Archive for October 2010

Can a Vegetable Really Pass for a Noodle?

October 28, 2010

The answer is yes!   Each time I pass by the pale yellow spaghetti squash in the vegetable aisle, I think about the magic that happens when that squash is cut in half, seeded, and roasted.  Wielding my Nana’s three-tined cooking fork, I scrape the flesh.   Sweet strands separate from the skin, yielding a firm, golden, noodle-like pile, ready to be dressed up and served to a crowd.  I have not cooked spaghetti squash since my pre-vegan days. Then, the sauce was all about cream, Parmesan cheese, freshly ground black pepper and crumbled bacon.  I once tried it with traditional sauce, but somehow the squash didn’t meet my expectations when ladled with tomatoes and ground beef.  The creamy sauce was definitely the favorite.

At Trader Joe’s, I eye the stack of local produce in the entrance way.  I think of cashew cream, and know exactly what to do.  I buy the squash and make a vegan Indian yellow curry with vegetables to serve over it.

Indian cooking can be mysterious— there are many complex flavors, and sometimes the list of spices can be intimidating.  I have experimented with Indian cooking for years, combining various flavors to try and duplicate the tastes I love from my favorite restaurants.  This recipe came out exactly like something I ate recently at Passage to India in Portland, ME.  The spaghetti squash turned out to be the perfect bottom layer, replacing the traditional Basmati rice usually served with curry.  My son was home for the weekend and couldn’t wait to get to the dinner table.  I think he even ended his skateboarding session early to join us.  We didn’t talk much at the table that night— dinner was too tasty to do anything but savor each bite.  My daughter insisted I write down exactly what I did before I forgot.  I did as she asked and was able to duplicate the recipe again a few days later.  We needed to finish the leftover squash and I couldn’t imagine serving it with anything else.

Yellow Curry  and Vegetables with Spaghetti Squash

Ingredients:

1 spaghetti squash, washed, split, and seeded

For the Vegetables:

olive oil

1 sweet onion, chopped into medium dice

1 red bell pepper, washed, split, seeded and chopped into medium dice

3 cloves fresh garlic, peeled and minced

2 medium potatoes, scrubbed, skins on, chopped into medium dice

4 cups finely chopped cabbage

1 cup peas, fresh or frozen

1/2 cup raisins

1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

1/2-3/4 cup thick cashew cream

2 cups water

For the curry:

olive oil

2 tsp. mustard seeds

2 tsp. cumin seeds

1 inch fresh ginger, peeled and grated

1 tbsp. Madras curry powder

1 tbsp. turmeric

1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper, or to taste

1 tsp. cinnamon

1/4 cup raw slivered almonds

1 tsp. sea salt

Method:

Preheat the oven to 400 °.  Line a large cookie sheet with foil and spray with non-stick cooking spray.  Place the clean squash, cut side down, on the cookie sheet and roast for about 50-60 minutes, or until the skin gives when pressed firmly with your finger.  Remove from oven, turn over the halves and allow to cool.

While squash is cooking, prepare the vegetables and curry:  For the vegetables:  In a large skillet or wok, heat 2 tbsp. olive oil.  Add onions and peppers and cook over medium-high heat until onion begins to soften.  Add garlic and stir.  Add potatoes and cook for about 5 minutes, or until potato starts to soften.  Add a little water if the skillet becomes too dry.  Add the cabbage and cook about 5 minutes more.  Add peas, raisins, coconut, cashew cream and the water.  Stir well to combine and turn off heat.

For the curry:  Heat a small skillet over medium heat. Add 2 tbsp. olive oil and roll the oil around the pan to coat.  Add the mustard and cumin seeds and cook until you can smell the cumin and the mustard seeds begin to pop.  Add the almonds and another tbsp. of oil.  Continue to cook until the almonds start to brown, about 3 minutes.  Stir in the Madras curry, the turmeric, the ginger and the salt.  Stir well to combine.  The pan with start to look dry when it is ready.  Stir in the cinnamon and remove from heat.  Sprinkle with the cayenne pepper.

Combine the curry with the vegetable mixture, stirring gently but thoroughly.  The mixture should be thick and creamy, the vegetables tender but not mushy.

To serve: Spoon about a cup of spaghetti squash into a shallow bowl.  Ladle the vegetable curry over the squash.  Serves 6-8 hungry people for dinner.

Some nice condiments to add to this meal are tamarind chutney, (a sweet thick sauce of tamarind and dates), coriander chutney,(a bright green, slightly spicy, tart cilantro paste), and lime pickle (a fiery-hot, salty traditional Indian pickle).  Most grocery stores carry these in the international food section.

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Fartleks

October 26, 2010

I am running at full speed this morning, my legs and arms pumping madly, my heart pounding like a kettle drum, for the distance between one telephone pole to the next.  I slow down and jog easy, trying to recover.  Until the next telephone pole.  I am running fartleks.  (I know, it’s a weird word, bringing to mind visuals you probably don’t want to entertain—but click on the link and look it up anyway.)  I should really leave my watch at home, because this kind of training doesn’t count for time, yet I cannot help looking to see how my time is.  It’s a hard habit to break.

I wear my favorite running shorts— the “naked” ones— and the feeling of the morning air on my legs is delicious.  For the last couple of weeks, the mornings have been downright cold.  My winter training pants do their job, but I have already been missing the feel of bare skin, wind, the freedom of wearing less.  I am still wearing the same pair of Nike Free sneakers I bought last winter and they are going strong, despite the many miles I have put on their thin soles.  I am weightless this morning.  Weightless and winded.

I run along Marmion Way, dreading the long uphill end of the street, where I know the sprinting will be a challenge.  I know it will also affect the rest of this training session, but this is what fartleks are all about— pushing to the edge again and again.  I am lucky today.  I increase the distance to two telephone poles fast, then two to recover, and I only have to sprint up part of the very steep end of the hill.  The recovery poles take me almost to the corner and I round it picking up speed.  I burst onto South Street where the road is nice and flat and challenge myself to run three in a row, then recover for two.  I make it all the way to Eden Road.

I fly down the hill past Lynne’s house.  She is backing out of her driveway and I hope she doesn’t see me.  I don’t look back to check.   I continue to the third pole on her street.  I slow down again, then reach the next pole near the bend.  I don’t consider looking up and across to the Twin Lights, but rather put every single ounce of energy into the next sprint.  By the time I reach the third pole I can barely breathe.  I stop for a minute and bend over, resting my hands on my thighs.  I am panting hard and a little nauseous, wishing I had skipped that quarter of a bagel my daughter left in the kitchen this morning.   A woman I know is walking toward me, and I welcome the break as we chat for a couple of minutes.  When I take off again, all my energy has returned.  I run full-tilt for three poles, recover for two, and continue this way to the end of Eden.  My running friend Susie passes me in her car and I think  I must look crazy, speeding up and slowing down like this.  I laugh at myself, then decide to take the entire road between the marshes at full speed.  The road here is flat and smooth, so I let myself run right down the middle like a maniac— legs flailing, elbows pumping wildly, sweat running into my eyes.  At the end of that stretch, I allow the recovery to be a walk for one pole distance, then a light jog for one more before picking up speed again.

Pebble Beach is cool this morning.  The tide is low.  The smell is clean and sweet, the seaweed damp, freshly washed in to the shoreline. There are no telephone poles to use here, so I mentally break up the dirt road into quarters, leaving the sharp, steep curve at the end to split in two. I steal a few glances to see where the swans are as I push myself along the firmly packed sand, turning my head quickly so I don’t lose my footing.   I spy them on the beach this morning, poking around in the sand.  It both breaks my heart and brings me joy to witness their swan one-ness.  I press on.   I am so exhausted after the sharp hill that I just jog up the long hill of upper South Street to the corner before resuming this speed workout.

The rest of South Street is easy.  I go back to the two and two distance, really pushing hard, still hoping no one is watching me.  I feel ridiculous doing these intervals.  It’s just that after last week’s session, I ran two and a half miles at sprint speed the next day and it was the easiest run I have ever done.  I would like to run that speed for a full 10K.  This urge for speed came on suddenly– I think maybe I’m bored with my usual running schedule, and a bit disappointed not to have run a seven minute mile for a couple of months.  Five or six days a week, about 40 miles, split into four or five easy runs with one long day should be enough, but I feel the need for a change.

I turn onto Dean Road, run a couple of more high speed lengths, then ease up for a three minute cool down.  I check my watch and see I have been at it for almost an hour.  My legs ache; the muscles strain and protest even at this relaxed pace.  I think about how good a cool glass of water will taste, followed by a big mug of my favorite recovery drink: coffee with steamed soy milk, sprinkled with cocoa and cinnamon.  It’s enough to get me to my front door without falling down.  That, and the pleasure of knowing I just ran six miles of fartleks in my “naked” shorts one last time this year.

The Reluctant Vegan and Cashew Cream

October 25, 2010

Now that our son has moved into his own apartment, our household is down to three.   Two of us left are vegan, and one of those is the cook.  The third, my husband, has made it clear that he has no desire to become a vegan, yet each meal I place in front of him is a vegan meal.  Fortunately for me (and for him), he is open-minded to whatever shows up on his plate; he likes what I prepare in our kitchen each day.  He never complains about dinner— except on pizza night.   Without cheese, the layer of toppings on our pizza tends to fall off of the crust.  Eating pizza with a fork and knife kind of takes the pizza-ness out of our Friday night dinners.

I do most of the marketing, but once in a while, my husband and I shop together.  He never tosses chicken or steak into the cart, bless him.  We fill the cart with produce, then breeze right past the meat and dairy sections of the store and head to the “natural foods” section.  While we make our way there, I wonder— why do the grocery stores call it the “natural foods” section?   Is the other food unnatural?  We peruse the organic cereals and grains, the canned soups and cookies, searching out the ones that are animal and animal-product free.  There are limited choices in contrast to the rest of the store, but I can always count on the freezer section of that aisle for a sorbet or frozen soy cream, and sometimes a quick entree that looks good for an emergency lunch or dinner.

Last week while we were in Stop and Shop, my husband discovered Amy’s Indian Samosa Wraps.  When I told him I was going to write about him and my vegan cooking, he sent me an email with the link, saying to tell my readers how much he liked his lunch that day.  He also dove right into the pomegranate chocolate chip coconut-instead-of-cream ice cream.  (It’s gone, I didn’t finish it, so I can’t even tell you what company makes it.  It was sooooo good!  Next time I buy it I will share the details.)   So I guess he’s on board, if a bit reluctantly.  He does surprise me once in a while…

Another day, he decided to have lunch out while in the city.  Chili Duck , an amazing Thai restaurant right near his office, serves a vast assortment of delicious appetizers and entrees.  Their soups are outstanding.  I figured he would take the opportunity to eat something with meat or seafood in it, but when he came home, he bashfully confessed to having ordered and enjoyed a curry with tofu.  I could hardly believe my ears.  I’m not trying to convert him; it would just be nice to serve dinner without wondering if he is really missing the way we used to eat.  I try to cook as many delicious meals as I can where he won’t notice the absence of flesh or cheese on his plate.  I look upon the tofu curry as a positive sign.

I have found a solution for pizza night.  I learned to make cashew cream. It’s  yummy, thick and  easy-to-make.  When spooned over hot pizza, cashew cream helps the tomatoes, caramelized onions, sauteed mushrooms, and whatever else makes it way onto the crust— stick quite nicely.  Mashing half of a ripe avocado into half a cup of cashew cream makes it even richer and more flavorful.  We are back to eating with our fingers on Friday nights,  happy to revert to the primitive and now decadent choice of forgoing flatware at the table.  There has been no mention of cheese, or its absence, since.

Cashew cream has found a permanent place in our daily diet.  It’s great on pasta with roasted vegetables, incredible on warm cupcakes and muffins, spreads nicely on toast or a bagel, and helps turn stir-fried vegetables into the kind of curry I have only ever tasted the likes of in the best of Indian restaurants.  It is a perfect substitute for cream, adding the same thick, rich body to soups and chowders.  Cream of broccoli soup and corn chowder will remain winter staples with this simple switch.

While visiting friends a few weeks ago, they served a lovely smoked black cod appetizer with crackers.  I took the cashew cream and the vegan pesto I had brought along for dinner and spread them on the crackers instead.  In moments, our hosts were following suit, the fish pushed aside for a little while as everyone stuffed the creamy basil and garlic covered bites into their mouths.  I ate some of the perfect, bright orange bell peppers from our host’s garden, crunching the sweet slices and watching all those non-vegans dreamily chomping on the treat I had made to share.  I did notice that my husband enjoyed the fish as much as our hosts enjoyed the cashew cream and pesto.

There are dozens of recipes for cashew cream on the internet and in cookbooks.  I read so many of them my head spun!  Some recipes required soaking the cashews overnight, and I understand that soaking them may aid in digestion.  That’s fine if you want to do that, but I decided to go with the easiest one I could find.

Cashew Cream

Ingredients:

1 c raw cashews

1 cup water

Method:

350° oven.  Spread raw cashews on a dry cookie sheet, place cookie sheet on center rack of oven and toast for 6 minutes.  Remove cookie sheet from oven and allow cashews to cool for about 5 minutes.

Pour the water into a blender. Add cashews.  Place cover tightly on blender and blend on high speed for 2-3 minutes.  Turn off blender and dip a spoon into the cream.  Taste.  The consistency should be similar to plain yogurt or very thick cream.  If the cream has a grainy consistency, cover blender again and blend for another 2 minutes.  Check again, and repeat until cream is smooth.

I double this recipe all the time.  It keeps in the refrigerator for about 5 days, and freezes very well.  When I freeze my cashew cream, I use 1/2 cup containers so they defrost at room temperature quickly.  Sometimes we have an urgent need for cashew cream, so it’s nice to have some made up ahead of time!

Fitness Rule #14: Break It Up

October 5, 2010

The holidays are approaching quickly, and many of us are starting to think about how we are going to maintain our fitness through all the preparations and parties that fill our autumn and winter months.  It’s time for a fitness rule to support all of us wondering how we are going to squeeze in those early morning workouts, after-work gym time, or into that little black dress we bought last year.  Today’s rule addresses staying on track through a goal-oriented approach.

The first thing I ask my clients when they hire me to train them is about their goals.  I ask them to prepare for our first meeting by coming up with three goals they would like to achieve with a personal trainer.  What do they want to get from training?  Are they interested in being fit?  Do they want to lose weight?  Both?  Do they want to feel/look better in their clothes?   Are their goals around lowering their blood pressure or cholesterol?   Sometimes it’s as basic as maintaining their current level of mobility and improving it a bit.  Many times, a new client doesn’t have a concrete answer to my question at all.  They simply know they need support to get their bodies moving.  Jumping in without a plan can be overwhelming.  Part of my job is to support a client to decide what they really want, then to help them find the path that works  for them.

When we meet, we sit down and talk about the different aspects of fitness.  I help them turn their goals into measurable goals, a fitness rule I have already written about.  Measurable goals are ones that have a start marker and an end marker.  A simple example:  a client can walk a mile.  They would really like to do a 5k walk to raise money for a cause.  Or they might want to lose some weight in time for a special event.  We set the big goal— 5k or 25 pounds, write it down, and then make little goals to support the big one.  So how do I break up big goals into smaller ones?

I work with each client to determine a time line.  If they want to be able to walk a 5k event, I break up the time frame into weeks, planning a fitness program designed to support it by lengthening their walking distance each week, and by including some intervals to build speed and endurance.  Each week, we examine their personal fitness goals and when a goal is met, we create a new one based on their current level of fitness and the time frame of their big goal.  If the goal is to lose weight, we examine their level of fitness and their diet, look at changes to support their goal, choose a reasonable time frame for achieving the goal, then note what is working each week.  There is lots of tweaking— the individuality of each client is taken into account; what works for one person might not for another.  The one thing that seems to be  consistent from person to person is breaking the big goal into smaller goals that support attaining the big one.

Fitness Rule #14: Break It Up.

Breaking up big goals into little pieces has great advantages.  The feeling of success comes much earlier when a small goal is achieved and checked off.  We made it to the gym.  We didn’t walk the 5K— we ran it!  We can fit into our favorite old jeans again.  That feeling carries over into the next goal or set of goals, urging us to continue to move forward and stay on track.  The big goal suddenly becomes manageable.  When we maintain our fitness logs, food journals, or use whatever tool we have chosen to monitor our behaviors and celebrate our successes, the big picture takes form and becomes real.

Break it up can be applied to other areas of our lives—  work, home, garden, even relationships can benefit from us looking at the big picture, writing down a long-term goal, and figuring out how to break that goal into smaller pieces.  Sitting around thinking about the work and preparation it takes to run a marathon, lose 50 pounds, give a Power Point presentation, or clean the whole house in one day can consume every ounce of our energy, leaving us none for the actual doing.  Preparing ourselves for success by reaching our goals one step at a time helps keep us from that stuck ‘thinking about it, how will I ever get there’ place to a place of action. Checking off a list of accomplishments increases self-efficacy.  It leads to strength, confidence and success in all aspects of our lives.  It leads us to the place where our dreams come true.