Monday, January 31, 2011

Product Review! Tasty + Conscious = Eco Ola

I've already talked about the concept of "food as love," the idea that the emotion that you put into something can make it taste just that much better... It would make sense then that something tastes that much richer, that much more wholesome, and that much more energetic if it was made in healthy, happy, conscious way. There is a reason Fair Trade Coffee tastes better. There is a reason small-scale organically-grown tomatoes look that much redder and taste that much sweeter. You can just taste the social justice and environmental sustainability!

Enter Eco Ola.

A few days after I wrote a raving review of Sacha Inchi seeds, I was contacted by the good people at Eco Ola to let me know that they too were just as crazy about Sacha Inchi as I was. In fact, they decided to make a business out of it. Founded in the Peruvian Amazon, Eco Ola's mission is to produce nutritious foods indigenous to their local culture and climate, while respecting the land they farm on and improve the livelihoods of those who grow their crops. They specialize both in Sacha Inchi seeds and in Camu Camu (a superfood I've only ever heard good things about and that I really have to get around to trying!)

As they write on their website, Eco Ola's farms are consciously designed to be part of the eco-system, not imposed upon it. Beyond growing their produce without any fertilizers, pesticides, or chemicals of any sort, Eco Ola ensure its farmers are getting a fair price for their produce, and that they are gaining the knowledge in sustainable farming they need to thrive. Can it get any better than that?

Actually it can. After a few email exchanges, Eco Ola sent me a couple products to review: their toasted Sacha Inchi seeds, and their cold-pressed extra virgin Sacha Inchi Oil (a perfect addition to a raw foodie's kitchen I was told!). Now, seriously, talk of ethical practices aside: YUM.

Sacha Inchi, in Quechua, means "the People's Seed." It's been used since time of the Inca for its amazing nutritious properties. Like I've mentioned before, by weight, Sacha Inchi seeds are 25% Omegas 3s (seriously, that's a lot). Not good enough? They're also about 1/3 protein, and not just any protein, they're complete protein (that means they have all the essential amino acids you need). And throw in some high levels of Vitamins A and E for good measure.

I only have one previous experience with Sacha Inchi seeds, but these tasted so much more... natural. I really appreciated that there was no crazy sugaring, salting, or coating. They were totally unprocessed and delicious. Their taste is richer, stronger, and so much more complex than the other ones I've had. The short of it: They're fantastic! You can use them in anything! Their great for snacking on, would make a fantastic energy booster to bring hiking or camping, you could put them in cookies, in your salad, the possibilities are endless!

Next up, the oil. I was really curious about what Sacha Inchi Oil would taste like. I was also really psyched when I was told it cold-pressed extra virgin oil, which in my books, makes it raw. It tastes pretty much just like the seeds, rich, nutty, and delicious. The oil is great for dipping bread in (add some herbs, sea salt, and pepper, and you're good to go!) or making a nice dressing. I've mostly been using as an alternative to olive oil to massage my kale and it's been working great. I also used it in a batch of raw chocolate chip cookies (I substituted coconut oil for the Sacha Inchi Oil), and those cookies are loooong gone (still working on tweaking the recipe though).

I know that another great use for the oil is to apply it directly to your skin as a moisturizer. I've done this before with apricot oil or kukui nut oil, so I may try it sometime soon though Sacha Inchi tastes so good I'll probably just stick to eating it. I'm glad to know I have the option though! As I say, don't put anything on your skin that you wouldn't put in your mouth!

So, if you're into sustainable agricultural practices, ethical business models, or just want to know how Sacha Inchi seeds are grown, I definitely suggest you check out Eco Ola's website. It's packed with some really neat information on their region, their practices, and their products.

Sacha Inchi could definitely be the next big thing in the health food world. Especially for vegetarians and vegans looking for new and high sources of Omega 3s and varying our protein sources. If you're a retailer interest in carrying their products, which I highly suggest you do, the Eco Ola website also has all the information you need to contact them and figure out how to bring these little seeds of yummy to your community!

Share Your Passion: The SimplyRaw Potluck

Does the phrase, "I'll have the salad dressing on the side please" ever get a little tiring for you? Ever feel like your social life has become slightly more difficult because you've chosen to stop eating unhealthy or cooked foods, but don't know anyone else who has made those changes too? Look no further! If you're in the Ottawa area, and whether you are a die-hard 100% raw foodie or just at the beginning of your raw journey, check out the monthly SimplyRaw Potluck, hosted by Raw Food Coach, Natasha Kyssa, on the last friday evening of every month.

This friday, we ended our first month of 2011 by making it to SimplyRaw's January potluck, and did we ever come out with our bellies full! It was amazing to be able to go out for a night and actually know that if you wanted to, you could eat every dish laid out on the table. Our contribution? A 100% organic and raw apple crumble (yes, these will all be less than fantastic phone photos):

filling: dehydrated apples with lemon juice and tiny bit of raw agave
crumble: crushed walnuts and almonds, dates, sea salt, and agave

Raw potlucks (and potlucks in general) have always been a fabulous idea to me. What better way to both socialize, eat a variety of yummy homemade food, and not have to spend tons of money if you don't want to? Raw and/or vegan potlucks are an amazing way to connect with friends and your broader community while trying to promote a healthy lifestyle. If, like me, you like to talk about food all the time, raw potlucks also offer a great way to share tips and tricks on what has or hasn't worked on the diet for you. Given the wide ranges of experiences, you may be able to learn something from a seasoned raw foodist. Otherwise, you can just share your own story with the like-minded without getting all those weird looks or those "I could neeever do that" responses. Definitely look for potlucks in your area and if there isn't one, start the trend!

There was so much beautiful food, it was hard not to resist trying everything... so I didn't (and this is only a tiny sample of what there was to offer):

It was really fun to be able to showcase ones raw culinary talents and go out all at the same time. I have to say, I would have preferred knowing that all the ingredients were also organic, but it was still great to have such variety. It was really refreshing! Plus I got to ask all sorts of questions about fermentation to one guy about the amazing kimchi he made... I still need to work up the courage to try my own fermenting!

If you're in or visiting the Ottawa area, you should definitely check it out! Potlucks take place on the last friday of ever month, with doors opening at 6:30pm and dinner starting at 7pm. They are located at 174 First Avenue at Bank Street (make sure you go to the right building because they do change depending on the size of the event). The next SimplyRaw potluck will take place on Friday, February 25, and will feature a guest speaker on cellular nutrition.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Winterize your Fruit Choices

Thanks so much for all your feedback both on facebook, email, and in the comment section about Birth Control. I love to hear all of your stories and how you dealt with the choice. It was a choice I strongly felt I should never opt for, and as far as I know, it's worked out for the best!

Anyway, I know there is a thing about not eating fruits that are too sweet in cold climates because our bodies weren't meant to be processing them in the winter. The sweetness of summer fruits aren't meant to be digested in the cold winter, so they might sit in our stomachs a little longer than necessary, causing potential fermentation, which yeasts love to feed off of. Fruits that can be found in Northern climates during the snowy season, mostly berries or hardier apples, can still be assimilated by the body with little problem, but other ones should be eaten less liberally. Interestingly, I've found that I have no desire for the summer fruits of my region until the proper season comes around. So in the middle of a Canadian winter, I have no desire for strawberries, watermelons, canteloupes, etc. However, I always have a taste for tropical fruit. I'm wondering if this isn't just because my body knows where it is, so it knows what's in season and doesn't even perceive tropical fruit as being on the radar... strange.

Either way, when I'm offered a beautiful ripe pineapple, I have to eat it. I've recently been loosely following Dr. Alejandro Junger's Clean Program , which involves having two liquid meals (breakfast and dinner) and one solid meal (lunch) a day. While it's only been a couple days, I've been really enjoying the experience, and it's making me try a lot of new foods (which will most definitely be features soon!)

The first thing I had for a dinner a couple night ago, was this fantastic smoothie. To "winterize" it, I added kale for good measure, and it perfectly hit the spot:

Winterized Pineapple Smoothie
3/4 of a ripe pineapple (I was hungry...)
2 big leaves of kale
1 scoop of hemp protein
1/2 C water

(photo cropped from here)

Monday, January 17, 2011

Just Don't Do It: The Birth Control Pill

So, I'm going to go out on a limb here and pick another fairly controversial topic to discuss on a monday morning: the birth control pill. I feel like every girl and her mother are on the pill nowadays. Why? Because it's an expedient method to avoid pregnancy, and doctors claims it can solve everything from bad acne to irregular menstrual cycles. Pregnancy aside, why are we not addressing the actual causes of things like acne or menstrual pain rather than just the symptoms? Unnecessary pains or breakouts are generally your body trying to tell you something is up. Why don't doctors ask us to try something like change our diet, try an herbal remedies, or adopt healthier lifestyle? These would actually address the causes than the symptoms. Instead, we are given a contraceptive?
Am I the only one who thinks this is abnormal?

As girls we are now taught that birth control pills are a safe and reliable way to avoid pregnancy. This couldn't be further from the truth. Birth control, as reliable as it may be a contraceptive, is by no means safe. We are putting so many girls on the pill at the most hormonally and biologically vulnerable time of their life. Girls are being put on the pill when their health choices will have the most impact on their bodies for the long-term. They are unknowingly screwing up one of the most important things their body does: hormonal functioning. Your hormones are actually what create your body minute by minute. The pill is specifically designed to artificially alter your natural cycle through the use of chemically-derived hormones... are you really game? Would you say okay if someone tried to change something else about you, like your blood flow?

Why should I be talking about this anyway? Can't I just be making my own personal choices? Thing is, I want everyone to be as optimally heathy as they can, and listening to the drug industry's chatter isn't part of those choices. Girls nowadays have worse PMS, incidents of candida, allergies, and weight problems then they have in human history, while I partially blame diet of course, I also largely blame the Pill.

Some of the symptoms I've known friends to suffer from having gone on the pill have included:
  • significant "inexplicable" weight gain
  • yeast infections and overgrowth that can easily become chronic and very difficult to cure over time (anyone noticed that every girl seems to have candida nowadays? And yet, girls who have never been on the pill don't really seem to have that problem...)
  • formation of cysts, blood clots, chest pains, or blurred vision
  • higher blood pressure
  • higher risk of breast or liver cancer
  • reduced sexual satisfaction, depression, moodiness
  • nausea, migraines, vomiting
Again, does this sound like fun? There are a lot of lies is a lot of misinformation out there about how safe the pill is. Given the hard time I've know girls have had trying to both go on and go off, I can't help but think there is something seriously abnormal at work.

Why start in the first place? Being on the pill unnaturally changes your body's cycle. In many ways your asking your hormones to act otherwise than they normally would. In fact, you are flooding your body with synthetic and foreign hormones that you are asking your body to listen to over your own. This is not natural. You are disrupting your body's capacity do to it's own thing. The pill is invasive. It will never be able to understand the unique functioning of each woman's particular internal structuring and balance.

If you need proof, just look at the breakdown below:
On the left you have the chemically derived version of estrogen, and on the right you have what estrogen is naturally made up of. While they look more or less the same, the left version is merely an imitation of the right. When it comes to chemical make-up, even the slightest molecular difference can make a huge difference in outcome, become there are millions of these inside you, not just one. For non-scientists, here is an example, Down Syndrome is "merely" caused by an extra copy of genetic material on your 21st chromosome. Think of how "small" small a thing that may seem, but just one extra or one less of those little lines on that molecular drawing above can have devastating effects. Obviously, the same differences in molecular breakdown can be made between all the synthetic and natural hormones derived for the Pill, including progesterone. Unnatural hormones will make for unnatural results! Your body will process what is unnatural as a toxic invader to your system.

Given all these side effects, if you do plan on having children, also take into account that you are also cultivating a sub-optimal environment in which your future baby will gestate. Even if you "get off the pill," the effects will still be there and that's what your baby will be formed in.

Because you are overriding your systems natural process of ovulation, even the periods you have during aren't wholly natural. They are artificially created by forcing your hormone balance to change (again) by creating fake signals in your body that it's time to release an unfertilized egg, but because of the pill there is no egg... So you're just shedding your uterine wall for nothing by artificial programming. Eew.

There are plenty of healthy ways to have safe sex, and I can't mention all of them but the simplest one is just the use of a condom, isn't it? A lot of these options don't involve taking a pill every day for the foreseeable future. Obviously your choices are you own when it comes to protecting yourself from an unwanted pregnancy, but I think women should seriously be putting more thought into the choices they make when it comes to contraception. A condom is just a condom, but the Pill may have long term consequences for you and your child forever (and it doesn't protect you from STIs)... if anything, please just think about it!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Desk Job/Student Life & Staying Fit

So I've heard time and time again that working at the office or getting a "real job" is what often leads people to poor health habits. People's results usually end up spiraling into some vicious cycle of of weight gain and lack of motivation. The stereotype is that starting in her 20s a woman will gain about a pound or two per year until menopause... That adds up pretty quickly! However, defying everything that most people always told me about getting that desk job, I managed to get in the best shape of my life during a period when I was juggling a really demanding internship (aka. the desk job), completing my MA (so a full course-load), and maintaining a social and home life. So it's not impossible! I'm not trying to toot my own horn here, but I'm just trying to highlight that it's not difficult to maintain a certain way of life if you choose to make it a priority. So what was the trick? Here are a couple pointers I've come up with:

1) Walking as much as possible: It's easy to take the bus or drive the car to work or class every day. You don't notice how big a difference walking to where you need to get to makes until you don't do it anymore (trust me)! I was lucky enough to be living in the hilly part of downtown DC when I was doing this, so I walked to campus on the days I had to go to class (a good 2 miles), walked from the bus/subway to work (1.5 miles), or walked some combination of both those distances on my split days. Walking also gives you the opportunity to de-stress after a day's work or get pumped up for the day ahead!

2) Eating right: This is probably people's biggest issue. For me, going into the office actually gave me the most regular and healthy eating schedule ever. When I'm at home, I generally tend to eat whatever, whenever because food is always there in the kitchen calling my name. When I'm working or in class, I have to plan out my food, causing me to eat "just right." After an energizing breakfast at 8am-ish, I made sure to always have lunch around noon before I got too hungry, have a light snack around 4 if necessary, and have dinner early enough to leave time for overnight digestion. If you eat enough and at the right times, you tend not to over eat because you don't go too long without eating and you'll never have energy/blood sugar crashes! Also, whenever you're confronted with those office parties, open buffets, or meeting snacks, you're a responsible human being, just say no or control your portions. No one will hold it against you.

3) Not compromising my workouts: Sure I was tired when my 9-5 day came to end, sure I got lazy when I spent a whole day in classes and just wanted to go home, but I also knew how energized I felt after a workout so I never skipped them. Whether it's first thing in the morning or once your workday is over, take the time to get out there and sweat in whatever way you see fit. Though you may feel physically tired after a good workout, it's building your body to be stronger and more capable to take the next day head on. Of course, psych yourself up with whatever workout you choose. The start of that crazy period of my life was also when I did Gina's 12 week Summer workout plan. Because someone had already laid out the workouts for me, it gave me something new, fun, and fresh to get excited about every day because I never knew what to expect!

4) Sleeping: Don't compromise your sleep! I definitely got 7-8 hours of sleep every night and it worked wonders to have enough stamina to get through the tough days. Sleep is vital to give your body its much needed recovery period. Only after a certain amount of sleep are many of the hormones that rebuild your physical and mental systems released, so if you short change yourself on sleep, you'll be missing a key piece of the puzzle!

5) Staying away from coffee/caffeine: With sleep, a healthy diet, and exercise, I pride myself in being the one Doctoral candidate that has never pulled an all-nighter or been a regular coffee drinker! I've never seen anyone get useful results from the stuff... Health-wise, it's a stress inducer which isn't so great for cardiovascular health. It's also very dehydrating, and most people already don't get enough water to begin with! Being acidic, coffee also causes your body to go into organ protection mode by producing fat cells. Oh, and it's also an addictive substance...

6) Drinking water: I know I can't stress this one enough, but it's because it's just that important! Why? You're body is mostly made up of water. Water helps carry nutrients to your cells, flushes out toxins from your organs, lubricates your joints, and keep your tissues moist. Dehydration inhibits all your basic functionings and more, and yet it's so simple to avoid! Easiest thing to do is get yourself a good stainless steel water bottle and bring it everywhere! (I have 1.2 liter Klean Kanteen that I refill once every 3 hours-ish. I opted for stainless steel over plastic so you can avoid the whole plastic-toxin leakage issue.)

If you do all those things, you'll have the motivation and energy to finish all the papers you have to complete and you'll never have to skip a night's sleep or reach for that desperate cup of morning coffee ever again! If I did it, you can do it too! Good luck :)

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Traditional Chinese Medicine & Food

Lychees are very unphotogenic, but really yummy! Seriously though, they are. When I put lychee into google images, this is what I got:

Lychees as eyeballs (from here):
Lychees as... what usually happens after a rough night out? (from here)
Lychees as... the primordial soup from which all life was born? (from here)

And I don't even know where I'm going with this anymore, but needless to say that lychees just kind of look globby when you try to photograph them:

Anyway, the reason I'm talking about lychees is that my foray with cooked foods over the winter break made me realize: a) how much I love raw foods and how they make me feel so much better b) that any dietary issue can probably be solved by raw food, you just have to figure out how. Right now, I've been looking for answers in Traditional Chinese Medicine, namely through the concept of "warming" and "cooling" foods.

The reason I was being a little bit more lax about my cooked foods intake over the last little while was because I'd been feeling kind of sluggish and generally "off". I thought maybe my potentially lower-calorie and high-alkaline diet was taking its toll and slowing down my metabolism, but having come back to raw foods this week and as a result finding myself bouncing off the walls with energy, I know I'm just missing a piece of the puzzle.

One belief in Chinese medicine is that foods mirror our body composition; foods can be hot, cold, dry, damp, or neutral. Obviously the point is to have a balanced body, and eating the "right" foods can help rebalance your internal climate. In short, some foods are cooling and some are heating. It really struck a chord when I looked up the symptoms of an overly cold and damp body: fatigue, heaviness, sluggishness, unexplained weight gain, yeast infections, bloating and gas, unclear thinking, and more. Dampness is said to slow the digestive system, therefore draining energy.

Also important is the concept of Yin and Yang energy found in food. Yang energy is tied to warmth and activating most bodily functions. Symptoms of deficiency or an overdose of Yin include coldness of extremities, low libido, lower back pain, and more. The "aha" moment? A lot of raw foods (fruits and veggies) are considered to be cold, damp foods, in other words Yin foods.

I've always believed that men and women react very differently to the raw diet, and I'm starting to think I know why. Men seem to be able to cope better with it over the long term, while women often go back and forth over whether or not they should keep going, their results drop off, they start gaining weight or bloat, etc. I'm wondering if this isn't because men, who naturally generate Yang energy, can balance out the large amounts of Yin foods they take in when going raw. However, women, who are naturally Yin, have the potential of "overdosing" on Yin energy by only consuming Yin foods... does that make sense? It certainly does to me! So I'm going to try to fix the sluggishness I've been feeling by sticking to a raw diet but trying to balance out my hot and dry vs. my cold and damp ratio the raw way. Maybe what was wrong all along is that my body is just out of balance.

Luckily, some raw foods still generate Yang. These are: ginger, pepper, carob, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, garlic, rosemary, sage, mint, basil, cayenne, turmeric, vinegar (I'll stick with Apple Cider Vinegar), seeds of all kinds, quinoa, oats, seaweed, red and green peppers, apricot kernels, coconut, dates, green onions, durian, lychees, apricots, berries, nuts (walnuts, chestnuts, pistachios), mangos, peaches, cherries, mandarins, and green tea. Amazingly enough, I've been naturally turning to a lot these foods more recently anyway... I love how your body always knows when you listen!

If you have excessive yin, it's also recommended that you shy away from dairy, wheat, caffeine, and high potassium foods. Once you are balanced again, most doctors of Chinese medicine recommend that you vary your diet as much as possible to keep it that way! Amazing stuff!

So it took me all that to say that for the very reason I just mentioned, I bought lychees this week. Come to think of it, when I was growing up, I always remember my mom telling me "don't eat too many lychees, they're a hot food, so if you eat too many your nose will bleed!" The urban legend family story she always told my sister and I was that my aunt once ate too many lychees causing her nose to bleed. Whether that story is true or not, I guess she knew what she was talking about.

I thought I could use these lychees as an occasion to come up with a new recipe rather than eating them straight up. Because I wanted to make them as an accompaniment to my banana ice cream, which I recognized would make it a "cold" dish (bananas = potassium = yin food), I balanced out the bananas by adding in some ginger. For those who aren't partial to ginger, lessen the amount because I looove it so it tastes pretty strong. The outcome? A delicious mostly heating Yang dessert that like all things lychee is not so photogenic (yes, it does look like I put clams in my banana ice cream...):

Heating Ginger Lychee Dessert
7-8 lychees, peeled and halved
1 frozen banana, sliced
1 inch chunk of ginger
couple pieces of crystallized ginger

1. Blend everything but lychees in high-speed blender
until it forms ice cream like substance
2. Place in bowl and top with sliced lychees
3. Enjoy the warmth!

(Some of the info for this post, came from this article. In addition, I just remembered that We Like It Raw also published a great article about the concept of Yin foods... See, I'm not the only one thinking this!)

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Skin & Fungus... Yum!

Okay, so that title may not have been the most appetizing way to introduce you to this next dish, but the taste totally makes up for it! What I'm referring to is Hong Shao Dou Fu Pi and Mu Er ("red-cooked" tofu skin and "wood ear" mushrooms). By far, one of my childhood favourites! Over the holidays, I headed down to DC and came home to my mom's amazingly veganized Chinese food. Little did she know I had been dreaming of tofu skins a week prior to going home. (That's actually an embarrassing fact. Right before falling asleep one night, I was said to have exclaimed "You know what I'm really craving? Tofu skins!" That is the depth of my obsession...)

Tofu skin (also known as a beancurd sheet or yuba) is the filmy skin that lines the top of your pot when soy milk is boiled (the same thing happens when you heat cow's milk). It's made up of the bean's protein and lipids and it's apparently quite a process to make. Instead of being tossed out after soy milk is heated, the film is collected and dried and turned into tofu skin. A lot of people claim that it's actually the healthiest part of the soy milk making process!

Tofu skin can be bought in sheets or sticks, and it has about a million and one uses. A lot of Chinese vegan and vegetarian dishes use tofu skin to simulate the layered effect of cooked meat. I prefer the sticks because of that "layered" texture (my mom also says they're way easier to handle than the sheets because they don't break as easily).

On the issue of "to eat or not to eat tofu," I really only eat it when I'm at home with family because my mom often uses it to make me life-altering yummy dishes. I also still think that organic soy can definitely be a part of a healthy diet as long as you eat it in moderation and that you make sure it's organic (over 80% of soy grown in North America is genetically modified). Soy does have significant health benefits... If you don't buy that it's good for you, the number of East Asian tofu-eating centarians might be able back me up on this one (them and my healthy 90 year old grandmother too)!

The next unusual ingredient I've mentioned is Mu Er, also known as black fungus. Mu Er is just about the coolest and tastiest mushroom on the planet. While my French heritage bias gives me a serious penchant for morels and truffles, when it comes to Asian mushrooms Mu Er places way above the rest. The mushroom is called "wood ear" because that's exactly what it looks like. I used to love the texture and chewiness of calamari, and wood ear is kind of like that, but vegan.. and awesome.

My mom relayed to me that Mu Er actually has some amazing health benefits. It's one of the best sources of iron, is very rich in protein, vitamin B1 and B2, and calcium. It's also one of the rare food-sources of Vitamin D. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, it helps you live longer by keeping you youthful. It has also been found to improve blood circulation by acting as an anticoagulant, lowers cholesterol, maintains a healthy liver, helps prevent cancer, and actually neutralizes the effects of chemotherapy and radiation.

Finally, Mu Er acts as a kind of sponge in your system, absorbing toxic substances in your body thanks to its pectin. It can do anything from absorb dust in your lungs to clean up your digestive system before its excreted. You can almost always find it in dried form at any asian grocery store. It does have to be soaked about 20 minutes to one hour before you use it but don't be fooled, when soaked, it actually expands to a couple times its size!

So now what do we do with these amazing foods? Put them together of course! This dish is fantastic. Hong Shao means red cooked, and is essentially a pretty term for slow braising. The flavours of the anise and cinnamon in this recipe make a rich, smoky, and delicious dish that doesn't make me think twice about the fact that it's been cooked. (And honestly, with those health benefits, how can you go wrong?) Sorry in advance for the very loose cooking instructions. As I've mentioned in the past, I love the way my mom cooks. She does things by feel rather than follow exact recipes. When I ask her how she makes something, she generally gives me instructions like "add this first, then throw everything else in, and you'll know when it's ready. It's easy. You can figure it out." I think you know where my kitchen confidence comes from... I wouldn't change her for anything!

Mom's Hong Shao Dou Fu Pi with Mu Er
(pic from and recipe adapted from Seriously Asian's Tofu Skin Recipe)

1/2 bag of tofu skins (about 5 oz.)
1/3 bag of black fungus (about 3 oz.)
1/4 C soy sauce
3 tbsp cane sugar
3 tbsp cooking wine
1 inch chunk of ginger, sliced
2-3 star anise (or more depending on your taste)
1/2-1 stick of cinnamon
1 C water
sesame oil, for frying
water, for cooking

Recipe Prep:
1. In a bowl, soak tofu skins in water for 6-12 hours (overnight works great).
You can let these sit for up to a day.
2. About 15-30 minutes before you make the dish,
soak the wood ear in water until it balloons in size!
3. When ready to make the dish, drain both the skins and fungus.

When the recipe is ready to be made:
(You can choose to cut the tofu skins into smaller pieces.
We didn't because I just like the big ol' strips.)
1. Over medium heat, add a teaspoon or two of sesame oil in a pot
and add spices to open up their flavor (stir about 2-3 minutes)
2. Add all the other ingredients except the black fungus,
and add enough water to the pot so it just covers the tofu skin
and let simmer for 20-25 minutes .
3. When the tofu skins are softer and juicy (they'll still be chewy),
add in the black fungus and let sit for another 10 minutes.
4. Turn off the burner, and let sit for another couple hours so the flavours seep in.
5. Taste great when it's ready and even better the next day!


Monday, January 10, 2011

Rainbow Smoothies

I don't think there will ever truly come a time in my life when I've had too many smoothies. They're not just convenient, but can be so versatile, and can easily boost you with all sorts of energy to start, continue, or end your day.

Yesterday, we went out for brunch at one of our favourite Ottawa haunts, Cafe My House (reviewed here). Among other things,we had a plethora of amazing smoothies. Their choices are as colourful as they are endless. To the seven of us, I think we ordered about 2/3 of their options, and they were all divine. From their mango-lime-cilantro, which is now something I make at home daily, to their raw cacao latte, there's definitely something for everyone. I opted for their Green Protein Plus, a wonderful combination of vegan proteins (pea, alfafa, hemp and brown rice), bananas, and cinnamon.

Sunday brunch inspired me to expand my usual morning smoothie repertoire, and it was super successful. In the mood for something a little more tropical than my usual berry smoothie, I made a:

Tropical Smoothie (Rebooted)
1/2 frozen banana
1/2 mango
1 C papaya
(and a handful of spinach for good measure,
though it's great without it too)

The unphotographed Man Smoothie of the day (so good it was eaten before I could get the camera out) was inspired by Gena's Banana Chai Smoothie:

Protein Powered Banana Chai Smoothie
1 frozen banana
1 fresh banana
chai spices*
1 scoop of Peaceful Planet's Inca Meal
1/2 scoop of Manitoba Harvest Hemp Pro 70

*I did 2 parts cinnamon, and 1 part each of nutmeg, allspice, cloves, cardammon, and pepper

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Rockville, MD Eat: Spice Xing, Veganizing Indian Food and Flavorgasms

I'm very reluctant to use the term "ethnic" when it comes to food, because what does "ethnic" mean anyway? According to the dictionary, "ethnic" means "pertaining to or characteristic of a people, especially a group sharing a common and distinctive culture, religion, language, or the like." In that sense, isn't all food technically "ethnic" food? To me, "ethnic food" has always just meant "whatever is foreign to you," but I think a lot of North Americans would laugh at the idea that McDonald's could be considered "ethnic" food in Ethiopia or Bangladesh. Are foods only ethnic when they come from seemingly "exotic" places like Thailand or Peru?

Anyway, I mentioned a little while ago that I've been having crazy cravings for what most people around here would call "ethnic" food. I grew up in a predominantly Chinese culinary household where everything is an abundance of flavour, texture, and colour. When my family eats out, it's not to American family restaurants or that kind of thing, it's always for Dim Sum, or to our favourite Chinese Noodle Shop, or for Thai, Afghani, or Indian. Long story short, and maybe because I keep walking by Ottawa's supposedly best Indian restaurant and because I've been ogling Gina's Indian Food Wednesdays, I've been having a mad craving for it for about two months now. And I wanted the real deal, as much as I love raw food, few know how to slow cook flavor and spice into dishes like South Asian food. Again, it was that comforting marriage of texture and flavor I was after.

The thing about Indian food (amazingness of flavours aside) is that while it's super vegetarian-friendly, it's not optimal for vegans, let alone raw vegans. Most of its dishes will have some form of dairy in it, whether its in the form of ghee, yoghurt, or buttermilk. However, when it came to visiting my family in DC this week, I knew I would have the excuse opportunity to satisfy my craving by going out with them on one of our evenings out.

Our usual spot is the Bombay Bistro, and while it used to be fun for the whole family, it became less then optimal when I went vegan because of the dairy issue. So when my mom suggested we try a new place, Spice Xing, something about her description gave me the inkling that it would be quite promising... man was I right!!!

First off, it was really pretty place in contrast to the usual. It was all drapes, and mirrors, and bright colors (please excuse, the fuzzy Iphone photos). I love Indian decor, so I was sold right away:

But then, they stole my heart away when I saw this at the bottom of the menu:

Since going vegan, I've never had "too many choices" at an Indian restaurant but I did that night. And it was awesome. Though I'm usually a terrible decision maker, I was in the mood for saucy protein amazingness, and quickly settled on the Chana Masala (chickpeas in Garam Masala and other spices). Because my mom is awesome, she too opted for a vegan dish, and went for the Baingan Bharta (roasted eggplant with onions and herbs in a tomato-ey sauce). They were... mind blowing. Flavour, spice, thick lovely saucy awesomeness... My lack of actual word usage clearly means I can't even begin to describe how I'd been missing this. Of course, this all came with a side order of jasmine rice, naan, spinach, and some raw veggies (I essentially stuck with the raw veggies), and it's easy to say that I loved it.

It was such a treat to be able to find vegan food at an Indian place. So thank you Spice Xing, for giving me my Indian food fix. I'm your new #1 fan. And I think I've satisfied my cooked "ethnic food" needs for another year. If ever you're in the suburbs of Rockville, definitely check it out!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Post-workout Recovery

I'm always in the market for post-workout recovery foods and drinks. I can't say I really feel like I need them too often myself, but Andrew's weight lifting routine really requires that he gets all the building blocks to recovery when he's done. Pre-raw, he swore by Nature's Path Optimum Banana Almond Cereal, previously called Rebound Cereal. It contains a lot what you need after a good workout: whole grains (for slow energy release and recovery), almonds and flax (for protein, healthy fats, to repair muscle), cinnamon, molasses, and bananas (all three of those rebalance electrolytes, and the fruit restores glycogen levels), and matcha green tea (check out an earlier post about its amazing benefits).

It was so effective that I adapted the cereal to a mostly-raw recipe a little while ago, and more recently created a 100% raw one which I have yet to measure and post. To make a good recovery snack, consider the following:

1) Pre-hydrate! Hydrate! And rehydrate! Workout recovery starts before your workout has even begun!
2) If you plan on eating, mixing carbs and protein (about a 4:1 ratio) after a heavy workout is recommended to optimally restore glycogen levels to rebuild everything that goes on in there. Try to eat within 45 minutes of your workout for best results, otherwise your body starts to get tired fast.
3) Ideally, your food should be of freshly-made pudding or smoothie-like consistency because the ingredients' nutrients will be easier to absorb.
4) Make sure you rebalance your electrolytes, especially if you've been sweating a lot (see my guest post on the Fitness Dish about that here)

In short, you need, water, carbs, protein, and mineral restoration, so when I found Green Lemonade's Matcha Green Tea + Apple Detox Smoothie, I got really excited. Today's workout was followed by might slightly amended of Noelle's recipe. As far as I know, it seems to have worked great:

Post Recovery Smoothie

2 1/2 apples, cored and loosely chopped*
1 C of homemade almond milk (unstrained)
1 teaspoon of matcha powder
1 teaspoon of maple syrup
tiny pinch of salt (think electrolytes!)

1. Blend all ingredients together until smooth
2. Top with hemp seeds or your favourite recovery cereal/bar

*again, I had an extra 1/2 apple in the fridge, I'm sure 2 or 3 would do

Finally, if you're looking for another tea (yes, I am a huge fan of Yogi Tea, they've been with me since my undergrad dorm days), we're both also big fans of Yogi Tea's Green Tea Muscle Recovery. It works fantastic! Happy workout!
(kitty pic from here)

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Berry Yummy Green Smoothie

What better way to start the day than with a high antioxidant, alkalinizing smoothie? I don't think the taste of my smoothies ever significantly change when I put milder greens in them, but if you're not into the whole "green" smoothie thing, just add in greens little by little and stick with the ones that have less of a taste like spinach or mixed greens. If you want you can move on to the big leagues later and ones like dandelion or beet greens, collard, kale, and more.

By breaking them up in the blender, adding greens to your smoothie makes them a lot easier for you to digest and absorb their nutrients. They're high in iron, calcium, magnesium, and Vitamins A, C, K and lots of the B family. And of course, greens are rich in chlorophyll. I just found out that chlorophyll is almost molecularly identical to hemoglobin, which means that by having your greens, you're actually helping your blood rebuild and clean and replenish itself. Raw foodists known that chlorophyll regenerates our bodies both on the molecular and cellular level, leaving you with great skin, as well as strong insides, be it through your healthier digestive, circulatory, or immune systems.

Here's to a healthy breakfast!

Berry Yummy Green Smoothie
2 bananas*
1C frozen blueberries
huge handful of spinach
1/3-1/2 C water
1 heaping teaspoon of spirulina (optional)

1. Blend all the ingredients in a high powered blender, and
slowly add water until you reach the desired consistency
less water obviously means a thicker smoothie (which I prefer)
2. Feel free to add smoothie boosters, for the "his" version, I added
hemp and sprouted brown rice protein powders, and 1/2 scoop of Vega
(adding powders, usually also means adding a tiny bit more water)

*For extra creamyness, I like to use one fresh banana and one frozen banana