Monday, May 23, 2011

The Antoine

Any cook can tell you there is a kitchen equivalent to a bad hair day.  Those perplexing and humbling days when everything you attempt ends up just "wrong" in an indefinable way. 
These off days drive me crazy and I usually end up cooking one horrid thing after another in a frustrated attempt to produce something edible.  I've only recently begun to surrender. Now, when I burn the breakfast, I flee.  I pack the girls into the car and we head out in search of something good.  We usually end up at my Mom's house. Or at our local community kitchen (which serves 3 vegetarian meals a day.)  Or, if it's a really bad day, we drive 45 minutes to Charlottesville for the best bagel sandwiches on Earth.

Thankfully, in the spirit of balance, there are also days of sublime inspiration. Days when someone walks into your kitchen hungry and half an hour later you're perched on stools relishing some new and expressive dish.

The sandwich in this post was inspired by our dear friend Tony who lives next door.   He's actually more family than friend.  And by "next door," I mean he lives in a little apartment in our house, separated only by a that is open more often than closed.

I'm grossly understating by calling him an animal lover.  Or a plant lover. It's more accurate to say that Tony is a life-lover. A few months back he heard someone speak about the realities of the dairy industry for the first time.  It had a big impact on him and he immediately began to avoid dairy.  But, being Tony, he didn't label himself as vegan or make a big deal out of his dietary preferences.  He never wants to put anyone out.

When he first moved in he didn't have a functional kitchen for a while so I was often cooking for him, along with Mat and the girls.  What's one more mouth to feed?  In Tony's case it was really a treat for me to cook for him.  Not only was it a wonderful challenge to create some new grown-up, vegan fair, but it was also incredibly rewarding.

Tony is a very enthusiastic person in general and Italian by descent, so he eats with bottomless gusto.  He groans and oohs and ahhs throughout the meal and then adamantly declares it the best of his life.  Every. Single. Time.  You can't help but want to cook for him.

So, in honor of a very happy eater, The Antoine:

2 slices of lightly toasted bread of your choice (I use European style rustic whole grain or Ezekiel bread)
1/2 an avocado, mashed with a fork (You can halve it again and mash directly onto each slice of bread)
Sriracha hot sauce
4 or 5 roasted red pepper strips (homemade or your favorite brand)
6 - 8 fresh basil leaves
A handful of fresh, baby spinach

Optional: Mozzarella (fresh or low-moisture whole milk), very thinly sliced, enough to cover one slice of bread.

Mash the avocado with a pinch of salt then spread half on each slice of bread.  Polka-dot the Sriracha (to taste, it's spicy!) all over the avocado on one slice, then lay down the red peppers evenly on the same slice, followed by the basil and spinach. If you are using mozzarella, cover the other piece of bread evenly with the sliced mozzarella and then close up the sandwich, slice in half and enjoy!

A little about the how's and why's of this sandwich:

Avocado is a wonderful, nutrient rich replacement for mayonaise or even veganaise. It contains all those healthy, satisfying fats that our bodies actually need along with a surprising amount of fiber for something so decadent: five grams!  

Spinach is a great source of many essential nutrients and antioxidents.  It's rich in both calcium and iron which are two minerals to be aware of when eating a plant based diet.   

Fresh basil works well both with the hot sauce in a Thai sort of way and with the red peppers and mozzerella in a Mediterranean way.

The roasted red peppers and Sriracha hot sauce complement each other well and offer a nice flavor counterpoint to the creamy avocado.  Red peppers are rich in vitamin C and betacarotein.  

Whole grain bread is always a good bet: it offers more fiber (which aids digestion), is full of nutrients and fuels your body for longer than a white bread, which is essentially a refined sugar.  

Mozzerella and red peppers are a classic match that I've adored for years.  When I lived in Brooklyn ten years ago, there was an amazing Italian deli, Paneantico, just down the block from our apartment.  They made a sandwhich with fresh mozz and marinated roasted red peppers that I still crave on a regular basis. Everything made in house, usually that morning. Heaven. 

For those of you interested in knowing more about the health benefits of various superfoods, go to  Thank you, Sumati, for turning me on to this info packed site.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Shake it, baby.

I broke my toe on Saturday night.  Not while dancing at a party or playing soccer with my nephews on my sister's lawn.  I smacked it on my stair stepper which had been sitting in the walkway for over a week, annoying the heck out of my husband Mat. "Why don't you move this thing?" he asked me the night before.  At which point I shot him a dirty look that said, "Why don't you?" Ok, so I had it coming.

Our house is perpetually cluttered these days. I've been stay-at-home-moming it for 5+ years now and it's starting to take it's toll on my housekeeping sensibilities.  We moved into a small, finished part of our largely unfinished house a year and a half ago and we still have boxes in a couple of corners.  My husband is starting a business and I'm usually running around after our toddler, Zoe or trying to explain the nature of the Universe to my very inquisitive 5-year-old, Savana.  But now, with the broken toe, there is an especially large pile of laundry on the sofa, dishes in the sink, and a locked front door so they can't run away.  If they got out, I don't think I'd be able to catch them!

Most people who come to our house can tell you that the better part of my day is spent in the kitchen.  We are an abnormally hungry family, who all turn into gremlins if we don't eat every couple of hours.  So for the sanity of our life, I make a lot of food...all day long.  We each have different nutritional needs and preferences so it's not uncommon for me to make 8 different things in one day.  All of which usually involve standing around the kitchen.

Now, did I mention that I can't really walk?  Who knew the pinky toe played such an important role in mobility? It's been a rude awakening.  One that can only be battled with humor.  Particulary since broken toe or no, life goes on.  The girls keep moving, Mat makes the money, and I cook...or not. These days I get out the blender.

There's a lot of talk these days about whole foods and upping our fruit and veggie intake. But I think a lot of Americans have a hard time eating that much. I know, I know. What? Americans love to eat! Yes, Americans love to eat high calorie foods, and we're really good at it.  But if you're eating lower calorie, bulkier foods then eating can be a lot of work.  Both my husband and daughter will not eat certain greens (kale, for instance) just because they take too long to chew!  There's also a impression that whole foods (usually unpackaged, unprocessed foods) can often take longer to prepare.  Which is true if you get fancy. But if you start out simply, with a blender, you can very easily up your intake of fruits, veggies and easily digestible protein without much effort.  

I've recently been using Garden of Life Raw Protein ( which is a plant based, raw protein powder with probiotics (for digestive tract health) and no preservatives or added sugars.  I've  tried many protein powders over the years and this digests easily and has a very natural, neutral taste.  No chalky, cloying vanilla or chocolate flavoring here.  

It has 18 grams of protein per serving (one scoop), which is equivalent to the protein content in a regular hamburger, 3 large hard boiled eggs, 1 cup cooked lentils, or 3 oz. of tuna.  So if you fill the blender with fresh or frozen fruits or veggies, nut milks or juices and this powder, you can usually increase your servings of fruits and veggies by 3 or 4.  And give yourself a fabulous, digestible, absorbable protein boost that's good for the planet.  

I've listed below a couple of the shakes I've been drinking this week.  Just some ideas to get you going. These are a great way to start the day, finish a workout or as a bedtime snack for those who have to go to bed with something in their me!

Shake Idea No. 1

Add ingredients sequentially to ensure even mixing:

1 ripe banana
1 ripe, peeled mango (a vegetable peeler works well)
1 large handful of fresh baby spinach (go for organic greens if you can)
Juice of 1/4 lime, squeezed directly into blender jar
1/4 cup water (or 1/2 cup coconut milk or coconut water)
4 ice cubes

Blend until smooth (about 20 seconds).

This is a good base if you like to keep things simple or if you are just beginning to explore fruit and veg shakes.  To make it a little more special add:

2 or 3 sprigs of fresh basil
1 heaping tablespoon of ground flax seeds

And, if you like, add a scoop of Garden of Life Raw Protein or protein powder of your choice.

Shake Idea No. 2

My toddler loved this shake.

Add ingredients sequentially to ensure even mixing:

1/2 cup non-fat yogurt (organic if possible)
1/2 cup orange juice
1 banana
1 cup strawberries (fresh or frozen, organic if possible)
1/2 cup blueberries (fresh or frozen, organic if possible)
2 large leaves of red chard without tough center rib (or handful of     baby spinach, both organic if possible)

If you use fresh berries add 4 ice cubes then blend until smooth (about 20 seconds).

For more nutritional goodness add:
1 T flax seed  OR
1 scoop Garden of Life Raw Protein or protein powder of your choice.