Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Breakfast Beans

The beans I soaked last night have swollen in the bowl. Plump, burgundy beans like polished beach pebbles and a name like a comic book exclamation. ADZUKI!  I pour them into a large pot and add more water. The screen door lets the last hour of cool air into the kitchen. I play Patsy Cline on a loop. I pull lycra over my head, over my hips. I like how it compresses my flesh, holds me tight, will not budge. The beans begin to boil and the steam smells like hot earth. I fill water bottles, I stuff my pocket with packets of viscous sugar, I leave my bike shoes by the door. When the beans are nearly done I throw a handful of salt in the water. I slice fat crescents of avocado and split cherry tomatoes in half with a sharp, blue knife. I drain the beans and scoop some hot from the colander. A clove of garlic and an egg in the pan. Each bite is muscle flexed and contracted, the turn of the pedals, the cadence quickened, a hill climbed. I eat my meal and picture the ride. An hour later I am winding up the road on my old Trek bike. The acacia still blooms in the shady hollows but most has given way to a thick cloak of jasmine and early California lupine. There are deer on the road, hawks above the vines, flop-eared rabbits half-hidden in the mustard between the rows. The road keeps climbing and to my right the road falls away to a narrow valley of eucalyptus and juniper. There are few cars. There are pot holes. The sun clamps down on me, draws sweat from every inch of skin. From the next bend in the road I can see the Golden Gate Bridge, Mt. Tam, the tiny rectangle of a container ship headed out to sea. The road steepens, steadily climbs, I keep pushing and pulling, my legs burn, my hips burn, every thing is taut, contracted, gripped. Involuntary sound escapes from deep in me, something guttural, animal, the last reserves of effort, and finally my tires find level ground and the blessed tip down hill.
There is something very special and also very logical about feeding the body for fuel. We spend so much time thinking and talking about how we look, and the conversations most overheard about food seem to be about what to eat and what not to eat in order to lose weight, whether that's a health based imperative for someone or not. But what about feeding the body so that it can perform? So that it can run and swim and dance and bike and play? On Sunday I will participate in my first triathlon. I have come to realize that one of the things I most love about training is how I come to re-understand my body as an instrument of action, and not as an object. For 12 weeks I have pushed myself, asked my body to perform tasks it has never done before (ie, getting off a bike and immediately going for a run. What?!), and the way I eat has changed. Of course my food must still taste delicious, but what I want to eat is food that will fuel my body, repair my muscles, sustain a long ride, or a run or a swim. Most of us forget that food in the body, at its most basic level, is energy. What do you do with your fuel? When is the last time you recognized your body for all the amazing work it does, all it is capable of doing? Maybe this week, forget about the mirror, put away the scale. Fuel yourself. Go out and play.

A Bowl of Beans
1 cup of dry beans, rinsed and soaked overnight*, less if you don't want leftover beans
1 or 2 eggs
1/4 cup of cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 a firm but ripe avocado, sliced
1 clove of garlic chopped
a handful of broccoli or kale, chopped
1 T coconut oil
olive oil to taste

*You can make this with canned beans too but I prefer the taste and texture of dried beans. Soaking them overnight will shorten the cooking time and make them easier to digest.

Pour the beans and the soaking water into a pot and add more water so the beans are covered by at least an inch of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and cook until tender. About 30 minutes (might take longer for bigger beans such as kidney beans or white beans).  I recommend testing the beans around 20 minutes and if they are tender but need to cook more, add a good pinch of salt. Salting too early can make the beans shriveled and hard.

Drain the beans in a colander over the sink. Scoop one cup of cooked beans into a bowl. The rest you can use over the coming days in variations on this dish or in other meals.

In a small pan heat the tablespoon of coconut oil over medium-high. Throw in the garlic, broccoli and/or greens and sautee until soft. Add the veggies to your bowl of beans.

Return the pan to the burner. You may need to add a bit more oil. Fry or scramble an egg then place on top of the bean-veg bowl. Add tomatoes and avocado and maybe some fresh herbs and hot sauce. Salt and pepper to taste. 

Monday, April 22, 2013

Yeasty-Beasties and a Note on Cleansing

I just spent 10 days being my own "client" to get over a case of the yeasty-beasties. Three steady weeks of visitors, celebration food, unsatisfactory amounts of sleep, more than satisfactory amounts of wine, lots of work, and a whole lot of stress about how to get "it" all done had tipped me into many of the habits I try to help other people break. I was sustaining my long days with sugar and coffee. I was skipping meals. I was saying "yes" to everything except to time for myself. I went days without vegetables and got in the very comforting but not particularly moderate habit of eating ice cream every day. Eventually, my body put the brakes on. *If you do not want to read about yeast overgrowths and cleansing, this would be a good place to stop reading. I looked and felt like I was carrying a partially inflated balloon in my pants, just under my belly button. I was foggy brained, groggy and irritable, and felt heavy and sore in my joints. Luckily, due to years of experience, I knew what was going on. I had the symptoms of a yeast overgrowth. I knew what I had to do. I put myself on an anti-candida, alkalinizing program that included a bunch of natural anti-fungals.

It was a mini-cleanse. No coffee but I didn't do away with caffeine. No sugar, so most fruit was out, but green apples added a little sweetness to my meals if I needed it. No vinegar except raw, unprocessed, apple cider vinegar but all the lemons and limes I wanted to add acidity. No alcohol. And sadly, no substitute for that. After 24 hours my beach ball belly had deflated some. After 48 hours, my joints stopped hurting. After a few days, my head was clear, my energy back up, and I was feeling much more like myself again. After 5 days I started experimenting with adding things back in--vinegar in a salad dressing, one cup of coffee, a couple bites of dessert. Now, about 10 days in, things are back to normal, though in my break from coffee I have realized that much as I love the taste of it, I don't really need it every day and that my energy feels much more consistent throughout the day without it. A bittersweet discovery.

I coach people through cleanses on a regular basis. Cleansing isn't necessary for everyone and the same cleanse may not be the best one for any two people. Cleansing has become very hip, which is not surprising given the stresses and excesses with which most of us live in today's western society. I don't recommend cleansing for fun. Or for fashion. And certainly not as a crash diet. So why do it at all? There are many reasons to cleanse, including but not limited to: identifying potential food sensitivities, helping with seasonal allergies, flushing parasites from the body, improving energy, or even just cultivating a deeper connection with the self when all your energy has felt scattered and eternalized. Cleansing can be an incredibly useful tool in healing the body. Having just gone through the process myself, here are a few things I re-learned.

1. Cleansing is not easy. It takes planning, dedication, and a willingness to be open to the experience. As our bodies detoxify we experience a range of physical and emotional highs and lows before finding an equilibrium. Cleansing can feel lonely without support but can also be made social with friends and family members who are willing to prepare and eat meals with you that are on your program.

2. Your body is your teacher. Our bodies tell us what they need. They give us signals all the time, throughout the day, and most of us can read the obvious ones. Hungry? Eat. Tired? Sleep. But our daily lives also force us to ignore even those obvious signals. Maybe we don't have time to eat so we chew some gum, go 7 hours without eating a meal and then, ravenous, gorge on whatever is readily available. Perhaps there isn't time for a good night's sleep so we respond to fatigue with caffeine and sugar, taxing the adrenals and eventually crashing hard. When you let your body cleanse and recover, you basically take out the background noise. You can hear what your body is asking for and perhaps you can make gentler choices about how to respond.

3. When you can't eat absolutely everything you take great care in preparing what you can eat. While a cleanse sounds boring and abstemious ahead of time, there is a beauty to the ritual of preparing your food when you are cleansing. You come to appreciate the healthy ways you can add flavor and color and texture and richness to a meal, using only foods that are cleanse-appropriate. And preparation of the meal itself feels like a gift because you aren't absent-mindedly eating throughout the day. On some cleanses there are more things you CAN eat than things you can't.

4. You have more time. In general, cleansing asks you to slow down. You are taking out the stimulants in your diet, and, ideally, some of the stimulants in your daily life, like computer and television, too. It's a time to unplug from external stimuli and plug in to yourself. You have more time, and more acute awareness of that time. And so an opportunity arises to be thoughtful about what you choose to do with that time and awareness. What can you do with that new awareness? What can you create?

5. There is great power in the ability to heal yourself. I find that one of the most unnerving things about feeling unwell is not knowing what the cause is, and thus, not knowing how to deal with it. Too often we take the little signals from our bodies and squelch the symptom without looking at the cause. If you have a headache, for example, you can take a pain killer, or you can think about what caused it before you react. Have you had enough water? When is the last time you ate? What was the meal comprised of? This is not to say that you should forgo professional medical diagnosis and treatment. Nor do I recommend self-diagnosing on the internet, because you will most likely convince yourself that you have symptoms of every medical condition known to man. But when done correctly, perhaps with the support of a professional or literature from a vetted source, cleansing can be part of healing system that puts the control and power into your hands. No one will ever know your body as well as you do. And it feels amazing to be able to respond when it calls on you for something.

This is a sprawling and, at times controversial topic that I have only touched on here.  I would love to hear input from you, readers. Have you cleansed? Do you have questions about cleansing? Experiences you would like to share? If you have any reaction at all to this post, I urge you to use the Comments section so we can get a conversation going.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Smoked Beet Vinaigrette and the Power of Play

In the past couple of weeks I have found myself in a bit of a rut. A culinary rut.  I kept scanning the kitchen for something that would satisfy my hunger and I kept coming up short. Then I realized that I have been cooking variations on a few themes as many of us do when we have busy schedules. It wasn't that I was bored of any individual ingredient but more that I craved a set of flavors that were different from my instinctual repertoire. Ordinarily in this situation I would turn to favorite food blogs or my overflowing book shelf of inspirational cookbooks, but instead I went for good, old-fashioned, blind experimentation.

I had a physics teacher in high school who used to make my blood boil in lab because nine times out of ten, when I asked him a question about how to do something he would smirk, shrug, and say, "simple physics, figure it out." It was so dismissive! So evasive! So TEACHERLY! I'd love to say that this method ended up working for me but I got an abysmal grade in Physics and to this day, really couldn't define "simple physics" for you because the two words are clearly mutually exclusive. That being said, Mr. Smirky Physics Teacher probably did nurture in me a more fearless approach to experimentation and trial and error, a practice on which I have come to rely heavily in cooking.

My first plan was to make a roasted beet vinaigrette with the couple of un-juiced beets wallowing in the corner of my fridge. So I roasted beets, got busy with something else and left the beets to wallow again, this time peeled and cooked and placed prominently on the top shelf of the fridge so as not to be forgotten. The next day, while waiting in an absurdly long line to get an expensive, pour-over coffee at my local market, I spied a curious item: Smoked Olive Oil. As a rule I really dislike olive oils that have been infused and stuffed with other things before being bottled and sold as a "dipping oil". But this intrigued me. It reminded me, suddenly, of a near perfect day in Barcelona, at a table with my family and a paella made from smoked rice. I bought the oil.

When it comes to salad dressings I am pretty much a purist. Sure, I'll dabble in the occasional novelty dressing, but in the day to day I gravitate towards simple vinaigrettes or even just a squeeze of lemon and a glug of good olive oil. In the spirit of play I decided to marry my roasted beets and my smoked olive oil and hope for a happy union. It took a lot of tasting and tweaking and you should know that the measurements in the recipe below are estimated at best. This is basically a non-recipe, recipe. I mean, you know, it's simple cooking......

Note: I used about 8oz of beets and went for a pretty chunky dressing that had more of a spread-like texture than a classic salad dressing. I had leftovers for days which I then mixed into quinoa, added to sandwiches, and used as a dip. You will want to play and experiment to see what texture and consistency you like best.

Goat Cheese Toasts with Bitter Greens & Smoked Beet Vinaigrette
serves a couple people as a lunch or a gang as a party snack

A few slices of dark, dense, seeded bread. Ideally this one
1-2 cups bitter greens (chicory, radicchio, dandelion)
Good quality chevre
A few small beets (4-8oz peeled)
Rice Vinegar (or another mild vinegar you like)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Pre heat the oven to 425.

Peel the beets and quarter. If the beets are different sizes, try to get the pieces into roughly the same size so they roast evenly. Place on a sheet tray or in a roasting pan and drizzle lightly with olive oil. Roast until a fork goes evenly through the beet. About 40 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool. This can be done a couple days ahead of time.

Once the beets are cool, place them in a food processor with about 6T of Smoked Olive Oil, 6T of regular olive oil, 4T of vinegar and a hefty pinch of salt. Pulse together until the beets are in small chunks or pureed. As I noted above, you will need to taste and adjust often to find the balance you want. It should be slightly sweet, bright with acidity and deeply smokey. Basically, you should want to eat it with a spoon. 

Once you have your dressing as you like it, roughly chop your greens (I used young radicchio, broccoli rabe, dandelion, and kale). Bring a saucepan of salted water to a boil and toss the greens in, turning a bit until they are evenly wet and wilted. Remove from the water with tongs and let drain in a colander over the sink. This can be done a couple hours ahead of time or even the day before.

When you are ready to eat, toast thin slices of the bread. While the bread toasts, toss your greens and the beet vinaigrette together. Taste the greens and probably add more dressing. When the toasts are ready spread each slice with chevre while still piping hot so the cheese warms a bit and top each slice with the dressed greens, a pinch of flakey sea salt and a crack of black pepper. Congratulate yourself for your courage in the kitchen and enjoy.