Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Making the Most of Salads

Salads are the quintessential "health food," but how do you really get the maximum enjoyment, nutrition, and satisfaction out of this dish? A salad makes for easy food prep and tons of nutrients if it's done right, but can also be boring, have empty calories, or be unfilling if you make poor choices as to what to put in it. The following are some suggested Dos and Don't of salad-making:

Overdo it on the lettuce. Leafy greens are good for you, but let's face it, they're the least interesting part of the salad! Start with a nice base of greens and then be sure to add a variety of other items.

Vary your greens. Iceberg lettuce has the least nutritional value of salad greens-- try red leaf, romaine, green leaf, or field greens as a more vitamin- and flavor-packed alternative. Other possibilities for greens include raw spinach or kale (I personally prefer it blanched).

Pick an unhealthy salad dressing. So many commercial dressings are a horrendous conglomerate of high fructose corn syrup, chemical additives, artificial flavors, and unhealthy oils. Your healthy meal is rendered somewhat useless after being slathered in those types of so-called condiments!

Go ahead and use a dressing, preferably a simple homemade one. Eating a bit of fat with your green veggies actually helps the nutrients from the greens get absorbed in your body. Additionally, a bit of fat in your salad helps you to feel fuller longer. Super simple salad dressings include olive oil and balsamic or wine vinegar, or olive oil and lemon juice. I'll be posting a few more involved salad dressing recipes soon. If you want to buy a dressing, read the label! If it has HFCS or ingredients which aren't obviously food, skip it.

Pile a bunch of meat and cheese on top of some greens and call it a salad. I'm sorry people, but a chicken ceasar salad is NOT a health food. Nor are the salads available at various fast food joints. Best bet is to make your salad yourself or go to one of those pick-your-ingredients salad bars and select a wide variety of veggies.

Include protein, so your salad will keep you filled up. Some high nutrient additions include any type of beans, cooked lentils, seeds such as sunflower, pumpkin, or sesame, soybeans or tofu, and nuts. If you have beans and seeds together in your salad, it will be rendered a complete protein. A grain such as brown rice, whole grain pasta, quinoa, or barley can also make a nice salad add-in.

Lastly, DO keep it interesting and DON'T be afraid of adding a ton of different veggies and even some fruits to your salad! Raisins, craisins, apple, pear, or mandarin orange are great for a little hint of sweetness. Lettuce, tomato, and cucumber are the usual standbys, but don't forget carrots, celery, raw broccoli, artichoke hearts, olives, peppers, raw mushrooms, sundried tomatoes, sprouts, avocado... Hmm, I'm getting hungry. 

Monday, February 27, 2012

Homemade Laundry Soap

Why spend tons of money on organic or hypoallergenic laundry detergents when it is SO easy to make at home? I highly recommend this process to anyone with sensitive skin or people with babies. If you're a New Yorker and want to try some before making it, message me in the comments section and I will give you a sample or sell you a half gallon for $4.

Step One: Grate 1/2 bar soap of your choice (I like to use castille or coconut oil soap). ***

Step Two: Dissolve at low heat on stovetop in 3 c water.

Step Three: Add 1/4 c washing soda (can be ordered online if you can't find it), 1/4 c borax, 2 c hot water.

Step Four: Stir, let sit about 5 min. Add 1/2 gallon water and 2 cups, stir.

Step Five: Let sit overnight. It will come out kind of goopy and lumpy.

You don't need to use much, maybe a 1/4 cup per load. I store it in milk jugs. I wash all my laundry with it and have to make more about once every 3 months. It works GREAT in high efficiency washers-- I use slightly more than is recommended since this soap is not highly concentrated. FYI: It will not suds. This is ok. Sudsing is not necessary for cleaning.

*** Many online recipes insist you use Ivory soap. Guess what? The only thing "pure" about Ivory is the name and the color. Here is Ivory's ingredient list: sodium tallowate (that would be BEEF OR PORK FAT, which is in almost every commonly used commercial soap-- ew), sodium cocoate or sodium palm kernelate (palm oil or coconut oil, but there's no guarantee which), water, sodium chloride, sodium silicate, magnesium sulfate, and fragrance (who knows from what source or whether it will make you itchy.) The first time I made it I used a coconut oil soap whose ingredients were as follows: Saponified Coconut Oil. It worked great. I have used a multitude of pure vegetable soaps and all have been fine. If you WANT fragrance I'd suggest using a lavender soap which will give a nice fresh scent.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Anti-Inflammatory Diet

It's common sense that eating healthfully will make one feel more physically fit, but did you know that avoiding certain foods and increasing others can actually reduce joint pain and inflammation? As a professional dancer who has a family history of arthritis, keeping my inflammation down is always a priority. Once I was turned on to certain foods which would reduce inflammation, I actually noticed a marked improvement in my soreness and stiffness after a strenuous dance season.

There are several books and websites with advice on the anti-inflammatory diet, but the one I like the best comes from Rebecca Dietzel, who is an anatomist specializing in dancer health, and also has a background in holistic Ayurvedic nutrition. The full list of her suggestions can be found here. In summary, it encourages eating plenty of foods high in Omega 3s (almonds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, flax seeds, and certain kinds of fish), discourages sugar, hydrogenated oils, and foods high in Omega 6s (corn oil, soybean oil, peanut oil), and suggests a plethora of foods high in antioxidants (most richly colored fruits, veggies, and legumes) as well as certain herbs and spices (ginger and turmeric, to name a few) which reduce inflammation.

I don't necessarily follow all of the advice on this list. For starters, I don't eat fish, and find that I get plenty of Omega 3 fatty acids from my hearty intake of almond milk and flax. Also, I do eat my fair share of peanut butter and tomatoes. However, I think the most important aspect of this diet is in its emphasis on green vegetables, brightly colored fruits, nuts and seeds, and an avoidance of sugar and refined oils. The health benefits from that diet are clearly going to go beyond just reducing inflammation. If you find inflammation is a big problem for you, avoiding the nightshade veggies and the peanuts might be a good extra measure, but if you simply want to maintain good joint health it's probably not going to hurt you to have a tomato once in a while.

I do find that the emphasis on certain herbs and spices (cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, ginger, turmeric, garlic, and cayenne pepper) has DEFINITELY made a difference in my overall joint health. If you are already eating a plant-based, natural diet and want to increase its anti-inflammatory impact, utilizing those seasonings in your cooking can definitely be helpful.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Small-Town Food Survival

Family obligations have brought me to a place which wouldn't normally be high on my list of locations to visit (no offense to any locals who may be reading this): Bradenton, Florida, a small town near Sarasota. Aside from the slow pace being a bit of a shock to this native New Yorker, a big challenge I have whenever I visit here is finding something acceptable to eat. If I were confined to a motel I'd have a REALLY big problem: the restaurants in the neighborhood I'm staying in consist of IHOP, Dairy Queen, a few BBQ spots, Red Lobster, Pizza Huts, a host of donut stands, and some dubious "family-style buffets" where the most vegetarian thing offered is some foul-smelling canned string beans. An iceburg lettuce salad would probably be as good as it gets. Luckily for me, I'm staying with family and can cook, but even a trip to the grocery store is not exactly a thrill.

Here's what there's A LOT of in grocery store down here in Bradenton:
Stuff in cans
Stuff with high-fructose corn syryp
Stuff which has meat which you'd never imagine would have meat (gelatin in the yogurt? lard in the pancake mix??)
Junk food (puddings, chips, cookies, cheez whiz, etc)
"Instant" microwavable "food" (I use that term loosely here) with a list of chemical additives as long as your arm

Essentially, eating processed food of any sort is completely out of the question.

Here's what I have NOT been able to find, even at the Sweet Bay grocery store which, to its credit, has a "health food" section:
Bread without a bunch of chemicals and/or milk in it
A non-dairy butter substitute which actually does not have milk in it, or worse, more gelatin!
Peanut butter which contains only peanuts
Jam without sugar
Veggie burgers which don't contain eggs
Vegetable boullion without meat, MSG, or chemicals
A good selection of fresh organic veggies (there were kiwis, carrots, celery, and cucumbers in the "organic" section, which mostly consisted of prepackaged foods such as the aforementioned non-vegan burgers)

Here's what I HAVE managed to find and eat:
Non-organic fresh veggies and fruit, some of which are actually quite good, as one might expect in a warm climate, although some of it, such as the strawberries I just ate, has absolutely no flavor
Vegan hot dogs
Tofu cream cheese
(Dry beans and rice are also available, although plain brown rice is hard to find, but since I don't have a pressure cooker where I'm staying I'm going for quicker options)
Organic tortilla chips

Having a limited diet for a few days isn't the end of the world for me, especially since I have the resources and the time to cook. But I feel really terrible for the people who live down here, many of whom are extremely obese (it's also virtually impossible to walk anywhere due to a lack of ample sidewalks and crosswalks), and many of whom are elderly and just don't have the energy to stand there reading all the ingredients labels on everything. Years ago there was a health food store in this area, but sadly it closed, no doubt unable to compete with the big grocery chains in a challenging economy. It's no wonder so many people in the US have health issues if this is the fare on the average small-town grocery shelves.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Keeping a Waste-Free Home

If you find yourself taking out loads of trash every week, you might benefit from these suggestions for a healthier, more eco-friendly, and more inexpensive household. We all know the mantra "reduce, reuse, recycle," but here are some practical tips for how to do so on a daily basis. 

1. Reduce
A healthy diet yields the least garbage. Aside from being bad for our health, processed foods also tend to have an excessive amount of packaging. If you're cooking from scratch, there should be few items on your grocery list which fall under the "cellophane wrapped box containing a plastic-wrapped box of other plastic wrapped-boxes" category. However, even the diehard whole-foodist can stand some reduction tips: buy loose rather than prewrapped or boxed fruits and veggies, and bring your own bags to sort and carry them in. If possible, buy your grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes from a bulk distributor such as the Fourth Street Food Co-op (many health food stores also have bulk bins), and bring your own containers. Buying from bulk bins tends to be less expensive, too. Compost your vegetable scraps if possible. Ditch the Vitamin Waters and sports drinks and go for the stir-in packets of Emergen-C, which have a much higher vitamin content, are lower in sugar, use less plastic, and are cheaper. Get a water filter for your home and PLEASE don't buy bottled water-- it is hideously overpriced, often exploited from regions where people can't afford clean water, and the standards for its cleanliness are dubious at best. Finally, switch to reusable cleaning rags (Trader Joe's sells some good ones or an old facecloth will do) instead of constantly using paper towels, ditch your overpriced Swiffer products (some of which are reportedly toxic to pets) and sweep and mop the old-fashioned way (really, it doesn't take any longer), and consider making some of your own cleaning supplies.

2. Reuse
There is very little in my house which doesn't get used twice. Peanut butter jars get scrubbed out and double as travel mugs for coffee, smoothies, or soup. Old clothes too decrepit for the Salvation Army get cut up for cleaning rags. Plastic bags from bread or tortillas get rinsed out and reused as sandwich bags. Plastic bags from anything else get used for doggie duty or as trash bags for the bathroom or bedroom cans. Recently a new trend has popped up where take-out food no longer comes in a paper box but in a plastic tupperware-style container (really makes you wonder if anyone realizes we have a global environmental crisis when MORE plastic items seem to pop up at every moment.) In any event, hopefully other people are doing what I am and reusing, rather than disposing of, these new takeout boxes. They do work well for lunches.

3. Recycle
Each region is slightly different in terms of what can be recycled, but basically most plastic, glass, metal, and paper items can and should go in the recycling bin. NYC has those helpful refrigerator magnets which indicate what can be recycled and in what category. One little-known tip, however: an item which is NOT recycled in NYC is plastic bottle caps, whether from drinks, toothpaste, milk, etc. However, the skin-care company Aveda will accept these plastic lids and uses them to make containers for their products. The caps can be dropped off at any Aveda store. I usually go to the one in the Columbus Circle mall. Just throw your caps in a drawer in your kitchen and then make a delivery every few months! Sometimes Aveda even has free tea for your efforts :)

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Healthy Eating On the Road

Finding something healthy and reasonably enjoyable to eat en route while traveling can be a real challenge, particularly if you don't eat animal products. At least that's what I thought when embarking on my latest trip. Of course, the best option when flying is to bring a bevy of options from home, but between the ban on liquids and the restrictions on how many bags you can bring on-board, if you're dealing with a 12-hour travel day, sometimes you have to succumb to the inevitable and buy airport food. I thought I would use my trip as an opportunity to write a blog on "airport survival tactics," however, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that both New York's LaGuardia airport and Milwaukee's airport, where I had a layover, had quite the bounty of vegan foods. Thus, when the PB+J and fruit I had packed ran out, I was able to obtain a decent meal in both locations.

At LAG, bypass the Dunkin Donuts and Au Bon Pain and go for the Cibo station, where you'll have options such as a vegan sweet potato salad with cranberries (my choice-- it wasn't bad at all), protein-rich quinoa, asian dumplings with tofu, various fresh fruits, Naked juices, quite a lot of nuts and dried fruits, raw bars made from nuts and seeds, and even several kinds of vegan cookies. (The JFK airport does them one better, with a full serve-yourself salad bar with mostly vegan options.) I was even more pleased by the options in Milwaukee, where after despairingly passing a Chili's I came upon the Alterra Coffee bar, which aside from offering soymilk for their coffee, also boasted several varieties of fruit smoothies made from actual fruit and a hummus wrap. More impressive still was the French Meadow Bakery Cafe, where at least a third of the pastries were both vegan and whole grain (a few were also gluten free.) Also on the menu was a vegan black bean chili served with organic, local whole wheat bread; a sandwich filled with hummus, tofu, and assorted veggies; and an edamame salad. I wound up selecting this establishment to dine at and found the chili to be very fresh and not too spicy, and the multigrain cranberry apple muffin to be moist and tasty. A napkin advertised that French Meadow existed in a half dozen other airports in the midwest.

One certainly can't rely on these types of options at every airport (my final destination, for example, Sarasota-Bradenton, has a Starbucks and a candy shop and little else). However, I find it very exciting that captive environments such as airports, which typically offered only the lowest common denominator of foods, are starting to expand their cuisines to support healthy, plant-based eaters. Making these types of foods available in commodity markets is the first step in making a natural, plant-based diet the national norm, so maybe eventually the Dunkin Donuts and Chili's will become extinct as the public moves back towards eating actual food.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Black Beans and Rice

This is a hearty, delicious favorite dish with a Mexican flavor which is terrific as is or in a burrito.

Combine 1 cup brown rice with 2.5 cups water, pinch of salt, and dash of olive oil. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to lowest setting, simmer about 40 min or until all water is absorbed. (Check periodically so it doesn't burn.)

Saute 1 chopped onion in about a tbsp of olive oil about 5 min.
4 c cooked black beans, undrained
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
1 tomato, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped**
1 tsp Mexican seasoning (if none is available a sprinkle of cumin, oregano, and cayenne pepper should suffice)
Salt to taste
Simmer on low heat until most of the water is cooked off and veggies are tender (about 15 min). Combine with cooked rice.

For burritos, place a dollop of the rice and beans in a whole wheat tortilla and top with salsa and guacamole.

**I've started making the dish without the peppers because conventional peppers are among the worst pesticide offenders and organic peppers are prohibitively expensive.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Cleaning Practically Anything with Natural Ingredients

Aside from being concerned about what goes IN our bodies, it's also important to be concerned about what goes on and around them. So many commercial cleaning products have chemicals which can irritate or harm us (not to mention our kids and pets) and it can be a major operation to figure out what's in these products and whether or not they're harmful. There is now a huge market for "green" products, but often these are two to three times more expensive than their conventional counterparts. Why should we have to choose between buying products with harsh, unwanted chemicals and overspending, just to keep our homes clean? Years ago our great-grandparents cleaned everything with just a few simple ingredients, before the dawn of advertising, product placement, convenience stores, and the like. Why must we now stand baffled in the supermarket between 17 different choices of floor cleaner? Additionally, the amount of plastic saved by making your own stuff rather than buying a spray cleaner, floor cleaner, bathroom scrub, tile scrub, laundry soap, etc, is remarkable.

The following is a list of must-have ingredients in order to keep your home clean without having to use even one squirt of commercial disinfectant

White vinegar (disinfectant-- dilute in water for a great glass cleaner)
Baking soda (disinfectant, deodorant, abrasive)
Castille soap (highly concentrated natural soap made from coconut oil-- a few drops go a long way)
Borax (disinfectant, deodorant)

Actually you can do most of your cleaning just with those items and water, but a few other helpful items include:
Washing soda (this is hard to find but can be ordered online and is essential for making your own laundry soap)
Grain alcohol
Essential oil (to customize how you want your cleaning supplies to smell-- eucalyptus and citrus are good choices)

Online recipes abound, but for most basic cleaning you can't really go wrong with the first four items on the list. Add some vinegar, borax, and castille soap to warm water and go nuts. You'll be able to quickly figure out if you need more or less. For an initial cost of maybe $30-$40 for the ingredients (this is assuming you get a nice big box or bottle of each), you can clean everything you own for probably over a year before having to buy more! Your house will not smell like chemicals, and you won't get that "cleaning headache" I used to get from the fumes from things like Comet and Fantastic. I will post some "recipes" I use here and there, so go out and get those supplies!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Pukk, Vegan Thai Restaurant

Thai restaurants in general are a pretty easy place to find vegan food at, with a plethora of tofu and veggie dishes. However, at a regular Thai place vegans have to be a bit picky even with meatless options because many of the dishes have egg and fish sauce, the classic Pad Thai noodle dish being a perfect example. Pukk, a fully vegetarian Thai restaurant at 1st Avenue and 4th Street with almost an entirely vegan menu (eggs are optional in a few dishes and the waiters are careful to ask if you want them) is a great solution to this dilemma.

My husband and I ordered identical meals off of the incredibly affordable lunch special menu (soup, appetizer, entree and beverage for about 7 bucks.) We each chose the chive dumplings followed by the Pad Thai with tofu, his with egg and mine without. The highlight for me was the starter of vegetable soup, a flavorful yet unsalty broth with very fresh chunks of mushroom, watercress, and onions. Soup is another food I tend to avoid in non-vegan restaurants, as often even vegetable soups are made with animal stock and the waitstaff sometimes doesn't even know it. Here there was nothing to worry about and the soup was delectable.

Additionally excellent was the Thai iced tea, a rich orange tea reminiscent of Chai but even more complex. It is served with cow's milk in most establishments but here soy was substituted for a delicious vegan alternative.

The appetizer and entree were well-prepared and tasty, but nothing terribly exciting. We should perhaps have ordered something more adventurous, as there were a host of interesting options.

Dessert is rarely a highlight in any Thai restaurant I've been to, but I always enjoy trying out a vegan pastry, as the waiter assured me all of the desserts were. My choice, the caramel apple fritters, was tasty but not at all what I expected. The dough was completely encrusted in sesame seeds and the "caramel" was actually a coconut sauce, both of which were tasty but completely obscured the flavor of the apple. My husband's choice, on the other hand, a chocolate mousse cake, was a luscious and decadent chunk of creamy chocolate with the consistency of fudge. We took it to go after a few mouthfuls and it took us the rest of the day to finish it, it was so rich and delicious.

Pukk is definitely a good choice for a very inexpensive and healthy Thai meal and as far as I know the only one in the city which is entirely meatless. I would go there again and try a more exotic choice from their menu-- but definitely save room for more of that chocolate pie.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Black Bean and Corn Chowder

Another very quick, easy, and yummy recipe!

3 cups cooked black beans, undrained (see how to make the beans here)
3 cups corn kernels (either hacked off the cob or frozen**)
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
1 onion, chopped
Salt to taste

Cover very lightly with water. Bring to a boil, simmer about 15 minutes. (For this recipe in particular, don't obsess about the amounts. As long as you have about the same amount of corn as beans and don't overdo it with the water you can't really go wrong.)

Due to the flavor of the ingredients, very little additional seasoning is necessary for this to taste great! Also delicious with tortilla chips, but it is a complete protein on its own with the corn/bean combo and is light yet filling.

**Frozen vegetables are actually fine to eat as long as there are no additives. They're a good way to get enough veggies in your diet in the colder months when many things aren't in season. Additionally, if you have a good farmer's market, you can stock up during the last few weeks of fall and freeze stuff yourself for the winter!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Natural Cold Remedies

Well folks, I am sorry to confess that while writing diligently about a healthy lifestyle, I've managed to get sick. I woke up 2 days ago with a cough, fever, and aches. I'm pretty certain I know why, so hopefully others can learn from my mistakes. Here's what I did to send myself down the tubes and what I'm now doing to heal myself:

1. I haven't been getting enough sleep.
2. I've been spending a lot of energy worrying and stressing myself out.
3. I haven't been taking any time off from work.
4. I haven't been eating much, and when I have, it hasn't been nearly enough fruits and veggies. PB+Js make for a great, high-protein breakfast or lunch, but when they wind up being the only thing you eat for 5 days straight because you've been too busy stressing out and overworking yourself to buy groceries... You get the picture.

After a day of trying to tough it out with home remedies, I panicked and went to the doctor. (I haven't been sick in years so it's hard for me to decipher between a cold and the plague.) Ironically, the doc told me I had a virus, which he couldn't prescribe anything for, and to go ahead and continue with the home remedies! While I would have liked a quick fix, I was relieved that he didn't just routinely give me antibiotics or other medications-- it seems more and more common for doctors to prescribe drugs for things which should be solved by rest, water, and nutrients.

Here's what I'm now taking to try to get a speedy recovery:
Apple cider vinegar
Extracts of sage and schizandra, both of which promote circulation and tone in the throat
Eyebright nettle extract, which tastes horrible but helps with sinus issues
Neti Pot nasal wash and gargling with baking soda in warm water
Emergen-C drink for a vitamin blast
Echinacea tea
Tea made from raw garlic, ginger, lemon juice, and hot water (surprisingly tasty!)
Willow bark extract for pain. Willow bark extract contains natural salicylic acid, which is the active ingredient in aspirin
Aspirin to reduce my fever, which I consider to be the safest of pharmaceuticals, being that it basically has one simple active ingredient
** In a panic to get back to work, I caved and took a few Sudafed. It did stop my coughing for a few hours but the sweating, nausea, dizziness, disorientation, and dry mouth which went with it were not worth it. I plan to return to toughing it out.

Finally, I stayed put in bed for two whole days, which anyone who knows me can tell you is a real rarity. I even called in sick to work for the first time in my entire life! I know my body has been begging me to slow down, and instead, I've been pushing it harder. Unfortunately, even the best diet does not make you a superhuman. Hopefully I will soon be back on track.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Rastafarian Diet

I wrote this and then found out it was Bob Marley's birthday! Serendipity! Unfortunately it took me a few days to get it posted up...

For the first six years I was a vegetarian I lived first in a college dormitory and then in my first apartment as a single woman with several other women. The staples of my diet were Kraft macaroni and cheese, pizza, and bagels. I did eat vegetables, but often canned or microwaved. I had gone veggie for ethical reasons and wasn't all that concerned about the healthiness of the food I was eating, and my living situations were not conducive (I thought) to eating healthily. Additionally, my roommates ate far worse than I did, so by comparison it seemed like I was doing ok. 

Changing these habits was catalyzed in part by my discovery that the Rastafarians, whose music and culture I had long admired, were strict vegans who ate a diet of whole, unrefined foods. Among their rules were: no meat, milk, or eggs, nothing from a can, and no white rice, pasta, flour, sugar, or salt (sea salt was acceptable.) This diet was called "Ital," a patois of "Vital," and was inspired both by certain biblical passages and the Rastafarians' general outlook on life, which included shunning modernized, industrial culture and connecting with the earth. After dining at two Ital restaurants in Harlem, I was totally hooked.

Only one Rastafarian cookbook exists, and I own it, but I find a lot of the recipes a little dicey. (Here it is if you're interested.) The measurements are often not totally successful, many dishes call for obscure vegetables which are almost impossible to find outside of the Caribbean, and many call for the small but atomic Scotch Bonnet pepper, a teeny shred of which renders most dishes so spicy it hurts to even smell them, which based on the food I've eaten in Rasta restaurants is not typical of the cuisine. (Perhaps in Jamaica it packs more of a punch.) The following is my version of an "Ital Stew," which I will admit bears little resemblance to the original recipe in the book, yet certainly meets the Ital criteria:

1 bunch collard greens (substitute for callaloo-- I've also used kale)
3 large carrots
3 large yams
3 parnsips
1 onion
2 cups lentils
Parsley, fresh or dried, to taste
Sea salt, garlic powder, and cayenne pepper to taste

Chop vegetables into large hunks, cover all with water in a large pot, bring to a boil, simmer until all is soft (about 45 min.) Eat with whole grain bread to render a complete protein.

This dish is a favorite around my house in the winter.

For a more authentic Rasta experience, I strongly recommend you check out Uptown Juice Bar on 125th Street near Park Ave. They have serve-yourself steamer trays of dozens of delectable foods, from collard greens, pumpkin, and curried chickpeas, to mock meat stir-fry and BBQ skewers (made from tofu) which would probably help to soothe the meat cravings of a newly indoctrinated vegetarian. Other offerings include fresh juices and smoothies similar to the one I posted the other day, vegan baked goods, and delicious vegan pastries such as tofu cheesecake, carrot cake, and cassava pudding. Another option is Strictly Roots on 123rd and Adam Clayton Powell (6th), which has similar cuisine and a quieter atmosphere (I like their food, but nothing compares to the fare at the Juice Bar.) It is well worth the trip uptown if you live downtown... I would venture to say it is well worth a trip from almost anywhere!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Banana Peanut Butter Smoothie Recipe

This recipe is adapted from nutrition pioneer Adele Davis' invention "pep-up," which she recommended people drink daily. Hers was extremely heavy on the dairy and also included orange juice, which I personally cannot drink due to the sugar and acidity. My version retains the high protein and vitamin punch but is vegan.

The Recipe
2 cups non-dairy milk
2 ripe bananas
2 heaping tbsp peanut butter
1 tbsp nutritional yeast
1 tbsp hemp powder
1 tsp flax oil
1 tbsp wheat germ

Blend in a blender til smooth, enjoy plain or over ice. Serves 2.

The Nutritional Details
Non-dairy milk: Soy has the highest protein, but if you don't like or can't digest soy, use almond, rice, or hemp milk, as protein is coming from other sources in the recipe. All of the non-dairy milks are generally calcium and Vitamin D enriched to match cow's milk with none of the unwanted cholesterol, lactose, hormones, etc.

Bananas: I think it's unnecessary to go into why bananas are good for you ;) It's a fruit, it automatically has stuff you need, and if you use a nice ripe one it renders the smoothie sweet without added sugar.

Peanut Butter: high in protein when combined with grain, which is coming from the wheat germ. PLEASE read the label and get a peanut butter which reads "Peanuts" or "Peanuts, Salt." Peanut butter does not need and should not have ANY other ingredients! Don't be fooled by "Skippy Natural" and its ilk, it has added sugar and oil. Peanut butter is naturally high in good fats and does not need (eek!) hydrogenated oils to "thicken" it.

Nutritional Yeast: very, very high in the B vitamins, including B-12, which is only present in a few foods and not many of them vegetable, so it behooves vegans to eat a bit of it now and then (although the myths that vegans are keeling over from B-12 deficiencies left and right are silly, so don't fall victim to them! A cheeseburger doesn't have B-12 either. Unless they're eating organ meat every day, carnivores are not getting a super high amount of B-12 either. Rant over.)

Hemp Powder: boosts the protein content (hemp is one of the few vegetable sources which is a complete protein on its own) but if you don't like it or can't find it, it isn't essential.

Flax Oil: excellent vegan source of Omega-3s, which are commonly known to be found in fish

Wheat Germ: also has a host of B vitamins and is very high in vitamin E, contributes fiber, and combines with the PB for a complete protein.

All the ingredients can be found at a health food store, online, or at the Fourth Street Food Co-Op. Bottoms up!!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Homemade Toothpaste

Sometimes I make my own products to save money, sometimes it's because I can't find a product on the market which is to my liking, and sometimes it's just because it is so fun and liberating to make things for yourself which most people would automatically purchase in a store. My homemade toothpaste falls under all three categories.

Here is the recipe:
6 tbsp calcium carbonate
2 tbsp xylitol
1 tsp baking soda
Combined with:
1 tbsp peroxide
1 tsp coconut oil
1 tsp vegetable glycerine
16 drops peppermint oil

Here is the background as to how I came to this recipe. Initially, I made the traditional homemade toothpaste combo of baking soda and peroxide, which got my teeth extremely clean, but was making my gums bleed. Further research gleaned the information that brushing daily with baking soda leads to receding gums due to the BS being too abrasive, and I certainly didn't want that. I noticed that the main ingredient in the Tom's of Maine toothpaste I'd been using was calcium carbonate, and after a bit of rooting around online I managed to find some (I later discovered it can be ordered at for much less that I paid for it on some vitamin website.) I asked my aunt, a dentist, about the pros and cons of CC vs BS. She had no idea and forwarded the question to my uncle, a chemist, who thought that CC would be MORE abrasive than BS, but it actually wasn't. Once I started the above recipe with only a tiny bit of BS the bleeding gums stopped immediately, and my teeth were getting quite clean and sparkly. 

As for the other ingredients, the xylitol is a natural sugar alcohol with a very low sugar content which makes the toothpaste sweet and also is a bacteria deterrent, the peroxide whitens the teeth and disinfects, the coconut oil is a natural antiseptic and has been used in Ayurvedic medicine as a tooth cleaner for centuries, and the peppermint oil freshens your breath. Aside from the calcium powder all the other ingredients were fairly easy to find at a health food store or drug store, and while I haven't actually done an algebraic price comparison between what it costs to make vs buying Tom's of Maine or another "natural" toothpaste brand, I'm quite certain my own is less expensive. 

Want to try this but too busy to make it yourself? Send me an email with your address and make a donation of $5 in the donation box on this page, and I will send you a double batch of this recipe! If you are in NYC and can pick it up, it will be $3. *Warning* I have not figured out how to put it in a tube so it will come in a tupperware container. 

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Three Ultra-Fast Vegan Recipes

Here are three healthy, complete protein meals you can throw together in less time than it took me to write this blog entry!

Bulghur Wheat and Chickpeas
Bring 2 cups of bulghur wheat and 4 cups of water with a pinch of salt to a boil. Simmer for 15 minutes (give or take-- check periodically-- it's done when all the water is absorbed.)

While the bulghur is cooking, chop up 2-4 tomatoes, 1 large onion, and a bunch of parsley. If you also have fresh mint it is a lovely addition but not essential. Juice 2 lemons.

Mix the cooked bulghur, the veggies, and about 2 cups of cooked chickpeas (see here for how to cook the beans.) Pour the lemon juice and about a third cup of olive oil over all and mix thoroughly. Eat right away or chill for a delicious salad.

Lentil and Rice Stew
Put 1 cup lentils, 1 cup brown rice, 1 chopped onion, 3 chopped carrots, 4 stalks chopped celery, and 1 bunch chopped parsley in a pot. Cover with water and add a vegetable boullion cube or a tablespoon of veggie broth powder. (Avoid boullion with MSG or artificial flavoring.) Bring to a boil, simmer about 35 min. (This one has to cook a little longer but requires zero supervision while cooking and you can get the ingredients ready in about 10 min.)

Black Bean Dip
This one is so easy it almost doesn't constitute a recipe:

Put 2 cups of cooked black beans, drained; the juice of one to two lemons or 3 limes, a tablespoon of cumin, and a pinch of salt, in the food processor or blender. Start with one lemon or lime and if the dip is too stiff add more juice. Once it's too runny all hope is lost so err on the side of less liquid. Approximate prep time for this one is about 6 minutes. Render it a complete protein by eating it with bread, pita, tortillas, tortilla chips, or crackers. Yum!