Thursday, March 24, 2011

The evolution of a health nut

Like my book blog entry, my food blog entry may need to be split into two (or three, or four, or five...) to keep it manageable.

Spaghetti with tomato/cashew sauce and fresh basil

Let's start with a little background, some of which you might be familiar with already: I did not grow up cooking. My dad didn't really cook. My mom did, and while she did involve me in some of the process when I was younger - helping her snap green beans in half to cook, or arranging potatoes in the bottom of a pan of water to boil - I have little memories of such involvement in cooking after such a point. As I grew up and got both pickier and nastier in my adolescence, I imagine some of the joy of cooking was lost in my mother. Our kitchen, to be honest, never really inspired happiness or excitement surrounding the preparation of food. I don't blame anyone; I wouldn't have enjoyed cooking for the 14-year-old me either. My preferred daily lunch at school that year was a slice of pepperoni pizza, a can of Welch's grape soda, and a greasy chocolate chip cookie the size of my face. I didn't appreciate my mom's lentil soup back then.

Joining Harkness co-op in college was my first real experience with cooking sans recipes, utilizing bulk foods and fresh produce and spices to prepare meals for others. I only stayed in the co-op for a semester, but it was enough to dissolve at least some of the fears I had surrounding the kitchen.

Massaged salad with Swiss chard, beets, sunflower seeds, and homemade dressing with fresh ginger

Nevertheless, the reality of my lack of even the most basic fundamentals of cooking was stark - and remained to be so up until about the last year. (Some of y'all remember the EasyMac incident(s). Oi vey.) Through a long series of experiments, recipe trials, triumphs and travesties, I finally am beginning to feel as though I've transcended omelettes and stir-fries, and can now claim some competence in the kitchen - and perhaps even a little bit of pride.

Kitchen appliances have, no doubt, played a big role in this newfound confidence. My Vitamix continues to be a dream - a gentle humming machine of beauty that seems capable of doing no wrong. I have made everything in it from blended kale smoothies to vegan tomato cashew pasta sauce to fresh hummus to butternut squash soup - and seemingly, no matter what ingredients I drop in, something magical comes out. There's no undercooking, no overcooking, no scorching, no drying out, no failure to rise, or any of the other host of maladies that can foil even the most valiant baking or cooking efforts. If your ingredient ratios are a little off, you just add a little more in and blend again. Magic.

But I've been cheating on my blender a little, I must admit. See, I also hauled an old food processor out to Seattle from my childhood home in Kansas. At the time, I couldn't imagine what I'd ever use such a thing for, but I thought, what the heck, why not, and threw it into the moving truck along with a handful of other found objects salvaged from the house in Kansas. Only last month did I finally locate all the component parts of the food processor, reassemble it, and delight in the fact that it's still operational. *Drool.* What a dreamy appliance it is when it goes to work.

My favorite processor creations so far have been (1) homemade pesto, and (2) raw energy bars. Which to begin with? The pesto was unbelievably easy: fresh basil, toasted almonds (pine nuts, I learned, do NOT toast well in the oven), garlic, and olive oil. Pulse. Heaven!

Rotini pasta with pesto

Brown rice pasta with pesto, baked tilapia and mixed veggies

For the raw energy bars...I have to remember where I even got this recipe. If anyone wants the specifics, I'll happily share, because these were hands down the most delicious energy bars, store-bought or homemade included, I've ever tasted. I take no credit for these, as it was pure recipe-heeding that introduced these to my tastebuds, but wow...Food Processor, let me count the ways I adore thee.

Adding honey to the nuts and dried fruits.

Added cranberries, shredded coconut, raisins, and Green Magma (powdered barley greens)

Tell me that doesn't look amazing

My small army of kitchen appliances has boosted my confidence enough that I've branched out in many ways in my life so far in Seattle that never even seemed within the realm of possibility before. I've made my own granola, baked bread, created my own salad dressings, learned how to cook steel cut oats, rolled my own quiche crust from teff flour, made soup from scratch, cooked steaks with a homemade marinade, tried tons of different dark leafy greens in dozens of homespun salad combinations, learned how to make perogies from scratch (a shared learning experience with Alan around Christmas last year), baked fish, made my own guacamole, baked homemade pita chips, and tried more new foods and ingredients than I previously knew existed. What a wonderful world food is!

Grass-fed steak with wild rice and green beans

Homemade toasted pita chips and curried lentil dip

Our perogies masterpiece

I've read a lot of books lately about diet, mostly in relation to holistic health, disease prevention, athletic endurance, and general longevity. Several of them include: Michael Pollan's "In Defense of Food", Victoria Boutenko's "Green for Life" and "Raw Family: A True Story of Awakening", Barbara Kingsolver's "Animal Vegetable Miracle", Loren Cordain's "The Paleo Diet", and Erik Marcus' "Vegan: The New Ethics of Eating". All have been great, enlightening reads, and if you'll pardon the embarrassing pun, good food for thought. While there are a lot of different ideas out there - some of which are downright radical by our society's standards - the truth is that there are general overlaps amongst all of them. While the jury might still out on whether eating cows is a good idea, or if a food's glycemic index matters, or whether microwaving food introduces carcinogens, or if a cup of coffee a day is good or bad or you, etc etc...
Pretty much everyone across the board agrees:

1. Processed food bad.
2. Refined sugar bad.
3. Too much food bad.
4. Nuts and seeds good.
5. Fruits, vegetables, dark leafy greens really good.

That's not so hard, is it? Am I absolutely 100% avoiding any foods right now? Nope. I am generally trying to consume minimal: caffeine, processed foods, refined sugar, refined grains, gluten, cheese and alcohol, while trying to emphasize: greens, vegetables, fruits, healthy fats, lean protein, seafood, herbal teas, and nutritional superfoods in general. I'm going on several months now without coffee, even more months with a daily fresh green juice or smoothie, and a year and a half now without missing a single day of work due to being sick. *Knock on wood.* I like this being-healthy business. Food is medicine.

Anyone want to have a dinner party soon?

1 comment:

  1. Oh my god, this is the most delicious healthy blog entry.