Sunday, December 30, 2012

In praise of Ipomoea batatas, the sweet potato

I love sweet potatoes.  To me, they are one of the yummiest, most satisfying starches around (and I take my starches very seriously).  It was not always thus.  When I was a little kid, I would only eat sweet potatoes if they had been candied.  I don't know whether sweet potatoes have gotten sweeter or my tastes have changed, or both, but now I like plain, baked sweet potatoes the best.  I bake them until they are sitting in sticky puddles of caramelized sugar, and they are perfect without anything added to them.  They certainly don't need to be candied -- they already are candy.

Sweet potatoes come in several different colors.  A week or so ago I bought these purple ones from Trader Joe's:

Butter knife included for scale
 They were kind of puny and unassuming, albeit with an intriguing purple tinge to the skin.  But look what happens to them when they're baked, peeled, and mashed:

Purple sweet potatoes are very high in anthocyanins, the same antioxidants that are in blueberries.  I don't know if the sweet potatoes mugged some blueberries for their antioxidants or what, but whoa.  That is some purple food.

I'd say the main reason to buy these is the color.  I baked them, and because they were so small they got kind of dry.  I also think the flesh is naturally drier than that of the typical orange sweet potato.  The taste is about the same.   Peeling all those little potatoes was kind of a pain.  But it was worth it because purple!

Yesterday I went produce shopping at Wegman's, which is usually a good place to get sweet potatoes.  I didn't see any purple ones, but I got about 7 or 8 pounds of orange and two pounds of white.  I had never tried the white ones before and thought I would check them out.  This morning I baked them all and peeled them, so they'd be ready to eat throughout the week:

The "white" ones.  As you can see, the flesh is more of a Yukon Gold sort of color.

Classic orange.  Look at all those dark spots where the sugars caramelized.  Om nom nom.

  Wikipedia says the white sweet potatoes are not as sweet as the orange ones.  They must be thinking of some other white sweet potatoes.  These were hella sweet, maybe even sweeter than the orange ones.  They were so sweet, in fact, that I couldn't eat my usual lunchtime fruit because I was on sugar overload.

My lunch.  "White" sweet potato, broccoli, and soy kheema.  Yes, we are still eating that stuff.
Some fun facts about sweet potatoes:

  • They are native to Central America and were first cultivated in what would become the Southern United States in the 16th century.
  • They are members of the same genus as morning glories.  Check out this blossom: 
  • They are not yams.  Totes different genus, family, everything.  According to the World's Healthiest Foods web site, which I am not linking to here because there is a disgusting picture of a dead turkey that follows you everywhere you go on it, the archetypal orange sweet potato was first introduced to the U.S. in the mid-20th century, and the growers called them "yams" to distinguish them from the sweet potatoes everyone was familiar with, which were white.  Of course the people responsible for this web site also appear to believe dead birds are among the world's healthiest foods, so I don't know how much credence to give this story.  Wegman's calls both the orange and the white sweet potatoes "yams." 

 I baked 10 pounds of russet potatoes this morning, too.  When it comes to starchy tubers, I believe in equal opportunity regardless of genus.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Edible gifts redux

I wanted to follow up on my post about soup in a jar and show you how it turned out.

My girlfriend decided she wanted to give these as office gifts, too.  We set up an assembly line and ended up making 14 of them.  She tied the labels on with some festive yarn.

A few tips, if you decide to do this:

  • If you're making up a big batch of the spice blend in advance, as I did, it will not go as far as you think it will.  We had to stop midway through and make some more.  I think this is probably the result of settling, since I made the spice blend the night before.  
  • A canning funnel was a huge help when it came to pouring the lentils and rice into the jars without getting them all over the table.
  • Tap the jar firmly on the table after each addition, to keep the layers level and make sure the jars are packed tight.  That will keep them looking nice when you shlep them to wherever they're going.
We packed these in gift bags with tissue paper, and included a can of coconut milk with each jar (another protip:  Trader Joe's coconut milk is only $0.99 a can!  They also had good prices on red lentils and jasmine rice.).  

Everyone really seemed pleased to receive these.  They were also impressed that we had made them ourselves, which made me laugh -- yes, I poured ingredients into a jar all by myself!  Also, I was afraid this was a hackneyed idea, but people acted like it was a great novelty.  Several commented on how creative I am (!).  Of course Glue and Glitter is the creative one, and I did give her credit.  I guess it all depends on what you're used to.

We wanted to know how it tasted, of course, so I made a batch with some ingredients we had left over:

I followed the printed directions exactly (except I used a little less olive oil than called for).  I like the combination of the two kinds of lentils.  The red ones disintegrated and the brown ones stayed relatively firm, which was a nice contrast.  I also love the aromatic spices, and the creamy richness of the coconut milk.  If I were going to make it again:

  • I would add more liquid.  The rice really drank it all up, and as you can see above I ended up with a porridgelike consistency (in fact, I have been eating this as my breakfast starch and it fills that role nicely).
  • I would use brown rice instead of white.  I think I just prefer a little more chewiness.  Wild rice might be nice, too.  I've been eating a fair amount of wild rice lately.
  • More spice.  Maybe some garam masala.  Maybe more black pepper.  Maybe a little cayenne.  Also, the recipe calls for "salt to taste" and it definitely needed the salt.  It might not if there were more heat in it.
  • Maybe change the proportions of beans to rice.  As written it's about half and half.  I think I would prefer 2/3 beans to 1/3 rice, or maybe even 3/4 to 1/4.  But I'm a huge bean fan and your mileage may vary.
  • Maybe throw some more veggies in there.  Cabbage.  Carrots.  Spinach.  Of course then we're really moving away from the "just about everything you need is in the jar" concept.
To sum up -- it's a nice bowl of comfort food and probably a good starter recipe for people who are afraid of Indian cooking, but I don't think I would make it as written again.  I do think it would be a good starting point for my own creation, though, and that's often how I use recipes, especially for soup.

I had to laugh, because unbeknownst to me, my boss had bought me two bags of chili mix from a group called the Women's Bean Project.  I'm soaking the beans from one bag this morning, and will be making chili later today.  I'll give a review of that one when it's done.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Among the normals

Yesterday was my office "Christmas party."  I thought I'd write a little bit about this to give a glimpse of how a vegan with an eating disorder deals with Christmas food and festivities.

The restaurant was lovely -- for an omnivore.  I knew I was going to have to plan ahead, so I looked at the menu on line the day before.  I did see that a vegan could order pasta with red sauce (at least I assume the red sauce was vegan; I wasn't going to eat it so I didn't check), but I don't eat pasta.  But this place had side dishes that could be ordered separately.  Thank the FSM for side dishes.  Lots of restaurants don't seem to have them any more, but they can really help a vegan out.

My typical lunch is starch, protein, vegetable, fruit.  I saw that I would be able to order a plain baked potato and steamed spinach, but no protein.  So I went home and made my favorite baked tofu, from Appetite for Reduction. A three-ounce serving wrapped in plastic wrap fit very nicely in my purse.  Then when it was time to order, I got the baked potato ("no butter, no sour cream") and spinach.  I unwrapped my tofu and put it on my bread plate.  There wasn't any fruit for me to order, so I ate a banana when I got home.

The baked potato was good, with a nice crisp skin.  The spinach was meh.  It was baby spinach, which was nice, and it wasn't overcooked, but they didn't do a good job draining it.  I also found a rogue piece of spaghetti in the bottom of the bowl (with the cooking water that should have been drained away).  Ew.  Also, the portion was tiny ("The food was terrible!  And such small portions!").  I really should have ordered two vegetables, but at those prices I couldn't bring myself to do it.

Fortunately, my coworkers are used to me.  I got a few questions about the tofu (one person seemed unaware that tofu can be purchased in a grocery store), but none of the interrogation or mocking I've read about on  vegan message boards.  I'm amazed by the crap some vegans have to deal with.

The lunchtime conversation reminded me how fortunate I am, to have a way to deal with food.  This is the time of year that amateurs who don't normally overeat start acting like people with binge eating disorder.  There has been a steady stream of junk food gifts to my office -- cookies, cupcakes, popcorn, chocolate -- and apparently everyone but me has been snacking all day (most of the stuff isn't vegan, but when I was deep in the throes of my eating disorder that would not have stopped me).  People were complaining about stomach aches and weight gain.  In January they'll all be heading to Weight Watchers and the gym.  Meanwhile I'm all "starch, protein, vegetable, fruit, repeat."  I've been getting more exercise lately, wearing a pedometer and taking 10,000 steps  a day.  My knee isn't thrilled, but otherwise my body feels great.  I don't know how much I weigh (a topic for another post), but I'd guess my weight has stayed the same or even gone down a little bit.

It seems like normal people overeat around the holidays, and then when the holidays are over they go back to normal eating or do a diet or a cleanse for a while.  The last time I did any holiday overeating, it took me about six months to stop.  People say "My disease doesn't take a holiday, so I can't either."   I have to eat the same way all the time.  No highs and no lows.  It's like what I wrote a month ago about living on a plateau.

One of the weird things about being in recovery is that people say things like "you have so much self control."  Someone said that at the holiday lunch yesterday when I didn't order dessert.  I said, "I really don't."  What is hard for normal people to understand is that if I had any self control, I wouldn't have to eat this way.   But that's okay.  For today I'm feeling really peaceful, and I don't mind.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Body love

Gena at Choosing Raw has a really thoughtful new post about what it means to love your body.  My favorite quote:
They say true love is about being able to put someone else’s needs above one’s own. For me, body love means that I prioritize my body’s best interests when my mind would have me do otherwise—when it would have me deprive my body for the sake of appeasing its own obsessive tendencies. When I’m tempted to be selfish and hold back, I give—usually in the form of nourishing food, mindful movement, and the experience of pleasure—instead.
Yes.  This.   My body needs nourishing food, movement, and sleep, all in the right quantities (not too much, not too little).  Sometimes I don't feel like giving it any of those things.  Giving it those things takes work and organization, and sometimes it seems like a deprivation or a punishment.  But it isn't -- it is an act of love.

When people eat unhealthy food they call it "indulging."  As Christmas approaches, there has been a steady stream of food gifts to my office, and people are doing a lot of indulging.  Someone told me this morning that yesterday when she got home she felt sick, and she realized it was because she ate too many sweets at work.  I think of "indulging" as involving a pleasure, but what she described didn't have a lot of pleasure in it. She said she didn't even know why she had eaten like that.

I looked up "indulge" in the dictionary, and here's what I got for the first definition:
to yield to an inclination or desire; allow oneself to follow one's will.
When I hear "willful" I think of a toddler throwing a tantrum.  I think of the id.  In the program I belong to, we talk a lot about following the will of a power greater than ourselves.  For a lot of people that means God.  For me, it means something wiser than my toddler-id-monkey brain.  I heard someone say recently that for him the power greater than himself is love and acceptance.  It could be love and acceptance of the body and its needs.

Lately I've been giving my body more of what it needs.  I haven't been "indulging" in any of the holiday food that sits right outside my office.  I am clearly not at total peace about this, as the fact that it's all right outside my office is constantly on my mind, but I haven't struggled.  Several times I've said quietly, "Help me get through this."  I don't know who or what I'm asking for help -- maybe it is my own body wisdom.  All I know is that when I ask for it, I receive it.  And I feel love.    

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Thanksgiving wrap-up

Kitty-chan leads the parade down Central Park West!
Kudos to me -- I'm getting my Thanksgiving post done before Christmas.

As I posted before I went to NY, I have an amazing family.  My omnivore mom and aunt planned a totally  vegan Thanksgiving dinner, even though my girlfriend and I were going to be the only vegans there.  And everything was so delicious, I photographed it all and collected the recipes.  (My aunt said afterwards, "I hope you got some pictures of the family, too."  Um, oops.)

We tend not to have "traditional" Thanksgiving foods at our Thanksgiving dinners.  Before I went vegan, I was vegetarian for many years, and my mom didn't see the point in cooking a turkey I wasn't going to eat.  For a while we had a mini-tradition of eating spinach lasagna for Thanksgiving dinner.   But we've had all kinds of different things.  Last year Thanksgiving was just my mom, my girlfriend, and me, and I cooked all Indian dishes except for the desserts.  The one constant has always been cranberry sauce, but this year we didn't even do that.  We did have cranberry desserts though, so I guess cranberries are the constant.

I tried to take pictures of all the delicious food, but when I got home and started to upload the photos, I couldn't find my picture of the main courses!  So you'll have to live without that, but But then I found it a month later and edited the post, so yay! I do have recipes, or information about how to get the recipes, for everything I ate.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Edible Gifts

I don't give a lot of holiday gifts.  I'm Jewish, and when I was growing up Chanukah was never a gift-giving extravaganza the way Christmas seems to be.  These days I buy Chanukah gifts for three people -- my mom and my two little cousins -- and those were all shipped out a week ago or more.  But I do believe in playing well with others, so I try to give a little edible gift to my coworkers every year.

Last year I made the candy cane variation of this fudge, and it was a huge hit.  But I don't eat stuff like that any more, and I didn't want the ingredients in my house.  I also read an article about food gifts that spoke to me -- it said everyone is already inundated with junk food at Christmas, and would appreciate something healthy.  So I hit on soup mix in a jar.

It's not so easy to find a soup-in-a-jar recipe that is both vegan and delicious-sounding, but I finally hit on this one, courtesy of Glue and Glitter.  It sounds yummy, and I had a lot of the supplies in the house, including some leftover pint canning jars. And  G and G even provides cute little recipe tags to print out! My girlfriend and I decided we would both give these to our coworkers.  We are going to include a can of coconut milk with the jar of soup mix, since that's an ingredient a lot of people don't have lying around in their pantries (if people don't have olive oil, onions, and garlic lying around, they are never going to cook anything and I give up).  Yesterday we replenished our supply of canning jars and lids, and got some cute little gift bags that are NOT Christmas themed.  We also made the spice mix, which included removing a huge pile of cardamom seeds from their pods and grinding them, because that's how we roll around here.  That was probably the most time consuming aspect of the whole project.

This morning I made up a prototype, with stuff I happened to have in the house:

Cute, right?  The layers of lentils and rice didn't come out as even as I would like.  I'll have to work on that.  Maybe I'll go ahead and cook this one for us -- we talked about doing a taste test.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Top of the world

We interrupt this food blog to notice how freaking awesome my life is:

1. First of all, it's 4:30 a.m. and I am wide awake, wearing sneakers, and about to go to the gym.  That's kind of a miracle in itself.

2. The clinical depression I've been dealing with for most of my adult life is no longer really an issue.  Yes, I take drugs every day and will probably have to forever, but they work.  I'm not in therapy any more. Every 3 months I go to my shrink, I tell him I'm fine, he renews my prescriptions at the same dose.  Most of the time, if you ask me how I am, the answer is "great," or "happy."  Every once in a while I have a shitty day for no apparent reason -- just like everyone else on the planet.

3. I have a job.  What's more, I'm good at my job, and the people I work with appreciate me.

4. I have a really nice place to live, and we can afford it.  There's not a whole lot of money left after we pay the rent, but we can afford it.

5. I'm about to get married.  Legally.  Got a license and everything.

6. My relationship with my girlfriend is . . . . mind boggling.  We are just about always on the same page.  I am always glad to see her.  We don't argue, and it's not because there is all kinds of repressed shit.  Every once in a while we get grumpy with each other, then we realize it's low blood sugar, eat lunch and we're fine again.

It occurs to me that this list really isn't out of place on a food blog, because all of the above is contingent on what and how I eat.  When I eat the way I'm supposed to, this is my life.  When I don't, it all goes to shit pretty much immediately.  I feel pretty stupid about how long it's taken me to get this, but I suppose I should set that aside and just focus on making sure it continues.

I feel really grateful.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The way I eat now

A few weeks ago I posted about plateaus and I talked a little about my recovery from my eating disorder, and my food plan.  I want to revisit that a little bit today.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Vegan Kheema!

In my last post I said I would be back with a picture of my textured soy protein creation.  Feast your eyes on this Indian yumminess:

That's a bed of cooked millet, topped with Mock Kheema adapted from The Indian Slow Cooker, and surrounded by Punjabi-Style Cabbage from Vegan Indian Cooking.  Anupy Singla, I love you.

I've talked about The Indian Slow Cooker before.  It's not a vegetarian book, but most of the recipes are vegan.  I love, love, love this book because the recipes produce huge quantities of yummy Indian food with very little effort.  The other recipes I've made have all been bean dishes, which I have especially liked because unlike traditionally prepared Indian legume dishes, they do not call for any ghee or oil.

The kheema recipe is different.  Traditional kheema is made with lamb, and apparently it's supposed to be greasy, so there is a full half cup of oil in it.  I never cook with anywhere close to that much oil, but I wanted my first try of the recipe to be at least semi-authentic, so I didn't cut back.  The recipe is so big, and the serving size is so tiny, that I figured out there is only about a teaspoon of oil in each serving.  I've never eaten kheema before, so I don't know how authentic this version is, but I do know it's delicious.

Anupy's recipe calls for packaged "meatless grounds" like the Boca crumbles, but I thought since so many spices were going into the recipe I could use plain textured soy protein.  I figured out that 8 oz of dry TSP, reconstituted, is about the equivalent of four bags of frozen crumbles, which is what the recipe calls for.  Here it is as I adapted it:

8 oz dry textured soy protein crumbles (about 5 cups), reconstituted with an equal volume of boiling water
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 red onion, peeled and chopped
1 4-inch piece of ginger, finely chopped in the food processor
10 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped in the food processor with the ginger
1 6-oz can tomato paste, mixed with 2 cups boiling water until smooth
4 green cardamom pods, lightly crushed
6 bay leaves
1/4 cup ground cumin
1/4 cup ground coriander
1/2 tsp cayenne
2 T smoked paprika (or regular paprika, if you don't have smoked)
1 T salt
2 tsp turmeric
2 tsp garam masala
2 cups frozen peas

Put everything except the peas into a 6 quart slow cooker and mix well.  Cook on high for 3 hours.  Add the peas and cook for another 10 minutes or so.

The result is rich and spicy (but not too hot) and wonderful.  I figured out that a serving is 1/3 cup -- that contains the same amount of protein as a cup of cooked beans, about 14 grams. This recipe makes a lot.  I may end up having to freeze some.

Here's what it looks like close up:

My girlfriend thought the texture was scarily similar to ground beef.  I don't actually remember what ground beef is like, so to me it is just yummy.  Put it on top of a bed of cooked grain and mix it in.  Om nom nom.

I think next time I will cut back on the oil somewhat -- although my girlfriend begged me not to cut back too much.  I might try 1/3 cup, certainly no less than 1/4 cup.

How do you say "bon appetit" in Hindi?

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Do the Math

I thought organic textured soy protein was expensive -- at my local health food store, it's $4.65 for an eight-ounce bag, as opposed to two dollars and change for a pound of the not-organic, Archer Daniels Midland (ew) product.  Then I did the math.  A meal-sized serving of organic TSP costs 14 cents.  That's if you're truly eating a meal-sized serving (about 1/3 cup reconstituted) as opposed to a ginormous American-style serving of protein, of course.  But with rice and a big salad, for dinner?  It totally works.

Later today I'll have pictures and a recipe.