Thursday, 21 July 2011

Vitamixology 101

Yes folks, it's here. My brand new (refurbished) Vitamix 5200 variable speed blender. This thing had been recommended to me by two nutritionists and after seeing the possibilities on the website, I was convinced. Initially scared off by the price, I saved a whopping $200 by going through the Canadian dealer and getting the refurbished model. I was so excited to try this baby out that I didn't even take my boots off when I got home - straight into the kitchen! In preparation for its arrival, I had been stashing serving-sized bags of prepped fruit in the freezer so that I could do smoothies without ice (and daily fruit shopping). Christening the Vitamix was as simple as adding a frozen sliced peach, and another bag of mixed fruit (blueberries, grapes, raspberries and melon), as well as about a cup of water to help things move around. In less than a minute, the fruit was transformed into a smooth, rolling liquid of blueberry purple. A lot of it, in fact - three good sized servings out of two bags of fruit! I'm not going to say that it tasted better than any smoothie I've ever had - it tasted like frozen fruit that had been professionally blended. But, cost of the appliance aside, it's about $1.50 for a serving (as opposed to $5.00 and up in Yaletown). That kind of satisfaction tastes pretty good!

My first effort a success, I thought I'd up the stakes a little - making a savoury sauce for some quinoa spaghetti that I'd been looking to try. There is something so perfect about pasta and tomato sauce - but I've been warned off tomatoes (even though I got away with a bit in the cauliflower recipe). I decided to risk it a bit and use up the other half of the can I opened earlier this week. So into the Vitamix went:
  • half a can of diced tomatoes
  • a generous handful of fresh spinach (vitamin A, folic acid!)
  • half of an onion, peeled
After a few seconds on medium speed, the tomatoes were juice and a few spinach leaves had been sucked into the maelstrom. The onion sat heavily on top.
I gradually increased the speed until the leaves started to give way to the whirlpool beneath, and the onion succumbed. In less than a minute I had a very smooth, very spinach-y liquid that did not look as appetising as I had hoped. I poured it into a saucepan in the hopes that cooking it would soften the flavours (especially the onion). It did - and the whole thing became bland. Thinking about it, I wasn't actually that surprised. I looked through my fridge and cupboard for something that would rescue it, and decided on a healthy tablespoon of ready-made pesto. Voila! Spinach-loaded pesto. Not vegan - but parmesan is still on my list of permissible foods, so I'm taking it!

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

What the hell ARE you eating?

Okay, so here's my first week of recipes and Vancouver eats, rounded up. Dining out has been an interesting experience - luckily there is no shortage of brown-rice sushi or vegan donburi in this town. Props to The Eatery, Rasoee Indian Kitchen, and Sushi Maro for keeping me going during the day. No shortage of inspiration for making my own lunches, just laziness / lack of time (ahem Game of Thrones!).

Anyway, on to the recipes! I don't care if you're an omnivore, a vegetarian, a vegan, a gluten-avoider, this shiz is good stuff. I recommend HIGHLY!

Friday Night Snack Platter
  • selection of houmous (what is the plural of houmous?)
  • goat's cheese (mix into plain houmous for extra points!)
  • rice crackers
  • cassava crisps
  • celery, cut into sticks
  • cucumber, cut into sticks
  • more extra points: peach puree and Prosecco for Bellinis

Also known as "Food Is More Fun in Fancy Snack Form", and credited to DK.

Combined as artfully as we were able on to my grandmother's three-tiered cake tray and accompanied by Bellini cocktails (NOT the shitty frozen Milestone's kind) and, naturally, comedy mustache sticks which DK found in her trunk. She makes EVERY meal fancy, that one.

Curried Cauliflower

(fair dues, this one is stolen directly from Serious Eats, with some lazy-cook adaptations. Thanks for the inspiration, JF!)
  • head of cauliflower, cut into florets no bigger than 2 in (speeds up roasting)
  • 1 tbsp fresh grated ginger
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 2 tsp dried coriander
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne
  • pinch salt
  • half can of diced tomatoes
  • 1/4 c chopped fresh coriander
  • lime wedges to garnish (if you're fancy that way)
  • veg oil for cauliflower roasting and spice-reviving (maybe 1 tbsp)
Toss the cauliflower in a bit of oil and whack into a preheated (400F) oven. It'll take about 20 minutes to cook through. About 10 minutes into that, heat the rest of the oil in a pan until it's shimmering hot, then add the ginger. After the ginger is 'cooked', throw in the other spices and the salt, allowing the flavours to combine. The finished cauliflower is added to the spices and oil and covered well, before adding the tomato. Toss the chopped coriander in at the last minute before serving. Serve on a bed of rice or wilted spinach, or mix with quinoa like I did with the leftovers. Yum!

The No-go List

There's mounting curiosity about what I can and can't eat, according to this new food-sensitivity plan, so here's a recap of the stuff I'm now avoiding:

Protein Sources
  • meat & fish, obviously
  • tofu
  • soy beans (thankfully soy sauce is okay!)
  • eggs
  • cow's milk
  • cheddar
  • mozzarella
  • cow's feta
  • macadamia nut
  • brazil nut
  • sunflower seeds / oil
  • kamut
  • corn (fresh / dried / flour / oil)
  • white short grain rice (brown, basmati, and jasmine all okay)
  • wheat, in all its evil forms
Fruit & Veg
  • oranges
  • peas
  • green and red peppers (and yellow for good measure)
  • winter squashes (butternut included *single tear*)
  • potatoes red & white
  • carrot
  • tomato (though I seem to get away with small amounts of throughly cooked ones)
  • eggplant
Kind of scary at first - so many 'basic' ingredients that I am now studiously avoiding. However, there are a few bad-habit foods that are just off the menu now - tortilla chips & salsa, for example. A lot of processed stuff that I've given into when I lack the time. It's amazing when you think about it how much of our food doesn't remotely resemble what it looks like when it's grown. I'm starting to think that this is just a great strategy for eating naturally.

Another post coming straight up - what the hell AM I eating?

h x

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

A whole new me?

A bit of a timeline. Five or six years ago I became aware that my body didn't react well to eating carbs (eg pasta) with protein (eg meat sauce). I weaned myself off of certain carb+meat heavy foods and thought that would be the end of it. I tried a few different eating combinations over the years in an effort to get more energy and nutrition out of what I was eating. In the last year and a half (since I moved back to Vancouver - coincidence?), a series of symptoms that I would consider 'noticeable' have appeared. Things like rashes on my lower arms or across my stomach, headaches, energy/mood swings, and at the worst point, a shortness of breath (!!). I don't know if I never noticed some of these before (though the rashes/breathing were new developments), but I started to pinpoint that they would be most acute after eating certain foods. The main culprit was wheat, so I started to steer clear. However, a lot of the symptoms would appear almost at random. I resolved to deal with it - but life has a habit of getting in the way. After my recent vacation, I made a conscious decision to be more protective of myself. I seem to spend a lot of time looking after other people. So, it was time to get some answers and guidance to look after me. A couple of questions I had:

- what was the underlying cause for these (seemingly random) symptoms?
- was my conversion to vegetarianism having a detrimental impact on my health? Was I getting the nutrients my body needs?

I debated going to see my GP. Don't get me wrong, he's thorough, listens and approaches healthcare collaboratively, but my appointments are ten minutes long. I wasn't sure I was going to get what I needed going that route, and others' experiences of nutrition issues and GPs have been less than glowing. I did a bit of research and decided that I needed to seek someone with less of a medical angle - and discovered that there are wonderful people called Registered Holistic Nutritionists. In particular, I arranged to meet with Jennifer Trecartin, who is the RHN behind Her practice is based at Bar Method, which almost put me off when I arrived, surrounded by a bunch of ballet bunnies in Lululemon gear!

The first thing that struck me about Jennifer is that she is radiant - if this girl was drinking her own Kool-Aid, I wanted some too. After a friendly and animated case history, I submitted to a fairly exhaustive round of non-invasive food sensitivity testing, which resulted in a report of foods my body likes and does not like (a bit of an oversimplification, but you get the drift). The end of the report also summarises which essential nutrients I am lacking, and how my major organs are functioning. The good news? I'm alive and my approach to nutrition is overall quite good. The not-so-good news is that my system isn't processing a lot of foods I've been relying on to fill my vegetarian plate.

Not surprisingly, wheat products (especially beer) are true no-go foods. Dairy is largely out, except for some of the harder cheeses (goat's milk / cheese appears to be okay). Among the surprises: white rice (jasmine / basmati are okay), corn in all its many, delicious forms (hasta luego Mexican), eggs, and most of the nightshade family of vegetables including potatoes red and white. Ironically, the results showed that while my heart and soul have trouble digesting meat, my body certainly doesn't (with the exception of duck, salmon and halibut). Even more ironic? I should avoid tofu and soy products. There goes the name of this blog, then.

The test results showed a lack of vitamins B5, B6, and folic acid - nothing surprising for a new vegetarian who is just learning to love lentils. Liver, kidneys and gall bladder are reported to be in a 'compromised' state. Insert drinking joke here, but the end result is that I should be downing a whole lot more kale, spinach, and brown rice. Yay.

If I am to live by these results, I will be a wheat- and corn-free almost-vegan. In my mother's words, 'Well what the hell are you going to eat?!" Thing is, I've been feeling (sporadically) like absolute crap for the better part of a year. Despite loads of exercise, I'm not shifting excess weight. Symptoms I have never had before in my life have become a daily occurrence. I don't sleep more than three hours without waking up (and as an early riser than can sometimes mean getting less than 5 hours' sleep a night). Bottom line - a lot of what this test had to say MADE SENSE. Maybe there's a reason I have hated raw tomatoes since I was a small child. Or that I didn't eat eggplant until I was in my 20s. At any rate, I thought I owed it to myself to go with the results of this test and evaluate how I felt after a given period of time. Jennifer and I agreed that three months was reasonable.

It has now been just under a week. With the exception of some vodka (tee hee), half a tin of tomatoes and an accidental-hidden-wheat incident, I have stuck to the plan religiously. And you know what? I FEEL FANTASTIC. My body is working properly. I am 100% asymptomatic. My brain feels like it's running on overdrive - memory, sensory perception. I keep checking for a magic spider bite. That the change is so dramatic in so little time has me wondering if I'm starting to feel vegan powers up in here.

In answer to my mother, I'll post separately to show a couple of the recipes I've been digging into to 'keep me alive'. In truth I'm loving every f***ing minute of this, grinning a mile wide. You are what you eat, apparently.

H x

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Conscientious Carnivorism

More than six months in now, my commitment to living vegetarian feels stronger than ever. I'm still a rookie, but a passionate one. I was approached by a colleague a couple of months ago who was interested in my decision. He too had lived vegetarian for many years, but had started eating meat again from small-holding, independent farmers. Clearly passionate about his own opinions, we had a short but excited conversation about the merits of each other's choices. An article published in the Guardian some months ago (sorry, reference lost) posited that being a vegetarian or a vegan was akin to spoiling one's ballot; abstaining from meat meant abstaining from the argument against the worst treatment of animals. My colleague's argument is similar - by putting your money where your mouth is, and supporting farmers who have animals' best interests at heart, you are helping to reduce suffering. The more people who do it, the less reason there will be for high-intensity factory farming set ups. Makes sense, right?

So, I dance around the soapbox when I say this: to a point. A recent Atlantic Monthly article poses some interesting arguments against the "conscientious carnivore" standpoint. As a minority supplier for a minority demand, conscientious farmers are working on a small scale and charging a premium for their product. As demand increases, says the article, so will the pressure to streamline 'production practices', and the traditional aspects of animal husbandry will be squeezed out. The article states that fundamentally, conscientious farming and consumption is built upon the same principle as Big Bad Factory Farming. In my opinion, it makes some fairly sweeping assumptions in this regard, but there was a kernel in this piece that stuck with me: no matter how it happened, and what quality of life was afforded it, the animal that ended up on my plate for 30 years did not want to die. The article cites a secondary source which recounted the memory of a chef who 'harvests' (a charming euphemism) his own meat, and who finds it a horrendous act each and every time.

The line between animals-who-are-pets and animals-which-are-food is, in my mind, arbitrary. I'm the first one to admit that meat is f***ing delicious, but it's not something I can enjoy comfortably any more. I started this by caveating that there may be times in the future when I would enjoy meat - wild venison or salmon that was offered at a family gathering, for example. I'm finding even that prospect a bit unsavoury now. Restaurants like Memphis Blues, once a beacon of overindulgence, make me queasy these days. No matter how good an animal is treated during its rearing and mature life, if it's destined for a plate, it's destined for an unpleasant end.

Just over six months into this, and I'm in danger of becoming pretty militant. I'll try to keep my preaching to a minimum :)

Delicious London

So, I survived it. Six months into la vida veggie, I journeyed to the UK for a three week trip. By European standards, a vegetarian haven, but compared with ultra-accommodating hippy Vancity, I was in for a bit of a challenge. I'm not going to say that it was that easy, nor was it that hard, but temptation did get the better of me - on three occasions.

First, Borough Market. A trip to this food mecca was not going to be complete without a couple of raw oysters.
Justification: hand-collected, sustainable, no central nervous system (or as my Mum puts it, "no face").

Second, with far less noble justification, Percy Pigs. These porcine-shaped, raspberry-flavoured candy delights are well known by everyone who has ever worked in an office in London. A Marks & Spencer product (some would argue their best one), Percy Pigs are made, as are a lot of gummy candies, with gelatine - in other words, with bits of REAL PIG. A highly unfair reality, especially when you're slavering to chomp down on one of the happy piggy faces. I bought four bags to bring back to Vancouver, the expat equivalent of bringing a carton of cigarettes to an inmate.
Justification: I awoke one morning in my third week with a screaming wine headache and a completely empty bag of percy pigs on the nightstand. Yes, dear reader, I drunk-ate bits of real pig. I'm not proud. (Note: I stress-ate another half pack when I got back to the office with the remainder of my purchase. Whew, confession really does make one feel better.)

Third, and definitely most satisfying, were the potato cake-encrusted scallops I enjoyed as my main course at The Gallery, Fortnum & Mason. By any standards a superlative dining experience, it was made all the better when the maĆ®tre d’ gifted me three glasses of pink bubbles. The first course was a pea and broad bean risotto with a soft-poached (free-range) egg, followed by three huge scallop and potato globes and side salad. Dessert was a simple but glorious duo of sliced strawberries and clotted cream, and a pot of Earl Grey. Obligatory food porn at the bottom :)
Justification: delicious?

Vegetarian options really are available, and restaurants are more than willing to make substitutions and alterations to suit dietary requirements. Methinks London service is improving - can't think of any major upcoming events that might have triggered that?

Indulgent eating is a part of any holiday. I never thought I'd see the day, but I am writing these words: I am breaking up with cheese. Not permanently, I hope, but for a while. I've eaten more beautiful, delicious, mouth-watering British and French cheese in three weeks than I had in the six months before I left London in 2010. So, gluten-free, dairy-free vegetarian. Pass the fava beans...

Thanks to:

Wagamama: ubiquitous, delicious, several vegan & gluten-free options, and reasonably priced. Tourists to London, make this a must-do.
Imli: for being my go-to lunch and dinner place near the office. Super delicious Indian tapas!
Nikki & Duncan: for accommodating an entire veggie and gluten-free weekend in the Cotswolds (!!)