Heaven in a Bowl

Café Gratitude's Grateful Bowl

Café Gratitude serves Grateful Bowls. Whole Foods Market offers “honest-to-goodness” Wellness Bowls. I make my own meal-in-a-bowl concoctions, turning everyday leftovers into exotic creations. On a good day, they are Heavenly Bowls.

What goes into one of my bowls? Something starchy, something savory, and something green. This winter, they featured a lot of roasted winter squash, caramelized onions, and kale. Last week, I ate bowls of leftover Sephardic-style pot roast over Moroccan-spiced quinoa and as much fresh spinach as my bowl would hold.  Based on Jim Cohen’s brisket recipe, the grass-fed beef chuck roast was the perfect balance of heat and sweet – the “X factor,” as grilling master, Jamie Purviance, would say. The flavors in my bowl combined to create a little piece of heaven.

Last night, when I was supposed to be studying, I turned the kitchen inside out looking for something to make for dinner. I found: 1 spaghetti squash; 1 can tomato sauce; 1 can low-sodium V8; 2 Tbsp tomato paste (frozen); sun-dried tomatoes in oil; ¼ onion; crushed garlic; dried pizza spices; 2 handfuls of cherry tomatoes; ½ Cup red wine; a bag of organic arugula. And, for the pièce de résistance, I rescued about ½ lb of Chile Colorado – homemade with grass-fed beef and New Mexican chiles – from the freezer. I sliced the squash in half and roasted it in a 375-degree oven. Meanwhile, I made a sauce with the various tomato products, red wine, and seasonings. I thawed the beef, chopped it, and added it to the sauce, letting everything simmer. When the squash was done (30 minutes), I pulled it into noodle-like strings with a fork, smothered it in sauce, and stirred in 2 big handfuls of arugula. No gluten, no dairy. A little spice. A lot of love. Heaven in a bowl.

What's in your bowl? Here's what's in mine.

What’s in your bowl? Let me know what you like to combine for a tasty, satisfying meal-in-a-bowl.

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Spring into Health

Spring is here — finally! A few friends and I are taking this opportunity to “spring into health.” Want to join us?

Start by setting some goals. Mine are: (1) lower my cholesterol without medication, (2) lose one pants size, and (3) finish a 5K race. What are yours?

Now, break down your goal(s) into smaller SMART goals — weekly and/or monthly goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely. For example, my immediate healthy eating goals for this week are:

  • Avoid dairy
  • Avoid oil 50% of the time
  • Eat leafy greens or a salad every day
  • Reduce animal protein to 5 – 3oz. portions this week

In terms of exercise, my goals are:

  • Walk 30 minutes 3 times this week
  • Go to 2 exercise classes at the gym

For breakfast today, I had a bowl of oatmeal with 2 Tbsp ground flaxseed, 3/4 of an apple – chopped, a handful of walnuts, a liberal shake of cinnamon, and a splash of almond milk. (I use gluten-free rolled oats.)

It was time to use up the various vegetables in our refrigerator. So, for lunch I made a Thai curry, loosely based on a recipe from Simply Thai Cooking.(1)

Thai-style Vegetable Curry
1-½ onions, sliced lengthwise
1 tsp minced garlic
1 – 19oz. can coconut milk (not low-fat)
2 – 3 Tbsp. curry spices* (I used Option 2)
3 Cups butternut squash, peeled and cubed
4 carrots, cut in 1 inch chunks
2 – 3 Cups green vegetables (I used broccoli and snap peas)
2 Cups chopped greens (I used chard)
1 Cup mushrooms, quartered
1 red bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
Basil or cilantro, for garnish (optional)

*Curry spice mix: Option 1: 2+ Tbsp. Thai curry paste (red or green, to taste) with 1 Tbsp. fish sauce; Option 2: 2 Tbsp. curry powder, 1 Tbsp. turmeric, ½ tsp. ground cumin, ½ tsp. ground coriander, 1 Tbsp. Thai red chili paste

Steam-fry** onion in large pot for 5 minutes, until it starts to caramelize; add garlic and continue to cook for 1 minute. **Check out this video on steam-frying, produced by Whole Foods Market.

Remove from pot. Add curry spices to pot; heat until spices release their aroma. Stir in 1 can of coconut milk and ½ can of water. Bring to boil. Add squash and carrots, cover, and cook over medium heat for approx. 10 minutes (while you prep remaining vegetables). Add higher-fiber vegetables (broccoli, peapods), including onion and garlic. Return to boil and cook for another 5 minutes. Add remaining vegetables (greens, zucchini, etc.), and cook for another 3 to 5 minutes, or until all vegetables are tender. Top with bell pepper and herbs, if desired. Serve alone or with brown jasmine rice. (I eat it like soup with a spoon).

Thai-Style Vegetable Curry

To your health!

Frequently Asked Questions

Is this a DIET?

No, this is a healthy lifestyle program that emphasizes nutrient-dense whole foods and regular exercise. As Michael Pollan wrote, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” (2)

Whose dietary approach are you following?

It’s a hybrid of several approaches — Dr. Fuhrman, Eat to Live; Dr. Esselstyn, Reversing Heart Disease; Dr. Campbell, The China Study, etc. — all evidence-based.

What do you eat?

  • For breakfast: fruit, whole grains, and a few nuts
  • For lunch: soup, salad, and/or cooked vegetables; legumes; fruit for dessert
  • For dinner: salad or raw veggies with healthy dip; leafy greens; cooked vegetables; legumes, whole grains, or lean animal protein

I will continue to post some recipes with photos here, on my blog. There are TONS of recipes available online, too. For example, you can search for healthy recipes on Whole Foods Market’s website (by “fat free,” “low sodium,” etc.).

Will I feel hungry?

No. You will have plenty to eat. Dr. Fuhrman suggests eating one pound of raw vegetables, one pound of cooked vegetables, and one cup of beans or other legumes every day.(3)

Can I get some one-on-one help?

Yes, leave a comment below and I will reply. Also, I am available to do weekly coaching by telephone.

References
(1) Young, W. & Ayanoglu, B. (1995). Simply Thai cooking. Toronto: Random House.
(2) Pollan, M. (2008). In defense of food: An eater’s manifesto. New York: Penguin Books.
(3) Fuhrman, J. (2011). Eat to live: The amazing nutrient-rich program for fast and sustained weight loss. New York: Little, Brown.

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Make Health Not War

This winter, I am a contributing blogger for Make Health Not War: Holistic Perspectives on Health Care Policy. To view a copy of my latest post (updated April 2, 2012), click on the tab of the same name on this blog.

Look for the return of Envisioning Health later this month.

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Savoring Seasonal Foods

The weather is changing. Even here in the Bay Area, our days of 80-degree weather have come to an end. I spent as much time as possible in the garden these last days of Late Summer, and less time on the computer blogging. As days become shorter and nights grow colder, our natural inclination is to contract and pull inward. In the evening, I find myself sipping warming herbal teas and eating differently.

A traditional approach to food
One of my favorite classes in my master’s program in Holistic Health Education was Asian Healing Modalities, taught by Tamara Wolfson, L.Ac. I learned, for example, that the Chinese look for patterns of imbalance in the body, and seek to restore harmony to the system as a whole. They use food as medicine to preserve and restore health.

Five Element theory is an important concept in Chinese medicine. Life is cyclical and unfolds in patterns. Each season of the year is associated with an element, organ, taste, etc. As Late Summer (earth) gives way to Autumn (metal), flavors shift from sweet (good-bye, figs!) to pungent (hello, horseradish).

Autumn is associated with the Metal element and Pungent taste

Eating seasonally makes sense no matter what your practice or philosophy. Locally grown vegetables and fruits, picked at their peak, are packed with flavor and micronutrients. Produce that travels hundreds or thousands of miles loses its vitality, not to mention carbon footprint considerations…

Autumn foods to savor now

In northern California, Autumn brings an abundance of choices, including:

  • Apples, avocados, cranberries, grapes, pears, lemon, quince, tomatoes
  • Acorn, butternut, kabocha and spaghetti squashes; artichokes; cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale); root vegetables (carrots, potatoes, rutabagas, sweet potatoes, turnips); lettuces, mushrooms, olives, pumpkin, radishes
  • Garlic, horseradish, various herbs
  • Grains, nuts, seeds… and more

Live elsewhere? Check here for what’s in season.

We're down to the last few tomatoes on our backyard vine.

To add more pungency to your plate, cook with cayenne, ginger, and/or turmeric. These warming spices help move Qi — the life force — in the body.

Add a little spice to your cooking with fresh grated ginger.

How about a pumpkin or squash curry for dinner tonight? Prefer Latin flavors? Try making a spicy pumpkin seed dip.

Interested in learning more about Chinese medicine?
More information can be found on the web. Ask a friend or health professional for a referral to a licensed acupuncturist in your area. Community acupuncture clinics are an affordable option; one is opening in Alameda later this month.

What are some of your favorite fall foods?
Please comment below.

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Last days of summer: fig chutney recipe

I’ve had requests for the fig chutney recipe. I adapted one that came from Twist restaurant in Fresno, California (previously published by the California Fresh Fig Growers Association). I included the canning instructions from the pectin manufacturer. Enjoy!

Fig Chutney

Use this chutney as an accompaniment for roast pork or vegetable curry, or as a spread on a turkey sandwich. The flavors remind me of apple butter.

75 mL (1 bottle) port wine
¾ C balsamic vinegar
¼ C apple cider vinegar
1 C brown sugar, packed
1 onion, chopped
¼ C grated ginger root*
3 cinnamon sticks, cracked
Zest of one lemon
1 ½ tsp ground mustard
½ tsp ground allspice
¼ tsp ground clove
1 ¾ tsp salt
4+ lbs figs, stems removed, sliced in half
*To make grating easier, freeze ginger root and use microplane. Fill ¼ C measuring cup. Note: quantity will shrink as ginger thaws; be sure to add enough ginger.

½ C granulated sugar
1 pkg Sure Jell pectin

Combine port and vinegars. Bring to a boil and reduce by half.

Add brown sugar, seasoning, and figs. Return to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, place rack in canner and fill halfway with water. Bring water to boil.

Drain fig mixture, reserving liquid. Use spoon or potato masher to break up figs and remove as much liquid as possible. Return liquid to pot and bring to boil. Stir pectin into sugar. Whisk pectin-sugar mixture into liquid in pot. Boil for 1 minute. Return fig mixture to pot and stir. Bring to boil. Turn off heat.

Still hot from the dishwasher, clean jars await

Fill sterilized jars with fig chutney, leaving ¼ inch head room. Wipe jar rims and threads. Cover each with a clean, new lid and screw on bands finger tight. Use tongs to place jars on rack in canner. Add hot water to cover jars by one inch. Cover canner. Process jars by boiling gently for 10 minutes. Remove jars and place upright on a towel to cool completely. Leave undisturbed for 24 hours. Check seals by pressing on middle of lid with finger. (If lid springs back, it is not sealed properly. Chutney must be refrigerated and consumed within one week.) Properly sealed jars will keep for up to one year at room temperature. Refrigerate open jars.

The finished products: fig chutney (left) and fig jam (right)

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When life gives you figs, make fig jam.

Although another gal has cornered the identity, the girl and the fig, this month I could qualify as her runner-up.

Today, I had every intention of posting a piece on apples. After all, it’s Seasonal Food Friday, and I’m planning to make an apple crisp for dessert on Saturday.

As luck would have it, my husband came home yesterday with an abundance of FIGS from dear friends in Dutch Flat. They are delicious.

As you may know, figs don’t keep. When they’re ripe, they’re ripe. Either eat ‘em at their peak, or preserve them for future use. Since I don’t have a dehydrator (hint, hint – great idea for a holiday gift), I am canning again. Last week, I made fig chutney. This time, it’s fig jam with a touch of sherry and fennel.

As the pot of figs simmers on the range, and jelly jars sterilize in the dishwasher, I have time to take a breath and write. I haven’t done this much canning since I was a young girl. Back in Connecticut, I used to make wild grape jam for everyone in the neighborhood. My sisters and I helped my mother and grandmother can sweet pickles (bread & butter and watermelon), spiced peaches, and tomato conserve. Figs were not part of our repertoire.

Although it’s fall, the temperature was in the 80s today and will stay that way all weekend. After a summer that never quite materialized, I am ready to bask in the October sun and savor the moments. It feels good to slow down and enjoy simple pleasures.

I’ve always associated fall with new beginnings. Maybe it’s because the school year begins in fall. Or, maybe it’s because I turn a year older each October. Either way, my New Year starts now, not in January. Now is the time to reflect and reminisce, to give thanks and count my blessings. Last year was about having more fun: “move-play-laugh.” The year ahead is about dreaming big and living large. Time to let my light shine.

Please leave your comments below.

What are you thankful for? What’s cooking in your kitchen? Have a great weekend!

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Seasonal Food Friday: Fabulous Figs

It’s fig season! If, like me, you’re lucky enough to have a friend with fig trees, it’s time to harvest. If not, check out your local produce market or farmers’ market.

Picking black mission figs in Sonoma County.

Fig varieties, courtesy of California Fresh Fig Growers Association

In California, fig trees produce two crops: one in summer and another in fall/winter, depending on the variety and climate. Common varieties include:
•    Black Mission – purple/black with pink flesh
•    Calimyrna – yellow/green with amber flesh
•    Kadota – green with purple flesh
•    Brown Turkey – purple with red flesh

Fiber-rich figs contain important minerals, including potassium, calcium and magnesium. High-fiber foods help control weight and blood sugar, and are associated with other health benefits.

Whether you eat them raw or dried, you’ll enjoy the chewy sweetness that figs add to any meal. I like to slice them in half, top with walnut pieces, and broil lightly for a yummy snack. Serve with goat cheese or charcuterie for an appetizer.

Fiber-rich figs are ready to eat.

Here are some other ideas:
•    For breakfast, add figs to a smoothie or to whole grains.
•    Top salad greens with chopped figs, nuts and/or cheese.
•    Cook up some fig jam or chutney and serve with meat dishes.
•    Purée figs and use them to sweeten homemade muffins, quick breads or desserts.

Download a free recipe booklet from the California Fresh Fig Growers Association.

What are your favorite fall foods? How do you like to prepare them?

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