Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Vegan Protein Powders: The Hows and Whys

I've been meaning to post about protein powders for months now, but never found the opportunity to do so. Conveniently, a recent post over on Kristen's blog has provided me with the perfect opportunity to give that topic a go.

I have to start this post with two disclaimers:

1) I know that I have probably mentioned that protein has become a little overrated in our culture today, and I still stand by that statement. I probably only get about 10% of my daily calorie intake from protein and that seems to be suiting me just fine (even daily recommendations made by the UN and such usually place the minimum at about 5%). Our society thinks we need way more protein than we do, and I think that's allowed our economies to fuel the meat and dairy industries beyond comprehension. Industrial agriculture aside, to me, the thing that people don't see when it comes to eating "high protein" meals is that those generally boost your unhealthy fat intake as much as anything else.

2) More importantly, I am an advocate of whole organic foods. The downside of protein powders is that they are processed. I recognize that protein powders aren't really "foods," as Kristen mentioned they are "fractured" foods not whole foods. Frankly, I'm not even sure I put them in the food category at all. I put them in the supplement box, like vitamins. I would never advocate a diet high in supplements because that's exactly what they are supplements, which means they should only be added on top of the fabulous diet you already have, if at all.

That being said, this does not mean that protein powders don't have their uses. In fact, they can be your best friend! The thing I agree with Kristen about the most is that protein powders can help you feel full and can curb cravings. When you eat raw, especially during a transition period, you might get hungry and impulsively want to eat foods high in fat, sugar, or some combination of both (think raw desserts). Otherwise, you may be tempted just to revert back to the "sated/full" feeling of cooked foods. This is when protein powders can come in really handy. Just one scoop in an otherwise 100% raw smoothie help fill that emptiness without making you feel the icky cooked feeling. Really, that one teaspoon can make a big difference! I know that some raw folks would just say to eat more calories of whole raw foods (generally fruit), but sometimes, I'm just not in the mood, and the extra protein does seem to have some benefits, especially when it comes to exercise.

As more of a "cardio with some resistance training" aficionado I don't really feel I need as much protein as my weight lifting hubby. I probably only have about a total of one teaspoon of protein powder a day (and it's probably actually more like every other day). For him though, and while he's also on the high raw journey with me, he's noticed a pretty significant difference when he tried to cut out the proteins and go 100% raw. When he's been off of protein powders, he has both noticed a physical difference (in terms of his capacity) and a visual difference (in that his muscles do get smaller). So while I love him for being on this raw journey with me, and appreciate the company, I also support him in whatever endeavours he chooses when it comes to maintaining his hunky man size.

Like with foods, I think it's important to vary your protein sources because each plant has a different nutrient profiles. For example, hemp protein is a staple as it has all your essential amino acids. Here are the protein powders that made our top 5:

1. Manitoba Harvest's Organic Hemp Protein (Hemp Pro 50 or 70)
3. Interactive Nutrition's Absolute Vegetarian Vanilla Protein (non-GMO brown rice, hemp, pea, and soy proteins)
5. Vega's Whole Food Health Optimizer (Natural flavour)

These were all chosen for taste, price, and texture. A lot of people think that protein powders can be chalky, or tasteless, but I think all of these are great (as far as I know though, brown rice protein will always be chalky and there's little you can do about it). The Manitoba Harvest and Heartland's Gold have definitely became staples in Andrew's kitchen, largely because they are the most unprocessed and only have 1 ingredient. I generally just use the powders in our breakfast smoothies, but he'll use them in his other two smoothies throughout the day, especially after his workout.

We used to get the Peaceful Planet protein when we lived down in DC, but we haven't been able to find it since. Not only was it organic, full of additional superfood goodness, but it also had the most amazing taste (I would just eat it with a spoon). We recently discovered the Interactive Nutrition Protein and because it did remind me of Peaceful Planet's taste, it might become a new favourite of mine (not a huge fan of the soy though... and while it's all non-GMO, I'd prefer something organic). I also recognize that Vega is technically not a protein powder but more of a supplement. However, we still do use it whenever we can, and it's got loads of good things in it (like B12).

So while my focus is always to encourage you to stick with whole organic plant foods, vegan protein powders can sometimes be a great part of an active lifestyle!

P.S. The Garden Page has been updated with our March prep!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Pre-pregnant? It's Never too Early to Start Being Healthy

It's a statement you hear a lot from women: "Now that I am/trying to get pregnant, what kind of vitamins should I take for the baby to be healthy? What about folic acid?" As you know, I'm not currently in the baby market, but I still think it's important for women to know that health is not something that should come at the same time as the stork. Many neural tube defects are said to occur even before most women know they are pregnant. Being optimally healthy and getting all your vitamins and nutrients, whether for yourself, your potential future little you or both, is something that should be maintained over a lifetime.

I've always had the highest respect for Kristen Suzanne and her hubby, who preemptively took a whole year before even trying to conceive, to get in the best shape and make 100% sure they were getting all the vitamins and minerals they needed to produce the healthiest child they could. Yes, they'd been healthy even before that, but when they were ready, they knew that a baby comes from both mom and dad, so both of them have to be in top shape to give their kid the best chances at life. Kudos to you guys, seriously.

Heck, even the Bush administration kind of caught on to this. I got the idea for my post's title from some federal guidelines that came out during the Bush years that with the aim of "increasing public awareness of the importance of preconception health," all women from their first menstruation to menopause should consider themselves "pre-pregnant." Give that about half of pregnancies are unplanned, these guidelines put out by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) wanted women to follow this advice through their whole lives so the damage done to a fetus could be limited. Guidelines included making sure women and girls were getting enough folic acid, refraining from smoking, getting regular medical check ups, maintaining a healthy weight, and keep away from conditions including diabetes and asthma. Sounds pretty reasonable right? Yes, it's easy to find a slew of problems with this idea: sure, it's anti-choice, it should include actual sex education, it should make real birth control options readily available, and yes, it assumes that women's sole purpose in life is to pump out babies (at the time, it was believed this was for the war effort), takes a patriarchal stance over women, assumes that only women who are thinking/could become pregnant need folic acid, and yes, totally forgets that men are also part of the genetic baby pool... However, I can kind of see a kernel of truth in this madness.

Ironically enough, I was at a health clinic earlier last week and picked up a pamphlet about folic acid (whose subtitle was "it's never too early," thus also making the pre-pregnant assumption... the front cover with an ovum and sperm didn't help). Of course being a dork, my first reaction was "I should blog about this."

All of this to say, whether you are trying to get pregnant now, in ten years, or never (because yes, we should also be healthy for ourselves!), and even if you're a dude, you should be make sure you're healthy NOW! So making sure you get all your vitamins aside, let's talk folic acid since that's a big one for women. All women need folic acid, not just the pregnant or pre-pregnant ones. Folic acid (aka. folate) is one of the B vitamins essential for the health development of a baby's brain and spine during the early pregnancy weeks. More generally, folic acid maintains healthy red blood cells and prevents anemia (so make sure you're getting enough iron too, by the way!), healthy cell development (which is happening as we speak!), brain, bone, skin, and heart health, prevents obesity, depression, and more. Given all of those benefits, it also really helps the elderly and our XY-chromosoned counterparts to maintain health folic acid levels too.

How much do we need? The general guidelines suggest a minimum of 0.4 mg every day. There are plenty of natural (and vegan!) ways to get your folic acid every day, here are just a few (each of these contain at least 0.05 mg per 1/2 cup serving:

-asparagus
-broccoli
-brussel sprouts
-lettuces (romaine is best, but iceburg and boston work too) and greens (spinach, kale, and friends)
-corn
-oranges
-sunflower seeds
-natural peanut butter (per 2 tbsp)
-lentils
-chickpeas
-beans (black, kidney, red, pinto, navy, white, etc.)
-whole grains

So start being healthy now, for whoever it is you're doing it for! Also, for some fantastic pregnancy nutrition advice, check out mommy-to-be Laury's blog for posts on on iron and folic acid. And while we're on a lady topic, remember the 15% Luna Pad discount being offered through my blog until April 30th!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Raw vs. Cooked: Eat Both, and Have Some Fries with That


My recent post about cauliflower and an article I just read in VegNews on the "raw vs. cooked" debate reminded me of a recipe I've been meaning to share with you all. I'm constantly in pursuit of understanding the raw vs. cooked thing, but for a while now I've realized that sometimes you have to take a step back and just eat what makes you feel good. (So in the end, I'm almost exclusively raw anyway, but that might not float your boat as much as mine.)


While I wrote about the gointrogens in cauliflower and how they may affect your thyroid function, the VegNews article said eating raw cauliflower actually conserves its folate and potassium that would otherwise get denatured if cooked. Same thing goes for pumpkins/squash/tubers: some say you can't eat them raw because they're very starchy, indigestible, and may even have small levels of toxicity in their raw state. Others say people have been happily eating raw pumpkins for decades, and in this specific case, most of these veggies' nutrients are contained in their cellular walls, which cooking helps break down to make absorption easier. My thought? Why takes sides in a seemingly insurmountable scientific debate? Eat both, maybe not in the same sitting, but at least that way you know you're getting enough of every good thing! As I usually say when it comes to food, do go with how it makes your body feel.

When it comes to tubers and squashes, I've usually just stuck with lightly steaming them, so I can puree them into mostly-raw goodies or sauces. Alternatives I've dehydrated them into fantastical chips. I have also tried the raw sweet potato thing before, and its worked great too. I in fact remember going through a period where I was eating raw japanese sweet pudding puree every night for a while... Yum.

Ever since I gave up on buying sweet potatoes, once I got too caught up in the science of it all, Andrew had been missing them. So, I decided to give them another shot. He's always been a huge fan of sweet potato fries and chipotle mayonnaise (a particular overdose incident at Pan Chancho in Kingston comes to mind). Conveniently, I found a delicious looking recipe for dehydrated sweet potato fries and raw chipotle mayo over at Rawmazing that I knew I would be dying to tweak.

The outcome was amazing. I think I used about half the oil and Nama Shoyu recommended for the sweet potato marinade. For the mayo, I used cashews as the nuts, halfed the olive oil, went easier on the garlic, upped the water a bit, skipped the coconut, and used chipotle in adobo (if you haven't ever used that, DO! They're also fabulous in spicy chocolate cookies) for the kick. So yeah, pretty different. It was fantastic though! Conveniently, I think I preferred the fries and Andrew preferred the mayo, which then became his default wrap sauce over the next week. So all in all, a very tweak-able and multi-purpose recipe that I recommend to all!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Stretching 101 (routine included)

I've mentioned this a few times in a variety of different ways, but I have often gotten comments and questions about flexibility. The secret? Stretch. No really. Stretch. After every work out. It's super simple, it only takes about 5-10 minutes and you can do it wherever and whenever you want. At the gym? Sure! Watching TV? Of course (more on that later)! To me, stretching is one of the three legs of the perfect fitness stool (the other two being cardio and strength training). Stretching is great thing to do, especially after exercise, but it's definitely under-appreciated. (If you're interested, that is a picture of me on an OmGym last year... They're awesome, though it depresses me to see how tanned I am when I don't undergo a Canadian winter.) Here are only some of the things stretching and flexibility achieve:
  • relaxes your muscles after your body has undergone a lot of stress and impact (under a lot of stress and trauma, your muscles shorten, which will pull your bones out of alignment)
  • helps make your muscles long and lean instead of bulky
  • allows for smooth flexible joints, tendons, ligaments (which limits joint discomfort, arthritis, etc. later on in life)
  • allows for a wider range of movement, which just makes life more comfortable
  • encourages good posture
  • key to injury prevention (especially for runners!)
  • improves physical performance in every way (heh), but seriously, it can make you faster, and it lessens aches and pains
  • as my cooldown, it's a great way to physically and mentally wind down, it's actually quite meditative
(much of this info was from here)

Flexibility is obviously also good for your self-esteem. This might sound silly, but I've always found it very feminine to be flexible. I think you can understand that it can do worlds for your confidence if you know you could just bust out the splits or do a high kick if you felt like it.

They key to a good stretch is not to push yourself too hard when you start, because that can actually lead you to tearing your muscles, which is very very bad and will then require lots of recovery time. The way to a good stretch is that the more you do it and the longer you hold it the deeper you can relax into it. You should hold most poses for a least 15-30 seconds, some will be so comfortable you may just want to sit in them for a couple minutes. Heck, Yin Yoga taught me I can be fully contented in a stretch for a good 5 minutes. You'll also notice that flexibility can change from day to day, some days you'll be able to pull off crazy stuff, on others, you'll kind of feel like your 100 years old. Take each day as it is, but don't give yourself the excuse to pass up on a good stretch.

On that note, I've tried to put together what my post-cardio stretching routine looks like. I was a little reluctant to post this since I'm not a huge fan of putting pictures up (especially when I look like a Canadian-pale sweaty red-faced beast), but I realize it might be useful to some. So here goes:

1) Start in butterfly stretch with your back straight (so I just found out that if you google "butterfly position," it has NOTHING to do with exercising...). The goal here is to bring your knees down to the floor. Once you've done that, try to bend over as far as you can. I usually start with my back straight, then get my elbows down, and then try to get my forehead to ground. Again, keep it at your own pace/level.

2) Get into a side stretch, with your legs as far apart as you can, hold that for a bit, and then bend over one leg at a time. The goal is to rotate your torso over the knee and bend from the waist with your back straight. You can both point or flex your feet, pointing is good for the front of your calf, and flexing is a great stretch for the back.

3) For a side stretch, lean over one side with your arm over your head. The right way of doing is not to fall into your knee like stretch #2 but to stretch "over" your leg as much as possible. You can put your other arm against your leg to push your chest towards the sky, or just leave it against the ground. Remember to do both sides!



4) When you're done with that, try to keep your back as straight as possible and lean forward, slowly work your way down to your elbows, and then eventually to the floor. It seems painful to keep your back straight, but that's kind of the point. You should really feel it in your adductors.



5) Follow up with a simple torso rotation stretch to either side. This is great for your spine, and feels as good as what it's doing for you.

6) Next up: one leg extended forward, one leg folded in like the butterfly forward bend (that's a terrible name, I know). I can't explain this very well, so you're better off checking the link. As you fold forward grab onto your flexed foot and lean forward to stretch out your calf first. Then point your toes and lean into your leg to get a full leg and back stretch. Do both sides!

7) Do the same thing with both legs out.

8) Almost done! Lay down on the floor, and it's time for a biiiig stretch. Put your hands overhead and point your toes, pretend like someone is pulling your arms in one direction and your legs in the other.

9) Final side stretch: spine twist! Start with a single leg stretch, then bend your knee and tuck into your chest, your opposite hand on your knee, take a deep breath in, and as you breathe out, twist that knee towards the floor while you bring the other arm parallel against the floor. Make sure to keep both your shoulder on the floor (the arm that stretched out might not make it flush against the floor). Your spine, which has by now been well-lubricated, might do some fun popping, snapping, and re-adjusting. I looove this stretch to finish up my routine.

There you go! I know it looks like a lot, but this seriously takes 5-10 minutes depending on how deep into it you want to go. Plus, it's sooo worth while. You'll definitely feel the benefits immediately. No more running soreness or aches, and you're slowly working on your flexibility!

On some days, I'll add some front and side splits practice, but never two days in a row. Now, I reveal to you my favourite stretch of all time. I came up with this when I was a kid and I was really set on being able to do a side split for some of my Chinese Dancing Routines. When I was watching TV one day, I figured that I could practice this during the commercials to feel more productive while ads were playing. I don't know if it did anything that useful, but seeing as how I have greater flexibility now than I did then and I've been doing this for that long, I'll say it helped!

This stretch is definitely not for the faint of heart. I used to do this against our couch, but you can use a wall, or any flat straight surface. By now, I'm managed to be able to stretch completely against the wall, when I started, there was much more a distance between my bum and the wall, so keep working at it slowly and you'll get there! To get into it, start against a wall and slowly slide down in a basic side split. Once you get as far down as you can, slowly rotate your body forward, and get your elbows on the ground. It might hurt like hell, and if it feels like something is about to pop, ease off a bit by scooting forward to the stretch less wide. Do NOT injure yourself trying to do this. If you can use, your elbows for strength to gently push against the wall and feel the stretch even more. As you get better, you'll be able to slide into a deeper side split from the get go and slowly be able to push towards the wall more after. You can also either stay on your elbows, or just lay down on the floor. Either one works. I usually do this for about 2-5 minutes (though you can start smaller), and do stuff like catch up on my favourite blogs on my phone :)

All in all, do try to make stretching a regular part of your routine! Have fun!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Rice Amazingness and Apple Sauce Comfort

With half a head of cauliflower left, I wanted to give raw cauliflower another chance. Luckily, I chanced upon the Pure2Raw twins' Raw Rice and knew I had to give that a try. Of course, it being me, I had to tweak the recipe and came up with something fabulous. Though you can't see the layers at all, I made three tiers. The bottom and middle layer were seperated by a really simple guacamole, and the middle and top layer by caramalized red onions. I topped it all off with raisin, sundried tomatoes, and pumpkin seeds. Amazing! Like the kind of amazing that you could eat every day and be eternally satisfied.

I'm keeping my own version a secret right now, so instead, I'll share my favourite apple sauce recipe with you. I've pretty much been eating this apple sauce every day for the past few weeks now, and I'm still in love with it. There's something about apple sauce, and especially the apple-cinnamon combination, that feels like someone just wrapped you up in a warm blanket and handed you the most comforting thing you could imagine, like a kitten, or a cookie, or something... Anyhoo, as usual, just blend everything in your Vitamix/high speed blender:

Raw Cinnamon Apple Sauce
2-3 apples, chopped (or using 1 apple & 1 pear is fantastic too!)
3 dates
1/2-1 teaspoon of cinnamon*
1 teaspoon of Irish Moss gel**
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon of goji berries, optional***
small chunk of fresh ginger, optional

*I like to go heavy with my cinnamon, but I can understand that it can get a little overpowering, it does give you really nice breath though.
**To make the gel, soak your irish moss for about 24 hours and then blend it with water until it forms a kind of jelly. It keeps for up to a week (I've pushed it to two) in the fridge and will reach a jello consistency when it's cooled.
*** I've been finding goji berries a little teeth unfriendly recently (as in, they're very sticky and I don't want to get cavities) so I've been putting them in my smoothies/sauces to get the nutrients that way instead.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Cauliflower and Raw Mushroom Gravy

So, one of the things I've always questioned is my relationship with cauliflower. I love it raw, especially when I make my raw couscous or simply eating it with a nice dip, but I often get a pretty funny digestive reaction to it. The way I feel after eating raw cauliflower made me wonder whether eating it raw was optimal or not. Most of the things I've heard about raw cauliflower are obviously various praises about it. Raw cauliflower has lots of cancer-fighting agents, and has vitamins and minerals to boot!

However, also floating around has been talk about the sulfur compounds found in raw cauliflower, though they're not bad for you (it's actually quite good for your skin), it kind of does give cauliflower that tasteless but gassy taste (and often reaction) for some. More importantly though, I learned that cauliflower (and other veggies in the brassica family as well as soy) contains goitrogens, a naturally-occurring substance that may interfere with proper thyroid function, especially if you already have hypothyroidism. The name "goitrogens" comes from "goiter," which refers to an enlarged thyroid gland. This can happen when your thyroid is having problems producing its usual hormones, and goitrogens obviously might get in the way of that process.

Hear me out first before you start to freak out! Obviously, if you don't have thyroid problems, you'd have to eat heads and heads of cauliflower for this to become a problem. Yet, I've always digestively preferred steamed cauliflower over any other method of eating it, so there must be something to that feeling. Lightly steaming your cauliflower does seem to inactivate some of the goitrogens in foods that contain them. Obviously, minerals and vitamins are also sensitive to heat, which why I stick to light steaming over boiling or baking, so that I don't wreck everything else that's good in my veggies.

Steamed Cauliflower & Raw Mushroom Gravy

I'm sorry this picture is so vile,
but how does one photogenically capture gravy?
Trust me though, it's deeelicious!

1/2 head of cauliflower, broken into big floret chunks
1/4 C sunflower seeds
3/4 C mushrooms (I used baby bellos)
1 small green onion
1/2 stalk of celery
2 teaspoons of apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon of Bragg's
1/4 C water
salt and pepper, to taste
(optional 1/2 clove of garlic)

1. Lightly steam your 1/2 a head of cauliflower florets for about 5-8 minutes.
2. While that's going on, blend all the mushroom gravy ingredients (everything but the cauliflower) in your blender until smooth.
3. Place caulifower into a bowl, and pour gravy on top.
4. You can optionally sprinkle the dish with nutritional yeast. Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Why I Run, a Playlist & My 2012 Race Goal Revealed!

Ah running, an addiction to some, a chore to others...

I love looking at other people's playlists to get some inspiration, so I thought I'd start off by posting the one I used for today's run. Granted, I like to listen to really cheesy and/or misogynistic songs when I run, but it's generally whatever has a good beat and can keep me pumped. I've learned to stop being embarrassed by the girly pop songs I listen to when I run. A song's rhythm really gets to me a lot, so I make sure they inspire me in some way before they make it to my play list. I busted out 4.7 miles at a 8:30 pace, which might not be that impressive for some, but given that I've just gotten back into the whole running thing over the past few weeks, I was quite pleased. This is what kept me going:

1. Hold it against me ~ Britney Spears
2. Firework ~ Katy Perry
3. Spotlight ~ Selena Gomez
4. Tonight (I'm F**in' You) ~ Enrique Iglesias (feat. Ludacris)
5. I Gotta Feeling ~ Black Eyed Peas
6. Higher ~ Taio Cruz (feat. Travie McCoy)
7. Shots ~ LMFAO
8. Take it Off ~ Ke$ha
9. She Wolf ~ Shakira
10. Imma Be ~ Black Eyed Peas
11. Dynamite ~ Taio Cruz
and a 5 minute cooldown to:
12. Nothing on You ~ B.o.B (feat. Bruno Mars)
13. Just the Way you are ~ Bruno Mars

One of the last things I ever thought that I'd be was a runner. If you'd told me as a teen that I'd be running a 10k by the time I was 22 with very little training (thank you, raw diet!), I would have laughed at you... and then probably gotten upset that you could be such a liar. Yep, I'll confess: I was the girl who couldn't run those laps around the soccer field during PE, whether I was too out of shape, tired, lazy, unmotivated, self-loathing, or some combination of those things. Tennis, I could play. Volleyball, I adored. Heck, I could really throw a discus, but any type of endurance running? You could count me out.

I don't know what changed. I think a big part of it was that my dad underwent bypass surgery a couple years ago, and he'd always been a jogger. For as long as I can remember (and still today), he runs at least 10k every week, and I know he always wished his daughters would join him, but we never did. After that surgery, which was conveniently just before I moved back to DC, I figured it was time to do something about that. Every Thanksgiving, my dad runs the YMCA 10K Turkey Chase, and I was determined to join him. After a couple months pounding on the treadmill 2-3 times a week, I clocked in my first race with him at about 52 minutes. (Seriously, a raw diet can do miracles for your capacity to exercise!)

Ever since that race, I found a new appreciation for running, and I make sure I do it a least a couple times a week now. As part of my 2011 goals, I want to complete at least eight 10k runs, but my biggest goal yet is about to be revealed! I'm making it official: My sister/best friend for life is getting married next summer and I'm going to be her maid of honour! Eeeee! Anyhoo, instead of doing the stereotypical bachelorette party thing, we decided that we will be subbing men in small underwear and lots of drinking for...

EEEEE! AWESOME! I KNOW!!!!!

You see, my sister and I have a long history with Disney. Yep, I'm a full-fledged granola-munchin' eco-holic Disney lover, oxymoron? Sue me. I grew up with some pretty fantastic Disney car ride singalongs, sister Disney cartoon marathons aside, and well, I wanted to be a pretty, pretty princess (I'm secretly a mermaid, you know). On top of that, every time I'd visit my sister when she lived in Paris, we would go to Eurodisney together. (Hey, I have the excuse that being French, I'm allowed to do non-French things when I'm there). We even spent the first day of 2008 together at Eurodisney:


With her wedding coming up, we decided that we wanted to do something super special... We'd talked about this 1/2 marathon in the past, but with her wedding coming, my sis is motivated to get in super shape, and I, well, it's Disney World, there's the word Princess in it, and I thought it might be time to up my running game. Plus, the idea of doing that together really makes me happy! Whether it's my dad, or my sis, I love running with the people I love! Knowing I get to do this with her before her wedding, it makes me all emotional just thinking about it! I can't wait, and Viviane, if you're reading this: I ♥ you!

Have a good run!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Why I won't be celebrating St. Patrick's Day

I'm going to go out on a limb here and talk about something completely unrelated to my usual food/fitness talk, because I think it's worth sharing. [Edit: I have to add the note that all I'm trying to do here is to shed light on some blind spots on a history that few people who celebrate Saint Patrick's Day even know about. I think it's important to understand part of the origins of a day your choosing to celebrate]:


The pub crawls, the shamrock stickers, the green food dyed Baileys shots, the "Kiss me I'm Irish" t-shirts... If you lived any part of your teen/adult years anywhere in North America, Ireland, or the British Isles, I can assume that you've all taken part in the St. Patrick's Day celebration madness at one time or another.

However, when I first got to learn about the other side of the Saint Patrick's Day story, I haven't actively sought to take part in the partying anymore. Why? Didn't St. Patrick's Day just "drive the snakes out of Ireland" and bring Christianity to the Emerald Isle? What's wrong with that? Weren't you raised Catholic?

Well, here's the deal, just because I ascribe to a certain spirituality or religion doesn't mean I believe in killing in the name of God (or anyone for that matter). Crusades? Not okay. Fundamentalist suicide bombings? Not so much. To clear the story up, as you can imagine, there aren't really that many "snakes" to drive out of Ireland. Serpents were one of the primary symbols in many pagan religions in Ireland at the time. Essentially, "driving the snakes out" is a nice allegory for driving the Pagans out of Ireland. And no, they weren't shipped off an a boat to somewhere else, they weren't asked to leave, as was the tradition of the time, you can imagine that this actually meant that they were either a) converted or b) killed. It's probably of no surprise to also hear that conversion at the time (again, think Crusades) wasn't exactly a friendly sit-down talk.

In the oral traditions that have been passed along in pre-Christian Ireland recount that St. Patrick was in fact responsible for the deaths of many, many people, Druids, priest, bards, and all of their people. Some histories say that he would go into towns with a bunch of his thugs, preach, and wait for someone to call him out because they already had their own culture and beliefs. They would then take that person, nail them shut into a human size-ish crate (essentially a box made up of loose slats so air and water can go through it), and put them under water until they were about to drown, and repeat this over and over, until the person would either die or convert "of his own free will." Of course, he never told anyone to convert, he just gave them the "choice."

Why don't we hear this much? Isn't it obvious? The pre-Christian Irish had no written history, only oral histories. As the Druids and Bards were killed so too were the stories. If you pass down your history through oral tradition, kill the source of the story, and they disappear.

Sure, Saint Patrick's Day has become a more general celebration of Ireland and that's a lot more worthwhile to me! I'm all for the Celtic music, the storytelling, etc. That is fantastic, but the origins of the story don't change. So while many might be out there partying, I hope they can recognize from whom and where the tales are drawn. In this case, they come from a murderer and a thug.

Instead, I'll choose to celebrate Ireland in a less controversial way. I made a somewhat green and orange Irish flag looking dinner. I originally got the idea from Rawxy's Wilted Kale with Pea Pesto, and adapted to make it more salad-y. The result:

Layer 1: massaged kale salad (kale, broccoli, lemon, EV olive oil, sea salt)
Layer 2: zucchini pasta w/ pesto (avocado, basil, water, garlic nutritional yeast, sea salt)
Layer 3: sundried tomatoes, cucumbers, celery, pumpkin seeds, & carrots

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Planning Workout Recovery: Protein Packed Overnight Oats

Over the years, I've learned lots about how both to fuel and recover from a good workout. From my post-workout rest and nutrition tips, to some recovery smoothie ideas, to the much perfected rebound ball recipe I wrote back in the early days, this household has workout recovery in the bag.

Obviously, the two most important things to do after a workout are rest and proper nutrition. Though we don't do it often, I find that early morning workouts require a different kind of muscle rebuilding strategy, especially if your planning a serious weights workout. While I don't usually do this and stick with morning cardio, Andrew is a big fan. Having said that, neither of us recommend you do weights on an empty stomach. Eat anything before you hit the gym, whether it's a couple of dates, a banana, or anything to get your blood sugars running.

For after? I've expanded the infamous vegan overnight oat recipe to post-weights workout perfection. Why oats over the usual fruit-protein combo? I guess to switch things up mostly, but also because grains are a slow release complex carb that'll help the muscle-builder of my heart get all the recovery nutrients he needs after a long morning. Other than that, every ingredient in this recipe is in some way designed to help you recover. It goes something like this:


Protein Packed Overnight Oats
Yield: 1 Serving

1 C oats*
1.5 teaspoons of chia seeds
1 scoop of protein powder
1 tablespoon of sunflower seeds
1 tablespoon of pumpkin seeds
2 tablespoon of raisins and/or cranberries
cinnamon to taste
dash or two of salt
1/2 apple, chopped
1 bunch of grapes, halved
1/2 banana, sliced

1-2 tablespoon of maple syrup
1 tablespoon of nut butter
1 C home-made almond milk
1/4 teaspoon of molasses**

Optional ingredients:
maca powder
mesquite powder
astragalus powder

*this recipe actually had a barley, rye, spelt, & oat flake mix
**molasses has tons of vitamins & minerals, while being a slow release sugar

1. Mix all the dry ingredients + fruit in a bowl.
2. Mix in all the liquids, and stir, and leave overnight in the fridge

With that, stay tuned for my next post! This one was something of a teaser for it, which will feature more on workout recovery and a long-delayed giveaway! Otherwise, hang in there all you weekday worker folk, it's almost the weekend! Soon it'll be time for fun, a break, or just some relaxing down time, like this little heartthrob has also perfected:

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Celebrating Mardi Gras in the Gluten-Free & Raw

Oh, the life of a PhD student... I was super excited to post about our Mardi Gras and some initial thoughts about Ash Wednesday and Lent last night, but readings, presentations, and papers caught up with me and left a big pile at my door that I was busy picking up until this morning. Anyhoo, Mardi Gras has always played a big role in my life, you know, to stuff my face with crepes and go all out before the season of Lent.

In the spirit of the "stuff your face" aspect of Mardi Gras, Andrew shared with me that the only thing his family ever did for Shrove Tuesday was eat pancakes. I'd never heard of that, but since I knew that one of two things I would be giving up for Lent was grains, I was game for respecting his culinary heritage. Having just looked Shrove Tuesday up on the Universal Life Source called Wikipedia, I have learned that:
  1. Shrove Tuesday is what English-speaking countries, including the UK, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the Philippines, call Mardi Gras.
  2. While European Catholic countries have celebrated Mardi Gras for centuries by eating goodies and hosting carnivals, after the Protestant Reformation, other countries "changed" it to Shrove Tuesday; shrove is the past-tense of the verb "to shrive," which means to obtain absolution for one's sins through confession and penance, which people were expected to do in preparation for Lent... that sounds a lot less fun.
  3. To make up for the seriousness, Shrove Tuesday also came to be known as Pancake Day. Derivative of Mardi Gras, the point is to eat as many fatty foods as possible before the season of restriction and abstaining, so conventional pancakes hit all the marks: white flour, eggs, butter, milk, etc.
Long story short, Andrew eats pancakes. I eat crepes. It's Mardi Gras, so the conclusion was we eat pancakes AND crepes. I had already planned for raw banana crepes, so to fulfill Andrew's traditions, I really wanted to recreate the amazing vegan and gluten-free pancakes we've had at Cafe My House. After gleaning what I could from their menu I came up with the following deliciousness:


Vegan Gluten-Free Pancakes
(makes 6-8 medium sized pancakes)
1 C brown rice flour
1/2 C soy flour
1/2 C arrowroot powder
3 teaspoons of organic cane sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda
1/2 teaspoon of salt
2 C milk (we used hemp milk)

1. Mix dry ingredients in a bowl.
2. Slowly pour liquid into the dry, mixing to avoid lumps.
3. Using coconut oil (or Earth Balance margarine) once your pan is hot, make pancakes!

Those yummy pancakes, were in competition with my slightly amended raw banana crepes recipe:



Raw Banana Crepes (Take 2)
(makes 6 crepes)
4-5 ripe bananas
1/2 C ground golden flax seeds
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 vanilla bean stick

1. Blend ingredients in Vitamix until uniform.
2. Pour batter onto dehydrator sheets, and spread with a spatula into crepe shapes.
3. Dehydrate at 115 for 4-6 hours (don't let them get too dry!)

Possible Toppings
Strawberry "jam"*
Banana whip (blend frozen bananas with vanilla!)
Orange marmalade (blend 1 orange + a few dates)

*this is a brilliant trick I got from Gena: Place 1 C or so of halved strawberries onto a dehydrator sheet for 6 hours, then blend them. Dehydrating them actually gives that "jam" consistency.

Everything was fantastic. It was the perfect meal before Lent. As I mentioned the two foodstuffs I've decided to cut out this Lent were selected to make me stick with my LFRV-ism, the diet I know leads to my optimal well-being. So for 40 days, I'm breaking up with grains and any non-fruit sugars. After our meal, I went into our pantry and hid all our cereals and non-raw treats. Out of sight, out of mind! The more spiritual changes I'm making I'm obviously keeping to myself, but I'm really looking forward to this season of renewal, cleansing, and self-improvement. I didn't realize until we went to Church last night, just how much I'd been missing the spiritual in my life.