Tuesday, January 12, 2010

On fueling the body, mind and soul.

Perhaps it was the complete darkness or the silence that comes from recent snowfall, but this morning I have been moving slowly. Usually by eight I’m ready to drive to town so that I can run on the treadmill to get in some AM miles. Today, however, I found myself still dreaming at 7:00 am and not quite awake fifteen minutes later. And what was I dreaming about, you ask? Peppercorn-crusted portobello mushrooms, the mainstay of a meal I’d prepared a few days before.

That dream, coupled with requests from friends on facebook, inspired me to *finally* blog a little about what I eat when I run 50-60 miles a week. There’s really nothing secretive or special about my diet (I’ve had people ask if training for marathons requires a special diet-- it doesn’t, aside from the general guidelines you’d give to anyone about proper nutrition.) For reasons that have to do with health, fitness and my conscious, I do not eat animal products (no meat, dairy, etc.) Many domestic animals are raised in cruel environments, and that cruelty and suffering is passed on to us, those who consume.

I never gave that line of reasoning much thought until early last year, when I read the following passage in The Raw Truth, a book about raw eating. Author Jeremy A. Safron writes that: “Eating involves intent as well as nutrition and life force. When we eat foods made with love, we are inspired; when we eat food made with anger we get upset. The way food is handled and cared for also affects its general energy. Food is sensitive to energy: intent and action either help keep the food pure or corrupt it. Grandma’s soup doesn’t heal because it’s soup or because of the recipe-- it’s Grandma’s love that heals. A romantic dinner isn’t romantic because of the ingredients, it’s the love that makes it what it is. These examples help demonstrate how our intent and thoughts can affect our food. This is true for life as well as food. If we enter into a situation with positive intent, we can do anything, and if we act with negativity, anger, fear, and worry, we just can’t seem to do anything right. Remember that your words and thoughts make up your world and that our bodies and lives are a reflection of our mind’s experience of itself. We are what we think: positive, loving intentions create positive experiences. Intention is everything” (3).

This summer I followed what is called a “raw diet.” Raw means that (in addition to being vegan) nothing--I repeat, nothing-- is cooked above 104-degrees F. Aside from salad (my favorite summertime meal), one can actually make surprising entrées without the use of heat (or meat). Among the many recipes I tried, the one I still prepare regularly despite the season is raw spring rolls with an almond-based dipping sauce. The reason I am no longer “eating raw” is not that I didn’t like the diet (I did, a lot!) but that it required a ridiculous amount of planning and preparation. Since you don’t cook anything, harder foods (like nuts) must be soaked for up to a day before preparing them. Beans-- in lieu of being “cooked” to soften them-- must be first soaked, then “sprouted” which takes anywhere from two to five days, depending on the variety of bean or seed used. Perhaps most importantly, the ingredients for a raw diet are easier to come by in the summer months, when those fruits and vegetables are producing. In the winter (obviously) this is not the case unless one purchases produce from other parts of the world-- a practice I’m not against per se, but it is nice to “eat local” as much as one can.

Now that I am no longer raw, I am still, nonetheless, vegan. Though this might be hard to believe, since dedicating myself to cooking and eating nothing but fresh, organic and plant-based ingredients, I feel healthier, more clear-minded and also very grateful. This “diet” (or way of eating, I should say) is spectacularly delish. For instance, two nights ago, I prepared a meal which comes from The Conscious Cook by Tal Ronnen, described as: “pine nut and basil seared gardein “chicken” with lobster mushroom beurre blanc, braised kale and roasted fingerling potatoes.” And there was not one single animal product in there. Let me say: it was one of the most amazing meals I’ve ever tasted, let alone prepared for myself and Steve. Another unbelievable dish came from this book: the aforementioned “peppercorn encrusted portobello mushroom fillet with mashed red potatoes and braised kale.” In one word, amazing. Even if you're not vegan, I urge you to visit Ronnen's website where he has additional recipes listed.

Another book which now has a cracked spine and little cooking splatters on the pages is Incredibly Delicious: The Vegan Paradigm Cookbook. A must-have for any vegetarian/vegan, the pages of this cookbook are packed with every sort of recipe one could imagine (breakfast, bread, soup, salad, casserole, pizza, lassagne, tamale pie, dolmas, cookies, cakes, desserts, etc... just to name a few that come to mind.) Another book worth looking into if you’re at all curious about raw food is Jennifer Cornbleet’s Raw Food Made Easy. The title, I believe, says it all.

So, for those of you still reading, here are two of Tal Ronnen’s recipes from The Conscious Cook.

Peppercorn-encrusted portobello mushrooms

For the portobello fillets:

sea salt
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 shallots, chopped
2 garlic cloves
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 1/2 tablespoon white wine vinegar
4 portobello mushrooms, stemmed, gills removed
1 teaspoon black peppercorns, crushed in a mortar and pestle or with the back of a spoon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme

Make the portobello fillets: Place a large pot over medium heat. Sprinkle the bottom with a pinch of salt and heat for 1 minute. Add the oil and heat for one minute, being careful not to let it smoke. This will create a non-stick effect.
Add the shallots and garlic and cook for 5 minutes. Add the wine, vinegar, and 1 cup water, bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
Add the mushrooms and cook for 1 minute. Pour the mushrooms and liquid into a shallow container, cover, and set aside to marinate for one hour.
Sear the mushrooms: [After one hour] remove the mushrooms from the marinade and press between paper towels or in a cotton dish towel to remove the excess marinade. Sprinkle with crushed peppercorns, salt and thyme, pressing the seasoning into both sides of the mushroom pieces.
Pace a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat for 1 minute, then add the mushrooms in one layer, working in batches if necessary. Cook until browned and crisp, 2-3 minutes on each side.
The recipe instructs you to “discard the marinade”-- but I didn’t. I actually used it to both 1) braise the kale and 2) lightly season my mashed potatoes. So, there you have it.

Enjoy! It really is quite good. But let’s not get to hasty, I promised 2 recipes, after all.

Lobster mushroom beurre blanc (this is so rich, you won’t believe there’s no cream in it.)

Sea salt
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
2 shallots, minced
1 pound lobster mushrooms, cut into brunoise
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup Cashew Cream**
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast flakes
8 tablespoons Earth Balance, cut into tablespoon-sized pieces
Juice of one lemon
1 tablespoon minced fresh chives
Freshly ground black pepper

1. Make the lobster mushroom beurre blanc: Place a medium sauté pan over medium heat. Sprinkle the bottom with a pinch of salt and heat for 1 minute. Add the oil and heat for 30 seconds, being careful not to let it smoke.
Reduce the heat to low. Add the shallots and sauté until translucent but not browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the mushrooms and sauté for 2 minutes. Add the wine and cook until reduced by half. Add the cashew cream and continue to cook for five minutes, then whisk in the nutritional yeast.
Remove from the heat. Whisk in the Earth Balance 1 tablespoon at a time, then stir in the lemon juice and chives. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

** Cashew Cream: in lieu of using dairy cream, Ronnen suggests the following vegan solution by using raw cashew nuts:

2 cups whole raw cashews (not pieces, which are often dry) rinsed very well under cold water.
Put the cashews in a bowl and add cold water to cover them. Cover the bowl and refrigerate overnight.

Drain the cashews and rinse under cold water. Place in a blender with enough fresh cold water to cover them by 1 inch. Blend on high for several minutes until very smooth. (If you’re not using a professional high-speed blender such as a Vita-Mix, which creates an ultra-smooth cream, strain the cashew cream through a fine-mesh sieve.)

All I can say is: this sauce is so rich, you're sure to have leftovers to enjoy the following night. :)

Live healthy and happy, my friends! And now, I'm off to run more miles.

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