me and my big mouth

Ever since diagnosing my own quarter-life crisis, two things have been occurring frequently.  One, I constantly reference the list of emotional phenomena associated with the QLC as presented in the Wikipedia article on the topic and point out how many of them I identify with, therefore reinforcing my self-diagnosis.  Two, I use this same list to diagnose my quarter-life cohorts and demonstrate how they, too, are entrenched in such a crisis.  I should tell you that this Wikipedia article I keep referring to has not one citation, source, or reference listed.  This is probably because, as it turns out, the whole idea of the QLC was pretty much made up by pop psychology in the early nineties when somebody decided to give a name to the fact that whiny twenty-somethings were unmotivated and maturing at a much slower rate than ever before.  Bogus or not, it’s uncanny how many of these are spot-on with my life right now:

My friend Jake was in denial about his QLC, even when I showed him this list and pointed out some key factors.  The other day, however, he came around.  “Emily!” he said. “You were right.  The crisis…it’s in full effect.  I couldn’t place these unsettled, frustrated feelings, but now I know.  I’m just another victim of the QLC.  Did I mention that you were, and always are, right?”

Ok, so Jake didn’t exactly say that, but he did realize that he relates to this list, and we discussed the following item at length: Tendency to hold stronger opinions. For both Jake and I, this involves not only holding stronger opinions, but expressing them freely and without regret.  Lately, I told Jake, I can’t seem to stop my mouth from being bold, brash, and one more “b” adjective that rhymes with “kitschy.”  My patience is low, and when someone or something crosses my path that I don’t agree with, I’m at the ready, paws up, opinion ready to be flung.  Jake has been having similar experiences, often being told that he’s imposing his opinions and beliefs on others too readily and forcefully.  Then, someone points out our audacity, and we find it hard to apologize.  Maybe I’m giving myself too much credit, but I think the pre-QLC Emily was much more capable and willing to own up to her big fat mouth than the current Emily.  Yeah, I said it.  I’m not taking it back.

The worst part may be that the victims of my rudeness are most often the people closest to me.  This is usually true, right? That the ones we love the most, trust the most, have the most faith in not abandoning us, take the brunt of our crap.  Extremely unfortunate, but logical from a survival standpoint; we’re not going to alienate anyone who we’re afraid of judging or ditching us.  Sorry, family and friends (and 5th graders- you get it pretty bad, too)- we’re going to have to ride this wave of crisis together.  Bear with me.

And hey, there are definitely worse fates than being a temporarily rude person (I’m not confronting my own mortality or having suicidal tendencies, to name a few).  At least I realize it’s happening. Hopefully, it’s all just a part of figuring out what you really care about and where the balance lies in letting people know how you feel.  I feel pretty strongly about these cookies I made last night, and they definitely kept my big mouth busy for awhile.

a guilty conscience

I was going to title this blog “will power and moderation,” until a conversation that I had with a co-worker the other day. I was sharing my inability to resist sweets, and she responded, “But you’re so good! I mean, I read your blog.” This made me realize that posting all of my healthy food musings paints an inaccurate portrait of myself indeed. I could preach will power and moderation to you for days, but the truth is, these are the weakest of my skills. If I understood how to resist crappy food, I would tell you. If I had a grasp on eating just a teeny bit of crappy food, and then walking away, I would tell you that, too. At risk of sounding completely dramatic, I have to get this off my chest: I am a totally impulsive, sugar and salt addicted, self-sabotaging emotional eater. And while I do feel pretty badly after bingeing as I often do, the real guilt comes from masquerading as this health maven who’s got it all figured out and brags about her good habits on the internet. So, let’s get a few things straight…

Some days, it’s the will power that gets me. These are the worrisome days, when it feels quite impossible to stop making trip after trip to the faculty lounge for yet another chocolate chip cookie or 2nd cupcake. Or to resist the bag of low-quality chocolate and Starbursts that I keep in my drawer with which to bribe children. Or to steer my car straight home without stopping for frozen yogurt at one of the seven establishments within a mile of my apartment. Or to just go to bed instead of standing in front of the refrigerator, wondering which roommate won’t miss which snack (I’m much too conscientious to buy junk food myself, but I have very few qualms about stealing it). It gets pretty bad. It’s hard to slow down the beast once she gets momentum going. Then I’ve got to live with the stomachache and the impending sugar crash and of course, the regret.

Moderation is a concept I’m a little bit more familiar with than will power, unless we look at the multiple chocolate chip cookies in one day or tri-weekly fro-yo trips as gross neglect of moderation in addition to lack of will power; certainly, those treats would not be so bad if they were actually treats that I allowed myself in moderation instead of in mass quantity. But what I do have a handle on are times like last weekend, when I had a friend in from out of town whom I let drag me to IHOP and then a burger joint to consume things I very rarely consume. It felt OK to give my business to a restaurant that is pretty much everything I feel is wrong with the American food industry, and then to eat beef, and apple pie and ice cream for dessert, because I do those things pretty infrequently.

I realized that it’s been over a week since I last posted something, and I totally know why. I’ve been off the wagon, so to speak, in terms of my eating habits, what with the weekend of indulgence and the subsequent week of will-power-less weakness. It’s taken me three days to write this post, about the very issues that have kept me from writing all week! Anyway, it seems that no matter how much I commit to eating healthily, my bad habits are a part of me that stick. You can read and learn and blog all you want about whole foods, real nutrition, organic this, natural that. But will power and moderation are habits that take a lot of work to build. And I’m definitely still working.

No recipes, ideas, photos…just the clearing of a guilty conscience.

Also, this. Because I can’t help it:

kale is the new spinach

I can understand Mitch and Cam’s vexation upon learning this new fad in the farmers’ market social sphere. Kale is an intimidating vegetable force with its large, rough, dark green leaves and strong, bitter taste. But get used to it, boys. Kale is way too good for you for its popularity to fade any time soon. Plus, if you know how to prepare it, it’ll be your best friend- and you know you want to be best friends with the cool kid.

What warrants kale’s esteem? The dark, leafy aspect should tip you off right away. These characteristics usually mean fiber, antioxidants, vitamins A and C, folate, calcium, and iron. Kale also has anti-inflammatory properties, which means it will help keep heart problems, arthritis, and blood pressure in check, and has been linked like broccoli to lowering your risk of some cancers. Eating kale raw is definitely the best way to insure these nutrients going to work for you, but this is also the most daunting and least palatable. My raw recommendations:

  • When salad-ing, cut it up tiny to make it easier to chomp
  • Good mix-ins: cranberries, feta, pine nuts, almonds.  Works really well with quinoa, too.
  • Dressing: olive oil and citrus juice is my favorite! Try just a few teaspoons of oil, some sea salt, and squeezing a grapefruit, orange, or lemon over your salad.

Of course you CAN, and should cook kale as well.  Even when you’re making a cold salad, you can steam it for a few minutes to soften it up.  Steaming is definitely the healthiest, most nutrient-preserving method of cooking.  However, when all else fails… make kale chips.  Kale’s most exciting attribute by far is how easily it becomes a crunchy, delicious, chip-like snack! Just toss chopped or torn leaves in a tiny bit of olive oil (literally a teaspoon for an entire head of kale will suffice), sprinkle with sea salt, and stick in the oven for about 10 minutes at 350.  You can play with how crunchy you make them- the first time, I cooked them into literal CRISPS, which I enjoyed.  But a slightly more chewy chip is awesome, too, and is definitely more nutrient dense.  The downfall: they don’t really last and are best right out of the oven (I think the crispier you make them, the more you’ll enjoy them the next day).  I haven’t tried this, but I have a thought about making a salad from day-old chips.  Try it and let me know.

the raw kale, ready for crispin'

chips! they don't shrink as much as it seems here- I had already eaten some. sorryboutit.

Other awesome kale recipes for your enjoyment:

http://peasandthankyou.com/2011/02/17/slow-redemption/

http://edibleperspective.com/2011/01/detox-day-2-recipes/l

http://www.101cookbooks.com/archives/garlicky-greens-recipe.htm

http://www.101cookbooks.com/archives/heathers-quinoa-recipe.html

shaking the hand that feeds you

If someone told me a year ago that I should only buy local, organic produce, I probably would have laughed at that person, rolled my eyes, and said something to the effect of, “Yeah, right. Maybe when I’m rich and live in San Francisco and wear sporty trek sandals and have a completely different set of priorities altogether.” Well, folks, I’m still a teacher in LA, so that should answer the first two, and while I probably would have purchased a nice pair of Keens at this point if I had a spare $90, I don’t, so that has yet to come true, either. However, the priorities have done some major shifting, or else you wouldn’t be reading this blog. So please bear with me if you haven’t already been seduced by the wiles of sustainable agriculture. It’s beyond important, so I’m going to try to convince you, here and now.

Rather, I’ll first call upon Michael Pollan to convince you. (I’m sure you’re wondering, “How long before she turns into a religious extremist touting Pollanism?”)

“Indeed, the surest way to escape the Western diet is simply to depart the realms it rules: the supermarket, the convenience store, and the fast-food outlet. It is hard to eat badly from the farmers’ market, from a CSA box (more on this later), or from your garden… When you eat from the farmers’ market, you automatically eat food that is in season, which is usually when it is most nutritious…. As for supermarket produce, it is likely to have come from far away- from the industrial organic farms of California, or, increasingly, China… So many of the problems of the industrial food chain stem from its length and complexity. A wall of ignorance intervenes between consumers and producers, and that wall fosters a certain carelessness on both sides.”
-Michael Pollan, In Defense of Food

He’s good, right? It took reading that for me to get interested in eating locally and organically, even though my friend Liz could slap a huge “I told you so” on my realization; she and her husband Mike, two of my bestest, frequent their farmers’ market and have preached “organic” and “local” for years, but I’ve tuned them out. Now that I’m listening, who else would I invite to accompany me to a screening of Ingredients, a documentary film about the local food movement? I did, they accepted, we watched, and here are some take-aways:

  • Approximately 1/5 of the fossil fuel that our country uses is expended in the packing and transporting of food. Buy local, and you won’t be supporting big oil and its purported evils. The oil shortage is one big, yet less obvious reason to prioritize local eating.
  • In the world, the U.S. spends the least on food per capita, but the MOST on medicine! One could argue (and I’m sure Pollan would/has) that our preoccupation with frugality and fleetness of our food has forced us to sacrifice the quality of it, and accordingly, our health.
  • Today, less than 1% of people in the U.S. are farmers- it isn’t even a choice of occupation on the census anymore. Small family farms aren’t lucrative enough to attract proprietors because we, as consumers, don’t support them.

The film profiled several inspiring farmers that use organic, ethical methods and sell to their communities and local restaurants, shortening the food chain between grower and consumer where, as Pollan says,

“…eaters can make their needs and desires known to the farmer, and the farmer can impress on eaters the distinctions between ordinary and exceptional food, and many reasons why exceptional food is worth what it costs. Food reclaims its story, and some of its nobility, when the person who grew it hands it to you. So here’s a subclause to the get-out-of-the-supermarket rule: Shake the hand that feeds you.”

So imagine my excitement when, just two days after watching Ingredients, Liz proposed that we visit a local, organic farm and do just that! Once we’d shaken the hand, Liz said, we could sign up for a CSA (community supported agriculture) box, where fresh-picked produce is delivered to you in a bi-monthly box- a sheer genius way to make local food easily accessible. Quite obviously, I agreed, and by Sunday we were on our way to Tanaka Farms in Irvine.  While not certified organic, Tanaka Farms uses all organic practices.  So while yes, you could go to Safeway and buy organic produce, like Pollan says, it is probably shipped there from a large, commercial organic farm that had the resources (it costs big bucks) to be certified.  Small family farms will give you the benefits of organic practices (no dangerous toxins, higher nutrient density, less environmental impact, I could go on!) AND the benefits of eating locally.

This is Liz!

Gorgeous apples that we got to sample for free.

Our ride for the epic farm tour.

Crops demonstrating the "chop suey" method of organic farming- alternating plants by row so that the bugs get confused. Sounds crazy but it works!

Our guide Raymond demonstrates how you can eat the roots of an onion plant. **We did get to see Farmer Tanaka in the flesh, but he was too busy cultivating delicious organic produce to actually shake our hands. Raymond was a great liason.

Mmmm, onion roots.

Bananas. Did you know they take up to a year and a half to ripen?

Carrots, bok choy, green onion, cilantro, and lettuce- free samples!

The highlight of the tour for sure- picking our own carton of perfect, ripe strawberries.

Nature!

Strawberries are planted next to onions- an organic technique called companion planting to keep the bugs away.

Couldn't resist. Probably my favorite dessert, ever.

Snap peas, kale, spinach, apples, green onion, and an avocado- my purchases from the Tanaka market. This cost me around $12- totally worth it and not that much more than what you'd pay at the supermarket.

Liz and I left inspired and giddy, ready to spread the good word about local farming.  We’ll start with our school (Liz and Mike both teach with me), which we will try to make a drop-point for CSA boxes from Tanaka.  That way, we’ll be making local produce more available to our urban community.  Of course, the ultimate goal would be making it accessible to not just our co-workers and students, but everyone, low-income families especially.  Baby steps.

I’ll leave you with some more Pollan, because I just can’t say it any better than he does:

“Depending on how we spend them, our food dollars can either go to support a food industry devoted to quantity and convenience or they can nourish a food chain organized around values- values like quality and health.  Yes, shopping this way takes more money and effort, but as soon as you begin to treat that expenditure not just as shopping but also as a kind of vote- a vote for health in the largest sense- food no longer seems like the smartest place to economize.”

*Swoon*

Find a CSA program or farmers’ market near you!

pancakes and part of the “whole” story

I love waking up on a Saturday with nothing to do and plenty of time to play in the kitchen. I didn’t even intend for this to be a blogworthy project when I started, but once I got going with my buckwheat and spelt flours, I realized I had a lot to talk about.

In the last few months, my pantry has gone from scarcely populated to brimming with things I hadn’t even heard of until recently. Thanks to the blogs that I frequent (see links) and one of the books that changed my life, I now spend way too much time and money at Whole Foods, stocking my shelves with things like coconut oil, safflower oil, buckwheat groats, whole amaranth, garbanzo bean flour, spelt flour, buckwheat flour, to name a few. I have to admit, though, that while the original decision to buy these products was informed and enlightened, I had sort of lost sight of why I use them as opposed to conventional ones. If I’m going to make vegan buckwheat pancakes with spelt flour and flax meal, I’d better have a damn good explanation as to why it’s worth the effort.

So, let’s focus on the flour. I realize buckwheat pancakes are nothing new to most of you. Americans have used buckwheat flour to make pancakes since the pioneer days, long before the industrial revolution smashed all of our grains into nutrition-less oblivion. Read Michael Pollan for a better explanation, but essentially it became cheaper and easier to strip a whole grain of its nutrient-containing germ (vitamins, minerals, essential fats, phytochemicals, antioxidants) and bran (fiber!), leaving only the starchy endosperm (pure carbohydrate) from which we make white, fluffy flour that is nutritionally worthless but tastes real good and has a long shelf-life. Seriously, though- read In Defense of Food. I can’t begin to explain the complicated, deep-seated political motivations that fueled our country’s movement toward refined grains that have royally screwed our systems, but Pollan will woo you with his take on it all. The moral of the story is simple: use whole-grain flour. You’ll be getting essential nutrients that your body needs and the fiber that will keep you full. There are also oodles of different grains to choose from (I love Bob’s Red Mill– there’s practically an entire aisle at Whole Foods dedicated to ol’ Bob), all with varying textures and protein contents and levels of gluten to experiment with!

Oh, man. I could go on. There’s so much more to be said about buying and eating whole grains, especially regarding the marketing claims that trick you into thinking you’re getting the benefits of whole grains when you’re not (don’t be fooled by “multi-grain”, “seven-grain”, or the worst offender- “enriched”). But that’s another post for another time. I made pancakes with buckwheat and spelt flour because I had them in my whole-grain arsenal and I could feel good about putting them into my body. I made them vegan because I was out of eggs, and because I can’t seem to resist the temptation lately to make things without animal products just to see if they’re as good. These were great, although definitely not fluffy like a typical pancake. Recipe was my first hit when I googled “Vegan Buckwheat Pancakes.” I altered it slightly.

Vegan Buckwheat Pancakes
1/2 cup buckwheat flour
1/2 cup spelt flour
1 tablespoon ground flax meal
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder (pretty sure I forgot this, now that I’m writing this out…whoops)
pinch of salt
1 tablespoon raw cane sugar
1 cup almond milk
1 1/2 teaspoons safflower oil
1/4 cup water

Mix, pour, enjoy! Oh, I greased my pan with coconut oil, but it was way too oily on the first batch so I wiped the pan clean and went sans lubrication.

toasting some coconut for toppings

I added blueberries to this batch. they were tart, but nice with the coconut

no bluebs or coconut here, just homemade dark chocolate peanut butter and a teeny drizzle of 100% pure maple syrup

yes, I ate both plates.

a very vegan weekend

I didn’t plan it this way, but I ended up eating at two purely vegan restaurants this weekend.  I’m not vegan, but veganism fascinates me.  Some really creative stuff happens in order to recreate the taste, texture, and overall experience of eating animal products.  With the blog in mind and the help of my lovely dining dates, I took some pictures and notes so I could share my vegan adventures with you all.  I’d call it a restaurant review, but I’m not much of a critic if I loved everything and have very little qualitative analysis to offer, now am I?

Friday: Real Food Daily

My friend Jess took me to a pilates class at a new studio in Santa Monica, something for which I may never forgive her.  We were the only two students, which allowed our tiny, chipper instructor with the pace and mercy of a robot to pay plenty of attention to my struggle and “make sure [I wasn’t] cheating- I can tell!” There wasn’t a moment of the 50 minute class that wasn’t the most grueling exercise I’d ever done (I didn’t know that you could be sore between each rib, but oh- it’s possible), so needless to say, I was ready for some indulging when we finished.  Jess suggested nachos and I couldn’t have agreed more.  After considering some options, we decided to try Real Food Daily.


These puppies boasted black beans, guac, and pico de gallo where standard nacho fare was concerned.  The vegan aspects kicked in with a cashew-based “not-cho” cheese sauce and taco-flavored seitan.  I could have done without the seitan; faux meats aren’t my favorite to begin with, and I couldn’t really distinguish it as anything special from the rest of the goopy deliciousness, but I suppose the added protein didn’t hurt.

As you can see, we hated them (empty wine bottle and glasses not pictured):

Saturday: Planet Raw

On Saturday I was excited to drag my carnivorous friend Josh to a lunch date at Planet Raw for a much needed catch-up.  He said he’d “try anything once” so raw vegan it was! I didn’t know much about raw food philosophy going into it, and because the waiter was minimally informative, this article helped fill in the holes.  Basically, in addition to using zero animal products, none of the food is ever heated at temperatures above 118 degrees Fahrenheit because of how heat affects the balance of nutrients in the raw food.  I’m sure you’re thinking, as I did, “That certainly makes bread tricky, now doesn’t it.”  Imagine our befuddlement when upon ordering the pesto pizza, we were informed that it wouldn’t be ready until that evening (!).  Apparently, the “dough” is cooked through a combination of low heat and dehydration over a long period of time.  The waiter mentioned something about the sun being involved, but it was unclear how.  Point being, pizza was off the table, so we went for spring rolls and a burrito instead.  See below:

Spring Rolls
These were wrapped in “coconut paper,” which was sweet with a sort of stiff tortilla texture.  Inside were kelp noodles, cabbage, avocado, and an assortment of herbs (Josh tasted basil and I caught some cilantro.) They were served with a “no peanut” sauce, which tasted like peanut sauce and confused me because I wasn’t sure why there wouldn’t be peanuts, but was delicious.

“Cheese” and Guac Burrito
As much as I love healthy, plant-based versions of typical dishes, my love of Mexican food might trump here and make it hard for me to really call this a “burrito.”  It was delicious, for sure.  But the title of burrito is sacred and must be reserved for what you can only acquire from a hole-in-the-wall that serves carne asada after a long night of imbibing adult beverages.  You might say the same for nachos, but something about the absence of the tortilla here made it especially inauthentic.  Anyway, like I said- I still loved it.  Seaweed paper subbed for the tortilla and had a surprisingly mild, un-sushi-ish flavor, as Josh pointed out.  Inside, we found tons of greens, salsa, guac, and cashew cheese just like I had the night before at RFD.  Very crunchy and flavorful.


Java Maca Shake
We just had to try a “milkshake”- how were they going to pull that off with no milk or added sugar?! Ok, maybe not so hard to guess, especially for the homemade nutmilk lady over here, that almond milk was involved.  It was sweetened with honey and flavored with raw cacao and some kind of nutty granola.  Then there was shaved maca, a Peruvian super-root that apparently has all kinds of medicinal and nutritional values.

If you’re worried that these vegscapades will pull me over into the land of diet extremism, please review Sunday’s menu.

Sunday: Vegan Detox

Breakfast: Scrambled eggs and cheese on an English muffin courtesy of the Panini Garden
Lunch/Dinner: Dagwood’s tomato, basil, and garlic pizza with buttloads of mozzarella
Dessert: FROST Frozen Yogurt- dairy central!

If I could slap a moral on here, it would be that trying vegetarian and vegan food at the very least opens up your options of ways to incorporate more plants into your diet- which we could all use.  Even if you keep your meat and cheese close at hand, be adventurous with the greens and seeds and nuts and your body will reap the benefits!

thick mints

My relationship with Los Angeles has been long and complicated.  I moved here for college without really giving it much of an evaluation, and due to the fact that I lived in South Central for 4 years, quickly developed a bad taste in my mouth for the city.  Since graduating, though, I’ve tried hard to give LA a fighting chance.  Just ask my sister about the intense row that ensued this past Christmas when she argued that I should move to Portland, and I defended LA with all I had.  “But…but…I never have to sit in traffic.  I can get anywhere in 20 minutes, I swear! Who needs public transportation? Or clean air? Or self esteem?” Sister contended that my health food and fitness obsession and poor body image (and denial therein) must be attributed to the pervasive superficiality of the entertainment culture! “Nonsense!” I retorted.  “In NO way am I affected by the hundreds of thousands of rail-thin, tan, impeccably dressed women that I see and interact with daily!”

But, as hard as it is to admit that my big sister is sometimes right, I’ve started to realize my incongruity with this place.  Most people that live in LA have a really good reason to do so; they are, or are trying to be, an actor, are romantically involved with someone who is, were born and raised and have family here, etc.  I have no such reason.  I graduated, had no other good idea of where to go, and so I stayed.  And now I have a job and an apartment and friends, so it feels like I should keep staying.  But maybe I would be happier without long, polluted drives and pressure to conform to some ridiculous physical ideal.  Especially when that pressure is compounded by other pressures, like GIRL SCOUT COOKIE SEASON. What the heck, man? How can I be expected to keep the balance when I’ve got 115 pound bronzed blondes in head-to-toe, all-white Lululemon to stare at in yoga class (I mean, really. White spandex? Who can pull that off?), and a sleeve full of Thin Mints waiting in the freezer when I get home? It’s just not fair.

So until I find the right place, the groove, the peace of mind, here’s a healthful alternative to help.  These cookies are not LA-thin.  They are thick, nutty, chewy, and full of real, good food: happy fats, natural sugar, protein, tons of energy providers!  A real, down-to-earth, stick-to-your-ribs kind of cookie.  Enjoy!

Thick Mints (adapted from The Edible Perspective)

You’ll need:

  • 7-8 Medjool Dates
  • 3/4 cup nuts of your choice (I did mostly almonds, some peanuts and walnuts)
  • 1 tablespoon unsweetened, shredded coconut
  • 1/2 tablespoon unrefined coconut oil
  • 1 tablespoon fresh mint leaves
  • 1/4 teaspoon peppermint oil or extract
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • Handful of dark chocolate chunks or chips
  1. First process the nuts together- I left some big pieces to ensure some crunch. Pour into a bowl.
  2. Put shredded coconut, coconut oil, and mint into the processor and pulse until the mint is in teeny pieces and the 3 are well incorporated.  Add to your bowl.
  3. Process dates until they’re in small pieces and add them to the nuts in your bowl.
  4. Pour the contents of your bowl back into the processor, add peppermint extract, cocoa powder, and chocolate chunks, and pulse just a few times until everything is incorporated.
  5. Form ping-pong sized balls with the dough.  It’ll be crumbly, but if you squish enough and then refrigerate, they’ll hold together.  I flattened mine slightly and made them more like discs to replicate a cookie-shape. This recipe should make about nine of that size cookie (or if you eat the dough as you go like I did, eight) or could easily be doubled.

Nuts and coconut/mint mixture

Chopped dates

The whole shebang

Thick Mints!