting, and raw foods. I am still including cooked foods in my diet though, because they have their nutritional benefits as well! 

Thursday, April 21, 2011

A First Taste of Spring

      I'm currently on "Spring Break" from school this week. That translates to studying for 3 exams, working on a group project, and taking advantage of my "free time" to make the doctor appointments that I've been putting off all year. I tested a few new recipes over the past two weeks, including:

  • VegWeb's Barbecue Tempeh - a little too tomatoey and sweet for my taste; Danny pinpointed the missing flavor, and with a few drops of liquid smoke we had the barbecue taste we were looking for
  • Mexicali Tofu Bowl - my version of Chipotle's Burrito Bowl using the "Mexicali Tofu Scramble" from Skinny Bitch Ultimate Everyday Cookbook as my base: rice sprinkled with fresh lime, black bean mash, salsa marinated tofu scramble, sauteed peppers and onions, and black olives served with corn tortillas; amazing as is, but next time I would add some guacamole, corn, and fresh cilantro
  •  Homemade pizza - This isn't a new recipe, and I think I've mentioned it before. It's becoming a weekly thing now because it's such a quick and easy recipe: Trader Joe's whole wheat pizza dough layered with tomato sauce, grilled veggies (Trader Joe's frozen eggplant and zucchini blend), sundried tomatoes, and olives. Bon appetit!
  • VegWeb's Cinnamon Buns - I have finally overcome my fear of yeast! This recipe was definitely time-consuming, but most of it was downtime (letting the yeast rise). The instructions were so easy to follow, and the buns came out perfectly! I brought them to my friend's Arbonne party, and she had an amazing array of all vegan desserts prepared: homemade pumpkin ice cream, pumpkin chocolate chip cupcakes, chocolate chip cookies, and gluten-free banana waffles topped with ice cream! 

  • Spicy Wehani and Cashews - I usually never follow the suggested recipes on food packaging, but I bought a bulk box of my favorite aromatic nutty brown "Lundberg Wehani Rice," and wanted to try something new with it. I tested this recipe in my new cast-iron dutch oven, which reminded me of the amazing little cast-iron pot that my roommate's family swore by to cook their Puerto Rican rice dishes. The rice came out really fragrant and moist in the dutch-oven, and best of all - no sticking to the bottom of the pot!  If you can handle the bold flavors of cumin and cloves, try this recipe! 

To make all of these tasty dishes, I need some fresh, inexpensive veggies! Hence, my backyard garden! My dad and I started some organic seeds indoors a over a week ago, and they are doing well. We planted indoors: kale, tatsoi (an Asian green), red swiss chard, green lettuce, cucumber, zucchini, bell peppers, basil, butternut squash, delicata squash, cilantro, San Marzano tomatoes, and another unidentified tomato variety from my dad's family in Sicily. My dad went a little seed-happy and threw handfuls of seed into each cell, so we have lots of thinning to do! Outdoors we planted peas, sugar snap peas, red radish, mizuna (another Asian green), Indian Mustard, and garlic (from Sophia Garden, planted last fall). I've been on a gardening kick lately, thanks to two great events I attended this past weekend. On Friday, I attended the Small Farm Summit at SUNY Old Westbury. This conference attracted hundreds of Long Islanders interested in supporting sustainable local agriculture. The keynote address was given by Joel Salatin, the famous organic farmer and author featured in Michael Pollan's books and documentaries like Food Inc. and Fresh. At the event, I attended a lecture on starting an organic garden and another that featured new and experienced farmers on Long Island. There was also an expo at the event center featuring non-profit organizations and sustainable businesses on Long Island. The next day, Danny and I attended the Cornell University Cooperative Extension's Spring Gardening School in Riverhead. We attended two informative lectures by Master Gardeners: one on Asian herb & vegetable gardening and the other on growing vegetables. The Asian lecture was given by this cute and funny little Thai woman who made it sound really easy to grow things like ginger and lemongrass indoors. She went through so many other exotic herbs and vegetables that can grow outdoors in my region or in the home. The vegetable gardening lecture was given by a British man who runs an organic farm on eastern Long Island that grows just for food pantries! It's a beautiful day today, so I'm going to go study outside and watch my plants grow! Oh, and don't forget Earth Day (tomorrow, April 22nd!)

Friday, April 8, 2011

Six Weeks to Go!

Six weeks to go! That is, six more weeks until this semester is over, I find out the admissions decision from Hunter College, and I begin my 10 day vacation in London! I've been super busy lately with school and work, so I haven't had much time to read up on food/nutrition or cook. I've been making big one-pot meals that will last me a few days, so that I have more time to study. Last week I tried cooking soba noodles for the first time in VegWeb's recipe for "Sesame Noodles with Tofu & Veggies." I made a few changes using the ingredients I had on hnad, replacing the bok choy with nori seaweed, swapping peanut butter with tahini. using dried shitakes, and replacing the fresh cilantro with cilantro chutney from an Indian market. The overall taste was strange, probably because I made too many weird substitutions. It was too vinegary and I didn't like the raw tofu. I did love the chewy texture of the soba noodles and the creamy quality from the nut butter sauce. On Tuesday, I went to an acupuncturist (for the first time!...I'll let you know how it goes) that was near Live Island Cafe. I got a raw sampler platter for dinner that came with soup and dessert. Like my first experience, the meal was tasty, but raw food definitely takes some getting used to. I also thought I'd pass along a vegan recipe that Danny baked up in his kitchen at work this week. He made VegWeb's recipe for "The BEST REAL Peanut Butter Cookies," and they got rave reviews from his coworkers.

One other thing on my never-ending to-do list is to grow an organic vegetable garden with my dad this summer. We really need to start this weekend, because I was hoping to start transplants indoors and get some cold-weather seeds in the ground (I had really aimed to get this done last month)! My dad grew up on a farm in Sicily, and as much as he probably hated farm chores as a child, he has kept a garden ever since he moved to New York. This is the first year that we want to try for an all-organic garden. We hope to grow: tomato, cucumber, bell pepper, carrot, string beans, zucchini/cucuzzi, butternut squash, delicata squash, beets, sugar snap peas, lettuce, augula, radish, kale, swiss chard, tatsoi, garlic, basil, rosemary, parsley, sage, chives, and mint. My dad also has fig, persimmon, and chestnut trees (although only the fig is mature enough to bear fruit). It seems like a ridiculous amount of stuff to grow, but this year is just a trial! Last summer I interned on an organic CSA farm, so I guess I'm trying to recreate the experience on a smaller scale in my own backyard. I joined another organic CSA on Long Island this summer called Golden Earthworm (which is a much larger operation than Sophia Garden, where I interned).  If you're not familiar with the term, CSA means "community-supported agriculture," and it is a really economical and sustainable way to eat organic. Members buy seasonal shares (subscriptions), and in return they each get a big box of fruits, veggies, herbs, flowers, or whatever Mother Nature chooses to grow each week. Every CSA is unique in size, crop variety, harvest season, membership cost, etc. Some require that you volunteer a small number of hours each week on the farm. Sophia Garden required members to pick up their shares at the farm, whereas Golden Earthworm will drop off my box at a location near my house. For more information and to search for CSA's, farmers' markets, or co-ops near you, go to