Friday, December 17, 2010

T2C: 8 Servings of Fruits & Veggies - Can You Do It? (We Didn't)

Olivia recently proposed an exercise in our veggie-full life: eat 8 fruits/vegetables a day (with a heavier focus on the vegetables) for one week. The plan seemed simple enough because, in my mind, I was eating lots of them already. I signed on and got excited. Then reality kicked in.

The challenge was to start within a few days of our discussion and I was not prepared. Sometimes I have to psych myself up to make the walk to Whole Foods and walk back with the weight of my nutritious goods…only to find I have enough for two days’ worth of meals. The excitement of the challenge was, sadly, no match for my lethargy and newfound interest in being more frugal with my dineros. I had been working late nights as it was and never quite felt like going to the store thereafter…and walking home in the cold. Ok, enough moping. Wah.

I started a few days late with about 5 days to eat a fine array of the earth’s bounty. First, I ate what was left in my fridge…some fresh orange juice and corn with amaranth in the morning and a pear for a snack. Throughout the week I bought a banana for my smoothie, looked for any veggies in the cafeteria (green beans/zucchini/onion and rice for lunch), made yum-yum noises to fresh Whole Foods hummus with carrots and cucumber, and enjoyed edamame at a restaurant for dinner (I added some tator tots to the mix…the only other vegan thing there).

I had intentions to juice the heck out of my lettuce, celery, cucumber and apple, but I busted my hand and couldn’t use it for two days…and hence, didn’t use my juicer either. Note: Juicing is a GREAT way to maximize on your veggie intake. You can cover, at the very least, 4-5 servings…easy peasy.

I confessed to Olivia yesterday that I had come nowhere near my quota. Maybe it was my crazier-than-usual workweek. Whatever the reason, I decided to blog about the experience anyway…even if I came up short. I was definitely more conscious this week about eating vegetables and I snagged them at every opportunity. Carpe vegetabilis!

On weeks where the stars magically align and I’m at my healthiest, I cook several times a week and have healthy snacks on hand. This is what my week would have looked like in that case:

Pasta Fagioli and Minestrone Soups
Braised Carrot and Potato Soup
Miso soup with lots of vegetables
(=4-5 veggies in at breakfast! = “I Feel Great” days!!)
Fruit Smoothies (in moderation to avoid too much fruit sugar)
Green Juices (hello, gorgeous!)
Beans and Rice with Salsa
(plus corn, onions, and zucchini)
Marinated Veggies on Salad (to put the sexy back in salad)
Hummus and Veggies (this never gets old)*
*Add kalamata olive tapenade to this and you will have an orgasm (that is, if you like kalamata olive tapenade).

Olivia's Experience:

When Jen and I were brainstorming possible topics for this week’s T2C post, we both seemed pretty jazzed by the idea of chowing down on eight servings of fruits and vegetables each day and documenting the process. After all, we’re health nuts who love our veggies—how hard could it be?

Umm, it’s hard. In fact, we didn’t do it. There were one or two days when I hit all eight (or at least got close), but for the most part I fell short of my goal. So this isn’t a pat-ourselves-on-the-back ego-stroking post, it’s a This a What We Learned post.

On that note:

1.Planning helps, but it isn’t foolproof. I love going out to eat. Food might as well be one of my love languages, so when a friend suggests brunch or my husband wants to take me on a date, you know I’m going to say yes. During this challenge, I took extra care to review menus and make sure they had veggie-ful gluten-free options so I could have my greens and eat them too. The problem? Sometimes you don’t realize until you arrive that the shiitake mushroom rolls have soy sauce (wheat) or the that the restaurant for some frustrating reason adds what to their spinach risotto. I can’t compromise on the gluten, which meant my options suddenly shrank to those containing very few greens. In the future: Make sure to eat more greens during the day if I’m going out to dinner; have a giant salad for dinner if I meet friends for brunch. And make an extra effort to chug a smoothie on restaurant days.

2. Green smoothies are the key. Ok, ok, I knew this already, but it really hit home during this week. On the days that started with green smoothies I almost always hit my goal. It helps when you get five servings by the time you finish breakfast. The thing is, it’s winter. And I don’t really want to start every morning with a giant icy drink. In the future: Find more breakfast choices that are nice and warm while packing a nutritional punch.

3. Check your hunger level. Part of my difficulty was that this past week, I had an uncharacteristically small appetite. I feel like most days I’m eating non-stop, and yet, during this challenge, I rarely even wanted a snack. What gives? For starters, when my snack options were carrot sticks, clementines, and apples—all of which I love, by the way—I was (surprise, surprise) less inclined to chow down. While I didn’t eat as many plant-based snacks as I’d expected, I did get a better sense of how much I would eat for boredom or to satisfy a craving rather than because I was really hungry. In the future: Try to stay tuned in to my true hunger level.

Given our less than stellar report card after this attempt, we’re going to give it another go in January. Want to join us? What are your favorite ways to make sure your day is chock full of fruits and veggies?

Friday, December 10, 2010

T2C ~ The Incredibles

T2C Returns! Except this time Olivia and I are both blogging from the US. She came back in the fall to get hitched to a wonderful fella and I’m thrilled to have her stateside where I’m more likely to run into her and have quality face time. Having swapped countless tales of our health and food ventures, we knew we had to share with our readers a few of our favorite food products. We call them the incredibles.

Jen’s Faves

Daiya Cheese
– I had been sending sad vibes to the Universe that my favorite pizzeria (ok, any pizzeria) wasn’t making vegan pizza. I was ready to write a request when I learned they had recently discovered a great-tasting faux mozzarella. It was love at first bite. Within a day’s time I found that Whole Foods carried it as well in both mozzarella and cheddar. Best news yet: it was free of soy and casein. Score! I use Daiya on homemade pizzas, in pastas and on my killer grilled cheesus sandwich. While I don’t miss cheese anymore (a “food” I ate with every meal of every day), a little substitute every now and then is heavenly.

Brown Rice Pasta – I was introduced to this tasty treat while doing an elimination diet with Olivia. Among the culprits that trigger food sensitivities, we eliminated all foods with gluten. I had no idea there was a pasta so yummy and easy on the digestive system…and gluten-free! My only caveat with this product is it’s best to eat fresh…leftovers are a little tough (literally) unless you have it as a pasta salad with some sort of dressing for it to soak in.

Yogi Tea – When you’re a holistic health junkie cutting back or removing caffeine entirely from your diet, you’ll likely fair better to replace it with a new liquid love. Herbal tea is a great way to go. Thai Delight and Chai Rooibos are new favorites. Another little perk? Yogi teas come with quotes to contemplate while you sip and unwind. Om so good.

Chia Seeds – These little wonders certainly found ways to entertain (remember those chia pets?) but who knew they could be good for your health? They can hold 10 times their weight in water (hello hydration!) and provide you with fiber, protein, calcium and omega-3. They are a staple of the Tarahumara tribe, who take a chia fresca before their 100-mile runs. They work great before and after workouts. You can also use them in baking and puddings!

Don’t Mock This Mayo! – While I don’t use this often (the vegan label does not equal healthy/eat it on a regular basis), it’s mighty handy (and delicious) with potato and pasta salads and my grilled cheesus.

No Need to Fake It – I was never a huge fan of animal flesh to begin with and never really understood the appeal of fake meats. I get that they can help with the transition to a vegetarian or vegan diet but why would anyone want something that reminded them of cow tush or chicken breast? I love that there are burgers on the market that don’t taste like cow. Sunshine Burgers makes a kick-ass medley of veggies (without loads of mushrooms – a common “replacement” to beef and a fungus I’m just not fond of) and mom turned me on to Trader Joe’s Masala burgers. You won’t need any condiments…comes perfectly flavored and seasoned.

Remember the Lentils – Last but not least, I make sure to have a couple of Amy’s soups in my pantry…for days when I’m lagging with home-cooked meals. Her lentil soup is my favorite for taste and for the nutritional punch I get from the lentils (protein and iron, baby!).

While my diet consists of veggies, fruits, nut butters and milks, brown rice, and lentils/beans and many of the products listed are “sometimes” foods (with exception to the chia and tea) they are worth the shout out for giving the vegan life that much more pizazz.

Olivia's Finds

When I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease five-and-a-half years ago, I didn’t spend too much time finding gluten-free versions of many of the foods I’d relied on until then. Rather than hunting down the perfect gluten-free cereal or bagel or bread, I just moved beyond those things, a decision that I believe made me much healthier overall. [That said, I now indulge in gluten-free pizza and pancakes on a semi-regular basis.]

Now that I’m trying to eat a high-vegan (though still pescatarian) diet, I find myself in a similar situation. Fake meat weirds me out, and soy cheese just can’t be nearly as creamy as the real thing. Nevertheless, there have been a few substitutions from vegan pantries that have made my taste buds very happy while keeping my eats (largely) cruelty-free. Here are some of my favorites.

Purely Decadent Soy Ice Cream - As someone with Hashimoto’s Hypothyroiditis (that’s a mouthful), I feel it’s pretty important to limit my soy intake. That said, sometimes a girl needs some ice cream, and Purely Delicious Soy Ice Cream doesn’t give me an upset stomach, so I mark it a win. (It’s also available with coconut milk instead of soy, but I haven’t tried that…yet.)

Hemp Dream Hemp Drink - I always hated milk. Hated. My parents quickly gave up on trying to make me drink milk with meals (what’s with that, anyway???) as it became clear that my stubborn streak would win every time. But when I make my smoothies or want the rare bowl of cereal, hemp milk is my liquid of choice. Rice milk seems a little thin on the nutrients, and while almond milk can be a nice change of pace, I prefer the texture, taste, and health benefits of hemp milk. When I make my own nut milk, however, I go cashew; the hubs loves it, but we haven’t found it available commercially.

Red Star Nutritional Yeast - Sometimes I joke about being a cheegan. (I know, I know—but I’m a work in progress.) I’m pretty sure I could do the vegan thing without too much trouble if I could still nosh on a good goat Camembert or sheep Gouda. I dream of the day I can cut my ties with cheese with the level of success Jen has achieved. Until then, I have found one occasion when I can swap out cheese for a vegan alternative without sacrifice: nutritional yeast on tacos. It’s creamy and has just the right tang. If you’re looking for a place to start, tacos are it.

Black Beans & Mushrooms - Speaking of tacos, try this meat replacement: sauté some diced onion, then add a can of (rinsed and drained) black beans, a diced red pepper, and a whole ton of diced mushrooms. Sprinkle in taco seasoning to taste and let it cook down. Bomb. You could also puree this combo for a creamy nacho dip.

Hummus - I don’t eat sandwiches (pesky gluten), but if I did…I’d use hummus in place of mayo. And I used to love mayo. I just love hummus more. When I’m trying to prove to family how delicious gluten-free/vegan life can be, I often whip up some hummus and smear it on some romaine leaves for an easy and tasty wrap. Or plop some in a bowl, drizzle with olive oil and paprika, and serve with carrots and celery. At our family reunion, the hummus lettuce wraps disappeared, and there were potato chips left over. I’m just sayin’.

What are your favorite vegan food products and staples?

Friday, December 3, 2010

Happy New You - Part I

We are in the midst of the holiday season and it feels grand...well mostly because I like seeing twinkly lights and the warm and fuzzy feeling that accompanies them. Although I must admit the usual stress of gift-giving is creeping up and the temptations of treats and sweets will be ever present in no time at all. Which leads me to my newest health initiative. Get healthier now. Why wait until New Year's?

After spending several years focusing on feeling well everyday I've found that a pretty stict diet, sleep, and exercise works wonders for me. And steering away from this plan on occasion has shown me how much I'd rather stick with it, even during the holidays. Moderation is a great plan for most people and I think if you can feel great with a little wine or sugar...go for it!

But I learned that even a little sugar, without supplementing with lots of healthy food (veggies, brown rice, etc) does me in. Case in point: Thanksgiving. I kept it as vegan as possible and my family was very supportive...but ended up eating all white food and sugar: mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry relish, dinner rolls, and apple pie. I had the best of intentions to bring home some healthy greens and colorful veggies but at the time I couldn't justify doing the cold walk to Whole Foods and schlepping them to the boondocks of rural Lancaster County.

When at home, I also am more succeptible to slipping into old habits. While I didn't touch a lick of dairy, I did partake in some legalized addictive stimulation (coffee) and non-dairy creamer (bad shit). While I was loving my family's company, I was loathing the swan dive my health had just taken; I retreated to my apartment in the city the following day to reboot.

The upcoming holiday parties will be the biggest hurdle...that's where my weakness for cheese and wine and desserts comes out in full swing...especially since so much of the socializing this time of year revolves around food. I'll be scouring the Internet for vegan goodies that are also veggiful, minimally processed and low-glycemic.

First source: Christina Pirello's site for healthier holiday cookies. I've made some oh-so-good biscotti (minus chocolate plus orange essance with clove and cinnamon). Next up: Linzer bars! Try the Asteroids, Coconut Macaroons, Italian Nut Cookies, and many more!

Second site: VegNews for holiday tips.

Third times the charm: Pure2Raw - tons of mouth-watering recipes. Can't wait to try some!

Any tips for a healthier ho-ho-ho at the holiday party?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


"The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated."

This past weekend I watched Earthlings, a film documenting the ways we use animals for profit and consumption. The video, which is available for free on this website, is raw and chilling and violent. It was difficult to watch but I feel that every adult should view this for health, consumer, and ethical reasons.

While some people will feel that this movie's agenda is to convert meat-eaters to vegetarians and vegans, I feel that its purpose was to raise the following question: do we have the right to mistreat animals? Although there are many examples of animal cruelty today in the names of research, entertainment (think bull fights and dog fights), and beauty (cosmetic testing and fur "harvesting"), factory farming has received much of the attention lately...because of it's health effect on us. (egg recalls, beef recalls, etc).

Sure, this is an important issue for us. I originally gave up animal flesh for health lower my cholesterol... and to avoid tainted products (you want a side of hormones and antibiotics with your BLT?). But when I learned about what actually goes on in these secluded and extremely guarded factory farms, I wondered what they were hiding. Why couldn't the factories be made of glass, if not for commercial transparency, to let some light in on the animals? Why couldn't we visit these "farms" the way people visit other food-making establishments (like Hershey's Chocolate or Herr's Potato Chips or the local farm close to where I grew up)? If we are willing to eat animals, why can't we see what goes on there? Because if we did (in the current conditions), we'd likely never eat their "product" again.

Now I'm not going to get all don't-eat-meat on you. I respect the fact that food choices are deeply personal and cultural and that many people eat meat. I do hope to generate interest in questioning the current meat-producing system and the effect it has not only on people's health but also on that of the animal. I believe the two are inextricably linked.

If animals are to be eaten, shouldn't they be treated respectfully? Would anyone want to eat something that has been stressed out during its life and who suffered needlessly during its death? It would be lovely if baby pigs could nestle with their mother or if chickens could run in a field and see the sun. But in the current "food" system very few animals see daylight and they are restricted in their movement, sometimes lying or standing in their own waste. Undercover footage has revealed workers kicking animals, bludgeoning them, cursing at them, burning and skinning them alive...and for what?

Since watching Earthlings, I have wondered how I would go about getting meat if I was not a vegetarian. Ideally, I'd reduce the amount to consume and find a local farm where animals see sunlight, are given their natural right to mother their babies, and not be pumped with drugs and hormones. This sounds very happy-go-lucky but if an animal was going to become a part of me (as all food I take in does) I'd want it to have lived a happy and healthy life. Is that so much to ask?

If you have seen the segment of Earthlings that shows the hellish conditions of factory farms, you'll appreciate the following clip from Polyface Farms even more. Wouldn't it be great if we could abolish factory "farms" and have respectful and trustworthy farmers like this?

Monday, November 1, 2010

Ixnay on the Expohay?

That's pig latin for "I diss the expo"...the 2010 Philadelphia Food and Wine Expo to be exact. Now I know what you're probably thinking. Why on earth would a vegan non-drinking gal go to a meat, dairy, seafood, beer and vino showcase? I had to go and see the vegan superstar that was making an appearance there.

The expo had two things going for it: Desi Village cuisine (I ate several servings of stupendous vegan Indian food) and Christina Pirello, host of the PBS show Christina Cooks. This wasn't my first time seeing her cooking demonstrations. But there's always something new to learn from her. She's funny, down-to-earth, has a great stage presence and is a walking encyclopedia on all things food. Most importantly, she's uber passionate about holistic nutrition and is continuously creating new recipes to encourage people to take back their health in a tasty way. And it's always a treat to see her make healthier versions of, well, treats.

At the expo, Christina showed the audience how to make zeppoli, an Italian fried dough. She put her own touch on it, creating an aromatic honey and orange zest glaze that covered the balls of doughy goodness. Simply scrumptious. Heavenly. I wish this had been the ending to my expo experience given what followed.

My friend and I were perusing all the tables and I, as expected, had found little to eat. No biggie. But when I found a pesto pasta action station I thought I had hit the jackpot. Wrongo. Mr. pasta maker, a caterer from the area, didn't like vegans. When I asked if he could make the pesto and not throw in some parm cheese he got irritated. When I noticed a pitcher of colored liquid, I asked what it was (I thought maybe it was melted butter). I took myself out of the running for pasta when I learned that he was going to add chicken stock. No judgement...just didn't want it anymore. He hadn't even made it yet. But mr. pasta maker got pissed, throwing his arms up and saying, "You're not a VEGAN are you?" I was taken aback by how loud (at least it seemed) he got and I left his booth.

Maybe he thought I was judging him. Maybe he was disgruntled that I was asking him to tweak the contents of the pasta action station (but those usually involve choices anyway, right?). It was weird enough feeling out of place in general but to be called out for food choices was just unexpected. If there is to be an expo in my future, it will surely be vegan or natural foods (like this). But I would go to the expo all over again to see Christina cook.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Practicing Extreme Self Care

It's been an uber crazy month so far and not without some stressors. Fall is my favorite season but it's also the time when work gets really busy and includes evening and weekend hours. As a result, my food plan generally goes south this time of year. But the more hectic the work schedule, the more important it is to practice what life coach Cheryl Richardson calls "extreme self care." There are various components that contribute to our well being...cultivating and fostering meaningful and healthy relationships, nurturing our physical/emotional/spiritual/mental selves, and creating a harmonious living space and living within our means. For now, my focus has been on maintaining physical health...through food and fitness.

Staying late at the office always had me craving greasy or sugary comfort food...and coffee. When the pumpkin spice flavor would come in I'd be all over it. It actually came early this year...and I consumed it daily (with other pumpkin spice lovers) until it was gone.

Now I know what you're thinking. Everything in moderation. Unfortunately I don't have the will power to do that. I end up drinking one cup of pumpkin spice coffee. The next day I'm adding cream to it (stuff I shouldn't be drinking). Coffee seems to be my gateway drug. Next thing you know, I'm eating a cheese sandwich or grabbing a cappuccino once or twice a week (for the first time ever I watched someone make it and had no idea they put so much milk in it - damn). I am not supposed to even be eating dairy but when the going gets busy at work I find excuses for these foods...foods that are not part of my regular diet.

Luckily these digressive phases don't last long and I quickly get back into the routine of a clean diet. But I'd prefer to never get off track because I tend to go to extremes (even if it's only for two weeks at a time) and then suffer the consequences (breakouts, headaches, and lethargy). So I gave myself a clean slate and re-committed to doing a clean diet during one of the busiest work weeks of the year...partly because I wanted the week to be as stress-free as possible (and a clean diet goes a long way with that) and because I have a super fun event next week that I want to look good for.

Aside from clearer skin, I'm motivated to maintain a clean diet because it keeps my energy levels high (good if you must work long hours) and lessens the amount of stress I put on my body (ie no caffeine, mucus-producing dairy, and acidic effects from sugar, salt and processed foods). Yum!

So what did I consume this week?

* Daily probiotic
* Hemp, banana, honey, peanut butter, almond milk, and cinnamon shakes
* Black bean burritos with salsa, quinoa, onions and roasted red peppers
* Brown rice pasta with artichokes, tomatoes, onions and peppers
* Braised carrot soup
* Brown rice with pinto beans, corn, and sauteed onions
* Panang curry with tofu from Chabba Thai
* Yummy sweet potato lentil and minestrone soups from Couch Tomato
* Peanut butter and banana sandwiches (on days I didn't do the shake)
* Two 16 oz green juices daily (romaine, mint, grapes, apple, celery, cucumber, broccoli stems)
* Caffeine-free herbal teas
* Exercise (weekend runs and bike rides; 20 minute yoga or circuit training)
* 7-8 hours of sleep

And I still found a way to have some comfort food this week...inspired by this rainy day in Philly. I recently found an online recipe for a peppery grilled cheese and made some vegan tweaks with new add-ons for a super scrumptious treat.

Grilled CheesusIngredients:

*1/2 organic red bell pepper
*2 thin slices of yellow onion
*2 tbsp Vegenaise
*1/2 tbsp minced garlic
*1/2 cup Daiya cheddar style shreds
*4 slices whole wheat bread

Saute onions in a little olive oil until golden. In a blender combine the pepper, garlic and mayo. Brush a little olive oil on bread slices and add the cheese, onions and pepper mayo. Grill until you see the goods in all their glory. Wonder where Daiya has been all your life.

Side note on the green juices - I recently bought some Ball mason jars, inspiration courtesy of Kris Carr, at my hardware store. They are inexpensive, super cute, and nifty for bringing your juice with you wherever you go! I got the 16 oz jars...the perfect portion size with an air-tight lid to keep the juice fresher longer. I typically juice around 32 oz at a given time and store them to have as snacks the next day.

What do you do to practice extreme self care?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Blissful Bikram you may have read, I hated Bikram yoga when I did it last Thursday. But today I was feeling the love of my love-hate relationship with it. That love was followed by a sense of achievement and feelings of clarity and calm that I normally only experience after a day of fasting. Yay!

What a difference this day was! - not as much dizziness, no bitchiness, a sense of control and ease at the same time, and I was able to hold the poses longer and really get into them more fully...It helped that I hydrated more throughout the day (and resisted an urge for coffee), that Heath force-fed me watermelon before class (typically, you're not supposed to eat several hours before class...but I figured watermelon was probably one of the only foods that would count as an exception), and it also made a difference that I warmed up with a quick lymph brushing (with a warm washcloth) and a bikeride to class.

And did I mention that, this time around, I had the best instructor ever? Megan at Bikram Yoga of Philadelphia was kind and encouraging, with just the right amount of strictness to keep me honest. I actually worked better and harder in this atmosphere. She was very good at explaining how to have correct posture and how to properly get in and out of poses. And Megan also made a point of telling us what each pose was doing to our organs, spine, muscles, and systems. She'd say, "this pose is good for the pancreas...that pose is good for the intestine"...etc. This motivated me to really work the poses. She scored big points for reminding us to get out of our minds and to use them only for positive thoughts related to our practice - "Stretch." "I am strong." "I'm going to rock this pose."

I made it to the end feeling so much stronger than I did at Thursday's class. I have to remember that some days will just not go as well as others. According to Bikram Choudhury, when you are feeling less like being at yoga, that's when you need it the most.

And as we laid on our mats, soaking up all the benefits, Megan asked us to reflect on why we come to Bikram. Her reason? To move her body; it feels better after movement. My reason? To engage not only my muscles in a workout but all organs and systems as get out of my get out of my comfort zone and focus on my breath.

There are only three things you can control in life:

*Your Breath
*Your Mind
*Your Body

What activities help you in attending to these parts of you?

P.S. Another brownie point for this Bikram studio, aside from an awesome instructor, is the kick-ass vegan snacks they gave out for FREE. When you don't eat as preparation for a class, it's possible you'll be starving afterwards. The snack was a godsend.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Macro Monday ~ Miso Soup

I used to think miso soup was weird, gross even, mainly because I tried a soup-in-a-box once that had an over-powering fishy taste. I assumed all miso soup had this quality...and tofu, of which I'm not a big fan. But my friend recently made me miso soup and it was delicious. It's a common dish within a macrobiotic diet and is often consumed for breakfast. You heard right...soup for breakfast!

My friend practices macrobiotics and has miso every morning alongside a grain (like amaranth) with veggies (like corn and cauliflower), a green (like blanched kale or watercress) and a sea vegetable (in the miso soup and/or in the form of dulse flakes on the cooked grain). I've tried this several times with great results...feeling grounded, calm, centered, and ready to start my day. It's also very hydrating (the best diet is one where you are hydrated by your food and don't need to down lots of water, which is taxing on the kidneys).

Here's my variation on the morning stew:

Me-So-Happy Miso Soup

1/4 cup yellow onion, diced
1/4 cup carrots, match-stick slices
Several slices of lotus root
1/4 cup daikon, half-moon slices
2 tsp brown rice miso
2-inch piece of wakame, sliced into small pieces
3 cups filtered water

Soak wakame for 10 minutes in some filtered water. Heat onion, carrots, daikon, lotus root and 3 cups of water and bring to a boil. Add wakame and let simmer for 10 minutes. Remove some of the water and mix the miso in it. Add the dissolved miso into the pot. Don't boil once miso is in the pot; it will destroy the digestive enzymes.

Note: Miso soups typically include a sea vegetable for their high mineral content but I have made several soups without them. I just started using wakame, which can be purchased at a natural food store or Whole Foods. Nori is also commonly used.

Dry Wakame

Soaked/Cooked Wakame

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Bickering at Bikram

On Thursday night I got to hang out with my friend Katie. We planned to catch up and sweat our asses off...courtesy of Bikram yoga. It wasn't my first time doing it but I was nonetheless nervous. Bikram yoga calls for its participants to engage in an hour-and-one-half session of 26 poses, done twice, in a room heated to 105 degrees. Each time I do Bikram I wonder if I'll make it through. Will I faint? Will I hurl? My mind races a bit too. What have I gotten myself into? And why the hell am I doing this...again?

My interest in trying Bikram started with Oprah. I was flipping through a friend's old O Magazine at the beach, reading about some chickadee who was using Bikram as the jumpstart to her life makeover. I don't remember what about that article made me look into it. Perhaps it was an interest in seeing what all the hype was about or pushing myself to the extreme. Mark my words. It doesn't really get more extreme than Bikram.

Normally when I do yoga it's as chill as can be. My favorite yogini was sweet and soft-spoken, encouraging her students to "play" on their mats. It was a great I was in kindergarten. We were only to focus on ourselves and not compare our skill set or poses with those next to us. The room was dimly lit with candles and gentle music and the temperature was comfortable. In fact, when this particular yoga studio started heating up their rooms, even to 70 degrees, I stopped going. It made me nauseous.

So why on earth would I try doing yoga in 105 degrees? Why would I pursue a yoga practice without music, with stern instructors, in a bright room that makes me feel like I'm melting and a room that reeks of people's sweat? I still don't know the answer to that. And yet I go back.

Bikram Choudhury founded this style of yoga on the principle of health; the hot temperatures are meant to increase flexibility throughout the various poses, which engage all of the muscles, veins, glands (you name it) in the body. One of the Bikram teachers I've experienced said it best: "Suffer for 90 minutes, live for 90 years." And trust me, it is a full 90 minutes of suffering. I go to Bikram on occasion, thinking that eventually it will get easier. But it doesn't. And I find myself bitching about it in my head. Why am I here? Why does the instructor seem so mean?

I think about running out the door within 10 minutes to the start of each class (I've confirmed that other people think this too). I pray the instructor hasn't noticed that she left the window opened...or that I've gotten out of some of the poses before she has said the magic word "change." I get bummed when the instructor has noticed that the window is indeed opened...and promptly closes it. When all this has passed (30 minutes into the session) I hear select words in my head. "Breathe" and "focus." "Breathe" and "focus." And "I'd kill for an iced tea right now." Part survival mode, part what I'm going to do if I survive (minus the killing).

But despite the attempts to settle my thoughts and focus and breathe, my bitchy feelings have not quite dissipated. I'm frustrated with the person at the front of the room, the person keeping me here. Still sweating...still a little dizzy. I'm ready to be done. The instructor jokes about the clock being 10 minutes fast. She tells us not to worry...she'll make sure we don't miss those 10 minutes. I'm not amused at this or her feigned attempts at soothing us, telling us to look up at the soft periwinkle ceiling. "You're almost done."

And then it's done. Amen.

I immediately down 32 ounces of water as fast as I can, spray the mat, peel off the clothes, and bada bing, bada boom. My skin and lungs are clear. I feel like a new person. I entered the studio in the midst of a heat wave and left that studio feeling like I was in air conditioning. And I slept like a baby. I will have to remember all the positives (including those unseen) the next time I venture into the desert. It might be a while before I want to feel the heat again. But one thing is certain. I will feel the heat again.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

My Favorite Mistake

I did a major detox last week and was also really diligent about eating lots of vegetables and salads and abstaining from caffeine, dairy, alcohol, etc. etc. I was feeling pretty great; my skin was clear and I was sky high from my regular workouts. Then I got some news. The cupcakes were coming! And not just any cupcakes.

If you haven't already heard about them, Georgetown Cupcake is rolling in notariety and dough (well, pastry flour) for their gems of sugary goodness. Oprah put them on her list of favorite things, the White House has served them, and TLC produced a show called DC Cupcakes, which follows the two owners, Sophie and Katherine, on their quest to bring gourmet cupcakes to the masses. On any given day at their Georgetown and Bethesda shops you will find a line of customers that extends around the block, sometimes with an hour-long wait time. Luckily, one of my co-workers had a connection and, better yet, was bringing the cupcakes to us!

So you can imagine where this is going. I had an indiscretion. I made a mistake...and one of my favorites to date. I jumped off the health junkie wagon and had me a little taste of heaven. And I mean little. I sampled slivers of the coconut, red velvet and key lime cakes. And I had to go back for the 1/4 lime cupcake that was left. It would have been too sad to throw it out, right? Yum. Yum. Yum.

Of course, the sugar, eggs, and cream cheese caught up with me quickly (headache!) but I got to see what all the hype was about. And they were worth trying; I highly recommend them. Now if only they could make a vegan cupcake. Hmmmm......

Sunday, August 22, 2010

In the Raw, Part II

Here is the second part of my interview with the Live Food Chef. In part I we discussed how he got interested in raw foods and what led him to pursue it not only as a way of life but as a career as well. Here he explains the benefits of a raw foods diet and his experience at the 105 Degrees Academy.

How do you feel on a a raw foods food plan in comparison to other ways you've eaten? Any noticeable changes? How long have you been going raw?

Until now, I hadn't really ever eaten according to any specific meal plan, so naturally eating raw has been very different for me. Given the history of my past food consumption, I can say that I do feel much better about the criteria that I have designed for determining what I will or will not eat. It feels good to be able to have some guidelines in place so that it makes my choices easier too. Its sort of a form of elimination. I can say that when it comes to decisions that one is forced to make on a daily basis, i.e. what foods to consume, I am glad that I am no longer overburdened by an unnecessary pad load of choices (most of them completely unappealing anyway). There is a certain sense of elitism associated with the choice as well. Not necessarily a feeling of supremacy towards others, but a liberation from bombardment by products. I feel that I've gained an attitude that claims myself too good to contaminate my system with corn syrup-laden and chemically conglomorated food stuffs.

From a physicality standpoint, the changes that I've noticed in regards to heightened energy and general mental sharpness have been affable as well. Eating nutrient dense foods as opposed to just dense foods seems to free up some of the energy that the body was using for digestion and processing. Its an interesting concept and one that has eluded me until recently; you don't have to be and probably shouldn't be tired after you eat! Food should be used as a source of energy, not just as a source of sustenance.

How was your experience in Oklahoma with the raw foods culinary program? Could you describe a typical day in the program?

The raw foods program that I enrolled in was the Fundamentals of Living Cuisine Certification program at the 105 degrees academy in Oklahoma City. It was a wonderful learning opportunity for me. The program is designed and modeled after other classic culinary arts programs and intended for individuals seeking the opportunity to learn from experienced raw food chefs in a real kitchen environment. As it is designed for the aspiring culinary professional, class days were full and typically ran from 9am-3pm. Each day included a mix of lecture and hands-on learning.

A typical day in the program included demonstrations by the instructor and subsequent execution by the students. There was often opportunity for the students to experiment with flavors and develop their own ideas for implementation into their recipes. Most days we would prepare one dish in the morning so that we could eat what we made for lunch (sometimes great, but often times enlighteningly distasteful). Often times we would sit down for lunch in the cafe so that if your efforts for that day were less than palatable, you could order from the restaurants menu which was always good. We would prepare another dish in the afternoon so that we would have something to take home for dinner. The program was designed to first teach basic skills and then culminate with each student planning and presenting a three course meal of their own. Knife skills, recipe-building, and presentation were all emphasized throughout the curriculum.

What is your favorite recipe?

I really like kale salad as it is a go-to meal for me and something that I feel is easy to prepare and extremely delicious too.

Kale Salad with Miso Dressing

Serves 2-4 people as a main dish

For the salad:
1 head of curly leaf kale rinsed
1 Tbsp lemon juice
2 Tbsp olive oil (first cold pressed)
Salt and pepper (be liberal)

Pull the leaves of the kale from the ribs and shred it finely with chef's knife. Place chopped kale in a large mixing bowl and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add olive oil and lemon juice and massage into kale with your hands (important to use hands to integrate ingredients into greens - salt will open pores of the greens and allow flavors to penetrate). Massage thoroughly until kale has wilted. Set aside.

For the dressing:
2 Tbsp of sweet white miso
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
1/4 c sesame seeds (soaked)
1/4 c raw cashews (soaked)
1 thai chili (optional)
1 Tbsp agave
1 Tbsp nama shoyo
spring water (sufficient enough to thin to desired consistancy)

Blend all ingredients in blender until smooth and transfer to bowl. Incorporate into salad and mix well. I often like to add some sesame sticks for crunch and other vegetables such as carrot sticks or julienned peppers or snowpea shoots for color and contrast.

For more information about Greg's journey and his raw foods business, check out his website, The Live Food Chef.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

In the Raw, Part I

Not too long ago I got to catch up with my friend Greg, a.k.a. the Live Food Chef. He recently got back from 105 Degrees Academy, a raw food culinary school based in Oklahoma, and I wanted to learn what piqued his interest in this program and how he got on the road to raw. Here's part one of my interview with him.

When did your interest in raw food begin? What prompted you to explore and pursue it?

I feel that it is difficult to distinguish when exactly the raw food journey began, because in some ways, it feels like a culmination or a final destination that I have unconsciously been seeking since the time that I began to prepare my own meals. More accurately and less ambiguously though, I guess that I first started to explore raw food last year in the fall. Previously, I had always found employment as a line cook in traditional restaurant kitchens. I put in alot of time on the various stations in the kitchen, favoring to work on the saute side. I really enjoyed having all of my burners fired up and heating my pans to the perfect temperature. I honed some real skills over the heat and enjoyed being succesful at feeding large numbers of customers on a busy Saturday night. I liked the science behind it and the relationships that developed with the other cooks. It felt good, but ultimately, I couldn't see the future in it.

My discontent with that type of work was always somewhat apparent and I felt that I needed to get out of the kitchen heat and try a different path. I worked for the summer as an archaeologist until the work ran out and I was forced to make a decision regarding which direction I would go next. After some introspective time, I concluded that perhaps my discontent in the kitchen did not stem directly from the fact that I didn't enjoy preparing food. In fact, quite the opposite was true. I spent alot of my free time in my own kitchen preparing meals working with different flavors. I knew I could feel fulfilled by creating beautiful and delicious meals for others; I was discontented simply because of the stresses that I thought to be inherent in a kitchen environment (i.e. heat , grease , noisy equipment , shouting chefs).

I had been eating more conciously for a couple of years previously. I tried vegetarinism for a couple months (not fully committed), but was more focused on organic and local foods. All the while I was becoming increasingly aware of the dark side of where most food in this country was coming from and how it was being produced. (I think that Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer may have been the last book that I read before going 100% vegan). I realized that the path commercially-produced and processed food takes to get to the plate prohibits it from being truly nourishing, even if it is prepared with love. I wanted to be a part of the good food movement. I began to think that if I found the right kitchen that was making the food I wanted to make, then I could be happy. I began to search for opportunities. Through my research, I found some restaurants that were on the page that I was looking to be on.

What had your eating habits been prior and how did they evolve to a raw diet?

Prior to raw foods I had been raised, like a majority of individuals in this country, on a traditional american diet. It's funny to think back on the comfort foods of my childhood and wonder how in the world my food choice evolved to where it is today. To name a few, egg on toast (cut into squares), fish sticks (Mrs. Paul's of course), grilled cheese (with velveeta orange only, please), macaroni and cheese (kraft powdered packet), hotdogs, bacon (four or five pieces microwaved was a typical breakfast before going to school), chicken nuggets, cheeseburgers, Ellios pizza, and bagel bites (the only thing I ate in 1996), were among my favorites. Needless to say, vegetables had less than a starring role in any of my go-to meals.

As I grew older and began to cook for myself, I frequently made chicken in various applications (entirely unaware of how screwed the poultry industry was and is) . . . taco taco, burrito burrito, quesadilla, cheesesteak. When I went to college, I took a job as a dish washer in a classical French restaurant. This opportunity opened my eyes to a whole new world of food and flavors that set me on a path of culinary experimentation that was only in its infancy.

The more restaurants that I worked in, the more the range of dishes that I could make greatly widened. I loved food and the opportunity it created for me to showcase my ability. I would eat anything without much regard for how it got to me. The only criteria that I established for the food that I created and ate was taste. It was always easy to eat the food that I was working around all day and night and my diet subsquently changed with the restaurants that employed me. A sampling, with nothing off limits: cassoulet, calimari, cappicola, corn beef , cubans, club sandwiches and eggs, potatoes, and bacon slathered in ketchup on a plain white toasted English muffin with white square celophaned cheese packets for a Sunday morning brunch service on the saute station.

Pizzas were always easy when tending the wood burning oven; oysters too and clams, both top and little neck (perhaps my first experience with eating raw food regularly). Prosciutto-wrapped shrimp horseradish mayonaise, barbeque pulled pork carolina style either north or south, vinegar or mustard. I guess that truely anything that I could wrap up in a tortilla and seal with pepperjack cheese became the normal choice while running ragged back and forth between walk-in coolers.

With all of that being said, I suppose that out of that mindset and mentality of considering taste as effective criteria for food choice, my bend towards "real food" naturally illicited itself forth out of the mess of convenient garbage. I can accurately say that my diet has currently become completely consistant of whole, un-commercially-processed plant-based foods...not always raw, but usually so. A sampling of my current cravings in consideration of the staples primarily include kale salad (in various styles usually containing miso), green smoothies (also forever variable but usually with homemade almond or other nut milk), sprouted buckwheat granola (also contained within a flavored nut milk matrix), anything fresh from Cali's garden ... cucumber, onion, potato, mellon, swiss chard, pepper, and tomatoes in any variety (purple cherokee and green zebra are best), and coconut ice cream (any flavor).

Stay tuned for In the Raw, Part II where Greg shares his experience at the 105 Degrees Academy and a raw recipe!

Friday, August 6, 2010

Back in the Saddle

There's no hiding the fact that I've been away from the blogosphere as of late...ok, it's been a long while. And I've missed it! The last month has been filled with twists and turns (all fun and all good!) and I'm glad to be back into the swing of things. Well...almost. Here's an update on what I'd been up to, sans blog.

In mid-July, I got to attend a vegan macrobiotic cooking intensive program with Christina Pirello, chef and host of Christina Cooks. I met up with 15 other health nuts for a weekend of lectures on chinese medicine and the energetics of food, cooking demonstrations, yummy meals, and a Top Chef-like experience where we broke up into groups and were challenged to make four recipes (from scratch) in two hours. Amazing time and fun people!

The fruits (well, mostly veggies) of our labor...
Check out this dessert recipe - pictured above.

I got to meet vegan elite athlete Brendan Brazier. YUM-MY.

I ran a 6.2 mile military style mud race (complete with six obstacles) with my friend Ed. I was worried about the heat that day and the fact that my training had run its course (ie I wasn't doing much of it) but Ed pulled me through.

I got to see my best friend get married.

And learned an indian dance in an hour to perform at the reception; and danced the night away.

I moved out of the suburbs and into a nice little nest in the city. We were too tired to document this adventure with photos. :) But our move did mean that we had to say goodbye to Laila (whose daddy, Heath's roommate, was moving out of the city). :(

And I turned the big 3-0!

Vegan Pie from Mom

I got lots of vegan and health-nut goodies, including a gift certificate to Whole Foods and a fabulous Make Juice Not War t-shirt from the lovely Olivia (she is the best gift giver. Ever.).

Vegan Pancakes from Heath

Stay tuned for new posts, including an interview with a raw foods "cook", the scoop on dumping toxic cosmetics and beauty products, and the regular reads - macro Monday and T2C!

Back on the health junkie horse with a kick-ass green juice.


Friday, July 2, 2010

Dining Dilemma ~ by Lauren

I'm sitting at my boyfriend's parents' house staring at a meal of mostly meat. I assume this is common in most households. While most mouths would water (and mine certainly wasn't repulsed) for a big hot pan of bubbly fresh (meat) lasagna, which unfortunately for me appears homemade, my eyes scan for the side dishes - salad and bread. That works for me! That is, until my nagging manners and pressing concern for others' feelings kick in.

My thoughts return to a dinner table on my Kazakhstan trip years ago when the meat prepared was a "very special" Ukrainian meat, made of pure fat and love, a dish served in honor of my arrival. If I could "swallow" that with a smile on my face, I could certainly handle lasagna...OR I could turn it down because, after all, this was not a meal made to reach out a hospitable welcome. No implications here, right? No slaving in the kitchen to watch your guests smile as they savor your dish? Wrong. At least in my mind.

In many cultures food is tied to love, fellowship, hospitality, pride, and peace between people. Food is more than food. Food is a symbol. And with that, rejection of food prepared for you can be considered more than rude. Rejection of food can even be equivalent to rejection of friendship.

So I'm kind of stuck. I've thought about avoiding dining in others' homes altogether, but that's not possible if I want to have relationships. I know, I know. I should probably just get over it, be myself, and stop worrying about offending others, but I want to be sensitive, grateful, and kind, especially to people of different backgrounds who are trying to share a piece of their culture with me.

Any ideas?

Friday, June 25, 2010

T2C ~ Mantra Musings

Jen ~ Philadelphia

When I think of mantras, two types come to mind ~ words/phrases that are commonly repeated (usually in my head) – both positive and negative – and the sacred and mystical utterances that are capable of creating transformation. It seems that the latter would help with the former, at least as far as clearing the mind and creating a loving and non-judgmental space. After all, negative “mantras,” the repetitive and undesired self-talk, need to be put in their place…and not given so much weight.

In an earlier post I blogged about The Power of Now and an exercise I tried on watching the mind and monitoring one’s thoughts. Sometimes one negative thought can lead to another and soon enough there’s a chain of them and you can find yourself in a downward spiral, feeling not-so-great and wondering how the heck you got to that low place. “I’m not good enough”, “I could work harder on x, y, z…” etcetera, etc. But if you can observe and identify these thoughts early on, you’ll save yourself from a toxic nosedive. And adding some reaffirming mantras will do the trick too!

I remember vividly the time that this worked best. I started to seriously doubt a person I had deemed a “special someone” and believed, based on his actions, that it was only a matter of days before things were going to unravel. And there was nothing I could do about it. I found myself waking up in the middle of the night on the verge of a panic attack, consumed by fear and anxiety. When I couldn’t get back to sleep I sent out vibes, begging for everything to be ok and asking the Universe for “peace, serenity, and calm.” I repeated these words over and over and over again…until I drifted off to sleep. It was the only thing that worked.

Luckily, I haven’t seen another situation like this to warrant that kind of mantra. I now use them when running ~ “You will get there. You’ll make it to the finish line” (this mantra goes on for long time) ~ and when I’m at the office ~ “Make it Work!” Note: the Tim Gunn “Make it Work” bobblehead helps with this one.

What mantras work for you?

Olivia ~ Seoul

I used to feel ambivalent about mantras. On the one hand, they seem like New Age hocus pocus–even to my New Age loving self. On the other hand, mantras have helped me through difficult situations since I started using them in the past year, which makes me inclined to keep up with them in the future.

Om Mani Padma Hum

When I first began exploring this mantra thing, I turned to Google for some research. (Because nothing says “inner peace and contentment” quite like the world’s largest search engine, right?) I was curious about what mantras people have been using for centuries, and figured that if it was good enough to help thousands of others center themselves, it was good enough for me. I eventually settled on two classics: Ham-sa, which means “I am that,” and Om mani padma hum, a classic Tibetan Buddhist prayer. I love the former because of how perfectly it fits with free-flowing breaths; when I really need to focus, I think ham on the exhale and sa on the inhale. The little effort required to invert what might feel the “natural” coupling ham/inhale and sa/exhale helps me really bring attention to the moment. I have a little yellow post-it tacked up over my desk with this mantra on it, and it serves as a gentle reminder a few times a day that I am what I am, and I am what I do, which helps me refocus my attentions on what truly matters. Om mani padma hum is a mantra I use less often, but find springs into my mind from time to time when I’m feeling…off. I love the sound, even though I likely say it incorrectly, and find the script beautiful.

Lately I’ve been branching out into other mantras I can use in more targeted situations. In a recent email exchange, my friend Liz shared what gets her through difficult workouts, be it a long run or a challenging yoga class: “I choose to do this.” As soon as I read those words, I was struck by their power. I could write a page on that mantra alone, but what really strikes me is the truth that if you choose do something, you can choose not to do it, so if you choose to continue, you might as well accept the gifts the challenge is offering you. Angela, over at Oh She Glows, has shared her race mantra, which she pins to her shirt during events: “You are so much stronger than you think!” I have definitely appropriated this for some of my own runs when I felt like quitting. And you know what? It’s always true!

Lanterns with prayers for Buddha's birthday.
Mine would have said: "I am healthy. I am strong."

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to put a new mantra of my own making to the test: “I am healthy. I am strong.” Somehow, and we still can’t figure it out, gluten sneaked into my diet, the hows and whys of which I want to explore in a future post. On Saturday I was presented with the situation of needing to go to work (luckily, it was only a five-class day instead of eleven or twelve) while suffering from intense pain through most of my body, though, thankfully, my right leg was spared. I do have one narcotic pain pill that I carry just in case, but taking it would have made it impossible to teach (it puts me to sleep), so I was forced to rely on Motrin and my stubborn disposition. Lucky for me, I can be really stinking stubborn. But it still took most of my power to sit in class–standing and writing on the board were out of the question–and lead a coherent discussion; I couldn’t help but think of the pain pulsing through my muscles, joints, bones, and skin. Clearly, thinking “It hurts it hurts it hurts it hurts” wasn’t helping; in fact, it likely fed the pain, or at least my consciousness of it. So I chose to spend my energy on what it was I wanted to manifest. I am healthy. I am strong. I am healthy. I am strong. Only the good stuff was allowed to cycle through my thoughts. When I told Michael that I was trying to mantra my way through the pain, he immediately “got it,” and filled in for me when I seemed to be wavering. There’s something incredibly powerful about having someone you love adopt your mantra for you: You are healthy. You are strong.

Do you use mantras? Do you use time-tested phrases or your own creations or a mixture of both? How have they helped you? Have you ever invited anyone to join in you mantra with you? I would like to official offer myself as mantra-supporter. If you need a little extra nudge of support and faith from someone, drop a comment or email with your mantra of choice, and why you’d like me (and your fellow readers) to come along for the ride. Let’s support each other in every way we can.

Friday, June 18, 2010

T2C: A Day in the Life...

This week, Olivia and I decided to tackle the subject of temptation. What does a typical day in the life of a health nut look like? Here's how we make it through a regular (which often means stressful) day while still staying in the nutritional black.

Olivia ~ Seoul

For a long while, I attempted perfection. I would pledge myself to weeks or months of…whatever I thought I should focus on next. Yoga every day. No sugar. Not surprisingly, this approach almost always backfired as I burned myself out and went clamoring to the cupboards or the couch.

So now I’m learning to balance virtue and temptation. Oh middle path, you’d make Buddha proud. Treats are awesome and perfection is boring, but it all needs to be balanced. This means that a treat must truly be a treat; I have to enjoy it, savoring every moment.

When virtue and indulgence meet:
A pause during a long bike ride to enjoy some wine (and yes, it's wine in a can).

Curious as it may sound, this means planning. How many times have we been tempted by Starbucks/a Snickers bar/insert-craving-of-choice because we were exhausted or hungry or just having a snack attack? I don’t want to waste my treats on situations on like this. I want my indulgences to be about pure pleasure, not a lack of preparedness.

To help make this happen, I try to set up my life to make the healthiest options the easiest ones.

At work: I keep healthy snacks that are likely to satisfy cravings at my desk: packets of toasted & salted seaweed sub in for potato chips, a bag of apples helps me combat a sugar slump, and a container of homemade trail mix gives me a protein boost when I need it.

At home: Our fridge is (almost) always organized with the good-for-you stuff easy to grab. A salad lives on the top shelf with a freshly made bottle of dressing. Everything I need to make my green smoothies is corralled into one part of the fridge door so I can whip it together when I’m still half-asleep.

For fitness: Running shoes are left out, and I try to do a load of laundry when I’m down to my last sports bra or pair of running shorts. The yoga mats stand at the ready against the wall of the living room. If I’m on the fence about going to the gym during a break at work, I bring the sneakers.

Does this mean I always make the healthful choices? NO! In fact, the last 24 hours have been particularly indulgent. But when I splurge, it’s because I want to, not because I’ve left myself without any other option. So today when I left my hummus-topped salad in the fridge at work and headed to Kraze Burger with my fella, it’s because I really wanted to split some damn cheese fries (and drink a Coke, a very rare occurrence), not because I scampered out empty-handed this morning. And I did still get a salad.

I’m not perfect. But I am pretty darn healthy while still leaving wiggle room for some of the less virtuous parts of life.

How do you handle temptation? Do you plan for it? Are you able to resist cravings?

Jen ~ Philadelphia

Although I’ve gotten used to going without coffee (for the most part), processed foods, alcohol, dairy (for the most part), and meat, I still feel tempted on a daily basis. Perhaps it’s the fact that for many people, these elements are commonplace in their diet…and I’m surrounded by subsequent opportunities to cave. It starts the minute I get out of bed when I’m visiting the folks and smell the coffee brewing (and see the non-dairy creamer in their fridge). On a workday, it starts when I reach the office waiting area. Co-workers can be found mingling around the coffee maker while I find myself sometimes pining for joe. If I’ve made it to 10:00 a.m. without succumbing, it’s just a matter of hours before the next hurdle approaches. Lunch is only hard when I haven’t prepared food in advance. There are a few options (emphasis on few) otherwise; my university has great vegetarian options but most are laden with cheese. 3:00 rolls around, the hunger hits, and the bad snacks at work call my name. Dinner is good if I have the energy to make food or if I’m not tired of take-out burritos, salads, or tomato pie (and that’s if the pizzeria has made any that day).

So far I’m not really doing a good job of selling this vegan lifestyle thing, huh?

Thankfully times have changed (since last week). I’ve gotten a buddy on board with food shopping and prepping on a weekly basis. We now meet up with vegan and balanced recipes to vote on, money to split the grocery bill, and sculpted biceps to whip up batches of food to get us through the week. Why didn’t we think of this before?!!

The temptations for coffee and dairy still continue and occasionally I partake. But with support of a fellow health junkie, I’ve got plenty of scrumptious meals on hand that are not only meat and dairy-free but my antidote to gratuitous indulging as well. Once you start eating whole plant-based foods on a regular basis (even in just a few days), you’ll notice your tastebuds and body wanting more!

How do you keep temptation at bay?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Battle in Seattle ~ by Ed

The quest for good food wasn't nearly as serene as this lake.

My sister earned her masters degree in public health last week from the University of Washington, and that called for a celebration. Ten family members and one family friend headed out to Seattle to congratulate her. This was my first week away from home since I had dropped meat and many dairy products. Traditionally, vacations have meant a license to eat junk food and lots of meat. I was determined to be healthier this time around, going so far as to pack a blender; but as anyone who travels knows, it is not easy eating green in a new city. This was going to be a fight against old habits amongst carnivorous relatives who have a voracious appetite for meat.

The trip didn't start out well with a long flight out West. Airport "food" just flat out sucks, moreso if you are vegetarian. Not even the salads are appealing. I grabbed a pretzel from Auntie Anne's, hoping against hope that I could get something better during a layover in San Francisco. But my flight left late and I ended up spending the night at the airport with all the eateries closed. The best I could do the next morning was to get some crackers and water from a convenience store for the flight to Seattle. After my arrival and a long nap, my sister took us to a gourmet pizza place in the city, which was tasty, but decidedly unhealthy. For dinner at a seafood restaurant, I had a salmon burger (I still dabble in fish), which I couldn't finish since I was falling asleep at the dinner table. So travel and Day 1 in Seattle seemed to be a complete bust.

After taking a long run the next morning, I felt completely regenerated. For lunch, I resisted junk food urges and picked up a quinoa salad instead, which was a little too salty but good. My sister's graduation was that night, and mercifully, it was catered with plenty of vegetarian food. I enjoyed rice wraps, salad, and Greek spinach quiche. Unfortunately, I continued the cheese-eating the next day at lunch (and drank too much beer) on a boat ride in Puget Sound. Dinner was better that night, as we were treated to Salmon with diced tomatoes and onions and asparagus.

The next day was by far the healthiest eating wise. I put the blender to good use and tried the excellent recipe for Sweet Strawberry Pie that Jen recently blogged about. I had trouble with the crust, but it was an overall success. My cousins loved it and even my Allegedly Healthy Aunt, who is in many ways healthy but doesn't believe that meat and dairy could be bad for one's health, couldn't believe raw pie could taste so good.

One of the highlights of the trip occurred that evening, as I took my sister out for a meal at Cafe Flora, an award-winning vegetarian restaurant in Seattle. The design alone was amazing, as we were seated next to a fountain in an atrium. The menu featured all vegetarian options, many of which were also available vegan. I opted to enjoy some of my sister's avocado salad as an appetizer and selected the portobello wellington, the house specialty, served with outstanding mashed potatoes and asparagus. The mushrooms were cooked to taste as though it were meat. It was incredible and I highly recommend the restaurant should you ever find yourself in Seattle.

The next few days were not as good on the food front. My aunt took the cousins to a Seattle fast food joint appropriately called Dick's. When I was asked what I would be getting, I replied without thinking, "I don't know, I can't bleeping eat anything here." Alas, my pleas for them to give up meat had fallen on deaf ears. I did get a laugh when a cyclist shouted out, "Eating at Dick's is like putting poison in your body" while they were eating their meat. I went home and packed some fruit and a pb&j sandwich for a hike scheduled the following day. Too tired to make anything as my sister went out, I had some more strawberry pie for dinner. On the flight home, I had a couple of protein bars since, again, there was nothing but poor food options at the airport.

Overall, I was pleased with how I ate on the trip. If I had to do it again, I would have packed better food for the flights and worked harder to make food at my sister's place. However, things could have been a lot worse. I'm happy to say the meatless challenge is still going strong for me. I was less successful in convincing relatives to drop meat and dairy. One cousin even remarked that if milk is so bad, why do the sell it in schools? Good question. But that's a story for another time...

If you are traveling, be sure to consult the Eating Well Guide for local organic goods and VegGuide for vegetarian and vegan cuisine. Happy Eats!

Meatless in Seattle

The proof was in the luggage...

My friend Ed recently traveled across the country to visit family in Seattle. I was both shocked and giddy when he texted me in route to say that he had packed his blender (I needed proof)! We had made a raw strawberry pie days before and he wanted to share the treat with family. He had shown so much commitment to nutrition since starting the meatless challenge (and now with packing a freakin' blender for a long-distance flight!) that I wondered how he'd fare being away from prepared meals for a week. Would it be anything like my bust in Baltimore? Fortunately, Seattle has lots of great eats for no-meat health junkies. Read more about Ed's experience in the blog post Battle in Seattle.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Macro Monday ~ Parsley Tea

I used to think of parsley as a garnish and I had not developed a liking for it until recently. My friend Emek used to make us fabulous Turkish dishes, many of which had parsley in them. But when replicating her masterpieces I left the parsley out. It tasted too bitter to me. I was a picky eater.

Fast forward years later and to an introduction to macrobiotic cooking. With the right combination, parsley fast became a fantastic and complimentary ingredient in dishes. My palate had readjusted and, dare I say, developed feelings for this leafy green. But when I found a recipe for parsley tea, which only consisted of parsley, I wondered if it could stand on its own.

Parsley has been the main star in juices and other elixirs for various ailments and health benefits. If anything, I thought, drinking parsley tea on occasion would be a good contribution to health. It also turned out to be tasty!

This recipe comes from Simon Brown's Modern-Day Macrobiotics:

Bring 1/4 cup finely chopped parsley and 1 cup water to a boil. Simmer for 10 minutes. Strain and enjoy!

*Note: Parsley and other select leafy greens may not be suitable for people with certain health conditions. See the first link above for more information.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

T2C: Losing Our Minds

A photo from Olivia's old apartment in Philly.

Your two favorite (wink wink) green health junkies are at it again. I’m teaming up with Olivia to launch a new weekly feature, A Tale from Two Cities (T2C), which will document various health and food adventures from our respective corners of the world: Philadelphia, PA, and Seoul, South Korea.

Our first blog title is not meant to announce an onset of psychosis or to imply that we have indeed gone bonkers. It’s true that our lives have gotten pretty darn busy (but extremely exciting) in recent months –an engagement and long-distance wedding planning from Seoul and a part-time gig with an awesome nutritionist in Philadelphia – and with such events naturally comes some stress and a need to unwind and just “be.” With that said, we’re focusing our first post on the very important topic of meditation and relaxation.

Jen ~ Philadelphia

I have always been a fidgety person. I still can’t manage to, well, sit still. My mind easily wanders and is cluttered with to-do lists, worries, thoughts of the future, and more menial wonderment of things like what’s going to happen on the next season of Dexter. And I imagine it’s this way for a lot of people. How can it not be? We live in a fast-paced culture with never-ending workdays, fast food at every corner, 24-hour news cycles, incessant tweeting and facebooking, and an urge to bring our blackberries with us on vacation. Oy! Where does all of this get us and what kind of world do we create for ourselves in the process? We need some room to breathe, people! And the only person who can help you is you.

Everyone will choose a different path to get to that breathing space. I’m not one for traditional meditation on a regular basis…not yet. I’ve tried it and it doesn’t appeal to me right now. In the meantime, yoga is serving quite nicely as my meditation and “me” time. I deem twenty minutes of it a day to be an accomplishment. My other current “go-to” inspirations for centeredness are passages from Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now and Kris Carr’s recent vlog on taking mini-vacations every day.

I highly recommend Tolle’s chapter “Freeing Yourself from Your Mind.” Newsflash! You are not your mind! He recommends monitoring your thoughts as an outsider (without judgment) to observe thought patterns, especially those that are repetitive, negative, and subsequently destructive. In doing so, you can practice being fully present in the “now.” When I last did this exercise I felt as if a weight had been lifted…no worries…just happiness…just being. As for the mini-vacation exercise – that starts tomorrow. Got to start planning. Might simply entail a 15-minute break/walk during the workday or a 30-minute “check-out” at Starbucks with a girly magazine. How do you unwind? How do you get centered?

Olivia ~ Seoul

If someone told you they knew of something that would help you be more productive at work, sleep more soundly at night, and improve your overall happiness, you’d probably be clamoring to find out their secret. Especially when you found out it was free, could be done anytime, anywhere.

Meditation, of course, is all of this, and more. So why don’t we all sit down and let go every day? Or, more precisely: why don’t I have a daily meditation practice yet, even though I’ve been practicing off and on for over five years and love love love the benefits?

The honest truth? I don’t know. So I’m letting this little write-up serve as a reminder for some of my favorite meditation tidbits. With any luck, this will inspire you to take five or ten minutes in your day to check in—or check out.

• Even five minutes a day can make a big difference

• If you exist, you can do it. You don’t need any props or special knowledge. You don’t even need a secluded space (though it can be nice).

• When in doubt, close your eyes and focus on the breath as it passes through your nose. If your mind is being particularly uncooperative, go ahead and count to a given series of numbers as you inhale and exhale. (For example, inhale to 5, exhale to 7.)

• If you do it before bed, it will help calm what I call “hamster brain”—that incessant racing of thoughts that you don’t want to be thinking.

• If (when) a thought keeps popping up, go ahead and acknowledge it, thank it for coming to the party, and tell it you’ll give it your full attention to learn from it later. But now is not the time.

• It provides many of the same benefits of a glass of vino (relaxation, a ritual for letting go of the work day, an increased likelihood of cracking a smile) without those pesky price tags/calories/toxicity.

Check Green Junkie Living next week for more resources and techniques to take your meditation practice to the next level.