Friday, June 22, 2012

A Garnish No More

Parsley ... For Breakfast?

You've heard it's good for your breath, I'm sure.  We've all seen it on our restaurant plates to provide a little zing of green, maybe even chopped fresh over some pasta or other dish, but it's always been, unequivocally, a garnish, an afterthought, just a little extra dash of color, the appearance of "freshness."

Parsley in Juice

I was "reintroduced" to parsley while juicing.  One I really liked (from The Juicing Bible) called C-Blitz is as follows:

1 Grapefruit, peeled and quartered
2 Oranges, peeled and quartered
3 Kiwis, peeled and halved
6 sprigs parsley, washed

Juice, whisk and drink - delicious!

Parsley and Health

 A young flat-leaf (or Italian) parsley plant

Parsley is such an unsung hero.  Among greens, it is the greatest source of vitamin C (it is one of the richest food sources of this vitamin overall).  It provides anti-oxidant protection, helps the body shed excess fluid, is a tonic and a digestive aid.  It's a good source of calcium and combines anti-anemia nutrients.  Its high iron content is combined with a high level of folic acid also needed for making red blood cells.  And all this from a little green plant one might mistake for a weed!

Since that first juice cleanse, and since becoming vegan/nutritarian, I'd certainly been using much more of it.  It's made it into pretty much every salad I've made in the last 6 months.  I'd been chopping it up and adding to the end of most dishes: it's in my Sweet Quinoa with Peppers and Almonds, I use it to finish off my Kale with White Beans and Quinoa as well.  But an entire dish dedicated to it?  Nay, an entire salad made almost entirely of it?  Unheard of.  By me, of course.  But that, my friends, was before this revelation.

PLEASE NOTE: As amazing as parsley is for you, medical professionals warn against an excess of it for for pregnant women.  Seems that it stimulates uterine contractions.  That being said, if you're a week or so past your due date, well...

The Revelation - Parsley Salad

Curly parsley.  My neighbor swears there's a difference in taste between the two.
I'm not yet that much of a connoisseur it seems.

It all started last night with my web search for a Lemon Tahini Dressing recipe.

I'd been loving the Orange-Cashew Dressing (stolen and bastardized from Dr. Joel Fuhrman), but was feeling like I wanted a few other options and remembered seeing this one mentioned somewhere.  I searched and found a recipe for Parsley Salad with Lemon Tahini Dressing.  I pulled out the dressing portion and used that to dress my now-de rigueur dinner salad.  I loved it.

Lemon Tahini Dressing

  • 1/4 cup tahini paste, at room temperature (not sure why - mine was from the fridge and it was fine)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (I happened to have lemons, but I can't imagine bottled wouldn't work just as well)
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • Blend tahini, lemon juice and garlic until blended
  • Add water, and salt and pepper to taste
  • You're done.

Then this morning, around 9:30, I found myself hungry.  I'd already made us banana blueberry smoothies, but that was at 7:30 or so.  I picked up the recipe I'd printed last night for the dressing and the salad that went along with it, and at first thought "parsley salad...for breakfast?"  And then, almost immediately, "Well, why the heck not?"

We'd been getting flat-leaf (Italian) parsley from our CSA for the past few weeks and, even though I was using it constantly, was still struggling to keep up and finish one batch before it was time for our next produce pickup.  Not to mention the fact that I'm growing some regular (curly) parsley in our garden and that plant was going like gangbusters.  Too much parsley!!!

So there I was, at 9:50 this morning, ecstatic and raving about this salad (ask my wife), for not only did it taste amazing, it was truly a bowlful of incredible health and nutrition.  It was astonishing, incredible and delicious - absolutely one of my new favorite things. 

Parsley Salad with Lemon Tahini Dressing

  • 4 cups flat leaf parsley leaves (I used both flat and curly)
  • 4 scallions, thinly sliced crosswise
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 1 batch Lemon Tahini Dressing (above)

  1. In a small skillet, toast pine nuts over medium heat, shaking skillet frequently, until golden brown.  Remove from heat and let cool.
  2. Mix parsley(s), scallions, dressing and pine nuts.
  3. Toss well to coat.
  4. Enjoy!
 Well, that's all for now - Happy Friday Everyone!

ps - special thanks to my daughter Phoebe for helping me to edit today's post!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

First Follower - Tipping Point 2

The Food Revolution in Global Perspective

My wife and I spent some beautiful time with our friends at Hearthfire this weekend, and I ended up pretty inspired.  This was brewing inside me the whole ride home, so here goes.

It seems to me that everywhere I turn, I'm seeing more and more about veganism, vegetarianism, raw foodism, nutritarianism and truly healthy living in general.  From my perspective there's this explosion of blogs, wesbites, cookbooks, classes and institutes devoted to it.  Now to some extent I'm looking for it, of course.  I've spent more than a few nights up too late reading other folks' stories, recipes and health and nutrition information online.  But as far as I know, there aren't nearly as many blogs and sites devoted to lovers of bacon, synthetic fertilizers, chemical pesticides or obesity.  I may be wrong, at least in the case of bacon.

My nephew Levi with some of the juice my sister made.
Apparently he loved it.

Even on a personal level, though, I see more of it happening around me.  A teaching colleague of mine just bought a juicer and has been experimenting with it, reporting back to me with the results.  My brother-in-law's brother-in-law just did a five day juice fast as a detox.  My sister just did a five day juice cleanse as well.  Another friend e-mailed me recently to say that after reading the blog he and his girlfrend bought a juicer, have adopted healthier eating habits and he's lost 15 pounds in the process.  I am thrilled for them and give them giant props and kudos.

There was the bumper sticker I saw while driving on Route 287 in New Jersey today: "The Future is Organic."  It was on a big Dodge Ram Deisel 4x4 of course, but the sentiment was appreciated, and that may have been the spark that set this post in motion.

Bill Clinton apparently just went vegan and my mother-in-law tells me that Bill Cosby has recently been extolling the virtues of healthier eating habits, dropping fried foods and juicng as well.  Collard greens, apparently.  No lie.

Now individually I'm not sure how much influence any of these folks have on society as a whole (sorry sis).  In Cosby's case, I can't say the young African-American students at my school started hiking up their pants to their natural waistlines after he bemoaned black culture in America back in 2004.  As for Clinton, while he may still be influential in some circles, that's probably offset by the republicans who've decided to go out and eat even MORE sausage and bacon just to spite him.  Really, can't you just see it?

But it's the cumulative effect of all these individual choices I'm interested in here.  I may be biased, having become a part of this "movement," but it seems to me like some sort of critical mass is on its way and soon may be achieved.  Kind of the like the first follower theory.

Health v Ethics

After my mother-in-law told me yesterday about Bill Cosby's switch to healthy eating (and perhaps vegetarianism?) I mentioned that going vegetarian is also, supporters say, good for the environment.  The methane that feedlot animals produce is a contributor to global warming.  The manure from all livestock has become a major factor in the despoiling of America's waterways.  And as lands are continually cleared for grazing, especially in South America, deforestation increases at an ever-alarming rate.  The Amazon rain forest, the globe's largest, the "lungs of the earth" as they have been called, is being systematically destoyed so cattle producers can sell beef to McDonalds for them to sell to America's increasingly overweight poor for 99 cents a pop.  Really, that's a good trade-off?  There's a whole raft of other benefits as well, check them out here.

A clearcut in the Amazon.
A preventable tragedy of epic and perhaps irreversable proportion.

As soon as I mentioned those environmental issues, I was reminded of a student I had this past year.  A great kid - curious, articualte and intensely passionate about a few things, one of them being vegetariansim.  He came in early one morning to practice a speech he was giving for his debate class about precisely that topic: the environmental benefits of vegetarianism.  It was a well written specch and he was very committed and persuasive.  This was back in November or December, though, and at that point I had about as much intention of becoming a vegetarian as I had of becoming an astronaut.  He gave his speech, I complimented him, gave him some pointers and said something like "Great argument, but I'd never become a vegetarian, meat is just way too good."  Funny how things can change so seemingly out of the blue, huh?

The modern cattle feedlot.
Only a little controversey about these.

Look, I didn't like the scene of the modern industrial cattle feedlot from the film Food, Inc. any more than the next guy, but out of sight is out of mind, right?  Besides, I grew up slaughtering our own cows, chickens and pigs and didn't see a problem with it.  My background is also pretty strongly christian (Southern Baptist to be precise) and the whole "god gave man dominion over the animals" seemed to imply a certain level of superiority - so heck, why not kill 'em and eat 'em?  Certainly I would have considered the slaughter on our little farm more "humane" than that of the modern industrial food system  But then it struck  me - funny how it's easy to say "humane slaughter" and not have it come off like the glaring oxymoron it really is, right?

I was reading a blog about vegetarianism recently and someone wrote "I became a vegetarian for health reasons - the compassion came later."  Certainly that first part is true for me.  It's not from any ethical revelation that I gave up meat, it was simply the accumulated science and nutrition behind it.  Whether that second part will hold true for me remains to be seen.  That judeo-christian value system is pretty strong and pretty deeply internalized.  Seeing animals as equals might be far off for me.  Only time will tell.

The Future?

So what's the point of all this?  Well, as I said, I'm beginning to feel that something bigger may be happening.  As the first, second and third followers join, no one wants to be left out.  I think the ball might just be rolling.

Now honestly, I've not been one lately to express much optimism about the fate of humankind on this planet.  Being a history teacher tends to take me in the other direction.  But maybe, just maybe, there is cause for hope.  I'd like to think there is, and that, in and of itself, it new for me.  I guess what makes me happy, and makes me think that it is possible, is that in this case, I'm actually a part of this change.  And that feels good.

Now, if we could only do something to reduce the demand for cheap energy from oil and coal, we'd really be on to something.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Wow Wow Wow!

"I Lost Forty Pounds in Five Months! (and So Can You)"

I'm like one of those distracting internet sidebars or annoying pop-up windows advertising for some hair-brained "lost weight now" product or scheme.  Except for one thing - it's totally true.

Today is day 15 of my juice cleanse, and, like my first one, I feel like I could keep going.  When I started this whole thing back in January, I weighed 209 pounds.  This morning I'm in at 169.8.  Okay, not quite 40 pounds, but that "40 pounds in five months" is catchier.  My three and a half year old son weighs substantially less than the weight I lost!

I want to shout it from the rooftops, share it with everyone I know (and heck, those I don't as well).  Yes, it's a bit self-congratulatory I suppose.  But come on, I lost FORTY POUNDS in FIVE MONTHS.  That's a little more than 20% of my original body weight.  I think most people would say that's not really possible.  Back in January I certainly would have agreed.

Last week I had to give my closet a second once-over, this one more radical than after my first juice cleanse.  This time I pulled out 12 pairs of pants (I had maybe 3 that actually fit me) and 10 pairs of shorts.  That's every single pair of shorts I own.  I had no choice but to go on a shopping spree (broke as I am).  It turns out I went from a 36 inch waist to a 32! 

Healthy Weight, Again.

I'm posting this chart one more time, I think for good reason.  I showed it to a teacher colleague the other day and he had the reaction I bet many of us do.  He looked at his height and saw the range for his healthy weight and said "Oh, come on, that's just crazy."  I was certainly the same way 6 months ago.  Yes, of course I knew I was oveweight at 209, but never thought I could weigh 169.  Clearly I can, and, based on the chart, should!  And honestly, based on the pretty large handful of belly fat I can still grab, I may end up at an even-leaner 165 for all I know.

And here's the thing people, it was easy!  It was healthy!  It felt amazing!  No pills, supplements, chemicals or prescriptions - it was just food!  Real food, whole food, simple food.  It was salad, it was carrots.  Ultimately it was this - fruits, vegetablse, nuts, seeds, beans and some whole grains.  That's it - nothing from a box, nothing from a factory, almost nothing that does not occur in nature.  It was, to use Dr. Joel Fuhrman's term, a nutritarian diet.  I am now convinced this is the only truly healthy way to live.  And, yes, it was also two fifteen-day stretches of just juice.  But it worked, it WORKS - and amazingly well at that!

So, I had to share that today.  If there's a lesson here, it's that radical change and self-transformation is possible.  And if I, self-proclaimed Sausage Boy, stubborn and intractable lover of salty meat and chocolate chip cookies can do it - SO CAN YOU!

Be amazingly well, all!

Friday, June 8, 2012

The Gift

"You're no good to me dead!"  Over the past ten years, as I slowly gained weight and engaged in my various self-destructive behaviors (see Who is Sausage Boy? for more), this is inevitably what my wife would end up saying, often through tears, during one of our "discussions" about it.

My wife Jennifer is an incredibly strong, smart, compassionate and intuitive woman.  She has a propensity for, as she says "putting herself in other people's shoes."  When she was 20 years old her father died suddenly of a heart attack while away on business.  He was 47 years old, a lifetime of eating and lifestyle choices addressed to late to save him.  As you might imagine, this has profoundly shaped who she is and how she sees things.  Hence, my self-destructive eating habits have, in the past, provided her no end of consternation, frustration and grief.  Rightly so, of course.  All that time I KNEW she was right, intellectually at least, but as I've mentioned (How It All Started) it wasn't until recently that I found it for myself and actually began to do something about it by making this major lifestyle change.

Coleman George Thomas - the man who would have been my father-in-law.
From all the stories, it seems he was a great lover of life.

Is it an exaggeration to say I was on essentially the same path he was?  Before now I would have said "yes, of course that's an exaggeration."  I knew better than most of that generation who had grown up in the 50s and 60s.  I knew much better, I thought.  I'd like to think I behaved better as well - I ate more veggies, more fruit, drank lots of water, understood the health benefits of food.  But, there I was, back in January at just about 209 pounds and not getting any lighter.  For all that knowledge, I was still on a dangerous trajectory.  So no, ultimately, it's not hyperbole to say that this entire issue (health, weight, food, nutrition) is indeed a matter of LIFE AND DEATH.

The Weight of the Nation

We finally got around to watching HBOs The Weight of the Nation this past week, and it's certainly better so far than I thought it was going to be (I posted a review of a review of it in Fat Americans, where I didn't express much hope).  We only just finished the first part, called "Consequences" and it not only reinforces what many of us already know, but goes a bit further as well.

I think there are two things that would surprise many Americans.  The first is just how "strict" the categories for overweight and obese are.  As I wrote when I started this blog, I was shocked to see that, based on my weight 6 months ago, I actually fell into the category of "obese."  And I was really not that fat.  Even right now, having lost almost 35 pounds, I'm still at the very bottom of the "overweight" category, not quite into the "normal/healthy weight" category.  (Yes, BMI does have limitations - read more about that here.)

Go ahead, find yourself on this chart.  I bet you'll be surprised.

The second surprise is how a relatively small amount of excess body fat can be rather damaging to our health.  Quite simply, our bodies were meant to be lean, like athletes.  If you've got excess body fat around your abdomen (where many of us store it), you very likely have excess body fat around your organs.  This is what leads to all sorts of health problems for those who are overweight or obese.  A number of people I've spoken to, when I announced some recent weight-loss milestone from this round of juicing, reminded me that "it's not about the weight."  Well, to some extent that's true.  This juicing is about detoxifying my body, pumping it full of vitally important micro nutrients while cleansing it of accumulated toxins.  However, considering the negative consequences of excess body fat, my weight is actually rather important as well.

And perhaps there's a third surprise.  It's just a statistic, but it turns out that 68% of Americans are overweight or obese.  That is a shock.  I think most of us upon hearing that statistic would say "Oh, well, that's not me."  Or "Well, sure, I could lose a few pounds, but I'm not overweight, and I'm certainly not obese."  Well, we'd most of us be dead wrong.  That term applied to me and it applies to over two-thirds of us.  We ignore that statistic at our own peril.  Our own mortal peril, I should say.

The saddest part about it all is that we DO know better.  Modern science, in the areas of health, food and nutrition, has made leaps and bounds in terms of what we know about the interaction between foods and our bodies.  We have incredible and powerful knowledge.  We have the wherewithal to be perhaps the longest-lived generations in the history of humankind.  And yet, in most of the country, among many diverse groups (rich and poor, black and white, etc.), this may very well be the first generation to actually live shorter lives than our parents.  So, again, yes, LIFE AND DEATH

Alright, enough ranting.  As much as I often play the role of the "angry young man," railing against society's ills doesn't often produce the effects for which one wishes.  There's an old saying "better to light a candle than to curse the darkness."  It's good advice, along with that of the Mahatma, "you must be the change you want to see in the world."  And so, forward.

My Choice?  Two Gifts.

Which brings me full circle here, back to my family - my incredible wife and my two beautiful children.  I came to this journey of my own accord, as an expression of my own recently discovered self care, but as I've progressed, I've realized it's also very much about them.  Feeling this way, knowing what I know only makes me want to share it with them.  This brings me to the gifts.

My family: wife Jennifer, daughter Phoebe and son Felix.
This is my gift to them.

My wife, for the past week and a half, has been doing for me what she did during my first juice fast back in February.  She has been giving me the gift of getting our kids ready in the morning and making dinner for them at night while I go downstairs and spend my 20 minutes or so getting all my juicing done.  She's graciously given me the time to focus on this process for myself.  I thank her for that.  It wouldn't be possible without her.  In return, I hope I'm giving her the gift of a healthy and long-lived husband and the knowledge that I won't repeat the mistakes of her past.

"If you're not outraged, then you're not paying attention!"

Certainly the scariest trend in America's health crisis is the skyrocketing rate of childhood overweight and obesity. Kids with freaking diabetes for Christ's sake!   How we can let this happen is unfathomable, it is unconscionable.  The other gift I desperately want to give is the gift of good health to my family, especially my two children.  The thought of them ever ending up on the same path I was on, on the path Cole was on, the path that so many of us are on, is terrifying to me.  Knowing what we know today, how to eat in order to achieve optimal body weight, good health and longevity, makes me very incredibly eager to have everyone in my house on board.  Yes, I'm still bit pushy (perhaps that's just my nature), but we are getting there.  Felix is only three and a half, so he's still into "peeza" and "ha dog."  But my daughter, who's eight, can understand the role of nutritious food in her life.  I'm pretty sure she went to bed tonight reading a children's book about just that, as a matter of fact.

However, there's a difficult balance that I think many parents can appreciate, especially when kids are surrounded by potentially terrible food choices everywhere they turn.  I don't want to sit at the dinner table every night scolding my kids to eat their vegetables.  Everyone's got a story about how that backfired.  But unless we want our children to be those statistics, it's clear that only rather radical change is going to produce the desired results.

I've gone on for a long time here, hopefully you're still awake.

As they in the old country, "Salud!" 

Health to you all!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Joy of Ginger and The Tipping Point

I'm currently on Day Ten of this juice fast, and I think I reached the "tipping point" a day or two ago.  It's a corner I seemed to turn when I stopped craving food, stopped feeling a little woozy and grumpy, and all of a sudden got some real solid and lasting energy - physically, emotionally and mentally.

I seem to remember this happening last time.  As a matter of fact, that's exactly what happened.  I had planned on doing ten days but when I got to day ten I felt amazing and decided to go for five more.  In the past week or so I've spoke to some others who are trying their first juice fasts - my advice would to try and get to that point, after seven or eight days and see how you feel.  That's where I am now - and it feels great!

The Joy of Ginger  

Mediterranean cultures have garlic, Asian ones have ginger.  Although people sometimes think of it as root, it's actually a rhizome, an underground stem that itself sends out roots (underground) and shoots (above ground).  It's another one of those totally indespensible foods to have on hand while juicing (and eating, for that matter!).  For millenia it's been used as a natural remedy for a variety of ailments.  It's a powerful painkiller, is anti-inflammatory. alleviates gastro-intestinal distress and may help prevent colon and ovarian cancer!  Again, all from a rather humble-looking plant.

It is another superfood to which numerous cookbooks are solely devoted.  I should know, I have one called The Joy of Ginger.  Fantastic book.  The one recipe I have made countless times in the past is the Ginger and Sweet Potato Soup.  Unbelievably delicious.

Ginger and Sweet Potato Soup

  •  6 cups cubed sweet potato
  • 3 1/2 cups chicken. soy or vegetable stock
  • 1/2 cup minced ginger
  • 1/4 cup lime juice
  • 1/2 cup unsweetend coconut milk
  1. In a large pot, combine sweet potatoes and stock (adding water if neccesary) and bring to a boil  Reduce heat and simmer until soft, about 10 minutes.
  2. Transfer to blender ot food processor and process until mixture is smooth (I keep mine in the stock pot and use the immersion blender - way easier.)  Whisk in coconut milk, lime juice and salt & pepper to taste.  Cook until heated through.
  3. Ladle into bowls and garnish with sliced almonds, chopped cilantro and lime zest.

When I make mine, I pretty much quadruple this recipe for my monster stock pot, any leftovers freeze well.  Your guests will rave, I promise.

I've also concocted my own Ginger Lemonade recipe.  It is so thirst-quenching going down on hot summer days - a bit addictive.

Sal's Ginger Lemonade

  • Bring a few quarts of water to a boil.
  • Add 1 to 2 cups of chopped peeled ginger. 
  • Turn off heat, and let ginger steep.  The longer the better.  I've often let it sit for 2-3 hours - the longer it steeps, the more ginger-y it will taste.
  • Remove ginger and while still warm, add honey to desired sweetness.
  • Add lime juice (fresh or bottled) to desired tartness.  You can cut up limes, squeeze them in it, then leave some of the limes in as well.
  • Chill well and serve with lots of ice.

Ginger in Juice

In terms of juicing, ginger goes with so many fruits and vegetables: pineapples, peaches, oranges, carrots, apples, grapes.  I use it in probably 1/2 of the juices I make.  It adds a fresh, zesty punch.  Orange Zinger is a great juice where you can really taste the ginger, the recipe for that one was previosuly posted here.  Here's one with that same quality, and a recipe, I'll have you know, that I made up all by myself!  (Yes, I am as proud of it as a kid who's just learned to tie his shoes)

Apple Grape Zinger

  • 2-3 apples (crisp ones like Fuji or Granny Smith work well)
  • 2 cups washed red grapes
  • 1/2 lemon
  • Big chunk of ginger, peeled
Very yummy!
Short post today - working on something of a diatribe for tomorrow, don't worry!

Be well.