12 February 2010

Green Smoothie Challenge: Blue-Green Aloe

A part of my experience with the Green Smoothie Challenge (www.vegetarianhealthcoach .net) involved reading "Green Smoothie Revolution" written by Victoria Boutenko, the pioneer of the Green Smoothie movement. This book was a quick and informative read about the green smoothie movement. It is full of smoothie recipes including some for dogs and cats.  I am sure that once my participation in the Six Week Smoothie Challenge is complete that I will consult this book for continued inspiration and recipes.

My biggest challenge to date in terms of taste has been the Blue-Green Aloe smoothie. I did not like this smoothie at all.  I drank this glass but not much more.  I believe a part of the challenge is to experience variety. And I certainly did not expect that all of the smoothies would satisfy my palate.

Nonetheless, I show the construction of this smoothie below (for the brave):

1 head of romaine lettuce

1 medium sweet apple

1/4 cup blueberries
1/4 lime, peeled
1 small aloe leaf (I used 1/4 cup of aloe juice)
2 cups coconut milk kefir

Green Smoothie Challenge: Tropical Green

At the end of my first week of the Green Smoothie Challenge (offered at www.vegetarianhealthcoach.net), I made another spinach based smoothie called Tropical Green. This smoothie was a mix of spinach (2 cups), pineapple (1 cup), a banana, and kefir (1 cup).  Since I love spinach and pineapple, I had really high expectations for this one.  It was good but surprisingly it has not proved to be my favorite.  I have discovered that the taste of these smoothies is highly subjective.  For example, I shared many of the smoothies with my co-workers. And there was no consensus about which smoothie is the BEST smoothie. Everyone had their own favorite based on their own personal tastes. So I think in some ways the smoothie challenge is really an experiment. Experimenting with different flavors and combinations to find what one likes and dislike. The pictures below show the evolution of my Tropical Green smoothie:


Green Smoothie Challenge: Meet Tahini

I was reading "Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal" by Tristam Stuart when I prepared my second smoothie. From that book, I learned the many ways in which over half of the food produced in the world is wasted even as a billion people are undernourished and starving. A lot of waste occurs in our homes when we purchase more vegetables and produce than we can consume before it spoils.  So I was pleased to receive instructions during the Green Smoothie Challenge (at www.vegetarianhealthcoach.net) on how to freeze fruits and vegetables in preparation for making smoothies.  It was welcome information as I made a personal resolution to waste less food.

My second smoothie introduced me to tahini. Tahini is a paste made of ground hulled sesame seeds.  Somehow in my thirty-eight years of living I managed not to encounter this great source of iron, and also calcium, magnesium, Vitamin B1 and Vitamin E.  Tahini also helps to reduce cholesterol, which is one of my main health concerns.  In addition to 2 tablespoons of tahini, the smoothie included 2 apples, 1 cup spinach, 2 bananas, 2 celery stalks and 6 ice cubes.

Common sense should have told me that my blender would not be able to mix those ingredients as shown on the right. I eventually put the apples into a food processor to do a pre-chop before generating a very smooth and tasty mix.

Green Smoothie Challenge: My First Smoothie

My first smoothie in the Green Smoothie Challenge (offered at www.vegetarianhealthcoach.net) was a lesson in the anatomy of a green smoothie.  I learned that each 32 oz smoothie typically provides 2 1/2 servings of vegetables and 2 to 2 1/2 servings of fruit depending on your preferences.   Most of the smoothie recipes used for this challenge also included a fermented dairy product such as yogurt and kefir which contains probiotics to aid digestive and immune health.  I chose to use cultured coconut milk kefir in my smoothies which is cholesterol free, lower in fat and dairy-free.  Each 32oz smoothie contained 235/265 calories, 5/6 grams of fat, 5/6 grams of protein, B12, Magnesium, Iron, Calcium, B vitamins, and Vitamins K, A, and C.

I was a little apprehensive about the taste of a green smoothie. Despite being a vegetarian, I was concerned that a vegetable smoothie just wouldn't taste good.  So I was delighted to know that my first green smoothie would contain one of my favorite greens, spinach.  I eat a lot of spinach. This is a good thing since it is rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.  For this smoothie, I blanched 2 cups of spinach.  I learned from this challenge that iron is better absorbed in spinach when it is cooked.

The original recipe for this first smoothie suggested 1 large grapefruit.  This concerned me since I do not enjoy grapefruits very often.  So I used oranges instead. By the way, I decided this year to break my "addiction" to Minute Maid orange juice by going one year without drinking store-bought OJ.  Consequently, I always have plenty of oranges at the house.  It made sense at the time to use some of those oranges.

My next ingredient was a whole banana. Bananas and I do not have a good relationship. The smell of the darn things have always given me a headache. And I am convinced (in spite of those that say its all in my head) that eating bananas make me sick. Nevertheless, I included a banana because I wanted to be as true to the recipe as possible.  And I thought maybe this challenge really would change my relationship with fruits and vegetables that I tend to avoid.

The final ingredient was 1 1/2 cups of coconut milk kefir. This was my first experience with kefir.  The challenge taught me about the difference between kefir and yogurt. Kefir contains 6 to 10 live cultures whereas yogurt contains 1 to 6.  Kefir is significantly thinner (drinkable) and more sour than yogurt.  Kefir is made from fermented grains (a gelatinous combination of bacteria and yeast) whereas yogurt is made by bacterial fermentation of mik. And most importantly, kefir probiotics stay in the intestinal tract much longer than yogurt.

With the addition of a few ice cubes, I was well on my way to joining the Green Smoothie Revolution. I was shocked at how good the smoothie tasted. Honestly, I did not taste the spinach very much. The predominant taste was that of a banana-orange smoothie.  Perhaps this was by design. The organizer probably wanted to introduce a smoothie that would not discourage participation but instead challenge preconceived notions that a green smoothie could not possibly taste good.  My confidence in the challenge and my ability to complete it were definitely increased by the success of this first smoothie.

Green Smoothie Challenge: Joining the Movement

I am always looking for ways to improve mind, body or spirit. So I readily accepted an invitation to participate in the Six Week Green Smoothie Challenge offered at www.vegetarianhealthcoach.net.  During the challenge, one drinks 32oz green smoothies consisting of fruit, greens, and fermented dairy products either (1) every day for three days in a week, (2) every other day or (3) every day.  The Green Smoothie Challenge was proposed as a practical and delicious way to add more fruit and green leafy vegetables to a diet. This blog documents my experience with the challenge of consuming greens, fruit, and kefir in increased quantities and in unexpected combinations.

For the challenge, I was encouraged to purchased seasonal ingredients and to support local farms. So my first task was to visit the Farmers Market in Downtown Dallas. The temperatures on that day were below freezing. But a few dedicated farmers  and conscious consumers met in the marketplace. I also shopped at Whole Foods for organic and naturally grown products that were not available at the Farmers Market.

I must admit my participation in the challenge was more out of curiosity than a desire to transform my relationship with vegetables, improve my digestion, lose weight or simply eat more fruits and vegetables.  Since my diet was already plant based, I (erroneously) thought that green smoothies did not have much to offer me.  I definitely underestimated the benefits. But more on that later.

27 December 2009

six bean soup for the soul

My favorite gift received during Christmas 2009 was this Six Bean Organic Soup Mix purchased from the Women's Bean Project.  It's a favorite because I love the story behind the gift. The tag reads as follows:

Lovingly handmade by


Thank You
for supporting the Women's Bean Project. This product
has been assembled by participants of the Women's Bean 
 Project.  This non-profit business employs women who 
have experienced chronic unemployment, poverty, or
difficult life situations. When you purchase from the
Women's Bean Project, you are helping to break the
cycle of poverty and build a stronger community.

It's my favorite gift because it nourishes my body and my soul. Below is a description of my preparation of the soup.

I was taught to cook by a Haitian woman that worked in my restaurant some years ago. So all of my meals begin with the preparation of a Haitian Epis (seasoning).  My basic recipe for an epis includes scallion, green pepper, jalapeno pepper, parsley, garlic and onion.  In the picture at the right, I am washing the scallions and parsley.  Below, green and jalapeno peppers are cut and added to the scallions and parsley.

The mortars and pestles in my kitchen are for decor only. I actually use a food processor to create a near puree.  Not all of this epis  is used for the soup. Since this is a base for most of my dishes, I typically make enough to be used for other dishes that will be cooked during the week.

The recipe on the soup mix instructs that the following is required: the mix, 7 cups of water, 1 clove-garlic minced, 1 can diced tomatoes and the spice packet that was included.  Vegetables of choice are optional. So I decided to include onions and celery in addition to the epis. In this picture, I used the processor to quickly chop the onion. Below I manually chopped the celery hearts.

Some nutritionists advocate eating foods from seven color groups daily in order to ensure that you are receiving the proper vitamins and nutrients. The colorful beans in this soup should cover half of the color groups.

The is one of the most expensive pots that I own. It came into my possession when I noticed a neighbor tossing a set of Le Creuset pots (Yes! Le Creuset!) into a dumpster. I asked her why she was tossing very good (and expensive) pots. Without shame, she answered, "I have new ones and don't need these anymore". I thought it was a thoughtless act and another example of wastefulness and lack of values.  I had someone lift me into the dumpster where I retrieved 3 pots, two lids, and a skillet. I have been cooking with these pots for five years.  (Okay, back to the soup)

Here I assemble the ingredients. It includes the beans, epis, celery, onion, and garlic. The six beans include adzuki beans, green split peas, yellow split peas, black beans, small red beans and navy beans.
The recipe called for 7 cups of water. I used an organic vegetable broth instead of water.  This photo shows the provided spice packet dumped on top.  The spices included salt, parsley, onion, garlic, paprika and cayenne pepper.
At this point the soup is brought to a boil, then covered and simmered for 3 hours.  In the meantime, I cooked brown rice and quinoa-quinoa cornbread. The picture below is the quinoa that I toasted for the cornbread.
The cornbread is also made from quinoa flour, cornmeal, all purpose flour, rice milk, apple cider vinegar, agave nectar and corn oil.

These are some of the scraps that will get added to the compost.

After cooking for 3 hours, I added roasted tomatoes to the soup and cooked for another 30 minutes.

The result was a delicious and hearty meal.  Many thanks to Russ for the gift and the experience.

18 December 2009

san francisco: a place to be

I recently spent a week in San Francisco (SF). When asked why, I usually gave one of the following answers: "I want to see the Pacific Ocean", "I just need to leave Texas for a minute", or "I have a month off from work - so why not".

During the flight, I sat next to a very nice Vietnamese man whose first statement to me was "This plane looks old!!!" So of course I found my religion (again) and said a quick prayer for a safe trip.

On the way to my hotel, I shared my SuperShuttle with an Ethiopian (or maybe Eritrean - never can tell them apart) driver, an older couple from Boise, Idaho, a local SF woman from the Haight area, and an Asian man. I asked the couple whether Boise should be my next vacation destination. Maybe I was being facetious but they were being serious(ly nice). They assured me that there is alot to do in Boise but they seemed to struggle when pressed for details. The local SF woman (returning from a business trip to Mexico) suggested that I go to Twin Peaks. I then explained to her that in Dallas, Twin Peaks is the name of a restaurant (think Hooters). I never spoke to the Asian man. He was the first to depart.

I stayed in a hotel located a block from Union Square in downtown.  The hotel seemed to be operated by a family of Germans (BTW, I think most of the people in SF are from somewhere other than SF).  It was a budget hotel (so I got what I paid for) but in my mind/spirit it was an exquisite room with a lovely view. The photo below shows the actual view (so I rarely opened the curtains).

Union Square was an excellent location from which to stage my exploration of the city. I found "union" to be an appropriate name. The area (with its upscale stores and its proximity to the Tenderloin district) seemed to "unite" wealthy socialites, drug addicts, homeless schizophrenics, social misfits and me. Based on my brief view, SF seems to be an interesting oil-and-water mixture of people, cultures, class. The city has even managed to preserve pockets of the natural world (Golden Gate park, areas of the Presidio, Muir woods) within a compact urban setting.

On my first day, I walked to the visitor information center to obtain my CityPass (a must have just for the 7 day MUNI & Cable Car passport). CityPass includs tickets for various attractions.  I eventually used the pass for the SF Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), de Young Museum, California Academy of Sciences, Aquarium of the Bay, and a Blue & Gold Fleet Bay cruise.

I finished my first day in SF with a visit to the Museum of the African Diaspora (MOAD).  MOAD currently has the art of Richard Mayhew on display.  I also viewed the following permanent exhibitions:

In the freedom theater, I watched a short film on Toussaint L'ouverture. I think I will add a biography of Toussaint L'ouverture to my reading list. I want to know more about this "black napolean" and the Haitian revolution.

On the second day, my cousin Al was gracious enough to give me a tour and history (he is a native of SF) of most of the city. We hit most of the well known areas including Lombard street (the crookest street), Twin Peaks (unfortunately it was too hazy to see the city), Ocean Beach (Cliff House & Sutro Baths), Chinatown, the Presidio (eucalyptus trees perfumed the air), Golden Gate Park (which still has bison), Fisherman Wharf and more.  It was on this day that I accomplished one of my primary goals, to see the Pacific Ocean.

I was surprised to find bison within the city limits of SF. Since bison were almost hunted to extinction, I suppose I should be surprised to find them anywhere. This photo was taken in Golden Gate Park. They are kept in an enclosure.

I also took this picture in Golden Gate park of a stream that feeds a waterfall. The water is flowing from the right side of the photo to the left side. Doesn't the water look like its flowing uphill? The next photo is the waterfall. This park has several water falls. I understand why the park has so many joggers. I imagine that the sound of running water can be very serene especially when there are not alot of cars in the park.

One of the highlights of my trip was the concert (Queen Ifrica and Tony Rebel) that I attended at the Rock-It Room in the Inner Richmond area. Queen Ifrica is one of my favorite reggae artists. I do not have the words to describe how significant this event was for me. I was front and center at this concert. I had fun dancing, singing and flirting with the drummer (Randy P.) for most of the night.  I even considered renting a car and driving to Santa Cruz to see the concert again.

Instead, on the next day, I went to the de Young Museum to see the exhibition, Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs. I missed the King Tut exhibition when it was in Dallas (due to procrastination).  I spent a couple of hours viewing and reading about the artifacts of this ancient civilization. I purchased too many postcards with images of various objects from the exhibit. So expect to receive something in the mail very soon. :-)

It was also on this day, that I was referred to a vegan Chinese restaurant within walking distance of my hotel!!!!!!! (Why must I leave North Texas to find such goodness?)  In addition to the vegan food, they serve the best lemonade that I have ever (yes, ever) had in my life. It was fresh (no syrup) and I suspect made with agave nectar.

I received several suggestions from my vegetarian friends of places to eat in SF. So on my fourth day, I took two buses (in the rain) to get to Herbivore. But it was worth it. Below are the corn cakes with black beans, house potatoes, and salsa that I ordered.  Herbivore also played R&B  music from the 60s &70s!!!!  I was singing and eating.  I also ordered blueberry corn bread to go.

After this great breakfast, I visited the California Academy of Sciences. This place contained an aquarium, a planetarium, a natural history museum, and a 4-story rainforest all in one building!  This place really needs a full day to be fully explored and appreciated. I only had the energy for a few hours (since I did not go to bed until after 4am).  I loved the fact that it entertained and excited kids with science. I regretted that I was one of the few people in the building with brown skin. Perhaps the day I attended was just an anomaly.  The only place that I took a picture at the Academy was in the aquarium. I have a "thing" for jellyfish.

On that same day, I also did a 45 minute walking tour of the Japanese Tea Garden at Golden Gate Park.  There is a SF non-profit organization that has over 300 volunteer tour guides. The organization has regularly scheduled tours of various SF landmarks, neighborhoods, historic sites, etc.  These are some of my favorite photos taken in the garden. I will post more on Facebook.

The next day I visited Muir Woods. Fortunately, we arrived before many of the other tourists. I was able to walk a significant portion of the woods in silence. For a brief moment, I did not hear any man-made sounds. I experienced a quietness that can never be found in urban areas.


According to Wikipedia, the average age of the redwoods in Muir Woods are between 500 and 800 years old with the oldest being at least 1,200 years old.  Below is an example of one of the many "green" (my description) trees in the woods.  These moss and fern covered trees seemed to emit light.

After leaving Muir Woods, we stopped briefly in Sausalito and then at the Golden Gate bridge. Below are just a couple of photos taken at the bridge.

After spending the morning at the Muir Woods National Monument, I headed to the SF Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA).  I took the following photo on the 5th floor (Sculptures). The piece (Princess of the Posse by Chris Ofili) is mounted on two lumps of elephant dung. And dung is incorporated in the center of the painting (in her necklace). He has used this technique in other works too. Unfortunately, the richness/depth of the colors and the detail of the piece do not seem to be captured in my photograph.  But this was my favorite find on the 5th floor.

I think I spent the most time on the 4th floor in the Media Art gallery viewing Candice Breitz's "Working Class Hero (A Portrait of John Lennon)" where twenty-five people (on individual screens) are synchronized singing every song from Lennon's first solo album. I also viewed Breitz's "Mother" which is a collection of edited film performances by Faye Dunaway, Diane Keaton, Shirley MacLaine, Julia Roberts, Susan Sarandon, and Meryl Streep designed to reveal a composite of the Hollywood cliché of the difficult mother.  It was very interesting and yet difficult to describe.  Snippets/lines from each film are looped, edited, and/or synchronized to tell a story of motherhood. Each actress appears on a separate screen. And only the actress can be seen or heard.  All other elements in the original movie scene are removed. In some parts, all actresses were used. In other parts only a subset of the actresses were used.  My favorite floor of the SFMOMA was the 3rd floor (photography) especially since the 2nd floor was closed on my visit. Unfortunately, I was not allowed to take any photographs on the 3rd floor.

On the sixth day, I spent the morning in the tourist trap (aka Fisherman's Wharf/Pier 39).  Since I had tickets (via the CityPass), I took the Blue&Gold Bay Cruise.  The cruise does go under the Golden Gate Bridge and circle Alcatraz.  I was somewhat bored and probably would not do it again.  After the cruise, I walked the boardwalk at Pier 39 before going to SF's other aquarium,  Aquarium of the Bay. This aquarium is not very impressive. It has underwater tunnels for viewing fish and sharks.  The only highlights were the jellyfish. Did I mention that I have a "thing" for jellyfish?

I spent the rest of the day with family. My cousins, Al and Shelia, treated me to lunch and good conversation at Spinnakers in Sausalito.  Afterwards we toured even more of SF.

My final day in SF was spent walking the city.  I returned to Chinatown (on foot). Getting to Chinatown on foot involved walking up some very steep streets. I must admit that I was ready for a breather when I reached the Chinatown gate.  So I stopped to have a typical American breakfast at a French Cafe in Chinatown. 

One of my missions in Chinatown was to purchase tea for a friend. This is a photo of the tea shop where I sampled ginger oolong tea and loaded up on green, black and spice tea.

After shopping in Chinatown, I headed back to Powell and Market street to ride the Cable Car (for the first time).  Since I needed to go to Union Street, I rode the historic cable car (Powell/Hyde line) from Powell/Market to Hyde/Union.  This was an experience that I do not need to have again. It was far too crowded for comfort. But at least I can say "Been There, Done That". I headed off to a jewelry store that a friend told me about. There I met a jewelry artist named CaraMia.  Her store is amazing. Check out the pieces that I purchased.

Overall, SF made for some nice downtime. And it is definitely a place to be.