Tuesday, January 31, 2012

What's For Dinner Tonight?

Raw Wheat Berries That's what.

I'm grumpy and a little drunk.  Here's the scoop.  I decided that I would follow an actual recipe tonight, something I very rarely do.  I own over a dozen cookbooks, but they're more like porn rather than something that I use to cook from.  I decided to take a stab at Heidi Swanson's Risotto-Style Barley tonight.  I remembered that I had barley in my cupboard from when I went a little overboard in the bulk foods section on a trip to The Fairway.  I found the Mason Jar of grains and grinned at the recipe's beautifully airbrushed and well-lit picture-this was going to be good.

As I looked over the ingredients and decided which things I would alter and what would stay I realized that I didn't have barley in my hands, I had wheat berries.  A quick Google search later I learned that wheat berries could, in fact, be substituted for barley and I prepared my dish...

Two hours later, too many glasses of wine, an upset stomach, annoying gas, a divided recipe and wasted veggies later the fucking shit is still cooking.

I did another Google search only to discover that wheat berries, unlike barley is a tough little shit of a grain.  Not only does it require over night soaking, it also requires at least an hour an a half or two hours of cook time.  Since the first search result didn't say I needed to soak these grains overnight here I am, two hours later with no dinner and an upset/gassy tummy from eating three bites of undercooked grains.

The recipe called for two cups of barley which equals over 3 quarts of food!  I've had to divide the thing into two separate pots and I'm sure I'll be up all night with searing stomach pain and exhaustion trying to cook these grains down into something edible.  I will not throw it away, at the advice of a friend it's going to be a stew...

What's for Breakfast?

The plan is to remove animal proteins from my diet.  This means no eggs, no milk, no butter, no cheese, no meat.  The reason I won't call myself a vegan is because I won't be spending my time reading the back of packages to make sure that there aren't any dairy products present.  I won't be turning my nose up at dinner at friend's homes, and I won't be scoffing at people who choose to continue to eat meat products. 

Some of my favorite food blogs are filled with yummy meaty-creations.  When I feel that I'm healthier (I can walk up the three flights of stairs to my apartment without feeling like I'm going to die) I'll probably re-introduce certain things sporadically.  For now, I'm doing my best so stick to the plan.  Still on days like today, when beautiful eggs are still in my refrigerator just waiting to be eaten, I eat them. 

The amount of food that Americans waste could feed every person in Haiti for a week.  I learned that watching the documentary Dive! over the weekend.  In my daily life I try not to add to food waste.  As I did before Passover when we remove all chamez (bread-based, leavened foods) from our homes I've been slowly eating my way through products in my fridge.  The milk was the first to go, whipped into a banana mango smoothie.  The butter soon followed by way of caramelized onions.  The eggs are holding out for something great.  Today it was a Deconstructed Spinach Omelette.

Real omelettes take a certain je ne sais quoi that I never had.  I've tried, unsuccessfully, to make omelettes on several occasions.  They always turn into scrambles which are tasty, but rarely pretty to look at.  This morning I wanted eggs, but I wanted to try to make them as healthy as possible.  They were delicious-enjoy!

Deconstructed Spinach Omelette


two eggs
a small handful of spinach washed and roughly chopped
about 5-6 mushrooms sliced
half of one small onion sliced
butter substitute or healthy oil

Brown the mushrooms in a pan over medium-high heat in about a tablespoon of butter substitute. When they're mostly browned (5-7 minutes) add the onions until they're transparent.  Using a fork or slotted spoon removethe mushrooms and onions from the pan into a bowl and set aside.

In the same pan turn heat up slightly (there should be a bit of oil left in the pan from the onions and mushrooms) add the washed chopped spinach.  The combination of remaining oil and the water from the washed spinach should wilt the greens rather quickly.  I kept them on the heat for only about 2 minutes because I wanted the greens to be firm, but warm.  When their to your liking lower the heat and remove the spinach and plate.  Add the mushrooms and onions on top of the spinach

Return the pan to the flame to medium and add the eggs.  Cook in any fashion.  I scrambled mine with a touch of salt and pepper, but a fried or poached egg would also be delicious.

When the egg is finished cooking place on the spinach and mushrooms.  Enjoy!

Recipe Notes:
This recipe can be made Kosher and is Vegetarian

Ingredient Notes:
I used a soy butter substitute
Spinach is a great source of iron, Vitamin C, betacarotene, folate lutein and calcium.
From Super Natural Cooking by Heidi Swanson: "Researchers are finding that the phytonutrients in spinach have strong anticancer properties, particularly against cancers of the colon, lung, prostate, breast, stomach and skin.  In the case of prostate cancer, active ingredients in spinach seem to cause some cancer cells to self-destruct and others to go into a state of stasis, inhibiting proliferation of the cells."
I put spinach into all of the juices I make...now I know why it will remain a staple for my juicing!

Erika vs. The Scale

The scale and I have had a hate-hate relationship since I can remember.  I don't weigh myself and have avoided owning a scale for at least a decade.  Even at my smallest, a size zero, medical charts deemed me heavy for my height and suggested that I lose at least 15lbs to come in line with my proper height and weight. 

As I grew older and the number continued to rise I realized that for me it's not about the numbers on the scale, but the number of my clothing.  How I felt more than how much I weighed became my mantra.  Still, every time I went for a physical (the last one being six years ago)  I'd have to climb on the scale and read the number.  It was never pretty.

So it's been six years since I stepped on a scale and I was perfectly content with not knowing what it read...until the other day when I accidentally stepped on a dog scale at work.  I was so shocked by the number that two things immediately rushed into my head:

1.This is why I don't fucking own a scale
2.Is this even right or is this what I weigh in "dog"

I planned on being completely transparent, but sharing that number is a bit much.  It's been flashing in my head since last Thursday when it happened and I've been doing everything in my power to try and let it go.  Maybe if I accidentally step on it again in a few months and it says something reasonable I'll share but for now you'll get this number with the real number hidden, like a puzzle.


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

What's For Dinner Tonight?

Spicy Tofu Tacos on Homemade Whole Wheat Tortillas

Day Three of this mission to change the way that I eat to positively improve my health seems to be going okay.  I don't feel particularly different, but I know, based on books and websites, that the foods I'm putting into my body now are far better than say that quarter of a cupcake (and half of a black and white cookie) I ate at a staff meeting today.   

I've been craving Mexican-style food all week and tonight I thought I'd try a twist on tacos minus the seasoned beef, the shredded cheese, and sour cream.  I was pretty sure that anything I cooked would taste like a cheap imitation of the real thing-four tacos later (they were small) I'm patting myself on the back.  These tofu tacos kicked ass!  Tacos are easy, there isn't a "recipe" just fry some tofu with some seasoning (I used salt, pepper, cumin, and chipotle seasoning) add raw veggies and you're done.  I added black beans that I'd simmered with spices and onions and made the tortillas, but store-bought ones are fine as well.  It felt indulgent to have four tacos, but knowing that I'd made everything myself made it taste even better. 

Here's the Homemade Whole Wheat Tortilla recipe I used tonight.  I substituted whole wheat flour for regular and used grapeseed oil instead of vegetable oil.  I also added pepper and garlic powder to the dough for extra flavor.  I don't own a tortilla press and found that the back of a frying pan and a floured cutting board works just fine as long as you remember to flour both of them.  Besides the tofu and beans I filled the warm tortillas with shredded green kale, sliced red peppers, diced tomatoes, and sliced avocados.  I squeezed some lime on the whole thing before eating. 

Recipe Notes:
This Recipe is Vegan and Parve

Some Food Nutrition Notes:
Tomatoes and Red Peppers are great sources of lycopene which is thought to protect against cancer specifically prostate, testicular, and cervical cancer. 
Dark leafy greens like Kale are great sources of lutein which dramatically impacts eye health.  Lutein also has the ability to prevent clogged arteries, combat arthritis, and discourage colon, lung, prostate, and ovarian cancers as well as thickening artery walls.  Let's hear it for Kale!
Thanks to Heidi Swanson and her book Super Natural Cooking for the nutritional information.

Ode to Cupcakes

Cupcakes are the world's most perfect, most selfish, most self-indulgent culinary gifts on the planet.  They're miniature treats created for the sole purpose of individual satisfaction.  When done correctly, cupcakes are the perfect ratio of cake and frosting, not too sweet, fluffy and light as air.  They're best enjoyed slowly, painfully slow even, because when they're gone, they're gone.  Unless you buy two, which is what I like to do.

Tourists to New York often go to places like Magnolia Bakery or Crumbs for cupcakes because it's what they think they're supposed to do. Real New Yorkers, or transplants like me, know that Magnolia and Crumbs are for tourists only.  Instead, we've fin our own favorite bakeries and will go toe-to-toe with anyone who thinks otherwise.  I actually thought of dedicating an entire blog to my love of cupcakes, instead just this post.

Sugar Sweet Sunshine is tucked into the lower east side and is one of my favorite places for cupcakes.  When my friends visit the city and request Magnolia, I concede on the condition that they try Sugar Sweet Sunshine as well.  Not only is it run by two powerhouse women, it's completely down to earth and cozy.  No cookbooks lining the walls, no pretentiousness just sugar sweet sunshine in a cupcake.  Also in the running for best cupcake in New York City is Billy's Bakery. The frosting here is sweet, but not painfully sweet.  Babycakes, the Vegan cupcake staple of NYC has killer cupcakes as well.  When I first had a Babycake cupcake I knew for sure I was eating milk, eggs, and butter-but I wasn't.

These cupcakes are all good.  But the cupcakes at Pinisi Cafe are the best in the city.  Not only do they come up with wild flavors like coconut, blueberry, and pistachio they manage to make them into lightest, fluffiest cupcakes I have ever had.  It's like they add seltzer to the batter or something (maybe they do).  The frosting on these cupcakes is perfect-a fluffy, not too sweet deliciousness that always has me sucking on the rim of the paper wrapper hoping for more sugary perfection.

So what's a girl trying to go something that maybe starts with a V to do when she craves cupcakes and can't eat them?  She dreams of them.  And caves when they're in my face-even the worst of 'em.

Today at work a Crumbs cupcake got the best of me.  One of those giant ones I used to eat all by myself.  I had a fourth of one and it tasted good.  Except now I have a toothache and my tummy hurts.  Better start figuring out how to make vegan cupcakes so I don't throw away my money at Babycakes.

Monday, January 23, 2012

What's For Dinner Tonight?

Sauteed Veggies over Cumin-Scented Brown Rice

I'm on a super-tight budget so figuring out how to incorporate healthy veggies and greens into my diet is definitely a bit difficult.  While I love juicing, it seems sort of wasteful to throw away the pulps of the juices every morning.  If anyone has any suggestions for what to do with the pulps, send them my way.  I was thinking soup.

At any rate, being a New Yorker there are many large grocery stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joes with a large selection of organic food, which is what I normally buy.  This week, things are a little different-I shopped in my neighborhood at the Caribbean Market down the block.  I picked up a package of brussel sprouts, beets, kale, spinach, two zucchinis, 7 small onions, green onions and a two pound bag of brown rice for $14!  I was pretty impressed, while it's not organic and I'm trying not to think of the pesticides that are lurking in the veggies, I was able to get some veggies for a very budget-friendly price.  Hopefully it will last me the whole week, if I don't juice everything.

Just a note on my recipes:  I'm happy to share them obviously, but I'm not a professional chef and I very rarely measure things.  I go by smell and taste so the measurements here are an estimate for the most part.  When I've actually measured and ingredient I will notate.

Celery Salt
Olive Oil
About 6-8 brussel sprouts sliced
1 small zucchini sliced
about 12 green beans cut at about an inch long
1 small onion sliced
2 green onions diced
stems and leaves from one beet (or more depending on the stems and leaves.  Make sure the stems are firm and the leaves aren't wilted)
Brown Rice

Cumin Rice
In a large pot add about a tablespoon or so of  good-quality olive oil and three large pinches of good-quality cumin.   Turn heat on medium-low and stir cumin until it changes color to a deeper brown or until it smells really yummy.

Add 1 1/2 cups of rinsed brown rice to the cumin-scented oil and stir until the rice is coated.  Keep an eye on it and continue to stir for about three minutes or until the rice smells nutty.  Add 2 cups of water, raise heat until it boils.   Turn rice to low setting and cover.  Depending on the rice, cook until al dente.  Fluff and add salt to season.

Start with the onions in a large sauce pan with about a tablespoon or so of olive oil.
When the onions are glossy but not yet transparent add the green beans (unless you like them crispier)
When the green beans start to turn bright green but are still crisp to the bite add the brussel sprouts until they turn bright green.  When the brussel sprouts turn bright green add the rest of veggies except for the chopped beet stems and leaves.  Add about two teaspoons or more of cumin and about teaspoon of celery salt and four good twists of the pepper grinder.  Make sure the veggies are coated with the spices and olive oil.  If they start to stick to the pan add water about a table spoon at a time.  Cook for about 5-7 minutes and then add the beet stems and leaves and cook for another 5-7 minutes until all of the veggies are tender.  Taste for doneness and for spices and adjust as you like.

On a small plate or bowl spoon a serving of rice and top with veggies.

Recipe Notes:
This recipe is Vegan and Kosher Parve.
This was more than enough for me as a full meal.  I have rice for the rest of the week and veggies for lunch tomorrow. 
It can also easily serve four as two separate sides.

A Note on the Ingredients Used:
Beets Contain more sucrose than any other vegetable.  According the my favorite vegetable go-to book, The Produce Bible, by Leanne Kitchen (her real name) beets can be stored for 10 days in the refrigerator.
Brussel Sprouts are a great source of vitamin C and also contains fiber, iron, phosphorus, potassium and Vitamin A
According to Super Natural Cooking author, Heidi Swanson one cup of Green Beans contains 122% of the RDA of Vitamin K.  They have twice the iron of spinach, support cardiovasuclar health, protect against colon cancer (ding, ding, ding!) and prvide anti-inflammatory nutrients.
Green Onions are high in vitamins A and C
Zucchini is also full of vitamins and minerals

Introductions and Background Info.

Over the weekend I watched the movie Forks over Knives on Netflix.  It's been in our que for months and for some reason we decided to watch it.  I poured myself another glass of prosecco and snuggled into the couch for what I assumed would be an inspirational movie that would make me think about the welfare of animals and how what we eat effects the world on a global-scale and then happily make a few adjustments to my eating plan that are more in line with a local, sustainable, animal-friendly way of eating.  Like Food Inc. did.  Instead it made me want to make a radical change to my life.


I come from a fairly large family, but unfortunately most of them are dead: my uncles, grandparents and great aunts and distant cousins. My father is one of five, three of his brothers have passed away.  My surviving uncle has prostate cancer and my father just had major surgery in late 2011.  My maternal grandmother died before I was born of colon cancer, my paternal grandmother had diabetes, my paternal grandfather had some heart issues.  My favorite uncle was thought to be the healthiest of them all, but died of a fatal heart attack after a run with his wife.  My other favorite uncle had heart problems and died from cancer.  There is diabetes, heart disease, and cancer on both sides of my family.  Both of my parents have high blood pressure and the last time I had a physical, 6 years and 20 pounds ago, I had high cholesterol-at 26 years old!  Despite these terrible genetic odds and my waning physical activity and increased appetite for yummy food I didn't think anything of it.  No way a 26-year old woman could have a heart attack, right?


When I was young I was skinny.  I hung out around the size 0 mark until the Freshman Fifteen when I went up to a 4 and hovered there until I was 22.  Then I shot up to a 14 in about a year and now waiver somewhere between a 10 and a 12.  As I look at my frame in the mirror, the girly side with a past of semi-disordered eating and a complicated relationship with food sees a fat ugly person.  The intellectual side with a family history that kills us young sees the ability to change not just the size on the waistband of my jeans, but my health.

So, here we are.  The V-Word is named as such because I don't like labels-I tend to not fit into them perfectly.  The idea of taking out all meat products, dairy and eggs included (becoming a Vegan) seems a bit harsh and too much to do all at one time.  Instead, I plan to keep this online journey of my process with the hope of being transparent, honest, open, and healthfully critical of what I put into my body, my daily activity (and inactivity) with the hopes of walking into a doctor's office (when I have insurance) and getting a physical that reports a healthy 32 year-old.

I love to cook and finding ways to do that in a healthy way will be a fun challenge. The V-Spot will be part diary, part recipe sharing, part story-telling, part exercise log, part sanity relief.  One thing I know is that it will not be a diet, it's part of a bigger change to my life and lifestyle so that when the time comes having children, Be'ezrat HaShem, it will be easy.  It's not about looking to the past to lament my old frame, my old size, my slim-figure, it's about looking to a healthier future.

Day 1:
Breakfast :
20 oz of Juice
2 Beets
5-6 Carrots
3 Small Apples
1/2 Bunch (about a cup) of spinach/kale mix

Work-time indulgences:
3 Mediterranean treats
Black and White Cookie

Left over curried Cauliflower

Who knows...

I'm going to try to do some sun salutations tonight at home.