Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Banana Blog

You may have noticed that my last two posts came without one of my oh so artistic photographs of food. This is for two reasons (1) after a recent school project I sort of burnt out on food photography (the above photo was included in that) and need a small break to recover my creative mojo and (2) because I haven't really been eating anything lately. Aside from the Indian meal I described in the previous posting (which I don't have a picture of because I never remember to bring my camera to restaurants and sometimes feel as though I will scare the kitchen staff into thinking I'm some sort of inspector if I start snapping photos of my dinner plate) I have eaten little of anything over the past 3 days. But there is one food that I never really have an aversion to even when my insides are rejecting every other edible product imaginable. And that food is the humble banana. Humble, yes, for the banana has many accolades to boast about. It's America's favorite fruit according to banana.com. Apparently American's consume more of the sunny yellow fruit than apples and oranges combined.

Turns out there's a lot about bananas I didn't know. Like the fact that the banana plant is not a tree at all..it's actually the world's largest herb! Crazy, right? And the American love affair with the banana actually began in my home state of Pennsylvania in 1876. Now, I haven't yet found the time to corraborate any of the facts I'm gleaning from the banana.com website but I will do a thorough fact check and edit as necessary, don't you worry.

Until then I'll leave you with my favorite banana bread recipe so that you might prepare for National Banana Bread Day, February 23rd. This recipe comes from VeganMania! (that exclamation point is part of the title not an indicator of how excited I am about the recipe though it's pretty darn tasty):

1/2 cup brown rice syrup

1/2 cup canola oil

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 "eggs" ( I usually use an extra mashed banana or 1 tablespoon ground flax seed in 3
tablespoons of warm water)

1 cup whole wheat flour

1/2 cup oats

1/4 cup cornmeal

1/4 cup wheat germ

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup mashed banana

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine brown rice syrup, oil, and vanilla in large bowl. Beat "egg" with whisk and add to wet ingredients.

In separate bowl, mix together flour, oats, cornmeal, wheat germ, baking soda, and salt. Alternating with mashed banana, add dry ingredients to wet.

Oil and flour loaf pan and fill with batter.

Bake for 45-60 minutes until toothpick inserted in center of loaf comes out clean.

Let cool on wire baking rack before removing from pan and serving.

Go bananas!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Kentucky Fried Anything

Even when we aren't on any particular diet we do that to ourselves, don't we? We put different foods in little boxes labeled GOOD or BAD and as soon as we do we have to forcefully restrain ourselves from grabbing the BAD box and running off into the sunset with a load of Fried Chicken and Twinkies or maybe even a Fried Twinkie or a fried oreo or a fried Snickers bar..it's amazing what people are frying these days.

What is our obsession with fried foods?

I say "our" because I most certainly share this infatuation with things breaded and dipped in piping hot oil. Yesterday, I went out for Indian fare and ordered the vegetarian appetizer plate. Out came a glorious feast of fried flora. Rotund golden-brown samosas packed full of potato and peas and aromatic spices and then FRIED. Pakoras made of onions, potatoes and I believe some more peas, fragrant and delicious and FRIED. Finally something I hadn't had before and can't remember the name of, but I'm pretty sure it was mashed potato and peas formed into a pattie and then, you guessed it, FRIED. I'm surprised they didn't deep fry the bed of lettuce garnishing the plate. (Although to be truthful it probably would have made a prettier presentation as the iceberg greens were more than past their prime.) It was exactly what I wanted!

After the 1st pakora and about half of the samosa was gone I was beginning to feel the effects of my oil-soaked dinner as it began to reach my stomach. It was as if my digestive system had forgotten what to do with such foods as it sees them so rarely. Sure I could have stopped right then and probably not suffered anything worse than mild indigestion but the allure of the fried food item was too strong. I treated myself to another pakora, polished off the samosa and worked my way through the potato pattie. With fried food it's easy to use the excuse.."it won't keep in the fridge", as the reason you leave the restaurant sans doggie bag, but even if that veggie pakora came out of the chill tomorrow just as crispy as it came out of the kitchen it wouldn't make it through the car ride home.

What is it about fried foods? The answer lies in simple brain chemistry (is that an oxymoron?). Dr. David Kessler, former FDA chief, explains the phenomenon in his book "The End of Overeating". Here's a small taste...

"Highly palatable" foods -- those containing fat, sugar and salt -- stimulate the brain to release dopamine, the neurotransmitter associated with the pleasure center, he found. In time, the brain gets wired so that dopamine pathways light up at the mere suggestion of the food, such as driving past a fast-food restaurant, and the urge to eat the food grows insistent. Once the food is eaten, the brain releases opioids, which bring emotional relief. Together, dopamine and opioids create a pathway that can activate every time a person is reminded about the particular food. This happens regardless of whether the person is hungry.

Good thing that paragraph wasn't fried or you might just want to read the whole book...

If you want a bit of a bigger taste here's an article about it: Crave Man


Saturday, June 6, 2009

Elimination or Deprivation?

It's been some time since I've written and this is mostly because I haven't eaten anything very memorable in awhile. You see I, like many a Bastyr nutrition student before me, embarked upon what is known as the Elimination Diet. This is not a diet in the traditional sense of restricting eating to promote weight loss but rather restricting eating to enable one to determine if there are particular foods causing unwanted physical symptoms like fatigue, GI distress, brain fog, headaches, etc. After eliminating all potential offenders for 2-3 weeks ideally the symptoms subside for a time and it is then that you systematically reintroduce the foods one at a time and observe for any adverse reactions. After 3 weeks without any wheat, soy, corn, peanuts, chocolate, or sugar I did learn one thing...one should not begin this type of diet without proper preparation. I mean making a comprehensive plan of meals and snacks with a corresponding trip to the grocery store to obtain the needed ingredients. Even the most die-hard kale and brown rice fan can get tired of these staple foods after 21 days of eating them for nearly every meal.

Despite my nearly 2 years following what many would consider a fairly "restrictive diet" in standard American diet terms...I still convince myself that I can easily find necessary edibles no matter where I am. I tell myself as I head to a restaurant, a friend's house, the school cafeteria, "SURELY, there'll be something I can eat." It wasn't until perhaps the 13th day of experiencing blurred vision, headaches, and no energy that I decided that I probably wasn't going about this particular dietary adventure in the healthiest way. So I stopped.

It's amazing what kind of cravings pop up the minute you deny yourself a particular food. And the cruelest part of it all is that the minute you don't allow yourself soy or bread or corn they start to show up EVERYWHERE. Suddenly everything their serving in the cafeteria is made up the exact ingredients you have sworn off. BBQ tempeh calzones, soy sausage and pepper sandwiches. .... I bet you if I told myself tomorrow that I could no longer eat liverwurst I would immediately crave it and tomorrow in the Bastyr lunch line what do you think you'd find?

With cravings,

Sunday, May 31, 2009


Yesterday it was hot and sunny here in Seattle. The sky was nearly devoid of cloud cover and there was little wind. A perfect day to be at the beach. Unfortunately, my increasingly frequent bouts of procrastination have left me with lots of projects to complete this weekend. So, alas, I was stuck in my apartment drawing pictures of the probiotic flora in the lower gastrointestinal tract.

When my own GI alerted me that it was time to eat, I thought, if I can't be at the beach right now I might as well eat like I'm at the beach! And whenever I want to feel as though I'm at the beach, I make spinach. You see, I have never quite figured out how to get every last bit of dirt out of a fresh bunch of the stuff and when I bite down on a gritty piece of leafy spinach it's as if a gusty wind off the ocean just sprayed a lite mist of sand over my lovely picnic lunch. With every arenaceous morsel I can almost see the mosaic of beach towels and their formerly white occupants quickly becoming dangerously rubicund with UV exposure.

So the next time you're stuck constructing informative display boards on the human digestive tract, treat your own with a generous helping of Popeye's favorite. Here's how I prepared it:

Sauteed in olive and sesame oil with onions, garlic, thinly sliced sunchokes and burdock root.

Enjoy and wear your sunscreen!

Lounging on the "beach"...

Monday, May 25, 2009

Broiled Asparagus and One Night Stands

Now before you get your knickers in a twist, I'm not talking about what you think I'm talking about. Well, I am talking about broiled asparagus, but the other half of the title refers to a little tip I read at a great new website recently brought to my attention called, Nourish This. Here, Kristin O'Connor says the following:

Most of us are accustomed to making a big pot of rice and saving it for the next day...or week. Either that or we get more takeout than we need for leftovers the next day. However, putting rice in the fridge after it has been cooked (especially fried rice) is like cultivating bacteria in a petri dish! Of course you can eat reheated rice and be find, but reheating greatly increases your chance of getting a nasty bacterial infection in your digestive tract...so for me I have decided rice is only good as a "one night stand!"

I had never realized that my more long-term relationship with rice could cause such a problem. Come to think of it I have been feeling rather ill recently. That is how I came to concoct the meal you see above. At the time, all that seemed palatable were potatoes. So...I started putting some in a pan when I thought about the piece of yam left over from last night's stir-fry. And there was some burdock in the fridge next to the yam that I thought would want to join the party. When I ventured into the produce drawer to retrieve the latter ingredients I was greeted by a bundle of asparagus looking anxious to be broiled.

If you have not had asparagus prepared in this manner, you have not had asparagus! Just crank that oven up to "broil" and pop in the lightly oiled green spears until you can smell their outermost layers getting singed by the heat. The result is a succulent bite of green goodness...crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. At this point, I don't recommend adulterating your asparagus with pan-fried root vegetables, garlic, scallions, salt, pepper, and nutritional yeast as I did. The asparagus is much tastier in its virginal state.

And now, after reading the above disclaimer about rice, I DO NOT RECOMMEND topping your meal off with a generous helping of rice you made last week (as I preceded to do). I'll let you know tomorrow if my long-term relationship with the grain has left me as many a committed relationship has...in a whole lot of pain.

Here's to some one-night stands,

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


Today was one of those rare days where everything was just...balanced. I slept for a few hours after my alarm went off but I was still very productive and not rushed. I had a very calm breakfast: a simple rice tortilla spread with homemade cashew butter, a few figs, and a drizzle of maple syrup. Satisfyingly sweet but not sugary and with a touch of richness that wasn't too heavy.

There wasn't much time to eat during the middle of the day, but (if you can believe it) I wasn't overly hungry. I worked out in the late afternoon and walked back to my apartment as the temperature was warm enough to make me sweat a little but not hot enough to make me dread the steep hill at the end of the journey.

Getting home around 5:30, I had ample time to cook dinner but not enough time that I found myself voracious before it was all ready to eat. In a manner very unlike me, I actually planned what I would cook before I stepped into the kitchen. My strategy was to dice some yam and red onion and coat them with some olive oil and curry spices (I used a boxed blend of about a dozen spices). I then roasted them in a 375 degree oven. To the onion/yam mixture I added some black beans (canned) that I heated with a bit of coconut butter that I thought would complement the curry spiced vegetables. My base would be quinoa and my side some steamed rainbow chard that I gently splashed with umeboshi vinegar before serving. To round out the dish I added some avocado, halved, lichen-green flesh scooped out with a spoon.

In a bizarre twist of fate, the meal came out just as I had designed it in my head. Before me lay the makings of a balanced vegetarian meal: grain, plant protein, sweet root vegetable, green vegetable, and healthy source of fat. So this is what it feels like to lead a balanced life!, I thought. I didn't feel compelled to multitask while eating, and I was actually hungry because I hadn't filled up on munchies before sitting down to my meal. Everything felt different and I was exquisitely happy and proud of myself.

As I placed the first bite into my mouth I wasn't even disappointed when the yam was boring, the onion burnt, and the swiss chard bland. Whatever my meal was not, it was balanced.

With satisfaction,

Monday, May 18, 2009

Meditating on Mustard Greens

"Mustard greens are leaves from varieties of brown mustard that have been selected for their foliage rather than their seeds. Their texture is more delicate than that of cabbage. They're often quite pungent in the fashion of seed mustard, but are usually cooked, which may leave them mild and cabbage-like or intensely bitter, depending on the variety.
" - Harold McGee in On Food and Cooking

I'm tempted to make some sort of esoteric comment from that passage on the mustard green. Something to the effect of...when we find ourselves in the big frying pan of life (i.e. "being cooked") we can choose to become mild and cabbage-like or intensely bitter. But I'll refrain and just stick to the less abstruse concept of cooking this beautiful bouquet of Brassica.

Drawn to the viridian plumage of this vegetable while shopping at PCC several days ago I only paused for a moment to ponder two questions: Do I like mustard greens and if I do, how do I cook them? Having no definitive answer to either query I placed the colorful crucifer into my cart and continued shopping.

When it came time to consume the mustard greens I tasted a bit raw and was taken aback by the commanding bitterness that filled my mouth. With great alarm I thought ,if cooking could make these even more bitter (as Harold indicated) how could I ever eat them? I rushed to the cookbook shelf looking for a clue as to how one might turn these greens into something edible. No answers were found there. I then consulted one of my favorite sources when faced with the dilemma of how to cook any vegetable. Debbie. I'm not sure who Debbie is but from what I gather she farms and runs a CSA. This woman has the most comprehensive database of vegetable recipes that I've come across. You can search by recipe or read her newsletters about different items in this week's CSA. Go Debbie!

Though I found several mouth-watering descriptions of recipes that could include mustard greens, I didn't have many of the ingredients and wasn't in the mood to do a lot of improvisation. So I resorted to simply braising my mustard greens as I would any green that has the privilege of occupying my vegetable drawer. I sliced half an onion, very thinly and placed it in some heated olive oil. Once the onions were slightly browned, I chopped up the mustard greens and put those in, stirring to coat with the oil. At this point I would typically add some mirin and some tamari, however, I'm not consuming soy right now so I did mirin alone. I put the lid on and waited a few minutes for the greens to wilt but keep their color. At that point I took them out of the pan and put them in a large bowl with a dash of umeboshi vinegar to finish.

In the end, the mustard greens reacted to my treatment mostly mild and cabbage-like.

How would you react?

Munching on Mustard Greens,

Friday, May 15, 2009

Cooking for Real, Part Deux

Without further ado, I present the conclusion of "Cooking for Real" ....

Voila! Sauteed Broccoli Italian-Style! Unfortunately, the cooking process was done in the late evening so I didn't get to try it that night but the next day it made a lovely accompaniment to the Millet with Walnut Pesto and a side of Roasted Yam and Sunchokes with rosemary. Turns out my hunch about millet and pesto was right. They taste fabulous together. The richness of the pesto makes a big statement over the subtle tones of the simple grain.

Here they are all together right before becoming my dinner...

If I've learned anything from the past 2 blogs it is that I was a fool for thinking I could get by in the kitchen without a cookbook once in awhile ( or all the time). It's like getting rid of training wheels after only riding the bike for 5 minutes, or jumping into the deep end of a swimming pool during your first lesson without those attractive orange "floaties" on your arms (did anyone else's parents make them wear those at the public pool?). And in some ways it's really not like either of those analogies because even when you consider yourself a pro in the kitchen it's always nice to know where you can turn for some inspiration, a friendly suggestion, or a gentle reminder. Cookbooks are like angels that lift you up when your wings forget how to fly...or is that friends, or RedBull. No, RedBull gives you wings. I wonder how RedBull would taste with pesto...

Happy Recipe Hunting,

P.S. Here is the inspiration I used for the broccoli dish.

Italian Style Sauteed Broccoli

Makes 4 or 5 servings

Spring or filtered water
1 head broccoli, cut into small florets, stems peeled and thinly sliced
2 or 3 cloves fresh garlic, minced
1 onion, diced
Sea salt
4 or 5 button mushrooms, brushed clean and thinly sliced
1 oe 2 tomatoes, diced (do not seed or peel)
Cracked black pepper

Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add broccoli and cook until bright green but not completely tender, about 3 minutes. Drain well and set aside.

Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add garlic, onion, and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring, until onion is wilted and translucent, 5 minutes. Add mushrooms and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring, 2 or 3 minutes. Add tomatoes, season lightly with salt and pepper and stir well. Cover and simmer 10 to 15 minutes. Remove cover and stir in broccoli. Simmer, uncovered, 2 or 3 minutes. Serve hot.

From Cooking the Whole Foods Way by Christine Pirello, Penguin 2007.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Cooking For Real

I'm going to cook something.

Right now.

No, really I am. And you, lucky reader, get to follow me through the entire process. Aren't you excited?

I've taken stock of my ingredients. Broccoli, jerusalem artichokes, red lentils, millet, sweet brown rice, leftover pesto, 1 brown rice tortilla, 2 yams, some yellow onions, and some garlic.

For a change of pace, I'm going to endeavor to use an actual recipe so the final product is something I actually want to eat.

Let me just dust off these cookbooks...

There we go. Now to find the perfect recipe that works with what I have on hand.

I'm pretty hungry though. While I leaf through this book, let me get out some granola to snack on. Ok, where was I.

Here's a recipe for Italian-style Sauteed Broccoli. I'm Italian (4th generation, but who's counting?) I could probably pull that off. Great! What should I have with that? My people would probably make some pasta but I don't really eat pasta. How about some millet? With the leftover pesto....that could be interesting. Let's do it!

Ok first step. Let's get that millet going. I like to toast my millet before cooking it so let's do that. I'm putting one cup of millet into my stainless steel pot on medium heat. While I'm stirring that with one hand. I'm going to chop up my head of broccoli into "small florets".
And in go the 2 cups of water for the millet along with a pinch of salt. I've covered that pot and am now waiting for the water to...and it's boiling! Be right back.

My broccoli has been floretted and is now steaming for about 2 minutes. And the 2 minutes is up! Just a second, please. Alright the millet is now simmering on a low heat. That will be going on for about 20 minutes so I have time to take a breather...oops, the broccoli! Ow! That steamer basket is hot!

Alright this is far too complicated. I'll catch you up on the rest in the next blog...

Still cooking,

Sunday, May 10, 2009

All Good Things

My grandmother used to say about her food..."of course it's good..I put all good things in it". At least I think it was one of my grandmothers who said that. Maybe it was something from the Golden Girls. My grandmother looked an awful lot like Betty White, it's a common mistake.
Regardless of who said it first, I have tried to apply this theory to my own cooking. And I've come to the conclusion that one can only say such a thing when the food is tasty. My concoctions lately haven't exactly fallen under that category...

For instance, the other night I was in the grocery store very late because I was assisting with a cooking class there. I thought I would pick up a few ingredients before I headed home. Not the best idea...it was super late, I was exhausted, and I had a really full bladder that was crying out to me as I hurriedly weaved through the shelves of various food products. I tossed some swiss chard, some yams, and brown rice tortillas in my cart and veered toward the check-out. On my way something caught my eye, a large jar of sauerkraut. How a large jar of pale strands of fermented cabbage catches one eye I don't know but, trust me, it did. As I held the product in my hand thoughts of pork and hot dogs rushed to my mind. Images of pork and hot dogs came to mind, neither of which are in my current dietary repertoire. Nevertheless, not knowing at all what I would do with sauerkraut, I paid for it and my other groceries and rushed to my car with my bladder still screaming at me to get home. I went to bed promptly after arriving back at my apartment without giving the odd purchase of the evening another thought.

The next morning I began to assemble my breakfast wrap, bored of the usual yam, kale, bean combination I searched my cupboards for something...different. Instead of kale...swiss chard. Instead of black/pinto beans...hummus. Instead of yam...at this point, I couldn't think of anything to replace that with so I put some yam into the mix per usual. It was then that I came across the sauerkraut. I did a quick assessment of the ingredients so far. They're all good I thought...so if I put all good things in my wrap surely it could become nothing else but a summation of all the goodness of which it was composed.

The culmination of that thinking is shown above. And though it made a pretty picture, the end result was anything but good.

Wishing you all good things,

Monday, May 4, 2009

A Journey, Not A Destination

This was one of the three pictures alluded to in the previous post...it doesn't have a whole lot (or anything) to do with what I wanted to write about but it's a relatively picturesque scene so I thought I'd share it with you...

In this post I really wanted to address the point that was very astutely pointed out by my sister who began reading my blog recently. (Hey, sis!) In no uncertain terms she stated that I wasn't really doing what I had set out to do way back at post numero uno. As she is about many things, my sister is right. I haven't cooked a bean and the only thing that's grown during these past few weeks is my frustration with myself over what I do or do not eat.

When my foray into the world of whole foods began about 5 or 6 years ago. I've always held to the notion that one day I'll be a paragon of nutritious eating. Not a speck of processed food nor a grain of refined sugar will pass my lips and all my meals will reflect a perfect balance of taste, colors, and nutrients. My kitchen counters will be adorned with shiny glass jars filled with grains and legumes of all shapes and sizes and my refrigerator bursting with a palette containing every color of the vegetable rainbow. A set of gleaming stainless steel pots and pans will hang expectantly from above the gas range ready to be filled with the makings of another wholesome meal. Sadly, as I write this, my grains and beans are piled neglectfully in a dark cabinet next to the electric stove. Aside from the leftovers from a recent potluck (that I didn't cook for) and the remains of a can of diced tomatoes my refrigerator is a blank canvas. I own one stainless steel pot that has probably grown weary of waiting for anything more than the occasional cup of quinoa.

At times like these I like to remind myself of something Bob Costas, sportscaster and speaker at my undergraduate commencement, credited Oprah Winfrey, talk-show host and cover girl of every issue of O magazine, with saying: "Life is a journey, not a destination."

Maybe I'll never become that whole food maven of my dreams. So what? The important thing is to not become complacent. To keep exploring and questioning. To keep experimenting with new ways of doing things until you find something that works for you at that time. Maybe for now I'm meant to be eating most of my meals at the Bastyr cafeteria and scarfing down meals of asparagus and oatmeal on the rare occasion I do decide to feed myself at home. I'm not totally convinced of that, but it beats sitting here and blogging about how great a failure I am because I'm eating beans from a can and buying food grown by someone else.

Journey on.


Cliff Bars, Cashews, and Capers

This weekend I was fortunate enough to join some fellow budding dietitians on a journey to our Canuk-loving northern neighbor for a conference on "fetal programming". (Can you picture the look on the border patrol's face when we told him that one?) I was excited about the prospects this trip would hold for my blog which had seemed a bit stagnant lately. I packed my camera ready to take loads of pictures and make poignant observations about the eating habits of 9 nutrition students with about as many different food allergies/intolerances among them. Unfortunately, my camera decided to lose power after just 3 photos, all of which were of the tulip festival we stopped at on the way up. I took the above picture when I got back to my apartment. Though it contains little in the way of aesthetics it does depict my food moods and experiences during my brief sojourn to Vancouver, BC.
Exhibit A: Half of a Black Cherry Almond Cliff Bar
Ah, the vegan traveler's best friend, the Cliff Bar. I really used to fawn over the dense, chewy square of oats, soy, and rice puffs suspended in a brown rice syrup mold. I'm not sure what I was thinking. Aside from the occasional crunch of nut these rectangular meal substitutes are a gummy, homogeneous blob. The brown rice syrup content is so great it's a bit like eating a caramel or some Laffy Taffy without the perk of a free joke. On both occasions upon consuming only half of the Cliff Bar I experienced a serve hypoglycemic event about 30-60 minutes afterwards. My conclusion is that, though the Cliff Bar might be ideal for people like those depicted on the wrappers, busy scaling large geological structures, I do not recommend them for the not so arduous task of sitting in a conference room for 8 hours.

Exhibit B: Cashews
These lovelies came from the bulk section at a delightful little Co-op in Mount Vernon, WA. Organic and full of delicious fat, these babies were the perfect accompainment on a day of conferencing. I had been craving fat all weekend. I have to constantly remind myself that because I don't consume the two major sources of lipid in the typical diet: meat and dairy I have to work just a little harder to get my bodily needs for this macronutrient met. Nuts are a great way of doing just that and cashews are quickly becoming my favorite. When chewed they elicit a creamy sweetness that when joined harmoniously with a bit of salt yield a perfect symphony of flavors. If you haven't yet tried the fresh roasted cashews sold at Pike Place Market for $6.00/lb, I implore you to do so at your earliest convenience. It is simply nut Nirvana.

Exhibit C: Bohemian Veg Sandwich from Capers
bohemian -noun (usually lowercase) a person, as an artist or writer, who lives and acts free of regard for conventional rules and practices.
I'm not exactly sure why the good people at Capers grocery decided to name this sandwich the Bohemian Veg, but after experiencing one during the second day of the conference I can say the moniker fits the 'wich perfectly. The traditional mold for vegetarian sandwiches everywhere: hummus, lettuce, the occasional sprout, a tomato or two, perhaps a smear of Vegannaise was shattered with this one. There was just enough of the typical (hummus, tahini, baby greens) to fool you but between the bread, like its namesake, this sandwich had blatant disregard for conventional vegetarian sandwich rules and practices. Under the marinated artichoke hearts there was a concoction that's deep red hue only hinted that it must contain tomato. On the label it was written humbly as "veg pate" but my guess is that's only because they couldn't fit "amazingly robust, knock-your-socks-off flavorful, zesty, savory, you'll-want-another-sandwich-before-you're-even-more-than-one-bite-through-the-first-one veg pate".
Anyone up for a trip to Vancouver this weekend?

Only mildly happy to be back in the states,

Monday, April 27, 2009

Culinary Counseling

I really like to cook. But, as is the case with most things I really like to do, I don't participate in the activity very often. I mean this is the whole premise of this blog, right, so if what I just wrote was news to you, you have a few posts to catch up on.

Just about an hour ago I decided to prepare some food for the morning. Nothing exciting, some cumin-scented quinoa and yam for a breakfast burrito similar to the one described in a previous posting. During the process of chopping up some onion and garlic, for a brief moment, I wasn't thinking about anything but chopping up some onion and garlic. In that moment I realized why I haven't been cooking for myself lately (as in the last 10 months). Cooking prevents me from doing anything else. There may be chefs out there who can successfully multi-task, but I am not one of them. When I am in the midst of preparing a meal I can get totally lost in the dicing, the slicing, the sauteeing, the steaming, the broiling, the baking. And what do I have to show for this 30-60 minutes of committment to food and utensil? A result that only benefits me. Unless, of course, the meal turns out wretchedly in which case it doesn't benefit anyone. Maybe if I had a dog or some other pet or even a roommate with a less discerning palatte than my own than at least some good would come out of it...

But in reality, it's just me and when I cook its purely for my own benefit. Two years ago, I lived in San Francisco with 5 other volunteers. We took turns manning (or womanning as the case may be) one of 2 kitchens to create culinary delights (I use the term loosely) for the enjoyment and nourishment of our housemmates. The days I was in charge of dinner someone had to nearly pry the wooden spoon from my hand. Granted the menus I came up with were typically overly ambitious and the meal was often late getting to the table. Still, I enjoyed every last minute in that kitchen because I knew that when the smoke cleared (our oven had a tendency to burn things) I would be able to present this food, this gift to nurture 5 other humans.

Cooking for myself feels indulgent...

(At the moment so does writing this blog when I have a dozen other assignments to work on so I'll pause for a brief interlude...more later)

From the psychiatrist's couch,

Friday, April 24, 2009

Not Hungry

I haven't been very hungry these past few days. Don't worry, I'm not going to have to change my blog title. The descriptor "hungry" in the title is much more complex than simply the urge for sustenance from food it refers to my appetite for knowledge, for balance, for a new way of eating in America, and so many other things that don' t even relate to food directly. How did you not get that?

As I was saying, I haven't been hungry for the past few days. This hasn't stopped me from eating and I can't say I've even consumed less this week than I would any other. It is pretty evident that I don't really listen to my hunger. In fact, since college my hunger and I have had a rather rocky relationship. Even before early adulthood I'm not sure I ever paid very much attention to my hunger. Growing up in an upper-middle class Italian-American household meant that food was never in short supply. My mother prepared home-cooked food at regular meal times and did her best to keep sugary cereals and soda to a minimum so the food environment was a healthy one. I had no reason to think that my hunger wouldn't always be satisfied with minimal effort. Thus, I paid it little mind. As was usually the case, I would eat when food was presented to me whether my hunger dictated it or not. So, as I said, before college I didn't pay much attention to my hunger.

This changed during my freshman year. Whether it was my own body image insecurities or a need for some control in a time of great flux, I began to eat less frequent and smaller meals. Soon my hunger began to speak up and I had a harder time ignoring it. I remember going to bed while my hunger screamed at me, "Get up and eat something!." Though I could have easily gone to the small fridge in my dorm and quieted my hunger with a snack, I chose not to and I enjoyed the control I had over my hunger. Over the next year, I fought hard against my hunger but as I entered sophomore year of college my hunger won the battle. I began to eat more frequently and larger portions and my hunger was usually satisfied. However, the fight with my hunger is far from over and, though I listen to it more now than in the past, our relationship remains a tumultuous one.

Often I find myself angry with my hunger because it interferes when I'm trying to do schoolwork or exercise or when it decides to show up just as I enter my favorite co-op with an empty grocery cart. At other times, I wait in great anticipation for my hunger to arrive only to get angry when my hunger doesn't show up at restaurants or is late for a date with a plate of freshly baked (vegan) brownies. When my hunger does appear, I get upset when it doesn't stay long enough for me to enjoy that second helping of piping hot cornbread smeared with honey.

Still our relationship isn't all negative. I do appreciate how my hunger reminds me of another opportunity to nourish my body and tantalize my taste buds with a new edible experience. When I really stop to listen to it, I find that my hunger leads me to a meal that satisfies me nutritionally, emotionally, and sensually. If only I could learn to listen to it more often.

In satiety, Jenna

Monday, April 20, 2009

Getting Back to the Table, Part III

Bring in the crepe!

I should preface this blog entry by stating that I've been a rather strict vegan for nearly 2 years. I alluded to the reasons behind this in a previous post but the root of it was for my health. I had been diagnosed with the GI world's favorite umbrella term for anything that ails ya, IBS and as directed by some website on the subject I set out to rid my diet of all the most common trigger foods: spicy food, fried food, meat, dairy, etc. With meat and dairy out of my diet it wasn't long before eggs and fish followed and, voila! I was vegan. Over the past two years I have felt better about my dietary choices. On a teleological level, the vegan diet makes sense to me. Consumption of dairy, in my opinion, is counter-evolutionary and I don't want to eat meat/eggs from an immoral and environmentally toxic industry as is the case in the US.

However, the vegan way of eating hasn't really done wonders for my health. I don't feel worse by any means but I don't feel better either. I'm still plagued with GI issues and my energy level isn't always where I'd like it to be regardless of amount of physical activity and other factors. Lately, this fact and the idea perpetuated by my Bastyr education that I'm suddenly deficient in B12, iron, and several other essential nutrients has gotten me reevaluating what I'm eating or rather what I'm not eating.

To this end, and as futher evidence that I could participate in a normal social gathering where food is involved, I went out for crepes! What a grand experience it was. Accompanied by two of my closest friends (one of which made the accusatory remarks that started this venture) I went to Saley in Capitol Hill and enjoyed not one but two of these French delicacies. The first was a savory delight. A crunchier version of the airy egg-including pastry acted like a shell encasing creamy avocado, pink (is it just me or have you not had a good tomato since 1972?) tomato, and bright spinach. The only downfall was the unexpected dousing of the above ingredients in a "special crepe sauce". Not only did this ruin my only egg rule by including yogurt in the dish but it added a creamy redundancy to the richness offered by the avocado. That aside, the crepe was just great! What made it better was that I could watch the whole crepe-making process from my table. It's always a treat to see a restauranteur devoted to her craft lovingly create your lunch right in front of your eyes. The meal was topped off by a sweet crepe, the much more silken variety I was used to, spread delicately with strawberry jam and folded over itself to form the familiar crepe triangle. Every bite melted in my mouth. A mouth that was grinning widely even now, 2 days later, thinking about how good it was to be back at the table!

Note of thanks...I'd like to give a shout out to a blogger peer of mine who's blog has reminded me of the importance of getting out of my head and into my stomach a bit more. Maybe bratwurst and kale isn't far off?


Getting Back to the Table, Part II

Funnily enough my endeavors to get away from the "quinoa and kale salad" mentality began with a dish that contained both quinoa and kale. This is the burrito I whipped up the morning after I learned how close this blog had come to being called "Reservation for One". It's a compilation of leftovers and this is how it was lovingly composed:

My sister had some kale and broccoli in the fridge for what I judged to be a long enough time for them to become public domain. I was careful to take a rather inconspicous amount of both and finely chopped them before sauteeing in some olive oil and adding a pinch of garlic powder and some cumin. This was the unseasoned greens' orientation to the Mexican-themed gathering they were ultimately in store for. I then added to the skillet a couple large spoonfuls of Mexican quinoa that my pal, Sherrill (check out her blog, The Saffron Spoon) had lovingly prepared the night before. To this medley, I introduced the taco-style black beans that served as the main feature in the previous evenings mexican feast. After warming the mixture thoroughly I removed it from the pan and prepared its edible container, an Ezekial 4:9 sprouted grain tortilla. My favorite way to ready this for eating is to massage either side with some olive oil and heat on medium until it is maleable and slightly crispy on the edges. I gently tucked the bean/quinoa/broccoli/kale into its warm tortilla blanket and laid it upon a plate with a smidge of hot salsa and a couple fresh strawberries. ( The last two additions acted more like edible airbrushing for the sake of the above photograph.)

I should add that I sat down with fork and knife and ate this mindfully and joyfully (it was damn tasty) as I sat on a chair at a table in my sun-lit kitchen.

Assessment, step 1 was a success! I was at a table, but I was still eating quinoa and kale, my two safest foods. Step 2 would have to involve something a little more out of my current culinary box....

Getting Back to the Table, Part I

So in one of my last posts I described how I've had a hard time savoring food lately. I spend far too much time thinking/worrying how a food will make me feel or how it will affect my carbon footprint and too little time thinking of how it tastes. Well, before I even had a real chance to deal with that, my situation got worse. It seems that my cerebral way of dealing with food has infected the time I spend dining with others.

You see, no one wants to eat with me anymore. I've become one of those hippy vegan types that, to quote a friend, "gets upset when someone else has already brought the kale and quinoa salad to the potluck." I was unaware of how bad it had gotten until the same friend described a recent visit to a local sushi restaurant. Apparently, while she attempted to enjoy her burdock tempura roll (which I have enjoyed myself in the past) I made several negative remarks about the amount of white rice in the meal and lamented the absence of brown rice sushi at local sushi restaurants.

Of course, what I meant was that, in my case eating lots of white rice makes me feel sluggish and irritable and I, for the benefit of myself and others, choose to have brown because it makes me feel better than the white. But by pointing this out it sounds like, in my opinion, anyone who wouldn't choose brown rice is making an inferior decision. Either that or all my talk about the physiological and psychological effects of food really takes away from the enjoyment of the food itself.

So, in a manner not unlike exhibiting my ability to sit with the adults during family gatherings when I was a child, this weekend became all about proving to myself and others that I could be invited back to the table...

Friday, April 17, 2009


Mmmm...polenta. Just take a minute to bask in the ethereal glow of a bowl of polenta, a dash of cinnamon, a sprinkle of toasted almonds, and a drizzle of warm maple syrup.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Just Food

"Every morning I get up and I can't decide whether I want to save the world or savor it. " ~ E.B. White

When I was formulating ideas for this blog. I tried to embellish the notion of food. Should I write about the politics of food? Should I write about how to practically incorporate whole foods into one’s life? It didn’t seem like enough to write about just food. What I neglected to realize, and what was made abundantly clear to me as I listened to Shauna James Ahern (Gluten-Free Girl) speak this afternoon, is that it is impossible to write about just food. Food is such an integral part of our lives one can’t write about food and not talk about human connections. You can’t talk about food and not talk about human emotions: love, passion, comfort, joy. When a food truly satisfies hunger it touches on the human need and desire for all of these things.

I chose to study nutrition to save the world. That may seem grandiose but I truly saw this master’s degree in nutrition as the first step to creating a healthier, happier global society. I wanted to make wellness a choice everyone could make, not a luxury reserved for the upper ten percent. I made a choice to give up my consumption of animal products because I didn’t want to use my resources to power an industry that is contributing to an unhealthy environment on many fronts. These days, each choice I make at the grocery store or the farmers market, at a restaurant or in my own kitchen is made to be in concert with my goal to save the world. I rarely make the choice to savor it.

Don't get me wrong, I still want to wake up tomorrow and make the decision to save the world, but I also want to savor it. With the help of this blog I hope to find a balance between the two. There are days where I might delve into deeper issues surrounding food and how it needs to be saved, but most days I want to talk about just food and how it needs to be savored.

Thanks for reading.


Sunday, April 12, 2009


One of the biggest challenges I’ve encountered when trying to change my own eating habits as well as when motivating others to change theirs is tradition. Whether cultural or religious, so many of our traditions revolve around food.

For instance, if I were in Pennsylvania right now celebrating Easter with my family I’d be presented with a plate of ground sausage and scrambled eggs for breakfast. We’d then munch on a delicacy called Easter Pie that is essentially a very dense quiche with some combination of the following: ricotta, Parmesan, ham, pepperoni, pasta, salami, eggs, and sausage. Rounding off the day would be an evening of some crackers, bread, cheese, and still more ham.

Now if you’re relying on the Italian-American food pyramid you’ve hit all the major food groups: MEAT, CHEESE, and BREAD. From the perspective of a whole grain loving, vegetable chomping vegan…you’re in the third circle of Hell.

You could sit there all grouchy and judgmental, but there are better options:
Like bringing something for everyone to share that meets your preferences and their tastes!

Last year I provided an “Easter Pie” of my own made with tofu, fresh spinach and tomatoes, a little nutritional yeast and lots of fresh basil (Italians love anything with basil in it).
Did everyone try it? No. But a few did and, if nothing else, it kept me from being a hungry, irritable daughter/cousin/niece on that day. I hope too, it showed that I’m not denying the importance of sharing a meal together with my family even if our dietary choices are different.

After all, the love of family should be what brings you to the table not just the food, right?


Saturday, April 11, 2009

Stepping Up to the Plate

Thanks for visiting The Hungry Nutritionist!

This blog is for all those people out there who know what they need to do to be healthier but aren’t actually doing it. It’s for the doctor that won’t quit smoking, for the Phys Ed teacher who hasn’t gone running since she was in middle school. What makes me qualified to write such a blog you might ask. Well you see, I’m the nutritionist who doesn’t feed herself balanced meals.

It’s not that I don’t eat my vegetables or that I fill up on “junk” food. I simply don’t take the time to practice what I preach. I spend my time studying and speaking about the benefits of sitting down and mindfully eating a meal composed of seasonal and local fruits and vegetables accompanied by a hearty whole grain and legume. Yet, I’ve been known to prepare myself a hurried dinner of oatmeal partnered with broiled asparagus that I scarf down while standing in the kitchen waiting for the grain to cook.

I extol the economic benefits of bulk, dry beans…but I’ve never prepared a chickpea that wasn’t canned or frozen.

I talk at length about the need for farm to school programs…but my hands have never tilled the soil or planted a single seed.

This is all about to change. At the end of this I’ll be able to speak about the importance of nutrition not just from a book, but from experience. My endeavor to change the American food system one plate at a time starts now...with my own. Who knows? Maybe one of you will be inspired to contribute to your own health in a way you haven't been brave enough to try.

I hope you’ll come back and visit again to follow my progress and weigh in on the issues. In the meantime, do as I say not as I do.