Archive for the ‘Bowls over Plates’ Category
Sometimes a long run is more than a long run. It’s social hour (well, three hours) and therapy, emotional recalibration and guided tour of one’s own backyard. This morning it was all these things and more. Twenty-two miles seems like a daunting distance and, no matter how much experience you have, it is. This morning’s training run was helped out by great weather (clear/40s) and, as always, endless discussion. As it usually does, the topic of nutrition came up. I was pleased to learn that my friend Yetik, who occasionally comments at Eating Plants, has reached the point of becoming vegan. Perhaps not incidentally, he looked and ran better than I’ve seen in at least a year. He’s big on almond butter.
The danger of the long distance run is that it can waste you for the rest of the day. The way to prevent this, I have learned, is through nutrient dense pre-and post-run meals. Fifteen minutes before a run I’ll eat a banana with a piece of wheat toast covered in avocado and a dusting of nutritional yeast. This morning I should have eaten a little more as I started to feel incredibly hungry at mile 20, so hungry that a slice of pizza sitting in the middle of the street looked really appetizing. After the run, I had the meal pictured above—a meal that I’m immodestly deeming the best recovery bowl of food ever: quinoa, amaranth, blueberries, flaxseed, nutritional yeast, and toasted pumpkin seeds. Delicious. Nutrient dense. Restorative.
A lot of runners are addicted to gels and goos and power bars and such things*, but I’d gently suggest that real food can deliver as much, if not more, in terms of preparation for and recovery from one of the most satisfying and natural things a human can do: move through space, talk, breath, and enjoy the world around us.
* Ward, no offense intended here.
The College of Charleston has announced that it’s establishing a vegan (and kosher) cafeteria* to accommodate the interests of “ethical eaters.” Needless to say, this is a sure sign of progress, a clear indication that veganism is edging its way into “mainstream” venues. One expects a place such as UC-San Diego to start a vegan cafeteria, but the College of Charleston? Well, not so much.
Charleston is a city whose culinary traditions are infused with the aroma of smoked pork, jerked chicken, beef, fish, and shellfish. It’s a place that has delicately blended the rich traditions of the West Indies and Carolina Lowcountry–where slaves once free-ranged African cattle in the pine forests—to create a carnival of carnivorism. The college, which identifies deeply with city, was thus a tough nut to crack.
The campaign to achieve the goal of a vegan cafeteria was initiated from the ground up, with the help of this form letter penned by PETA (which, indeed, can be a force for rationality when it focuses on issues germane to the planet Earth):
Vegan foods are more popular than ever at schools nationwide, including here at College of Charleston. As a student on campus, I am hoping to see more delicious, cruelty-free foods offered. With schools across the country such as the University of California, San Diego and the University of North Texas opening all-vegan dining halls within the past year, the very least we could do is offer a wide range of vegan meals in every dining hall. There are so many delicious and eco-friendly foods available nowadays, from faux-beef tacos to vegan pizza, and College of Charleston could be doing so much more to meet the growing demand. I urge you to work with students to implement these changes.
I’m always encouraged when I see vegan progress at the college level. This is the crucible of adult identity formation for many people, a time to decide how to live a deliberate life centered on compassion and positive social change. A vegan cafeteria might seem like a symbolic “victory,” but for the animals not served there, it’ll be anything but. Should you feel so inclined, let the college know how proud you are of its decision. The President’s chief of staff is Brian McGee: firstname.lastname@example.org.
* As Tim notes in the comments, this is not an exclusive vegan cafeteria and I should have clarified that point in the post, but I may have swept away by the nugget of hope at the core of this development.
This piece of mine ran in The New York Times on October 24, 2006. I thought it would be an appropriate post-Halloween post (and a light break from the heaviness of the Bill and Lou saga). I cannot help but note, in a nod to hometown pride, that when an Austinite hears the word Gourds, he thinks of one of the most innovative alternative folk/blues/rock/klezmer bands on the planet (and regrettably, probably the least likely humans on the planet to give up eating animals).
THIS time of the year, the windows of America are beginning to be dotted with carefully carved jack-o’-lanterns, but in a week or so, the streets will be splotched with pumpkin guts. Orange gourds will fly from car windows, fall from apartment balconies, career like cannon fire from the arms of pranksters craving the odd satisfaction of that dull thud.
There are, to be sure, more productive ways to deploy a Halloween pumpkin. Post-holiday, composting is a noble option. A pumpkin grower in Wisconsin once turned a 500-pound Atlantic Giant into a boat.
But what we almost certainly won’t do is eat it. First cultivated more than 10,000 years ago in Mexico, cucurbitaceae were mainstays of the Native American diet. If for no other reason than its status as one of America’s oldest cultivated crops, an honest pumpkin deserves our reverence.
The current batches that will soon litter the pavement, however, are for the most part irreverent fabrications, cheap replicas inflated for the carving knife. Food in name only, they’re a culinary trick without the treat. For those of us who value America’s culinary past, smashing a generic pumpkin is more of a moral obligation than an act of vandalism.
During the colonial era, the pumpkin was just one squash among dozens, a vine-ripening vegetable unmarked by a distinctive color, size or shape. Native Americans grew it to be boiled, roasted and baked. They routinely prepared pumpkin pancakes, pumpkin porridge, pumpkin stew and even pumpkin jerky.
Europeans readily incorporated the pumpkin into their own diet. Peter Kalm, a Swede visiting colonial America, wrote approvingly about ”pumpkins of several kinds, oblong, round, flat or compressed, crook-necked, small, etc.” He noted in his journal — on, coincidentally, Oct. 31, 1749 — how Europeans living in America cut them through the middle, take out the seeds, put the halves together again, and roast them in an oven, adding that ”some butter is put in while they are warm.”
One would be ill advised to follow Kalm’s recipe with the pumpkins now grown on commercial farms. The most popular pumpkins today are grown to be porch decor rather than pie filling. They dominate the industry because of their durability, uniform size (about 15 pounds), orange color, wart-less texture and oval shape. Chances are good that the specimen you’re displaying goes by the name of Trick or Treat, Magic Lantern, or Jumpin’ Jack. Chances are equally good that its flesh is bitter and stringy.
In contrast, pumpkins grown in the 19th and early 20th centuries — the hybridized descendants of those cultivated by Native Americans — were soft and rich tasting. They came in numerous colors, shapes and sizes and were destined for the roasting pan.
The Tennessee Sweet Potato pumpkin looked more like a pear than a modern pumpkin and, as its name implies, was baked and eaten like the sweet potato. The Winter Luxury Pie pumpkin, first introduced in 1893, became so popular for pies that it posed a fresh challenge to the canned stuff. These pumpkin varieties, and scores of others, were once the most flavorful vegetables in the American diet.
Fortunately, the edible pumpkin is not completely lost. While akin to endangered species, heirloom seeds are only a few mouse clicks and a credit card number away. By growing heirloom pumpkins, you can have your jack-o’-lantern and eat it too. More immediately, you can search out heirloom pumpkins at some farmers’ markets.
Of course, advocating a shift in any holiday tradition seems like a futile exercise in a nation that (perhaps because we’re so young) takes its traditions rather seriously. But it’s not as if there’s much of a Halloween tradition to violate. Halloween is relatively new to America. The Irish brought the holiday to the United States in the 1840′s (and used turnips as jack-o-lanterns). But Halloween didn’t become profitable enough for commercial growers to produce decorative pumpkins until the suburbanized 1950′s.
Edible pumpkins were driven near extinction in the early 1970′s when a farmer named Jack Howden started to mass produce a firm, deep orange, rotund pumpkin endowed with thick vines to create a fat handle to hold while carving. The $5 billion a year industry that developed around Howden’s inedible creation is, historically speaking, still in its infancy.
And thus the ”tradition” is ripe for improvement. Next year, let’s do something not so different. Let’s replace a fake pumpkin with a real one. The face you carve into it might be more distorted, and it might cost a bit more, but there will finally be a credible reason not to smash the thing at the end of the evening. And most important, as Peter Kalm observed back in 1749, we could once again split it open, roast it, add butter and remind ourselves that some traditions — like cultivating vegetables to eat — should never be destroyed.
A number of runners in my running club in Austin, upon learning that I’m vegan, have asked the question that every vegan gets all the time: how do you possibly do it? Although I find the question especially ironic coming from heroic souls who run marathons for fun, I love this question because it provides an opportunity to introduce great sources for vegan recipes. In this post, so as not to overwhelm readers with the tyranny of choice, I’ll recommend two of my favorite sources for superb and accessible vegan recipes.
The first comes from a friend, and a woman who is, in my opinion, the best vegan cookbook writer in the country. Her books, many of her recipes, and her 30-Day Vegan Challenge (an amazing menu course/vegan education) has changed the lives of many people I know. Her name is Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, and what she has to offer can be found here. After trying Goudreau’s recipes, you’ll more likey be asking how can I possibly not go vegan?
Another source I’d recommend is Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. Although vegetarian, the book provides literally hundreds of recipes that can be altered to be vegan (and a lot are already vegan). Anyway, an invaluable source in my kitchen.
I’ll follow up in future posts with more excellent vegan sources as well as some vegan recipes for recovering from long runs. Today, after running 20 miles, I healed my muscles with an avocado-cucumber-spinach soup followed by a banana-hemp seed-almond butter-almond milk smoothie (with the help of Vitamix). Throw in a bean quesadilla with nutritional yeast and a handful of pistachio nuts, and . . . .you’ll be ready for another 20 miles the next day.
The simplicity of hurling your body through space on a run through downtown Austin at 4 am on a Saturday morning is certainly something to ponder. The purity of the experience is, however, starkly countered by the messy vignettes of human drama swirling under the cope of intrigue.
On the highway bridge crossing the Colorado River, I’m shocked to see . . . people. A walker with a backpack holding a phone. A biker. A man carrying a tin cup and a spoon. Nobody says hello, as I suspect we might during the day, because, well, anyone on a city bridge at 4 am is likely to be hiding, or running from, something.
On 6th street, which is Austin’s version of Bourbon St., the curtain has yet to fall on the evening’s theatrics, providing glimpses into the final push of a night that’s been going sideways for many hours. If not plumb wayward.
In just a few blocks—those between I-35 and Congress—I watched a man barrel his pick-up truck the wrong way down a one way street, a woman holding a beer in each hand arguing with two men about her cut of the “stash,” two men who yelled at me “Dude! Dude! D-d-d-d-d-d-ude!” in a rather menacing way, and a guy leaning against a pole staring forlornly into his phone, desperately seeking that text that just wouldn’t come.
At 4:25 am on 6th Street, the evening, the morning, the twisted twilight zone of time–whatever you want to call this time of day—is evidently perceived by some to hold a sliver of potential for a night ending in some form of excess. I ran on.
Mile 4. After the 6th street gestalt, I headed north to the Capitol and then west on 12th. Streets get quieter as rents go up. Public dramas go private, receding behind bedroom windows, unfolding not on the sidewalks but in the dreams and nightmares of the privileged and privatized.
This is the land of clipped lawns and swank boutiques, one-named shops designed for well-preserved seekers of finery: Wink, Underwear, Bar, Galaxy. The neighborhood’s sweet spot of wealth–Pemberton Heights (it’s always something “Heights”)–has broad streets lined with tactless mansions that look down at everything except banks.
The only rat I saw on this run scurried around the garden fountain of a house the size of a cathedral. Better dregs here, I imagine. The only notable sound I heard was Pemberton’s version of gunshots: Wall Street Journals thrown from an old Honda smacking down on long driveways.
Mile 8. I headed back across the Colorado via Mo-Pac and into a West Austin enclave of hills. Rollingwood, they call it. An armadillo crossed the road in front of me, blinder than blind but sensitive to vibration. Upon feeling my footsteps this lump of prehistoric armor ambled off, somehow making a noise like a horse clopping the concrete.
From there down to Barton Springs, where I swam. Indeed, I dove headlong into 68-degree crystal clear water in the dead of darkness and I swam, feeling the heat rush from every pore of my body as if pulled by a magnet. When I got out an older man got in and said “hidy,” which is East Texan for “howdy,” which is Texan for “hello.” I wished him a lovely day.
I meandered a bit, met up with some friends for a few more miles. Then home. The first thing a runner needs after 14 miles in the heat and on the hills is nourishment. Quickly. Before I became vegan I usually chomped down a couple of egg and cheese soft tacos. This was efficient but ineffective. I’d spend the rest of the day in a dazed and dehydrated kind of fatigue, nauseated and cranky and bloated.
Now, as a vegan, I opt for radically nutrient dense meals after long runs and, not only do I have an excess of energy during the day, I’m ready to go out and run long again the next day. The difference cannot be overstated. It’s truly remarkable. This morning I went for a triple grain porridge with a bunch of good stuff piled atop it:
- mix 1/3 cup of admixed amaranth, teff, and qunoa with 2/3 cup of water.
- bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover, stir occasionally.
- after 13 minutes, add a splash of almond milk
- place porridge in bowl and add dried cherries, blueberries, toasted pecans.
- top with nutritional yeast, chia seeds, and a spoonful of shelled hemp seeds.
Amaranth, black quinoa, and pearl barley are three of the healthiest and tastiest whole grains in the world. The first two come from South America and the last from the Middle East. I’ve been eating these grains individually for years but then it occurred to me that they require the same water/grain ratio and cooking time and might get along well in the same bowl. So, after a long trail run, I sought rich flavor and nutritional recovery by combining these grains into a single porridge. It was a memorable threesome to which I added a banana, a few blackberries, a handful of sunflower seeds, and sprinkling of nutritional yeast. In fact, the meal looked so good after I cooked it that I gobbled it up before taking a picture.
Directions for one serving:
1) Measure out 3/4 a cup of mixed grain–proportion them how you wish.
2) Bring 1 1/2 cups of water to a boil.
3) Add grains, reduce to a simmer, cover for 12 minutes or so.
4) Top with seeds, nuts, fruit, nutritional yeast, and a little sea salt.
On a related note, I want to say a brief word about how these nutrient dense meals make me feel. As an avid runner of long distances, I always have my overworked body as a reference point. Before I started eating the kind of meals profiled in Bowls over Plates, it would often take 3-4 full days to really recover from a long run (long being anywhere from 20-30 miles). I’m now at a point at which, as a direct result of diet, that I can recover in less than 24 hours and feel fully prepared to do another long run the next day. I am a plodding runner, so none of this is in any way to toot my own horn. I simply want to highlight the immense benefits that come from eating nutrient dense foods on a regular basis.
Anyway, give the grains a go!
Why anybody would eat a traditional hot dog, behavioral omnivores included, is beyond me. It’s long been known that most hot dogs are rendered from slaughterhouse refuse that makes pink slime look like health food. “Everything but the squeal” is a phrase that has served to capture this reality with pithy, if tasteless, humor. More pointedly, the claim that a hot dog is comprised of little more than “lips and assholes,” a vivid description many of us first heard as children, remains rather hard to shake. Even when I ate meat I was enlightened enough to avoid these disgusting cylinders of junk like the plague. In a word, nasty.
Leave it to Americans to glorify this waste receptacle as “all-American” food—food that must roll off a grill and adulterate the patriotic palate of every red-blooded American on the 4th of July. Not only that, but leave it to Americans, as our culinary reputation improves, to dress the dog up into something fancier than it really is, hiding its humble identity in clothing purloined from alien emperors.
Indeed, as you have no doubt heard: a hot dog renaissance is underway in the U. S. of A, with top chefs and foodie savants gussying up this bun-full of cruelty into a gourmet creation, selling their wares from food cart windows in hip cities across the landscape. If there’s any hope in this admittedly dubious transition it’s this: hot dog entrepreneurs are hiding the dog under heaps of delicious fruits and vegetables.
Yes indeed, the standard toppings–mustard, ketchup, raw onions, and relish–is slowly yielding to a more sophisticated array of tomatoes, peppers, mangoes, pineapple, kimchee, cucumbers, caramelized onions and sesame seeds. Needless to say, the standard fare is also being adulterated with bacon, cream cheese, and turkey. But still, if my brief survey of the changes underway are at all accurate, my sense is that the good stuff is being piled higher than the bad stuff. A mild improvement on the average, I’d say.
But, you are thinking, so what? . . . Well, here’s so what: what if the dog quietly slipped out the back, leaving behind a mound of plant matter to enjoy?
I realize that a hot-dog-less hot dog sounds quirky, but do consider: The worst and best quality about “American food” is that its endlessly adaptable. Americans have no culinary allegiance; our tradition is to have no tradition. The United States may be the only place where the prospect of a hot-dog-less hot dog could become a reality, however remote the possibility. (It may also—a topic for another post— be the most likely place to embrace veganism as a mass movement.)
Several readers of my recent “fake meat” blog post astutely noted that what lends flavor to animal products are in fact plant-based products, thus persuading me that my analysis was not as convincing as I’d initially thought. It might seem desperate for me to seek hope in a hot dog without the hot dog, but it is in the spirit of plant-based-flavor-power that I ask you to imagine the future of the “hot dog” being a whole grain bun piled with a creative array of fruits, veggies, herbs, spices, and nuts. Dare to dream.
The hot dog could be the American version of the banh mi sandwich (see pic above), open to vegan interpretation, conducive to regional styles, and—most importantly—a hell of a lot more patriotic that slaughtering hundreds of millions of pigs and cows, gathering the offal, making a gross tube of it, and calling it, however inexplicably, a dog.
I’ve been running more than usual lately, and a lot of those runs have been back to back (as in day to day) 10-15 milers. What this means is that there must be quick recoveries between runs. And what this means is nutrient density. Compassionate nutrient density.
Breakfast for me is, by normal standards, an eccentric experience. When I prepare my own meal, I generally raid the fridge of at least five different vegetables, shred or chop them, and sautee them in a sparse amount of oil (maybe a teaspoon or two). When they soften, I pour them into a bowl (or sometimes onto a tortilla or two), sprinkle with nuts or hemp seeds or spirulina powder (or all of the above), chop and add herbs, eat. Sometimes I’ll add beans, quinoa, or bulgar.
The picture above is my breakfast after running 9 miles on trails. Vegetables include brussels sprouts, carrots, parsnips, kale, and shallots topped with cashews. Hiding in here somewhere are a handful of chckpeas. Yum.
Needless to say, this way of eating benefits more than my endurance events. Irrespective of my running, this way of eating improves my moods, my energy levels at work, and the clarity of my thinking. It’s the cliche of cliches, but we are what we eat. There’s no shame in being a bowl of nutrient dense plants. I find that it provides relentless forward progress.
Hard to ask for a better Sunday morning. I worshipped at the Greenbelt Cathedral–running and talking with a friend for about 90 minutes. We saw five–yes, five!–Texas water snakes, finished the workout with a dip in Barton Springs (which, at 68 degrees, was sublime), and ran into my old friend Sam as I got out of the springs. Simple pleasures.
When I got home I was so hungry that I dived into the fridge for a leftover raid. What I came up with was this: rice and chickpeas topped with mint cashew cream. A bowls-over-plates meal if there ever was one. Directions:
–Cook chickpeas (or open a low-sodium can of them)
–place both ingredients in bowl
–dust with hemp seeds
–add a dollop of cashew cream (made by blending mint, almond milk, and raw cashews in a small food processor.)
–enjoy the beauty and simplicity of a vegan breakfast.
The best vegan cooking combines nutrition, flavor, simplicity, and affordability. Few foods embody these qualities as well as teff. Teff is a dark ethiopian grain that’s the smallest, and one of the oldest, cultivated grains in the world. It has a rich, sweet, nutty flavor and a silky texture. It’s a great source of calcium, iron, protein, and fiber. Plus, it’s cheap and super easy to prepare. I use Bob’s Red Mill brand and–even with the added cashews, cranberries, raisins, and agave nectar–a hearty serving of teff porridge costs about a dollar.
Who says it’s too expensive to go vegan? Who says it’s bad for your health? Who says it requires a personal chef? Who says it takes too long?
People who haven’t had teff.
- Boil teff in water at a ratio of one portion teff to four portions water (1 serving=1/4 cup teff).
2. Add agave nectar, toasted cashews, cranberries, and raisins to taste.