Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Spice of Life

Perhaps not surprisingly, I have a lot of stories about garlic.  Its taste (or should I say its smell) is unmistakable and instantly recognizable.  I'm sure I'm not the only one who immediately falls in love with the smell of sauteing onions and garlic in the kitchen.  For me, that aroma is more than a childhood memory, it's been a part of my life forever.

Its scientific name is Allium Sativum. It's in the same genus as onions, Allium, and is closely related to shallots, leeks and chives (chives, huh?).  The aroma and flavor aside, it is justifiably considered a real wonder-food.  It's cardio-protective, anti-cancer, a digestive stimulant, helps lower blood pressure, and reduces the tendency of blood to clot, thereby also reducing the risk of blocked arteries and heart disease.  All this from a humble little perennial bulb often disparagingly called "the stinking rose."

I've never called it that, mind you.  Quite the contrary.  When my wife and have had people over for dinner and I was serving something exceptionally garlicky, I often tell them that variety is not the spice of life, it's actually garlic.  (Though I doubt garlic is classified as a spice at all).

I own two cookbooks entirely dedicated to it (The Book of Garlic and The Complete Garlic Lovers' Cookbook) and have been eating it all my life in some form of another.  There are very few dishes made by my grandmothers, grandfather, mom or dad that didn't include it.  Certainly the most notable was Baccala.  Baccala is a traditional Italian dish that my family always has around Christmas.  (It is served as part of the "Feast of the Seven Fishes," typically eaten in southern Italy on Christmas Eve).  Baccala consists of layers of dried salted codfish, boiled and sliced red potatoes, fresh chopped parsley, lemon juice, olive oil and tons and tons of chopped raw garlic.  (Now that I think about it, it's really a pretty healthy dish - not vegan or nutritarian, but in the scheme of things, there's a lot of good stuff in there.  Cool - a holiday food I'll be able to eat with almost zero guilt!)  In case you've never done it, garlic eaten raw is a pretty intense sensation, both for your taste buds and for the olfactory senses of those around you.  Our family still makes this dish every single year.  One year, as a matter of fact, when my wife and I were living in Queens, we found a fish store in Astoria with the best price on salted cod anywhere - we became the "suppliers" to the whole family that year.

Baccala, here prepared more as a salad
(with olives, too - kind of strange I think, but perhaps worth a try!)

But certainly my favorite story about garlic is from my days in graduate school.  In my former life, before becoming a teacher, I was an actor, and it's for that I was in school.  My classmate, roommate and dear friend Noel and I both loved food and were also very interested in healthy eating.  We discovered a book called The Tao of Health, Sex, and Longevity, dealing with numerous food, health and nutrition topics and relying on thousands of years of Chinese philosophy and medicine.  A very interesting book, if I recall correctly.

Somehow because of this book, Noel and I began eating these enormous raw salads for our lunches.  We'd leave class or rehearsal, go back to our apartment and throw together greens with roughly chopped vegetables and three of four cloves of crushed raw garlic.  We'd eat our lunch, rave about how delicious it was and how good we knew it was for us, and then go back to rehearsal.  Back in the rehearsal room, people kept commenting on some odor.  We were totally oblivious.  It took over a week of people wondering what that smell was for us to realize that it was us!  We had a good laugh over that.

Garlic in Juice?

So I'm on day four of my juice fast and for dinner tonight I had what I think was the very first juice I made with my juicer when I got it back in January.  Like many others, it's from The Juicing Bible and is called Carrot Allium Juice.

Carrot Allium Juice

3 carrots
2 cups spinach (or kale)
1/2 lemon
1 clove garlic
dash cayenne pepper

I so distinctly remember drinking that juice for the first time.  It was an intense and exhilarating chest-opening experience.  I was certain I could feel that juice doing great things inside me.  Maybe I'm psycho-somatic, or just overly suggestible.  My mother tells the story of how once, when I was a child, I complained to her of a headache.  She gave me an aspirin and I held it to my forehead for a few seconds, after which I gave it back to her and said "Okay, I feel better."  So maybe it was just my imagination, but based on garlic's medicinal properties, perhaps I wasn't really that far off.

So I made Carrot-Allium Juice for dinner tonight, I doubled the recipe, and added THREE cloves of garlic.  Wow!  I may have overdone it.  That's been the only juice I've made that I actually had to drink slow.  I can still taste it and feel it in my chest.  Pretty powerful stuff.  For those of you trying this at home, be forewarned that one or two cloves is really plenty.

Good luck to all of you juicing at home - I'm hearing from more and more people who are dabbling in it - good for you if you are!

Go Garlic!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012


I'm about to wrap up day three of my newly-inaugurated second-ever juice fast, and I'm feeling pretty good.  Today's special is another juice I really enjoyed last time around: Orange-Carrot-Fennel Juice.

If you don't know what fennel is, well, you're clearly not Italian.  I'm sure you've seen it in the produce aisle, over near the cabbages and wondered "Just what the hell is that thing?"

Fennel is "a celery-like plant with a large white bulb and feathery leaves which resemble dill."  Yes, well, thank you, we can see that now, can't we?

Growing up, fennel was always served after those big Italian dinners at my grandmother's house.  The bulbs were cut up into chunks and chilled in a cup of ice water in the fridge.  I think this made the fennel super crispy.  I don't recall any of the kids eating it, or if we did, I certainly don't remember liking it.  It was definitely a grown-up or "old-Italian-grandfather" sort of thing.  The claim, from my dad, grandfather and all the other "old-country" types at the table, was that it was good for digestion.  It came out after the meal and was often accompanied by Creme de Menthe, a mint-flavored liqueur and/or Anisette, an anise-flavored liquer, both of which were also allegedly taken "for the digestion."  After all that sausage, we needed it!  (A picture of my grandfather sitting at that table would go perfectly right here, wouldn't it?)

Anyway, it turns out they were right (at least in the case of the fennel).  According to The Juicing Bible, fennel has both anti-oxidant and digestive properties in addition to being a good source of vitamin A.  It also appears to be anti-inflammatory and is chock full of phytonutrients like flavinoids.  It has a sweet anise flavor, similar to licorice.  It contrasts nicely in this juice with the sweetness of the orange.  At our local Food Lion, it's maybe $2 a head (or a "bulb"), and considering you use only about one-quarter of it in the juice, it's a pretty good deal.  When juicing it, use the whole thing, bulb, stems and leaves.


Orange-Carrot-Fennel Juice

1 lemon
4 oranges
3 carrots
1/4 bulb fennel

I just cut up a batch of ingredients myself and tossed them in the fridge to have ready for the morning.  I can't wait!

Sweet dreams everyone!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Back On The Sauce


Juice: Part Deux 

Unlike most of stories I've heard of people doing juice fasts or cleanses, after I finished mine back in February, I hadn't used my juicer since.  I'd been planning on doing another one, maybe to mark the beginning of summer, sort of how the first one was right before the start of spring.  So during the week last I started substituting juice for a meal or two a day, and yesterday I began my second juice fast in earnest.

Why, you ask?  Haven't I already lost almost 30 pounds?  Aren't I wearing pants a few sizes smaller than in the past 8 years? 

Well, yes.  As a matter of fact, I weighed myself yesterday before starting and was shocked to see 179.8. I'm pretty sure that's the first time I've been below 180 (at least in the last eight to ten years).  That's a loss of 29 pounds since January, so yes, certainly, I was excited about my progress.

But, at the same time, I didn't feel like 180, if that makes sense.  On the contrary, I was sure I was gaining weight, getting closer to 190.  I was getting a bit cocky.  Not running as much.  Eating some stuff I knew wasn't the best, not from a nutritarian point of view.  Insisitng on my popcorn and wine as my weekedn nighttime snack.  I had certainly begun having a lot more cravings.  Funny enough, it wasn't for the sausage, it was all for the sweet stuff.  I caved in a pretty big way, too, about two weeks ago.  Some students brought chocolate chip cookies to my classroom - the ones from the DoubleTree Hotel, where one of students' fathers is the manager.  I think I had three.  That led to a three-day mini-bender in which I ate a small box of Fig Newtons and even a donut.

I didn't get too down on myself, though, really.  The donut did make me a bit ashamed, I will admit.  My body didn't like any of that stuff, that was for certain.  But overall, I think I was able to deal with it healthily.  I didn't fall victim to the self-loathing that I'd often engaged in in the past, so that definiltey seemed like progress.  Nonetheless, I thought it was time to get "straight" again, and my already-planned juice fast seemed liek just the thing to do it.

I'm not sure how long I'm shooting for this time.  I'm sure I can do ten days, perhaps I'll do fifteen like last time.  Will I lose those five or ten pounds I think I still have to lose?  I'm sure I will, or at least come close, but that, I hope, will just be a secondary goal.

More importantly, I'm viewing this fast as a way to sort of keep myself in line, to hit the "reset" button again on my cravings.

I'm NOT punishing myself, I swear.  If anything, I know I'm going to feel fantastic, pumping myself full of all those micronutrients (vitamins and minerals).

As of right now, Day Two is just about under my belt, and I'm glad of it.

I can't lie, though, the first day was kind of rough.  Well, not really the day.  That was okay.  But I drank my "dinner" with my family at 5:30 or so yesterday.  So by the time I went to bed at 9:30 last night, my stomach was feeling pretty darn empty.  I couldn't sleep because of its growling.  I got up and drank a small glass of orange juice, which helped and I finally went to sleep.

I woke up feeling great!  "There's something about not eating that suits me somehow" I told me wife this morning.  And really, this whole day I've noticed a return of that "clarity of mind" that I slowly discovered that last time I did this.  I think it's pretty amazing that when you give your body less work to do (in this case, digesting food), you're able to use that energy for other things.  Pretty cool.

The Juices

I'm going to stick to a few standbys, no doubt, but I have already made one or two juices for the first time.

Orange Zinger

1 orange
3 carrots
1 piece of ginger, about 1/2"
1 apple

Wow!  This is a great new favorite, had it for breakfast both days thus far.  The sweet orange with that bite of ginger is really pretty invigorating.  This one is from the book The Juicing Bible - chock full of great recipes.

Green Ginger Lemonade

1 green apple
2 cups spinach (or other greens)
2 cups kale (or other greens)
1/2 cucumber
4 celery stalks
1/2 lemon
1 piece of ginger, about 1/2"

This one was of my favorites the first time around.  I made it for lunch pretty often.  Skip the ginger if you're not a fan of it, but otherwise it adds a great little kick.  This one is from the Join the Reboot wesbite (the site that came out of the great film Fat Sick & Nearly Dead).  The ginger is my addition.


We also joined a local CSA this year.  CSA stands for Community-Supported-Agriculture, if you didn't know.  This one is called Iona Farm, just outside of Scottsville, VA.  It's all organic as well, and we've just been loving the produce we've gotten from them.  I'm planning on juicing a lot of what we get from them as well - organic is really supposed to be the way to go when juicng - no need to worry about harmful fertilizers and pesticides.  Nothing but liquid nutritional goodness!

Anyway, so that's where I am.  Hopefully I'll do fifteen days and feel totally rejuvenated once again.

For those of you looking for juice recipes, I'll try to post the ones I'm using once every day or so.  Follow along at home!

Wish me luck!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Pancakes? I can eat pancakes?

Considering it's a beautiful Sunday morning, this post seemed very appropriate.

One of the things we'd started doing with our kids in the last two years or so was a treat we called "breakfast for dinner."  I'd throw a one-pound package of thick-sliced bacon in the oven until it was nice and crispy (and bacon, in my hierarchy of salty meats, was second only to sausage).  I'd pull out the big griddle and whip up a batch of pancakes from some "just add water" mix from Sam's Club (very little nutritional value, I assure you).  Slather those bad boys with some soft butter, pour out the Aunt Jemima, maybe just a dash of cinnamon and another gorge fest would ensue.  Tasted so good going down, but, man oh man, that was a meal that could make me feel "thick in the gut" afterwards, not to mention unquenchable thirsty from all that salty bacon.

A few weeks ago, our kids were eating breakfast at the counter before school, and one of them wanted waffle.  We have those awful Eggo or Food Lion brand waffles in the freezer - they're so easy for before-school breakfast that they're hard to say "no" to at the supermarket, especially when they're "buy one get one free."  Over the past few months, though, as I've been changing my eating habits, I've become more and more uncomfortable giving these to my kids considering how entirely worthless they are nutritionally for them.  Deterimental even.  So that morning, I said out loud "Their must be some recipes online for some sort of vegan waffles that are good for you.  Maybe we could make some of those and freeze them."  I searched the term "fat-free vegan waffles" and up popped this recipe.  Not having a waffle maker, I figured we could make pancakes with the recipe to at least see if they were any good.  It was worth a shot.  We set a family date for the following Sunday morning to try them out.

That Sunday arrived, I stationed myself in the kitchen and began work.  After getting the first batch off the griddle, but before calling everyone up for breakfast, I just had to try one to see if I had wasted my time.  Mind you, at this point I hadn't eaten anything doughy or breadlike in about eight weeks or so excluding some Whole Wheat Matzo around Easter.   And if you've had matzo, you'll know that neither "doughy" nor "breadlike" are words one would ever use to describe it.   I'd been pretty consciously avoiding bread products since coming off that juice fast, sticking to the fruits, veggies, nuts and seeds.  So, when I took my first bit of these doughy, breadlike pancakes the sensation was ecstasy. I yelled downstairs to my wife "Jennifer!!!" "Yes?" "These pancakes are totally amazing!!!" "Ummm, ok - can't wait to try them."

This time around, instead of the softened butter, bacon and Aunt Jemima, I prepared a few bowls of healthy toppings for these pancakes.  I cut up strawberries, apples and bananas (I had cantaloupe, but didn't think that would go so well) and had some chopped walnuts and pecans.  We had some real maple syrup on which I had stocked up a week or so earlier, having been on some crazy 60% off sale at Kroger. 

Well, without a doubt, this was the best "breakfasts for dinner" we've ever had our house.  The kids love them, my wife loves them, I loved them.  I didn't feel gross afterwards.  I didn't feel like all "thick in gut" or so thirsty from all that salty meat.  They were totally amazing.  They're now a staple weekend brekfast item, and so, here they are:

Sausage Boy's Fat-Free Vegan Pancakes (or Waffles)


  • 1 1/4 cup flour (I used White Whole Wheat flour)
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp potato starch (or corn starch)
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1 1/3 almond milk (could use soy or any other non-dairy milk)
  • 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tbsp agave nectar (I used honey, which technically means mine are not vegan. but hey...)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • NOTE - I double this recipe when I use it, yielding about 26 pancakes)
  1. Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl and combine the wet ingredients in a smallr bowl.  Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and mix until the flour is moistened.
  2. I have found that the better is a bit wet, so I either add a few more tablespoons full of lour or some milled flax seed and wheat germ to thicken it a bit.
  3. If you're using an electric griddle, set the temp to about 375 (I love my Presto Big Griddle - I can fit TWELVE pancakes on it at a time!).
  4. If you're not philosophically oppossed to it, you can spray some oilve oil or canola oil cooking spray on the griddle before you cook them, this crisps them a little.
  5. Cook pancakes on both sides until golden brown.  I use my 1/4 cup measuring cup as a scoop, it makes a good sized pancake.   
My mother-in-law is visiting us this weeknd, and I made these for dinner last night, and she, too, is a believer - and she knows pancakes.  As a matter of fact, I may go upstairs right now and eat the leftovers for lunch!

We haven't bought a waffle iron yet, but we now usually have at least 5 or 6 panckakes left over from this recipe that the kids can still have them for breakfast at least one day a week.  I'll report back when we try it with waffles.

Happy Pancake Sunday to Everyone!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Quinoa - Incan Gold

Quinoa is one of the foods I've been introduced to on this journey, and wow!  Pronounced "keen-wa" for those of you who don't know (I didn't until recently myself), it is Great Stuff.
Flowering Quinoa

"Gold of the Incas" and "the Mother Grain" are just two of its nickames.  From a nutritional standpoint, it is an absolutely stupendous food.  It's one of the ten "superfoods" in the book Ten Things You Need to Eat (one of my new favorites).  Although it is often used as a grain or in place of grains, it is technically a seed, the seed of a plant called chenopodium or goosefoot.  It is one of the few plant sources that contain a complete protein (that is, they contain all 9 of the essential amino acids that make a complete protein).  It's also high in protein, containing between 12 and 18 percent.

From a historical standpoint it's interesting as well (history teacher geek coming out here).  It was a staple food for the ancient Incas and its cultivation was ascribed essentially a religious significance.  They recognized its superior nutritional value and gave it to their warriors to increase their stamina.  And, if you remember your world history correctly, these guys conquered the largest empire in the western hemisphere before the arrival of the Europeans (and built Macchu Picchu for pete's sake!).  And speaking of the Europeans, when the Spanish did arrive in South America in the early 16th century, they didn't just disregard quinoa as "indian food," but actively suppressed its cultivation due to its use in non-Christian rituals.  Instead of being allowed to cultivate quinoa, the Spanish forced the Incans to grow wheat.  While they weren't busy enslaving them to work in the silver mines, disembowling them or skewering them on pikes of course.

Francisco Pizzaro, conquistador extraordinaire, looks on as his henchmen
strangle the Incan emperor Atahualpa to death -
after having told the Incan people that he would free the emperor
if they filled the royal hall with gold.  Notice all the gold in the forground -they did as Pizarro commanded.  Oh well, I guess he changed his mind.

And here are the Spanish dealing with the rest of those pesky Incans.
I mean, seriously, didn't they know the Spaniards had "god on their side?"

Like amaranth (another South America grain-like seed), were it not for the continued cultivation of it among the indigenous peoples of the region to the present day, it may have dissappeared from the face of the earth.  And that would have been a crying shame.  It also appears that the United Nations has declared 2013 the International Year of Quinoa.

That being said, enough of the history lesson - let's eat some of this yummy stuff!


Let's Cook Some Quinoa

Some cooked Red Quinoa
(there is regular "white," black and red quinoa.
My favorite so far is red.)

I've had quinoa a few ways in the past few weeks: Black Quinoa With White Beans, Kale and Thyme; Quinoa With Roasted Root Vegetables; just plain old Quinoa and Beans.  They have all been delicious, but, last week I found a recipe that really knocked my socks off.  It was at least as good as eating that carrot salad after coming off my juice fast - delectable, delicious and slightly addictive.  Even my daughter asked for seconds.  I'm calling it...

Sweet Quinoa Salad With Peppers and Almonds

  • 1 cup cooked quinoa
  • 1/2 cup diced peppers (red, yello & orange look good together)
  • 1/3 cup sliced almonds, toasted or raw (could probably use sunflower seeds as well)
  • 1/3 cup dried apricots, coarsely chopped or golden raisins
  • 2 scallions, sliced
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • It seems like some freshly chopped parsely on top would be good, too
Mix quinoa, dried fruit, vegetables and nuts.  Mix dresing ingredients (spices and liquids).  Add to quiona mixture and toss well.  SO GOOD!

Some Notes:
  1.  I sort of eyeballed all the ingredients, and just added as much as I wanted.  Except the dressing, I pretty much stuck to the amounts listed above.
  2. Both times I made it, I've used BOTH the chopped apricots and golden raisins - "so sweet and juicy!"
  3. I like my quinoa a tad bit crunchy, so I cook one cup of it with about 1 3/4 cup of water.  Anywhere between 1 1/2 and 2 cups of water will do it, depending on how hard or soft you like it.
  4. I have discovered, for future reference, that 1 cup of raw quinoa makes a little more than 3 cups of cooked quinoa.  Good to know, right?
  5. You can serve this warm or cold.  The first time I made it, the quinoa was still warm, having just been cooked.  The second time, I used the refreigerated quinoa from the night before.  Both were great.
  6. Lastly - I cook my quinoa in my rice cooker.  I have had this thing since my mother got it for me in college.  It seems like this Zojirushi 3-Cup Rice Cooker is the newest model of the one I have.  I love it.  Throw in the quinoa, the water, press the button, and 30 minutes later, voila!!!  Couldn't be easier.
That's all for now -

In advance, I'd like to wish you all a Happy International Year of Quinoa!



Sunday, May 13, 2012

Fat Americans

Yes, readers, I know - it's been a very long time since I've posted.  Life has gotten pretty darn busy.  And, yes, I was still feeling a bit grumpy about things (see my previous post), but I'm back, if only briefly for right now.

Our school librarian, with whom I've shared the details of this journey I'm on, last week showed me the cover of the most recent Newsweek magazine.

Clever, to be sure.  And sad of course, becuase of its seeming truth.

I finally got online and read the article and was pretty impressed, especially considering it's a major popular weekly magazine, so I wasn't sure what to expect.

You can read it here: America'a Obesity Crisis

It's sort of a review of an upcoming 4-part HBO special called "The Weight of the Nation."  The author, Gary Taubes, however, essentially disagrees with the premise of the show.  That premise is one we've heard for a while - Americans are obese because we are not physically fit enough.  Taubes argues, though, from a rather nutritarian standpoint, that it's the food we eat that is making us fat (refined sugars, starches, processed foods, dairy, etc.).

The article is definitely worth a read.  I'll probably try to check out the HBO special when it comes out, but based on this, I'm not expecting too much.

That's all for now -

Be well!