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Thursday, September 5, 2013

Delicious Greens

Leafy greens are delicious! Of course, I didn't always feel that way. There was a time when my knowledge of vegetables was extremely limited. How limited? My idea of a vegetable side dish was either an unevenly heated bag (yes - bag) of cauliflower, carrot, and broccoli medley fresh from the microwave, or even better, veggie flavored crackers topped with a processed uncheese. It gives me the shivers just thinking about it.

Allergies opened my culinary world up. You would think that I would be more restricted, but there were so many delicious foods I never touched. Pre-allergy Cami was all about convenience and chemically fueled flavor enhancers. Now I take the time to peel and slice butternut squash (and discovered that it makes delicious oven baked fries - even better than sweet potato fries, but that's another post).  I am glad that I was forced into learning how to live with a whole foods diet. My crash course was ugly at times.  Learning cardamom and turmeric are spices that should be used sparingly was a painful, disgusting lesson. Properly pairing spices, learning when to appreciate foods in their natural, unheated state, and how to properly prepare greens are all things I'm glad I took the time to do.

Kale and Beet Greens sauteed as outlined below

All greens do not score evenly in my book, and my husband is even more particular. I have never developed a taste for collard greens.  I've tried them raw as a wrap, boiled to death, and sauteed, and none of the preparations have warmed me to the vegetable. Any other green I've tried was an instant success. Kale is good raw, especially if it's baby kale or marinated in a dressing that has a healthy amount of acid (either citrus or vinegar based). Most other greens I prefer lightly cooked, whether it be steamed or sauteed.

Friends and family have expressed concerns around eating a lot of leafy greens because of oxalic acid.  Oxalic acid is suspected to have a correlation to the formation of kidney stones.  The problem would be when oxalic acid pairs with calcium in the body and forms crystals that build into stones. I try to pair leafy greens with a little bit of citrus to cut down on the risk, although I've honestly found very little articles of substance to validate the claim.  There are also some new articles online defending oxalic acid, arguing that high salt and animal protein intake are more likely to result in the production of kidney stones.  I would just like to say there is room for debate.

A few things I will say about leafy greens before I go on to some simple recipes:
  • Wash them! A lot! Aphids love kale and dirt clings to mustard greens. I use a big bowl of water with either produce wash or food grade hydrogen peroxide, following instructions. Swish the greens around in the water before rinsing with a strong spray.
  • Do not use oils to cook outside of known healthy oils like grapeseed and coconut oil. Especially do not use canola. I read this article and was horrified.
  • Get them fresh! If the leaves are firm and full, you have a good bunch.  If they are feeling slightly limp at the farmers market or store, put them back. Usually that means they will be wilted within a day.
  • Check the stems. If there are dark black spots, mold is setting in.
  • Don't chop them before you are ready to use them. It's tempting to buy pre-chopped greens, but I have noticed that the exposed stem/ribs mold faster.
  • Don't be afraid to try them raw. 
  • Pair them with citrus.
  • Read about all of the wonderful health benefits of these delicious, under utilized veggies.
It can be really difficult to get kids to try new things. I am not above hiding veggies in unexpected places.  Just tonight, my husband made a delicious meatloaf with sauteed kale, shallots, and celery blended and combined with some spices. We will be posting that recipe soon.

Simple Kale Preparation
1 bunch kale
1/2 lemon, juice
pinch of salt
1-2 tsp coconut oil

Wash, rinse, and roughly chop the kale. Heat a saute pan up to medium heat and add the coconut oil to the pan to coat. Add the kale and salt, stirring often. After a couple minutes, add the lemon juice, distributing it evenly over the kale. If you squeeze the lemon over one spot, the kale will soak it up and it will be surprising. Only cook the kale until it is tender and a rich, uniform green - which should only take around five to ten minutes.

Variations: Try adding a bunch of beet greens, some garlic, or an onion. Turnip greens or beet greens alone prepared this way are very good.  I like mustard greens substituted for kale, but my husband prefers them with some onion added to temper the bitterness.

Fresh Baby Kale Salad
baby kale
arame or hijiki seaweed, soaked and rehydrated
julienned carrots
finely sliced green onions
miso dressing

Wash the veggies and prepare as necessary. Toss with miso dressing and let sit anywhere from 0-90 minutes. I have the patience of a gnat, so I don't wait. Waiting at least 20 minutes would give the kale a chance to break down a bit and become more tender. 

Steamed Greens
Any Green
pinch of salt
spray of lemon juice

This is my favorite simple recipe.  Just wash and rinse the greens, put them in a steamer, and remove them from the steam when the greens get to a darker green and are tender when sampled (about 1-2 minutes after the water starts boiling).  Add a little salt and lemon juice after they are cooked. 

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Easy Single-Dish Dinners

The University District Farmers Market has been bustling with activity.  Each time I visit, I plan on getting to the market when it opens at 9. Ultimately, I fall a little short of my goal and arrive no earlier than 9:30. Parking can be interesting in Seattle at any time of day, so I inevitably park a few blocks away and carry enough produce to last me several days, but not enough to leave me overburdened and stumbling along the sidewalks. This week, I fell a little short of the latter and ended up looking like a pack mule.

This week's selections included beets, mustard greens, scallions, kale, cauliflower, kohlrabi, peaches, and yellow squash. There are always many organic farmers in attendance and most of them will accept credit cards now, which is great for those of us who don't like carrying much cash. There are also a number of farmers with organic, antibiotic free, grass fed meats.  It takes me a little longer to shop for those items because I'm not used to the pricing or cuts.

I love shopping at the farmers market because it lets me do a little meal planning in my mind as I wander through the stalls. There's nothing like the freshest produce; I never go to the market with a set list of items with the expectation that I will just select what looks to be at the peak of its season. We have had an unusually pleasant summer, and standing in front of a stove-top is something I have been avoiding, so I look for vegetables that are good fresh or roasted.

My husband and I both work full time, so I try to fix meals that take very little prep time. Lately, I've been feeling lazy, so I've been making as many one-dish meals as possible.  They are very simple and prep time only entails the amount of time it takes to peel and chop the vegetables.

The following are some vegetable combinations we have enjoyed.  All are cooked at 375 degrees F for about 45 minutes.  We are both eating meat now, so I'll put pork, beef, or chicken over the top of the vegetables and cover the dish with aluminum foil.  Some time may need to be added for the meat - go by whether the vegetables are fork tender and the meat is at temperature.

Roasted Veggies 1
4 beets, peeled and chopped into 1/2" to 1" cubes
3 carrots, peeled and chopped into 1" segments
1/2 an onion, rough chopped
1 medium zucchini, halved and chopped
2 Tb parsley, minced
1-2 Tb apple cider vinegar
2 Tb olive oil - optional
salt and pepper to taste

Ideally, the vegetables (except onion and parsley) should be cut to about the same size for even cooking.  These vegetables are robust and handle red meats well. If the dish is combined with a meat that isn't lean, I don't find the olive oil to be necessary. Substituting apple cider vinegar with balsamic vinegar is especially tasty with pork.

Roasted Veggies 2
1/2 a medium head of cabbage, sliced
2 peeled zucchini, halved and sliced into 1/2" lengths
 1 onion, sliced
3 Tb cilantro, minced
Juice of 1/2 lemon
2 Tb olive oil
salt to taste

This dish pairs well with lean proteins like chicken and fish. If I cook fish, it is baked in a separate dish to reduce the risk of bones getting lost in the vegetables.

Roasted Veggies 3
1/2 cauliflower head, 1" pieces
2 carrots, 1/2" lengths
2-3 potatoes, peeled and cubed into 1/2" pieces
1 cup peas, thawed if frozen
1/2 onion, rough chopped
2 Tb cilantro
1 T cumin
1 t coriander
1 t mustard seeds
1/2 t turmeric
1/4 t cayenne
1 T vinegar
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 T olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

I personally don't eat potatoes or cayenne because they are not good for people with autoimmune/inflammatory issues.  Usually I cook this meal in a frying pan, but it works roasted - just be sure to toss all of the ingredients evenly.  This is a great vegetarian dish, especially if you want to add some chickpeas and cook some quinoa on the side.  It also combines well with lamb dusted with salt, pepper, cumin, and a little cinnamon.

Today's Farmers Market Inspired Meals
Sliced peach with hemp milk
Fruit smoothie with fresh berries

Home-made guacamole
Peeled and sliced cucumbers, cauliflower, and jicama


Roasted beets, carrots, onion, and yellow squash with a hint of vinegar, salt, and pepper
Mustard greens sauteed with onions, lemon juice, olive oil, and a pinch of salt
Fresh green salad
Lamb shoulder chops with cumin, salt, and pepper

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

A Difficult Decision Has Been Made...

It seems fitting that this post comes nearly a year after my last. I've done a lot of reflecting and have made a difficult decision. This blog will no longer be vegan. I will be going through all historical posts and removing vegan tags, although the content will not change. This was not an easy decision, but I want this blog to be representative of the food choices I make, and lately this means including animal protein.

Why did I make this change? My health was not at an optimal level for the last year, with a marked decline since December in particular. I woke up one day and couldn't turn my head. After a lot of testing, it became apparent that my inflammation levels were quite high. I didn't understand it at first because my diet contained a lot of vegetable sources of omega fatty acids.  Unfortunately, further testing showed that my body is unable to process essential fatty acids properly and break them into the correct ratios. Most vegetarians have plenty of options and can balance this intake. My situation is abnormal.

After making a tough decision to include fish oil supplements, my health continued to deteriorate.  I discovered that I had anemia, hypothyroidism, and a few other issues. Although we found issues with my health that we continued to address, I still was not well. My doctor decided to do additional allergy testing and it was bad news.  I am allergic to all grains, anything in the grass family (including rice, cane sugar, etc.), quinoa, amaranth, spinach, all legumes, all tree nuts, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, garlic, spinach, cranberries, blueberries, strawberries, pineapple, any form of yeast, and of course dairy and eggs. I believe that it is possible to have a healthy vegan diet with food allergies, but I have thrown in the towel. I refuse to compromise my health any more than it already is, and cutting out so many sources of protein and a lot of variety was devastating to my diet.

Previously, the majority of my diet was vegetables and fruit with nuts, seeds, legumes, and grains making up the remainder and my main sources of fat and protein. Without any of those items, I didn't feel it was safe to continue on the path I was on. I have to say that I feel much better and have improved to the point that I can work out daily again. A big improvement from not being able to support a full time work schedule and hospital visits! This was the right decision for me.

It it what it is. I am very thankful I had the opportunity to experience a vegan lifestyle and I met several wonderful people in that community. I will understand if people discontinue this blog. I will be posting recipes that contain animal proteins, although the majority of the recipes will focus on fruits and vegetables.  Fresh vegetables and fruit are essential for good health, and I believe people don't give those life giving foods the attention they should. The majority of my meals are meatless and I try to stick to leaner protein sources.

Now it is time for me to find joy in food again and focus on creating some tasty, health conscious recipes.