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.

Chickpea Chile Verde

It’s been the start of another busy school year – 1st and 3rd grade. Hard believe it when the Facebook memories pop up and I see my little beanie babies in their diaper butts. It’s all so bittersweet. After years of loving on mommy my 9 year-old is all into daddy now. They play Roblox and Minecraft on separate computers with headsets on talking to each other, even though they are merely feet apart. My husband’s avatar is aptly named “dinkydorkdad” or something along those lines so as not to be the misunderstood adult creeping around the kids online gaming worlds. They play Pokemon and trade Magic the Gathering cards all hours of the day.  My younger son is learning from his elders and follows suit. I hear the boys in our basement right now laughing and screaming “I broke my penis! Penis! Penis!”.

So I’m grateful for the extra time in the day where nobody is waiting outside the bathroom door anymore. Or screaming to play tag at the park. Or begging me to divide myself in two. But still. My husband gets the full frontal hugs. And now, I get the back hugs. Asher looks at me only when it’s meal time or to ask “Where’s dad?” and when I say “Not here.” he desperately says “Why? What happened??” And I’m heartbroken! Because I’m MOM. I used to be mommy. But call me mom now. Or, as my older son has named me “Worms”. Yep, that’s what was on my birthday card two weeks ago.

In any case, I’m still good for one thing and that’s cooking. Tonight’s menu was a vegan Chickpea Chile Verde mixed in with brown rice and it was DAMN GOOD. Tomatillos are native to Mexico and while they resemble tomatoes they are actually more closely related to gooseberries and come from the nightshade family. Fascinating stuff! They are also low in saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium and are packed with vitamins. This recipe is much lighter, tangier and summery than a traditional smoky chili with heavier beans, and had a lovely crunch factor with sweet whole corn kernels and tortilla strips. It’s also easy to make because you can rely on the oven to do the bulk of the cooking.

CHICKPEA CHILE VERDE

  • 3 TB olive oil
  • 2 poblano peppers, seeded and chopped into large chunks
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 pounds tomatillos, husks removed and quartered
  • 3 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 TB cumin
  • 2 14 oz cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup fresh, frozen or canned corn kernels
  • 1 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 1 avocado
  • Tortilla strips for topping

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Toss tomatillos, poblano peppers and garlic with olive oil and spread out on baking sheet, then bake for 20-25 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare brown rice according to packing – typically 2 cups water per 1 cup rice – simmering for 45 minutes. I use a rice cooker which steams the rice and tends to have a faster and fluffier cook. Remove banking sheet from oven and scoop tomatillos and poblanos into large pot, then add the vegetable broth. Use hand blender to puree your soup base to a smooth consistency, then stir in the chickpeas, corn and cilantro. Serve in a bowl over brown rice and top with tortilla strips.

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My birthday cards…

 

Enjoying the last of summer…

Polish Dog Rice Bowl

I love anything as a rice bowl. So I recently invested in a Breville rice cooker. It’s not something I ever thought I needed, but we prepare grains like quinoa, rice or farro so I often I felt it was worth a try. Well this baby steams grains to a perfectly soft, stickily tender consistency. My mind has been opened to vegetarian rice bowl possibilities! It really makes my meal preparation so much easier and this appliance has become a staple on my countertop now. 

Today I was in the mood for a Hungarian inspired Tofurkey Polish sausage with cabbage and peppers heaped on top of a steaming bed of rice. The cabbage chunks marinate nicely in a simmering pot of paprika and garlic infused vegetable broth giving it a nice a silky texture, while the peppers and sliced sausages fry up on a medium high setting for a slightly charred, roasted taste in a separate pan. Add a dollop of brown mustard and sauerkraut on top of this dish and you will not be disappointed in this rice bowl version of a polish dog. 

Polish Dog Rice Bowl

  • 1 package of Tofurkey Kielbasa, chopped into 1″ chunks
  • 3 bell peppers (assorted red, yellow and orange) julienned in thick strips 
  • 1 head of cabbage, sliced into large chunks
  • 1 cup of vegetable broth
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp granulated garlic
  • 1 TB olive oil
  • Rice (your choice)

Add chunks of cabbage to a large sauté pan along with 1 cup vegetable broth and spices. Cover and let simmer for 30 minutes, turning every 5 minutes. I large frying pan add olive oil, peppers and sausages. Cook on medium heat for 10 minutes turning frequently. Once oil seems to dry out, let the peppers char very slightly in pan. Cook your choice of rice separately, then scoop cabbage and pepper/sausage mixture on top in a serving bowl. Top with spicy brown mustard or stone ground mustard and a small scoop sauerkraut.