Thursday, April 29, 2010

Mad Cowes

I'm still on Phillip Island, 2 hours south east of Melbourne, Australia.

And after a week's worth of boiled egg on toast with Vegemite for breakfast, this morning I opted for something different: brunch out at Mad Cowes.

A clever play on words, Mad Cowes has nothing to do with the disease first found in infected British cows, rather, it's a wonderful little cafe on the esplanade of Cowes, the main town on the island.

When I walked into Mad Cowes, the first thing I noticed written on the cafe's chalk board was "indulge and enjoy."

I don't think Australians need any prompting; as I mentioned last week, judging by the expanding girths of my compatriots, over-indulging appears to be the new national pastime.

It's not my imagination either; Australia's Department of Health and Aging cites these very concerning figures: 42% of men and 30% of women are overweight and 25% of men and 24% of women are classified as obese.

And this, despite the fact that Melbourne has been named best sporting city in the world! But what this title actually means is that Melbourne plays host to great sporting events -- it does not mean that Melbournians are busily playing lots of sport and burning off their excess weight.

With this in mind, I ran my eye down the menu and Mad Cowes and saw the kind of fare that I'd find on breakfast / brunch menus in Boulder or any other city in the US.

There was French toast, egg and bacon sandwich, eggs Florentine and Benedict, granola with fruit and yogurt, plain fruit with yogurt, and pancakes (above).

I ordered the pancakes, which were actually listed as "Ricotta Hotcakes w/seasonal fruit & pure Canadian maple syrup, yogurt or ice-cream." Ice cream was an option with a number of the other breakfast items.

Call me crazy, but ice-cream for breakfast strikes me as an unnecessary caloric indulgence.

When I asked the (slim) proprietor questions about the food, he said they get a lot of Canadian and American tourists at Mad Cowes, hence the selection of dishes on the menu, the large servings, and of course the maple syrup.

I'm not sure Australians can use the excuse that their fat because of an imported American diet; blaming, and allocating responsibility elsewhere, is not a solution.

While on the island I don't have a car and there's no public transport. So every day the distance I walk totals around 4 miles. I considered my brunch of pancakes with bacon and syrup and yogurt this morning a treat, but not an indulgence because I'm exercising.

If I'd had the seasonal fruit with the pancakes, instead of swapping it out for bacon, obviously I would have consumed less calories and fat, but today I anticipated walking further than usual and so I opted for more energy.

It's a simple equation that overweight Australians (and Americans) have apparently forgotten: eating more calories than energy expended will cause weight gain.

If you have a big energy-expenditure day on your schedule, and you fancy a hearty breakfast like the one I had Mad Cowes, you might like to try making these Seed and Nut Waffles, the recipe for which I posted almost a year ago.

I like them as an alternative because of the option of using a mix of high-protein flours, seeds and nuts in the waffles instead of the processed white flour in the pancakes I had.

Instead of spoon of yogurt on your waffle, you could use ricotta drizzled with honey, maple syrup or agave, and topped with fresh fruit, perhaps a few extra nuts, this version of a big breakfast is high protein but low in saturated fat.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Organic Farm Stays in Australia

Yesterday I mentioned the tiny farm isle of Churchill Island where the year-round once-monthly farmer's market is held.

Today I'm featuring the third island in south east Australia's Western Port Bay: French Island.

Twice the landmass size of Phillip Island, where I've been for the past 10 days, French Island has comparatively few inhabitants bar a sizable koala population.

In fact, there are only 60 full-time inhabitants on the island who are outnumbered by a couple of thousand (from recollection) very cute and sleepy koala bears.

There was one part time celebrity resident, the pop-starlet, Kylie Minogue, whose secluded property was her getaway pad, until she sold it!

Apparently Kylie's farmlet had a full organic vegetable and fruit garden and plenty of koalas in the surrounding trees.

There's another more public organic farm on French Island, McLeod Eco Farm.

Formerly a mid-security jail and farm that operated until the 1970's, it was transformed into an eco farm that began offering luxury-to-budget farm-stay accommodation in the former jail compound (pic above) about 10 years ago.

The 220 hectare property is set in the middle of the island's National Park. There are 120 free-range hens (farm-stay visitors are welcome to collect their eggs) and there is 1.5 acres of organic vegetable garden where more than 1500 varieties of fruit and vegetables are grown.

The produce grown here is used in all the meals available to visitors in the farm's restaurant.

When I visited a number of years ago, there were lots of twenty-something travelers from around the world staying in the farm's budget-level accommodation--sensitively renovated jail cells--and tending the garden when not exploring the rest of the island.

Like WWOOF, Willing Workers on Organic Farms, McLeod's Eco Farm gives kids (and adults) from urban environments the chance to get their hands in the dirt and learn directly how to tend a garden from farm to table.

In Australia, WWOOF is a form of cultural exchange where wwoofers live and work on the host family's farm and learn about the skills of organic farming and the area they're visiting.

McLeod's Eco Farm is slightly different in that even the budget accommodation is not free, though at around $25 a night for a cell, it's still very affordable, and in conjunction with the hands-on farm experience, it really is a great way to explore rustic and rural island, the 234 bird species, 100 species of orchid, the rare, long-nosed potaroo, and of course the koalas.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Viva Las Veggies

On my walkabouts around the town of Cowes on Phillip Island yesterday, I noticed a cookware store advertising cooking classes.

I popped in to the store to check the lineup of classes and noted that their popular re-run is Vegetarian Meals for Meat Lovers.

I'd already posted my Meatless Monday essay, but if I were to add a one line addendum it might read thus: Australians are slowly embracing the idea that a meal can be complete without meat.

I've also been back into the island supermarket (Coles) several times and I don't believe I've seen one person using those cloth bags I photographed to carry out their groceries.

I have seen lots of plastic bags being used (large paper bags aren't available), which makes me think no one cares about the small tax applied to plastic bag usage. And obviously they haven't been banned from stores on Phillip Island as they have elsewhere in Australia.

After my online research revealed that the bright orange yolks in my breakfast eggs are the result of synthetic caratanoids, I wandered into the local, independently-owned health food store to inquire about their eggs.

There, I was able to buy eggs from free-ranging hens that had not been fed food enhanced with any agent that would their yolks.

This morning I boiled one of the eggs, and chopping it up on my Vegemite-coated rice cake sure enough, the yolk was normal mellow yellow.

While at the health food store, I asked the proprietor about the availability of organic vegetables on Phillip Island. Apparently Coles periodically carries them, though I haven't seen any since my arrival a week ago.

Then out-of-the-blue a bloke behind me said, "If you're looking for good organics, try Viva Las Veggies." Loving that clever name, I couldn't resist wanting to know more.

As it turns out, one of Phillip Island's farmers grows organic veggies and then delivers orders to locals, on this 20 by 5-mile wide island, who find out about his great service word of mouth.

It seems to me a farmer's market is waiting to happen in this rural spot, though having said that, there is an open-air market on one of two other nearby islands in Western Port Bay.

Accessible by bridge from the north-east end of Phillip Island, Churchill Island plays host to a year-round farmer's market on the fourth Saturday of each month.

I remember a fantastic selection local cheeses, fresh flowers, condiments, pastries and regional organic fruits and veggies there a number of years ago. I'm guessing Mr. Viva Las Veggies sells his cornucopia of organics there now too.

I doubt that the chunky vegetable, nut and cheese dips I featured last week are organic; well they're not labeled as such. Nevertheless, I bought another flavor at Coles, this time Red Capsicum with Feta and Cashews.

That's it in the pic to left (and the one next to it is Beetroot).

Using the recipe I posted last Thursday, swap out the baby spinach leaves for red bell pepper (sometimes referred to as red capsicum in Australia) and swap out the Parmesan for feta.

You will need to either grill or blanch the bell pepper and then peel off the outer fibrous membrane before coarsely chopping the softened flesh and mixing it with the other ingredients.

As you can see in the pic above, I topped another fish meal with the tasty dip.

Steamed Baba and Bok Choy with Red Pepper Dip
Note: Basa is a freshwater farmed, mild-tasting tropical fish, like the mild white fish I was posting about a couple of weeks ago.
1) Wash and chop a baby bok choy and a handful of any other colorful veggies you have in your fridge.
2) Either put the veggies in a steamer or into a pot with a small amount of water.
3) Place a fillet of mild-tasting fish over the veggies (you might like to marinade the fish for an hour of so first in canola oil, lime juice or white white, a pinch of chili, salt and pepper).
4) Squeeze the juice of half a lemon or live over the contents of the pot or steamer and put the lid in place.
5) Turn heat to high and once the water is boiling, turn heat to low and let the fish and veggies stead for about 5-7 mins.

To Serve: Spoon vegetables onto a plate, gently placing the fish atop. Lay sliced pieces of avocado over the fish; add a spoonful of the red pepper dip over the avocado. If you have black olives or capers on hand, you might like to top the lot with one these salty additions. Squeeze the remaining half of the lemon or lime over the meal.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Meatless Monday in Oz

The Meatless Monday movement is going global.

Along with the U.S., 7 other countries are participating in the campaign that promotes going without meat the first day of each week, Monday.

Those countries are Britain, Taiwan, Holland, Brazil, Finland, Canada, and Australia, which is where I am this week and next.

As I mentioned in my previous post, Australians are big meat-eaters. For the average Aussie, eliminating meat from their diet, even one day a week, would require an enormous shift in their perception of what constitutes a complete meal.

The main meal of the day is typically in the evening here and generally the focus of that meal is good quality, locally grown, pasture-raised (versus factory farmed), highly flavorful meat.

I asked about, and no one I spoke with on Phillip Island had heard of Meatless Monday, certainly not the blokes at the small, specialty butcher, where I've made several purchases, nor members of my family, of all whom enjoy a varied diet, but one that does include, on most days, meat.

However, it was only a couple of months ago that I became familiar with Meatless Monday, despite having written often about the budgetary and health benefits of minimal-meat meals on this blog.

So it could be that Meatless Monday Australia has yet to catch on. According to their website, it appears the campaign only began in earnest in Australia in December, 2009.

Four months isn't enough time for an obvious change to have occurred, particularly one intended to encourage Australians, who strongly identify with their cattle- and lamb-farming heritage, to consider doing away with the food that this country's economy was built on, even for one day a week.

Sounds like heavy stuff, but to many Australians, meat, especially beef and lamb, is very much part of our cultural identity and quiche is not.

Yet out and about browsing the menus of the local Phillip Island cafes (there are many, since this is a popular tourist and weekend getaway spot), quiche is, in fact, a staple.

You can get big fluffy pieces of egg-y quiche with a couple of sides of salad for around $8 (pic left). Not bad for a substantial and nutritious meatless meal.

Of course, there's often bacon in the quiche.

That said, vegetarian quiche is not completely unheard of after all, even though meat is big, Australians aren't descendants of club-wielding, mammoth-binging Neanderthals -- well, my family isn't, as far as I know.

The eggs that go in those light fluffy quiches are unbelievably rich in color. As you can see in the pic to left, the yolks verge on bright orange.

With minimal research, I discovered that because Australians like their eggs with dark yolks, commercial egg producers add a synthetic carotenoid to enhance the color of egg yolks.

Apparently there is currently a food-labeling review underway in Australia that would require all egg producers to clearly identify on their labels whether they use feed additives to enhance the color of their egg yolks.

As far as I was aware, the box of "free range eggs," from which the above boiled egg originated, did not contain labeling indicating food additives had been feed to the laying hens.

To start my Meatless Monday, I had a simple breakfast, one that's is not uncommon in Australia: egg on buttered toast with Vegemite. Though I didn't have toast, so as you can see in the pic at top, I had a rice cracker instead.

Because Vegemite is savory, salty spread, it's great on buttered crackers or toast and to have with eggs. Certainly, if you're into healthy colorful food, as I am, the combination of dark brown under white and bright orange hard-boiled egg is a spectacular way to begin the day!

In all seriousness, Australians do enjoy Vegemite and toast for breakfast, and with an egg or two on the side it's a sugar-free breakfast that's high in B vitamins (Vegemite) and rich in Omega 3's (the eggs).

The cafe where I had the quiche and salad, is right by father's nursing home, where I'll be visiting again around lunchtime today. Rather than have quiche, and thus more eggs for lunch, I noticed on the cafe menu a vegetarian Mediterranean Plate. I think I'll make that my second meal on this Meatless Monday.

Dinner will be tricky.

I'm sharing it with my sister's family this evening, and perhaps you saw the 3-lamb cutlet meal she cooked the other day. So my guess is when I mention Meatless Monday, she'll look harried and propose that if I don't want lamb chops (again), then bad luck, because that's what we're having!

Oh well, when in Rome ...

Friday, April 23, 2010

Feeding Your Family on Less in Australia

Maybe you're familiar with
Curtis Stone, the gorgeous Aussie celebrity chef who stars in his own US-based TV show,Take Home Chef.

The show title is a clever double entendre because once you've seen charismatic Curtis on TV doing his thing, most women, if they had half a chance, would want to take him home!

However, Take Home Chef is totally above board with a premise that looks something like this: Curtis goes into a supermarket and approaches an unsuspecting shopper suggesting that he help them pick out groceries for a fabulous meal, which he also offers to cook for them in their kitchen.

So on reality TV, he does actually go home with the shopper, who is generally thrilled at the opportunity to take Curtis home and have him cook up a sumptuous meal for them and or their family.

Within a couple of days of arriving on Phillip Island, Australia, I saw promotional posters (pic above) at the local Coles supermarket branded with Curtis's photo. It appears he is now also the spokesperson for a Coles campaign titled "feed your family for under $10."

Coles is not the kind of supermarket I would normally shop at. It's everywhere in Australia, and over the years it has eased out a lot of small, family-owned markets and green grocers. In other words, they're a corporate stronghold with questionable business ethics.

Additionally, though produce is labeled "Australian Grown," at the Phillip Island Coles, there are no "organic" labels on the fresh fruits and vegetables.

If I had my druthers, I wouldn't shop at Coles, I'd seek out a family-owned specialty grocer with "organic" labeling and fair prices (they do still exist in Australia, I hope!), but not on this tiny island.

Anyway, on the way out of Coles, I picked up the small recipe booklet, brandishing a pic of Curtis holding a $10 note, and found that it contained 7 meal ideas for a family of four, and the accompanying recipes.

And what I noticed flipping through the booklet, is pictures of prepared meals lacking color (due to minimal vegetables), but with an emphasis on meat and carbs:
  • Chicken drumsticks with parsley and lemon
  • Chicken fried rice
  • Fettuccine bolognese
  • Moroccan beef skewers on a bed of couscous
  • Pork curry with pineapple and snow peas with rice
  • Beef ragu with rigatoni
  • Chinese egg noodles with broccoli and carrot
As you'll note, 6 out of the 7 meals contain meat, and 6 out of the 7 meals is either pasta or rice- based, but none of the meals feature lots of plump, colorful, fresh veggies.

I'm not surprised. You see, Australians are big meat-eaters. Like Argentina, this country was built on the back bone of cattle and sheep farmers. We're "ranchers" at heart and we're very proud of our beef and lamb, which due to its superb flavor, is exported all over the world.

Understandingly, small specialty butchers are still thriving despite corporations like Coles. The one in the pic to the left is right opposite Coles, in fact.

I bought my Tasmanian Atlantic Salmon there, plus some chicken and my sister bought lamb chops for a family meal (below), which as you can see is heavy on the meat!

Despite that I'm not a big meat-eater these days (as you will note from the posts on this blog), I enjoyed every mouthful of that delicious, 3-lamb cutlet meal.

Grazed on lush green open pastures, the flavor of locally-grown lamb is unbeatable.

In this blog, I stress often the budgetary and health benefits of minimal-meat meals and going one day a week completely meat free (Meatless Monday).

Whereas Curtis for Coles is proposing Australians can eat-for-less with meat featuring in 6 out of 7 main meals, and with vegetables barely present in those meals.

Personally, I question the health benefits of Coles "feed your family for under $10" campaign.

On Monday, I'll explore the Meatless Monday campaign in Australia. I'm interested to see if it's catching on or if Australians are resistant to cutting back on their meat consumption.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Earth Day Down Under

I'm on a small island a couple hours SE of Melbourne, Australia, a beautiful spot that feels very removed from the rest of the world.

Perhaps the position of Phillip Island at the bottom of the globe (directly south and you reach Tasmania, then Antarctica) is the reason it's not obvious that it's earth day today -- either that or the locals don't give it credence.

However, when I picked up some groceries in the local market the other day I snapped a pic of some cloth carry bags (above) in the entryway.

The print on the bag says, "Bringing your own bag is a small step to help the planet." Australia, like a number of other countries, either tax usage of plastic carry bags or have banned them altogether.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post about the overuse of plastic produce bags (and plastic carry bags). There were a couple of reader responses to that post worth including here:

"Maybe we should buy more permanent bags for our produce, and re-use those bags elsewhere."

I thought Michael's idea was a good one and then a couple days later Dawn suggested this:

"I have several large organic cotton bags I use for produce. Some are mesh and some are woven. You can get woven and cotton ones at Greater Goods.

My response to Dawn's suggestion and link: "Thanks Dawn, I think BYO linen/mesh/woven bags will (need to) be the wave of the future for bagging loose, fresh produce."

Honor Earth Day and consider investing in a number of cloth bags and use them to collect loose produce at the grocery store, farmer's market or wherever you shop for your fruit and veggies.

In addition to noting the cloth bag at the market on the island, I collected my loose mix of bitter salad greens in a "mushroom bag," a very thin paper bag that keeps mushies from deteriorating.

Rather than reach for a plastic bag to contain my greens, I used the paper mushroom bag because it seemed the lesser of the two evils: plastic or paper.

The loose mix of salad greens here is comparable in price to what I'm used to paying at Whole Foods in Boulder (around $6 a pound), though there was no indication that the mix was organic.

There was quite a bit more radicchio in the mix too, which I plucked out in order to create a bed of purple bitters as the basis of my leftover meal (pic below).

As I mentioned yesterday, I intended making a meal using a leftover 3 oz piece of seared salmon cooked the night before.

The salmon is Tasmanian Atlantic salmon, though the bloke behind the counter at the specialty butcher on the island where I bought the salmon didn't know much about it other than he thought it was wild caught versus farm raised. (The website indicates that Tasmanian Atlantic salmon is farm-raised.)

The price was much the same as what I'm used to paying for Coho salmon, though I have to say the flavor of Tasmanian Atlantic salmon is superior. In fact, I have no problem believing the accolade that it "ranks among the best salmon in the world."

To have atop the salmon, I bought a Chunky Dip of baby spinach, cashew nut and Parmesan.

Containers of vegetable dips flavored, nuts, spices, and cheese are now as ubiquitous as Vegemite and Tim Tams in the food markets here.

The list of ingredients looked pretty straightforward: spinach, cashew nuts, Parmesan, and Canola oil. And as the brand suggests, it is chunky, chunkier than say pesto, an oil, nut and cheese-based sauce for pasta.

And as you can see from the pic below, it's thick. I spooned the Chunky Dip onto the salmon and it just sat there without slipping off.

And the ingredient I added to give zest to the dip was chopped lemon -- peel and flesh. Without the lemon, the dip was a tad rich by virtue of the canola oil, cashew nuts and cheese.

Spinach, Nut and Lemon Dip
If you'd like to try making your own dip, in a bowl combine the following:
1) Half a bunch of washed and drained baby spinach.
2) Some coarsely chopped cashews.
3) Several slices of lemon chopped into chunks and a squirt of juice too.
4) Light olive or canola oil to bind the ingredients.
5) Salt, pepper, a pinch of chili and a splash of white or rice wine vinegar to taste.
6) And enough finely grated Parmesan to thicken the dip.

Tasmanian Atlantic Salmon Salad
1) As you can see, I assembled my meal by lining the plate with radicchio leaves from my bag of mixed greens.
2) Then I added a half a grated granny smith apple to radicchio and sprinkled it with dried cranberries.
3) The leftover piece of salmon went next and a spoonful of the spinach, nut, lemon and Parmesan dip topped the lot.
4) I cut a thick slice of avocado into pieces and spread it about the plate and then drizzled the juice from the remaining chunk of lemon over the meal.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Vietnamese-Australian Baklava

Earlier this week I arrived in Australia where I'll be for about 16 days.

My elderly father is slipping away and my sisters and I have gathered to say goodbye to our dear old dad who is in a nursing home on Phillip Island.

I've referred to Phillip Island in this blog. It's where my family spent the summers and where my parents subsequently retired. Nestled in Western Port Bay, it's about 75 miles south east of Melbourne.

It's a small island, maybe 20 miles long and 5 wide, with a population of about 7000 permanent residents. However, over the summer the influx of vacationers swells the population to around 40,000.

Though Phillip Island is, for the majority of the year, small-town rural Australia (60% of the island is farmland devoted to grazing sheep and cattle), it is nevertheless, a microcosm of my home country.

For the next couple of weeks, I'll be exploring and blogging about the food culture here since it typifies the rest of the country and it will help keep my mind occupied when I'm not sitting at my father's bedside.

Additionally, because I anticipate doing quite a bit of (emotional) eating--and like any foodie, whether it's emotional eating, or a simple or gourmet meal, I like my food to be interesting, flavorful, colorful, healthy and always scrumptious--I thought it'd be fun to share what I am buying, cooking, and eating.

The day after I arrived, I picked up some basics at the supermarket, which included two must haves: Vegemite and Tim Tams.

Vegemite, if you haven't heard of it, is a black, tar-like yeast spread which most Australians grow up eating on sliced bread with butter. It's comfort food to us in the same way that bread spread with peanut butter and jelly is comfort food to most Americans.

I can get it in the U.S., but a big bottle here is the same price as a small bottle in Boulder CO., so I bought a big bottle (I'll take whatever is leftover back to Boulder with me).

I can also buy Tim Tams in Boulder, but again, they're half the price here. Like Vegemite, Tim Tams are comfort food. Rich and divinely delicious, this ubiquitous Australian biscuit is two chocolate wafers sandwiched together with chocolate cream and then dipped in more chocolate.

There's a fat attach in every Tim Tam: a 95 calorie biscuit (cookie) contains almost 5 g of total fat. Last night I had two and half cookies after dinner. The remaining half has teeth marks around both ends. What can I say; it was a very emotional day.

This morning I walked the main street of the township of Cowes (the main town on the island) and noticed three bakeries within one block.

Now this is normal since Australians love fresh baked bread, cakes, tarts, cookies --both country style and gourmet-European style-- the kind of caloric and carb-heavy foods I rarely reference on this blog, except within the context of posts on "foods to eat sparingly."

Judging by the expanding girth of the average Australian (and the fact that there are 3 thriving bakeries in one block), baked treats are apparently being consumed regularly here, rather than sparingly.

This morning, I was just another average Australian, which means I popped into the bakery my mother used to frequent--one that is owned and operated by a Vietnamese-Australian family-- and purchased a piece of (Greek) baklava and a (French) croissant for around $5.

That's the baklava above, well on the way to being consumed, by me, at morning tea time while I was working at my laptop.

July of last year, I wrote about hosting a Greek, South African exchange student when I was a teenager. Helen brought with her a classical Greek cookbook and she taught my mother and me how to make a number of traditional dishes, including baklava.

The Vietnamese bakers must have learned how to make their baklava from a Greek too because their version is excellent. Full of nuts with a hint of cinnamon, and just enough honey syrup to moisten the layers, it was worth the mid-morning indulgence.

It's almost lunchtime now, and I'm making myself leftovers from last night's dinner which was pan-seared Australian salmon and salad. (Chances are I'll be finishing off the half-eaten Tim Tam for dessert.)

I'll post that meal tomorrow, because I want to share how I improvised and added a key ingredient to a delicious baby spinach, cashew nut and Parmesan cheese dip that I bought to go with my fish dinner.

One thing I discovered at the supermarket is that the range of gourmet, but affordable, fresh vegetable and nut dips-cum-sauces is fantastic here -- so good, they're worth recreating at home!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Sole with Yams, Zucchini and Capers

This week on Market to Mouth the theme has been simple meal ideas for a spring, liver detox.

Starting with Monday's raw muesli and veggie juices, followed by Tuesday's baked sole with spinach, and then
yesterday, I had an enormous bowl of raw salad at Mad Greens.

I haven't just been writing about meals for detoxing the liver, this week I've been walking my talk in the effort to do my own detox.

A couple of weeks ago a rash appeared on my torso, and as I mentioned on Monday, my metabolism is in need of a re-boot!

The skin is a great indicator of the state of the liver: rashes, dermatitis, acne and so on are mainly linked with liver function or rather a sluggish liver.

Once the liver does it's job, eliminating toxins and purifying the blood, then ailments like skin conditions begin to clear. I'm beginning to notice a difference already; 4 days into my detox diet, my skin isn't as inflamed.

In addition to modifying my diet (minimal saturated fat, no sweets, more raw veggies and fruit, no alcohol but lots of filtered water), I'm also supplementing with Milk Thistle extract since it supports liver function and it cleanses the blood.

Now, I'll be the first to admit that any kind of diet is not easy. I love to cook, and eat what I cook, so making a conscious choice to not cook and eat certain foods, and to also avoid sweets (very difficult for me since I love sweets) is a real challenge.

However, I'd rather feel better, and have healthy-looking skin, than ignore the symptoms and eat on regardless, all the while knowing that what I'm putting in my mouth is contributing to the way I look and feel.

And like most people, I put on a few pounds over the winter, which tend to drop off on a detox diet.

Loose a few pounds, jump-start your metabolism (so you have more energy) and improve the look of your skin -- if that's the result, then why not muster up the discipline to stick with a 'clean' diet for a couple of weeks!

Making the most of the remaining piece of frozen sole (featured in Tuesday's post), I've come up with another light and simple fish meal. Since fish is absent saturated fat, it's a great protein source while on a detox diet.

White fish, such as flounder, cod, sole, tilapia, trout etc. are low in omega oils, but while doing the detox diet, it's not such a bad thing to steer clear of oilier fish like salmon, and shellfish, which though low in omega oils are high in cholesterol.

Sole with Sweet Potato, Zucchini and Capers
1) Into an oven-proof skillet, place half a thinly sliced yam (or regular potato if you don't have an orange yam on hand).
2) Slice a zucchini and place it over the potato.
3) Either place a whole fillet of your choice of white fish over the vegetables, or slice the fillet into pieces and dot those pieces atop the vegetables (as in the pic above).
4) Dot the fish with chopped green onion and a spoonful of capers, sprinkling some of the caper juice over the fish and veggies.
5) If you have fresh herbs on hand, lay some leaves over the fish and veggies. Any herb will do, since, no matter the herb, it'll add flavor. You could also use dried herbs, if you wish.
6) Drizzle a couple tablespoons of water over the lot, put a lid on the skillet, and put it into a 350-degree oven for about 15 mins.

To Serve: As you can see in the pic at left, once cooked, this meal presents beautifully. Gently lift portions of the potato and fish from the skillet onto a plate, and pour some of the pan juice over the fish.

Squeeze lime or lemon juice over the lot, or add the lime / lemon juice to a warm glass of water and drink this with your meal.

Warm lemon water is the perfect beverage to drink first thing in the morning or during the day and or with meals, especially while on a detox diet.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Sole with Wilted Spinach and Bacon

After yesterday's raw food, including two juice meals, I'm inclined to want a heartier meal.

Though not so heavy that the liver-cleansing effect of a raw muesli breakfast and veggie juice for lunch and dinner are completely thwarted.

Actually, for breakfast today, I made another bowl of raw muesli, adding it to hot oatmeal cooked with a pinch of cinnamon and ginger, and a dob of orange marmalade.

Once the oatmeal was soft, I stirred in the raw, grated apple and spooned the lot into a bowl, topping it with the seeds mentioned yesterday.

Lunch was a different matter.

Now quite hungry, rather than reach for something fatty or carbohydrate heavy, something that would undo the best intentions of Monday's raw meals, I made a hot lunch consisting of fish and spinach.

Heartier than a raw juice lunch, nevertheless, this is still a light meal (because it is absent saturated fat), one that I think of as a good transition meal after a day of liquid.

It's highly nutritious, easy to digest, low in fat and full of phytonutrients, and it has flavor and texture.

Obviously it's not the sort of thing you can whip up without access to a kitchen, so it's more likely to be an evening meal for most.

The fish is sole (I had a frozen pack of two fillets in my freezer). You can use flounder, cod, tilapia or check Seafood Watch for the best sustainable white-fish choice in your area.

The bag of mixed braising greens I referred to yesterday (which I buy at Whole Foods), has spinach and arugula in it too, so though this sounds laborious, I picked the spinach and arugula out of the mix to wilt for this dish.

Sole with Wilted Spinach and Bacon
1) Wash a handful of greens, i.e. spinach, arugula, kale.
2) Slice a rasher of turkey bacon (optional). I use Applegate because it carries the Certified Humane stamp, which has become increasingly important to me now that I do my best to avoid factory-farmed meats.
3) Toss a chopped green (spring) onion into an oiled pan with the bacon, saute gently; add the greens, stir.
4) Place your piece of fish over the vegetables, drizzle with the juice of a lemon, lime or even an orange. If you have fresh herbs on hand such as thyme, oregano, or sage (dried herbs would be fine too), dot the top of the fish with your choice of herbs.
5) I had some leftover cooked rice in the fridge, which I tossed into the pan too -- any cooked grain would work, if you want the meal to be more substantial.
6) Cover the pan with a lid and steam cook for about 10 mins. or until the greens have wilted and the fish is done but still moist.

To Serve: Spoon onto a plate, season to taste, and drizzle with more citrus juice if you like. Et Voila, a delicious light lunch or dinner that's easy on the digestion and highly nutritious.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Meatless Monday

Raw foodies advocate a diet of at least 75% raw food such as fresh fruits, vegetables, sprouts, seeds, nuts, grains, seaweeds, and beans.

Undoubtedly, there are health benefits to eating lots of fresh, organic, live and enzyme-rich foods. But 75% of your daily food intake, that's a lot of cold, raw food!

Upon googling "raw food diet," I did note some precautions and they include the disclosure that a raw diet may not be appropriate for children, people with anemia, and people at risk for osteoporosis.

Additionally, Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese Medicine suggest that a raw diet is not always appropriate in cold climates or for people with a deficient constitution.

So it's important to consider carefully your overall health and subsequent dietary needs before embarking on an ongoing diet of mostly cold, raw foods.

Frankly, it's not a lifestyle diet that I could embrace daily and over a long period of time, particularly living in Colorado where snowy winters will last 5 months, prompting me to prepare warming, heavier cooked meals.

However, as the snow and ground thaws, and longer, warmer days encourage more outdoor activity, I've been noticing that my constitution is sluggish and in need of a bit of a boost.

Given that I don't reach for coffee to overcome sluggishness, I thought Meatless Mondays would be the perfect day to eat raw, meatless meals.

I'm thinking a series of raw food --perhaps even all-juice meals-- meatless Mondays would be a great way to detox my system over the spring in preparation for lots of fun summer activity.

With that in mind, today I began my meatless Monday with a raw-muesli breakfast (pic at top).

Raw Apple Muesli
1) Grate an apple into a bowl.
2) Douse with the juice of half a lime.
3) Sprinkle with a mix of raw sunflower and pumpkin seeds, walnuts, and raisins.

For more substance, you could add the raw-apple muesli to cooked oats, rice, millet, quinoa, buckwheat -- the latter three are high-protein whole grains.

For lunch and dinner I've decided to juice.

Last summer I came across a barely-used juicer at a garage sale. At $5 it was an incredible deal and I used it quite a bit June through August.

Over the winter, it sat dormant -- a bit like me.

I've dusted it off and I'm putting it to use again with the juice meals I'm making this Meatless Monday.

Vegetable Lunch Juice
1) Pick several handfuls of organic veggies from your crisper. I chose carrots, purple cabbage and celery. To counteract the cabbage-y flavor, I added an apple, which sweetens the juice (as does the carrot).
2) Wash your choice of veggies (and fruit) and run them through the juicer.
3) Add the juice of half a lime or lemon; it will add piquancy and draw out all the flavors, in the same way salt does.

Vegetable Dinner Juice
1) I have a bag of mixed braising greens which are delicious sauteed, but you can also juice them. Wash a couple of handfuls.
2) The greens will be quite bitter so I'm adding a couple of carrots and if I had a red beet, I'd probably add that too. Beets are also sweet, more so than carrots.
3) This will make quite a dense and beautifully colored juice--the beets will add a pink hue to the green and orange.
4) Adding the juice of half a lime will bring out the rich, raw vegetable flavors. If the juice is too dense, add some filtered water.
5) And if a glass of juice for dinner leaves you wanting for more, serve your juice with a bowl of grains, such as one of those mentioned above: rice, millet, or quinoa and sprinkle the bowl with nuts and seeds.

One day a week of raw foods and no meat seems very manageable to me, especially now that we're out of the winter deep freeze.

I have to say though, I couldn't do raw every day. I know by tomorrow morning, I'll be looking forward to a hot, cooked breakfast!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Plastic Bags: Use Less at the Grocery Store

It was almost a year ago that I wrote a post titled Re-Use Your Plastic Bags.

Around that time, as a way to gather data for a book proposal based on this blog, I was sharing my expertise as a grocery shopping-cum-cooking consultant

One of glaring things I noticed shopping with people is the consistent and unnecessary over-use of plastic bags at the grocery store.

Above is a pic of one of my client friends looking very sheepish because I had gently admonished her; every time she picked up an item of fresh produce, she grabbed a plastic bag.

Whether it was ears of corn, a pound of apples, oranges or heads of lettuce, Amy, like so many people I'd shopped with, put her fruits and vegetables into plastic bags before depositing them into her shopping cart.

Now, you're probably thinking, "What's wrong with that?! I do it; I put all my fruit and veggies in plastic bags."

In response, I'm going to ask that you ponder why?!

I'm guessing your answer might be something along lines of "because they're there!"

Right above the vegetables, or over by the fruit, it's easy and it's convenient to grab a plastic bag from one of the dispensers for your lettuce, potatoes, lemons etc.

In fact, one of my clients said that the reason she used plastic bags is because she thought it would be more convenient for the check out person!

Yet, I've never found loose, un-bagged produce to be an issue at the check out.

In other words, I've never had a check-out person say, "Excuse ma'am, we need you to put all your fruits and vegetables in individual plastic bags; it makes our job easier."

Of course, the reality is it's not my responsibility to make the check out person's job easier or more difficult (and I don't believe grocery stores require that of me).

But waste, in particular plastic bag waste, is my responsibility.

In fact, it's everyone's responsibility, including the check-out person at the grocery store, to reduce the number of plastic bags going into landfills.

The title of the post I linked to above is Re-Use Your Plastic Bags, and if you read that post you'll note that I'm not suggesting you do away with bagging your groceries in the small plastic produce bags or the large plastic carry bags.

Rather, I'm advocating using recycled plastic, and fewer plastic bags altogether, and then keeping your plastic bags and reusing them again and again, in fact, until they fall apart.

As we move closer to Earth Day 2010 "use less plastic" will be the re-occurring message in this blog.

If like me, you're a visual person, and if you're serious about wanting to change your relationship to plastic bags, and thus your relationship to the environment, watch "Plastic Bag," an 18-minute indie film narrated by German film director, Werner Herzog.

Reminiscent of the French film "Red Balloon," it's a poignant story on the vortex in the Pacific Ocean where plastic bags swirl about for eternity.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Pork, Vegetable and Lettuce Wraps

After braising much of the red-tip leaf lettuce I received in my Mile High Organics starter bin, I still had some large outer leaves.

And despite that we're heading into the second week of April, here in Boulder CO it's snowing, so eating cold lettuce salad sounded unappealing.

With that in mind, I came up with a couple different ways to use the remaining lettuce as a feature in two hot meals.

Perhaps you've eaten out at a Thai restaurant and had lettuce wraps -- that's where I drew inspiration for the first meal idea (pic above).

Lettuce wraps are a wonderful way to eat with your hands: you spoon the filling onto the leaf, wrap it into a bundle, and then pop it into your mouth!

Traditionally, Thai lettuce wraps call for large iceberg lettuce leaves, but I used red-tip lettuce which isn't as crunchy as iceberg, but nevertheless it's colorful, and it tastes delicious.

Pork, Vegetable and Lettuce Wraps
1) Tear off the large outer leaves from the lettuce head, wash and drain.
2) In a skillet, saute a spring onion, some thinly sliced purple cabbage, and a carrot.
3) Toss in either ground chicken, turkey or pork -- I used pork.
Note: At Vitamin Cottage I found some locally grown and humanely-farmed ground pork which is incredibly flavorful and absent antibiotics and hormones.
4) Saute the ingredients gently, now grate half an apple and toss it into the pan. Put the lid on the pan and cook over low heat for about 10 mins.
5) Removing the pan from the hot plate, add chopped fresh sage and thyme (or your choice of herbs) to the mix, and then season it to taste.

To Serve: Lay lettuce leaves on large plates and spoon pork and veggie mix into the center of the leaf. Drizzle with seeded mustard, and then either eat as is with a knife and fork or wrap the lettuce around the filling and eat the bundle with your hands.

The second dish I made, (pic above) was inspired by old fashioned cabbage rolls, except I swapped out cabbage leaves for lettuce leaves.

1) Make the filling as above.
2) Boil a little water in a pot and quickly blanch several large lettuce leaves.
3) Lay the blanched leaves flat on a chopping board and then spoon filling into the center.
4) Wrap each leaf around the filling and place the lettuce rolls into a baking pan.
5) Pour either some water or white wine or chicken stock over the rolls to moisten them, and bake in a 350-degree oven for about 15 mins.

To Serve: Spoon a couple of rolls onto a plate, pour pan juice over them, drizzle with mustard mixed with either sour cream or mayonnaise, and garnish with apple slices and a fresh sprig of thyme or sage.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Braised Red-Tip Leaf Lettuce

Shopping online for organic produce (in fact, all your food) is not a unique concept these days. Google it and see for yourself.

However, I'm a visual and tactile person, which means I prefer to see and touch, sometimes even smell, vegetables and fruit before buying them.

Nevertheless, this past week I tried something different: rather than buy my produce at the grocery store, I ordered it online.

You see, I'd picked up a Mile High Organics coupon at an event, and once I'd checked out their website, I decided to give them a go, after all, their philosophy reads "delivering the Farmer's Market to you."

Fresh organics delivered to my door sounded enormously appealing, especially since it read as though the produce is sourced from local farmers -- though there is a statement on the website that says "local when available."

I was excited to receive my starter box containing a small bunch of bananas and carrots, a pound each of oranges and d'Anjou pears, 2 tomatoes and a red-tip leaf lettuce (despite that none of these items were grown locally).

The contents of Mile High Organics "starter bin" are fixed. In other words I didn't have a choice of fruit and veggies and also, I wasn't allowed to swap out any items for something else.

If you've read my blog, you'll know that I do my best to shop and eat by the seasons -- that's what I advocate for budget, health, and sustainability--therefore, if I'd had my druthers, I would not have picked oranges, nor the bananas and tomatoes (all of which were grown outside the US), given that we're barely into spring and these items are summer fruits.

Anyway, the goodies arrived on my doorstep late in the day. Normally the "starter bin" with delivery is around $19, but with my coupon it was a grand total of $5.95 so upon opening the tub and seeing several pounds of fresh produce, it felt like Christmas in April.

Unpacking the contents I noted that the bananas, pears, tomatoes and oranges would need to sit out for a few days since they were far from ripe: the bananas were dark green as were the pears, and the tomatoes were an insipid yellow-red, while the oranges were as hard as a tennis ball.

I snapped off a carrot from the bunch, washed it and ate it immediately; it was deliciously sweet with a full-bodied carrot flavor. The head of red-tip leaf lettuce was enormous. I washed it, left it to drain in a colander, and then wrapped the leaves in a linen kitchen towel, storing the bundle in the fridge.

I doubted that I'd eat the whole lettuce in salads before the leaves started to brown around the edges and so I decided to braise it and eat it as a hot vegetable.

Drawing from the classic French dish, braised lettuce and peas cooked in chicken stock and finished with cream, I improvised and created the following:

Braised Red-Tip Leaf Lettuce
1) Wash and drain a head of lettuce (use half a head for this recipe).
2) Wash and chop a couple of spring onions and toss into a pan with either a dab of butter or some light oil like olive or canola.
3) To the pan, add your choice of spring vegetables i.e. carrots, asparagus, peas -- such as snap peas, snow peas, or frozen shelled peas.
4) Gently saute on med a few minutes, then add washed and drained lettuce; saute a few more mins.
5) If you have stock on hand, pour in about half a cup or enough to gently simmer the veggies and lettuce until they're just soft. Use water if you don't have stock, or if you have an open bottle of white wine, use half water and half wine.
6) To finish the veggies, add a slurp of cream (optional) or simply season to taste.

To Serve: This makes a great side to fish or chicken, or spoon it over a grain such as millet or quinoa or your choice of noodles.

I love this dish since it's a great way to prepare lettuce if you have an abundance on hand but don't fancy eating lots of cold salads. And this week I made it twice in the effort to use up the red-tip from Mile High Organics.

The starter bin was an interesting exercise in purchasing organic produce online. Because I had a coupon it was certainly economical, but without a coupon, I wouldn't do it again.

Online shopping is convenient, and it's not as stressful as in-store shopping, yet it can't satiate my preference to eye, touch and sniff produce before buying it.

Plus, if like me, you place a high value on buying local and thus shopping and eating by the seasons, there's no guarantee that produce purchased online is going to either local or seasonal.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Meatless Monday

I'm late writing my
Meatless Monday post because I've been distracted watching Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution on Hulu.

Jamie's a very personable celebrity chef who's been entertaining British and Australian audiences for years with his accessible and fun approach to cooking simple, healthy food.

It will be interesting to see if he can now motivate American audiences to change their habits and patterns around food.

In the episode linked to above, he initially comes up against some resistance in the West Virginian school system, where he's trying to implement his Food Revolution lunch program.

However, by the middle of the episode, Jamie's motivated a group of Huntington high school kids to cook a fund-raiser dinner for 80 local dignitaries and potential sponsors of his program.

By the uplifting end, you can't help but shed a few tears over the stories the kids share about what they've learned and how they feel Jamie's Food Revolution will improve their lives and the lives of other kids.

But change happens slowly, particularly when it comes to changing the way we eat, so I'll be tracking the progress of Jamie's Food Revolution as I'm curious to see if he can make a difference where it's most needed -- in the lunchrooms of American schools.

Meatless Monday is a fun and innovative way to make changes to the way we eat. By making the first day of the work week meatless, we're encouraged to think out-of-the-box regarding our food choices.

For some, eating three vegetarian meals may mean putting a little extra effort into meal preparation; for others, it may be a simple process of elimination.

Either way, Meatless Monday is an exercise in intention: the intention to give up meat for a day--though I prefer to consider it less about giving up something, and more about giving my body and liver a break from digesting the saturated fat present in animal protein.

In other words, going without meat is a chance to eat lighter, less fatty fare for a day.

The meal idea I have for this meatless Monday makes the most of the humble chic pea, a legume with gourmet potential. (My recipe behind this link includes ham, but you can easily leave it out).

Red Curry Chic Pea Casserole (pic above) is all vegetarian and it includes a number of spring vegetables including beet greens, however, any leafy green like chard, kale, dandelion greens, or spinach will work.

If you're feeling reluctant to cook with dried chic peas, because of the lengthy soaking and boiling they require, you'll find the power soak method a quick and easy alternative to using a pressure cooker and or overnight soaking.