Archive for February 2012

The Power of Choice

February 16, 2012

I am standing in the kitchen, hungry, trying to decide what to eat for lunch.  I have cooked every night this week, and the fridge holds an abundance of choices:  green curry vegetables and purple sticky rice; chili-infused soba noodles with broccoli, red bell peppers, sweet green onions and sesame seeds (from The Vegan Table); quinoa burgers stuffed with grated sweet potatoes and spinach and roasted red pepper sauce (Thanks, Michelle!  They were delish!).  There’s smokey tempeh salad, creamy artichoke spread, sprouted sunflower seed pate.  What to eat?  How to choose?

Greens.  That’s my first thought.  I love the bright color of stir-fried kale or southern greens with chopped garlic, and I love the feel of tender baby spinach leaves on my tongue, right before I chew.  Whatever I choose, it’s definitely going to be served over a pile of lovely greens.  And tea.  It’s damp and cold out, and a steaming mug of tea will warm me all the way through.  And maybe something sweet.  Yesterday I made a couple of batches of my Five Star Bars.  I gave one batch, the apple pie ones, to my friend Billy.  I have left a batch of peanut butter cup ones, thick and chocolatey, the salty ground peanuts chunky enough to still have some crunch.

I choose a salad, topped with one of the quinoa burgers.  I add a handful of fat, juicy blackberries, some sliced red bell pepper, a little leftover grated raw sweet potato and a handful of raw pecans.  I quickly whisk together a spoonful of sesame tahini, the juice of a lemon, and a bit of water to pour on top for a dressing.  I make my tea and sit down to a perfect lunch for today, savoring each bite, tasting the crisp, complex flavors.  My dessert is over the top—rich with the chocolate, sweet with dates, satisfyingly chewy.

I realize how fortunate I am to have this power of choice.  The thing is, we all have it.  It can be hard to recognize or acknowledge, but we all have this power.

The power of choice transcends my lunch—we have this power to choose in every aspect of our lives.  We can sit or we can walk.  We can fall and stay on the ground, or we can brush ourselves off and get right back up.  We can react and be angry when we encounter something or someone we don’t like or agree with, or we can relate and respond kindly in the same situation.  We can make compassionate choices by what we choose to eat, by how we treat each other and every living creature.  We can choose to be satisfied with who we are, how we are, and where we are, or we can choose to grow toward who we want to be, how we want to be, and where we want to be.

I can’t imagine being perfect.  I don’t want to be perfect.  I just want to do my best, be my best, try my hardest.  I know there are days when I make choices that could be better, but I refuse to let one poor choice cast a dark shadow over the rest of my day.  Each time I open my refrigerator, I have the opportunity to make a choice.  Each time a lift a fork, I am making a choice.  Each time I tie my running shoes, I am making a choice.  Each time I make dinner for my husband and daughter, or for my parents or guests.  At the market.  On the highway.  With my friends.  At a party.  Each moment.

It is impossible to cover each moment, but quite possible to be aware of each moment.  And to choose.

Fitness Rule #19:  Recognize your power to choose, and take responsibility for those choices.

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Dates and Five-Star Bars

February 12, 2012

Hah!  I can only guess what you are thinking as you read the title of this post, unless, like me, you have a sweet tooth devil over your right shoulder and a health food angel over your left, each whispering loudly in your ear as you consider dessert.  After trying lots of prepared cookies, bars, and other sweet treats, I started to experiment in my kitchen, seeking a sweet, satisfying treat that can be made ahead of time, keeps well in the refrigerator, only has a few ingredients, and costs much less than what we pay in any store.  Oh.  And is a healthful choice.  Just because Oreos  are vegan does not mean they are a healthful choice…once in a while is fine, but a daily dose, not so much.  Dates, though, are sweet and nutritionally packed, a fine choice for a daily dose.

These bars are versatile—you can switch out the secondary fruit, nuts, and spices to duplicate the flavors of almost any pie or cookie.  They are delicious—even the most skeptical eaters find themselves looking for seconds.  They are nutritious—featuring whole dried fruits, nuts and antioxidant-rich spices.  And, they are satisfying—cravings for candy disappear after the first bite.  They have so many good qualities that I have to give them a five-star rating!

Five-Star Bars

Ingredients:

For the base:

16 oz pitted dates

1/2 c walnuts

Add-in combinations:

Apple Pie:  1 c dried apple rings (pre-chopped a bit),  1/4 c raw or roasted almonds, 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

Cherry Pie:  1 c dried tart cherries, 1/4 c shelled, unsalted, roasted pistachios, 1 generous pinch ground cardamom

Cherry Chocolate Pie:  3/4 c dried tart cherries, 3/4 c vegan chocolate chips, 2 T cacao nibs

Oatmeal Raisin Cookie:  1 c raisins, 1/4 c unsalted roasted peanuts,  1 generous pinch cinnamon

Tropical Delight:  3/4 c dried tropical fruit, such as mango, papaya, and/or pineapple (try to get unsweetened), 1/4 c macadamia nuts, 1 generous pinch cardamom or cinnamon

Mixed Berry Pie:  1 c mixed dried berries, 1/4 c roasted almonds, pinch grated nutmeg

Peanut Butter Cup:  3/4 c vegan chocolate chips, 1/4 c salted, roasted peanuts

Shredded, unsweetened coconut (optional)

Method:

Put the dates in the bowl of a large food processor.  Process until dates are ground fine.  Add the walnuts and pulse to combine.  Pulse again until walnut pieces are about the size of split peas.

Choose your add-ins.  Add fruit and nuts to the date-walnut mixture.  Sprinkle with spice if using.  Pulse mixture until combined but still a bit chunky.  Or pulse a little longer for a finer consistency.  Be careful not to over-mix into a paste.  You want some texture in the bars.

Pour mixture onto a large cutting board.  Use your hands to knead the mixture for a couple of minutes until it holds together.  Roll mixture out into a log.  Use a sharp knife to cut into 20-24 equal pieces.  Form each piece into a bar shape.  Roll in shredded coconut if you like.

Place bars in a glass or other container, keeping bars from touching each other.  Use a piece of parchment paper between layers if necessary.  Refrigerate for an hour or until firm.  These bars can be individually wrapped in parchment or waxed paper for travel, and make a delicious treat in a school or work lunch box.

After you make these a few times, try experimenting with different fruit, nut, and spice combinations to find the ones that make you happiest.

Super Bowl Sunday Shepherd’s Pie

February 5, 2012

I thought about calling this recipe Unemployed Shepherd’s Pie, but did not want to put a negative spin on the poor shepherds…it’s just that because it’s vegan, I think shepherds would have different jobs, like maybe seitan kneaders and bakers, or perhaps sheep’s rights activists.  Whatever I call it, this recipe is fantastic.  The tender vegetables and chewy seitan enveloped in smooth white sauce, then smothered in rich, creamy mashed potatoes are hearty and completely satisfying.  I have made one to take to my friends Eric and Charlene so we can have a yummy dinner together before they watch the game and we watch the commercials!

Super Bowl Sunday Shepherd’s Pie

Super Bowl Sunday Shepherd's Pie

Ingredients:

4-5 medium potatoes, scrubbed and cut in half

2 T vegan margarine, such as Earth Balance

1/3 c unsweetened almond, soy or hemp milk

1/3 c each vegan margarine and whole wheat pastry flour

2 c water

salt and pepper

1 c frozen peas

4-5  carrots, scrubbed, trimmed and diced

1-2 tsp olive oil

1 medium sized sweet onion, diced

1 1/2 c cooked seitan*

Method:

Place the potatoes in a large pot and cover them with cold water .  Turn heat to high and bring potatoes and water to a boil.  Reduce heat to simmer and cook the potatoes until they are fork-tender, about 20 minutes.

While the potatoes are cooking:

Saute the onion in 2 tsp olive oil in  a medium skillet over medium heat until translucent, about 5 minutes.  Remove from heat and stir in the peas and seitan.

Steam the carrots in a pot on the stove top or in a covered bowl in the microwave for about 3 minutes until fork-tender.  Drain and add to the onion, pea and seitan.  Set aside.

Make the roux for the white sauce:

In another medium sized  non-stick skillet, melt the 1/3 c vegan margarine over medium heat.  Sprinkle with the 1/3 c flour and stir the flour into the margarine.  Keeping heat on medium, continue to cook the vegan margarine and the flour together until the mixture begins to turn a rich, golden color, about 7-8 minutes.

White sauce:  Turn heat under the roux pan to high.  Slowly add the 2 c  water as you continue to stir, incorporating the water into the roux until the sauce is smooth and begins to thicken.  A whisk is a great tool for this, but a wooden spoon also works well.  Stir in 1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp black pepper.  Allow the white sauce to cook for a few more minutes.  Taste and correct seasoning.  Remove from heat.  Pour into the onion, peas, carrots and seitan pan and stir well to coat everything with the white sauce.  Return pan to low heat and cook about 5 more minutes, until thickened.  If sauce seems too thick, stir in more water, a couple of tablespoons at a time, until the consistency pleases you.

Finish the potatoes:

Drain water from cooked potatoes.  Add the 2 T vegan margarine and the 1/3 c almond, soy, or hemp milk.  Mash with potato masher or whip with electric mixer until potatoes are well mashed/whipped.  Add salt and pepper to taste and stir.

Preheat oven to 350 ° F.

To assemble the pie:

Spoon the filling for the pie into a deep casserole or deep baking dish about 8 or 9 inches round.  Scoop the mashed potatoes on top, being careful not to mix them into the filling.  I use a spatula to gently smooth the mashed potatoes over the filling.

Drizzle the top with a little olive oil if you wish and bake at 350 °F  for 30-40 minutes, until sides are bubbling and center is hot.

Serves 5-6 hungry people.  I suggest a big, green salad as a side dish.  A couple of nice accompaniments are green tomato piccalilli  and cranberry chutney or cranberry sauce.

Enjoy the game!

*I make my own seitan.  The recipe link above is a quick and easy one.  I always double it, as seitan freezes well, and it’s a delicious, chewy source of vegan protein.  For this particular recipe, I did not use thyme in the seasoning.  I used 1 tsp each of dried marjoram and sage, 1/2 tsp each of onion and garlic powder.  I reduced the tamari by half, replacing that liquid with sodium-free vegetable broth.   I made the seitan a day ahead and stuck it in the refrigerator until I was ready to use it today.

It’s A Miracle!

February 2, 2012

When my nurse practitioner calls with the results of my x-rays, I am thrilled to hear that nothing is broken.  She tells me the pain is from a bone contusion and it could take several weeks to heal.   I can still run if I’m up to it.  I ask about managing the pain from the plantar fasciitis until my physical therapy starts and she apologizes immediately.

“Oh, I’m sorry I forgot to talk with you about that this morning.  I want you to start on a therapeutic dose of ibuprofen.”

“What’s that?  A therapeutic dose?”

“You need to take 800 mg three times a day.  For two to three weeks.  Make sure you keep taking that dosage, about every eight hours.  A lot of people forget to take it, and it really won’t be effective unless you keep the dosage up for the whole time.  It will eliminate the inflammation and give you a great start for physical therapy.”

“Tell me again?  800 mg?”

“Yup, that’s right.  Naproxen can really wreck your stomach.  The ibuprofen will be better.  Let me know how it goes.”

I hang up and turn to my husband.

“So, do we have any?”

He brings me my first dose—four shiny turquoise gel caps.  I toss them into my mouth and take a big swig of cold tea to wash them down.  It’s 9 pm on Tuesday.  I go to bed, noticing how much less my knee hurts.  Hmm.  Never thought of taking pills for this…

I wake up Wednesday morning and take the next dose with my coffee and some water.  When I stand up, I notice right away that I can put my full weight on my right foot.  I do not hobble to the bathroom.  I walk like a regular person.  I take my daughter to school, come home, throw on my sneakers and hit the road.  Five miles into the run and I have no pain.  My gait is not altered to favor the right heel.  Each step on the street is springy and easy.  I run the full length of the hill on Broadway at high speed.  Still no pain.  I write in my running log:  6 1/2 miles.  54 minutes.  Started taking ibuprofen.  It’s a MIRACLE!  I shower and see a client, then take the next dose.

When my three o’clock client shows up, he wants to go for a run.  I head out with him and find that I am still feeling good—the second run of the day is as easy as the first.  We do a three mile loop, then head inside to stretch and do some core and strength work.  I shower and change, then scamper into the kitchen to make dinner.  No hobbling.  No limping.  No bitching.  No pain.

I take the final dose of the day right before bedtime.  I wake up this morning and hop out of bed, almost forgetting that I have plantar fasciitis.  I drop off my daughter, see an early client, then for the second day in a row, I head out for a run.  I know I should take it easy, so keep it to four miles today.  I sprint home again.  Still good.  After cleaning up, I drive to the drug store and discover that there is a sale on ibuprofen gel caps.  I do the math and buy two big bottles, enough to last the whole three weeks if necessary.

Okay, so you are reading this and are ready to comment.  I can see it coming.  Elizabeth, you know you shouldn’t take too many of those ibuprofen pills.  They could damage your ________ .  (Go ahead and insert whatever it is I’m going to damage.  I don’t mind.)  You shouldn’t run too much, you know you still have plantar fasciitis.  Elizabeth, you are such a running ADDICT.  What is wrong with you?  Why can’t you take a break?

And maybe these are comments I might get.  But also,  they are clearly comments from myself that I’m unwilling to own, trying to shove off onto someone else.  Either way, I can take it.  Because it’s a miracle for me.  I am running pain-free for the first time in months and able to walk normally afterward.  Why did I never think of taking pills for this?  Those beautiful turquoise pills…might start calling them Runner’s Little Helpers.

Pasta with Roasted Butternut Squash, Cranberries and Arugula

February 2, 2012

I love it when my busy brain backs off and allows my instincts to take over in the kitchen.  My best recipes come from trusting my sense of color, smell and taste.  I choose from what is on hand, today a perfect butternut squash and some cranberries stashed in the freezer for cold, damp days like this. I make this dish this morning right after my run, before things get all Thursday-crazy.   The sweet squash, tart cranberries and slightly bitter arugula are wrapped in a rich balsamic maple syrup reduction with caramelized onions and herbs cut fresh from my winter garden.  The chewy, hearty whole grain pasta lies beneath the bed of rich winter flavors and colors, ready to satisfy us tonight.  There will be enough leftover for tomorrow, too!

Pasta with Roasted Butternut Squash, Cranberries and Arugula

Ingredients:

1 lb. whole grain pasta (We prefer long noodles, but any pasta will work.)

2-4 T olive oil

1 large sweet onion, ends trimmed and sliced in half across the trimmed part

1/3 c good balsamic vinegar (This time I used pomegranate balsamic*.)

3 T pure maple syrup

3 T fresh chopped sage leaves

8 cloves garlic

1 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1″ dice

1/2 lb. mushrooms, washed and sliced thick

1/4 tsp each dried marjoram and thyme

1 c fresh or frozen cranberries

1 c chopped seitan (optional)

salt and pepper to taste

5 c arugula

2 T Blood Orange oil

1/4 c chopped walnuts

4 T nutritional yeast

Method:

Preheat oven to 425 °.

Cook pasta according to package directions.

Wash the arugula and place it in a large colander.

Reserve 1 cup of the pasta water before draining the pasta.  Drain the pasta in the colander with the arugula.  (This will nicely wilt the arugula without over-cooking it.)  Pour the drained pasta and arugula into a large bowl or back into the pot.

While pasta water is heating and then while pasta is cooking:

Thinly slice the onion halves.  Heat 1-2 T of the olive oil in a large skillet.  Add the onions and cook over low heat until caramelized, (golden), about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

While the onion is cooking, lightly oil a large cookie sheet or baking pan.  Cut a piece of foil about 6″ square.  Place the garlic in the foil, drizzle with 1 tsp. olive oil, and fold the foil to seal.  Place the foil packet in a corner of the baking sheet.  Add the butternut squash and the mushrooms to the cookie sheet, drizzle with remaining olive oil, and sprinkle with marjoram and thyme.  Roast the vegetables in the oven on the center rack for 15 minutes.  Remove pan from oven and stir the vegetables, leaving the garlic packet as is.  Add the cranberries and seitan (if using) and roast for 12-15 minutes more, until cranberries are soft and squash is tender.  Remove from oven and set aside.  Open the foil packet, remove the garlic, and mash with a fork.

When the onions are caramelized, turn the heat to medium-high and add the balsamic vinegar, the maple syrup and the sage.  Bring to a boil and stir.  Cook until the liquid is reduced by half.  Remove from heat and stir in the roasted garlic, the butternut squash and cranberry mixture, and the walnuts.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Pour the reserved cup of pasta liquid back into the pasta.  Stir in the blood orange oil and the nutritional yeast.

To serve:

Place about 1/2 c of the pasta with arugula into shallow bowls.  Ladle on the butternut squash mixture and serve.  For a beautiful presentation for guests, place the pasta in a really big wooden or pottery bowl.  Ladle the butternut squash mixture on top and serve at the table.

*My husband and I have built up quite a stash of different balsamic vinegars and flavored oils.  We love to travel to Portsmouth NH to a little specialty shop called LeRoux Kitchen, where we can sample different seasonal offerings.  We  have been known to return home with our little smart car’s trunk stuffed with treats…but any good balsamic will do.