Begin Within Monthly Journal
& Favorite Easy Meals
July 2015; Letter 8
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Have you ever tried to see how little you could eat?
That probably doesn’t sound like a very exciting proposition, especially if you’re here searching for recipes on my food blog :) Nonetheless, how many of you are at least mildly obsessed with food, while at the same time worry over health ailments or what you see in the mirror.
I have never done a true fast on purpose, though as I’ve mentioned before, I generally do a short term fast from dinner through to late morning or lunch each day. However, I have fasted for days out of necessity a few times- but only when bit by a stomach bug.
On that note, we just got back from a quick trip to Bolivia. It’s the land-locked neighbor which borders Argentina to the north, and also shares borders with Chile, Peru, Brazil and Paraguay. As tourists in Argentina, we have to leave the country every 90 days to renew our visas. In the four years we’ve been based here we have done a LOT of great trips to the surrounding countries. But this was our first visit to Bolivia.
We had a nice time. It’s kind of like Mexico is to the US, only with Lake Titicaca and the Amazon instead of beaches. I’ll be doing a write up for the ProjectArgentina blog soon, but my point here is that on the way home I got a mean tummy bug. I was pretty much fine and could function… so long as I didn’t eat.
I took my vitamins, drank lots of fresh ginger tea and Vitamin C in water, dosed with colloidal silver, and only had fruit smoothies with spirulina for a few days. My favorites are blueberry/kiwi/banana/lemon juice/aloe, and strawberry/banana/fresh orange juice/aloe. (With about 1/2 teaspoon spirulina.)
Oh, and I can't forget kombucha, which is AMAZING for settling intestinal distress! Almost a week later and I’m pretty well back to normal, and actually I’m grateful. Now that it’s over, I feel totally cleansed and reset and awesome.
Not that I don’t always eat well, relatively speaking. I, however, like I imagine most of my readers, tend to ‘creep’ gradually back to eating more than I need; drinking wine more frequently than I truly enjoy; nibbling on snacks even when I’m not hungry with the idea that ‘I need energy’ this afternoon or for this or that activity.
Right now my energy is through the roof. And all I’ve been eating is fruit and little veggies, with a sweet potato and black beans for dinner last night. I’m super productive and motivated and my thinking is clear. It feels great. And everything feels trimmer and leaner. My husband remarked this morning that he needs a tummy bug too :)
On the topic of fasting- or not eating very much- I recently finished reading Ghandi: An Autobiography - The Story of My Experiments With Truth. Though parts of it were kind of dull; other sections were fascinating, especially relating to his satyagraha, or non-violent civil disobedience, which he used to lead the British to leave India to it’s own rule. (Though to his great disappointment, his Hindu and Muslim countrymen then turned to fighting with each other.)
Ghandi was a staunch vegetarian, and then vegan- or even fruitarian (though he didn’t call it that)- and came to eat an extremely limited diet, eventually only allowing himself three items of food per day. At one point he details how he ate only ground nuts, lemons, olive oil, and a couple of other fruits. He also used fasting not only for himself, but as a non-violent tool to get people to change their ways.
For him, the dietary restrictions and intense discipline were in search of God and higher truth, as well as mental and physical health. He also used it as a way to remain celibate, which he writes extensively and openly about (he was quite randy in his younger years). He says outright that it was nearly impossible to stay celibate without starving himself. (That’s paraphrased and not his exact words!) He was nearly 80 when he died, so barely eating certainly didn’t kill him. He is still beloved to this day. His experiences and writings continue to inspire, including the likes of Martin Luther King Jr., who was heavily influenced by him in his later years.
On an even more extreme note, I also read a book a while back entitled, An Inquiry into the Existence of Guardian Angels: A Journalist's Investigative Report, by Pierre Jovanovic. It turned out to be quite different than I expected, and I’m not sure I would necessarily recommend it as a great read- but it did dive into the stories of many of the famous saints, of which I knew almost nothing. One that stood out to me was Saint Catherine of Siena who ate NO food, except communion wafers, for at least 7 years. Apparently she was tested multiple times in very strict situations where she was observed around-the-clock for a week or two at a time. The examiners would weight her (and the amount of water she consumed) and noted that every Friday when she would have her ‘stigmata’ experience she would lose a little weight, but then she would take her communion wafer in prayer and it would return to the same weight as always.
I don’t know exactly what to think about that, except I am convinced the mind is far, far more than we know. Do a Google search and you will see there are others who supposedly didn’t eat for 386 days (the longest recorded fast, I believe) and up to 70 years (a man in India). There are others who claim to have mostly stopped eating, except on a very limited basis.
Now, of course, I’m not recommending you try to stop eating altogether, get ill for weight loss, or drink some Mexico water and get Montezuma’s Revenge for spiritual enlightenment. I’m also not advocating anorexia. I did that in my high school days. And, to me, there is a clear difference here. Anorexia is a fear of food (and weight gain). Just like claustrophobia is a fear of small spaces. Fasting, or even just eating light and clean if done out of love for yourself, a desire to release burdens and be well, and even to prove what the mind is capable of, can be productive and positive. It’s the difference between depressed or defeated and empowered.
There are many people who have cured ailments via fasting and clean eating. I have a friend who got cancer and his treatment was to only eat 'green’ things. He no longer has cancer. Others have cured their diseases on carrot juice diets, asparagus diets… you name it. Some ate extremely limited diets for extended periods and lifelong skin disorders cleared up. To those of you not familiar with these ideas, they might sound kooky. But I have read far, far too many things to discount these stories. Nothing in this world is more than what we make it. Nothing.
'You must change your mind, not your behavior’ -A Course In Miracles
So, if you get the desire to feel light and clear, try a fast, or go on a super clean eating plan. Surely you’ve seen one week, two week, and longer cleanse or detox diets before. No need for any expensive packaged products or fancy juicing equipment. If it’s short term, you don’t have to worry about becoming malnourished.
The first day or two are the hardest. But it’s really a mental thing. Get busy and distract yourself with other things. Persist and you will reach a place where you feel wonderful and wonder why you never tried it before. And you might just find, like I have, that it greatly improves your appreciation for food. Right now a simple orange, or piece of red bell pepper, tastes out-of-this-world delicious. So much of our lives revolves around food, that taking a break from it can really help get a perspective on things.
I’m going to try to stick with the extra-light eating a little longer, and I’m going to try remember that I can do this myself in the future… no Bolivian bacteria required.
What matters most when it comes to food?
At the other end of the spectrum, we have a huge amount of food going to waste in this world.
I came across this video recently about how much food is sent to the dumps in the US.
Take a few minutes to check it out.
This seems to be the epitome of American culture. It’s all about looks. Period. Form over purpose, image over content. Not just how we look, or the shiny things we buy, but also the food that goes in us.
Which reminds me of this video with Jamie Oliver. It made the rounds years ago, but maybe you missed it. Watch him show a group of kids how Chicken McNuggets (or the other fast-food chain equivalent) are made, thinking he’ll change their minds about eating junk food once they know what they are really eating.
There are also a great many articles and videos that show how food is dressed up and doctored to be photographed or filmed for commercials. Any of you who have eaten a fast food burger, or even the fries, know that what is shown in a Burger King commercial (for example) bears little to no resemblance to what they hand you through the drive-thru window.
Of course, it’s the images that sell. True for food blogs as well. There are a handful of healthy food blogs that I follow because they are so beautiful with such wonderful photos (for instance this one, happyolks), though I never actually make any of the recipes. Other blogs don’t have the most perfect photos, but I actually make the recipes and they turn out great. I like to think that’s the category I’m in. I certainly don’t have the fanciest food shots, but that’s because my focus is on coming up with great healthy recipes and actually cooking them. I take photos after I make a real meal, usually just before serving.
Then there are the ‘food chemists’ who create flavors in a lab that make commercial foods taste good, all without any real food ingredients. Which, I suppose, could be considered an art, or a creepy science, depending who you ask. (“We need a hint or smoke flavor and touch of papaya in that BBQ sauce.” Drip, drip, viola!)
Apparently, ‘food chemist’ is a very in-demand job niche, judging by the results I see in the search engines. Doesn’t bode well for the future of natural food.
I know that making food look good is important to selling it, but some of these pros go so far as to make the advertised product look almost nothing like what you actually get. Check out these links to see how 'food stylists' do their thing:
Apparently laws say that they can’t actually photograph mashed potatoes as ice cream if they are selling ice cream. (Though if the ice cream is in the shot elsewhere, or going to be used in another context, then can ‘fake’ it.)
If you want to read about other really gross stuff, Google search ‘meat glue’. Eew. Makes me extra glad I don’t eat meat.
But back to the wasting of food because it doesn’t look perfect. Apparently supermarkets also dump tons and tons of food into the trash each year. Mostly items that have reached their ’sell by’ date, and old produce. Some companies outright destroy the food so that no one can use it.
Why not give it away, you ask? Because there have been large grocery chains who got sued after someone got sick from donated food.The big chains won’t disclose how much gets thrown out each year, but insiders say at leat 10% of the total food.
All of this has spawned a group of people who call themselves ‘Freegans’, who rely on the tossed out food in the back of supermarkets to support their families.
Having lived in Argentina now for about four years, I find it even especially interesting to compare how much waste there is in the more ‘developed’ countries. Which is not to say there isn’t any waste here. However, when I go to the ‘mercado’ to buy fresh produce, almost EVERYTHING looks like a reject that would be chucked in the US. Produce is piled high in the vendors bins, plenty has dirt or spots on it, there is no one-size of anything, many items are bumpy and oddly shaped.
Also, the food here rots. Fast. Which isn’t a bad thing when you think about it. Everything is less processed, less sprayed, fresher. Strawberries must be eaten in a day, two days tops. Greens the same. The bananas are almost always smallish and spotted. During peach season the peaches, nectarines, and apricots are all small and many are oddly shaped.
Yet the FLAVOR of the produce here is often unbelievable. The peaches ripen in a day to perfection. The bananas are usually perfect inside, even if they look funky on the outside. The strawberries are juicy and flavorful, never whitish green or crunchy.
I hope that the US agriculture industry can find a way to promote the idea that the ‘reject’ fresh foods can be just as good as the ‘perfect’ stuff. I imagine that at discounted prices, they’d find the shelves would be picked empty, just like in Europe where they have begun implementing promotional programs to tackle this issue.
And on that note, having spanned a great deal related to food this month, I’d like to leave you with a short and funny video. It’s not related to food, it’s not politically-correct, and there is bad language; so feel free to skip it if you are easily offended.
Until next time!
Favorite Easy Meals from July 2015
I love a good sweet potato. And baking them is perhaps my favorite way of preparing them. It’s so easy and they come out more tender than any other (reasonably easy) method of preparation. They are even delicious straight-up and straight out of the oven with just some good olive oil and salt.
I kind of forgot about sweet potatoes for a while. Recently I’ve been back to making about one batch a week. I use them for dinner the same night I bake them for a hot and easy meal, and then in leftovers or other dishes throughout the week. Super easy, gluten-free, and quite healthy, many even consider sweet potatoes to be a ‘paleo’ food. (Yes, I know these things are all debated down to the detail— whether the sweet potatoes that cavemen ate were at all like what we have now, etc. The answer, apparently, is no.)
Here in Argentina we get true sweet potatoes, not yams. Yams are the ones that are jewel-toned inside. Sweet potatoes look like yams on the outside (some version of pinkish or brownish skin, odd oblong shapes), but inside they are a creamy color like potatoes, maybe with a bit of purple or pink mottling. They taste just like their name says— sweet potatoes. Click here for more on the difference between sweet potatoes and yams. LINK
Therefore, my recipes below all use sweet potatoes. In the US I recall that yams were much more readily available. Feel free to use either in the following recipes, depending on what’s good where you are. I eat the skins if they are nice ones. If not, I don’t.
Ideas for Leftover Sweet Potatoes
• Dice up a sweet potato (cold out of the fridge). Lightly fry in a little olive oil after scrambling eggs in the same pan.
• Use in tacos, burritos, or rice & bean bowls instead of rice.
• Reheat for lunch and serve with black beans, avocado. Try it topped with a fried egg too.
• Try them with this Zoodle recipe on top. Yum.
• Make a quick One Pan Sweet Potato Cilantro Crustless Quiche-
-Heat oven to 400F (200C)
-Peel and cube 3 large leftover sweet potatoes
-Make one even layer in the bottom of a hot, well-greased 9x12 baking dish (I use coconut oil)
-Toss in a small bunch of fresh chopped cilantro and a few good squeezes fresh lemon juice
-Then cover with 12 eggs (whisked with about 1 tsp salt & 1/2 tsp pepper)
-Bake 10 minutes, decrease heat to 350F (175C)
-Bake another 10 minutes or so, until fully cooked in the center
-Serve with fresh avocado, tabasco, and lemon wedges
• Whip up a sweet potato hummus dip.
Of course, you can also top a sweet potato with just about anything you’d top a regular baked potato with.
Lastly, here’s a super-healthy vegan sweet potato recipe that has become a favorite. This is one I throw together on the night I bake the sweet potatoes, for when they come out of the oven hot and fresh.
Asian Broccoli & Cauliflower Stir Fry with Baked Sweet Potatoes
I don’t eat nuts anymore, but I would imagine a handful of toasted peanuts would make a great topping. I can see a lot of variations working well— including pineapple, tofu, or egg strips.
Snap peas would also be a nice addition. Veggies with a bit of crisp to them taste best in any stir fry. Be careful not to overcook the broccoli here. Keep it bright green and snappy for the best flavor. In general I prefer to cook broccoli on the stovetop because it needs some moisture and not too much cooking time. In the oven is tends to dry out unless baked in a quiche or casserole of some sort.
Also, in case you aren’t confident making sweet potatoes, below are instructions for how I do it.
(Note: I’ve used olive oil, butter, and coconut oil before, and I think coconut oil turns out the best and most tender sweet potato.)
How to Bake Sweet Potatoes
-Heat oven to 350F (175C).
-Wash (scrub) and dry the sweet potatoes. Cut off any bad parts.
-Line a baking tray with parchment paper. (Optional, but makes clean up a snap.)
-Rub a little coconut oil (+/- pea size) onto each sweet potato with your hands. (Use butter or olive oil, if you prefer.)
-Place in the pan with space between each potato.
-Sprinkle a very generous amount of salt on top of each one. (See photos.)
-Poke small holes in the potato skins with a fork or sharp knife. (Not necessary of you had to cut off parts already.)
-Bake about 1 hour, flipping each potato halfway through the cooking time and salting the tops again.
-(In case you have a variety of sizes baking together, I usually find the small ones are done and can be taken out of the oven at around 40-45 minutes. Super big ones might need up to 1hr10.)
-You’ll know they are done when a knife inserted in the center of each potato meets no resistance.
-Use right away or remove from the oven and let cool completely before refrigerating.
Recipe for Asian Vegetable Stir Fry and Baked Sweet Potatoes
1 or 2 baked sweet potatoes per person
1 large head broccoli- cut into bite size florets (stalk hearts cut into sticks, optional)
1 large head cauliflower- cut into bite size florets (stalk hearts cut into sticks, optional)
1 carrot- peeled and cut into thin sticks
1/4 of a small red cabbage- thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic- very thinly sliced or minced
1 large spring onion- minced
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
Stir Fry Sauce-
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon fresh ginger- finely minced
3 tablespoons soy sauce (or gluten-free tamari)
1 tablespoon vinegar (apple cider or rice vinegar work best)
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons orange juice (either fresh or concentrate)
1/2 cup +/- fresh chopped cilantro
Other optional toppings- Sesame seeds, fresh avocado slices
Combine the sauce ingredients and set aside on the counter to marinate for at least 20 minutes, if not longer.
Wash and prepare the vegetables. The following cooking phase takes only about 10 minutes, so time your meal accordingly.
In a large pan (feel free to whip out a wok if you have one), place the prepared garlic, spring onion, olive oil, broccoli stalk hearts and cauliflower stalk hearts (if using), and carrot sticks. Bring the heat to medium-high and stir gently as things start to sizzle.
When the pan is getting really hot, add the cauliflower florets and sauté another minute or two.
Drizzle in the marinade now and stir to coat all of the vegetables.
Then add the broccoli florets. Continue cooking only until they turn bright green, tossing regularly.
Lastly, add the cabbage and toss just another minute or so until hot.
Turn off the heat and stir in the fresh cilantro.
To serve, place one- or two- warm, baked sweet potatoes per plate. Cut each one open and generously apply olive oil and salt to the ‘meat’ of each potato.
Pile the stir fried veggies on the sweet potatoes and add additional toppings as desired (sesame seeds and avocado are nice touches).
Store extra stir fry in the fridge for leftovers. Leftover sweet potatoes keep in the fridge too, but should be reheated before eating for best results.
PS. The Asian Stir-Fry is also nice served alone or over brown rice.
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