Monthly Archives: May 2013

Open, Sesame!

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I LOVE Asian food!  Noodles, rice dishes, Szechuan beans, tofu stir-fries, salad rolls with crushed peanuts and basil, papaya salad — it’s a dreamy scene for a vegan lady.  So, now that your mouth is watering, are you wondering how you can make this happen at home without ordering take-out?  Sesame oil is an easy way to infuse your dishes with an Asian flavor. 

Certain foods just add a sophisticated flavor to a simple meal; sesame oil is one of these ingredients.  Tahini, or sesame seed paste, is probably one of this humble seed’s best contributions to our diet.  I recently did a four-store run to find tahini in Pocatello, which I then turned into some incredible (if I do say so) smoked paprika hummus.  However you eat them, sesame seeds are delicious and also –surprise! — pretty darn good for you.

I’m not going to go all coconut oil on you, but studies show that sesame oil can help ease many medical conditions, including gingivitis (horrible gums), high blood pressure, arthritis, and diabetes.  Also, sesame oil has a higher “smoke point” than olive oil, which apparently can release toxins and “free radicals” when overheated. (This is not, as you may think, related to anything political, they are just bad for your bod.).  Finally, unlike soybeans, which have to go through all kinds of crazy processes to actually produce oil, oil is easily procured from the sesame seed and has been used for thousands of years. 

If you’re ready to start using this aromatic oil, here are a couple of simple, yummy recipes featuring sesame oil. The first recipe is courtesy of Whole Foods, and I just made the stir-fry last night!  I’m not sure I’ll ever make tofu stir fry without bok choy again, they just seem to belong together.   

Lemon-Sesame Asparagus

  • 2 pounds asparagus, ends trimmed, each stalk cut diagonally into thirds
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted

1. Cook asparagus in large pot of boiling salted water until crisp-tender, about 3 minutes. Drain. Rinse asparagus under cold water, draining again.

2. Heat toasted sesame oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add asparagus and sauté until heated through, about 2 minutes. Add lemon juice and toss until well coated, about 1 minute. Transfer to a serving platter and sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Sesame Bok Choy Stir-fry

  • 1 lb firm or extra firm organic tofu (not silken)
  • 1-2 tablespoons sesame oil
  • 3 to 4 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 1 good-sized bunch bok choy (stalks and leaves), rinsed and chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce, or to taste
  • 1/4 cup coarsely chopped peanuts or 2 T. toasted sesame seeds (optional)
  • fresh basil (optional, I suppose)
  • Udon or Somen noodles, 1 package

1. Boil noodles, drain and rinse in cool water, set aside.

2. Heat sesame oil in pan, add tofu chunks, saute for 3-4 minutes on each side until browned. Add garlic and soy sauce, cook for another 2-3 minutes, then add bok choy. Stir for another 2-3 minutes.

3.  Add noodles, green onions, chopped basil, and sesame seeds/peanuts. You’re done! We like to eat this with some pickled ginger on the side. You can certainly serve it over rice, too, if you don’t have noodles on hand.  Pick up some chopsticks and proceed to shovel delicately into your face. 🙂

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Where’s the Protein?

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“What do you eat? You’re vegan, right? You don’t even eat eggs? Wow. No meat or dairy products? Aren’t you hungry all the time? How do you get enough protein?!”

Our society is protein-obsessed.  People live in mortal fear of being stuck in an elevator or on a walk without their protein fix. (By the way, if you see only one box of Clif Bar Builder Chocolate Mint bars left on the shelf, just. walk. away. I have no idea what’s in these besides 20 grams of beautiful protein, but I will fight you for them.)

On a recent visit to the grocery store, I noticed no less than 12 brands of protein powders in the health food section, ranging from “Pure Protein” and other whey-based brands to soy, rice, and/or hemp protein blends.  Are we so protein deprived that we need to add expensive, pasty scoops into our morning smoothies? If you’re training to compete in an Iron Man competition, drink up, man, but I really think the rest of us can go a more natural route.

Protein is big business; of course nutrition companies want you to believe you need their fancy shmancy bars and potions to feel and look radiant, but here’s the truth: you don’t. Processed protein snacks and meal replacements have their place in our fast-paced lives –I ate loads of them while training for a half marathon last year, and when I travel I often bring along a few Clif or Lara bars.  On a daily basis, though, eating natural is always best.  And, protein junkie, did you know that vegetables and fruits are plenty high in protein? Every whole food contains protein.

To those who will throw the animal protein argument out there–yes, meat and dairy have a lot of protein, but they also contain cholesterol, saturated fat, and no fiber.  (Wonder why you’re oh so NOT regular? Try leaving off your cow’s milk, pizza, and burgers for a week and get back to me! And please don’t even bring up Activia. Gross.)  Broccoli, an underrated veggie in my opinion, actually has more protein than steak, calorie for calorie.  We don’t need to worry about eating “complete proteins” at each meal, either, as long as we’re eating a variety of foods throughout the day.  When my grandma discovered complete proteins back in the early 80s, she served us heaping plates of rice and lentils every time we saw her for at least five years.  I’m finally eating lentils again.  Don’t ruin this for me.

We always hear that we need more protein, yet we rarely hear about the symptoms of over-eating protein, which can include but are not limited to: excessive sweating (always fun), bad breath (yes, please), fatigue, constipation, body odor (nice), and freaking gout (how old are we?)!  This is basically a list of every condition you’re trying to avoid if you ever want to be close to another human being again. So take a deep breath, try eating more of the foods I’ve listed below and you will do just fine. (If you are someone who really needs to know numbers, it is recommended that adults consume about 40 grams per day.)

Some of the top natural, non-meat sources of protein:

1 Avocado (10 grams)

2 cups kale or spinach (5 grams)

1 cup cauliflower or broccoli (5 grams)

1 cup sweet potato or pumpkin (5 grams)

1 cup cooked lentils (18 grams)

1 cup cooked beans (15+ grams)

2 T. Peanut Butter (8 grams)

1 cup Almond milk (8 grams)

1 cup cooked oatmeal (6 grams)

1 cup cooked quinoa (9 grams)

Easy Kale Salad (makes 4 servings)

4 cups chopped raw kale (remove leaves from stalk, rinse well)

½ cup shredded carrots (or other veggies)

1 avocado, diced

½ cup sweet onion, diced

2-3 tablespoons sunflower or pumpkin seeds (or walnuts, pine nuts, almonds, etc.)

Dressing:

2 T. tamari (or tahini); sounds odd, but both are delicious

1 T. maple syrup (or other sweetener)

2 T. fresh lime or lemon juice

1 T. olive oil

2 T fresh parsley, chopped (optional)

salt / pepper to taste

Directions: Mix kale, carrots, onions, seeds, and avocado; stir up dressing separately and pour over kale mixture.  Serve with black bean veggie burgers or chili to really up the protein content. 🙂

Crunchy Green Tahini Salad

Groovy Smoovy.

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One of my favorite things about spring and summer (aside from not wearing 13 layers of clothing as I leave my house) is the Farmer’s Market — a place to support my local economy and buy organic, fresh produce and maybe even an iced tea, yet another mug or pair of earrings, and perhaps a loaf of homemade bread. . . . let’s just say I take my sweet time and we bring a lot of bags. Try teaching your young children to bring their rolling backpacks to the market to provide extra storage, too (I missed the window on this one).

Our Farmer’s Market in Pocatello is lovely, and we go every weekend when we’re in town from May through September. The outdoor market here in Kailua-Kona is incredible and open year-round, 5 days a week.  We have visited several times a week, mainly to feed Ryan’s papaya obsession (he needs help) but also to procure bananas, limes, tomatoes, and lettuce.  I start to ponder if we’re eating too much fruit, and then I remind myself — if we’re eating a variety of whole, colorful foods, we’re fine!  I think there’s way too much hype about having a certain amount of protein and fiber and vitamins every day.

In spite of my efforts to inculcate my children with a passion for natural cuisine, they balk at many foods — or, even more frustrating, they love avocado (mushrooms/tempeh/pesto) one day and detest it the next for no discernible reason.  They get very angry at us, too, for serving them a food they just decided they hate, like we’re torturing them on purpose.

Fear no longer! Smoothies are a great way to get some delicious veggies into your little peeps without a fight — especially during the summer.  If you’re really brave (and you know your kids like the ingredients), ask them to make the smoothies with you.  We all love throwing stuff in the blender and pushing the buttons. Or, you may go my cowardly route today and sneak in the goods to serve with a sourdough grilled cheese sandwich.

Amazing Super-Green Smoothie

1 cup almond milk (throw in some raw cashews if you so desire)

1 cup kale, cleaned and removed from stalk

1 small banana

Juice of ½ lime

Juice of ½ orange

½ avocado

Squeeze of  honey/raw sugar/Truvia (optional)

Ice (as much or little as you like!)

Blend all ingredients until smooth and ridiculously delicious.

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Aw, Coconuts!

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Unless you’ve been living on a deserted island (well, actually, maybe even then), you’ve probably heard that coconut oil is the new miracle cure-all for everything from bunions and dandruff to scuffed shoes and stuck-on price tags. Aside from using coconut oil for cooking and baking, and drinking coconut milk for refreshment and antioxidants, the other main use seems to be moisturizing one’s skin, hair, and nails (yes, your entire body unless I missed something).  I’m here to tell you it’s not all hype. Coconut is the real deal. I actually talked to a sympathetic coconut the other day about some problems I’ve been having and felt much better.  Then I ate it.   

Seriously, I must admit I’m fully on the coconut train, though I’m not ready to get rid of my toothpaste and deodorant (or therapist) quite yet.

Ancient Polynesians called the coconut palm the “tree of heaven,” and as the story goes, a young woman named Sina fell in love with a young man, Tuna. Like Romeo and Juliet, their families forbade their love and they were forced to part, but Tuna turned himself into an eel and slithered into Sina’s village, where he was promptly identified (how remains unclear) and condemned to die.  He told Sina to cut off his head and bury it, and that it would grow into a tree that would sustain life and be a sign of his eternal love for her. 

Throughout history, coconuts have been essential as a food and building material throughout the Pacific. Coconut palms grow best near the equator, so most of the Hawaiian Islands are too cool for them to really thrive. Further, the coconut palm takes 8-10 years to produce nuts. For these reasons, Hawaiians traditionally used taro as a staple food over the coconut, though there are many newer “traditional” Hawaiian coconut dishes, including “haupia,” a pudding made from coconut milk, sugar, and arrowroot powder, and grated sweet potatoes or taro mixed with coconut milk.

Coconut oil is nutritious (calcium, iron, phosphorus, vitamins) and delicious; I love the sweet, nutty flavor of baking, sauteing and roasting vegetables with it. Try roasting cauliflower “steaks” (stand the head of cauliflower on the stalk and slice 1″ thick pieces, like you’re slicing a loaf of bread):  lightly coat a cookie sheet with — three guesses — coconut oil, then place your cauliflower on the pan. Put a bit more oil on top of each slice along with some sea salt and pepper, and bake for about 20 minutes at 400 degrees.  Delicious!  I like to throw some sweet onions, cloves of garlic, and carrots on there, too. 

In case you’re one of those people who worry about random things like a ripe coconut landing on your noggin, I’ve discovered that the nuts are cut before they ripen in public places just to avoid this very tragedy.  It’s also widely believed that coconuts do not fall on good people, so watch yourself.

Living in the middle of the Pacific Ocean this month, surrounded by coconut palms, life is sweet.

   

Stop Waffling and Serve Up an Easy Vegan Breakfast

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Breakfast used to be my favorite meal to eat out. . . until I had feral cats (I mean children) and became vegan.  I still love all things breakfast, but unless I’m visiting a place that offers rad dairy-free options (Southeast Idaho? Not so much), breakfast is at my house.  Our beloved brunch is not the most economical meal to enjoy at a restaurant, either.  Have you ever been seated right next to the restroom and paid $12.95 for buckwheat vegan nut pancakes served with wildflower syrup?  Exactly. So, make your own flapjacks to serve your sleepy family, and eat like vegan rock stars.

I have gone down the dangerous (and short) road of cheerfully making tofu benedict and florentine without the eggs or cheese.  Let me save you the stress: just stick with breakfast dishes in which dairy plays a supporting rather than leading role. My only exception to this is the occasional tofu scramble full of veggies and fresh herbs.  You won’t miss the eggs, I promise.

Genevieve’s absolute favorite breakfast is cornmeal pancakes, so I make them often, and this is the best recipe I’ve found.  The kids prefer their blueberries on the side, but I throw a lot in for the ‘dults.  I’ve adapted this from one of my vegan bibles, Veganomicon. I recommend making a double batch – you can always toast leftovers or store extra batter in the fridge for a couple of days.  Or just stand at your counter reading a magazine and eat them until you feel sick. (If you’re a gluten-free goddess, try replacing the white flour in these recipes with Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour!)

Blueberry Cornmeal Pancakes
(makes 8 – 10 pancakes)

Ingredients:

3/4 cup all-purpose organic flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons coconut oil (you can use canola, too)
1 1/4 cup plain almond or organic soy milk
1/3 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest (if you don’t have this, don’t fret)
1 cup fresh blueberries (I often use frozen or leave out if I don’t have any)

Mix dry ingredients, stir in oil, milk, vanilla, maple syrup, water, and lemon zest. Cook these thin, delicious pancakes over medium heat. Swoon. Repeat.

Hello, my name is Hannah and I’m addicted to waffles.  Seriously. I’m having withdrawals here in Hawaii without my waffle iron. Here are a couple of my favorite vegan waffle recipes.  Both include bananas, but feel free to experiment with whatever fruits and nuts you have around. One more thing about waffles: if a recipe does not call for any kind of oil, add some, or you’ll make some bizarre broken waffles and be prying off burnt chunks for weeks.  Waffle batter should be thicker than pancake batter, but play around with the consistency. If you like your waffles lighter, add more liquid.

Vegan Banana Oatmeal Waffles

1 ¼ cup old fashioned oats

½ cup organic whole wheat flour

2 tsp. baking powder

½ tsp. sea salt

1 tsp. cinnamon and/or nutmeg

1  cup almond or soymilk

1/2 cup water

2 T. coconut / canola oil (or Earth Balance, melted)

2 ripe bananas, smooshed

If you prefer a finer batter, you can blend the oats and flour before adding the other ingredients.  These are naturally sweet with the bananas, so no need for added sugar (though, if you had the insane impulse to add dark chocolate chips I’m sure no one would complain . . .).  I like to slather them with peanut or almond butter and fresh fruit. Delish.

One more, I can’t help it.  This is another incredible recipe from Veganomicon. 

Banana Nut Waffles

1 and 3/4 c. non-dairy milk
1/4 c. water
2 tsp. apple cider vinegar
2 average sized ripe bananas
3 TBL canola oil (or, you guessed it, coconut)
3 TBL pure maple syrup
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 and 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg, 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 c. walnuts, finely chopped (or pecans, almonds, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts. . you get the idea)
non-stick cooking spray (if you have a waffle iron with issues!)

1) Mix the non-dairy milk, water, and vinegar together, set aside to turn into vegan “buttermilk.”

2) Smash the bananas, set aside (plug in your waffle iron, too!)

3) Mix all dry ingredients, then stir in oil, syrup, vanilla, spices, and milk/vinegar mixture.

4)  Add chopped nuts.

Makes: A Lot. These are divine!  An added bonus: your house will smell like banana bread.

Remember, you don’t have to wait until morning to try these recipes out.  It’s perfectly acceptable to have breakfast for lunch or dinner any day of the week.

(A little) taste of Hawaii

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This is our twelfth day in Kona, and we’re enjoying every moment of our stay. As you might expect, good food always plays a large part in my appreciation of a place, and Kona has not disappointed.

Every morning (afternoon, evening) begins with a cup of 100% Kona coffee. Grown in this region and shipped all over the world, Kona is.the.best. A few days ago we toured Greenwell Farms, a four-generation family owned and run operation consisting of 200 acres of coffee trees growing up from the coast. (Why didn’t my ancestors think of this? Gorgeous.)  Coffee beans are harvested in the fall.  When Ryan and I visited this area in October, 2009, we were able to witness the process from red cherry to drying to losing the green outer shell in preparation for roasting.  The green beans can last for up to three months, so businesses (including Seattle’s Best, Caribou, and Peet’s) purchase the beans and roast their own Kona blends. Kona coffee is super smooth, they say from the nutrient-rich lava soil. My sister Emily says she may be able to start drinking coffee black after her visit.  Go get yourself a cup of Kona, you deserve it.

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This morning we took Genevieve and Everett to make Portuguese sweet bread at the Kona Historical Society down the coast near the Captain Cook monument.  They had a great time pounding on the dough and forming the rolls, though they couldn’t do their usual taste-testing — not allowed, and, with eggs, not vegan.  The process reminded me of the importance of having them cook and bake with me.  When we return to Pocatello in a several weeks I’m going to start making my own sourdough bread. Michael Pollen’s “Cooked” has inspired me to make sourdough starter. Stay posted – I will share my favorite recipes and techniques.

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The finished product!

The finished product!

Aside from bread and coffee – which could happily sustain me for quite awhile – we are consuming incredible amounts of strawberry papayas, apple bananas (Genevieve asks me why fruits here need to be named twice?), mangoes, bok choy, Thai basil, coconuts, local lettuces and avocados, macadamia nuts, pineapples and more from the nearby farmer’s market.  Ryan, always a fan of sampling ethnic cuisine, courageously presented us with breadfruit bread pudding and Poi (mashed taro) this week, to mixed reviews. I’m excited to create a vegan poke this weekend, replacing the raw fish with taro or tofu cubes.

We play in the salty waves, laugh in the sunshine, and eat local. Several members of my family visited the first week and we have more guests arriving in a few days. Pretty much a dreamy situation.  I’m planning to bring back a few Hawaiian recipes and flavors to incorporate a bit of warmth into our Idaho winter!

Process This: What exactly ARE you eating?

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If you’re reading this, you’re probably on the same page as me in many ways, including trying to eat as many whole foods as possible. However, I’ve been increasingly aware that it becomes an even trickier challenge to avoid processed foods if you are vegetarian or vegan. How unfair, right? Here we are, saving the planet, one (less) animal at a time, and then we’re hit with a barrage of chemicals and soy protein isolates! Until recently, I assumed that most foods sans animals were, by that slim definition, if not exactly good for me, then certainly not that bad, either. I also surmised that having vitamins and minerals added to certain “fortified” foods could only be beneficial.  Yes, I’m one of those who do judge a bottle of wine or a cereal box by its label; I’m one of those who want to believe processed foods – especially items in the “health” section of the store and whose ingredients I can mostly identify –are good for me.

Enter Melanie Warner’s new book, Pandora’s Lunchbox: How Processed Food Took Over the American Meal.  Ms. Warner is not on a mission to convince us never to eat processed food again; she understands, as do I, that that is an extremely unrealistic goal. Her mission, in my opinion, is to shed light on the dark (and what should be) moldy underside of the processed food industry in America.   And, just as importantly, she explains how we got into this bizarre situation in the first place.

I was a bit surprised to learn that many of the foods I feed my family contain additives (there are more than five thousand of them) that have been either ignored by the FDA (Federal Drug Administration) or never adequately tested. I was also happy to find that most of the pivotal processed inventions – breakfast cereal and American cheese, to name two –were accidentally created, and not by sinister masterminds but by regular people trying to prolong the transport and shelf life of initially wholesome products.

So how should we even define processed food – and what kinds of foods should be avoided?  First of all, processed food is something you could not create in your own kitchen. Warner tells the story of how her mother unwittingly ate from a 9 month-old, un-moldy container of guacamole in her refrigerator, which after careful sleuthing was found to be made from, among other things, avocado facial mask!  Even seemingly healthy foods can be processed and preserved, bleached and conditioned.  And of course that’s the point, to preserve these foods. But what is lost in the process just cannot be made up in a chemistry lab.

It turns out that many of the convenience foods I enjoy (a moment of silence for Panda Puffs, please) are put through such damaging processes that they lose their inherent nutrients and are subsequently fortified with vitamins and minerals. These engineered vitamins are mainly produced in huge Chinese factories and injected back into breads, cereals, pastas, and more in large quantities to compensate for shelf-life losses.

Here’s our bottom line: our bodies are incredible — and incredibly mysterious. Food scientists and nutritionists are still unsure how vitamins, minerals, protein, amino acids, fiber, enzymes, and bacteria work together in our digestive tracts and bloodstreams. If we get 100% Vitamin D from a factory (made from sheep’s grease, but that’s another story), do our bodies process it the same way as when we soak up 15 minutes of sunlight, or eat mushrooms and salmon?  Maybe; maybe not.  The cumulative or combined effects of these additives and processes are simply not known, because they are as varied as the individuals who eat them.

There is no doubt that responsible processed food has a place at the table; I think we just need to be more informed and demanding consumers.  I’m on a mission to eat less processed “product,” as Warner calls it, and more whole, juicy, messy, browning –and real–foods.