Tag Archives: vegan recipes

Follow Your Passion (fruit)

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We arrived in Rarotonga, capital of the Cook Islands, six days ago. The weather has been unseasonably cool for summer–as in the 70s, brrrr–but that has not dissuaded us from consuming loads of tropical fruits, getting chummy with the 82 mosquitos who also share our rental home (they’ve turned out to be serious jerks), and swimming in the ocean as often as possible. Before you get all weird and jelly, let me remind you that this is a work-related trip. I’m spending weekdays at the National Archives sleuthing through mysterious (“miscellaneous”) boxes of unscanned documents, trying to suss out the history of changing foodways in the Cook Islands. One box I looked at on Friday contained four long-abandoned gecko eggs. Ironically, that particular box held health inspection records for bakeries and tea shops on the island.

My most exciting find of the trip so far? –the box containing information about the Au Vaine, women’s committees who, from 1926 until at least 1958, led house, village, and plantation inspections in all eleven Rarotongan districts. These Islander women were responsible for organizing a very profitable fruit export market in the Cook Islands. Working in pairs they scoured plantations for destructive roaming animals and made sure the planting operations were running smoothly. These women were not to be crossed, this is clear. One official wrote that if offenders had to face the Court or “women of the Au Vaine” they chose the Court every time. In 1928 a silver cup, the Au Vaine Cup, began to be awarded to the village who had received the highest points during the annual tutaka, or home inspection organized by the Au Vaine and judged by the Resident Commissioner, Chief Medical Officer, and other officials from New Zealand or abroad. My favorite document is addressed to the Resident Commissioner of Rarotonga, the most senior government official from New Zealand, in 1928. The leaders of Au Vaine are “requesting the honour of your presence” for tea “at your residence” next Wednesday at 8:30 am. Yes, that’s right; they are inviting him to join them for tea at his own house. Bad. Ass.

New Zealand was originally settled in the fourteenth century by Maori who launched their canoes from Rarotonga, so Cook Islanders have always been closely connected to New Zealand culturally, economically, and politically. In 1901 the Cooks were annexed by New Zealand, and in 1965 the Cook Islands became self-governing but remained in free association with New Zealand. From the late 1800s Rarotonga and several other islands in the group exported large quantities of citrus, copra, tomatoes, and bananas primarily to New Zealand, but most of that market dried up by the 1960s. Today the islands import much more food than they export (in 2013, New Zealand imports were valued at $97 million, while exports to New Zealand from the Cooks were worth $1 million). Many more Cook Islanders reside in New Zealand today than in the Cooks, but food remains an important way of staying connected to family. Native foods are one of the most important gifts taken to New Zealand relatives and large buckets of fried chicken are a favorite carry-on for the trip back to the Cooks. All important occasions are marked with a feast; traditional dishes such as taro with coconut and fish baked in umus (earthen ovens) continue to hold special status and significance alongside more recent imported dishes of rice, noodles and tinned meats.

Eating lots of local pawpaw, mangoes, coconuts, sweet bananas and passion fruit has been one of the highlights of our time in Raro. Luckily, the house we’re renting is also home to a yard full of passion fruit vines and my minions can gather the fruit whenever our stores run low (as in daily). I first tasted passion fruit in Brazil when I was there as a student missionary (yes, it was the 90s, and yes, my permed hair crackled with electricity; I looked like a crazy sunburned 12 year old teaching English). Other interesting connections: passion fruit were first discovered in South America and were named after the “passion” of the Christ. Why? I’m sure I do not know. In Brazil I mainly consumed passion fruit as delicious juice or ice cream (hence a few extra kilos as one of my souvenirs) but here we eat it fresh. The black seeds and pulp are rich in vitamins A, C, and potassium and one cup contains a whopping 25 grams of fibre. Take that, travel tummy! Passion fruit is also rich in the holy grail of nutrition, the youth-enhancing “antioxidants” and is supposed to aid in deep sleep–even with 82 mosquito bites! I’m hoping all this fruit fuels some ground-breaking writing, but so far I seem to prefer pondering the ocean and watching the palms sway as the kids play in the sand.

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Carb My Enthusiasm

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Scan the health news and you’ll find reams of frightening headlines about “Bad Carbs,” “Are Carbs Evil?” and “Carbs to Avoid.” (Try swapping out the word “carbs” for “men,” it’s hilarious!) Really though, extreme low-carb diets such as Atkins promote an unbalanced and ultimately unsatisfying diet, which is why most people cannot maintain the regime long-term (or, in the case of my sister, one afternoon. As she says, “One day without a bagel is one too many.”).

Regardless of your dietary stance on carbohydrates, you must admit that it just doesn’t make sense to demonize them in their natural form, right?  I am tired of people giving carbohydrates in general a bad rap when there is a huge, critical difference between natural and processed carbs. Carbohydrates — our body’s main source of energy — should make up about 50% of our diet, along with protein and fat. Further, carbs are just satisfying and delicious, comfort food at its best.

Simple, refined, complex. No, I’m not describing my aesthetic sense (but thank you!), these are the three types of carbohydrates. Every once in awhile it’s a good to refresh our memories about which to avoid and which to consume with reckless abandon. So let’s do this!

Simple: This refers mainly to sugars –lactose, glucose, fructose–which are found in both natural and processed foods. I know you’re going to throw the “my-body-can’t-tell-the-difference-between-gummy-bears-and-bananas” defence at me, and yes, it’s true that our bodies process sugars in a particular way, but there are many other good things in whole fruits as well, like fiber and vitamin C. Perhaps you can buy gummy bears infused with fiber and vitamin C. Carry on, then! 😉

Refined: White bread/rice/pasta, snack and processed foods, most breakfast cereals, soda and other sugary beverages. Clearly I’m going to head straight to the closest baguette at the Farmer’s Market this weekend and bury my face in it, so everything in moderation. I’ve been trying to swap out white for brown rice, but nothing creates quite the same level of dissonance with my 6 year old as dishing her up a hearty helping of brown rice, so I have to plan carefully and be mentally fortified. Even buying whole grain bread instead of highly processed (check out the ingredients to make sure it’s truly whole grains and no added sugars or unidentifiables) is a great place to start realigning your diet.

Complex: And the winner is. . ! Here’s where you need to be hanging out, noshing on whole grains, unadulterated fruits and nuts, and starchy beans and vegetables. Pretty much any complete plant-based food falls into this category and is on the menu, friends. There is so. much. variety!  Have you tried an avocado (they just call them avos here, isn’t that adorbs?), tomato and basil sandwich on whole grain toast drizzled with olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt, perhaps with a side of baked sweet potato? Or how about a butternut squash and spinach Indian curry over brown rice, millet, or quinoa? ( It probably goes without saying that it’s best to eat your complex carbs sans the 1/2 cup of sour cream or thick slab of butter you’re staring at, but feel free to accessorize.)

However you’re incorporating more complex carbs into your diet, your body will thank you for it. Here’s a simple  — I mean easy -recipe loaded with complexity.

Sweet Potato and Spinach Saag (modified from Veganomicon)

  • 3-4 yams or sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped, then roasted at 400 degrees (on a lightly greased cookie sheet) for about 20 minutes. Feel free to replace with squash or pumpkin if you’re feeling all Thanksgiving-ish.
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 T peanut oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 t. garam masala (you can find this in most well-stocked grocery aisles because you’re so resourceful and fancy!)
  • 1/4 t. cinnamon
  • 1/2 t salt
  • pinch cayenne pepper
  • 1 chunk of fresh ginger, grated
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 bunches fresh spinach, washed and chopped
  • 1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed (optional)
  • juice of 1/2 lemon or lime

1) While your sweet potatoes are cooling, sauté the onion in peanut oil for about 5 minutes, until softened; add garlic and spices (except ginger), stirring over low heat for another 1-2 minutes.

2) Next, add the potatoes and grate ginger directly into the pan, stirring to heat through, then pour in water (adding more if it’s too thick).

3) Finally, throw in the spinach in two or three batches, making sure each is thoroughly mixed in.

4) Remove from heat, squeezing in lime or lemon juice and adjusting seasoning. Serve with a complex grain of your choice and top with chopped peanuts and green onions, tomatoes, or some toasted pumpkin seeds if you’re taking the fall theme to the extreme.  (Note: Image is from Pinterest as my picture was unappetizing. Avert your eyes from the white rice!)

All This Writing is Making Me Hungry

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I have good news, and bad news. The good news first, of course: I am truly enjoying my doctoral research program (I’m studying changing foodways in the Cook Islands), although there have already been (inevitably) a few overwhelming moments. The bad news? I want to eat all. the. pancake-flippin’. time. Much of my days are spent reading and writing about food, and though this has not resulted in cravings for tinned meats or breadfruit, it does mean I’m pondering foodstuffs whilst sitting. I’ve already gained 2 kilos, and while this isn’t in itself a serious issue, if things keep going in this direction–and I’m referring here to biscuits going in the direction of my mouth — I will have to get another part-time job to buy new clothes!  I decided instead to join the on-campus fitness center. Sliding back into graduate life with yoga pants (the kind from Athleta that have pockets so I’m like, these are totally presentable) and ponytails has felt quite natural after 15+ years and two kids. . . until, that is, I visited a cross-fit class at the gym today and realized a) I may never be able to do real jumping-jacks again (humiliating, I think I cleared 2 mm), and b) wearing glasses to this type of activity is just not acceptable (why did I think it was?). For every gruelling and bizarre exercise the instructor looked directly at me for the “alternate” option: “If you’re not sure you can leap into the air and land in a low squat repeatedly because you might keel over and traumatize us all, just jog slowly in place.” I left early (to pick up Everett, don’t judge) and kicked a barbell on my way out of the darkened, neon-lit room, emitting a Homer Simpsonesque “doh!” Tomorrow I’ll be back to riding the exercise bike for a slow 23 minutes and highlighting an article. Nerd alert. (And yes, double nerd points for writing nerd alert.)

Before my embarrassing foray into the world of cross-fit I had a turning-point meeting with my supervisors. I sent them a 12 page paper on Friday that was supposed to be about gender in the context of religion and food in the Cook Islands. It was, technically, but –and this is what they each pointed out to me — I seem to always return to a more modern narrative of health and nutrition, asking questions, for example, about how the Cooks came to be, along with Nauru and Micronesia, one of the most obese nations in the world? A modern problem with roots in the period I’m researching, yes, but how much of this transition from dependence on traditional to imported foods can be tied to missionaries? By narrowing my view was I leaving out potentially excellent sources? (The other option was that my paper made zero sense.)

“What kind of historian do you want to be — a historian of religion, of food, or the Pacific?” “Definitely food. And the Pacific.”  So there we are, and my project has broadened to looking at many influences on changing foodways, not just religion. Don’t worry, missionaries will still figure prominently in my work — how could I leave out Seventh-day Adventists telling Cook Islanders they had to abandon pork, shellfish and kava, all important ceremonial foods, in order to join the church? — but I will be exploring other influences as well.

Breadfruit and Taro, two traditional Pacific Island foods

Oil Pulling and Apple Cider Vinegar: Folk Remedies or Real Results?

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My status as stressed and broke has continued of late (I know, what??).  However, these conditions have happily coincided with friends informing me of some new (and by that I mean ancient) health practices.  The two I’ve decided to try out daily for the past few weeks are (coconut) oil pulling and drinking a tonic of raw apple cider vinegar.  So far, so good!  Even if they aren’t having the touted results — glowing, youthful skin and hair, fabulous attitude, boundless vitality (and let’s be honest, those treats are probably out of my reach) — I believe I have noticed a bit more energy and healthier gums. Sold.    

First of all, let’s talk about oil pulling, an ancient Ayurvedic practice which I’d like to rename “coconut cleansing.”  It’s quite simple to begin this ritual, especially if you get up before the rest of your family (otherwise, expect lots of awkward nodding and “uh-uhs” while pointing at your weirdly-moving mouth and the vat of coconut oil, respectively). Simply scoop out a large teaspoon (or tablespoon if you’re a rock star of the cleanse) of organic coconut oil on an empty stomach, let it melt in your mouth, and gently swish it around for 15-20 minutes. I find this easiest to do whilst reading or making coffee and breakfast; if I do this in the shower with water running down my face I have the panicky impulse to just spit it out all over the place. The oil is supposed to be removing toxins from your mouth, so you’ll want to spit it into the trash when you’re done. (If spat into the drain it can harden and cause problems!)  So why in this spring green world would you want to do this?  First of all, I read in some magazine at the gym recently that if Ashley Olsen (yes, one of the twins) were stranded on a deserted island she’d bring Mary-Kate and coconut oil (and one more item that slips my mind).  Nevermind that she’d most likely find coconuts on said island; the point is, coconut oil is known to be a great health and beauty aid.    

Coconut oil is high in vitamins A (eyesight, immune booster), vitamin D (strong teeth and bones), and vitamin E, which acts as an antioxidant, and also has anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties (think fresh-as-a-daisy breath).  Although I have not personally noted my teeth looking much whiter since I started my coconut cleansing, many people swear that coconut oil not only helps fight (or even cures) tooth decay, but also whitens their teeth. (Is coconut oil a match for apocalyptic amounts of coffee? That truly would be a miracle!)  Coconut oil has long been my go-to oil for baking and sauteing, but I’m happy to report I’ve also started using it as a lotion on my 99-year-old hands. I’ll keep you posted. . .

Another natural, inexpensive practice I’ve incorporated into my daily routine? Only one of the earliest natural remedies in history and my new favorite health tonic: apple cider vinegar. Yes, it’s been in your cupboard all this time. And yes, you can use it for more than salad dressing! I’ve been adding two tablespoons to a large glass of water each morning, or drinking it throughout the day in a large water bottle. I actually like the taste a lot, it reminds me of kombucha (especially when I mix it with carbonated water) — and for a fraction of the price.  Your kids will probably very much dislike the taste, thereby encouraging them to drink out of their own bottles. Win-win!

Apple cider vinegar is made from fermented apples — and I do mean fermented.  When the sugar in food is initially fermented it makes alcohol, but if left to ferment further it creates vinegar. (Oh, so that’s why that red wine you’ve been sipping on all week tastes strangely like, well, red wine vinegar. Mystery solved.) Vinegar is actually French for “sour wine.” Who knew? 

Adding apple cider vinegar to your daily regime is reported to help with mood enhancement (well yes please) and appetite regulation (put the donuts down and no one gets hurt).  Like the apples from which it is derived, apple cider vinegar is high in pectin, which helps break down proteins into amino acids and releases iron from foods you’re eating.  These processes increase oxygen production and  — hopefully — give you greater energy!  Just as important: another effect of turning proteins into amino acids is the creation of tryptophan and its cousin serotonin, the “feel-good transmitter.”  Low levels of serotonin can lead to depression and anxiety.  Are you reaching for a bottle of ACV yet?? 

You can’t just use any old apple cider vinegar, however, my fresh and healthy friend. It needs to be raw (unpasteurized) and organic, and contain a “mother,” which I believe are the strands and cloudiness in your bottle. Delish.

So, along with making your own kale chips, doing yoga on the porch, and marinating tempeh on a regular basis, you’re going to be the kind of person who follows up her morning coconut cleanse with a shot of raw apple cider vinegar.  And why not? Let me know what you think! 🙂

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