The TJ’s Salad

As a parent, I really struggle with dietary labels. The other day I filled out a work conference form and was requested to list my dietary needs. In the past, I have written “Vegetarian” and was always disappointed with the limp vegetables smothered in cream sauce that arrived at my table and which prompted burdensome questions from other guests. Then I switched to “Pescetarian” because at least I can indulge in a rare piece of fish while showing my table neighbors that it’s acceptable to talk to me because we are all consuming a form of meat together.

But lately, I’ve also cut most cheese and eggs from my diet, which is confusing because it’s more than just Pescetarian, and I recently learned that dairy doesn’t include eggs because eggs aren’t dairy. Just cheese and milk is dairy. News to me! But I do still use a dab of cream in my tea every morning, which isn’t a problem until someone says I’m a “Vegan” and then I feel like an imposter. Because I  don’t consider myself a vegan either. And I mean, Oreos are vegan and there are fat vegans out there so what does that label even mean to me at this point in my life? Labels just seem to make people confrontational and a little bit angry. It’s like people think I’m showing up with protest signs or have starved myself for days with this radical diet before I come over for dinner. And to complicate matters more, I also stopped drinking coffee a few months ago because I never much liked the taste and frequently had indigestion, so now people think I don’t do caffeine – which I do. I drink endless cups of highly caffeinated tea every single day.

Then I observe endless variety of creative and socially acceptable response cards on tables from “Meatless Friday” (during Lent), “Meatless Monday” (I guess that’ s a label now?), and of course the obligatory allergy needs “No Nuts”. My younger son is allergic to walnuts and pecans – a very clear and easy label – and risk of death is definitely an exception to my plight and that never provokes a response. I recently joined a Facebook group called “80% WFPD (whole food plant based) which when I tried to describe it to a friend just sounded comical. Why can’t I just say “feed me something that isn’t bad, and is digestible with vegetables and some healthy plant-based protein to get me through the next few hours”??

So lately I have begun to identify myself as a Nutritarian. This term was developed and mass marketed by Dr. Joel Fuhrman in his popular book “Eat to Live”. It refers to a nutrient-dense, plant-rich diet supporting impressive long-term health benefits which is backed by science. So basically if you’re going to eat 100 calories, you want to eat 100 calories of food that makes you feel fuller for longer with more energy and is packed with vital vitamins and minerals. And if you really wanted to get into an ethical debate, you could talk about the biology of human evolution and what we now know about early human diets, or you could talk about how the archaic food pyramid was updated to My Plate in 2011 which is more inclusive of plant-based nutrition, and you could  debate the impact of global farming on our planet and climate change. BUUUUUT I won’t do that today. The recent documentary “The Gamechangers” does a great job explaining all this, so just watch that instead.

What I do really like about this label of Nutritarian is that it moves away from the morality of what I eat and focuses more on the science. It’s also a term that seems less scary to others and maybe a bit more progressive in terms of the food pyramid. I still eat bread and pasta every day, but sprouted grain bread and whole wheat pasta. In fact, I literally eat ALL THE TIME. I am aware of high level protein sources now that I never thought of beyond beans and tofu before like quinoa, oatmeal, peas, and seeds. I eat more calcium from one plate of greens than I would have gotten from a glass of milk. I sleep better and I’m slightly more motivated to move my body, but that may be because I’m also drinking in moderation these days — like, not EVERY DAY. Just when it’s been a shit day or I want to date my husband every now and then. And as a parent, I strive to educate my kids on what they put into their bodies and how it effects them, now how other people label them or whether they should feel shame about eating a turkey sandwich every now and then at school. Which they do.

Anyway, with the recent fall weather quickly transitioning to snow, I was craving a hearty green and grain salad this week and stopped by Trader Joe’s to pick up a few of my favorites. Trader Joe’s has a nice variety of precooked, prepackaged items that really make a great dish when you’re in a pinch, either for one or served on a large platter for a holiday crowd. This time I used their Cruciferous Crunch Salad as a base with a selection of cooked beets, kalamata olives, Persian cucumbers, chickpeas, cherry tomatoes, farro and a giant bag of fresh haricot green beans which I blanched for 5 min but could also be eaten raw. Other variations I love from their refrigerated section include the precooked brown lentils and the fingerling potatoes. In place of farro you could also throw in some quinoa or rice. I topped it off with some lightly pan fried Lightlife bacon for more of a cobb salad flavor. I typically use balsamic vinegar for dressing, but tahini mixed with lemon juice is pretty amazing if you don’t want anything dairy-based. I also grabbed a little ginger lemon kambucha back tea for $2.99 – mwuah! Love it. So no real recipe today folks, just some tidbits on great plant-based food options in a one-stop shop that I enjoyed this week.

Tuscan Bean Buddha Bowl

This week I stumbled upon a term that has really stuck in my mind: AWARENESS.

I’ve been on a bit of a journey of mental and physical health this summer. I hesitate to call it diet and fitness, because those are industry terms that really don’t resonate with me. But I’ve come to learn that when you are in tune with your body, really living every moment of every day, getting back in touch with nature and remembering you exist in a bigger space than your living room and all the while learning to eat and drink in moderation, you go to bed with some sense of inner peace and you wake up with energy. Wow. I don’t require a glass of wine to put my kids to bed every night! Not eating chips makes me feel less shame! What a revelation! At least, I attain this goal about 30% of the time… but now that I know the journey ahead I’ve made it my goal to get to 100%.

I guess my inner hippie got the best of me this week as I was really focused on Buddha bowls. Buddha bowls are essentially hearty grain-based dishes topped with an assortment of roasted or cooked vegetables and tossed with a vegetarian protein usually along with nuts or seeds. Their flavors can be soulful and complex, with unexpected items thrown together much like a garbage salad. They are really a vegans’ dream because they are filling entrees, rich in nutrient-dense foods, and they are easy to throw together and fun to eat! One my favorites to make at home is a barley bowl topped with sautéed kale, sauerkraut, tofu, sunflower seeds and avocado. Weird? No. But today I really wanted some red wine so I went for a Tuscan italian theme. I’d say this is comparable to a bruschetta bean salad mixed in with the nutty, chewy texture of Farro and tossed in a vibrant fresh herb vinegar dressing. It’s very versatile so you can also substitute other beans like chickpeas or white beans.

Ingredients

  • 1 can large butter beans, drained
  • 1 can kidney beans, drained
  • 2 vine ripe tomatoes, diced
  • 1/2 red onion, diced
  • 1/2 cup pitted green olives
  • 1 avocado, diced
  • 1 1/2 cup Farro
  • 1 container firm tofu

Dressing:

  • 1 TB fresh tarragon, finely chopped
  • 1/8 cup fresh chives, finely chopped
  • 1 TB whole grain mustard
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/8 cup olive oil

Boil 4 cups of water in medium sauce pot then add Farro. Turn down to medium heat for 25 minutes, stirring frequently. Once complete, pour through strainer and set aside to cool. To prepare your tofu, this can be eaten raw, pan-fried or my preference Roasted. In separate bowl, combine all other ingredients and toss with dressing!