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The Stay at Home continues : Staying Healthy: Fight Inflammation

I won’t lie that I have been a bit lax in my daily blogging and the weekend off lasted a few days longer.  Times are challenging and days seem to fly by and I have no idea what I have actually done.  The weather has been raw, cold and rainy here on Cape Cod which doesn’t help since my only respite from the insanity that is March/April 2020 are my beach walks which have been might chilly.   I have been doing quite a bit of writing, but it is actually either focused on my latest cookbook, which I am really trying to make headway with, and journal-ing so that I can remember these strange days. So the blog has suffered a bit, but I figured out a great way to keep up with the blog was to share the content from my cooking classes which are always complete with loads of easy and delicious recipes.

So today I am attaching the hand out from a recent class on Tackling Inflammation.  Covid -19 is a strange disease that causes intense inflammatory response and  no one is quite sure why, so I figured why not spread the word on how to keep those inflammation levels naturally low. Keep in mind it is a pdf which will download to your device.

Inflammation 2020

ENJOY!!!!!!!

And on it goes: Day 5 of Quarantine: Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies

God knows by now we all need a cookie!  I have been focusing on everyday foods that bring optimal health but at times like this we do need a treat too every now and then.  These cookies are perfect because they are incredibly delicious and indulgent, but the ingredients themselves are not too bad so in the grand scheme of things these are a much better choice than some other items you may have hiding in the pantry, say Oreos.  Yes Oreos are vegan, but they are also full of chemicals and crap that none of us should be eating, especially now. Even better Raw VEGAN cookie dough has no raw eggs so go ahead and have some raw cookie dough, no worries about salmonella from these!

The recipe is very similar in proportion to the classic toll house cookie so it may seem somewhat familiar.  It is great when plant based alternatives of classic favorites don’t have to deviate too much from the original.  So the big swap outs when it comes to making cookies plant based, swap the butter with coconut oil, same texture so it creams beautifully and use the classic flax meal and water substitute for the eggs.

1 egg = 1 tsp. flax meal+ 3 tsp water, let sit for 5 to 8 mins

otherwise the recipe is much the same, just be sure to choose a vegan, semi sweet chocolate chip, there are many on the market. So here it is:

1 cup coconut oil, ideally organic

1 1/2 cups coconut palm sugar

2 tsp flax meal +6tsp water, mixed together and allowed to sit for 8mins

2 cups flour, whatever type you like

1 tsp baking soda

1 cup chocolate chips

1 cup nuts pecans, walnuts, whatever you have

  • pre heat oven to 350 degrees
  • begin by creaming together the coconut oil and sugar until fluffy
  • add flax meal and water mixture and continue beating until nice and fluffy
  • add flour and baking soda in 1/2 cup increments and continue to mix
  • once the flour is thoroughly combined add chips and nuts
  • dough will be stiff so put a glove on and use your hand to mix in the chips and nuts well
  • place 1 ounce flattened balls of dough about 2 inches apart on a cookie sheet
  • bake for 8 to 12 minutes until tops begin to crack
  • let cool and enjoy.

ONE THING TO REMEMBER IS THAT THESE DON’T LAST QUITE AS LONG AS REGULAR COOKIES AND DRY OUT QUICKLY.  BE SURE TO FREEZE WHAT YOU DON’T INTEND TO EAT WITH 2 TO 3 DAYS.

The Quarantine continues: Day 4 : BEANS AND GREENS

Bean and greens are without a doubt one of the Optimal Kitchen’s favorite combos when it comes to feeding ourselves well.  This combination of fiber rich and protein packed beans paired with vitamin and mineral rich dark leafy greens gives the body everything it needs to thrive.  What is even better is beans are cheap and versatile and greens are just as varied and are one of the simplest things to grow if gardening is your thing.  You don’t need to take my word for it, cultures all around the globe have been pairing leafy greens with legumes for thousands of years.  I always like to look back at what humanity has been eating over the long term to help find clues as to what foods are best for us today.

You can do just about anything with beans and greens, have it as a side dish for grilled fish or meat or tossed with pasta or rice for a complete meal.  But one of my favorite ways to enjoy this power packed combination is in soups. This recipe is a classic Italian take on a beans and greens soup

.

WHITE BEAN AND ESCAROLE

2 tbs. Olive Oil

1 onion diced

3 carrots diced

2 cloves of garlic minced

¼ cup basil threads

1 head of escarole washed and cut into small strips

1 can white kidney beans, rinsed

1 quart chicken or vegetable Stock

Salt and Pepper to taste

  1. In a heavy bottomed pot over medium/high heat sauté the onions, celery, and carrots in olive oil until translucent

  2. Add escarole and then garlic and sauté another minute or 2

  3. Add stock that is already heated and toss in kidney beans

  4. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes

  5. Add basil and season to taste                                       

At the Optimal Kitchen we don’t ever want you running out to the store because you don’t have one of the ingredients in our recipes, we know there is always a substitute so this chart is to help you use whatever you have on hand to create your own fantastic beans and greens soup. You can make several variations of this basic recipe by simply

adding some pasta or chicken sausages to make it a bit heartier, or instead use Kale and Red Beans or Swiss Chard and Black Beans, you can even use Chinese cabbage and Edamame with some fresh ginger, whatever sounds good to you. Always add some freshly chopped herbs like basil, parsley, oregano or cilantro at the end, not only do they add great flavor but these leafy green herbs are full of the same vitamins, minerals and phyto-chemicals as vegetables. Look at the chart below and simply choose an item from each column to make your own creation.

BEANS

GREENS

BROTH

EXTRAS

White Beans

Escarole

Chix Stock

Herbs

Red Beans

Kale

Vegetable Stock

Potatoes

Black Beans

Swiss Chard

DicedTomatoes/Stock

Cooked Pasta

Edamame

Napa Cabbage

Ginger Soy Stock

Rice

Soup has a significant therapeutic value that goes beyond simply the ingredients. There is a comfort and warmth that soup provides the body that is simply unmatched by any other foods. Soups are nourishing to the body and soul but even better as prices rise on produce as they inevitably do every winter, learning to make delicious homemade soups will ensure you not only eat all your veggies this winter season but you won’t break the bank while doing it.

The Quarantine continues: Day 2 Use your produce : make Wontons

So my governor Charlie Baker has now shut down all non-essential businesses for 2 weeks so it is official we are in.  I now fear the grocery store a bit and will wait until I have exhausted the majority of my supplies before heading out.  I am lucky though because I stocked up on a wide variety of produce the last time I did venture out and I realized afterwards that many of my choices had naturally long lives making them ideal choices for this pandemic.  The goal is to have as little contact as possible with the outside world, whether you are going out to shop or using delivery services.  So when shopping try and do enough for a week at a time and consider these produce suggestions which easily last 7 days in the refrigerator.  Unless they are on sale and you plan to eat them right away avoid purchases of fresh berries, fragile greens and perfectly ripe fruits. This is not a time for waste and you want to make sure your family is getting all the vitamins and minerals they need to keep our immune systems strong so fresh vegetables and fruits are key.

LONG LASTING PRODUCE

  1. cabbage (lots of sales to due to St. Patty’s day glut)
  2. winter squashes
  3. sweet potatoes
  4. onions, shallots, garlic (allium family)
  5. carrots
  6. brussel sprouts
  7. pineapple
  8. green bananas
  9. apples
  10. citrus (oranges, grapefruits, lemons and limes)

Hopefully you have some produce supplies left and this recipe is a great way to use up whatever you have on hand and since it is getting chopped up fine and mixed with a bunch of other veggies it is ok if it is a little past its prime.

 VEGETABLE WONTONS

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon sesame oil

4 scallions

1 small head of cabbage (any variety) (about 2 cups chopped)

1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger

3 carrots grated, about 1 cup

3 tablespoons good quality soy sauce (I prefer tamari)

¼ cup oat bran or bread crumbs

½ cup chopped fresh cilantro

1 package of wonton wrappers ( nasoya is a good brand)

a beaten egg for an egg wash or corn starch and water for a vegan option

1. In a saucepan heat both oils then toss in scallions and sauté for 1 minute, add Bok choy and ginger and sauté for another 2 minutes.

2. Add grated carrot and sauté for 1 minute, then add soy sauce and continue to cook for another minute. Turn off and stir in oat bran or bread crumbs, if mixture seems to dry add a bit more soy sauce, if it seems to wet add a bit more bread crumb.

3. Lay out wonton skins and spoon in 1 teaspoon filling. Brush 2 touching sides with egg wash and fold into a triangle.

4. Brush the peak of the triangle and fold in the other 2 sides to shape the wonton.

At this point you can either drop the wontons into boiling stock for a delicious soup.  Steam them or even put on a cookie sheet and spray with olive oil and bake at 425 for 10 to 15 mins until the skins are crispy.

Serve immediately with dipping sauce.

Dipping Sauce suggestions: Duck Sauce, Soy Sauce, Peanut butter and soy sauce blended together, or whatever you like!

 

Understanding our 21st century food systems, the series.


I began my career as chef in the mid 1990’s just as the Food Network was gaining steam and chefs were beginning to be regarded with what only can be compared to rock star status. It was here the world of food began to change significantly. Food took a huge shift from being something that sustains us and gives us energy to thrive, what I like to call everyday food, to almost mythic status. Elaborate dishes that no home chef would ever make because of the multitude of ingredients or the amount of time it would take. A truly unsustainable way of feeding yourself and your family especially if you are subject to things like a busy work schedule, children and of course a budget.

Food and how we feed ourselves has become increasingly complicated, but ironically rather than hosting shows that actually teach people how to cook, the cooking shows now drawing an audience are all competitions, which serves only to make more home cooks feel even more inadequate. The desire for these foods pushed many of us into restaurants and out of our home kitchens. The result has been an enormous increase in obesity and all the diseases associated with it. Even worse we have become a nation of eaters who rarely sit down around the table for a family meal, and eat on the run from fast, casual restaurants in disposable packaging that isn’t just destroying our health, but the health of the planet as well.

I am trying desperately to gauge when exactly we became so disconnected from the food chain that we now simply ignore where our food comes from and how it is prepared. It was not that long ago. I teach cooking classes to seniors quite often, and when I speak to this generation of 70 and 80 somethings, they all distinctly remember milk delivery in glass bottles, going to the butcher to pick up their meat wrapped only in butcher paper and twine, and their kitchen gardens, a must have for all rural dwellers. Even my childhood growing up in the 1970s, grocery stores were a fraction of the size because we simply did not have all these packaged and processed foods and drinks. We drank water out of a tap or a water fountain, not disposable plastic bottles. So my best guess is about 30-35 years ago we had a major shift in how we view food and where it comes from.

Most of the time I tend to fall into the trap that it is America’s addiction to cheap food as the major driver, but a trip to Europe last winter proved me wrong there. Every meal we went out to, was probably ½ or 2/3 of what I would have spent in the U.S. for much lower quality food. So in fact our food isn’t quite as cheap as you think, and when people consistently eat out, it is quite expensive. We could then blame many of the additives and ingredients in packaged food that trigger those same dopamine receptors as heroin, causing us to become actually addicted to those junk foods. While we all talk about how to deal with the opioid epidemic and the growing numbers of deaths related to it, why aren’t we talking about addiction to sugar which kills more people annually through diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and even cancer than drug addiction. Perhaps the sugar industry has a better lobbyist than the drug companies.

As I continued to struggle with the idea of when and how we made this shift, my husband who is a bit older and a child of the 60’s, reminded me it was all about convenience. As women made the shift into the workplace, this did not absolve them of their so-called wifely duties, such as cooking and cleaning. However there are only so many hours in the day, so companies designed products to help those busy women. We started with items like Hamburger Helper and Shake and Bake, but in 50 years we have evolved into complete frozen meals and aisles and aisles of packaged foods to help cut your cooking and prep time. All of this created in the name of convenience and making life easier.

Here is a fundamental question, Is all of this convenience food making our lives easier and better?

I don’t have an answer but, I can confidently say as convenient as all this may be it is causing a whole host of environmental and health degradation that are having a significant impact on our communities. It is great to have all this convenience food that makes dinner prep quick and easy, but if the ingredients in those foods can lead to poor health outcomes and chronic illness perhaps we should think twice about purchasing these products. I tell clients all the time that those these foods seem inexpensive and convenient at the time, but you will pay with your health later on.

The conversation could go on and on, but the why’s at this point aren’t that important to me. What is important is how do we change our patterns of behavior and learn to embrace, or should I say re-embrace a simpler way of life, which inevitably includes how we feed ourselves. The task is monumental and when looked at as a whole, rather overwhelming. Like most change, it is hard to do but if you approach it in small reasonable ways, you can successfully change how you do anything.

So here are 3 easy steps to get you on the path towards a better way of feeding yourself and your family. If you get coffee out, which why would you when home brew is a fraction of the cost, use a re-usable thermal mug with a lid and never be without your re-usable canvas shopping bags. 2 small steps which can make a big difference for the planet but the last one is for your health. Aim to eat 1 meal everyday that is from only whole plant based foods, aim for absolutely no plastic films as well. These small steps go a long way to improving your health and the health of the planet.

Simple Changes, Huge Rewards

Last  week’s blog post talked about new beginnings and how to start a new healthy regimen.  In it  I spoke of 4 simple changes to get you started and if you missed them here they are again:

1) Eat more plants, 1/2 cup servings 6 vegetable, 3 fruit EVERYDAY

2)Avoid meat and dairy as much as possible, perhaps a few days a week or before 6 everyday

3)Avoid white sugar

4) Eat your carbs at lunch

I know it is hard to imagine that simple changes can reap huge rewards, but it is a very real fact that the small incremental changes we make towards achieving a healthier lifestyle have a far greater impact than grandiose measures.  Why is this?

Simple, when we make small changes to our everyday lifestyle, they are manageable and thus sustainable.  Going vegan 3 days a week is realistic, going completely vegan for most is near impossible.  It is our nature that when we make huge changes and then fail to meet those challenges we set forth, we simply give up.  However when we achieve a goal, albeit a small one, we are enervated  and ready to face the next challenge.

So if you take nothing else from this here is the key:  EACH DAY AIM TO MAKE A SMALL POSITIVE CHANGE TO YOUR NUTRITION LIFESTYLE. Perhaps today is saying no to cream in your coffee or resisting that candy in the dish at the Post Office, our small choices do in fact have a huge impact as they grow organically each and everyday.

So what’s your small change today?

September means a New year =a New You

I don’t know if it is due to the fact that I have kids who start school after Labor Day or perhaps it is my Jewish roots, but September always seems like the new year to me.  September brings winds of change in so many ways, and for me it always holds the promise of positive change.  It is a new beginning, a chance to re-invent ourselves or the way we live our lives.  At the Optimal Kitchen it is no surprise that our focus is on positive changes to the way we eat, so let us sow the seeds of change in your nutrition life.

Summer can be a challenge, especially for those of us living in summer tourist destinations.  The temptations are endless, whether it is ice cream, fried clams or a burger on the grill.  Here on Cape Cod, summer is an endless party so adhering to a healthy nutrition lifestyle is even more daunting.  But it is September and the party is over and now its time to think about some positive changes.

When looking to make changes in how we eat, it is human nature to start with an extreme, such as no wheat, sugar or dairy.  As great as it is for you to give these things up, the realist in me informs us that it is not the most realistic option.  Instead aim to give up just one of these items, or try to give up all 3 during the week but allow for some indulgences on the weekend. Remember balance is key to sustainability, and this can be a delicate dance to find what works for you.

So hear is a list of suggestions, all quite simple changes in your lifestyle that will help get you on a better path.  They are not groundbreaking and there is no magic elixir or pill, but if you start applying some of these simple changes you may find yourself feeling great and slimmer by the Holiday season.

1)Eat more plants, aim everyday to have 6 fist size servings of vegetables and 3 fruit, if you do this you simply have no room for many other foods

2)Try to avoid all meat and dairy at least 3 times a week.  No doubt you have seen recent articles touting a vegan lifestyle , however I realize this can be extreme for some so instead try to be vegan at least 3 days a week or try the Michael Pollan trick, vegan until 6pm

3) Avoid white sugar, there is nothing anyone can say to make me think white sugar is ok.  It is amazing how Molasses, which is what sugar is refined from, is so full of nutrients, such as potassium, that gets completely stripped away during the refining process.  Sugar leads to all sorts of unhealthy outcomes, diabetes and the proliferation of malignant cells being the 2 major reasons to avoid white sugar.

4)Eat carbohydrates at lunch.  Carbs are fuel and if you are active you need these foods in your diet, in fact, I don’t like anyone to isolate out an entire food group unless you have allergies or another medical condition.  However eating carbs late in the day when you are less active leads to higher resting blood sugars and possible weight gain.  Eating these foods at lunchtime and doing something active in the afternoon, taking a walk or yoga class for example uses up that excess blood sugar.

Start here with these 4 simple changes and you might just be amazed to see the changes that start to emerge!!!!!!

Mourning a Culinary Legend

It is remarkable to me how the world is reeling from the loss of Anthony Bourdain,who will be remembered as the every man’s culinary hero of the early 21st century.  The outpourings of grief from such diverse circles shows what an impact he had on contemporary society.  I have a very different perspective.

As a rising female chef on the mid  1990’s I read Bone in the Throat, Bourdain’s first novel about the culinary underbelly, which might I add is dead on.  Ironically my life was a bit of the flip side of Anthony Bourdain’s, I was a trained writer with a degree in English working as a chef on a Caribbean Island.  I grew up in Manhattan and at that point wanted to distance myself as much as possible from that world.  When I left the Caribbean I headed to Cape Cod where my husband and I have been raising our two daughters, now teenagers.  See that is supposed to be one of the perks of being a chef, you get to live and work in these supremely beautiful places people spend all year saving up for a week long trip to visit.

So my journey has brought me to where Bourdain’s journey began, but though our paths may be an inverse of each other his love of food and adventure has profoundly affected my work and many of my fellow Culinarians.  Food is a powerful thing, it manages to cross political and social boundaries like nothing else.  Food brings us together, food sustains us, food brings us pleasure.  It is a profound part of the human equation and Anthony Bourdain sought to teach the masses how important this aspect of the human condition was to society.  Food is unique to geographical and cultural regions, just like flora, fauna and even language.  Food can tell us so much about a society or region, in a way that nothing else can.  Food allows social connections that profoundly affect families and communities.  I think this is part of why Bourdain’s tragic death has affected so many people, he helped us see the power of food and its ability to cross social divides that nothing else can.

His death is a tremendous loss to not just the culinary world, but to all of contemporary society that seeks to find meaning and connection.  A shared meal is a powerful thing that should be savored and respected and Anthony Bourdain did his best to help the world try and understand this simple fact.

Embrace the Plant Based BBQ

This past holiday weekend had lots of outdoor BBQ grills fired up and grilling everything from hot dogs to hamburgers to sausages and steaks.  It is the beginning of the grilling season and our grills are usually crowded with loads of meats, but there is so much more to grill and these choices will not help your health and the health of the planet.  This summer BBQ season why not break with tradition and instead of meats let those delicious summer vegetables take center stage.

Vegetables soak up those same delicious marinades the way meats do so if you have a favorite one don’t throw it away.  Another bonus is the quick cooking time vegetables have on the grill so there is very little cook time, ideal for the hungry masses.  Even better, the novice griller need not worry about under-cooking  their foods and making someone sick because vegetables simply don’t do that!

Lots of vegetables work on the grill but here is a list of some of my favorites that work great, be sure to always clean your grill before putting the veggies on so they don’t stick.

1) Mushrooms (portobello, and shitake are my favorite)

2)Summer Squashes

3)Peppers (all varieties including hot)

4)Asparagus

5)Eggplant

6) Wedges of Radicchio or Bok Choy

7) Cauliflower Steaks

Even better here are some fantastic marinade recipes to help you take this vegetables to a whole new level.

GINGER SOY MARINADE

¼ cup Sesame oil

½ cup Canola Oil

¼ cup Rice wine vinegar

¼ cup Good quality soy sauce

¼ cup Honey

¼ cup Orange juice (optional)

2 tbs. freshly grated ginger

Juice of one lemon

3tbs. Toasted sesame seeds

1 tsp. Crushed red pepper

  1. Combine all of the ingredients and whisk together

LEMON HERB MARINADE

Juice and zest from 2 lemons

2 tbs cider vinegar

1/3 cup olive oil

¼ cup fresh basil

¼ cup fresh parsley

¼ cup cilantro

2 garlic cloves

sea salt and pepper to taste

  1. Combine the ingredients in a food processor or blender and slowly add oil while running to help it emulsify

.

CILANTRO MARINADE

½ cup Fresh Cilantro

¼ cup fresh lime juice

Few cloves of garlic

Hot sauce to taste

2/3 cup Olive Oil

Salt and Pepper to taste

  1. Place first 4 ingredients in blender, while blending slowly add olive oil so that marinade emulsified
  2. will keep tightly sealed in refrigerator for up to a week
  3. Make a smoked chili variation on this recipe by adding 1 or 2 chipoltes in adobo, perfect for corn and bean salads
  4. So make the shift this year and embrace those grilled veggies!!!!!

 

The Past, Present and Future of Grocery Stores

I love teaching my culinary classes to seniors because it affords me the opportunity to talk about how our food systems  worked 50-60 years ago, and how much has changed in what is relatively a short period of time.  Most of my students remember  when milk was delivered in glass bottles to your front door every morning.  Yesterday a gentleman asked me if people still canned, as he fondly remembered his childhood  basement stocked with jars of fruits and vegetables lovingly canned by his mother to feed the family through the winter.  We often wax nostalgic about trips to the local butcher for a fresh cut of meat wrapped in nothing but butcher paper and twine, or the green grocer which offered a selection of colorful fruits and vegetables, but only what was in season and nary a plastic bag or wrapper in sight.  How we feed ourselves and our families has dramatically changed in the last  century, and in this humble food advocates opinion, not for the better.

History tells us the rise of the grocery store started just about 100 years ago with the Astoria Market in Manhattan.  It was an attempt to bring products together in a single marketplace to provide customers with greater convenience, the birth of the convenience food era which we are still in the throes of.  The Great Depression enhanced the growth of these stores as merchants went out of business and everyone was looking for the best deals. The emergence of home refrigeration which allowed customers to shop in bulk for perishables that they were never able to do before, also had a profound effect on the growth of these stores.  The rise of the automobile further changed how we shopped because we could purchase greater amounts on fewer trips.  In fact changes in  transportation was one of the biggest game changers in the food system, because what was always regional or local food systems got stretched and was now crossing state and  even international borders.

These brought big changes to how we as Americans view food.  First off,  most of us have very little understanding of seasonality, and why would we when you can go into an American grocery store and by fresh strawberries anytime of the year, or corn or any other fruit or vegetable for that matter.  But the impacts of the rise of these mega stores is far greater than any of us can begin to imagine.  The greatest threat these stores pose to humankind is that they have completely disconnected humans from the food they eat.  Let us remember our most basic human elements, providing food and shelter for our families so they can survive.  That is it, all humans are designed to do, and by breaking the connection humans have with feeding themselves, you disrupt the balance.  There is a unique satisfaction gleaned when we provide a healthy meal for our family, especially if you have had to grow or raise some of the food on your plate, but most Americans have absolutely no understanding of this anymore.  Dinner may be heating up a frozen entree or a drive thru at a fast food restaurant on your way from one over-scheduled activity to the next.  This is how the majority of us feed ourselves and then wonder why we are a nation in a health crisis whose roots are found in poor dietary choices.

The rise of Amazon and on line grocery shopping is poised to change the system even further, in ways I am not sure we can yet understand.  However I don’t want to see these changes, I want to return to a time where we shop for goods from our community and locally owned stores.  Already the trend of the farmer’s market is beginning to wane as Americans attention span, shortens and the next new trend comes into favor.  How we feed ourselves shouldn’t be a trend.  Your dollars speak louder than anything else so use them wisely and shop local whenever you can!