Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Dark chocolate meets cardamom

dark chocolate barkIn a couple of hours I will be headed to a New Years Eve dinner party at my friend Joan's house. When dishes were being assigned earlier in the week I jumped at the chance to bring dessert.

Why? Because I've been dreaming about making the Deborah Madison recipe for Chocolate Bark with Cardamom and Sea Salt, Apricots and Pistachios ever since I discovered it this month.

I am known for having a weakness for dark chocolate and cardamom, leaving me no choice but to make this treat. Other than the signature ingredients, the recipe only requires four others - pistachios, raisins, dried apricots, and sea salt. They all come together nicely in this treat - the sweet complementing the salty, just right.

melting chocolateTo get started I melted a 5 oz bar of Green & Blacks organic chocolate (72% cacao). Since chocolate easily burns, I made sure the pot did not directly touch the stove. So I setup a medium-size pot inside a large one that contained simmering water. It worked perfectly.

Once you get this set up the rest is easy. You just add a bit of cardamom, 3 tbsp of chopped dried fruit and another 3 tbsp of chopped pistachios. Pour into a deep dish or pan (10 x 8 inches), add a bit of sea salt, and insert in refrigerator for about an hour to cool. And voila! You've got bark.

If you're also planning to make this for a party, take it from me, don't make it too far in advance. The wait will kill you!

Here's to a delicious 2009!

Monday, December 29, 2008

The art of timeshifting

sunset at omega instituteI love the holidays and how everything seems to move slower this time of year. Work takes the backseat for friends, family, and yes even food. It's like we're 'off the clock' this week. Which can be a tremendous sense of relief for many of us time-starved individuals.

The current pace of life reminds me of a great book I read a couple years ago called Timeshifting by Stephan Rechschaffen. The author is the founder of the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York, one of my favorite places to visit.

At Omega, you are immersed in a slower pace of life. You can't help but admire the beautiful natural surroundings, savor the food, and chat up other guests you don't even know. Every time I visit I come back rejuvenated and refreshed. And here too I feel 'off the clock.'

How great would it be if we could create this same feeling without having to go on a vacation?

We all have the ability to slow down and have more time to enjoy our life. This book showed me that. Our perception of whether we have enough time or not isn't determined solely by circumstances and responsibilities.

I really like the example in the book where the author would go around to different audiences and ask a simple question: "Do you feel like you have enough time in your life?"

When he'd ask this question in Corporate America, nobody would raise their hand. I guess that's what you'd expect. These guys are paid to keep busy. If not, a 'good' boss should just give them more work. Right?

So he'd also visit prisons and ask the same question to inmates who were literally "doing time." Yet again, he'd get the same response - no time. They'd complain about the chores they'd have as well as other responsibilities. They too were victims of time poverty.

But what about those folks that said yes? Certainly there must be some folks who felt like they had enough time. Well, in the rare instance someone would raise their hand, Rechtschaffen would ask "How is your life?" And more often than not, these people had a good life. They were very happy and had plenty of time.

Without knowing, most of us have unconsciously made the choice to 'keep busy' regardless of our responsibilities. Yet this example showed me we also have the power to shift from working against the clock to going with the flow of life.

When I feel the need to 'shift time' I often go for a walk in Prospect Park, sometimes leaving the watch at home. You'd be surprised how long twenty-some minutes can seem. And how healing.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Come see me at Whole Foods: Jan 7

Do you live in New York City? Are you looking to spice up your protein life?

If so, you'll want to come to my upcoming class From Legumes to Tempeh: Expanding your Protein Repertoire at the Whole Foods Bowery Culinary Center on January 7, 2009, from 7 to 8 pm.

It's a great opportunity to see my counseling chops in action, as we discuss everything ranging from "What is an adequate amount of protein?" to "Why me no like tofu?" I guarantee you'll go home with some new insights and possibilities, regardless of where you eat on the food chain.

And as a special offer to my blog readers, Whole Foods has offered to slash the already low price of the class. Save 20% off the registration fee ($8 instead of $10). Just go here to register for the class and enter LEGUMES in the promotion code box before checking out.

Hope to see you there!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Recipe: Garbanzo Black Bean Chili

I wasn't kidding when I mentioned I've been on a bean kick as of late.

And for anyone who likes to experiment in the kitchen, there is no better dish to make than chili. I honestly don't think I've ever made the same one twice. Other than the requisite beans and tomatoes, this recipe lends itself nicely to improvisation.

It all starts with caramelized onions and garlic as the base. For me the rest varies based on what I have on hand. This version calls for carrots, celery and mushrooms. All great. You could even use some bell peppers if you have them. Even some corn. Just throw it all in.

Spices of course are key. Play around with the quantities to create a recipe that works for you. I think cumin and coriander are essential. These spices seem to creep into all the foods that I like (e.g. Mexican, Indian, Middle Eastern). Additionally, the dried oregano and chili powder are important here. I like a little bit of heat in my chili (not too much). I find the Muir Glen diced tomatoes with chipotle peppers to work well. But if you can't find some, just try adding a bit of Tabasco sauce.

Chili goes great with cornbread and/or rice. Or can be enjoyed on its own.

Serves 4

1 15 oz can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1 15 oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes with chipotle peppers
1/2 onion, diced
1 carrot, diced thinly
2 celery sprigs, diced thinly
5 crimini mushrooms, sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp chili powder
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground coriander
salt to taste
juice of 1/2 lemon
pepper jack cheese, grated
olive oil

In a medium to large pot, saute the onions in olive oil over medium heat for 8 minutes until golden brown. Then add the carrots, celery, garlic, and oregano. Stir for 5 minutes or until soft. Add the canned tomatoes, mushrooms, cumin, coriander, and chili powder. Bring to a simmer and cover. Cook for another 8 minutes until mushrooms are cooked. Add the canned beans and resume simmer. Let flavors combine, cooking another 8-10 minutes. When finished, remove from heat and add lemon juice. Check salt and adjust to taste.

Top with grated pepper jack cheese, sour cream, and/or labne.

Similar dishes:
Rajma: Indian Kidney Beans
Mexican Rice and Beans

Friday, December 19, 2008

Recipe: Lentils and Rice with Fried Onions

Mujadarrah is the traditional name for this Middle Eastern dish. And as plain as it looks and sounds, it is really delicious. My version was inspired by the book Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison.

It only requires six ingredients, all of which are items I keep regularly in my pantry (i.e. brown rice, lentils, onions, olive oil, salt, pepper). So it's great around this time of year when you'd rather stay in and not run to the store.

The fried onions are really what make this dish delicious. You want to cook them until they become dark brown. It might seem like a lot of olive oil, but it's really what makes this dish good.

I love teaching this dish to vegetarians, as it is a great source of protein - the amino acids in the brown rice, complementing those in the lentils. It is also great to take to work or on long car trips and can be enjoyed hot or at room temperature.

This dish is similar to an Indian dish, kichadi, which is often enjoyed with yogurt and Indian pickle. It works with this dish too!

Serves 4

1 cup French green lentils, rinsed and sorted
1 cup basmati brown rice
1 large onion, sliced 1/4 inch thick
6 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and Pepper

Heat large skillet over medium heat. Coat pan with olive oil and add onions. Cook for 15 minutes, stirring frequently, until onions are dark brown and translucent.

While preparing onions, put lentils in saucepan with 4 cups water. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 15 minutes. Add the rice, and generous amounts of pepper. Cover and let cook over low heat for an additional 15 minutes, adding additional water if needed. When done, stir in fried onions. Add salt to taste.

Similar dish:
Falafel with quinoa tabouli

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Simple wisdom: The power of gratitude

I keep a rock in my pocket. But it is no ordinary one. It is my gratitude rock. And every time I touch it I state something I am grateful for.

Today for example:
"I am grateful that I can afford to live in New York City"
"I am grateful that my mom's flight to India left on time"
"I am grateful for the Park Slope Food Co-op where I buy my food"
I started this practice ever since watching the movie The Secret two years ago. And as corny as it may seem, it is a practice I find hard to live without.

I touch it multiple times a day, usually when I enter or leave my apartment. Upon contact, I pause and regardless of my mood, reflect on something I am grateful for in that moment. Which is not always easy to do. Especially when I am in hurry or frustrated with someone or something.

Yet, it is especially those times that make this practice worthwhile. It forces me to shift my perspective and realize that everything is actually okay.

Another way to think about gratitude is with the simple question of "What is new and good?" I like to ask this at the beginning of all my client sessions. Yet unlike most casual conversation, I really want to know!

The reason for that is so much of our progress is perceived. I see my clients do many amazing things, from starting to cook for themselves, to getting off prescription medication. Yet they'll continue to focus on the 10 lbs they still haven't lost, which results in more stress, and guess what, often leads to more weight gain.

Now if we instead choose to focus on the progress, e.g. the cooking and getting off the meds, we start to believe that yes, we can also lose the 10 lbs. And before you know it, it's done.

Seem too easy? Good, cause it should.

So let's get started. What are you grateful for?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Recipe: Honey candied pecans

honey roasted pecansAfter a visit to Trader Joes last week I became inspired to make my own candy coated pecans. I've always loved the stuff in salads, especially around the holidays.

Only problem was I wasn't into the sugar content in the pre-made ones. So I decided that I would try to make my own.

I was planning to use agave, but on Saturday morning I woke up with a scratchy throat. And I can't think of a better food to eat in that situation than honey. So I pulled out my favorite raw honey and got to work.

I simply mixed together some pecans with honey and coconut oil. Then placed them in the toaster oven for 8 minutes. And voila! I had freshly candied pecans. I put them on a plate with some cut up apple, and a few minutes later they were all gone. And guess what, my achy throat was gone too!

Honey is known for having antibacterial properties. Especially when eaten in its raw, unprocessed state. I swear buy the stuff made by Y.S. Organic Bee Farms. They make a high quality product that I am sure you will love.

Here's the recipe to make some for yourself:

1/2 cup pecans (halves or whole)
1 teaspoon coconut oil
1 tablespoon raw honey

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a bowl mix all ingredients together. Place coated nuts on a toaster oven tray or baking sheet. Bake for 8 minutes. Enjoy!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Recipe: Sweet Potato Rice Crust Pizza

gluten free sweet potato pizzaTomato season is over, but that doesn't mean you still can't enjoy a pizza with fresh, seasonal ingredients.

This recipe was another creation by Swati, my resident sweet potato expert. I was delighted by how good it turned out. The Parmesan cheese complements the sweet potatoes well, without overwhelming them. And the fresh herbs make you want to devour this pizza the moment it comes out of the oven.

You can find a brown rice pizza crust at most natural foods stores. We purchased one made by Nature's Hilights, which makes a thin crispy crust using only brown rice and potatoes. Regardless if you are gluten free or not, I think it serves this pizza well.

Serves 2

1 large sweet potato, peeled and diced
1 brown rice pizza crust
1 small onion, chopped
freshly grated Parmesan cheese
fresh thyme or rosemary
salt and pepper
olive oil

Preheat the oven to 350. Toss the sweet potato with olive oil, half of the chopped onions, salt and pepper. Place in the mix in a roasting pan and put in the oven for about 20 minutes, or until the potatoes are soft. Remove from oven and raise the temperature to 450 degrees.

Prepare the pizza crust based on the instructions on the box. Spread the roasted sweet potatoes, the remaining onions, thyme, salt and pepper on the top of the crust. Toss or grate some Parmesan cheese directly over the toppings. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes. Let cool for a few minutes and serve.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Creative gift ideas for the food lover

holiday gift ideasWant to do something a little different this holiday season? Here are some ideas to please the foodie in your household.
  • ameet maturuA private in-home 'intuitive' cooking session (led by me!): We cook with with whatever is on hand. No recipes. A three hour session for $135. Available for New York City residents only. Contact me for more information.
  • A coupon book good for home-cooked meals: Need ideas on what to prepare? Consider enrolling in my upcoming group class. More details on my website.
  • rice cooker giftJapanese rice cooker. One of the best gifts I received in the last year. Use the timer and have freshly cooked brown rice ready when you get home. Recommended: Zojirushi or Panasonic rice cooker
  • A personal health consultation with me: Give the gift of a healthy YOU. Get your questions answered. Take advantage of my free offer. Contact me today.

Monday, December 8, 2008

It's cold. Gimme some beans.

black beans and riceI'm someone who strongly believes you need to listen to your cravings. And this weekend my tummy was loud and clear. It wanted beans.

It may have been the result of an 'intuitive' cooking session I led for a new client, Tamlin, last Tuesday. We met at her home in Park Slope and cooked only with what she had on hand. We did an inventory and brainstormed some possibilities, eventually deciding on a three bean chili, using the canned beans and canned tomatoes in her pantry as well as some fresh vegetables (celery, carrots, green pepper, onions, green beans) she had available. It came out so delicious that I was craving it all week.

But I think a lot of this craving also has to deal with the weather. And with the temperature in the twenties, my body starts to demand earthy, protein-rich foods like beans. And not just any kind of bean - the slow cooked kind, over a hot stove.

So on Saturday morning I decided to start cooking a fresh pot of beans, which I had soaked the previous night. I added plenty of water to the beans, brought them to a boil, and then cooked them slowly throughout the day. I'd check on them every 40 minutes or so. Maybe adding some aromatics (like onion, garlic, thyme, cumin). A bit of olive oil and Bragg's Liquid Aminos. I really had no plan.

Usually I'd cook beans for no more than an hour or two. This time I had my beans cook for almost five hours, only stopping because all the water had evaporated! It was truly amazing to taste these beans. They had become softer, richer, and more complex in taste. For the first time they tasted like beans I'd find in tacquerias and less like those from a can.

They were so good that by mid-afternoon I found myself having an early dinner of beans and rice. I couldn't wait! And on Sunday, influenced by the leftover beans I had cooked up, I made a black bean mushroom chili.

What a weekend!

New group class in Brooklyn

Attention frustrated New York home cooks:

I will be leading a fun, new group class in Brooklyn entitled "Get of your rut: Get into the kitchen" starting in late January. It will be upbeat and interactive with a focus on creative, health-supportive cooking.

For more information, please visit my website.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Dairy I do. Dairy I don't.

lactose intoleranceWhy do I love cheese? And yet find my stomach cringing when I indulge in some festive eggnog this holiday season? As my body seems to be telling me, it's all about lactose - the sugar naturally found in milk that some people are able to digest and some are not.

We all have varying degrees of sensitivity to the white stuff. According to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a medical group that advocates a vegan diet, 95% of Asian Americans, 70% of African Americans, and 53% of Mexican Americans are lactose intolerant. This compares to 15% of Caucasians.

Some dairy products, like milk and eggnog, are higher in lactose than others. While some products contain far lower levels of lactose (e.g. butter, hard cheese, ghee, yogurt). Each individual has a different level of sensitivity.

Why is this? A lot has to do with the way it's been processed. Hard cheese, through its fermentation process loses much of the lactose. Yogurt with live probiotics contains the enzyme lactase which aids in digestion. And ghee, clarified butter used in India, is stripped of lactose (or milk solids) in its processing.

I made the personal choice to add moderate amounts of dairy to my diet, because it is one of the few foods that contain fat. Other than nuts and oils, there aren't many other sources of fat in the plant kingdom. And fat, is an essential nutrient in diet. We often are taught to shun it, because most of us eat too much of it. But there are also others (notably vegetarians and vegans) who often don't get enough. Fat is essential to healthy skin, hair, nails, and a well functioning reproductive system.

It is also said in ancient Ayurvedic wisdom, that 'saatvic' foods like dairy help make us more calm and peaceful.

Think about all the happy people you know who enjoy cheese. There must be something to this! But when it comes to eggnog, I think I'll opt for the Silk Nog.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Recipe: Tilapia Fish Tacos

gluten free fish tacosYou might say I'm obsessed with fish tacos. After moving to New York from California three years ago, I've searched far and wide for some good fish taco joints. With the exception of a few places (notably Miracle Grill and Mercadito) I have been somewhat disappointed.

There is something about eating this dish in a fine dining establishment that rubs me the wrong way. In Southern California, fish tacos are almost like a fast food item. Being sold at places like Rubio's and Wahoo's, rather inexpensively.

Until Monday, I never attempted to recreate this dish in my own kitchen. Perhaps I thought this could only be prepared in the kitchen by Mexicans or on the soil of the Golden State. Boy was I wrong.

I was truly amazed by how easy these were to prepare. All it took was some corn tortillas, tilapia, guacamole, and some "house-made" chipotle mayo (a little Vegenaise and Chipotle Tabasco Sauce).

You probably won't see this dish in food magazines this time of year, as it is a classic summer item. Yet, I found a way to make it more December-friendly - adding a colorful radish, broiling instead of grilling, and serving with some roasted sweet potatoes.

I think the key is to find some good corn tortillas. I like the ones at Trader Joes (now in Brooklyn) and by Hot Bread Kitchen (a pretty cool social enterprise that employs local, immigrant bakers).

Here is my recipe. Try for yourself and save the trip to Baja.

Serves 2

Guacamole
1 avocado
3 tbsp salsa
1/8 red onion, diced
A few springs of cilantro
1/4 tsp salt
Juice from 1/4 lemon

In a medium bowl mash avocado with other ingredients.

Chipotle Mayo
3 tbsp Vegenaise
a bit of Chipotle Tabasco Sauce

In a small bowl, mix together until slight red color from Tabasco sauce. Add more/less depending on taste.

Tacos
4 corn tortillas
8 oz tilapia, patted dry
1 radish, sliced
1/3 tsp paprika
1/3 tsp chili powder
1/4 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp salt
juice of 1/4 lemon

Preheat the broiler. While heating, drizzle the lemon juice over the fish and sprinkle the chili powder, paprika, oregano, and salt on both sides. Place the whole fish on the broiler rack and leave in oven for 6-10 minutes. Check on fish and make sure it is fully cooked. Transfer to platter and cut up into one-inch-thick strips. Turn off broiler.

Wrap stack of tortillas in foil and place in the oven for a couple minutes (the residual heat should be enough to warm these). Top tortillas with chipotle mayo, broiled fish, guacamole, and sliced radish.

Serve with a lemon or lime wedge. Enjoy!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Photo essay: Thanksgiving in Virginia

vegetarian thanksgivingA colorful vegetarian Thanksgiving
Featuring Roasted Sweet Potatoes, Wild Rice with Cranberries,
Gluten-Free Macaroni and Cheese, Sauteed Kale with Garlic

chestnutsRoasted chestnuts for soup

roasted chestnut soupThe final product - pureed goodness

gluten free pumpkin breadPumpkin bread with almond meal, walnuts, raisins, agave nectar.
A little dense, but delicious.

thanksgiving tableGrateful diners (Swati, Mom, Dad)

For recipes, and commentary see previous post My Thanksgiving Menu

Thursday, November 27, 2008

My Thanksgiving Menu (thanks Google!)

Nothing makes me happier than planning my entire day around food. No occassion is more nurturing of this love than Thanksgiving. And no place, more accomodating than my parents home in Virginia, where I am currently spending this holiday.

While I have shunned the suburbs for most of my adult life, I must say the sheer amount of counter space really makes cooking a lot of fun. Especially when coming from my cramped Brooklyn kitchen.

Swati and I dreamed up our menu on the car ride down. We opted for a vegetarian feast, based on seasonal flavors, full of delicious sides. With a menu that features a good combination of old and new dishes.

This year we are truly grateful for Google as it has helped us mainfest a number of our ideas - including a roasted chestnut soup and gluten-free pumpkin bread.

We got the idea for chestnut soup after a visit to the Natural Gourmet Institute last winter. My friend Katie was completing her Chef's Training program and prepared a delicious chestnut soup as part of the school's Friday Night Dinner series. We were unable to get a hold of a recipe from her, but instead found a great, simple one on NYTimes.com courtesy of 'The Minimalist' Mark Bittman.

The pumpkin bread was also brought to us by Google (keyword : gluten free pumpkin bread almond meal). As you can imagine by my search, the intention was to find a recipe that featured almond meal, as I was eager to use up my supply of this ingredient from the zucchini nut bread I made this summer. We were taken to a great recipe from The Hall Center. In addition to using almond meal as the base (instead of white flour) it also calls for coconut oil (instead of butter) and agave nectar (instead of sugar). As a health counselor, I think my hands were tied on this one.

Here's the complete menu for tonight:

Roasted Chestnut Soup
Wild Rice and Cranberries
Sauteed Kale with Garlic
Roasted Sweet Potatoes
Macaroni and Cheese
Pumpkin Bread

I look forward to sharing the highlights and pictures from this evening. Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Recipe: Cranberry Walnut Steel Cut Oats

I love starting my day with a nice bowl of steel cut oatmeal. Topped with dried cranberries, walnuts, and coconut this is a perfect start to the morning.

Growing up, I was never a big fan of oatmeal. My grandfather ate it and thought it was something for old people - a soggy kind of cereal, high in fiber, but lacking flavor.

It wasn't until I lived in San Francisco that I discovered Steel Cut oats. My friend Tam had these beautiful looking tins of McCann's Irish Steel Cut Oatmeal in her kitchen, which piqued my curiosity. Previously I had never seen anything other than the Quaker man on a package of oats.

I noticed them later at my local Trader Joes and decided to take some home to try. They required more time to cook (25 minutes as opposed to 5 minutes for rolled oats), but it wasn't like I was cooking rolled oats anyway. So I made them one day and I was sold. Steel cut oats are now a regular part of my breakfast ritual.

I think you'll find the extra twenty minutes well worth it. Unlike the other stuff that 'passes' for breakfast food (e.g. toast, cereal, coffee), steel cut oats will provide a steady, quality source of energy that will last throughout the morning. I mean isn't that the intention of breakfast anyway?

To make oatmeal more exciting, I recommend alternating your toppings. Personal favorites include dried cranberries, raisins, crystallized ginger, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, flax seeds, and shredded coconut. I also add a bit of flax, walnut or coconut oil to give it a healthy bit of fat.

Also, who said you need to be in the kitchen while your breakfast is cooking? I often get ready while the oats are on the stove. Here is the recipe:

Serves 3

1 cup steel cut oatmeal
2 cups water
a pinch of salt
dried cranberries
walnuts
shredded coconut
flax oil

Bring water to boil in a medium sized pot. Add oatmeal and return to boil. Then let simmer 20-25 minutes until fully cooked, mixing periodically. Serve in bowls with cranberries, walnuts, coconut, a teaspoon of flax oil, and a pinch of salt. Enjoy!

Another fun tip: Add a ginger tea bag to oatmeal while cooking. Will infuse a nice flavor to the oats.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Warming up to root vegetables

It is just over 30 degrees here in Brooklyn. So it should come as now surprise that yesterday marked the end of the growing season, and with it my CSA share.

Gone are the strawberries and bright colorful fruits and veggies from when the season opened in June. This week's loot was noticeably more rooty. With veggies like potatoes, carrots and celery root.

Normally, these ingredients don't sound all that appetizing, but surprisingly I've been craving them recently. If these hardy foods can stand up to the weather, well then, perhaps they can help me stand up to it too.

I think all root vegetables do well with a nice roasting. Yesterday, I took several of my roots that had been collecting for a while (potato, sweet potato, turnip), and made a great meal with them. I simply cut them up, and threw them in a roasting pan with some olive oil, salt and thyme. Then put them in the oven at 425 degrees for 25 minutes or so, taking them out halfway through to mix. I served with some broiled fish, brown rice and garlic collard greens. Yum!

I also enjoy making soups with root vegetables (see my recipe for Celery Root Soup). I'd love to hear other creative ideas too. Please share!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Assembling the perfect pumpkin pie

gluten free pumpkin pieMy family doesn't have too many traditions for Thanksgiving, but the one thing that has stayed true is our insatiable appetite for pumpkin pie. We had a tryout this weekend for our annual tradition, as an interesting gluten-free pumpkin pie recipe emerged.

In the November issue of Natural Health magazine, a recipe for a Coconut-Crusted Sweet Potato Pie caught my attention. What really surprised me was this recipe called for no flour, just coconut and butter. I've always been a fan of flourless chocolate cake, so why not flourless pumpkin pie? I decided I had to try this out, albeit swapping the sweet potatoes with pumpkin.

I tasked my loyal sous chef, Swati, with making the pie. (Actually we fought over this, but in the end she won out.) Most years, I would just use the canned pumpkin puree, but this time Swati opted for fresh pumpkin, using the one we received as part of our CSA share.

She did a great job in making the pie. The filling was especially noteworthy, holding together nicely. Unfortunately, the flourless dream was unrealized - the crust was a little disappointing. It fell apart easily, and called for a little too much coconut. I longed for the crust we made last year, made from walnuts, hazelnut flour and maple syrup. It was a recipe that I discovered in San Francisco from Darshana Weill of Fruition Health. The nutty taste contrasted nicely with the smooth taste of the pumpkin.

So next week, I think I will marry the perfect filling with the perfect crust to create the ultimate pumpkin pie. Here is what I plan to do. If anyone would like to test out this recipe for me, I would love to hear how it comes out!

Perfect Filling:
2 cups pumpkin puree (canned or fresh)
2 eggs
½ cup tofu, firm
2/3 cup maple syrup
½ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground cardamom

Perfect Crust:
1 cup ground pecans
1 cup ground rolled oats
1 cup rice or hazelnut flour
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup canola or other vegetable oil

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Grind pecans and rolled oats in a blender. Mix in rice flour, maple syrup and vegetable oil. Press into pie pan.

In a food processor or blender, combine mashed pumpkin, eggs, tofu, maple syrup, and spices. Puree until smooth. Pour filling into the crust and bake for 30 minutes, or until the filling has firmed up. Check to see if ready by inserting toothpick into center. If it does not come out clean, continue baking for another 10-15 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool.

Attention Gluten-Free Bakers: Look for GF Rolled Oats sold by Bob's Red Mill.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Regal Vegan: One more reason to live in NYC

upscale vegan diningI wanted to give props today to my friend and fellow health enthusiast, Ella Nemcova. She just launched the new website for her meal delivery business, The Regal Vegan, and all I can think about are the beautiful images of food porn she has scrolling across my screen.

Ella is one of New York's finest chefs you have probably never heard about. Her food is highly influenced by her world travels and love of local, seasonal produce. Similar to Candle 79 restaurant, she's creating an upscale experience with vegan food - only her food is meant to be enjoyed in your home.

Every day she offers one meal that is available for delivery. This week's menu for example features The Royal Handmaiden on Tuesday, celery root and potato pancakes with chili cranberry sauce, and The Queen of Seoul on Friday, Korean-style portabello mushroom ribs with house made kimchi.

All her meals are consistently excellent and you would never know they are dairy, gluten and sugar free. Not an easy task!

Orders can be placed on theregalvegan.com. Each meal costs $22.50 plus tax and can be delivered to Brooklyn and Manhattan. Just order online by 11 am and have your meal delivered later that evening.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Recipe: Lemongrass Tofu with Green Beans

vietnamese tofuIf you've ever searched for a way to make tofu more appealing, this recipe is for you.

I was inspired to make this Vietnamese dish after finding a great book, Pleasures of the Vietnamese Table by Mia Pham. The main ingredient, lemongrass, was conveniently found on the shelves of my local food co-op. I imagine others may have to search a bit harder to find (try an Asian grocery store or natural foods store).

My version is slightly different from the book. I added green beans, replaced sugar with agave nectar, and spiced it up a bit with some Sriracha sauce (a spicy Thai condiment you can find in many Asian restaurants and increasingly in grocery stores).

lemongrassWhen using lemongrass, you'll want to peel away the tough outer layers. In fact, you'll probably discard more of it than you'll use. The soft, fragrant center is what you'll want to be cooking with.

Serves 4

2 lemongrass stalks, outer layers peeled, inner white part thinly sliced and finely chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons wheat-free tamari (or soy sauce)
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 teaspoons agave nectar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon Sriracha sauce (optional)
12 ounces tofu, drained, patted dry and cut into 3/4 inch cubes
4 tablespoons coconut oil
1/2 red onion, diced
2 shallots, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon, minced garlic
1/2 lb fresh green beans, cut in 2 inch pieces, stems removed

1. Combine the lemongrass, tamari, crushed red pepper, turmeric, agave nectar, and salt in a bowl. Add the tofu cubes and turn to coat them evenly. Marinate for 30 minutes. [If you desire a little more spice, I suggest adding some Sriracha sauce]

2. Heat half the oil in a large cast iron skillet over moderately high heat. Add the onion, shallots and garlic and stir for about 1 minute. Reduce heat to medium, add the green beans, a bit of water, and cook for another 5 minutes until cooked (but not too soft). Transfer to a plate and keep warm.

3. In the same pan, heat the remaining oil over moderate heat. Add the tofu mixture and using spatula or chopsticks, turn so it cooks evenly, about 4-5 minutes on each side. Add the onion and green bean mixture and cook for another 2-3 minutes.

4. Remove from heat and transfer to serving plate. Serve with brown rice.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Making time for the important stuff

I hate to admit it, but I am a procrastinator. Especially when it comes to the important stuff with my business - setting up classes or sitting down to write up a long term plan. Yet, I always seem to find time to catch up on email or check my friends status updates on Facebook.

I was reminded of this paradox the other day when reviewing the book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. The author, Steven Covey, talks about how all of life's activities can be divided into four quadrants, based on importance and urgency.

In quadrant 1, we have the fire drills, deadline-driven projects that requires our immediate attention and response. In quadrant 2, we have the non-pressing activities that set us up for success in the long run. In quadrant 3, we have the urgent phone calls, emails, and text messages that demand a reply. In quadrant 4, we have the time wasting, unproductive stuff (i.e. basically, most of what we do on the Internet).

For many of us, most of our time is spent in quadrants 1, 3, and 4. As a result we keep busy, but fall short of what we truly want to accomplish. According to Covey, "Quadrant 2 is the heart of effective personal management. It deals with things like building relationships, long-range planning, preventative maintenance, preparation - all those things we need to do, but somehow seldom get around to doing, because they aren't urgent."

It is important to realize this phenomenon of putting off what we truly need isn't limited to the business world. It also extends to our health and well-being.

How long have you put off going to that yoga class? Cooking a nice meal for yourself? Or contacting that well-meaning holistic health counselor, whose blog you religiously read? [Sorry, I sensed an opportunity]

Old age doesn't have to be about senility and joint pain. It can be a continuation of a great life. All we need to do is make our health a priority now. That's what I do as a holistic health counselor. I help individuals develop healthy habits for life, empowering them to care for themselves naturally.

I'm gonna put more time and energy into quadrant 2. Want to join me?

*Photo courtesy of news46 on flickr

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Essential: A good kitchen knife

importance of good knifeI usually find my blog readers fall into two camps: those who love to cook and those who love to watch other people cook. If you find yourself in the later category, and are eager to start cooking, perhaps what you need is a good knife.

I was reminded of this while watching an interview with Mollie Katzen, author of the Moosewood Cookbook series, on MSN's Practical Guide to Healthier Living. A good knife, Katzen believes can transform our attitude towards cooking. When we find the right one, we literally pick up our knife and look for veggies to cut up.

For me, I knew I had found 'the one' after cooking with my friend Zena at her home in San Francisco. I was on chop duty, which is when I discovered the Wusthof Santoku knife. I loved the way it felt in my hand. It was durable, lightweight and fun to use. I purchased one later that week and five years later, I am still chopping away. I rarely use another knife.

Do you have a knife you can't put down? What made you know it was 'the one?' I'd love to hear from you.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Recipe: Chilaquiles (Mexican Brunch)

mexican brunchFor those looking for new inspiration at breakfast or brunch, this dish is for you. Chilaquiles, is yet another traditional Mexican dish that has found its way into my kitchen.

I remember this dish fondly from my days in San Francisco. On Saturday mornings, I'd line up with the others at the Primavera stand at the Ferry Building Farmers Market to get my fix.

I was inspired to make this dish as I had a package of stale corn tortillas sitting in my freezer. Its taco days were numbered, but potential still remained in chip form. So I cut up the tortillas, lightly fried them and served with scrambled eggs, black beans, poblano peppers, onions and cheese. The results were simply delicious.

Try and let me know what you think!

Serves 1-2

2 eggs, beaten
8 oz black beans (1/2 can), drained
2 corn tortillas, cut into eight pieces
1 poblano pepper, diced
1/2 white onion, diced
1/2 tomato, diced
2 oz shredded jack cheese, sour cream or labne (yogurt cheese)
juice of 1/4 lime
1 tbsp olive oil or butter
2 tbsp coconut oil or canola oil

First, fry the tortilla pieces. Take a cast iron skillet and bring to medium high heat. Add coconut oil and when hot, add the tortilla strips. Lightly fry for a minute or so, making sure to flip over. Remove from heat and let cool.

In a separate pan, saute the onions and poblano peppers in olive oil over medium heat. Cook until onions have softened. Remove from pan and set aside on separate plate. In the same pan, add a bit more of olive oil and bring heat to medium-low. Add egg mixture and scramble, until fully cooked. Fold in the cooked onions and peppers as well as the black beans. Cook for another two minutes or so. Mix in fried tortilla strips.

Serve on plate with shredded cheese or sour cream. Garnish with diced tomatoes, cilantro and lime juice. Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Yes we can! The power of inspiration

obama stickerIf you're like me, perhaps you've had a hard time coming down to earth after yesterday's historic victory. My candidate, Barack Obama, will become the next president of the United States of America.

I can't tell you how thrilled I am to have a President who recognizes that America's healthcare system is broken. Who understands the pressing need for sustainable energy and agriculture. And who, yes, eats arugula.

More than anything his candidacy has taught me never to underestimate the power of inspiration. It is what summoned record turnouts across the country and got everyday folks like myself to take part in the political process for the first time - making phone calls, knocking on doors, donating a few bucks. It was the small efforts of millions like this that created a 'tsunami' of change.

The best of ourselves came out to the polls - and chose hope over fear. America is ready for a new direction. We've found our leader and also our voice.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

When life gives you free pizza

Dear friends, I too am human.

This weekend I went down to Pennsylvania to help my candidate become the next president of the United States. In the process I found myself eating foods that I would have normally avoided - pizza, cold cuts, bagels, etc. With few hours remaining until polls close, it can be hard to be a purist.

Usually these foods do not sit well with me, but when I was out there in front of others, cheered on by fellow supporters it didn't seem to matter. I was so stimulated and nourished by life, that food was secondary.

I've worked with many people who attempt to perfect their diet, only to find it was causing more stress than it was worth. Which is why most fad diets rarely work in the long-term. Sometimes it is important to go along with the flow of life, instead of fighting against it. Especially, when I would be back in my kitchen come Tuesday.

Anyway, I hope everyone makes it out to vote today! I will be watching the election results tonight with some friends in Brooklyn.

On the menu: Arugula. Lots of it.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Recipe: Mexican Rice and Beans

I'm no Mexican mama, but I am quite proud of my version of this classic dish. And if you have leftover rice around it can be made in just 15 minutes!

Rice and beans is a standby of mine and can be prepared using common ingredients I keep in the house (e.g. canned beans, onions, cumin). My version uses brown rice, but everything else is about the same. I love to enjoy this with avocado, cilantro and lime. Gives it a great color and real authentic taste.

And if you're going out tonight, I suggest eating it before hitting the streets. The protein from this dish will help you stand up to the inevitable sugar crash that often follows this festive holiday.

Serves 2-3

1/2 red onion, diced
1/2 green pepper, diced
1 can (15 oz) pinto beans, drained
1 cup leftover brown rice
2 tbsp tomato paste
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp chili pepper
cilantro, chopped
wedge of lime
sea salt to taste

Saute onion in large skillet for a couple minutes until golden brown. Add green pepper for a couple minutes more. Then add pinto beans, tomato paste, cumin, and chili pepper. Cook for another five minutes, as flavors meld. Then fold in leftover rice for another 3-5 minutes until done. Add salt and adjust spices as necessary. Garnish with chopped cilantro and juice of lime. Serve with sliced avocado (optional).

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A halloween without Hershey's?

Chin up, fellow health nut. It's unlikely you'll find many of any Dancing Stars Chunks of Energy being given out this Halloween. Despite all the gains we've made, Oct 31, still belongs to our sugar-craving, pagan-loving children.

I'll admit, I use to be one of them. If someone tried pulling an apple, raisins, or anything remotely healthy on me, it would probably find its way to the wastebasket. Even a cookie or other homemade treat would likely be tossed. After all, didn't we need to worry about some scary mom putting razor blades in her food? I put my faith in the US confectionery industry. My favorites: Reeses peanut butter cups, Snickers, and Almond Joy. Special kindness was given to families that gave me more than one piece.

Now a halloween veteran, I must admit my tastes have changed. I find these conventional, mass produced sweets to be too sweet. I find the good stuff to be that which doesn't come in a wrapper. My Dancing Star chunks, for example, can be found in the bulk bin section at most natural foods stores. My favorites at the Park Slope Food Co-op are the Chocolate Almond Chip flavor and the Raw Goji Berry Cacao ones. The later is sweetened by dates, so you won't miss the sugar.

It might not be green Kool Aid, but I imagine your kids will love them too.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Reminder: Go for a walk, it's nice outside

It is a beautiful day in New York - 63 degrees and sunny. The air is cool and crisp. Jacket optional. It is a day like this I long for - especially in the blazing month of August and the frigid days of February.

So why then do I find myself in front of the computer? Why am I not outside enjoying the weather?

The quick answer: "I've got stuff to do." You know classes to schedule, a blog to update, articles to write. Not to mention keeping up with my Facebook life and the presidential election. It is easy to get sucked in.

Around noon though, I noticed I was becoming overwhelmed with it all. So I decided to humor the thought of going outside. I left my home office and trusted my feet to take me where I needed to go. They headed east, towards Prospect Park.

When in the park I instantly felt a sense of calm. Instead of my to-do list, I began to focus on the colorful autumn leaves. I also noticed myself smiling and sharing a moment with other Brooklynites who were enjoying the weather. I had slowed down. I had become present.

In our busy lives it is easy to think we don't have time for a simple walk. Yet, I have always found these walks to 'add time.' They've given me much needed perspective, often hard to find when you are staring in front of a computer screen. They've also given me a strong grounding and faith that I am exactly where I need to be and that everything is okay.

Come to think of it, I can't think of another 30 or 40 minutes better spent.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Recipe: Celery Root Soup

root vegetable soupIt's getting cold here in Brooklyn - and nothing stands up to the chilly weather, than a bowl of warm soup. And given the big ole celery root I received in my CSA share last week, I was inspired to create this 'intuitive' recipe.

In the past, I've enjoyed this soup in restaurants, loaded with cream. Seeing as I don't keep cream in the house, I thought to try making this without the added dairy. So I used a potato instead, which when blended gives it the same creamy consistency.

Feel free to add more or less of any of the vegetables listed. You'll find you can't really go wrong with soup. One of the many reasons I like to make it! It also stores well and can be enjoyed days later.

Serves 4-5

1 leek, diced (white and light green parts only)
1 carrot, diced
1 potato, diced
1 celery root, peeled and diced
2 tbsp butter
water
2 tsps or more sea salt

In a large soup pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Saute the leek for a couple minutes, adding remaining ingredients. Cook for another 10 minutes. Fill up pot with water, a couple inches above the vegetables and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer and partially cover. Continue cooking for 25 minutes or longer until potatoes and celery root are soft. Add salt to taste. Remove from heat. Use immersion blender (or transfer to food processor) for a smooth, creamy consistency.

Optional: Serve with chopped scallions (pictured)

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Feeling spacey? Eat your root veggies

beetsHave you ever desired more focus or concentration? Or the ability to be more decisive and hold your ground? Before you convince yourself you have ADD, try eating some more beets. I'm confident these root vegetables will bring you down to earth.

This ancient remedy has been on my mind ever since a session with my client Sejal yesterday. She was in high spirits, but had a hard time staying focused during our call. As a result we ended up jumping from one topic to the other. It was clear she needed some support to 'get grounded.'

In my view, Sejal was operating 'in her head.' A condition I see often with academics, like her, and those in highly analytical professions. While this mentality has helped her formulate brilliant thoughts, it has also left her disconnected from her physical body.

Beets can help us get back in touch with ourselves - a traditional remedy that like many things has gotten lost in this time of industrial agriculture and modern nutrition-speak.

And to understand you may have to suspend your beliefs on what is possible through food. When we consume a plant or an animal we take on more than just its nutrients and vitamins - we also take on its energy! This can mean the swiftness of a wild deer or, yes, the groundedness of a root vegetable.

I first learned of this theory from Steve Gagne, author of the book The Energetics of Food. In regards a plant, the energy comes from how it is grown. Beets and other root vegetables collect nutrients from the soil around it and grow downward. When we consume them we bring energy to the lower parts of our bodies - contributing to the sense of firm footing, and enhancing other bodily functions. (Yes, beets are also great for constipation!) Consequently, food that grows upwards, like fruit and sugar, bring energy to the head.

This simple theory might seem out of place in the world of genome mapping and genetically modified crops. Yet there is something about its simple straightforward nature that appeals to me. A sign that mother nature had a plan. Perhaps the question of what to eat, does not require a PhD after all!

I enjoy beets roasted in olive oil and on a simple bed of arugula with lemon juice. Find them at your local farmers market.

*Photo courtesy of huumbug on flickr

Monday, October 20, 2008

Recipe: Sweet Potato Black Bean Enchiladas

with poblano peppersAs a soon-to-be husband, I can't help but question the roots of my partner. Her ancestry traces to India. Her place of birth, Central Pennsylvania. But judging purely from her kitchen skills, you'd want to place her somewhere South of the border. To her making dahl or paneer is a chore. Yet, the possibility of making quesadillas or tacos gets her all excited. You could say it's her thing.

Yesterday she was in classic form as she ventured into new territory - putting together a sweet potato edition of her 'famous' enchiladas. As the benefactor of this effort I must say it came out a huge success. I could not stop dreaming about this dish all day long. Now my friends, it is your turn.

Note: If you can't find shallots, you can always substitute with small onions. Enjoy!

Serves 3-4

2 teaspoons oil
1 large shallot, diced
1 small poblano pepper, seeded and diced
2 sweet potatoes, diced (about 2 1/2 cups)
1 15 oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp chili powder
fresh juice from 1/2 lime
sea salt and pepper to taste
3 1/2 cups Enchilada Sauce (recipes follows)
10 to 12 corn tortillas
4 oz white cheddar cheese, grated

Preheat oven to 375ºF. Heat oil in large skillet. Add shallot and sauté 5 to 10 minutes or until soft. Add sweet potatoes and peppers. Cover and cook about 10 minutes or until potatoes are tender. Stir in beans. Continue to cook and add a little water if necessary to prevent scorching. Add cumin, chili powder, lime juice, sea salt and pepper to taste.

Cover bottom of 9 x 13-inch baking dish with about 1/3 cup of enchilada sauce. Heat tortillas briefly on skillet. Spoon sweet potato mixture, cheese into center of a warm tortilla. Roll up and place in pan, seam side down. Repeat until all filling has been used. Cover enchiladas with remaining sauce, and sprinkle cheese generously over top. Cover pan and bake 20-30 minutes.

gluten free mexican food
Enchilada Sauce

1 large shallot, minced
1 small poblano pepper, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons dried oregano
28oz can Muir Glen tomato sauce
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Heat oil in medium pan over medium-low heat. Add shallot and peppers and sauté 5 to 7 minutes, or until shallot is golden brown. Stir in chili powder, cumin and oregano. Sauté 1 minute. Add tomato sauce and sea salt. Bring to a boil and simmer 15 to 20 minutes.

Friday, October 17, 2008

One bibimbap too soon: weird diet continues

Two weeks ago I heartily accepted the challenge of a priest somewhere in India. His requirement - Swati and I eat no meat, onions or garlic as part of a religious ceremony to bless my future marriage. I wrote about it in an earlier post.

However, the past two weeks have been tough. Especially since reading the New York Times Salmon Bibimbap recipe earlier in the week. We could hold out no longer. And on Wednesday evening we declared an end by enjoying this tasty dish, even though we were technically early. "It was Thursday in India," Swati countered (the official end of the fast).

salmon bibimbapIt seems though we may have jumped the gun. The next day I received a call from my mom apologizing for her earlier miscommunication. Apparently, "the diet is suppose to last one month, not the two weeks," she said matter-of-factly.

I was outraged. My immediate reaction was anger, "You don't realize how hard this is to be gluten-free and also not eat fish!" Then negotiation, "Okay, well technically fish is not meat."

Now I've come to accept it. The way I figure, you don't want to anger the universe, especially when the happiness of your marriage is on the line. Although it bugs me that no explanation was ever given. Or any warning.

But in terms of the diet. The no meat part is relatively easy as its straight-forward. The real challenge to the diet is avoiding the 'sneaky' stuff, garlic and onions, especially when eating out. I've just accepted the fact that I can't be perfect on this one.

The good news - I have been cooking more and finding inspiration in unexpected places. Like the website Manjula's Kitchen, featuring an Indian 'auntie' that shares how to prepare delicious vegetarian dishes according to her Jain diet (yes no onions and garlic). Her spicy okra recipe was a personal favorite.

If only Manjula could setup shop in Brooklyn. That would be nice.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Say it ain't so: Quinoa prices up 30%

quinoa price increaseOkay I'll admit - I don't follow the same economic indicators as the pundits in Washington. The rising price of gas or the challenge in obtaining home financing doesn't phase me. Yet, I too felt a hit this week, in an unexpected place. The price of my dear quinoa was up 30% at my local co-op.

People are catching on to this protein rich, whole grain from South America. Last year was a record year with demand increasing by over 25%. And at the Park Slope Food Co-op, where I shop, quinoa is the top seller in its bulk bins.

While thrilling to see the public catching on to this nutritious food, I must admit my feelings are bittersweet. The price of quinoa now costs three times that of brown rice! And with my gluten-free diet, I tend to rely on this dear grain almost as much as our country depends on foreign oil.

quinoa stuffed peppersQuinoa Stuffed Peppers

Armed with Google, I searched for explanations. I was led to the website of Andean Naturals, one of the large growers of quinoa. Apparently, 2008 was a tough year. A frost in November wiped out 40% of the annual product. Which only compounded the struggles farmers already had in keeping up with demand. It seems quinoa continues to be grown mostly by traditional methods, e.g. harvesting by hand, rotating with other crops, using no pesticides. While largely sustainable, these methods have made it challenging to increase production. As a result more farmers are giving way to modernization, using tractors and rotating crops less.

The Economist might cheer these moves, but I'm all for the status quo. I'd hate for farmers to change their entire method of production (I think they've been growing this way for 4000 years), just because this gringo wants his quinoa fix. What good is this nutritious food if it produces a less healthy planet?

My solution: Eat more rice. And pray for rain, lots of it.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Ajwain: little Indian seed, big stomach relief

ajwain seedsLast week, my tummy wasn't doing too well. I had just come home from watching the movie "Rachel Getting Married" and was feeling nauseous. It might have been the film (a smart, yet emotionally jarring picture) or the rushed manner in which I consumed my meal beforehand (yes, even we health counselors are human). Regardless, I wasn't feeling too good. Fortunately, an old friend bailed me out and instantly made me feel better. Its name - ajwain.

This tiny, miracle seed was introduced to me as a child. Whenever I had an upset stomach, my mother and grandmother would always serve me a simple dish of ajwain with rice, salt and butter. I can't tell you how many times it has made me feel better. As I grew, I continued to ask for vaamu (the telegu word for ajwain) with my rice, regardless of whether I had an upset stomach. I liked the taste! However, as I left the comfortable bubble of my house, I was surprised how few people cook with or even know about it.

Ajwain is a wild celery seed. It is great for indigestion, nausea, and yes even flatulence. The seeds look like cumin and caraway, with a taste similar to thyme (albeit stronger). It is most potent when eaten raw. A small amount (5-10 seeds) can cure most stomach upsets. One can eat it alone or over rice. I simply crush a few seeds in my hand, before consuming, to release its fragrance.

Ajwain can be found in Indian and Middle Eastern grocery stores, like Kalustyan's in New York City. If you can't make it out there, they'll even let you order online. How cool is that?

Friday, October 10, 2008

Recipe: Butternut Squash Wild Rice Salad

pomegranate and walnuts too!I find my cravings change with the seasons. And this recipe is essentially autumn in a bowl. It combines some of my favorite ingredients this time of year - butternut squash, wild rice, pomegranates, walnuts and arugula.

For most salads, I don't really measure ingredients. So I've done my best to estimate. If you end up with a lot more squash on your salad than you'd like - don't say I didn't warn ya! Fortunately, it keeps well and tastes great the next day.

Serves 4

1 small butternut squash, peeled and cubed
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons agave nectar
1 cup wild rice, cooked according to package instructions
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
2 tablespoons orange juice
1 1/2 tablespoons walnut or flax oil
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
arugula or salad greens, washed
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Toss squash, olive oil, agave nectar in a large baking pan. Cover and roast in oven for 15 min. Remove from oven, turning squash in pan. Return to oven for another 10-15 minutes until squash is browned and tender. Sprinkle salt and let cool.

Once squash is done, insert walnuts in a baking pan. Let toast in oven for about 5 minutes. Make sure they do not burn. Turn with spatula if necessary, remove when fragrant.

Whisk orange juice, walnut oil, and lemon juice in a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Combine greens, pomegranate seeds, walnuts in a bowl. Serve with room temperature or warm roasted butternut squash and cooked wild rice. Toss and coat with dressing.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Integrative Nutrition: The education that changed everything

Integrative Nutrition catalogI'm not one for nostalgia, but admit I felt some last night. I was at the Integrative Nutrition fall gathering in New York City. It was here that hundreds of sharply-dressed holistic health counselors came together, to reconnect, munch on carrot sticks, and introduce others to this world-class education.

You see it was at this school, three years ago, that my life changed. I came into the school a lost soul. I didn't know much about what I wanted to do with the education. All that I was certain about was I wanted to quit my job - a corporate marketing gig that was lucrative, but left me unfulfilled.

I had flown in from San Francisco months before enrolling to attend one of the school's orientation sessions. I heard about Integrative Nutrition from a friend and thought it was worth checking out. Little did I know I'd be signing up before the end of orientation. I had grown interested in natural foods and holistic health in the Bay Area, and there was something about the school that 'clicked' with me. And after a year of searching for my next act, I knew this would be it.

The signs were all there. I had met Dr Andrew Weil at a conference on holistic health in British Columbia months before the orientation. It was literally the first time in my life where I liked every single person in the room (good luck finding that in the corporate world). And guess who would be teaching at Integrative Nutrition? Yes, Andrew Weil himself, as well as Deepak Chopra, Paul Pitchford and a host of others I admired.

Joshua RosenthalBut perhaps the biggest draw for me, was the founder of the school, Joshua Rosenthal. To this day he remains one of the most inspiring people in my life - a visionary who 'gets it.'

I was reminded of this last night, when I stood listening to Joshua's remarks. He spoke about a recent visit to Bonobo's, a raw foods cafe in Midtown. It was there he was served by two individuals, one natively from Bosnia and the other Croatia - two countries that were recently engaged in a civil war. Thousands of miles from their homeland, these two were able to come together over warm coconut chai and raw nutmeat patties. And it was no coincidence. They believe the world would be far more peaceful if we ate differently - as modern factory farming and industrialized meat production have lead to aggressive behavior. It was remarks and stories like this that drew me to the school - beliefs that cannot be proven by science, but still need to be heard. I knew we were dealing with more than food here.

Joshua likes to say that Integrative Nutrition is not only a school, but also a movement. I've seen countless graduates go out and do amazing things with the education. Some have written books, others have created natural food products (like an agave-sweetned ketchup, flax crackers, or energy bars). Most though go out and become holistic health professionals or complement their existing health-related work. Regardless, everyone leaves with an amazing experience - either improving their own health or finding a new career that energizes them. Some lucky individuals manage to do both!

I could really go on singing the praises of this school. However, I must stop. (I think I've exceeded my 300-word blogging limit.) If you think you might be interested in learning more about Integrative Nutrition, I'd be happy to answer any and all questions. Either post a comment here or email me.

If you are interested in enrolling, Integrative Nutrition is offering a $500 scholarship. Just mention my name when you enroll.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Bad apple or prized find? The lure of the wormy apple.

These are not the kind of apples you fight for in the store or see pictured next to proud, grinning farmers. Yet, there was something about these bruised, neglected, harbingers of fall that captivated me.

They sat, dejected in a box labeled "take em or leave em" at my local CSA. Many I am sure, passed on the chance to acquire these ugly ducklings. Not me. I know how rare it can be to find an organically grown, New York state apple in these parts. Apparently, the climate here makes it tough for organic growing methods. Even my organic-loyalist the Park Slope Food Co-op, carries "minimally treated" ones.

I also should be clear - this was no charity case. I wanted to see what all the rage was about. I've been curious about wormy apples ever since Amy Hepworth, proudly bit into a wild untreated apple before a packed audience at the Park Slope Food Co-op last year. Amy, who supplies the minimally treated apples available for sale, declared her preference for the maggot-ridden ones, even going so far as identifying the pests she was consuming. Her statement got the attention of New York magazine which profiled her in its August issue, entitled "How Farmer Amy Hepworth Became a Cult Hero to Foodies."

Ever since, I've wondered if we were passing on the good stuff. I mean if the farmers and pests like them, shouldn't we? So I had to try them (the apples, not the pests - sorry, I am not as adventurous as Amy).

I took my knife and cut up an apple. And yes it was delicious! Sweet, crisp, juicy... all the important attributes I look for. Absent was the 'waxy' taste I find so common, and have come to accept.

As a CSA member, I am a stakeholder in my farm. Which means, like Amy Hepworth, I feel a special connection to all that grows from my farm - whether or not it is photogenic. I am sure I would have a different mindset if I shopped at Whole Foods. Fortunately, the good stuff comes to Brooklyn!

Friday, October 3, 2008

Weird diets: No onions and garlic

No meat. No onions. No garlic. That apparently is suppose to be my diet over the next two weeks. If you think it's strange, believe me. I do too.

Even more odd - this diet was not recommended by a nutritional counselor or holistic professional, but rather a priest from India. My parents, it seems, have arranged for a religious ceremony in India to bless my future marriage, and this diet was one of the conditions.

Why? You might ask. Good luck getting an answer out of my parents or even the priest. It seems I'll have to rely on Google for this one.

So I did some research and what I found surprised me. Apparently, there are lots of individuals who regularly take these foods out of their diets. The Buddhists and Hare Krishnas, in addition to being strict vegetarians, believe onions and garlic cloud one's mind with "passion," preventing transcendence. The Jains, also strict vegetarians, avoid these foods in addition to all root vegetables as they contain too many "life-forms," albeit microscopic.

What these cultures fail to recognize is garlic can also be extremely healing. It has documented anti-viral and antibiotic properties. And really what's so wrong with passion? It can lead to some great things too!

I am trying to see this as an opportunity to experiment with new foods. One positive change - I've been using asafoetida in my cooking, a pungent Indian spice that resembles the taste of onions and garlic. But the urge to rebel remains high...and they never said anything about leeks or shallots. :)

*Photo courtesy greenwood100 from flickr

Integrative Nutrition