On Work Versus Home

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

   Being a resident in the medical profession requires the willingness to give up a lot of control over your life. From a big picture perspective, you're doing great things for yourself and others: contributing to the care of people in need and in medical crisis, achieving life long learning and job security. All good things, no doubt.

   But on the micro level, the day to day stuff, it can be nothing short of painful for an intelligent, type-A personality to hand over so much of their lives to the twisted machine that is the business of medical care. There are simply too many variables, too much "it's not in your control, just let it go."

   Hospital administration and politics aside, a career in medicine is notorious for eating up your insides in the wee hours of the morning: Did I really tie that last suture securely? Should I have rechecked that potassium level? Did I evaluate every single margin from that cancer resection? And that can lead to burn out faster than you can say Bob's your uncle.

   For me, one of the keys to avoiding this is not only to keep the big picture of my job in mind, but to also maintain its separation from my personal life. In medicine, there are a thousand details that will eat your home life alive unless you can check them at the hospital exit.

   For example, no matter how crazy things in the hospital get (if I hear the phrase "budget cut" one more time I'm afraid my brain might melt), I always have my lush backyard, my quiet kitchen and my jump rope (best exercise on the planet, bar none). A 95 pound pit bull who thinks she's a lap dog never fails to melt away the day either. We must remind ourselves to save time for the things that soothe our souls and keep our bodies strong.

   The only downside to dedicating myself to maintaining my healthy home life activities while also attempting to be an exceptional resident is sometimes there must be a give and take. I've spent these past two months on a particularly busy service, and in the process of amping up my exercise routine for stress release and keeping up my nightly meal making, I had to give up a bit of blogging.

   But this month is drawing to a close and I can sense the puzzle pieces of my life beginning to settle back into their familiar picture.

   Today's recipe has been a life saver these last few months. It's exactly what I look for in a salad dressing: packed with flavor, silky smooth and the exact opposite of greasy palate syndrome. Steve and I have eaten salads almost nightly with this stuff drizzled over it and we're contemplating using it as a dipping sauce the next time we're inclined to grill some kebabs.

   I've been keeping a Tupperware of it in the fridge and on mornings I have no leftovers for lunch I dice up a cucumber, peel several carrots into ribbons and pack a small container of the dressing. Put those two together plus an Ezekiel bread peanut butter sandwich and I'm good to go.

   Adding sprouts of any sort boosts the awesome factor.

   As an additional bonus, this dressing is not only a zingy taste explosion (yes, I said taste explosion... make the dressing and you'll be right there with me), but it will get some fresh ginger into your diet. Ginger is a power house antioxidant as well as a gentle vasodilator- ergo it's great for circulation and will keep your skin and heart young!

Miso Ginger Salad Dressing

3 coin sized (use a quarter as your reference) pieces of peeled, fresh ginger
2 tablespoons white vinegar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup white (mild) miso paste

   Combine all ingredients in your food processor. Process, stopping to scrape the sides and bottom once or twice, until everything is perfectly smooth and blended.
   Keeps in the fridge for one week.
   Serves four over generous dinner sized salads, or 6-8 appetizer sized salads.

Words Not Included

Monday, May 20, 2013

   Some of the best things in life don't need a lot of words to explain them.

   Like summer flowers.

   Or fat ran drops on warm afternoons.

   Local bundles of asparagus so thick I can barely can't get my hand around them.

   This dish, too, requires few words.

   It looks like a random jumble of vegetables but in fact there is a tomato kissed sauce, bright asparagus and sweet onions, all in a perfect sort of harmony together. It evokes the memory of succotash but with its own little spin on that favorite tune. It's just wonderful and rather than wasting time on more words, I'll just be quiet so you can go ahead and make it.

Asparagus 'Succotash'

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter (or another tablespoon olive oil if you'd like to make this dish vegan)
1 large sweet onion, halved and sliced into half moons
1/2 pound red cherry tomatoes, quartered
1 (not gigantic) bundle asparagus, cut into 1 inch pieces
2 cups vegetable broth or stock

   In a medium sized saute pan, heat the olive oil and butter over medium heat. When hot, add the onion and 1/4 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is very soft and starting to brown, about 7-10 minutes. Add in the tomatoes and cook, stirring occasionally, for 3-4 minutes, until the tomatoes start to give up their juices.
   Add the asparagus and the veggie broth or stock to the pan. Bring to a brisk simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has reduced to a sauce and the asparagus is tender, 5-8 minutes. Taste and season with additional salt if needed.
   Serves 4.

Cooking For One

Saturday, May 18, 2013

   When I first started cooking in my early teens, it was for my big, hard working, hungry family of seven. We had over 450 acres of land, 200 plus cows, pigs, chickens, horses, goats, family pets- all things that needed attention, often in the form of manual labor.

   In the summer we collected thousands of square bales of hay, preparing for the long and frigid winter. Our cows were all pasture grass fed and there was no cheating in the winter months- high quality hay or bust. Each bale weighed at least 60 pounds and had to be collected from the field in large wagons, moved from the wagons to the barn and stacked in towering, sweet smelling lofts.

   During all of this the cows were rotated amongst our many fenced off pastures every few days to ensure they were getting as much fresh green grass and fallen crab apples as they pleased.

   For the most part, my siblings and I loved growing up this way. Being homeschooled meant we could spend a concentrated few hours on schoolwork in the morning and by the time the sun was high in the sky, we were free to work on projects or take care of the daily demands of the farm. It was a childhood filled with fresh air, responsibility, hard work, and an incredible amount of fun.

   As much as I loved being outside, I quickly learned that my favorite place to be was our huge, airy farm kitchen. My father built the farm house over a period of two years before we moved from our teeny first home in Massachusetts to the sprawling hills and fields of upstate New York, and he built it with the intention of harnessing as much energy from the sun as possible. Every room, and especially the main floor, was outfitted with gigantic, floor to ceiling windows that effortlessly heated our home on sunny winter days. This meant that every part of the house had a beautiful view, but my favorite was the one I had from the kitchen counter.

   There was no room to hold back when we prepared meals in that kitchen. Everything had to be done in huge bowls, cavernous pots and pans and platters with more servings than you have fingers. After meal time it was a rare bonus to have enough leftovers for lunch the next day.

   When I moved away from home, my first attempts to cook for my sister and I in college, and later just for myself in medical school, almost always resulted in meals so huge we couldn't hope to finish them in a reasonable amount of time. Who would have thought cooking for one was so hard? I quickly learned to bring lunches or go home for a mid day meal and to freeze individual portions for future use.

   These things are useful, especially when you work hard and are committed to cooking all your own meals, but every once in a while I really just want a meal fit for one.

   This recipe is exactly that- an entire meal in one dish, perfectly portioned for one. Often times when I'm cooking just for myself, it's on lazy weekends while Steve is at work and I want something simple, easy to prepare, and flavorful.

   It's early summer here in the south. There are no hay bales to collect and no toasty warm cows to run my hands over, but this life after the farm has its charms too.

   In the mid evening moonlight, nothing has every been as beautiful as our oleander blossoms.

Frittata For One

   This dish works with pretty much any vegetable you have laying around; I've made it with summer squash, cherry tomatoes, green beans and a few times with cauliflower. You are limited only by your fridge and your imagination.

1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 small onion, minced
6 asparagus spears, cut into one inch pieces
2 eggs
Freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, minced
1 tablespoon non dairy (or dairy if you prefer) milk
1/2 ounce cheddar cheese, grated (optional)
1/3 avocado, diced (optional)

   Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Heat the olive oil over medium heat in an 8 inch skillet. Add the onions, a pinch or two of salt, and cook until translucent but not browned. Add in the asparagus and cook, stirring occasionally, until just barely tender, about 4 minutes.
   While the onions and asparagus cook, beat the eggs, a few grinds of pepper, the parsley and the milk in a bowl with a fork until well incorporated.
   When asparagus is bright green and tender, remove the skillet from the heat. Use a spatula to evenly distribute the asparagus and onion over the bottom of the skillet. Pour the egg mixture on top. Sprinkle with the cheese, if using.
   Bake in the preheated oven for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the eggs are set when you jiggle the pan.
   Top with the avocado and additional fresh parsley, if desired.
   Serves one.



Morning, Powered

Monday, May 13, 2013

   Let's get back to business as usual, shall we? The tequila is back in the liquor cabinet where it belongs and we're back at juggling healthy living with our many work and life obligations.

   One of the questions that I often struggle with, and I venture most people who are dedicated to eating and living well do too, is just how exactly to make time for all those responsible choices and rock star veggie meals.

   The answer is often a simple matter of preparation. If I leave the question of what to bring for lunch to the last minute, not only am I rushed but I generally have trouble even thinking of what to bring. Instead, I dedicate a few of the evening's minutes to tomorrow's lunch and it makes things much more manageable.

   This applies to breakfast too, of course. My go to breakfast changes every month or so, right now it's a big bowl of oatmeal with lots of fresh fruit and a touch of blackstrap molasses and chia seeds mixed in (molasses is a fantastic source of iron). This is quick to prepare the morning of, but sometimes I crave something a little more nutrient packed- like a green juice. This past week I had a bear of a day ahead of me and I knew I would need the green juice boost.

   The idea of waking early enough to prepare and juice all those veggies was not appealing so I simply did most of the work the night before. After choosing the veggies and fruit for my juice, I washed and cut them up and sealed them in a zip lock bag. The next morning throwing it all into the juicer was a breeze. I toasted my bread while washing the juicer and one green bonanza and crunchy peanut butter toast later, I was out the door with a major nutrient boost already under my belt.

   By the way, if you haven't tried chia seeds I highly recommend picking a bag up and giving them a shot. Chia seeds are an omega-3 power house and don't require the preparation that flax seeds do (flax seeds must be finely ground in order for our GI tract to access their omega-3's). I also find their flavor to be highly superior to flax seeds. Flax sometimes leaves a weird, gritty, grassy flavor in my mouth but chia is all nutty, crunchy goodness. They release an aloe like gel when exposed to water so they also act as an ideal smoothie or breakfast cereal thickener. Plus, any of us who have lived through the eighties get a huge kick out of eating something called chia. Or maybe that's just me.

   Everyone says it and we all know it: eat breakfast and make it count. Hopefully some of these prep principals help you start the day off right this week too.

   Don't forget to enjoy the early morning light.

The Night Before Juice

1/2 head romaine or green leafy lettuce, washed and roughly chopped
1 large handful kale
1 medium sized beet, scrubbed clean and cut into pieces small enough to fit in your juicer
1 apple or 4 strawberries, washed

   The morning you make the juice, cut the apple into pieces or cut the strawberries into quarters. Juice everything and sip while you make your toast.

Crunchy Peanut Butter Chia Toast

1 slice whole grain bread (Ezekiel is my favorite brand)
2 tablespoons all natural peanut butter
2 teaspoons chia seeds

   Toast bread to desired crunchiness. Spread with peanut butter and sprinkle the chia seeds all over.


Cocktail Hour

Saturday, May 11, 2013

      Weekends remind of the saying 'get back up on the horse.' Sometimes we fall off the horse during the week and by the time Saturday rolls around it's just the boost we need to get back up again. For this weekend's boost the strawberry gets naughty: hello, cocktail.

   I'm a big believer in making many small healthy choices throughout my day, building my way to the big picture of good health and peace of mind. Weekdays are very much dedicated to this philosophy. My job requires constant focus and critical thinking and for me that's impossible to achieve for 10 straight hours unless I've been keeping myself in tippity-top shape. But I also believe in indulgence and pure enjoyment; these two things are absolutely key to overall wellbeing and happiness, and I like to save them for the weekend.

   Sometimes that means butter on my popcorn, or french fries, or maybe it means meandering around the block with the dog instead of going for a run. This weekend, it means adding booze to my homemade juice.

   This is probably hugely offensive to some juice believers out there but oh well. I can't please everyone. But I think this cocktail will please you! And that's all I care about.

   If you don't have a juicer, have no fear. I'll explain in the recipe how to make the drink base with a blender or food processor instead.

   This drink comes just in time for Mother's Day- it's pretty, lovely and fun to be around, just like my mom.

Strawberry Lime Margarita

8 strawberries, hulled and quartered
1 lime, peeled (slice the ends off with a sharp knife and then peel the sides like you would a pineapple) and cut into quarters
2 ounces high quality tequila
1 ounce triple sec
Unflavored seltzer water

   Juice the strawberries and lime, running the pulp back through the juicer a few times to extract as much juice as possible. If you don't have a juicer, use a food processor or blender to achieve an extremely smooth fruit puree and then press the puree through a fine mesh sieve with a rubber spatula- you should end up with about 1/2 to 3/4 cup very thick juice, almost the texture of a smoothie.
   Place the juice, tequila and triple sec in a cocktail shaker half filled with ice. Shake and divide the drink among two 8 ounce glasses. Top off with fresh ice and the seltzer water. Garnish with half a strawberry or a slice of lime.
   Serves 2.

I'll Have the (Vegan) Bolognese

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

   Is there anything better than a man who knows how to cook? I think not.

   It's pretty common for one person in a household to assume the lion's share of cooking responsibilities; in our house that person is me. The familiar activities of chopping, sauteing and stirring are meditative to me. It's a no fail end of the day chill pill.

   I admittedly sometimes get into cooking ruts, as I think many of us who cook on a daily basis do, which is one of the reasons I love it so much when Steve decides to cook dinner. He goes into it with absolutely no idea what the final dish may be, searching cookbooks, websites and maybe even a few of my cooking magazines. Eventually he picks whatever looks tasty- even (perhaps especially) if he's never cooked anything like it before or it requires a trip to the grocery store. The recipe I have for you today is one such creation of his- delicious, unexpected and, perhaps best of all, prepared just for me.

   His fearless, no holds barred approach to cooking always reminds me of the rewards to be had when we venture outside of our comfort zone.

   One of the pitfalls of 'going vegan' is trying to replace familiar animal products with processed vegan alternatives. There is a vegan version for pretty much anything you can imagine- cheese, hot dogs, sour cream, ground meat. The list goes on. But just because it's vegan doesn't mean it's good for you- processed is processed. Whole foods are where it's at! This dish especially resonated with me because it doesn't rely on manufactured vegan ground 'meat' but rather a thoughtful combination of whole foods that resemble the richness and texture of a quality bolognese sauce. 

   Every component of this sauce is laden with goodies. Omega 3's from the walnuts, lycopene from the tomatoes, loads of mushroomy folate, plus loads of fiber and flavor.

   This recipe is just the thing when your brain is wrung dry and you've been on your feet for twelve hours. Step out of your pasta sauce comfort zone and maybe make it for your sweetie when they've had such a day- they'll worship you for it.

Pasta with Vegan Bolognese
Slightly adapted from Chloe's Kitchen

1 pound whole wheat spaghetti
1 cup walnuts
4 ounces crimini mushrooms, sliced
4 ounces shitake mushrooms, de-stemmed and sliced
1 15 ounce pinto or red kidney beans, rinsed, drained and allowed to dry (or pat them dry with towels)
1/2 white whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 24 ounce jar marinara sauce
1/2 cup non dairy milk
1 tablespoon maple syrup or brown sugar
Chopped fresh basil, to finish

   Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the spaghetti according to directions on package. Drain and set aside.

   Meanwhile, prepare the sauce: pulse walnuts in a food processor until a fine meal forms (but not so much that you get a paste). Add mushrooms and pulse until mushrooms are finely chopped. Add beans, flour, basil, salt and pepper and pulse just until chunky and crumbly (do not over process).

   Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add in the mushroom/bean mixture, reduce heat to medium and cook, turning with a spatula, until it is evenly browned- 10 to 15 minutes. Stir in marinara sauce, soy milk and brown sugar or maple syrup. Heat through and serve over the prepared pasta, garnished with the fresh basil... extra basil if you love it as much as I do.

Serves 4 to 6.

Juice For Life

Sunday, May 5, 2013

   I thought long and hard about a fantastic recipe for this year's Cinco de Mayo. This is a great weekend for rich drips, cheesy quesadillas and tacos of all different sorts as well as celebration in general. All good things, all things I love.

   But sometimes the 'ol stomach needs a break; every once in a while we need a 'pause' button when we've gone a little overboard with the dips and the chips. Enter the magnificent juice.

   I've never been much of a juice person; my mother essentially never bought juice when we were growing up. We equated store bought juices with soda- sugary, additive laden beverages that had no place in our daily lives.

   But recently I've discovered a new kind of juice: the home made vegetable variety. These elixirs are everything our bodies want and need not only on a daily basis, but especially when we've celebrated perhaps a bit too much. Unlike what you find in the store, home juicing ensures all the vital nutrients of the plant are kept intact- no added sugar, preservatives or destructive pasteurization allowed.

   Home vegetable juicing is nothing super new to me, my little brother has been doing it for years with a centrifugal juicer that my mom purchased when we were little. She intended the gift for my dad but he wasn't very interested; my brother on the other hand immediately developed a life long juice habit. He still has that ancient juicer and tells me his favorite recipe is based on red cabbage. That boy is going to live to be 100.

   For some reason I wasn't compelled to get on the juicing wagon until I read about it in Kris Carr's Crazy Sexy Diet. I was so intrigued and talked about its benefits so much, my mom generously bought me a juicer (unlike my brother's, mine is a masticating slow juicer). Have I mentioned how awesome my mom is?

   As soon as that puppy arrived in the mail Steve and I haven't looked back. We juice at least 4 days a week, seven when we have time. Juicing extracts all the lovely minerals, vitamins and other micronutrients from vegetables and fruits and presses it away from the fibers and solid parts of the plants. It is incredibly easy to digest and basically equals a super easy on your gut explosion of veggie and fruit goodness for your skin, immune system and energy level.

   That said, it is totally possibly to make a disgusting juice. I've made a few that were so herbaceous and strong and just, well, so powerfully 'green' that I could handle only a few sips. But take heart: with a bit of experimentation (and a few sources of tried and true recipes) it's very easy to find a formula that works for your tastebuds. Kris Carr suggests a ratio of 3 : 1, veggies : fruit in juice and I find this works best for me as well.

   If you don't already have one, I highly suggest investing in a juicer. It amounts to an investment in your daily well being as well as your long term health. It just doesn't get much better than that.

   This juice is my most recent favorite.

My Morning Green Juice
Adapted from The Big Book of Juices 

1 large handful kale
1 large handful green lettuce
2 carrots
1 small ruby red grapefruit

   Wash the kale, lettuce and carrots. If you have a slow juicer, cut everything into 1 1/2 inch pieces. Cut away the skin from the grapefruit and slices out the wedges of fruit- as shown here. Juice everything and enjoy over ice.  Serves one.

Memories and Flavor

Friday, May 3, 2013

   We've all heard of the idea that every person has what is called an aura. The theory goes that our aura is sort of like our personality thumbprint; instead of being left behind on things we touch, it hangs around us like our own personal light source.

   I'm not a particularly mystical person- perhaps I have too scientific a mind for it- so I don't put a lot of stock into this sort of thing. But I do believe that people leave their own individual imprint when they come in and out of our lives. There are all different kinds of ways to interpret this imprint. Some of us associate it with a feeling or prominent memory; others may call it an aura.

   Personally, the important people in my life always bring images of different kinds of food when I think about them. Perhaps this is odd, but certainly no stranger than seeing auras.

    Snow peas make me think of Steve- probably because we ate so many of them when we first started dating. I prepared them in all different kinds of ways: fresh in salads, lightly blanched on top of grilled fish, sauteed and steamed. They were fantastic that year and we got every last tasty bite we could out of them. I will always remember these meals with great happiness and fondness; the plates hastily thrown together in his poorly outfitted bachelor's kitchen, ironically perfect and appealing.

   My sister conjures images of big, comforting bowls of minestrone soup. It was one of my go to recipes when we lived together in college and she loved it so much that the leftovers sometimes pulled her out of bed for a midnight snack! She is one of the most caring and nurturing souls I know; it feels highly appropriate that I associate a soup thick with fresh vegetables and beans with memories of her.

   Radishes always mean my dad. For whatever reason, my earliest food memory I have of my father is watching him take a bite out of a crisp, peppery radish- so impossibly bright white and red. He loved them and they never lasted long enough in our house to be anything other than a snack, snagged fresh from the fridge and eaten whole. To me they were impossibly sharp and spicy; I could never handle more than small nibbles of this potent root vegetable. Now, they are one of my favorite foods and I think of him every time I pull one of the stout bundles from the produce shelf.

   I think he would like this salad. I hope you do too.

Asparagus and Radish White Bean Salad

4 cans cannellini (white kidney) beans, drained and rinsed
2 1/2 cups fresh parsley leaves
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 bunch radishes, washed and thinly sliced
2 scallions, thinly sliced
4 ears fresh corn
1 large bunch asparagus, cut into 2 inch pieces
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup white wine vinegar

   Bring a medium sized pot of salted water to a boil.  
   While waiting for the water to boil, place 1 1/2 cups of the fresh parsley and the olive oil in a food processor. Process until smooth. Scrape this into a large mixing bowl.
   When the water boils, boil the corn until bright and tender, about 5 minutes. Remove from the water and allow to cool. Place the asparagus in the same boiling water until just crisp tender (just 1 to 2 minutes). Drain and immediately submerge in an ice bath to stop the cooking and keep the crispness and green color. Once cooled, drain.
   Cut the kernels from the cooled corn cobs with a very sharp knife. Coarsely chop the remaining parsley.
   Add the radishes, scallions, beans, corn kernels, asparagus, chopped parsley, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper to the bowl which contains the pureed parsley dressing. Drizzle the vinegar on top. Toss to coat evenly.
   Serves 8. I like this best the day I make it, but it also makes delicious lunch leftovers.

Only (Rice) Salad Will Do

Thursday, May 2, 2013

   Making new habits is a true puzzle to me. On the one hand, habits are incredibly, alarmingly easy to make. Before you know it, you hit snooze exactly three times every morning (and are therefore always feeling ever so slightly rushed getting ready for work). Suddenly, rather than studying two hours a day you've whittled it down to a consistent single hour without even noticing.
   But on the other hand, there are habits that feel so hard, so painfully difficult to develop- like healthy habits. Getting rid of coffee, or just the creamer and sugar, is like a stake through the heart every. single. morning. It can seem nearly impossible to see the light.

   But, so they say, if you stick with it, the day will come when you've had your coffee with soy, no sugar, and you don't even think for a second about what your morning beverage used to be. Exactly when or how this happens is impossible to say. To me, this vagueness is precisely why forming new healthy habits can be such a herculean effort- no one can tell you how long you need to stick it out before it doesn't feel like sacrifice.

   So I prefer a different approach. I like to be a bit gentler with myself when it comes to making better or healthier lifestyle choices. Rather than view my choice as a black or white new rule to live by, I chose to see things on a more immediate level. Just because I've decided not to have coffee this morning, doesn't mean I can't tomorrow. I don't feel like having a hamburger this week, but maybe next week or next month I'll want one. You never know. Suddenly, it's no big deal.

    Once you accept the idea that nothing is off limits, the choices and opportunities to expand your life and health become endless. It's sort of like revealing the Wizard of Oz- if you refuse to believe that a doughnut is a sinful forbidden food, you've taken away its power over you.

   To me, the key to well rounded living is a series of small choices. It not only amounts to the choices we make to better ourselves, but also occasional decisions to be indulgent and to simply enjoy. This is how our plant based eating experiment began- a gentle, nothing is permanent exploration. Before we knew it, plants made up 99% of our meals and we've never felt better.

   The next time you're faced with a small decision, such as taking your lunch to work or risking the cafeteria, or cream versus soy milk in your coffee, give this a try. Before you know it, you'll be making hundreds of small decisions that add up to one big change in your health. And you eventually won't even notice that you're doing it... I promise.

   Maybe start with this salad. It's bright and fresh, crunchy and creamy. I think you'll like it.

Edamame and Cherry Tomato Forbidden Rice Salad
Inspired by Bon Appetit

1 cup forbidden rice (also called black rice or black Japanese rice)
1 3/4 cups vegetable broth
1 pound orange cherry tomatoes (or whichever color cherry tomato is fresh and available)
juice from 1 to 2 large lemons (about 3 tablespoons)
14 ounces frozen shelled edamame
8 ounces green beans, cut into 2 inch pieces
Kosher salt

   Rinse the rice thoroughly in a sieve. Place the rice in a small saucepan, add the vegetable broth and bring to a boil. Reduce to a mere simmer and cook 40 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to sit with cover on for at least 10 minutes.
   Meanwhile, bring a medium sized pot of salted water to a boil. Boil the edamame for 4 to 5 minutes or until just crisp tender. Drain and run cold water over them until cooled. In the same pot of boiling water, boil the green beans until bright and just tender, about 2 minutes. Drain and immediately submerge in ice water to cool. Drain again.
   Slice the cherry tomatoes in half. Place them in the bottom of a large mixing bowl. Spoon the warm rice over the tomatoes. Squeeze the lemon juice over the rice. Add in the edamame, green beans and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Toss everything to incorporate evenly. Serve warm or chilled.
   Serves 6, or 2 with leftovers for lunches.

Passions and Berries

Saturday, April 27, 2013

   Hello, weekend. I love you.

   I read a lovely article the other day about the difference between having passion in your life and being passionate about your 9 to 5 job. We are fortunate to be living during a time in which finding your true passion in life and following it to a fulfilling and successful career is advertised as an achievable and admirable goal. While I don't dispute this, I think the message can be a bit of a double edged sword.

   I very much believe that most passions- writing, cooking, helping others, etc- can be turned into lucrative careers. But I also don't think it is a terrible thing if you chose a job that doesn't necessarily speak to your heart and soul on a daily basis. There was a time in my life when I was torn between medical school and culinary school, two careers that in many ways are polar opposites. The intensely creative part of me craved the endless combinations and possibilities that the kitchen offered. On the other hand, I had the tools and the ambition to become a doctor. Some of my family members were of the opinion that if you have the ability to do such a thing, you should. But one of the questions I often ask myself, especially since that major fork in my life, is this: just because you can, does it mean you should? Sometimes the answer is no.

   In the end, I put away my applications to culinary school and bought my first stethoscope. Now that all is said and done, I'm actually really happy that I didn't try to make one of my favorite hobbies into a career. I have the luxury of coming home at the end of the day and unwinding in front of the stove. My cookbooks, recipes and feelings about nutrition and flavors are all my own and I don't have to worry about what the world or my customers think of them. My pots and knives are a sanctuary from the demands of making my way in this world and I really love that.

   Steve and I both often talk about what it means to find your true calling in life and how exactly one deals with the occasionally frustrating and mindless tasks most work environments require. I liked the way the article distills such a discussion down to the simple fact that it is perfectly okay if your job sometimes just isn't the bees knees. It's your job plus everything else, in balance and perspective, that matters.

   I have come to love the analytical nature of my work. In a weird way, it's as though it serves as a catalyst for the other more creative parts of my life. It is a true relationship of yin and yang and I'm glad I happened upon it.

    I don't bake very much anymore, but this weekend the itch for a solid, just-this-side-of-sweet breakfast muffin hit me. I have been trying to think of a good way to use the slightly past their prime strawberries from our CSA this week (strawberry season is drawing to a close here in the south) when I stumbled across a recipe for roasted strawberry muffins. Roasting the berries sounds odd but it not only helps bring out the liquid- thereby making it easier to bake with this high water content fruit- it also concentrates and deepens their flavor. It perked the berries up in exactly the way I was looking for.

   These muffins are sweet enough to please but not so much that it feels like dessert. The cornmeal and whole wheat flour lend a sturdiness to them that is really delightful. Each piece of strawberry is like a berry jam explosion in your mouth and the lemon makes it all bright and fun with a hint of tang.

Corny Lemon Strawberry Muffins
Adapted from Annie's Eats.

1 pound strawberries, hulled and quartered (if large, they may need to be cut into 8ths- make the pieces about 1/2 inch)
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1 cup white whole wheat flour
3/4 cup cornmeal
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup greek yogurt
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter, melted
zest of 1/2 and organic lemon
Milk, if needed (almond or cow's)

   Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with a sheet of tinfoil. Spread the strawberries over the tinfoil and sprinkle with the 1 tablespoon sugar. Fold the tin foil up to create a little open topped 'basket' for the berries (this will prevent the juices from running all over the sheet) and bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and place the now softened berries and their juices in a fine mesh sieve set over a bowl. Allow to drain and cool.
   Meanwhile, reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees. Line your muffin tins with cupcake liners (this makes either 16 regular sized muffins or 12 regular sized and 12 mini muffins). In a medium sized bowl, sift the flours, cornmeal, sugar, salt and baking powder together. In another larger bowl, whisk together the yogurt, eggs and vanilla extract until smooth. Whisk in butter and lemon zest. Whisk in 1/3 cup drained juice from the strawberries (if you don't have enough juice, add in milk to make up the difference). Fold in dry ingredients until just incorporated. Fold in berries.
   Fill muffins tins nearly to the tops of the liners. Bake the mini muffins for 15 minutes and the regular sized muffins for 25 minutes or until a tester comes out clean. Cool completely on wire racks.
   Makes 16 regular muffins or 12 regular and 12 mini muffins.

Finding Our Food Identity

Thursday, April 25, 2013

   There are more diets out there than you can throw a stone at. It can be very confusing and even more frustrating if you're trying to find your way to healthier living, lose weight or simply feel better.

   For me, any changes in diet or lifestyle that I've undertaken have fallen into the last category. Most of the time I'm happy with how I look and I feel as though I've fortunately never had what I would categorize as very unhealthy habits. But who doesn't want to feel just a touch more energetic, clear minded or peaceful? My mission as far as personal eating habits go have always been to feel my absolute best and also to know in my soul that I've done the best I can to make sure I spend as many active, healthy years on this planet as possible. I love life and I don't want to give up a single day if I can help it.

   Perhaps because I approach eating and exercising this way, I've never labeled my eating habits in any particular way. Steve and I have been eating a mostly vegan diet for several months now, but we are by no means 100% vegan. Although he tried giving them up for a while, Steve feels his best and most energetic when he has eggs for breakfast several times a week. Sometimes when we eat out, the local fish call my name and I don't feel that one serving of fish every week or two is going to harm me or the planet in any irreparable way- so I go for it.

   Mark Bittman, one of my all time favorite food writers, is publishing a book called VB6 which is his abbreviation for Vegan Before 6. He has adopted a vegan diet before 6 o'clock, or the dinner hour, for the past several years and was very pleased with his weight loss and overall boost in well being. I was very excited to hear that a well known name in the food writing world has happened upon this formula because it is essentially exactly what Steve and I have discovered and adopted. I personally don't feel compelled to eat animal products on a daily basis as Mr. Bittman does; I prefer to reserve animal sources of food for a single meal per week or less. But I think his general message is valuable and I deeply believe everyone can stand to incorporate more fruits and veggies in their diet; the weekly or daily ratio is up to each person individually.

   I can't emphasize the power of experimenting with vegan and whole foods enough. One of the most frustrating things for me, especially as someone in the health care industry, are the abundance of 'quick fixes' and temporary solutions available to people who are confused or dissatisfied with their health or weight. Throwing pills, synthetic concoctions and surgery at the problem is absolutely not the solution.

     Because, and I say this with conviction, it works. Steve and I both feel better today- more energy, clear mindedness and endurance- than we ever have. For those interested in weight loss, Steve definitely didn't complain when he suddenly realized he once again weighed what he did in his lean late teenage years. For me, I was already satisfied with my weight and more interested in the other benefits- like clearer skin and more stamina during my long work days. No matter your goal, there is something in this for everyone.

   The power to feel better inside and out is found in your kitchen and the produce aisle of your grocery store- not in a bottle or on a surgeons table.

   "Let food be thy medicine." -Hippocrates.

   This is a very popular quote, but I think it bears repeating because I find it to be so simple and yet profound. Perhaps our medical education and the reimbursement structure of healthcare hasn't caught up to this ancient belief, but I believe it will one day. And I hope by then most of us will already be ahead of the curve, healing our bodies one meal at a time.

   Today's medicine comes in the form of the humble legume. Nutrient and energy dense, beans of all types are one of my go to components when building a meal. Chickpeas inhabit a dear place in my heart as they are the first bean I remember eating as a child. Even at four years old, I knew chicken soup wasn't complete without them, partly because it made phonetic sense to my child's mind, and partly because I liked them better than the chicken! Thankfully, I had a mom who knew the power of the bean, and always accommodated my request for a can or two to be added to the pot.

Spicy Roasted Chickpeas
Inspired by Choosing Raw

   After their stay in the oven these chickpeas become a rich russet brown and adopt a slightly crunchy texture. The roasting deepens their flavor- it almost remind me of spicy roasted peanuts. We enjoyed them as a complete meal, sprinkled over my favorite salad base, which I added thinly sliced raw kale to.

2 cans chickpeas, drained and well rinsed
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/8 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 scallions, thinly sliced

   Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with tinfoil. Line a shallow bowl with paper towels and roll your chickpeas around in the towels until they are quite dry. Pour them into the tinfoil lined baking sheet. Drizzle over the olive oil and the spices. Roll around with your hands or a spatula until the chickpeas are evenly coated with the spices.
   Bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes. Pull the sheet out, use your spatula to move the chickpeas around a bit. Sprinkle the thinly sliced scallions on top. Place back in the oven for another 15 minutes.
   Serve warm over your favorite salad or allow to cool and package up for a convenient snack.

On Meditation and New Life

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

   Steve and I recently got back from a much needed long weekend away from work and home. We dropped the dog off at her favorite doggy camp (she dislikes the word 'kennel') and hit the road to the more mountainous region of western North Carolina, a town called Asheville. Let's just say the beautiful landscape, fresh mountain air, delightful local micro brews and out of this world Indian food can expect to see us again, very soon.

   Taking time away from work always gives me a physical and mental energy boost. I suddenly feel inspired to complete projects, start new creative endeavors and my yoga practice is infused with new life. Many people, and I think especially people in medicine, can lose track of the importance of unplugging every once in a while. Leave the cell phones, iPads and lap tops behind and allow yourself time to focus on the things that really matter to you. It's amazing what we end up pondering or discussing when we don't have a news article distracting us every other 5 seconds. For me, these kinds of weekends (or longer if you can!) feel like one long stretch of meditation. The quiet and sense of calm achieved is practically narcotic.

    Meanwhile, here in the south, late winter's chilly breath has reached us once again. It seems almost fortuitous, seeing as I had a grocery bag filled with leftover root vegetables that needed to be used. I came up with this hearty quinoa dish that was so colorful and tasty we made it two nights in a row! Roasting brings out the peppery bite of the turnips and the deep caramelization that develops on the carrots is like candy- only better tasting and prettier. The confetti like nature of this meal seems fitting seeing as one of my closest friends had her first baby over the weekend...! It seems impossible to me that we've reached an age where bringing new life into the world is on the menu, but here we are. I couldn't be happier or more in awe of her and the beautiful family she's created. As we shed these last few days of light jackets and cozy winter blankets, celebrating new life in every way, I hope this dish graces your dinner table.

Quinoa with Swiss Chard and Roasted Root Vegetables

2 large turnips, scrubbed clean
6 carrots
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup quinoa, rinsed
1 3/4 cup plus 1/2 cup vegetable broth
1 teaspoon dried parsley
1 bunch rainbow swiss chard, thoroughly rinsed
2 cloves garlic, minced
6 cups spinach

   Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with tin foil. Cut the carrots and turnips into 1 inch chunks, spread them on the lined baking sheet and toss with the olive oil and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Bake for 40 - 45 minutes until very soft and caramelized.
   Meanwhile, prepare the quinoa (make sure you rinse it well in a fine mesh sieve to remove any silt). Place quinoa in a small saucepan and stir in 1 3/4 cups veggie broth, the parsley, several dashes (no more than 1/4 teaspoon) turmeric and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil, reuce to a bare simmer, cover and allow to simmer for 15 minutes. Without taking the cover off, turn the heat off. Let it sit, covered, while you prepare the rest of the dish.
   When there is 15 minutes to go on the turnips and carrots, trim and discard the dried ends of the rainbow swiss chard.  Slice the chard into 1/2 inch ribbons, including the stalks. In a saute pan, bring 1/2 cup veggie broth and the minced garlic to a simmer. Add the swiss chard and cook, tossing occasionally, until just tender and wilted. Turn heat off.
   Place spinach in the bottom of a large mixing bowl. Scoop the hot quinoa on top of the spinach. Add the swiss chard, turnips and carrots and toss everything together, allowing the hot components to lightly wilt the spinach. Taste, add additional salt if desired.
   Serves 4.

This Week's Bounty

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

   In light of the terrifying events in Boston this week, all I can do is focus on life and thank the heavens my Boston dwelling friends and family are well and safe. My heart and thoughts are with everyone in my favorite city in the North.  

Last week I promised you CSA photos and today I'm here to deliver.


 It comes all packaged up in this pretty blue bag.

That bag contains a bag of spinach....

 .... and a bag of baby salad greens.

 Two quarts of these ruby hued beauties.

 Asparagus and rainbow swiss chard.

Curly leafed kale, so dark and dusky green.

Spring onions- very sweet and tender.

"And what the heck is this thing?" I wondered. "Some kind of weird, leafy cabbage...?"
And I was almost right....

... teeny baby brussels sprouts, nestled close to the stalk and hiding amongst the leaves.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have a snack needs tending to- sometimes the best recipes aren't recipes at all!

Routinely Beautiful

Friday, April 12, 2013

   I would like to say first that I love daily routines. I love the comfort they offer and that they often keep me from making mistakes or forgetting important things.

   I love that if you look a little deeper, most routines have much greater meaning than it may seem on cursory observation. For instance, every morning I pour my coffee into one particular bright yellow mug; it is old and has a hairline crack in its side that (knock on wood) doesn't leak. But I don't drink from it every single morning because of its cheery color, although I also love that; I drink from it because my sister gave it to me and it always reminds me of her. Despite being the closest of friends, we've had to live very far from each other for the past six years and this small ritual makes me feel just a touch closer to her.

   But when abused, routine can rob us of possibilities for excitement, improvement and adventure. Steve and I have three restaurants that we absolutely adore and could happily spend the rest of our lives rotating through. But ironically, some of my fondest memories are of date nights we stepped away from our usual stomping grounds, tried a new restaurant and hated the food! This happened once on our anniversary and although the night could have been a complete disaster, I've never laughed harder as I watched Steve make fun of the fussy plates, ridiculously small portions and bland food.

   I invite you to remove a little routine from your meal sometime in your near Tex-Mex future: walk right past the tortilla and taco aisle and head straight to the leafy greens. Instead of baked flour and cornmeal, pick out the prettiest, leafiest bunch of collards you can find.

   Collards and other hearty leafy green wraps are pretty popular in the plant based eating world and you can find many variations on this beautiful, crunchy, fresh theme. After some experimentation, these little 'tacos' are our favorite invention so far. Superior flavor and texture aside, this is also an excellent way to remove a bit of refined grains from your diet.

   I hope you deviate slightly from your usual taco routine and give these a try. While you're at it, take a moment to appreciate how, when pressed next to each other on a serving platter, they look like lovely green collard flowers, all fancy and frilled. And I promise, unlike the occasional terrible restaurant, these you will love.

Collard Green 'Tacos'

6 small to medium sized collard green leaves (leafy parts about 5 inches long)
1 large onion, sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cups spinach, packed tight for accurate measurement
1 can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
2 cups vegetable broth
1 teaspoon dried parsley
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (less if you don't like your tacos spicy)
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup salsa

   To prepare the collards: wash each leaf thoroughly. Trim the bottom 2 inches or so of woody stem off. Set the leaves aside on towels to dry (you may need to dab the water droplets off later once ready to fill the tacos).
   In a medium sized fry pan, add the beans, broth, spices, salt and salsa. Turn heat to medium and bring to a simmer. Once it begins simmering, mash the beans with a fork until most of them are coarsely broken apart. Simmer, mixing every once in a while, until enough broth evaporates that a thick 'refried bean' texture is achieved. Turn heat off, taste and add additional salt if needed.
   Meanwhile, in another fry pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and a few pinches of salt and cook until very tender, brown and caramelized (takes 10-15 minutes). Add the spinach and cook just until the spinach is barely wilted.
   To assemble: cradle a collard leaf in your hand; spoon about 1/3 cup bean mixture down the center. Place some of the onion/spinach saute on top. Optional: top with guacamole (recipe to follow) Squeeze the sides gently to create a 'taco' shape. Continue with the rest until the ingredients are used up.
   Serves two.

Variation: Collard Quesadillas

6 collard green leaves
Beans, prepared as above
Onions/Spinach saute, prepared as above
Guacamole, see recipe below

   Lay down a collard, spread a layer of the beans on top, then spread a layer of onions/spinach on top of the beans. Lay down another collard, spread a layer of guacamole on top and finish with a final collard leaf. It's a fork and knife sort of thing and just as tasty as the tacos.
   Makes two.

And don't forget burritos...

The One and Only Guacamole

2 avocados
Juice from 1 lime
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped
Scant 1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 - 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (adjust according to your desired level of heat)
1/4 teaspoon onion powder

   Place all ingredients in a bowl. Mash with a fork until a smooth to slightly chunky texture is achieved.