Smoothie Love

My first meal at least five days a week is a smoothie. It’s a great way to get easily digestible whole foods first thing in the morning and is an especially nutritious way to hydrate after a sweaty AM workout.

As the early morning workers at my office can attest, my smoothies are either green, or not. “Not” encompassing a wide range of colors, from purple to a delightful dirty snow/sludge color, depending on what I add to my own personal Frankenstein’s Monster of a drink.

I never follow a recipe and my ingredients are usually based on my mood and what’s in the immediate vicinity. Below are a variation of my green and my “not” smoothie.

Green Smoothie:

  • 3 cups of spinach
  • Coconut water as needed
  • 1 scoop of Sun Warrior protein – Vanilla flavor (ridiculously expensive, but after extensive personal research I’ve found that this works best for me, you can obviously substitute the protein powder of your choice)
  • 1 tsp Maca
  • 1 apple (I’m on a Pink Lady kick, even the name is cute!)
  • Fresh lemon juice
  • Cinnamon
  • Ice cubes

“Not” Smoothie:

  • 1 banana or apple
  • 2-3 cups of fresh or frozen mixed berries
  • 1 scoop of Sun Warrior protein
  • Water as needed (I like the natural tanginess of the berries so I use plain water, but if you prefer a sweeter smoothie feel free to substitute coconut water or aloe vera juice)
  • Dash of cinnamon & maca
  • 1 tbsp chia seeds
  • Ginger
  • Ice cubes

Breakdown of properties in these ingredients:

Spinach: As with many leafy greens, spinach is high in antioxidants, Vitamin A, B2, B6, C, E, K, magnesium, manganese, folate, iron, calcium, folic acid, potassium, protein and omega-3 fatty acids. Spinach is most easily absorbed by the body when consumed simultaneously with a good source of Vitamin C, such as lemon juice or berries. If you’re not a spinach convert, try adding a few leaves of romaine lettuce, collard greens or kale.

Coconut Water: Coconut water provides simple sugars, electrolytes and minerals, naturally replenishing your body’s hydration. It’s tasty, refreshing and perfect after a workout. If you don’t love the taste, popular brands O.N.E., Vita and Zico offer flavors like passionfruit and pineapple.  [Note: Coconut water and coconut milk are two VERY different beverages. Coconut water is found inside a coconut, while coconut milk is produced by pressing liquid out of ground coconut meat, which means that it is much higher in fat and calories.]

Maca: Touted as a “superfood” maca is a Peruvian root, usually ground and sold as a powder. Maca contains amino acids, calcium, phosphorous, zinc, magnesium, iron and Vitamins B1, B2, B12, C & E. Maca affects the endocrine functions of the body and the benefits can range from hormone stabilization to digestion to sexual function and fertility.

Cinnamon: Not only is this spice tasty, it has been used to combat colds, nausea, menstrual pain and digestive distress in eastern medicine for years. It’s also believed to help with circulation and have anti-inflammatory and anti-clotting properties. Chemically cinnamon contains calcium, iron, fiber and Vitamins C & K.

Apples: “An apple a day keeps the doctor away!” Well… It can’t hurt, right? Apples are high in antioxidants and fiber and studies show that they may help reduce the risk of various forms of cancer (like prostate, lung & colon).

Berries: Different berries have different nutritional benefits, but across the board they’re high in antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and fiber. They’re thought to be beneficial in the fighting of different types of cancer, boost cardiovascular functions and improve vision.

Bananas: In additional to adding great taste and texture to smoothies, bananas add a healthy dose of Vitamins B6, C, manganese and potassium. Similar to the health benefits listed above for apples and berries, bananas contain vitamins and minerals which may help the body ward off various types of cancer.

Chia Seeds: Yes, as in Chia Pets. Consumption of this Aztec superfood is on the rise in the United States with books like Born To Run advertising the unique  properties and amazing benefits. Chia seeds contain protein, phosphorus, manganese, calcium, potassium and sodium, similar to other seeds, but are completely atypical in their reaction to water. Add them to any liquid and leave for 20+ minutes and you’ll return to find a glass full of a gelatinous substance not unlike tapioca. Now imagine adding dry seeds to your stomach. That’s what the ancients are said to have done, subsisting on teaspoons of chia seeds for days at a time. There are some other great recipes that include chia seeds, which I’ll touch on at a later time.

Ginger: To be honest, I can’t stand ginger. But given its rock star benefits, I needed to find a way to get a little ginger in my life. And luckily for me, the tart berries and spices in this smoothie make the ginger barely detectable. Ginger has been used as a natural remedy for a host of ailments, including: ovarian cancer treatment, colon cancer prevention, heartburn, menstrual cramps, inflammation, migraines and relieving digestive/stomach conditions like morning and motion sickness.

Benefits of smoothies:

  • By blending the fruits & vegetables you’re breaking down the tough outer cells of the plants and making the nutrients more easily accessible to your body, reducing the amount of work your body wastes on digestion
  • Tasty way to hydrate your body first thing in the morning, especially if gulping down water isn’t your favorite AM activity
  • If you’re not a fan of breakfast, this is a great way to get in multiple servings of fruits & vegetables in a quick and painless way
  • Like soup, you can add whatever ingredients you have available: nut butter, strawberries, spirulina, almond milk, frozen veggies, carrots, celery, cashews… Clean out your fridge!
  • If you don’t love greens and have trouble getting your daily recommended amount, you can add them to a smoothie and just get it over with!

Now go forth MCLV readers, power up your blender,s and make me proud!

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Blogger Confessions

Welcome to the new Blogger Confessions series! Get ready for some funny, embarrassing little confessions…

  • I don’t own an iron and can’t remember the last time I did my own laundry.
  • My cat Bones is my favorite man in the world. He cuddles just the right amount, runs to the door when I get home to say hi, and never talks back.
  • Sometimes I eat nothing but potato chips for days at a time. Potato chips and wine.
  • I can’t stand Matthew McConaughey. Yes, I have principles when it comes to romantic comedies.
  • I’m a reformed nail bitter and flying is the only thing that still causes me to start chomping on my nails again.

* Note: The concept for my Les Confessions post (which will become a semi-regular offender) was lovingly adopted from the adorable, hysterical, chocolate-coated Jenna at Eat, Live, Run. To see her original Confessions of a Food Blogger posts, please visit her site. 

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Book Report: Born to Run

Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle, or it will starve. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a lion or a gazelle – when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.

– Roger Bannister

Today I’d like to share with you one of the most interesting fitness-related books that I’ve read in recent memory – It was inspirational, captivating and – Ta da – Based on a true story!

I ordered this book after hearing a glowing recommendation during a chance encounter while I was out buying running shoes. A friend suggested that I read it prior to picking my new shoes as it would surely change my perspective on what my body actually needed strapped to my feet.

He wasn’t wrong.

Born to Run was a written by journalist Chris McDougall and is a memoire of his search for running truths. It is sprinkled with his personal research as well as anecdotes of some of the specialists and enthusiasts he encountered during his odyssey. As any runner out there knows, injuries are exceptionally widespread in the running world. Knees, ankles, feet, hips, backs… Running can make you feel very, very old in a very, very short amount of time. As a dedicated runner who like many of us, does not have the ideal running build – 6’4″ & 230 lbs – McDougall made it his mission to develop the ideal running technique and took as his model the Tarahumara – Also known as the Raramuri – Tribe of Mexico.

While this story in itself is fascinating, I have to confess that what immediately sucked me in were the stories within the story, the accounts of the individuals that McDougall meets during his adventures. From the truly inspirational to the totally insane the runners he encountered all have unique backgrounds, distinct ideals and approaches to running, and different ambitions.

There’s the God of long distance running – Scott Jurek – Who waits at the finish line of every race he runs to cheer on the last finishers, sometimes days after he himself crossed the finish line. Two weeks after winning his 7th Western States 100 race, which takes place in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California, he headed down to the Mojave Desert to race in the Badwater Ultramarathon, a 135 mile footrace that boasts temperatures as high as 120 degrees. The extreme conditions were utterly foreign to the Seattle-native and by mile 60 he was vomiting and weak, laying on the scorching sand next to the trail.

“There’s no way, Scott told himself. You’re done. You’d have to do something totally sick to win this thing now.

Sick like what?

Like starting over again. Like pretending you just woke up from a great night’s sleep and the race hasn’t even started yet. You’d have to run the next eighty miles as fast as you’ve ever run eighty miles in your life.

For ten minutes, Scott lay like a corpse. Then he got up, and did it, shattering the Badwater record with a time of 24:36.”

There’s the spirited and wild Jenn, who chose running as an expression of poetry and art and love. “She was capable of absolutely anything except moderation. Even when she wanted to rein herself in, whatever was building inside her – passion, inspiration, aggravation, hilarity – inevitable came fire-hosing out.” She left life-guarding on the sunny beaches of Virginia behind to run shrieking and howling across hundreds of miles of mountain trails, shouting Ginsberg and Kerouac into the vast wilderness at the top of her lungs. “I started running ultras to become a better person. I thought if you could run one hundred miles, you’d be in this Zen state. You’d be the fucking Buddha, bringing peace and a smile to the world.”

There’s the gregarious, effusive and intense Barefoot Ted whose goal to compete in a triathlon for his 40th birthday lead him on a shoe – And eventually shoeless – Journey to Mexico. He tried the most technologically advanced and the most expensive shoes, all to no avail, eventually stumbling upon a community of runners led by Barefoot Ken Bob, who’s mantra was:

Shoes block pain, not impact! Pain teaches us to run comfortably! From the moment you start going barefoot, you will change the way you run!

From there Barefoot Ted went on to become the first sponsored barefoot runner sporting Vibram FiveFingers when conditions got rough and competing in races like the Boston Marathon, the Mother Road 100, the Leona Divide Fifty-Miler, and the Angeles Crest 100-Mile Endurance Run.

“No wonder your feet are so sensitive, ” Ted mused. “They’re self-correcting devices. Covering your feet with cushioned shoes in like turning off your smoke alarms.”

And the ultimate character? Caballo Blanco. Micah True. Shaggy. A man so inspired by the truths he saw in the eyes of the Tarahumara during one encounter that he left his life behind and moved to the Sierra Madres to live in a stone hut in the canyons between hundred mile trail runs and visits with the elusive tribesmen.

When he arrived in the Barrancas, he decided to chuck logic and trust that the Tarahumara knew what they were doing. He got rid of his running shoes and began wearing nothing but sandals. He took some vicious falls and sometimes barely made it back to his hut on his own two feet, but he just gritted his teeth, soaked his wounds in icy river, and chalked it up as an investment. By his third year, Caballo was tackling trails that were invisible to the non-Tarahumara eye. He’d slip-scramble-sprint downhill for miles, barely in control, relying on his canyon-honed reflexes but still awaiting the pop of a knee cartilage, the rip of a hamstring, the fiery burn of a torn Achilles tendon he knew was coming any second. But it never came. He never got hurt. After a few years in the canyons, Caballo was stronger, healthier, and faster than he’d ever been in his life.”

While most runners have at the very least heard the gospel of this book debated at running clubs and starting lines, I found that the most important conclusion presented can be applied non-running life as well.  As the title suggestions this is a book intended to take us back to basics – Back to what our bodies can inherently do, which I believe many people are trying to achieve in their own lives, be it through yoga, meditation, hiking… On some level don’t we all want to be the best version of ourselves that we can?

As McDougall chases the secret of injury-free long distance running, coach and former track champion Joe Vigil is searching for the formula to what he refered to as the Natural Born Runner. Both of these noble quests came to the same unexpected conclusion.

Love.

What kind of individual wants to spend two days running nonstop up mountains and across rivers? Is it a desire to win? To be the best? To outwit the other guy?

After studying the science of running, visiting the masters, chasing down the wisdom of dying cultures and training champion after champion, Vigil believed that it was an inherent spirit and a fundamental “love of the game” that gave an athlete the fire to be a superior runner:

“Vigil had become convinced that the next leap forward in human endurance would come from a dimension he dreaded getting into: character. Not the “character” other coaches were always rah-rah-rah-ing about; Vigil wasn’t talking about “grit” or “hunger” or “the size of the fight in the dog.” In fact, he meant the exact opposite. Vigil’s notion of character wasn’t toughness. It was compassion. Kindness. Love.”

Why spend two days running nonstop up mountains and across rivers? That’s easy.

To see if you can.

To get out and stretch you legs and see where they’ll take you. To get back in touch with a part of yourself that is lost in a world of alarm clocks, deadlines, zooming traffic, and the monotony of daily life.

Even if you’re not a runner, you have to respect these conclusions. By remembering the infectious joy you felt as a child when you did something and regaining that as an adult you are unlocking the potential to truly be at home with yourself, to truly love something, and to be truly happy.

Have you read Born To Run?

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Vegan Macaroni & Cheese

 

I have a confession to make.

Vegan cooking scares me.

Well, maybe I should say that it intimidates me. Yes, that sounds better. Less cowardly. I’m not sure exactly what it is (the blenders, long lists of unusual ingredients, food processors, raw cashews…), but something about a gourmet vegan recipe fills me with childlike terror.

Then, miracle of miracles, I saw the following recipe on Oh She Glows and to be honest, it couldn’t have come at a more opportune time. Not only had I been craving mac n’ cheese for DAYS (and couldn’t stop talking about it – sorry Sean), but I also had a butternut squash sitting in my produce bowl, lonely and desperate to feel useful in life.

So in an uncharacteristically brave move, I put on my big-girl pants, shooed the cat off the counter and dove right in.

Below are the ingredients as recommended by Angela on her lovely website, Oh She Glows:

  • 1/2 Butternut squash (peeled & chopped)
  • 3/4 cup raw cashews
  • 1 cup of non-dairy milk (and as needed for getting your desired consistency)
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 1 tbsp of fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tsp kosher salt (or as needed)
  • 6-7 tbsp nooch (nutritional yeast)
  • 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 tsp or more Italian seasonings
  • 1/4-1/2 tsp Turmeric (optional)
  • Pepper to taste
  • 1/4-1/2 tsp Paprika (or as needed)
  • Pasta of choice

I made a few small tweaks to the above list, based on my personal preferences and what I had available in my pantry. I used unsweetened almond milk rather than soy milk, and I must say that I was really thrilled with the end result consistency-wise. I also skipped the pepper, used Spike rather than Italian seasoning and added quite a bit of turmeric.

* Side Note: The active ingredient in turmeric is curcumin (this is what gives turmeric its bright hue) and this highly beneficial spice has been shown to be a natural anti-inflamatory, a good source of antioxidants and has been found useful in the treatment of a host of diseases and ailments, including Alzheimer’s, arthritis, cancer, colds, the flu and diabetes. I really enjoy cooking with turmeric and include it whenever possible, so if you haven’t given this beautiful spice a chance I highly suggest that you do!

I added a little bite to the dish with ground chili pepper and cayenne powder, and finally, in order to make this delicious dish gluten-free as well as vegan, I used brown rice pasta in lieu of whole wheat.

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350F and line a baking sheet.  In a bowl, season chopped squash with some oil (I used coconut) and kosher salt, lay on baking sheet and roast in oven for 40 minutes, flipping after 20 minutes.

2. Assemble the ingredients for the cheese sauce (cashews, non-dairy milk, garlic, lemon, salt, nutritional yeast, pepper, mustard, seasonings). Add the cashews to food processor & blend until fine. Add the remaining ingredients and process until smooth (I added the almond milk slowly throughout the blending process). Leave the sauce in the processor as you will be adding the squash.

3. Cook your pasta according to package directions.

4. After 40 minutes of roasting add the squash to the food processor and blend until smooth. Adjust spices to taste and add additional almond milk to get desired thickness.

5. Drain and rinse pasta with cold water and mix pasta with cheese sauce.

 

The sauce is gooey, cheese-y and has a great consistency, thickening as it cools. As someone who lives alone and frequently cooks for one, my leftovers are very important to me, and I must say this tasted even better the next day!

If vegan cooking intimidates you as well or if the idea of vegan “cheese” is off-putting, I highly recommend giving this recipe a try and expanding your culinary horizons as I did.

I found that this was something of a therapy session for me and I can genuinely say that I’m less daunted by vegan cooking than I was a week ago. So hopefully this will be just the first of many recipes that I’ll be trying out and sharing with you.

Bon Appétit!

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Community Sponsored Agriculture – CSA

Today I would like to discuss a topic with you that is very close to my heart – And my refrigerator – Community Sponsored Agriculture (CSAs).

If you’re anything like me, you enjoy having a variety of fruits and vegetables in your fridge at any given time so that you can make quick and healthy meals. Trips to Whole Foods and other specialty shops can be hard on the pocketbook, especially if you need to restock your cupboards with multiple trips a week.

Enter the CSA…

CSAs are programs that provide you with direct access to food produced by local farmers. Fresh, seasonal, high quality food. Essentially it’s a mini farmer’s market delivered directly to your front door, or a nearby pick-up location, for a fraction of the price that you’d pay at a large chain grocery store.

Why did I choose to join a CSA?

First, I was intrigued by the idea of giving my money to local farmers directly without a big corporation acting as the middle man. Second, I live car-free in San Francisco and rely on my own two feet for most of my errands. Finding a CSA with a drop-off three blocks away saves me time, energy and effort, all good things when you don’t want to run to the grocery store after spending all day at the office. Third, I was interested in learning to eat a more seasonal diet. True, I virtually always crave spinach and sweet potatoes, but I began to wonder if I was missing out when I purchased the same things each week. I quickly learned that I’d been missing out on a lot.

What is the biggest benefit of joining a CSA?

You don’t get to pick and choose what you receive through these programs, you are given a box/basket/bag containing a variety of produce that was picked at the farm that week. The result is that you’ll frequently get the opportunity to try things you wouldn’t normally buy for yourself. You get to plan your meals around what’s in season and what the farmers in/near your city are harvesting, rather than what’s being flow in from out-of-state or South America. In addition to getting the chance to eat seasonal, local produce and support smaller farmers, you’re reducing the pollution created when foods are transported long distances.

How expensive are CSAs?

They’re not! Without packaging and the shipping costs to send the food around the country, all you’re paying for are the fruits and vegetables themselves. Each CSA is going to charge slightly different fees and the cost will depend on how often you receive deliveries and whether you request any special additions to your basket. That being said, most of the programs that I researched when I was making my choice were less than $30 per delivery. I don’t know about you, but I can do quite a bit more damage than that given half an hour at Whole Foods!

Did anything surprise you when you first signed up?

If you’re used to the beautiful displays and waxed fruit at grocery stores, your deliveries may initially come as a shock to you. When I say that everything is harvested that week, I’m not exaggerating. The food will be unwashed, with dirt and leaves still clinging to it. Recycled and reusable containers will be utilized whenever possible, so there wont be pristine packaging and sterile plastic wrappings. A good word to keep in mind when you prepare yourself for your first delivery is rustic. It is coming straight from the field to you, with no stops for beautification.

What’s an example of the contents of a shipment?

My most recent delivery contained the following: a bag full of small navel oranges, a large grapefruit, a big bag of spinach, a large bag of pre-mixed stir fry greens, a head of lettuce, onions & garlic, a head of green cabbage, collard greens (yum!), half a dozen small apples and a large bunch of carrots. The variety and types of produce you receive will vary depending on the region you’re in, the season and the CSA you choose.

There are a variety of CSAs currently available and with a little research you can determine the one that suits your needs best. You’ll find that there are some farms that offer you additional supplements to the standard fruit & vegetable boxes, like eggs, milk, cheeses and meats. There are both certified organic farms and traditional farms offering CSAs and you can get deliveries weekly, twice a month, monthly… Whatever will work best for you.

If you’re interested, Google CSAs in your area to try to find one that is perfect for you, or check out the LocalHarvet website to help you narrow down the choices available to you.

The Bay Area has some amazing options and I will admit that it was a hard decision to pick which CSA I wanted to support. I finally made my choice based on the following criteria that were important to me: (1) certified organic, (2) close-by to cut down on shipping cost and pollution from transportation, and (3) a pick-up location walking distance from my apartment. In the end, I went with Eatwell Farm. I had previously seen them at the Ferry Building’s Saturday morning farmer’s market and was impressed by their selection of beautiful produce. I’ve been a proud member since October 2009 and they’ve been very easy to deal with and consistently produce excellent fruits and vegetables.

I hope that you’ve enjoyed this post and that if you haven’t looked into signing up for a CSA prior to this that you’ll consider it now and keep in mind the benefits to the environment, local farmers and your refrigerator!

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