December 21, 2011

'Crunchy' blends can go smoothly too.....

For those unaware, recent times have seen the second-top definition of the word 'crunchy' in most dictionaries as "politically and environmentally liberal" (as in "music that incorporates whalesong sounds pretty crunchy to me"). Or this, more fully from - "Used to describe persons who have adjusted or altered their lifestyle for environmental reasons. Crunchy persons tend to be politically strongly left-leaning and may be additionally but not exclusively categorized as vegetarians, vegans, eco-tarians, conservationists, environmentalists, neo-hippies, tree huggers, nature enthusiasts, etc. "  Apparently the etymology of it goes back to a commonly-used phrase in certain circles in the US - shortened from "crunchy granola people".

Lately I've copped a bit of (mostly good-natured) flak about the crunchy nature of most of my blends.  Fair call, and being Australian I am all for the sort of well-meaning stirring we often charmingly refer to as "shit-giving", since being vile to each other and heaping insult and deprecation on our close friends and loved ones proved a valid means of overcoming the torpid emotional stifling and suppression that came with the English part of our foundation.  We're not quite so comfortable with declarations of love as we are with personal insult.  So when you meet an Australian, and when they first call you a bad word, then you know they like you a lot and have accepted you as a friend - just so as you know, OK?  You silly bastard.

So anyway, yes, my take on things nutritional is unapologetically a bit on the crunchy side.  Like a hippie into top-fuel drag racing though, I also wholeheartedly approve of Nigella Lawson's ridiculously consumption-oriented antics in the kitchen in that her message at heart is about joy and love and the shortness of life.  She just expresses it differently from the way I do, is all.

An oft-commented-upon phenomenon when people begin a blended Tube Food journey is the dawning of awareness of food in a whole new way - whether we are blending for ourselves or someone in our care.  In fact, it especially applies to parents of small children.  What happens, by simple virtue of putting stuff into a see-through container and turning it effectively into stomach contents minus the lumps and digestive juices is that we see and smell what a whole meal is really like, down at 'gut' level.  Of course there's the informational approach as well to do our heads in; just in case the blender wasn't illustrative enough.  We read the ingredients on a can of formula, are perhaps a little horrified as we fully understand what it is humans are being asked to subsist on, solely, for the foreseeable future. Then when we go to replace that with a 'regular' store-bought sort of pre-packaged meal (such as we'd happily eat at home), reading the ingredients and scrutinizing the caloric values and nutritional breakdowns gives us another pause for thought. So many unnatural chemicals, so much fat, sugar, salt, so highly denatured and processed...........but it's still OK because it isn't formula; that still makes it OK as Real Food doesn't it?

That, friends, is for each one of us to decide.

My last post here was all about choosing better over best, and why it's a sensible approach.  I stand by it, as I stand by Nigella's genuine quest to enhance our enjoyment of all things foody.  But my journey, and that of many tubies and tubie carers, takes a different path; one more akin to entering the food, to accepting the axiom "you are what you eat" as more than just a throwaway line. This runs the risk of being seen as very crunchy indeed.

We tubies tend to be an unwell lot on average, it must be said.  I mean there are reasons we have tubes, it's not a lifestyle choice for most of us.  And when you take the connection between nourishment and wellness,  then it's hard to turn away from.  The burden of such knowledge, that you can almost without any doubt make a huge difference on your spectrum of ill-health to good-health just by changing your diet, is a heavy one, unless acted upon with some grace.  Admitting that our average diet is frankly an unsustainable horror and abomination to the planet and our health is hard.  It means changing our ways.  Facing up to things.  Admitting we have been conned, perhaps.

But all too easily, steps on the road to this awareness can feel just so relentlessly negative, and this demotivates many of us. Such negativity is often cited as a reason to shy away from falling in with the crunchy brethren and settling for more of the 'regular' normative diet of Homo Microwavicus.  I'm referring to the set of discoveries that those seeking information about food and health make very early on - that pretty much everything that you used to think of as 'food' gives you cancer, heart disease, diabetes, makes you obese, is addictive, messes with your mood and stunts your intelligence.  Etcetera.  It can seem like it's an all-or-nothing venture, either you become a sandal-wearing vegan self-sufficient organic solar power producer and join the ranks of the annoyingly self righteous or you just shy back from the enormity of the whole modern diet catastrophe and settle down to a big dish of nice consoling 'low-fat' chocolate and bacon icecream.  I know many people are simply put off by the mention of a whole grain, an organic vegetable, a mung bean.  And anyway, isn't it all like really hard work?

This last myth is the one I want to bust today.  That using good whole foods is difficult, that *cooking* in itself is hard, takes loads of time, and is expensive.  Baloney.

Double baloney if you have a good blender at your disposal.  Many folks new to the idea of a blenderized diet start from the premise that food will need to be treated in very certain and specific ways to be safely used in a tube.  Not so; in fact, quite the contrary.  I found that getting to know my Vitamix was one of the most liberating things I'd ever experienced with food.  Simply put - I can blend anything.  Paradoxically, this makes it easy to just throw in some Carnation Instant Breakfast, skim milk powder, Cheerios and perhaps a Twinkie and be done with it.  Just as easy is opening a can of formula, and the formula would be arguably better for you too.  But the real possibilities such a blender opens up are awesome - if you're cooking a healthy meal for the family then that can go right in the blender too.  How simple is that?  Any food you can think of to eat in the whole world - you can blend it.

Maybe you've done a bit of reading, and been inspired to go down the local market and buy some bulk whole grains, or legumes.  Maybe you live in a food desert and have to travel to get such things, so you stock up - all good.  You've discovered that frozen vegetables are not only often better quality than 'fresh' from the supermarket but way cheaper too.  Perhaps you've gotten word around with friends and decided that if you all pool together you can buy half a grass-fed organic cow, have it butchered, divided between you and put up in the freezer.  These things all make crunchy so much cheaper than the cheapest junk food it's beyond belief.  Rice and beans or any grains, chosen well, with a little bit of some good fats, some vegetables, maybe some animal parts or secretions, that's the foundations we're talking about.  And if you only look at the adventure from a tube Food perspective, then the whole area of cooking becomes suddenly ten times easier.  Why?  Because it just doesn't matter how it looks, what it tastes like, or whether you cooked it totally 'right'.  It's pretty much impossible to fail.

Crunchy really is just as quick as the alternative, but there's a catch - crunchy usually means waiting.  Rice takes a little while to cook.  Soaking beans is a really good idea, so you'll find yourself spending a whole 120 seconds (that's two minutes) getting out a bowl and some water the night before.  Job's already half done then, you see.  Inventions like rice cookers and slow cookers make it so amazingly simple and easy to prepare too.  Grains, beans, vegetables, meats, whatever - in the crock.  Set.  Come back 3 or 4 hours later and blend.  That was 15 minutes of your life, just spread over a morning or afternoon.  And the rewards?  You've spent less cash (if you've shopped or grown well and wisely), gotten tastier food, better nutrition, a sense of providing and accomplishment, and taken less time than wrangling a bunch of cans/jars/plastic packets, microwaves and other gear, plus you've been quite a bit kinder to the environment.   But there are TWO extra benefits that come from this, neither of which seem obvious in the face of the other.

One, every step you make towards a more naturalistic and 'whole' crunchy approach to food makes every other step that more inviting, that bit more inspiring and easier, as you discover new sensations and flavours, and gain confidence.  Of course, noticing great health improvements can be pretty motivating as well.  But number two, opposite to this and just as important, you'll probably come to care far less about the occasional 'bad' food choice episode.  You'll stop feeling such guilt at consuming a processed convenience or indulgent luxury food here and there.  You'll recognize you're making a certain trade-off between your momentary sense of wellbeing (it was late, convenient, and it's a tasty treat for the family etc) and your desire to feed your tube or your tubie as healthfully as possible.  Why?  Because you'll have the satisfaction of knowing that all that other crunchy stuff you're doing is making up for such stuff.  You can have your Nigella Lawson moments and buy the extravagantly enriched dark chocolate nibblies without overly worrying about the transnational corporation's probable use of child labour or the empty fat-forming calories because you'll have realised by now it's impossible to 100% avoid doing all harm all the time, and because your choices are, for the most part, very responsible ones.  Importantly, that does something very profound to the food we eat (and the food we tube), I believe, or at least to how we assimilate it in ourselves.

How we feel about our food and tube food is just as important as the food itself, in my small and humble opinion.  If it's a burden, if there's a sense of stress, and it all comes down to being a chore - and if we doubt its goodness and whether it's the 'right' thing, then we are doing ourselves a great disservice.  Stress and worry are the biggest and most easily remedied influences on digestive health there are, and they're incredibly infectious.  A carer's stress will translate to a tubie's distress, without a word said or a mention made.  Just as if we're worrying about whether the processed comfort food we're eating is making us fatter and moving us ever closer to diabetes and a coronary before the age of 50 is more sure to make it so than being less worried, because the stress itself is bad for your heart and wreaks havoc with your digestion.  The worry itself creates that great, terrible feedback loop of nihilism - the one that returns you to the sofa with the soda, the chemically-enhanced 1500 cal popcorn with 1000% of your rdi of sodium, and the triple-choc fudge.

Better really is so much better than best in all this too.  Making a move in the crunchy direction not only makes further moves easier, but it makes 'retrograde' decisions less stressy too.  And you'll find over time you make fewer of those processed convenience-food type choices anyway, but enjoy them all the more because of it.

Nigella's hardly the role model for crunchy healthful planet-loving sustainable foodiness, but she's got one thing nailed for sure - genuine enjoyment is at least half the picture.

And since you're reading this here, chances are very high you already know the broad benefits of the Crunchy, and the major horrors of the slick, corporatized consumerist Smooth.  So your choice is fairly (or perhaps unfairly) clear - embrace a bit of a crunchwards direction in your food and tube life, or be prepared for the pressure and stress of your resistance to make you feel worse and more disconnected as time goes on.

I believe in the end that natural selection-type pressures will prevail over our dietary and lifestyle mistakes anyway.  We will all die too, of course; so in the light of this mortal reminder the only real question is this:

How smooth do we want our change into the crunchy future to be?

December 14, 2011

Better Versus Best

I almost called this post Dessert or Desert? But then I figured people might think I was going to talk about how bad spelling is on the internet lately.  No, I'm not - we all know how rotten spelling and grammar are getting these days and it's hardly news.  What that alternative title refers to is the trouble with actually finding real food in so many places these days.

As happens from time to time, I made some tactless comments with good intentions online, and managed to upset some people.  Part of it is that I forget how incredibly lucky I am.  Even though I live in small-town Western Australia, on a very low fixed disability pension, I can still manage to find (and grow) decent fresh food.  It still staggers me that with all the advances in modern civilization, and the explosion of consumer choice - I mean just think of the sheer SIZE of a supermarket these days - that an enormous percentage of the Western (especially American, it has to be said) urban population lives in a virtual food desert.  There is either no fresh or whole food available, or it is priced beyond the ordinary means of the average locals.  Very often what is available is factory-farmed, genetically mis-manipulated, artificially grown, processed, and OLD beyond belief, to the point of providing very little nutritional value.  But you can always find a cheap, tasty, fat-and-sugar laden frozen dessert made on a factory line somewhere from a bunch of industrial by-products from stuff that might once have qualified as food, or might not.

Really.  There exist in countless cities, towns and communities whole neighbourhoods that have NO access to fresh or whole foods.  And we tubies live in those places, too.

This is all a terrible shame, and an indictment on all of us; that we have allowed the very foundation of our health, wellbeing and even social fabric - food - to be so completely taken away from us in this way.

So while we all do what we can to fix our broken societies, we make do, and work around the problems as best we can.  That's why I ended up calling this post Better Versus Best.

It's all a matter of degrees after all, isn't it?  The decisions we make about our nutrition, I mean.  You all know I make a trade-off between the best possible nutrition I could have and factors lie ease, convenience and price.  Along with my pretty-good blends I use canned formula quite regularly; it's especially handy for going out places.  Again, I'm lucky in that I can handle it (as long as I have plentiful good food to balance it out), formula is subsidised to some degree by my government health system, and I CAN make blends of great fresh and whole foods.  Still, for various mainly psychological and availability reasons, I cut corners too and use pre-prepared stuff in my blends.  There is no good reason for me not to do this, as overall, my diet is good.

What to do with a Tube Food diet when you live in a food desert though?  Do you just throw your hands in the air, throw in the towel, and figure you can't win anyway?  No, of course you don't.  To torture some metaphors a little further, that knowledge you have gained about Real Food means you can't just stick your head in the sand now.  Or maybe there is a tiny bit of an oasis available to you, but you just can't afford the prices the locals charge for the good stuff.

Speaking of torture, some people find themselves in other invidious positions of bondage about the sorts of blends they feel they 'can' do.  I lost count a long time ago of the number of stories I've heard of threats from dietitians, doctors, and so on to call in child protective services, to refuse treatment, to even remove foster children from custody, for 'transgressions' such as daring to feed your child actual food, even when you can demonstrate very clearly that it really is, in fact and actually, far better for them than what has been prescribed.  I hear of dietitians who grudgingly agree to trials of blended food, insisting that parents and carers stick rigidly to recipes made for them by the dietitian, composed of highly refined or processed foods, fortified with all manner of artificial additives, presumably so they can justify themselves to their superiors should things come somehow unstuck.  "See, I did it by The Book - it's not my fault it didn't work."  This is not all that rare, sadly, right now.

What to do in the face of all this?  What I forgot when I offended by commenting on someone's blend (when I erroneously thought they were also saying their child had all sorts of terrible gastrointestinal issues, probably from the food) was my relative good fortune.  Turns out the child in question is actually thriving now they're off the formula, and given the situation with an obstinate RD, a foster-care situation and the subsequent financial difficulties with what is a pretty decent blend, all things considered.  One could never fault the parenting of the person in question.  This blend works for that child, and works for the family situation, so that's what matters.

The take-home message is that we might not be able to do best all or even some of the time, but that needn't stop us from doing better.

When people start using a blender to prepare food, and start dabbling in nutrient and calorie factors, a funny thing happens:  We get a totally different perspective on what is, and isn't food.  The scales fall from our eyes and we read ingredient labels, and discover things like The Thousand Names Of Sugar.  Then, faced with an entire society seemingly designed to ensure the oral eaters consume as much as possible of fast convenience foods high in all the wrong things but many of which are so cleverly marketed as 'healthy choices', it's no wonder that some of us fall into despair and let it demotivate us from doing the best we can given what we've got.  You know, just blending up a Carnation Instant Breakfast sachet with some Corn Syrup, 2% milk and Cheerios.

You can make an argument that this blend is 'better' than a can of formula, but do you know what?  I personally wouldn't say so, unless it's better tolerated than formula, and there's other, good food in the diet as well.  Then sure, it's better.  And if that's all you can do, then do it well, and feel good about it.

It's really easy to go too far with our urge to nourish well, especially when we're blending for the health and maybe even the very survival of a child or loved one.  We can obsess to the point of paralysis, and in fact this is exactly what happens with so many people when they first come to consider a blended diet - the question of "but how do I make sure it's complete?" can seem so incredibly overwhelming, especially for the majority of us who know with certainty that our own diets are a compromise at best and a health disaster at worst.  We often have a lot to learn very quickly about basic nutrition and we feel we have to get it right; right now.  The pressure can be too much, so we fold and go back to the canned formula, or the Carnation Instant Breakfast the RD told us we could try with some applesauce if we really must insist.

When that happens we can't feel sure of what best is, so we never move to something better.

And as with all things in life, it's a matter of direction and degree, not of absolutes.  This all applies to how oral eating folks nourish themselves too, you know.  As long as we're constantly looking to do better, we'll be moving always towards best.  Don't be holding out for best just because you can only do a little bit better.  DO that little bit better.  Better is the right direction.


November 26, 2011

Perfect Salad Wrap; a Really Complete Meal.

Lately, I've been paying much closer attention to two things; to my foody 'cravings' for want of a better word, and to availability and the 'chance' factor.  They're both very important I feel.

I can actually count a special blessing with regards my feeding tube; freedom from the tyranny of our evolved sugar/fat/salt cravings.  Part of the modern obesity epidemic can be slated to the unconscious 'survival' behaviour some of us exhibit when presented with ready availability (or even just thoughts of) hi-calorie foods.  There's a part of the ancient reptile brain that instinctively still acts as if food may be about to be scarce at any moment now, so propels us to gorge and store the excess calories as fat.

This actually wouldn't be much of a problem at all, if what we were mainly presented with as 'food' these days was actually food, of course.  The more I learn, experience and grow, the more I deeply understand how modern manipulation of once-natural foodstuffs is the real underpinning of so much of not just our health ills, but our societal ones as well.  I'll save this conversation for another day however.

Since I cannot eat, I can listen to and hear my body's desires in a far deeper and less taste/texture/mouthfeel sort of way.  It's hard to explain, and of course I remember what things taste like very well.  I realise I can still (and I'll bet you can do this too) easily imagine what new combinations of flavours - things you've not tried together before - will taste like.  In your head right now try papaya and strawberry, then add a dash of lime juice. See? (I had some with millet, walnuts and pepitas earlier today).

Anyway, lately, I've been wanting some cheese, which I haven't had for over two years.  But not just any cheese, I wanted firm, white, crumbly brined cheese, like feta, and preferably non-cow milk cheese.

I shop for myself like this - I keep an eye out for good staples grains, seeds, legumes, nuts, oils, certain vegetables I love (always like to have sweet potato around) and snap up bargains or whatever I fancy at that moment in the market or supermarket aisle.  Then I also have a random wandering eye for whatever else looks good and is a *real* food.  You know, unprocessed or minimally processed, fresh, etc.  So I spotted this lovely sheep's milk cheese; just a simple, Eastern European-style no-fuss, non-'gourmet' (thus inexpensive) brined white sheep cheese.

Today, I was working in the garden, which has some salad leaf type things ready to pick, and I REALLY fancied a sheep's milk cheese salad and bread for lunch.  Seeing as how I blend mine, I can supercharge it.  I basically picked and prepared a salad for two, but doubled-down on the dressings and upped the cheese ratio by maybe an extra third.  So if you're doing this one for eating, halve the oil, vinegar, mustard and sesame seeds, and consider using a little less cheese.  You'll see from the calculations, it's nutritionally fabulous.

Before we jump into the recipe, a note on salads and calories: McDonalds (the 'restaurant' chain) introduced just a couple of years back in Australia (I'm unsure about the Rest Of The World) a revamp, the McCafe concept, and so-called Healthier Choices menu, including salads.  Many of their salads have higher caloric contents than their burgers, and the unrefined sugars and highly processed oils in the dressings and croutons and things actually make them a far less healthy choice in real terms than a burger.  Go figure.  Just remember, an undressed salad, without carb additives (like bread) is a VERY low-calorie thing.  Dressings etc turn this on its head, OK?  What we can take from this is that this sort of salad recipe is a completely excellent way of getting a good dose of fresh vital greens and raw veg, some sustaining carbs, good essential fats and oils which will help moderate the digestion (if chosen wisely) and amazingly even great protein.  Win-win-win.

Here it is; you can use any breadlike thing you like, or if it's just for blending, prepare a whole grain of your choice.  We had these pitas made from good stoneground whole wheat flour.  How easy!

Wholemeal Pita breads, small, x 2: 361cal
Sheep's milk cheese, drained, 200g: 535cal
Salad leaves, enough for two people (I used rocket and two types of non-hearting lettuce): zero cal.
Tomatoes, 125g (or anything you like): 25cal
Sesame seeds 50g: 300cal
Flax seed oil 30ml: 246cal
Balsamic vinegar 30ml: 79cal
Seeded wholegrain mustard 50g: 80cal
Fresh basil, thai (sacred) basil, garlic chives, borage flowers: zero cal.

If eating, simply tear up the leaves (including the basil), crumble the cheese, cut you tomatoes nice and small or just halve cherry tomatoes then mix up your dressing using half amounts of the mustard, oil and vinegar, add in the chopped garlic chives, toss, and sprinkle with the sesame seeds, which will stick to the moist cheese and the dressing and all over everything, giving a wonderful nutty little texture contrast, place the flowers on last.

Blending method: add water to approx 1 litre. Blend.

Total volume 1 litre, 1626 cal = 3 x servings of approx 333ml @542 cal each
1.6 cal/ml
48 cal/oz.

See how supercharged it is?  And it doesn't feel fatty in the least.  The breakdown is:
57g protein / 108g fat / 96g carbs,

BUT, if you halve those dressing items, you get 1.27 cal/ml (38 cal/oz) and a 41p / 54f / 74c ratio, which is a very nice allround profile.

Looked nicer before blending, but still - a lovely colour, don't you think?

November 24, 2011

Universal Muesli Breakfast For Anytime

Today I made another simple no-cook blend, not unlike blends I've been making for some time now, but this process of measuring and calculating made me realise what I've got here - a good guideline to a nutritionally excellent, easy, totally healthful blend.  So I'm going to present this one a little differently from the last half-dozen efforts here.

The Way Of Seed And Nut Fruit Muesli.

Grains, that don't need cooking, 150g.
Seeds and nuts, whatever seems right together, 100g
Dried or semi-dried fruits, 100-125g
Fresh fruits, whatever is in season or you really feel like, 1-2 cups.
Some vegetable oil(s), 60ml total.
Herbs/spices as you like
1 litre red or blue spectrum fruit juice OR milk sub (eg oat milk, hemp milk) or even just milk.

This should get you very close to 2 litres, add water if needed.

It will get you over 30 cal/oz, most likely.  For less, use water instead of the juice or milky liquid.  For more, add a sweetener like agave syrup, blackstrap molasses, maple syrup, honey.  As natural as you can get it. Maybe 60 ml would be about right.  Or add fats - coconut oils or coconut pieces would be nice.  Alternatively, make it thicker.  Up the weights of everything a little and use less liquid.  But I like these measurements, and I'll tell you why below.

Method: Blend.

How simple is that?  The measurements make p a nice consistency to about 2 litres, or the size of a blender jug.  Convenient.  The ratios give a good balance of grains, proteins, complex and simpler carbohydrates and so on. You'll notice this is pretty low fat (60ml of olive oil is not a lot in 2 litres) as I want this blend to be a pretty high available-energy blend, but without giving a glycaemic spike.  Too many long-chain fats would slow digestion too much.  Ease to make, ease of digestion, they're the aims here.  Obviously this is not meant to provide a 100% complete nutritional balance for a whole diet, but can be enjoyed any time.  You'd rotate with higher-protein and higher-fat blends depending on your needs and situation. Using an animal milk would make this a much more 'complete' blend nutritionally.

The beauty part is that it's so adaptable.  You can buy whatever grains, nuts, seeds, and dried fruits you come across that look good and are the right price.  This is always the way I shop for myself - hunt out the best of what's available, and within that, ask myself what I feel like or what I mightn't have had enough of lately.  So your pantry always has a decent store of different go-to ingredients, and then you can use the freshest fruit in season, or use up preserves or even canned stuff at those other times of the year.

It's getting on late spring here, so today I did:

Rolled oats 100g, Amaranth grains 50g.
Pepitas 50g, Walnuts 50g
Dates 100g
2 Mangos, and 125g of strawberries.
Olive oil 60ml
Fresh mint, cardamom powder,
Pomegranate Juice 1 litre

Total volume 2 litres = 6 x servings of 333ml each @ 398 cal/serve
1.19 cal/ml
35 cal/oz.
Approx 35g protein / 79 g fat / 286g carbs.

What's with the red/blue spectrum juice?  Colour is important.  Without being all horribly reductionist and scientific, eating red things and blue things is very good for us, and it seems to work well with the energies and combinations of grains, fruits, seeds and nuts.  Citrus would not be good in this.  You could maybe do apple or pear, but something with the red (cranberry, pomegranate, etc) blue (blueberry) or in-between prune or dark grape) would work really nicely.  If you're going to use animal milk instead - and I seriously suggest you do not mix fruit juices with milk, OK? - then blend the hard stuff first with the fruit and a teeny bit of water, and only blend the milk in gently at the end.  Less froth, you see.

You'll notice I used two different grains, and different seeds and nuts.  You could use a mix, or single choices, it doesn't matter at all.  I wouldn't use all amaranth because that would feel too dense and 'strong', I like the bulk of the oats.  I wouldn't use 100g of sesame seeds for the same reason, but I'd use half them and half something else.

I'm sure you get the picture.  I want to encourage you to get inside the food a little, to really feel it out, to extend your senses not just into what might taste good together, but what seems right for you or your loved one today.  It's easier than you think, and with time you'll learn that you're usually spot-on, being rewarded with good digestion, health, and a heightened allround sense of nourishment and nourishing.

Food, after all, is a feel thing, in the end, isn't it?

November 20, 2011

Quickie Moroccan Couscous and Vegetable

For this one, you can just use 1 1/2 to 2 cups of whatever vegetable you happen to have tat needs using or seems 'right' today, cooked just enough.  I used artichokes, trimmed and steamed for about 15 minutes.  While they were simmering away I made the couscous - possibly the easiest grain-type substance ever to prepare now I have discovered it. (Just equal weight of boiling water, dash of salt and oil, off the heat add the couscous, stir for 2 minutes and add in some butter or oil, done!) I zapped the pistachios for one second first, then just added it all together with the steaming water and some extra up to 2 litres.  It smells and feels utterly, completely fantastic. The gentle warm spicy notes, overtones of mint and earthy pistachio make for happies. :-)  I don't do wheat stuff very often, so now I can really feel what a powerful grain it is.  I used almond dukkah, but any dukkah (it's a North African spice blend full of wonderful aromatic and digestive spices) would do.

For more ordinary human eating, I'd have served these artichokes quartered on a bed of couscous, but first I'd roll them while still steaming moist in a mixture of the dukkah (maybe more) , half the pistachios, the honey (I'd use less) a teeny bit of salt and most of the mint all banged up into a crumbly fineness in a mortar and pestle (or Vitamix), pressing the lovely fragrant crunchy bits in between the layered leaf edges. Or roll my cubed, steamed (or roasted even) veg in it, if not using artichoke.  A mix of pumpkin and grilled peppers would be nice.  Garnish with the remaining pistachios and sprig of mint.  Mm.

Artichokes, medium x 4: 240 cal.
Couscous 150g (dry weight): 536 cal
Pistachios 100g: 564 cal.
EVOO 60ml: 480 cal.
Butter 30g: 223 cal.
Honey 2 Tbsp: 170 cal.
Almond dukkah 1 Tbsp: 112 cal.
Mint, fresh handful: (probably nearly no cal).

Total volume 2 litres = 8 x 250ml servings @ 290 cal each
                                OR 6 x 333.3 ml servngs @ 387.5 cal each.
1.16 cal/ml
34.8 cal/oz.

Also, it's a pretty friendly 67g protein / 116g fat / 193g carb ratio.

Now if you're really wanting to pack in the cals, I'd use something like a litre of pomegranate juice ( the ready-to-drink natural kind) or similar hi-cal red or blue-spectrum juice instead of the water and with an extra 640 cals in there it would take it to:
1.48 cal/ml
44.5 cal/oz
..... and be no thicker.

It's not quite thin enough to gravity bolus, but as usual, I'll dilute a bit just prior to serving.  Nice greenish tinge too.  Enjoy this one. <3

November 14, 2011

Super Minestrone with Barley and Wild Rice

This is what, 5 recipes now? And everyone loves tomatoey minestrone, right?

Maybe it's because Italy has been in the news.  Maybe it's because of what was in the kitchen and garden.  I don't know.  But a minestrone like this one is a really easy slow-cooker dish that you can easily tweak and adjust and use to 'use up' small amounts of veges and beans and grains.  With the basic mirepoix (a fancy French word for celery, carrot and onion - we should probably use the Italian equivalent today, soffritto), tomato and tomato paste, beans of some kind, olive oil and oregano, you have your flavour base and you can improvise from there.  This isn't a calorie-packed dish, coming in easily around 23 cal/oz before the agave syrup (which you wouldn't add if you were eating this dish) but then again, you'd probably add parmesan and bring it back up again a bit.  It would be supremely easy to take this up to 30 cal/oz by upping the seed and nut quotient and adding a few extra hi-cal ingredients (maybe an avocado), similarly, the weight watchers will want to know that this is a very thick minestrone and would be just as flavourful with more stock in a thinner incarnation, and you can delete the nuts and seeds which would be garnish anyway, and halve the oil, which would take it down a long long way.  Here's what's in it:

Fennel bulb, large: 51cal.
Carrot 150g:  48 cal.
Sweet Potato 350g: 228 cal.
Celery 200g: 30 cal.
Onion, 1 medium: 30 cal.
Garlic, 3 cloves: 11 cal. (yes even garlic has calories)
Pearl Barley 150g: 260 cal.
Wild Cambrian Rice 100g: 365 cal.
Tomato paste 125g: 93 cal
Red kidney beans tinned 240g net: 240 cal.
Tinned tomatoes 400g net: 92 cal (can't wait til the first garden-grown ones are ready)
Green beans 125g: 36 cal.
Stock cubes, vegetable, x2: 60 cal.
EVOO 120ml: 960 cal.
Celery leaf herb
Bay leaves
Sesame seeds 50g: 283 cal.
Pine nuts 40g: 270 cal.
Agave syrup 120ml: 360 cal.

Total volume 4 litres = 16 x 250ml servings @214 cal each
0.85 cal/ml
25.7 cal/oz

For me, I'll be adding a half-glass of kefir to it at serving time, or maybe a calorie-rich juice like beetroot and apple, so there's another 100 cal or more right there and a very comfortable volume.

I'll give instructions as if I was making it to serve you dear oral eater, for lunch.  put half the oil in a pan and sautee your mirepoix (carrot, celery, onion) along with the sliced fennel until the onion is as transparent as a lawyer's smile.  Then dump the lot in the slow cooker.  This extracts all the lovely flavours.  Dice up your sweet potato, throw that in, and add everything except the green beans, seeds, nuts and agave (you're not having that last one anyway) and add water up to about 4 litres.  Have a kettle handy for later, as you'll need to add some water as the barley and rice soak it up.  Now ignore it for a couple of hours, and enjoy the aromas.  Glance at the clock and realise that maybe 2 and a half or more hours have gone by and notice that the water level has dropped a bit.  Add in your sliced green beans and some water, back up to the four litres.  Cook another 30 minutes or so, just making sure the wild rice still has a bit of toothsome spring to it but the largest piece of sweet potato you can find is nice and tender.  Let it rest a while before serving.  This is actually important.  To serve, heat a dry frypan, then lightly toast first the pine nut then the sesame seeds until they get a nice golden brown, and sprinkle them on top of each bowl, on a float of deep-fried parsnip shavings if you want to get all restauranty-fancy.  A garlic and parmesan crouton would be terrific on the side also, or a sprinkle of freshly grated parmesan.

Us blenders, we don't bother with the sauteeing or toasting seeds etc.  One slow-cooker, two stages, done. Blend with the nuts and seeds and agave and any other things you want to add in.

Remember, all those vegetabley things can be substituted for whatever you have that needs harvesting or using up.  But the mirepoix is a must-do, OK? You could use frozen stuff.  Same with the beans, and if you want to use dried beans or legumes, then just soak for an appropriate period beforehand.  This dish is one of those kings-of-leftovers dishes, or as some chefs have been known to call them, bottom-of-the-fridge specials.  I needed to harvest fennel, and almost used some artichokes as they needed collecting too, but decided at the last minute that I'd do them separately tomorrow with some sort of grain and.....I'll work it out tomorrow.

Ciao! Enjoy!


November 9, 2011

Sweet Potato and White Bean Mild Coconut Curry

This one was dead simple.Basically add to a pot with the oil in as you chop, in the usual order - onions, celery, sweet potato etc, get the onions nicely sweated then add everything else in and top up with water to whatever consistency you desire.  I cooked it covered on a nice medium simmer for probably 20 minutes, until the sweet potato was completely tender and luscious, but the celery and fennel still had some crunch.  Back when I ate, I often made my own curry pastes and still today I will often do my own combination of spices.  But I found this nice jar of all-natural (no nasty additives) curry paste on special and gave it a try.  A bit oily but that's OK, it smells delicious.  Why curry though?   Because the spices in curry all combine to aid digestion, and balance out the creamy coconut fats.

Originally I planned for this to have chickpeas instead of the cannelini beans, but when I got to the cupboard I discovered there were none, just the cannelinis.  Never mind.  Also, I chose the fennel because it needed harvesting from the garden so I can reclaim the space to plant out some aubergines (eggplant).  If I'd had some nice leafy greens I'd have used them instead.  I'd also have used fresh coriander over dried if I had some.  This dish would be delicious served with wilted bitter-ish greens like spinach topped with wedges of preserved lemon coated in almond dukkah sprinkles.  Or the classic Indian spinach and paneer, which would add in dairy as well.  Maybe a grain dish too, but there are plenty of carbs in this as is.  Try simple rice or maybe couscous.

A note for those with high-powered blenders too (that'll be most of us) - you don't have to cook this one at all anyway.  If you're fine with raw food (and raw sweet potato, along with fennel is remarkably digestable when Vitamized), then just tip everything straight in the blender, but perhaps delete the onion.

Onion, 1 x med:  30 cal
Sweet potato (raw weight) 450g:  300 cal
Celery 200g (about 4 stalks): 30 cal
Fennel bulb, 1 x med: 30 cal
Cannelini beans, canned, drained, 240g net: 228 cal
Coconut cream, canned, 270ml: 786 cal
Curry paste, mild yellow 60ml: 184 cal
Rice bran oil, 60ml: 520 cal
Coriander, dried, 1tsp: 0 cal
Water up to 2 litres total volume.

Total volume 2 litres = 8 x 250ml servings @263.5 cal each
1.05 cal/ml
31.6 cal/oz

Smells fantastic (the curry ones usually do) and will be super-easy on my digestive system. Sure, this recipe is pretty high in fats, but remember that most of it is from the coconut cream, and 66% of that is MCT oil which does not require digestion.  If you wanted to boost the calories in this, a very easy way would be to add in say 50g of seeds, 50g of nuts, and perhaps some blackstrap molasses, or honey, or maple, or agave syrup.  None of these would thicken the blend too much but add lots of cals.  This blend pours nicely, but will need thinning by (I estimate) 15 to 20% for serving easily with a gravity bolus.  Having no grains in, and being cooked, I don't expect it will thicken much if at all when cooled.

Hope you try this one yourself. :-)


November 8, 2011

Millet Seed and Fruit Breakfasty thing.

I can imagine this working really nicely as a warm toasty fresh porridge, maybe with stewed apple or fresh banana instead of the mango if you're having it hot.  You'd of course only cook the millet and throw in the dried cranberries half-way to rehydrate a bit and get squishy, then just toss all the rest of the ingredients through.  I used mango today because I had two lying around.  You could also swap in any old grain.  If you used raw oats then you could do the whole thing raw as a cold muesli with cold oat milk.  Yum!

Anyway, it's a high-cal, fairly low-GI and very easy-to-make blend, at 41 cal/oz.

Millet, 1/4cup/100g uncooked weight: 356 cal
Mangos, 2 x med: 225 cal
Pepitas, 50g:  282 cal
Pistachios 50g:  282 cal
Cranberries, dried, 50g:  161 cal
Dates, fresh, 125g:  320 cal
Tahini, 20ml:  130 cal
Extra Virgin Olive Oil, 60ml:  480 cal
Agave nectar, 60ml:  180 cal
Oat milk 1 litre: 578 cal
Cardamom 1tsp: 0 cal.

Total amounts:  Protein 73g / Fat 107g / Carb 289g

Total volume 2 litres = 8 x 250ml servings @374 cal each
1.49 cal/ml
44.89 cal/oz

You could use this as a template very easily.  Just rotate around the different categories: use different nuts, seeds, dried fruit, fresh fruit, oils, and even the grain and milk substitute.  Imagine what might have a good taste/texture combo if you're going to eat some yourself.  Importantly, to lower the caloric density, you could very easily  triple the amount of millet and delete the agave nectar, adding water to make 3 litres and giving then 35 cal/oz.  This would bring the carb ratio down a bit also, but note that all these ingredients bar the mango are very low-GI so this blend shouldn't cause a 'sugar spike'.

As it turned out, the only things not organic in this blend were the cranberries and cardamom, which was nice but of course not necessary.  I'd never used millet before, and the internet told me that it's best to toast it lightly in the saucepan until it starts to smell all delicious; this brings out the deeper nuttier flavour.  Then add in 3 times the volume of water as  millet, boil, simmer covered for maybe 10 or 15 mins.  This gives you nicely fluffy al dente millet but if you were making a porridge to eat you'd add water in as it cooked and stir it on the way a bit.  I blended the hard stuff for a second or two (literally) first then just plopped everything in and blended for a minute.  Done.

It's cooling right now so I've not had any yet.  Smells pretty nice, with the tahini probably the dominant note. Looking at it just now, I have to say it's surprisingly thin and I'm not expecting it will thicken too much more in the fridge.  As thin as a nice crepe batter perhaps.  That's the thing about using a few hi-cal ingredients of course.  That 100g of nuts and seeds, which is easily less than half a cup, that splash of agave and olive oil and the dates, really give it bang for your buck.  Easily digestible too I should think judging by experience.  I have eaten millet previously, just never cooked with it.

Enjoy!  I shall go and have some now.......


November 4, 2011

Artichoke and Red Kidney Beans with Fennel and Tomato

Alrighty, as promised, another recipe calculation.  I'll admit that this time because I was already thinking about writing this that I had a little more focus on 'guessing out' the calories to get close to my general goal of 30cal/oz.  25% either way would be fine for me really.  Most meals I add kefir or in summer sometimes juice to dilute just before serving so there's usually extra, which in my case is no bad thing.

But I also tried to think of it as food.  The Hare Krisna religion has food very much in a place at the centre, treating it as a spiritual sacrament as well as bodily nourishment.  As an interesting aside, as well as being lacto-vegetarian, their diet does not contain onion, garlic, or any related plants.  They are viewed as medicine and not food.  What impressed me the most about their food practice is that they cook with a sense of joy and thankfulness, and always prayerfully offer the first bite to Godhead.  They make food that they'd be pleased to plate up for God in other words, and I think that's a great way to approach our nutrition.

So naturally, I am often drawn towards making something that would taste good too.  Or maybe it's just overcompensation because I can't even taste, let alone eat.  Anyway, before the last-minute addition of the agave syrup and walnuts (I'd leave the pine nuts in. Hmm, maybe the walnuts too, but then you'd probably go with grilled goat's cheese on top as well......) this would have been a nice dish.

Artichokes, trimmed, x 4:  240 cal
Fennel bulbs, medium x 2:  78 cal
Red Kidney Beans (tinned organic, net weight) 240g:  240 cal
Tomatos, (tinned organic) 400g:  76 cal
Pine Nuts 40g:  270 cal
Extra Virgin Olive Oil 4T:  181 cal
Balsamic Vinegar 1T: 36 cal
Walnuts 50g: 348 cal
Agave syrup 100ml: 300 cal
Oat milk, organic, 1L: 580 cal
Cous cous cooked (dry weight) 100g: 341 cal
braising water added to thin for blending also

Total volume2.25 litres = 9 x 250 ml servings @298 cals each
1.19 cal/ml
35 cal/fl oz.

I cooked it as if for plating up, as it seemed right to do that.  I simply braised the trimmed artichoke quarters and sliced fennel in a little water for maybe 5 or 10 minutes (they were both fresh from the garden 5 minutes before), drained the water, keeping it for blending later, then added in the tomatoes, kidney beans, balsamic, some olive oil and just simmered it all for a few minutes.  If I were then to cook for eating people I'd reduce it a bit more and add in some tomato paste too I think.  I'd serve with nicely fluffed couscous (I'd have cooked a lot more though obviously) and the pine nuts scattered on top after being lightly toasted.  Crumble feta over as well, or arrange in a shallow casserole dish with strips of goat's cheese kervella on top and grill until the cheese browns slightly.   But since I was blending I just put the whole lot in the blender with the cooked couscous and wound it up to speed.  it's a pretty faded dusty pinkish red colour, and smells lovely.



November 1, 2011

Rice 'n' Mango blend.

UPDATE: Edit at the bottom with nutritional calculations also.

I'm going to try and start measuring and calculating some blends for a while.  I'll share the results here, for your interest.  Don't forget you can submit recipes of your own, either as a comment, or email me and then I'll pop them up in the recipes section for all to see.

So here's today's blend; it's a super-simple one, some of my blends can have easily triple the ingredients in them.  Simple to make too.  Cook the rice, while that's happening or resting zip the pepitas  a couple of pulses on high (like, 2 half-second blitzes) and throw in the rest.  Assemble. Blend!

Medium-grain cooked white rice 250g (uncooked weight):  875 Cal
Pepitas (pumpkin seeds kernels) 50g:  282 cal
Kiwi fruit x 5: 250 cal
Large mango x 2: 270 cal
Coconut cream 270ml:  786 cal
Cranberry juice 750ml:  593 cal
Pepper, cardamom, water.  Ingredients organic except for kiwi, mango, cardamom.

Total volume 2.5 litres, = 10x250ml servings @302 cals each.
1.21 cal/ml
36 cal/fl oz

Right now I've just done a basic calorie count.  I aim to next use one of the online tools available to see how it comes out, and give an indication of the carb/protein/fat ratio etc.

This blend is going to be very low protein, you can tell at a glance, and a little bit high in fat with that coconut cream.  But for me the coconut oil is not a real issue even though I have to be very careful with fats (I have almost no gallbladder).  I suspect that's because it's a MCT oil so is absorbed by the small intestine rather than digested by bile action in the stomach.  But it's a blend I'll alternate with a much higher-protein blend, so over time it evens out.  Personally I like the ideas from many old, healthy cultures, that protein is something you need to rest from in your diet, so I'm happy to have meals minus a major protein source.  That said, there will be some in the pepitas and rice.  The idea of this blend is as a light sort of breakfast or mid-afternoon blend, like one might eat a grain and fruit for breakfast for example.  It's a nice thing to pair rice which can be a little 'cloggy' in a digestive sense with a digestive promoters mango, cardamom and pepper, and oil to keep things slippery as well.  My last rice bland also had mango and kiwi, but I used dates, almonds, rice bran oil and agave syrup. Mangos are just coming into full season now, so that was the inspiration.  Often I will just pick intuitively a fresh ingredient that is ready in the garden or is ripe in the shop as a basis to build a blend on.

Consistency-wise, it will not quite gravity bolus, but adding 25-50ml of water just prior to feeding would make it run fine, nice and slowly.  Instead of that, I'll mainly dilute with kefir, which is not quite as thin as water, being made from milk anyway, and I'd use around 100 mls of that or more, depending on how hungry I feel.

Seeing as how I've just been guessing my blends the last couple of years, this will be an interesting exercise!

EDIT: I've run the recipe through the sparkpeople calculator.  It was tricky as I had to go on trust with thing like brand of cranberry juice and they only had coconut milk, not cream (but I compared the tins of each in my pantry and got a good ratio, the only difference between the two is water added).  Here it is, a little different from my calcs but close enough for jazz, as they say.  I'm going to try the nutritiondata site next, and see if I can make it more user-friendly.

These figures are per 250ml serving (kefir not included); vitamin and mineral figures are shown as percentage of RDI.

  Total Fat15.9 g
     Saturated Fat13.1 g
     Polyunsaturated Fat0.8 g
     Monounsaturated Fat1.0 g
  Cholesterol0.0 mg
  Sodium42.3 mg
  Potassium441.4 mg
  Total Carbohydrate45.9 g
     Dietary Fiber2.5 g
     Sugars17.0 g
  Protein4.3 g
  Vitamin A8.1 %
  Vitamin B-120.0 %
  Vitamin B-68.0 %
  Vitamin C141.9 %
  Vitamin D0.0 %
  Vitamin E4.8 %
  Calcium3.5 %
  Copper16.9 %
  Folate16.3 %
  Iron20.0 %
  Magnesium17.6 %
  Manganese46.1 %
  Niacin9.8 %
  Pantothenic Acid    4.5 %
  Phosphorus    11.5 %
  Riboflavin3.8 %
  Selenium6.7 %
  Thiamin10.0 %
  Zinc8.5 %