Monthly Archives: January 2012

Clean Eating. But First, Banana Bread.

If you remember, dear readers, one thing on my 24 Before 25 list was to go a whole month without eating high fructose corn syrup. In the past month or so I’ve tried – and failed – about three times to do this.  Actually, I wasn’t really failing at not eating high fructose corn syrup – that turned out to be pretty easy.  What I was failing at was not eating something overly processed that technically didn’t contain HFCS (maybe just corn syrup) that then led me to feel like I was eating gross processed crap anyway and turn to more junky foods with the resolution that I would eat clean again starting tomorrow.  I’d get about a week again and then cave again.

The problem was, even though I was technically following my rule, I knew the real goal of the rule was to eat less processed food in general.  So even though my list item is still to go a month without eating HFCS, what I’m really going to do is a month – hopefully more – of clean eating.

There are a lot of ideas of good or clean eating out there.  No dairy!  No gluten!  Everything raw!  So what are my rules for clean eating?

What I will be cutting out:

  • HFCS
  • Chemicals I can’t pronounce or identify on a store shelf (i.e. those crazy stabilizers, flavorings and preservatives in packaged food)
  • Most refined sugar, with the occasional exception for things I bake myself
  • As much white flour and refined carbs as possible

What I won’t be cutting out:

  • Dairy (I rarely eat it anyway, but I like yogurt for breakfast sometimes)
  • Alcohol (but I’ll only drink my usual quality craft beer and whiskey)
  • Caffeine (green tea is totally good for you!)
  • Gluten
  • Fruit (yes, some extreme diets think fruit has to much sugar)

Basically I’m not going crazy orthorexic (orthorexic – obsession with right eating) fad diet here and cutting out whole food groups, I’m just sticking to a faith that anything whole and natural is good for you and anything packaged and processed is not.  Tomorrow will be the day I start, and I’ll go through the end of February – that’ll make a whole month.  Are you in?

But that’s tomorrow, and today, today there’s banana bread.  Not that banana bread necessarily breaks any clean eating rules – especially not my banana bread! My banana bread, which was sort of inspired by this recipe from Joy the Baker and this recipe from Allrecipes, is full of good things like millet and yogurt and fruit and had minimal bad things like sugar and oil.  Okay, so there is flour.  But it’s bread.  Duh.

Millet Banana Bread

  • 2 cups flour (try half whole wheat!)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 3 large overripe bananas
  • 1/4 cup vegetable or canola oil
  • 1/3 cup plain yogurt
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/4 cup millet

Preheat your oven to 350 and butter a 9×5 loaf pan.  In a medium bowl, blend your flour, soda, salt and cinnamon.  Set aside.

In a larger bowl, mash your three bananas until mostly smooth – it’s okay if there are a few chunks.  Or, if you’re like me and you froze a super-ripe banana just for this purpose, simply mush up the slimy mess you will find inside.  Seriously, it’s disgusting.  I actually had to call my mom to ask her if it was normal for the frozen banana to turn into a brown, smushy tube – I remember her doing this when I was a kid, and she assured me it was.  This is what the banana looked like out of the freezer:

And this is what it looked like when I opened it.  It stayed in one gelatinous piece, and I just shook it out of its skin into the bowl.

The rest of the bananas I just chopped and rough mashed with a fork.  When that’s done, stir in your oil and yogurt.

Add the brown sugar, eggs and vanilla, and beat with a hand mixer on low for a few seconds, just until everything is blended.  Again, it’s okay if it’s a little lumpy.  No big.  More banana goodness.

Next, stir in your dry ingredients until they are just incorporated.  Add the millet and stir in until it’s evenly distributed, then put it in your prepared pan and make sure the batter is spread to the corners.

Bake for 45-50 minutes, or until the top starts to look toasty and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  I know this doesn’t sound like long enough for banana bread, and I was just as surprised when I checked the oven after 40 minutes and the top was beginning to brown.  But hey, it works.  That’s what happens when you make up recipes: you have to adjust when things come up.  And it will come up, into a dome of crunchy banana goodness.  The millet is a great textural component, but walnuts would also be good here.  You know I’m going to tell you to play around with it yourself.  Whoever said baking is an exact science was lying!

So, banana bread for dinner tonight, clean healthy eating starting tomorrow.  The hardest part will be going to work on Monday and not snacking on all the chips and treats we have in the classroom.  But I have faith.  It is on the list, after all, I have to do it!

Speaking of the list, I’ve been making a little progress.  I already told you I watched a football game, and I’ve also started (really) volunteering at a therapeutic horseback riding center.  I’m looking into swing lessons, researching the stock market, and I’ve signed up for a program that matches international pen pals.  I also started taking capoeira lessons, which is an awesome Brazilian dance-martial arts thing that I LOVE.  I know it wasn’t a list item, but I’d been wanting to go to an intro class in Denver for a long time now, and in the spirit of the list and trying new things I finally went.  Now I can’t stop.  Of course I’ll have to wait till my body stops being so sore after every class before I can start swing dancing and rock climbing.  But I’m so glad I faced my fear of the unknown, and my fear of failure, and went for it.

You know what they say: you should do at least one thing every day that scares you!


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Weekly Ponder

I think that instead of committing to a single day to post my ponderable quote (since we all know how spectacularly terrible I am at sticking to an ed cal) I’m just going to post the quote sometime around the weekend…ish and call it the “weekly ponder”.  Deal?  On to it, then.

“We’re all going to die, all of us, what a circus!  That alone should make us love each other but it doesn’t.  We are terrorized and flattened by trivialities, we are eaten up by nothing.”

                                    -Charles Bukowski

This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, the impermanence of life and the silliness of the things we worry about.  I was reading Turning the Mind into an Ally, a wonderful book on meditation by Sakyong Mipham, and he essentially says that everything changes and we shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously.  We become attached to our notion of what will make us happy, and we believe that once we achieve this goal or acquire this thing or fix this problem everything will be good and remain good.  But that’s never the case.  We grasp for an illusion that, even if obtained, will not remain with us forever anyhow.  We might as well accept it and go with the flow.

I guess that’s sort of me projecting my recent experience onto Bukowski’s quote.  There’s more to it, though.  The real idea is that, even though life is ephemeral and we’re all in the same boat, we choose to build up our petty fortresses of expectations and dissatisfactions and turn against one another in our illusory quest for permanent happiness.  Our lives are consumed fighting – ourselves and others – for the things we falsely believe will make us happy forever.

So how can this quote change my behavior this week?  First, I will not be derailed by the petty trials that come my way; they are small, and they will not ultimately stop me from being happy.  Even once I am happy, that will change, so there’s no point in swimming against the current of life.   Second, I will remember to show everyone compassion because we truly are all on the same quest, to lead happy lives in the only ways we each know how.  I want to help people on that path more than hurt them.

This post is a little fragmented, I know.  I’m tired and I don’t feel good and I’m not concentrating very well, but I think the idea is there.  Even getting this mess of thoughts sort of organized will help me remember Bukowski’s words throughout the week.  On a semi-related note, I finally got the lotus tattoo I’ve been wanting for about two years now, which will serve as a reminder to be compassionate and guide myself toward peace whenever I lose my way.  Plus it’s really pretty!

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Sweet Potato Black Bean Tacos

The first time I had sweet potato black bean tacos was at Watercourse Foods, an awesome vegetarian restaurant here in Denver.  Ever since then I was smitten.  Sweet potatoes?  Spicy food?  What?  Oh yes.

Actually, I’d been thinking about this recipe before I knew Joy the Baker did it, and before I knew there were a slew of variations online.  So you know what?  I’m not going to credit anyone but Watercourse and my own ingenuity.  Sometimes you just have to take what you want!

Let me start by saying two things. One, my usual schpiel about how this recipe is awesome and healthy and vegetarian: nothing but veggies, protein and healthy plant-based fats.  Mega win.  Two, since this was a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of recipe (the best kind) I don’t really have exact measurements.  I’ll do my best to estimate things, but it’s hard on spices – I just know what looks right to me.  But I trust you.  You know how to season something “to taste”, don’t you?  Of course you do.  You got this.

Sweet Potato Black Bean Tacos with Cabbage Slaw (serves 3)

  • 1 15-oz. can unsalted black beans
  • 1 large or 2 smallish/medium sweet potatoes
  • about 2 cups red cabbage, thinly sliced
  • about 1/3 cup red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 tomato, chopped
  • about 1/3 cup cilantro, chopped (or more…to taste!)
  • 3-4 limes
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 8 small whole wheat tortillas
  • 1 avocado
  • cumin, paprika and chili powder
  • salt and pepper
  • olive oil
  • sriracha sauce

First, preheat your oven to 400 degrees and chop your sweet potato(es) into small cubes, about 1/2 inch.  Think of the size of your little taco tortillas when you prepare everything – you want bite-size potatoes that won’t fall out, and thin, short ribbons of cabbage and onion for the slaw.  Toss the potatoes in a large glass baking dish with about 2 tablespoons olive oil and salt, pepper, cumin, paprika and chili powder to taste (I got a little heavier on the cumin and paprika – basically a solid dusting on top of the potatoes, which I then toss by hand).  Bake for about 30 minutes, stirring once, until tender.

While the potatoes are baking, toss your ribbons of cabbage and onion in a large bowl with the apple cider vinegar and the juice of 2-3 limes.  Coat the veggies well and let stand for about 10 minutes, stirring once or twice, then pour off most of the excess liquid.

Then add the cilantro, tomato and just a touch of salt and pepper (maybe a dash of chili powder?), toss again and let stand until time to serve.

Finally, when you only have about 7 minutes left on your sweet potatoes, drain most of the liquid from your black beans and heat them in a medium saucepan and medium-low heat.  Stir in lots of cumin and chili powder (if you like spice), pepper, a squeeze of lime, and as much salt as you need to brighten the beans.  I guess you could just buy regular salted black beans, but I like having more control over my seasoning…and my sodium intake.  Just keep tasting the beans, but keep in mind they’re also one of earthier “base” flavors of the dish, and they’ll be offset by the tangy slaw and spicy sriracha.

When your potatoes are done and your beans are heated through, put everything in serving bowls and toss a few tortillas on the stove or in the microwave.  Then assemble the tacos – sweet potatoes, beans, slaw – and top with slices of avocado and a drizzle of sriracha sauce.  Serve with a sweet, malty beer to offset the spiciness.  Sublime!

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*Enter Pithy Title Here*

I have an idea.  I mean I have lots of ideas, but I have an idea I want to share with you for the blog.  I’ve been really slacking on meditating lately, even though I do occasionally ruminate on meditative principles or read lessons.  But as for the real deal, slow-it-all-down, focus on the present meditation meditation, I haven’t been doing as much as I should.  So, to help guide me in this – and everywhere else, for that matter – I’ve decided that one day a week I’m going to pick a quote, concept or lesson to meditate on formally, and to keep in mind informally for the week.  I want it to be things that will inspire, improve and teach, and maybe sometimes just things that are worth thinking about.  The sure-to-be-clever title will come when I’ve decided on a set day for this, but for now I’m keeping it loose.

And therefore, on this Saturday, the fourteenth of January, my first quote for the week shall be:

“It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”

                                             -Jiddu Krishnamurti, Indian thinker and philosopher

I’ve liked this quote for quite sometime, but it’s been speaking to me especially loudly in the past few days.  I watched a Food Network special on food waste (nothing new to me, after seeing I Love Trash and Dive!, both about dumpster diving and food waste), which was a poignant reminder of not only how much we waste in our present industrial food system, but also a reminder of how absolutely terrified we all seem to be of the world around us.  Bruised fruit?  Irregular eggs?  Fallen corn stalks?  No! When did we become so afraid of everything outside our crisp, clean, perfect expectations (silly question…we’ve always been afraid.  But still.)?

I was also flipping through the latest issue of Glamour magazine to arrive at my door, courtesy of a long-standing Christmas gift from my grandmother.  As I was reading what used to be a fun, if not mindless, indulgence, all I could think was, I don’t CARE about the four latest ways to style my hair, or which nail polish men like most.  All of a sudden the words on the page seemed so painfully empty that it wasn’t even mindless entertainment anymore, it was jut garbage (sorry, Grandma). Don’t peddle your wares and insecurities to me, America.

Of course I’ve always known that neither of these things were really indicators of a fully healthy society, but lately it’s become harder and harder to live with them.  Same goes for my mother’s attitudes about tattoos (I’m going to have gross wrinkly skin anyway in 60 years, who cares if there’s ink on it?  It’s only a body!) and a lot of my own views on money (security is a fleeting illusion at best).  So this week I’m going to make a more conscious effort to see the things in my life that are indicative of a sick society and make a conscious effort to change them, either in practice or mindset.  I feel better already.


P.S. Weekly meditation is on The List, which I’m clearly still working on.  However, I did go to my first volunteer training today at The Right Step therapeutic riding program, and man oh man did it feel good.  It felt like coming home.  It’s so clearly something I love to do, something that feeds my soul – why did I stay away so long??

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Spicy Poached Egg Nest

Three posts in four days!  Apparently I am back in the kitchen with a vengeance.

I spent all day today snacking on chips and chocolate and swearing – swearing – that I am going to start being healthy tomorrow. But I mean it this time.  No, really…

To (sort of) make up for my junk food fest today, I decided to make something healthy and creative for dinner (because there is NOTHING healthy nor creative about packaged foods).  I was inspired by a recipe for field peas with kale and sweet potatoes I found in my awesome new Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home cookbook I got for Christmas.  What I came up with is pretty different from the original recipe, but the idea is still there: protein, kale and sweet potatoes cut by a spicy condiment.  Only mine is an egg poached in the kale, with a chili-yogurt sauce. Weird, I know, but delicious.

Spicy Poached Egg with Kale and Sweet Potatoes

  • 1 medium sweet potato
  • about 4 cups raw kale, torn
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon nonfat plain yogurt
  • 1-2 teaspoons chili sauce
  • olive oil
  • sriracha
  • salt, pepper and paprika to taste
  • caramelized onions (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Peel and chop the sweet potato, and toss in a baking dish with olive oil, salt and pepper.  Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the potato is tender.

In the meantime, remove the stems/ribs from your kale and tear or roughly chop until you have about 4 cups.  It’ll look like a lot but it’s only one serving!  Then again, I might love kale more than you.  Spray a large skillet or pan with olive oil cooking spray and add about a quarter cup of water.  Put the kale in the pan, cover with a lid and let it sautee/steam (is there a name for this cooking method?) for about 5 minutes, or until the leaves start to wilt.

Add a little salt, pepper and paprika and toss with the kale as it cooks.  When it’s beginning to wilt down, pile it in the middle of the pan and make a hole in the middle.  Crack an egg in this hole and cover again to poach the egg, about 5-7 minutes more.

Considering the kale and egg will only take 15 minutes tops, try to start this about halfway through your sweet potato cooking time if possible.  While the egg poaches, stir the yogurt and chili sauce (I used a store-bought sauce, or you can just use sriracha) together and add pepper and paprika if you want.  When the egg is done, use a large spatula to get under the whole nest and ease it onto a plate in one go.  It should hold together pretty easily.  Top with about half the sweet potatoes (you’ll have leftovers) and chili-yogurt sauce, plus some sriracha if you really like spice (and I do!).

I also garnished with a little caramelized onion jam, since the Moosewood recipe called for onions and I thought the sweetness might pair well with the earthy kale and spicy sauce.  I don’t know if the actual caramelized onion jam was my favorite, but some straightforward sauteed or caramelized onions or shallots might be good.

It’s a little off the wall, I know, but trust me, it’s really good.  The Moosewood cookbook might be my new favorite – so interesting, healthy and, clearly, inspirational!

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Homemade Granola is Just Better

You know how granola is one of those fake health foods?  Like most protein bars: they scream, I’m healthy!  Athletes eat me!  That girl in your yoga class eats me!  They’re fit because of ME!!!

Granola and protein bars are usually lying.  Read the labels and you find nothing but sugar, sugar, weird chemicals, refined sources of protein, and more sugar.  That’s what I found even while perusing the granola at Vitamin Cottage, unless I wanted to pay $7 for a bag of “raw” granola, which I’m pretty sure is secretly just oats.  So I decided to make my own.

You could make some really healthy granola at home, depending on what you put in it.  Play around with grains, nuts and seasoning until you get something that suits your needs.  I just used what I had in my cupboards, and I came up with a really simple but pretty fantastic honey-nut granola.

Honey Nut Granola (makes about 2 cups)

  • 1 cup old-fashioned oats
  • about 1/3 cup whole raw almonds
  • 1/4 cup whole raw walnuts
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 1/8-1/4 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and foil and grease a baking sheet.  Chop your nuts and mix with the oats in a large bowl.  Add the honey, oil, vanilla and cinnamon, and mix with a spoon until everything is well-incorporated.  You won’t really be able to stir this; use a downward motion with the spoon and turn the mixture frequently until it looks evenly coated.

Spread evenly on the baking sheet, but try not to let the mixture get to thin on the sides or have a lot of stray oats on the pan, as these outer edges will burn easier.  Bake for 10-12 minutes, until the edges are just getting toasty, stirring once (but, again, try not to let the granola stray on the edges of the batch).  It might seem soft and soggy right out of the oven, but it’ll get crunchy as it cools.  Let cool on the foil, then gently break it up and store in an airtight container.

Like I said, you can add lots of stuff to this granola: pumpkin seeds, millet, flax, maple, puffed rice, dried fruit…totally up to you.  As it is according to my recipe, each 1/4 cup serving has about 125 calories – not bad!  Just enough to add texture and a good dose of protein and healthy fat to a bowl of Greek yogurt and fruit…sans chemicals, refined sugar, and whatever else is in that scary suprmarket stuff.

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Apple Sharlotka and the List

I haven’t been baking in a while, I know.  I don’t know why…probably because I was eating my way through the gingersnaps I got for Christmas and couldn’t fathom any use for more baked goods.  But of course the gingersnaps are exhausted (if I’m honest, they have been for some time) and I’m back in the kitchen.

As soon as I saw this recipe for Russian apple sharlotka on Smitten Kitchen I was…well…smitten.  It’s kind of a cake that tastes like kind of a pie that’s really kind of like just eating fruit.  Aside from lots of apples, there’s not a whole lot more to this pastry…which means you can totally count this as a healthy fruit snack and not a dessert at all.  Win!

Apple Sharlotka (adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

  • 5 large apples (I like sweet and tart – I did 3 granny smith and 2 gala)
  • juice of half a lemon
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • powder sugar, for dusting
  • butter, for the pan

Let’s get one thing straight: my sharlotka does not look nearly as good as Smitten Kitchen’s.  That’s probably because I don’t have a 9-inch springform pan, like she uses, and I didn’t butter and paper my dish like she recommends.  Instead, I used a 9-inch glass pie dish, which I thoroughly buttered.  Even though the cake wouldn’t extract itself from the dish in one nice piece, it was plenty easy to cut slices from.  So…make due.  Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and butter (and maybe paper or flour, as well) whatever 9-inch-ish pan you’re using.

Peel your apples, cut into quarters and slice the core from each piece.  Then cut your quarters in half again and chop into quarter-inch slices.  (There’s a pear in the picture because I thought this might be really good with half pears, spiced up with autumn flavors.  However, five apples proved plenty to fill my pie dish and I didn’t use the pear after all…but you could!)

Put apple slices in a bowl and toss with the juice of a half a lemon, or a little more if you like, or a little zest if that what catches your fancy.  Then put the apples directly in your buttered pan or baking dish.

Next, whisk the eggs and sugar together until well combined, then whisk in the vanilla.  Add the flour and cinnamon and stir until just combined.  The batter will be very thick!  Pour it over the dish of apples and spread with a spoon or spatula to make sure it gets between all the cracks.

You might need to lightly shuffle the top layer of apples to make sure the batter gets to the bottom pretty evenly.  I just kind of poked around with a butter knife and checked under the dish (the perk of using a glass pan!) to make sure it looked satisfactory.

Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Let it cool for ten minutes, then, if you can, flip it out onto a cooling rack.  If you can’t, keep it in the dish, dust with powdered sugar and enjoy!  It’s basically health food, right?

In other news, I already crossed something off my 24 Before 25 list!  Are you ready?  Drumroll please…I watched a whole football game!  Ta da!  I know that doesn’t sound impressive, but it was on my list because it’s something I’d normally NEVER do.  But my lovely boyfriend drew out diagrams and taught me the basic rules, and we watched our Denver Broncos crush the Steelers in a wildcard game tonight (I already sound like I actually know what I’m talking about, right?  I don’t, really).  There was even overtime…so I was committed to sticking to my list.

So…do I like football now?  Heck no!  But I have a better appreciation of the skill required to play the game, and I guess I sort of understand why people like it (I, after all, love baseball – and lots of people think that’s uber-boring).  The real lesson was that I really, really shouldn’t dismiss anything outright, and in a roundabout way it reinforced my belief that understanding is the key to compassion.  Of course I don’t really feel compassion toward the sport, but now that I understand it a little I can almost sort of kind of maybe appreciate it.  A little.

So there it is.  One down, 23 to go.  Next up I think is snowshoeing, reading a book in French (I bought a copy of Balzac’s Pere Goirot) and volunteering (at The Right Step, a therapeutic horseback riding center).  Really I’m excited to do everything.  Stay tuned!

P.S. This apple sharlotka totally doesn’t count as baking pie, either.  I wouldn’t cheat like that!

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