Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Green Smoothies

Each year at Christmas, I find myself both delighted by people's generosity in gift-giving and overwhelmed by the sheer amount of "stuff"that comes in and out of my house. Living in a fairly small apartment, it's always a challenge to find space for new things. This year, I was motivated to purge post-Christmas for various reasons.
On New Year's Day, we had our usual Chili Ride party and needed to clean and prep the night before. While trying to find the surface of my dining room table, I had an enormous mail pile to contend with (I've written an entire blog post on this daunting task in the past.) My first instinct was to hide it in the "organizational basket" I have stored under my desk. However, much to my dismay this was filled to the brim, probably from preparing for the party the year before. So, I had no other choice but to tackle this ginormostack of catalogs, bills, magazines and solicitations. One by one, I chose between the shredder, the recycling bin or the filing cabinet.
  I know, you're envious of my rockin' New Year's Eve. It's important to know that I had an adult beverage while completing this task. Admittedly it was one of the most, if not THE most blase New Year's Eve I've ever had. It was less exciting than even an ordinary week night. But that's OK. We had a fun party the next day and Kathy, Janet and I had a nice, albeit chilly ride together in 17 degree temps with a pit stop at Ride Studio Cafe for a mocha latte. 
Shortly after 2014 rang in, I was scheduled to attend two different clothing swaps. The clothing swap has now become a regular occurrence amongst my girl crowd.  It's a nice way to give some of your things a second lease on life and to maybe get something new yourself without have to shop or spend money. Anything not taken goes to charity. On MLK Day, I used the holiday from work to do a deep clean of my closet and bureau in preparation for the swaps. So here, my decision points were: 1st clothing swap; second clothing swap; straight to Goodwill; straight to the garbage.
The pile was enormous and I found the experience was a bit unpleasant.  It made me frustrated as I weeded through so many things that I had barely worn. I questioned my buying habits. While I don't consider myself a shopper as it's not something I often enjoy, I clearly had purchased many things over the last several years that were not put to good use. I felt wasteful and a cog in the consumer wheel that is embedded in our culture. I pictured my things in one of the garbage heaps that Wall-e, the main character in my favorite Pixar film, would have compacted into a neat cube of trash. I wondered how I could be more efficient yet have the clothes I need for all aspects of my life and in all seasons. I have no answers, but I know that each time I go through this, especially when moving, for a while I become much more judicious in my purchases and ask, "If I moved cross country, would I want to take this with me? How important is it?" (Not that I have ever moved cross country, but I've imagined it about 1 million times. Oh, Portland, please save yourself for me. I may be there someday.)
The third thing I've purged thus far this year is my habitual breakfast. For many many years now, my typical breakfast has been either granola and yogurt with some fruit, or oatmeal with a banana and peanut butter mixed in. For some time now, I've been thinking about reforming my breakfast to be a little more nutritional and a bit less carb focused. I'm not trying to eradicate carbs from my life, but to reduce them some. I could have been doing worse and been eating Lucky Charms and a bagel with cream cheese each day, but I could be doing better.
Several years ago, I asked my parents for a very expensive juicer as a Christmas gift. I tried it a handful of times, but I quickly learned juicing was not for me. I didn't find it at all satisfying as a breakfast and I found it a giant pain to clean the appliance after each use. So there the juicer sat and sat, week after week, month after month taking up very precious counter space.
During our trip to Portland this summer I had a "green smoothie" most every day. I found them very tasty and liked getting a blast of kale or spinach to start my day. When I returned I looked into getting a nice blender that could blend the greens enough to make them drinkable. The one that everyone raved about was the Vitamix, but it came with a hefty price tag of over $500. Would it join the Land of Unused Expensive Appliances on my teeny counter? I couldn't bear the thought of it. Months went by as I continued to ponder this, when a co-worker told me about the Ninja - same wattage but much less expensive. I found myself a coupon for Bed, Bath and Beyond and purchased my Ninja BL820 that day.
Also, we ended up posting my Breville juicer for sale on Twitter and it sold the same day! The timing was impeccable being ripe for New Year Resolutions. I was able to put that money towards my blender and free up the counter. 
The outcome? I've used it almost every day for the last three weeks, since I set it up. Now, I'm not a nutritionist and I can't vouch for this being the healthier way to go. As a matter of fact, I worry that if I'm not careful I'll be eating a 900 calorie breakfast. And, it turns out that one of my favorite combinations has oatmeal in it. But I'm enjoying it and getting some greens into my breakfast most days.
Here are a couple of my favorite combinations. Quantities are estimated since I have never measured a thing. So far I haven't been able to go wrong. No combination has tasted bad to me.

Green Almond Butter Smoothie
2 cups of kale or spinach
1-2 tblspns of almond butter
1/2 cup almond milk
up to a tblspn flaxseed meal
1/2 tspn cinnamon
a couple of drops of vanilla
a half or whole frozen or fresh banana
a small handful of blueberries or a short pour of pomegranate juice (optional)

Oatmeal Smoothie
1/2 cup oats
1-2 tblspns almond butter
1/2 cup almond milk
1 cup kale or spinach
1/2 to whole fresh or frozen banana
1/2 tspn cinnamon
a couple drops vanilla
pomegranate juice works well here too

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Buffalo Baked Tofu

I finally belong to a book club that actually meets regularly and discusses the book that most, if not all, the people in attendance have read. I'd made a few attempts at book clubs before, but they never lasted long, for one reason or another. This group, we call ourselves simply, The Good Book Club, meets about every 4-6 weeks and we have a regular crew of about 8 women, and a few others that come from time to time. We actually do discuss the book, and we eat dinner together. This typically takes place on Sunday evenings, although we mix it up once in a while, and we take most of the summer off, but may get together just to hang out or see a movie. I like this group more and more each time we meet and we've had a pretty good streak of books. Some that stand out in my mind: The Dog Stars by Peter Heller; The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery; A State of Wonder by Ann Patchett and The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson. In full disclosure, I never finished this last one because I was finishing up my yoga certification at the time, but what I read I liked. It's a true story of a serial killer during the 1893 World Fair and includes lots of interesting detail about the history of architecture in Chicago and other cities at the time.
I do hope our momentum of both books and building friendships continues into 2014. The next book we will discuss is Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain. I saw her Ted Talk and liked what she had to say, and have been wanting to read the book. We are also pairing our next meeting with a clothing swap.
As for our next book, I'm a little bit behind schedule on reading it and also having a less than pleasant time walking Zuree multiple times a day in the single digit temperatures we've been having. Given this situation, I decided to make the best of the walking and also meet my deadline by listening to my reading assignment via audiobook. I loaded it onto my phone and now have 10 hours of listening enjoyment to accompany me while Zuree stops, smells, and meanders. Given my average walk is 30 to 45 minutes, and I walk her three times on the weekend and twice during the week (the dog walker gets the third shift), I will have the book completed in no more than 20 walks, or a little over a week! Perfect. This book would have taken me a lot longer than that to read. It's very interesting, but definitely not like a novel that I would get lost in or wouldn't be able to put down.  So all is well in our polar vortex and both dog and mama are happy.
In the winter I crave lots of warming foods, like curries and similarly spicy things. I've made this buffalo baked tofu several time and like the texture and flavor quite a lot. I like the texture even better as leftovers, cold. I often have it on top of a salad or as a snack. I have found that buying fresh, locally made tofu makes a big difference, but I know of only one place to get it around here, so don't always have it on hand. 

Buffalo Baked Tofu
1 package of firm tofu
4 tblspns nutritional yeast
4 tblspns panko bread crumbs
6 tblspns hot wing sauce
2 tspns salt
1 tspn chili powder

1.  Press the tofu (do this ahead of time).  Place a couple of paper towels on a plate and put the brick of tofu down. put another paper towel on top of the tofu and another plate on top of that. Take a large can 64 oz can of tomatoes (or something similar) and put it on top of the plate. Put the whole contraption in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. A couple of hours would be better, but 30 minutes is just fine.
2. Preheat the oven to 375 and put a little oil into a baking dish. Remove the tofu and cut it into pieces about "1/4 thick and 3X3".
3. In one shallow bowl, pour the wing sauce. In another mix the bread crumbs, nutritional yeast, chili powder, salt and a little pepper.
4. Take each piece of tofu, and dredge it first in the wing sauce and then in the bread crumb mixture.
5. Bake for 30 minutes. The original recipe I used called for flipping the pieces halfway through but I found all the coating would come off, so I just leave it.