Potato, Leek, and Cauliflower Chowder

When I started foraging for dinner ingredients this afternoon, I found a few veggies from my CSA box in the fridge. I consulted a few of my favorite cookbooks and invented a soup recipe that was inspired by Deborah Madison's Vegetable Soups cookbook. The result was fantastic! Definitely a repeater (as my husband would say). This soup and some warm bread were the perfect way to punctuate a day filled with snowballs and wet socks.

Potato, Leek, and Cauliflower Chowder
Serves about 6

Milk and aromatics:
2 cups plain soymilk
Several sprigs of fresh parsley and thyme
1/2 onion, sliced
2 garlic cloves, quartered
15 peppercorns 
2 bay leaves

  1. Combine all ingredients. Bring to a bowl then remove from the heat and set aside.

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 large (or 2-3 small) leek(s), thinly sliced 
8-10 small red potatoes, chopped with skins on
1 small or 1/2 large cauliflower, chopped
2 bay leaves
3 Tbsp chopped parsley
1 1/2 tsp sea salt
3 Tbsp flour
4 cups water

  1. Heat olive oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the leeks, potatoes, cauliflower, bay leaves, parsley, and salt. Cover and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  2. Stir in the flour then add the water. Bring to a boil then partially cover and simmer until potatoes and cauliflower are soft (about 15 minutes).
  3. Remove the bay leaves. Strain the milk mixture adding only the milk to the soup then puree the soup with a stick blender. Taste and add more salt if necessary.
  4. Serve with warm whole grain bread.

Protein tip: 
For a heartier soup that is higher in protein and fiber, add 1-2 cups of cooked white beans to the soup before pureeing. 

Vitamin C

I hear so many people talking about vitamin C this time of year and I wonder if they know how easy it is to get this nutrient from eating real food vs. in supplement form. Vitamin C supplements are ok as a backup plan, but food is always the best source of all vitamins and minerals. Also, taking too much vitamin C can cause issues of the gastrointestinal variety. I won't elaborate here; you know what I mean! 

Vitamin C can help to ward off illness by boosting the immune system and it helps your body to absorb the iron in your food (especially non-heme, or vegetable source, iron). The Mayo Clinic has this to say about vitamin C:
"Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin that maintains skin integrity, helps heal wounds and is important in immune functions. It also has antioxidant properties, helping to prevent cell damage by neutralizing free radicals, molecules believed to be associated with aging and certain diseases..."
Why not skip the supplements and opt for these food choices instead?

If you strive to be a "locavore" (or wish to eat locally with the seasons instead of consuming produce that was grown far from home), citrus fruits and cabbage are at their peak in the winter. How about a cabbage salad with citrus dressing?  

An exercise pep talk

I went to the park last night for my triathlon training group. It was cold, dark, and damp. We warmed up with some core work and then headed out into the darkness for a three mile run with some speedwork thrown in.

After the first mile I completely ran out of gas. Every step after that was increasingly difficult. The voice in the back of my head, the one that I call my "brat  voice", started complaining loudly. "I don't want to do this! I don't, I don't, I don't!" I wanted to quit. I wanted to call it a night and head home for a hot shower. I wanted to give up on triathlon training and go back to short gym workouts that I could manage.

After my mental tantrum, I started to think rationally again. I had run a half marathon (13.1 miles) three months ago; why was this short run so hard? I realized a couple of things: 1) I hadn't had enough calories or good carbs during the day to support my workout and 2) after a break (even a short and somewhat active one), getting back into vigorous exercise is HARD. Really hard. I equate it to swimming in the ocean. When you first get in the water, you are pounded by waves and knocked around. But when you get past the surf, the water is calm and enjoyable

After I finished the run and the rest of my workout, I felt great. Very tired and hungry, but great. I gave myself a little pep talk in the car on the way home and made a mental note of a few things that I wanted to share with others who are in the "I hate this" phase of getting in shape.
  1. Love yourself. Be your own best friend and use kind and encouraging words in your self-talk.
  2. Nurture and fuel your body with good food. Eat tons of fruits and veggies and then eat some more. Eat lots of good carbs to support your workouts (brown rice, whole grain bread, quinoa and other grains).
  3. Drink your water. If you feel tired, drink water. If you have a headache, drink water. Water can help with so many things.
  4. Trust the process. Exercise is really hard when you first get started. Stick with it and it will get easier. Your reward for consistency is that you will start to look forward to and crave working out.  

Control freaking and meal planning

Lately I have been giving a lot of thought to organization. More specifically, the organization of my schedule or how I spend my time. The presenting problem here is that I am CONSTANTLY in a hurry and feeling overwhelmed by all that I have on my daily list. I have experimented with creating a daily schedule with time alloted for each of my daily/weekly tasks. I have considered getting up before the sun to add more hours to my day. I have even tried planning my meals for an entire month at a time (ala Simple Mom). These all felt like they might be useful tools or ways to get on top things, but all of them add more weight to my "to do" list.

Earlier this month I started working on my New Year's goals and plans. I also began taking a five-week online class on "dreaming big" (Mondo Beyondo). I have been spending some time journaling and making lists. Pondering what I would really like to invite into my life and how to make room for those things. Sometime around the end of last week, the hum of "hurry, hurry, hurry" stopped. I began to notice that many of the things that I am hurrying to do are things that would go unnoticed (by me or anyone else) if I completely flaked on them. This realization hit me like a ton of bricks. Because I'm afraid of getting behind the tidal wave of life, I have been burning a ton of energy trying to get ahead of things that either don't need to be done or can wait for awhile. The moment that I realized what was happening, I closed my laptop and went off to do something useless and and indulgent...like reading a magazine or watching TV. 

So here's the deal, I am still working on drawing all of this out of my psyche and sorting out what I really want to spend my time on. In the meantime, some things still need to get done, right? Like, I don't know, cooking and eating? That's a good one to keep on the list. Related to cooking and eating, I have gotten a few requests for meal plans. Because I'm not in full-on control freak mode right now, I'm planning my meals but only a few days in advance. Because I know lots of people out there struggle with this same thing, I'll share three things: my current "process", my meal plan for a few days (I only plan for dinners), and a resource for those who find meal planning to be (and I quote a friend here), "the bane of their existence".  

My current meal planning "process"
  1. Dig around in the pantry and fridge to come up with a list of what I have on hand. This works best if I do it the same day that I receive my CSA box so I know what fruits and veggies I have to work with.
  2. Create a list of as many meals as I can that can me made with what we already have.
  3. If the list has fewer than three or four meal ideas, I add a couple more simple dinners or recipes and then pick up the required ingredients at the grocery store.
I sometimes make double batches of freezable meals (e.g. lasagna, enchiladas, etc.) so that I have an easy meal waiting for a busy night. I also freeze extra sauce or other ingredients that can be repurposed for another meal.

My meal plan for a few days (dinners only)
Monday: Butternut squash soup (add white beans before pureeing and serve over quinoa for extra protein and iron)
Tuesday: Vegetarian tacos (pinto beans, romaine lettuce, tomatoes, avocado/guacamole)
Wednesday: Soy cheese pizza with steamed broccoli
Thursday: Sunshine veggie burgers with baked sweet potato "fries"

A resource for meal planning
A good friend of mine owns a meal planning company. She offers a few different plans that are as affordable as $14.95 for an entire year. No matter where you live or what your budget, she can help!

What's next today? I might start a load of laundry...or maybe I'll just kick my feet up and have a cookie.

Building blocks of a meal and homemade granola

I'm going to let you in on a little secret. The way that I plan my meals, or rather decide what ingredients to include in my food, is a little nerdy. Ok, maybe you guessed that about me already! 

The first step for me is to choose, what I call, a "vehicle". I'll be sharing more on this later but the basic concept is to choose a base (whole grain pasta, bread, rice or other grains, etc.) and then add in the other components of the meal (protein, fruits and veggies, spices, etc.). As an example, I'll make you hungry show you how this works with homemade granola. These are the basic categories that I consider with each meal (in this case, granola):

Vehicle: Oats
Fruit and/or veggie(s): Dried cranberries and raisins
Protein: Various nuts and seeds
Omega 3s: Hemp seeds
Iron: Pumpkin seeds, oats, hemp seeds, raisins

This really isn't as complicated as it may seem and it is a good way to make sure that you're getting the nutrients that you need. It becomes automatic pretty quickly as you get used to knowing the nutrition profile of the foods that you eat on a regular basis. Because about 95% of my meals are vegan, I pay close attention to protein, iron, and omega 3s. Your mix may be as simple as: vehicle, protein, fruits and/or veggies

Here's my granola recipe. The weather here in California is wet, cold, and windy- perfect granola weather! 

3 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup hemp seeds
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1/2 cup shredded or fine macaroon coconut (unsweetened)
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp fresh grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp sea salt
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp blackstrap molasses
1/3 cup brown rice syrup
1/3 cup real maple syrup
1/4 cup canola oil
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/2-3/4 cup raisins 

1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. In a large bowl, combine oats, all seeds and nuts, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Stir until well combined.
2. In another bowl, mix vanilla, molasses, brown rice syrup and maple syrup. Tip: warm the brown rice syrup in the microwave first if it is really thick and sticky.
3. Add the wet mixture to the dry, combine well. Spread evenly on a parchment-covered cookie sheet (I had to use two). Bake for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally for even browning.
4. Remove from oven, stir in cranberries and raisins, let cool completely. 

Finding a healthy meal in a restaurant

We went to a restaurant for dinner on Friday night and, while we were reading our menus, I was thinking about how difficult it may seem to find a healthy choice while dining out. The food descriptions can be tricky because high-fat and calorie-dense dishes may be disguised as healthy choices because they are referred to as "fresh" or "all natural" or "vegetarian". While there is nothing wrong with foods bearing those descriptions, they are not necessarily the best options because of them. 

To illustrate my point, let's consider this meal: vegetarian lasagna, a side salad with Caesar dressing, and a small order of broccoli with brown butter and mizithra cheese. It sounds like a meal full of veggies and that is healthy, right? 

Let's take a closer look:

Ack. This meal contains almost enough calories for an entire day and a terrifying amount of fat, sodium, and cholesterol. My stomach hurts just thinking about eating all of that!

So what is a better alternative? First, consider what is in or on top of the entree that you order. Here are some things to look for:
  • Dishes that contain cheese, cream sauce, butter, or fatty meats (e.g. sausage, bacon, ground beef) are likely to be a high in fat and calories.
  • Opt for lighter sauces such as marinara and grilled vs. fried foods. 
  • Don't be fooled by salad; it is only a healthy option if it isn't smothered in dressing or topped with meats, cheeses, or deep-fried croutons. 
  • If there are sauces or dressings that you love and really don't want to pass on, order those on the side so that you can control your portion. 
Salad tip: When ordering a salad, ask for the dressing to be served on the side. Instead of pouring it on the salad, dip your fork in the dressing before each bite. You will eat significantly less fat and fewer calories and you'll still get some of the flavor that you love.  

Here is what I ordered on Friday night (this is for the portion of pasta that I ate- it was very large and I only ate half):

(If you're wondering, this meal contained about 16 grams of protein.)

Healthy eating doesn't mean that you can never have your favorite foods if you make a few small changes: 
  1. Choose an entree that isn't smothered in high-fat ingredients. 
  2. Surround that entree with side dishes that are high in fiber and low in calories in fat (e.g. plain veggies or salad with the dressing on the side) and eat those first so that you aren't tempted to devour an entire restaurant-size entree.  
  3. Put yourself in control of your serving size and enjoy the richer foods in moderation.
Happy dining!

Getting started with fitness goals

The new year is under way and if you have fitness goals for 2010 you may be wondering how to get started. Whether your mission begins with getting off the couch or picks up where you left off after your last race in the fall, there is a wealth of information online to help you.  

Step 1: Set Goals

First, choose goals that get you to where you really want to be. For example, if you said, "I will run five days a week," my first question would be, "why?" A goal that is defined by what you will do versus your desired result has a high potential for failure. Why? Because it is easy to beat yourself over the head with a goal like that. If you miss a day of running, you may feel like you have failed at your goal. Also, how do you motivate yourself to stick to running five days a week if you don't know why you are doing it?

Second, ensure that your goals are measurable. For example, "start running" is rather vague. How will you know when have you accomplished that? After your first few steps? A better goal might be, "I will run a 5k race in July." See the difference?

Step 2: Research and Plan

One of my favorite websites is active.com. On the plus side, the site contains information on every exercise-related topic that you can imagine. On the minus side, the site contains information on every exercise-related topic that you can imagine. DON'T FREAK OUT! I know this fire hose of information can be overwhelming but this tip may help you: ignore everything that doesn't pertain to your CURRENT goal and/or level or that you don't understand. Consider these resources:
  • Peruse active.com to find tips and information to help get you started.
  • If you are thinking about starting a running program, you may want to consider a walk/run training plan such as the Galloway method or a "Couch to 5k" (or C25K) training plan.
  • For aspiring triathletes, beginnertriathlete.com is an excellent resource for everything from training plans to racing gear reviews.
  • If you prefer to work out with others, consider hiring a personal trainer, participating in a "bootcamp" program, or joining a group fitness program at your local gym.

Step 3: Get Moving!

Once you have established your goals and selected an approach to getting started, it is time to get moving! Don't be intimidated if this is all new to you. Try to:
  • Find your happy place (whether on a treadmill, a trail, or elsewhere). Find a place that you'll be motivated to go to often. 
  • Experiment with different activities to find something that you enjoy. Don't make exercise about hammering on yourself to get to a physical goal. Instead, find an activity that you enjoy and let the fitness follow your passion. 
Regular exercise requires a small time investment but it is a huge investment in your health. Happy trails!

Health benefits of green tea

I am a big fan of Dr. Andrew Weil. I admire and appreciate the work that he does in the field of integrative medicine as I think all those in the medical profession would benefit greatly from exposure to this approach to wellness. (See What is Integrative Medicine? for more details on this.)

I saw an article on Dr. Weil's website today that I really want to share. I credit Dr. Weil with introducing me (through his writing) to matcha (thank you Dr. Weil!) and I am grateful for that. What a wonderful tea in so many ways- flavor, health benefits, and in it's subtle way of making my mind quiet down and enjoy being present for the ritual that is preparing and drinking matcha. 

Dr. Weil's article is entitled "My Life With Tea" and it is a quick read that just may inspire you to try something new!
"I have written about the health benefits of green tea for more than 30 years, and it is possible that in some small way I have helped this wonderful beverage become popular in the United States. I hope so, because today, thousands of scientific studies confirm what the ancient Chinese knew through simple observation - green tea is perhaps the most healthful beverage human beings can consume. Studies either strongly suggest or confirm that the antioxidants in green tea can reduce LDL cholesterol, promote fat burning, reduce the risk of several forms of cancer, and alleviate depression..."
I also really enjoyed the short video on "How To Get Into Tea" linked to the  article. It is about five minutes long and is helpful if you're new to drinking tea or  feel overwhelmed by all of the many facets of the tea world. 

Pasta with spinach and lentils

The kids and I played outside this morning and when we came in for lunch we were freezing! The thought of eating a salad or cold sandwich was not appealing at all. After warming some food for my boys, I stared into the refrigerator trying to pull together a recipe in my head. I decided on a pasta dish that was quick and easy, very nutritious, and delicious. I love this combo of things!

4 cups of spinach
2 garlic cloves, pressed or minced
~4 large leaves of fresh basil, chopped
1 cup cooked whole wheat pasta
4 ounces cooked black beluga lentils, warmed
1/4 cup walnuts, lightly toasted 
Olive oil for sauteing 
Sea salt, black or crushed red pepper, lemon juice, and roasted walnut oil (optional) 

1. Saute the garlic in a tiny bit of olive oil (maybe 1/2 teaspoon) until it just starts to brown. Add the spinach a little at a time until it is all in the pan. Cook just a few minutes- until the spinach is wilted and bright green. Season with sea salt, black or crushed red pepper, and a squeeze of lemon juice to your liking.

2. Toss the spinach with the cooked pasta, lentils, walnuts, fresh basil, and ~1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of roasted walnut oil (optional).

*Bonus: Walnuts are an excellent source of omega 3 fatty acids.

Values and goals

This is the time of year that many of us start thinking about new beginnings. We re-apply focus to things that we've let slip and bring to bear new missions and projects. The clean slate of January is strangely inspiring even if it is only an imagined fresh start. I am not immune to this influence and, as usual, have been working on my goals for the new year. 

Instead of asking myself what needs to change in my life, I gave some thought to my values. I came up with a list of six things that are unwavering as far as what I believe in. These are the things that I honor with my goals and choices and that I carry with me always. My goals for 2010 will be in-line with these guiding principles.
  1. Continue learning, growing, and experiencing new things as an individual, as a friend, as a couple, and as a family.
  2. Create loving, supportive, unhurried relationships in my home and with those that I love.
  3. Live simply. Purge stuff (negative relationships, energy-sucking and unnecessary things). Do this regularly. Be rigorous. Don’t be in a hurry.
  4. Nurture myself physically (exercise, food, body care, sleep, sunlight), mentally (downtime, nature, writing, good conversation, boundaries, creativity), and spiritually (meditation, fellowship and community). Support my husband in nurturing himself and teach my children the necessity of this for themselves.
  5. Be grateful, be kind, be honest, be real.
  6. Spend my time passionately and not unnecessarily. Live congruently with what I believe in; every day and in every way.
What about you? Have you written goals or resolutions for 2010? Do you have a list of values that you would like to share? Please leave a comment or send me a e-mail. I would love to hear from you!