Monday, September 29, 2008

Sacha weds Mike, potluck style

green wedding brideWe've heard of people going 'green,' but few live it like my friend Sacha. Her wedding was no different.

A self-proclaimed fan of No Impact Man and pusher of compost, Sacha Jones and her partner Mike Nies threw a 'bloody marvelous' wedding for 170-guests in the East Village on Sunday. The couple managed to stay true to their eco-principles, on an event that can easily force couples to give-in to convenience and comfort.

All invitations were sent out electronically (no paper), a 'no-gift' policy erected, and all guests were asked to bring a dish to share. The Ukranian Ballroom, the location of the reception, became perhaps the East Village's largest potluck dinner.

potluck weddingThe couple urged guests to try their hands making a vegetarian dish using quinoa and rice. (Yes, Sacha is also a health counselor!) I chose to show up with my cornmeal crusted tempeh, a favorite of the newly minted husband and wife. Others brought pasta salads, roasted vegetables, and garlic-y greens. Fortunately, for the culinary-challenged, a Whole Foods Market was nearby. Others contributed beer and wine.

It was really remarkable to see the community come together. The wedding cake was gifted by Ayse, owner of polka dot cakes, and even made gluten free to accommodate the bride. Instead of a professional photographers, the couple relied on the shutter skills of their artist friends. And everyone donated plates and silverware to be used for the occasion.

gluten free wedding cakeSwati and I had a great time at the event and left inspired for our own wedding. It is always refreshing to see authenticity prevail in a time when its easy to give into the cookie-cutter-wedding-industry-establishment. I personally would be very grateful to have my life play out like this wedding - full of good food, love, and amazing people.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Recipe: South Indian Green Beans

ayurveda green beansSometimes, believe it or not, I crave Indian food. And when I do, I like to have a side of green beans on hand. Especially when they are in season, as they are right now.

This dish is so simple to make and goes great with brown basmati rice and rajma. Most ingredients are relatively easy to find, with the exception of curry leaves. Most natural food stores have started to carry them (generally with the herbs), and you can of course find them at ethnic grocery stores.

And yes, it can be ready in only 15 minutes!

Serves 2-3

1/2 lb green beans, edges trimmed and cut into 2 inch pieces
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 tsp black mustard seeds
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp whole or ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp salt (or to taste)
4 curry leaves
olive oil

Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high setting. Add mustard seeds and wait until they begin to make a popping sound. This means the oil is warm enough. Then add turmeric, cumin, coriander, garlic, and curry leaves. Saute for about a minute, allowing flavors to infuse.

Next, add green beans and a tiny bit of water (maybe 1/8 cup). Reduce heat to medium and cook for another 5 minutes, until green beans are cooked, but not too soft. Add salt and cook for another minute or so.

Note: If you desire a sweeter taste, you may also add a bit of agave nectar (1/2 tsp or so) or shredded coconut.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Simple Wisdom: Do just one thing

natural holistic healthI got an email from my client Greg yesterday. He was frustrated that he hasn't been able to make time for some of the suggestions I had given him.

Greg is the president of his non-profit organization and a published, respected writer. When we started our sessions together, I asked him to come up with three short term and long term goals. He came back with SIX for each! It is a trend I often see in highly accomplished people, like Greg - they love pushing their limits. Unfortunately, it can sometimes be counter-productive.

Our first month together started off really strong. Greg began cooking breakfast for himself (making steel cut oatmeal), eating more greens (especially bok choy), and scheduling some much needed downtime.

Yet, eventually his life began to get in the way. He started traveling regularly for work. Eating what was available, and putting off his workout routine. He's now looking to get back on track.

My advice to him: Simplify. Do just one thing each day. It can be a relatively simple act - taking the stairs, visiting the juice bar instead of Starbucks, getting on the treadmill.

Many of us tend to focus on what is wrong (perhaps the weight that doesn't want to come off). Or what we don't want to do (like going to the gym). My suggestion: shift your focus on what you CAN and WANT to be doing right now. It can be very powerful.

For an added challenge, try doing one different thing each day. You'll see that over time these healthy habits will work into your DNA.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Probiotics: Bacteria you can cheer for

garden of life probioticWith my beach bag in tow, I left town this past weekend to escape the grind of Gotham. I was heading south to meet up with some friends for a fun weekend. Little did I know I would find myself craving something I never thought was possible - bacteria!

I can sense the quizzical looks forming.

No, but really, I was craving my probiotic supplement - the beneficial bacteria that help ward off infection, promote digestion, stave off yeast, and a whole slew of other health benefits. We are all born with a healthy amount of this beneficial bacteria in our gut, which serves as a natural defense system from the 'bad' bacteria we know and fear.

These little guys have saved me out in countless situations - they've kept me regular, gotten me over traveler's diarrhea, and enabled me to better digest dairy products.

Now they were again trying to restore balance in my body. Turns out the from the 'party foods' I was consuming are exactly the ones harmful bacteria feed on (i.e. sugar, refined carbohydrates, alcohol). My digestion was off and I was starting to feel as if I was catching a cold.

yogurt probiotics
There are several foods that contain naturally occurring beneficial bacteria, however in far smaller doses than a probiotic. These foods include yogurt, miso, aged cheese, kefir, and fermented vegetables (kimchi, sauerkraut, pickles). Kombucha, a fermented beverage, rich in probiotics is all the rage at my local co-op. It was no coincidence that one of the first foods I ate when I returned home was yogurt with live acidophilus cultures. I instantly felt better.

I recommend probiotic supplements to most of my clients (Garden of Life Primal Defense Ultra is my favorite). With the prevalence of antibiotics in our culture, many of us are lacking these crucial microorganisms. However, we consume more than we even realize - antibiotics show up in commercially raised meat, even our drinking water!

I take one probiotic supplement every evening before I go to bed. And, oh yes, I am regular again!

Friday, September 19, 2008

From NYT: Yeah Food! Boo Diets.

It seems like people are starting to enjoy food again.

The New York Times reports some surprising trends that have been taking place in regards to food. More people are cooking from scratch. Fewer people are dieting. The number of farmers markets has doubled. Organic food sales are increasing.

There has also been a movement recently away from the low-fat and sugar-free foods that have traditionally been marketed as health foods. People are starting to get that it isn't all about calories. I mean, come on, who has really lost weight from drinking diet coke?

It seems like we are willing to engage about food differently. Now the question is, can we keep it up?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Recipe: Tomatillo Corn Salad

tomatillosI am someone who is inspired by ingredients. And during my recent visit to the farmers market, I couldn't help but want to take home some tomatillos. These green tomato-like fruits with a paper-y husk are often featured in Southwestern and Mexican cuisine.

With cilantro and some chili peppers, tomatillos make a great salsa. Instead of the usual corn chips, I thought it would be fun to feature in a quinoa salad with corn and zucchini. I was surprised by how great this recipe turned out. And also how easy it was! If you have leftover quinoa, it can be made in under 15 minutes!

Serve by itself or over a bed of spinach or arugula. Pairs well with grilled fish.

Tomatillo Salsa
(recipe from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone)
8 ounces tomatillos, husks removed
5 sprigs cilantro
2 serrano or mild chili peppers
1/2 small white onion, sliced

Place tomatillos in a saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer until they are dull green, about 10 minutes. Drain. Puree in a blender or food processor with the chiles, onion, cilantro, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Chill before serving.

quinoa corn saladQuinoa Salad with Corn and Zucchini
1.5 cups quinoa
3 cups water
1 corn, kernels removed
1 medium zucchini, quartered and sliced
1 tbsp olive oil

To make quinoa, place in heavy pot with water. Bring to boil, then lower the heat to a simmer. Cover and cook for about 20 minutes, until quinoa is finished.

In a medium sized skillet, saute corn and zucchini in olive oil over medium heat. Cook for 5-7 minutes until done. Add to cooked quinoa.

Serve with tomatillo salsa. Enjoy!

Monday, September 15, 2008

$30 million reasons to love high fructose corn syrup

A Washington trade group, the Corn Refiners Association, has recently launched a $30M advertising campaign to win back the hearts and stomachs of consumers who have been turned off by their High Fructose Corn Syrup product (HFCS) product.

If I were to channel my inner food marketer, it would go something like this...

Top $10 Reasons why you should love HFCS

1. It makes your soda taste, you know, more cok-ey

2. It keeps high paying 'sugar tech' jobs in the USA

3. We are tired of selling you aspartame.

4. It is 100% American. Even Michael Pollan likes corn.

5. If you can't understand it, you should just eat it

6. If you don't eat it, we will have to sell it to someone else.

7. Are you really ready for stevia?

8. It makes this country safe from politically unstable sugar nations.

9. It tastes better than ethanol

10. No trans-fats. Zero!

Any other points I am missing?

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Recipe: Falafel with Quinoa Tabouli

falafel recipeMmm falafel. This ancient Middle Eastern vegetarian pattie has long been one of my favorite foods. And with hummus and a refreshing quinoa tabouli salad, it is especially delicious.

As a resident of New York there is no shortage of places where you can find falafel (Taim and Azuri Cafe are perhaps my favorites). However, often times the patties are deep fried in who-knows-what-quality oil. The healthier baked versions, like those at upstart Chickpea, don't quite do it for me.

I have long searched for a way to make them at home - from box mixes to recipes using canned chickpeas, all of which in my opinion missed the mark.

Fortunately, my long search ended this weekend. Thanks to a great recipe inspired by the eat well cookbook. Like the traditional falafel, this one uses dried fava beans. Which, can usually be found at Middle Eastern grocery stores. If you have no luck, you can always substitute with dried chickpeas.

Falafel Recipe
Makes 20 falafel patties

1 cup dried fava beans, soaked in cold water overnight
1/2 cup dried chickpeas, soaked in cold water overnight
1 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp paprika
1 tsp baking soda
1 heaped tsp sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
coconut oil for light frying

Combine drained, uncooked fava beans and chickpeas in a food processor. Process until they resemble breadcrumbs. Add onion, garlic, herbs, spices, lemon juice, baking soda, salt and pepper and continue to process until well blended. Add a couple of tablespoons of water if necessary for machine to run. Let sit for 30 minutes for flavors to blend.

Cover the bottom of a large deep pan with coconut oil over medium high heat. (A cast iron pan is great for this.) I choose to lightly fry the patties as oppose to submerging them in inches of oil. Make sure the oil is hot before inserting the patties (it should sizzle when in contact with the batter).

Then using hands, shape heaped teaspoons of falafel mixture into small flat patties. Fry in batches, without crowding. A couple minutes on each side or until brown. You will need to reapply oil during this process. Enjoy hot or at room temperature.

tabouli recipeI highly recommend serving the falafel with a side of quinoa tabouli. Cause, you know, it looks prettier.

Fortunately, it is very easy to make, and can be done while you are preparing the falafel.

The recipe calls for using quinoa, a South American whole grain, that is becoming increasingly common in the states. It is high in protein and a great substitute for traditional bulgar wheat. Especially for those with wheat allergies (like myself).

Quinoa Tabouli Recipe
Makes 4 servings

1 cup quinoa
2 cups water
1 1/2 cups fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
2 tomatoes, finely chopped
1/4 cup lemon juice
extra virgin olive oil

Combine quinoa and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil, then let simmer, covered over medium heat for 15 minutes until most of water has been absorbed and quinoa is tender. Remove lid, stir once, and continue to simmer until all water is evaporated. Cool. Stir in parsley, tomatoes, lemon juice and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Don't forget the hummus!

Friday, September 12, 2008

The invisible life

Writing. I love it. I hate it. I have always had a conflicted relationship with the craft of self-expression.

Yesterday, I turned a major corner. I started my Introduction to Magazine Writing class put together by Mediabistro. It was the first time I have formally taken a class on creative writing.

Admittedly, I was very nervous before the start of class. Was I just indulging in a fantasy? Do I have the skills and experience to be a writer? Was it even something I wanted? I had considered pulling my registration for my class. Fortunately, I stuck with the plan.

Then class began and my thoughts soon changed. I instantly felt this camaraderie with 11 others I barely knew. Our teacher, Virginia, had a presence about her that instantly made me feel at ease. We soon began pitching our ideas. She had this remarkable ability to visualize whether our idea stood a chance for publication and the names of the magazines that would be interested. My classmates were also very supportive and encouraging. In the presence of such creative energy, I instantly felt a sense of excitement and possibility - like something had been awakened deep inside of me. I had come home.

For much of my life, at least subconsciously, I stayed out of writing in order to play safe. In college, I chose to work production on the school newspaper. I helped other writers look good, while my efforts were largely invisible. I even chose classes in which I wouldn't have to write a paper!

I only chose to embrace writing again after becoming a counselor. I felt I had so much passion and excitement around food and health, that the best way for me to share would be through writing. I have learned that through writing I have the power to connect. And now by writing for magazines I am looking to bringing even more people into my life.

That said, it still doesn't make hitting the 'publish' button any easier. I guess I will just have to live courageously then. :)

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Recipe: Coconut milk rice pudding

kheerAs a boy who grew up on my mother's kheer, I was very proud of myself for coming up with a healthier take of this classic Indian recipe. My version is dairy-free, gluten-free, uses whole grains, and has no refined sugar.

I was inspired to make this recipe, based on the leftover grains I had been collecting in my refrigerator. I made this one with both rice and quinoa. Feel free to use just one or both. Either way you can't go wrong!

The coconut milk gives it a creamy flavor. The cardamom, cinnamon and cloves add an Indian aroma. And the agave nectar works great in place of sugar.

Did I mention it only takes 15 minutes to make?

Serves 4-6

8 oz coconut milk (1/2 can)
1 cup unsweetened soy milk
2 cups cooked grains (brown rice or quinoa)
1/4 cup agave nectar (or more or less depending on taste)
1/2 tsp cardamom
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon (optional)
1/4 tsp ground cloves (optional)
1 tsp vanilla extract
raisins (optional)
pistachios, toasted and chopped (optional)

Heat the coconut and soy milk in a heavy sauce pot over medium heat, until it comes to a simmer. Add sweetener and thicken until dissolved. Add the precooked rice, spices and heat through.

Simmer until it thickens, but don't let it become too dry.

healthy rice puddingRemove pot from heat. Stir in vanilla. Add raisins and pistachios if desired. Serve either warm or cold.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Popcorn, revisited

I found these colorful kernels of popcorn quietly tucked away in the bulk foods aisle of the East 4th Street Co-op today. The kid in me lit up - imagining a bowl full of popped red, yellow and purple goodness. To my dismay this was not the case, yet freshly made popcorn is still a treat.

I didn't have much a thing for popcorn until the last year. That's when my lovely partner, Swati, introduced me to making it on the stovetop. I was amazed at how light and perfect this snack can be.

It is so naturally easy and convenient - makes you wonder why we settled for the microwavable kind. All you need is an a medium sized pot (with lid), olive oil and salt.


Take your pot. Place it over high heat with a little bit of olive oil and ONE popcorn kernel. Cover your pot. Now wait until you hear the kernel pop. This means the pot is hot enough.

Open lid and remove kernel carefully. Then immediately place as much as 1/2 cup popcorn kernels in the pot (no more or the pot will overflow). Cover pot and shake kernels vigorously every 5 seconds or so (to prevent burning). You'll then start to hear kernels popping. Continue shaking until popping sound dissipates. Remove from heat.

Transfer popped kernels to bowl. Add olive oil and salt to taste.

Now perhaps I should suggest a movie....

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Recipe: Cornmeal Crusted Tempeh

tempeh recipeI love tempeh. And I am sure you will too.

Tempeh is one the few protein-rich vegetarian foods. A staple food in Indonesia, this fermented soy food is becoming increasingly common in the states. It serves as a great replacement to meat, and unlike tofu, tempeh has a distinct nutty taste.

I've often thought the best place to eat tempeh in New York City is the Candle Cafe restaurant in the Upper East Side. So naturally, I thought to consult its cookbook to find a good tempeh recipe.

It takes an hour to bake, but is very easy to make. It is a great centerpiece to any vegetarian meal. I recommend serving it with sauteed greens, mashed potatoes and/or polenta. Enjoy!

Serves 4

2 8-ounce packages tempeh, each cut into four triangles
1/3 cup wheat-free tamari
3 tablespoons agave nectar
1 clove garlic, minced
3 slices of fresh ginger
1/2 cup cornmeal
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried cumin
pinch of sea salt
coconut oil (or olive oil)

Preheat oven to 350 F

Place tempeh triangles in baking dish. In small bowl, whisk together the tamari, 1/2 cup water, agave nectar, garlic, and ginger and pour over the tempeh. Cover and bake for 1 hour, turning tempeh halfway through. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.

In a large shallow bowl, mix together the cornmeal, red pepper flakes, thyme, oregano, cumin, and sea salt. Dip the tempeh pieces into the cornmeal mixture to coat.

In large skillet, heat a couple tablespoons of oil over medium-high heat until hot. Cook the cooked tempeh until golden brown, about a minute on each side. Add additionally oil if necessary.

Remove from heat and serve at once. Enjoy!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Planning my week, at least the meal part

Park Slope CSAI love a good challenge. And every week I am handed one when I pickup my CSA share. Yes, lots of great produce direct from the farm. But what do I do with it?

This week I picked up some beautiful tomatoes (six different kinds!), green beans, corn, zucchini, carrots (purple ones!), red peppers, potatoes, lettuce, garlic, peaches, and apples.

I don't know about you, but I really don't want all this produce to go bad. So the first thing I do when I get home is make a plan. This includes taking an inventory of my produce (old and new), and then brainstorming a bunch of tasty possibilities. I like to use a chalkboard to list all this.

Here is what mine looks like as of today --->

meal planningPossibilites for this week include: Gazpacho, Fennel and Apple Salad, Corn Chowder, Carrot Halwa, Tortilla Espanola, Zucchini Cakes, and Green Bean Stir-Fry with Tofu. Anyone else getting hungry?

Some of these dishes I have made before. Others I have not. I'm not even sure if I have all the ingredients that I need! And that is okay. I usually look up the ingredients later - either finding a recipe in one of my cookbooks or on the Internet (Google is truly amazing for this).

For added fun, try doing this with your partner! It is a great creative exercise and will bring you two together around food and meal planning.

Oh and it helps to have a well stocked pantry. Hmm...mental note for future post. :)

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Recipe: Zucchini polenta pizza

Looks like a pizza. Smells like a pizza. Tastes like a pizza. Yet, there is something different about this recipe. It is actually made from polenta!

As someone who is on the lookout for wheat alternatives and seasonal recipes, this recipe originally posted on Chocolate and Zucchini caught my eye. It is very simple to prepare and I am sure you will enjoy.

Serves 4

For polenta 'crust'
1 cup cornmeal or polenta (possibly 1/4 cup more)
2 cups milk
1 1/2 cups water or vegetable stock
1/4 cup butter or olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
fresh or dried herbs (thyme, rosemary)
salt and pepper

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
2. In a large pot, saute butter or olive oil with garlic, herbs, and a pinch of salt and pepper for 1 minute.
3. Add water and milk and bring to a boil.
4. Upon reaching boil, reduce to low heat and whisk in polenta. Should start to thicken. Add another 1/4 cup polenta if necessary.
5. To make crust, place cooked polenta in a round 10 inch springform cake pan (or pie plate) lined with parchment paper.
6. Bake for 15 minutes until top is golden
7. Remove from the oven. You will then attempt to flip the crust over onto a cookie sheet. This should be relatively easy if you are using parchment paper.
8. Insert back into oven for another 10 or 15 minutes, until other side is done.

For toppings
1 medium zucchini, thinly sliced
olive oil
thyme, a few sprigs
salt and pepper to taste
goat cheese
freshly grated parmesan (optional)

1. While the crust is cooking, saute the zucchini, garlic and fresh herbs in olive oil over medium-low heat.
2. Cook for about 20 minutes, until cooked but not falling apart.
3. Add zucchini to baked polenta crust
4. Top with crumbled goat cheese
5. Return to oven for 10 minutes. Remove, adding parmesan if desired. Cut in slices and serve.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Getting back to breakfast

We are Americans. We like it quick. Cereal and milk. Toast and butter. Bagel and cream cheeese. Coffee and pastry.

I don't know about you, but I can understand why this meal is often skipped. Where's the passion? Where's the excitement? It seems to me what passes for breakfast food is the result of years of marketing in the American psyche. If we were to go back 100 years ago, before Kelloggs, General Mills, and Starbucks entered the realm of the American diet, I am sure the choices we made were far different.

When was the last time you prepared a breakfast you were very proud of yourself? Most people can remember a dinner, maybe even a lunch. But breakfast escapes most people. Yet it is arguably the most important meal of the day.

I think a solid meal in the morning is a bowl of steel cut oatmeal. While this may sound boring, I find inspiration from the types of toppings: shredded coconut, dried cranberries, raisins, crystallized ginger, dates, toasted pumpkin seeds, walnuts, flax seeds. My friend Sacha suggests heating up the water with a bag of chai tea. With the right combination, you'll find you don't even need to add any sugar! I find this approach much more satisfying than a bowl of Shredded Wheat.

I think it also helps to look overseas for inspiration. I've recently taken to a Japanese style breakfast. A simple saute of bok choy, carrots, scrambled eggs, and brown rice can go a long way. It is also a great way to use leftover rice from the day before! Sounds good? Check out the recipe below.

Recipe: Japanese breakfast

Looking for something different from the usual toast or cereal?

Try making this Japanese-inspired dish. I find it a great way to start the day, and also a great use of leftover brown rice. Budget about 30 minutes to prep and cook this meal. You'll be glad you did!

Serves 1-2

2 eggs
4 bok choy stem/leaves
1 carrot, diced
1 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon tamari (or soy sauce)
1/2 cup cooked brown rice
Sriracha hot sauce (optional)
Sesame seeds or gomasio (optional)

Beat eggs in a small bowl. Separate bok choy leaves from stems. Chop both into bite sized pieces.

Heat oil in frying pan over medium-low heat. Saute bok choy stems, carrots for 4 minutes. Add bok choy leaves, cooked rice, vinegar and tamari and cook for another couple minutes. Remove vegetables and put on plate.

Add a little oil to pan if it's dry, add the eggs, and cook over medium heat for 3 minutes or until eggs are mostly cooked. Scramble eggs and add to plate. Add Sriracha, Gomasio to taste. Enjoy!

Integrative Nutrition