Tuesday, April 26, 2011

How to do a healthy cleanse

I believe that the best way to lose weight is by following a diet high in fruits and vegetables, and low in processed foods, combined with a sensible and consistent work out routine. 

However, there are times when we go overboard and indulge a bit too much and need something a little stricter to pull us back on track. 

Snack on raw veg when you feel peckish. 
This weekend was one of those times for me. I spent the weekend with some friends in a gorgeous beach town and enjoyed myself so much so, that upon returning to Istanbul, I knew I needed to cleanse my system. 

Now I don't believe in hardcore fasts like the maple-syrup/cayenne pepper/lemon juice one, or the cabbage soup diet (eew), but I do believe there are sensible ways to de-gunk your system. Here is what I do. 

1. No alcohol
Now this one really goes without saying. Alcohol can be wonderful, but if you are looking to purify your body, alcohol has got to go. Not only is it dehydrating and full of sugar, but it also can mess with your complexion and lower your resolve when it comes to healthy eating. The best part about cutting out alcohol for a while is that once you have a drink, after a few days of not drinking, you will get a buzz much easier. Hidden perks! 

2. No animal products (or by-products)
Now let me reiterate that this is what works for me. I think everyone should try to eat more fruits and vegetables and if you are eating lots of meat and cheese and other high calorie, low fiber and nutrient foods, there is no way you are going to be able to eat enough fruit and veg to make a difference. Animal products aren't all bad, per se, but most of us just eat too much of them. Think about it, if you normally have eggs for breakfast, chicken for lunch and meat for dinner, what percentage of your daily diet can possibly be fruit and vegetables? A very small percentage. Now, take out the animal products and replace them with spinach for breakfast, let's say, lentils for lunch and tofu or plain veg for dinner- it's easy to see how much healthier your diet becomes. And easier on your system, as well. Meat is really hard for your system to digest, and once you make the switch to a high-veg diet, trust me, everything will start working better. 

Side note: For those that aren't familiar, animal products include meat, fish, pork, chicken and most animal flesh. Animal by products include cheese, eggs, dairy, yogurt and anything that is produced by animals but isn't their actual flesh, per se. Those that don't eat animal products but consume their by-products are called vegetarians and those that abstain from all animal products and by-products are called vegans. 

3. No white stuff
Now I've mentioned this before, but anything white is generally bad. And when I mean white, I mean white flour, white sugar, 'white pasta' (aka not whole wheat) and the like. Most recently, a professor at UCSF named Robert Lustig, released a video on YouTube where he speaks about just how toxic and dangerous sugar really is. It has over 1 million YouTube views and you can see it here. There are great sugar alternatives that are kinder on your blood sugar like agave nectar and Stevia, but you might as well stay away from all sugar (except fruit) during your cleanse. If you truly are a sugar addict, you might be encouraged to know that after only 2 weeks without it, your body actually stops craving it altogether. 

She looks healthier already, no? 

4. Drink at least 2 liters of water a da
Most of the time when we think we are hungry, we are actually thirsty. And if it so happens that you don't drink a lot of water, it would be easy for you to confuse your thirst for hunger. So an important step in cleansing is to drink a lot of water. I have found that at least 2 liters a day is both feasible and helps me feel bright and refreshed. If you don't like the taste of water much, you can try adding lemon slices, cucumber slices of even sliced fresh fruit to make it more palatable. 

This is the cleanse that I follow after I've been indulging a bit too much and I've found that it's not that hard to follow and definitely makes me feel a lot better after a few days. I would also say that this sort of cleanse is much healthier than other ones you will read about that promise quick results. The aim of this cleanse is to make you FEEL better, not necessarily look better (which you will of course). But the point I'm trying to make is that, when you feed your body well, hydrate and of course work out a bit as well, good things will happen on the inside that will reflect onto your outside as well. And I think that is what matters most. 

Update on cooking challenge

A selection of assorted olives in Ayvalik. 
I just wanted to post a quick update saying that, in case anyone was following, yes, I was able to fulfill my cooking challenge. The idea was to cook at least 6 dishes in 7 days and I succeeded. The fact that I had barely cooked at all during the month prior shows that all it takes is a little motivation and maybe a set goal to help you accomplish what you want. Yes, I could have just stated that I hoped to cook more, but making it a challenge to cook a certain number of times made it that much more attainable. 

I quite liked the challenge and think I will do similar ones in the future. For now, I'm trying to cook once a day. Even if that just means assembling a meal from leftovers in the fridge, it's better than ordering take out. 

Stay tuned for my tips on healthy cleansing. 

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Mushroom and Cannellini Paprikas + Chocolate Oatmeal Cranberry Cookies

Last night I hosted a small dinner party for three of my favorite girlfriends. Lucky for me, they are all into trying unique vegetarian dishes so I knew planning the menu would be a cinch. I decided to make a dish I had made before, so as to guarantee success. That is one of the most important rules I learned from Ina Garten. NEVER try new dishes out on guests! 

I made the Mushroom and Cannellini Paprikas from 'Appetite for Reduction' by Isa Chandra Moskowitz. It's a super delicious and easy stewy sort of dish consisting of caramelized red onions, cannellini beans, mushrooms and lots of thyme. I served it over brown rice with a side salad of arugula. I wanted the main dishes to be rather healthy as I was serving the most delicious dark chocolate oatmeal cranberry cookies for dessert. I think it's important to balance your entire meal when serving guests. I learned this lesson after I served cheesecake to 20 people after feeding them the most indulgent lasagna ever. Everyone was so stuffed and over-cheese-fied that they could barely make it home! Not the kind of end you want to a dinner party;) 

Mushroom paprikas with scarlet barley. 
Unfortunately, I don't have a great camera yet and it was dark so I wasn't able to get a good photo of the dinner. But I found one online from mobettavegan.blogspot.com, so I'm giving credit where it's due! 

Since I made both a main course and dessert, I'm counting that as TWO dishes towards my weekly goal of cooking 6 dishes in 7 days. That puts my total at 5, if I remember correctly. I only have today and tomorrow until I leave town for the weekend, so hopefully I can make one more dish by then. 

I think it's important to set little goals for yourself like this. It's fun and it's a great way to challenge yourself and maybe even learn a few new things about yourself. I definitely learned that it's not out of the question to cook every other day and that I love feeding my friends. So here's to more dinner parties! 

I know the photo is terrible:( 
A note about the cookies: I used this recipe by Martha Stewart. I don't care much for the raisins sold here in Istanbul, so I replaced them with dried cranberries. Cranberries, however, are much sweeter than raisins, so I think next time I will reduce the amount of sugar. Also, there was WAY too much chocolate for my liking. My sister agrees, and next time I think I will again, halve the amount. Finally, I like my oatmeal cookies very oatmealy, and these had too little oatmeal and too much flour in my opinion. Next time I will reduce the flour and up the oatmeal perhaps. Otherwise, my girlfriends all loved them and even took home extras! That always makes the chef feel great:) 

Mushroom and Cannellini Paprikas Recipe

1 1/2 tsp olive oil
1 small onion, sliced thinly
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb cremini mushrooms, sliced
Several pinches of freshly ground black pepper
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup dry red wine
1/4 cup vegetable broth
2 tsp smoked paprika
2 tbsp fresh chopped thyme
1 (16 oz) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

1. Preheat a 4 quart pot over medium-high heat. Saute the onions in the oil until lightly browned, about 7 minutes. Add the garlic and saute for about 30 seconds. Add the mushrooms, pepper and salt, cook until lots of moisture has been released, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes.
2. Add the wine, broth, smoked paprika, and thyme. Turn up the heat and bring the mixture to a low boil. Boil for about 3 minutes. Lower the heat and add the beans. Cook to heat through, about 5 more minutes. Use a strong fork to lightly mash some of the beans, to thicken the sauce. Taste for salt and serve.

Note: I doubled the recipe and it was just enough for 4 plus leftovers for 1. Actually, most of the recipes in 'Appetite for Reduction' are small (possible because it's a diet book?) so keep that in mind when cooking from it. 

Monday, April 18, 2011

Potato-Spinach Curry

Since I started this cooking challenge, or launched should I say, on Saturday, I've cooked three times. At this pace, I think I'll definitely be able finish this challenge before I head to Ayvalik for the weekend. 

So simple, but delicious. 
1st Dish: Sauteed Zucchini
On Saturday for lunch I made sauteed zucchini. To be honest, I would never even normally share this dish or the accompanying photo, but as I'm supposed to be cooking 7 times in 7 days, I figured I should share everything I like, no matter how simple. This is one of my sister's favorite things to make, albeit she adds canned tomato sauce to her version. We just saute some onions in a bit of olive oil, add sliced and peeled zucchini and add either soy sauce or marinara sauce once the zucchini is cooked. The only thing you have to make sure of here is to not overcook the zucchini or it can become mushy. I also like to add a dollop of strained yogurt (suzme yogurt) to the top at the end. 

2nd Dish: Whole wheat penne with marinara sauce
Again, this dish I made for dinner on Saturday, but it literally took maybe 10 minutes (plus the time it takes to boil the water). I used canned pasta sauce and just added some light cream cheese to the mix (I swear this is delicious and makes the sauce really creamy, even if it doesn't sound good). Although I wouldn't really count this as cooking per se, it's better than ordering in. Unfortunately, I don't have a photo of this. 

3rd Dish: Potato- Spinach Curry
Tasted way better than it looks!
Today was the first time in a while (maybe a month?) that I've actually cooked something that took some prep work. I made the Potato-Spinach Curry from Isa Chandra Moskowitz's 'Appetite for Reduction'. It was delicious, if you like Indian food. I actually really do, so I found the curry and cumin mixed with the potatoes and spinach comforting and delicious. This is definitely NOT the kind of dish you should serve for guests, as visually, it is not very appetizing. But it was the perfect dish to make on a cold and rainy day like today. We served ours with yogurt and sprinkled with nutritional yeast (my new favorite condiment, now that we're out of Sriracha). 

with my modifications
1 teaspoons olive oil
1 small onion, diced small
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 can diced tomatoes
1 tablespoon curry powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups vegetable broth
2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch chunks
1 pound chopped frozen spinach

1. Saute the onions in the oil till translucent, then add the garlic, ginger and red pepper flakes. Make sure to NOT burn the bottom of the pan (not a problem if you are using a non-stick pan). 
2. Add the tomatoes to deglaze the bottom of the pan, and then add the curry, cumin and salt. 
3. Add the potatoes and veggie broth, bring to a boil, and then turn down and let simmer for 15 minutes or until the potatoes are tender. 
4. Add the spinach and mix well. Cook for ten more minutes. 

I served this with brown rice, which in retrospect, wasn't the best idea (the potatoes were carbs enough). Perhaps a protein like tofu would be better. In fact, I think you could add cubed tofu to this dish and it would be even better. 

All in all, I'd give this recipe a 3.5/5. It was good, but without the yogurt, it was a bit bland. Maybe I'll punch up the flavor next time with more spices. 

It felt great to get back in the kitchen, though, I must say. I'm excited to keep it up!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Cooking challenge

I can't believe it's been as long as it has since I last posted. 

Sometimes you go through big changes in life, and they shake you, and you find it hard to get back on track. Without sharing too much personal information, I went through one of these big core-shaking events recently, and it's one of the reasons I haven't been around here lately. 

I missed blogging though, and now I'm back. 

Along with not blogging, I wasn't cooking. Cooking is an odd thing. Most people are too lazy to do it for themselves. Or feel like it's too indulgent or time-consuming a process for one person. But will go out of their way for company. But why shouldn't we pay as much attention to ourselves as we do others? I think that is most people's big struggle in life. Especially women. We always put the other people in our lives first. 

I haven't been taking care of myself that well recently. I have been hitting the gym almost daily, which I'm really proud of. But when it comes to the eating department, I've opted for quick and easy. It just seemed trivial compared to other more important things in my life. 

I miss cooking though and believe I can feel the toll that the crap I've been putting in my body has taken on me. I haven't been eating terribly, but as I've stated before, I don't think take-out is the best option usually. At least not on a daily basis!
Glazed tempeh with broccolini. 

Without further ado, I have decided to challenge myself to cook 6 times in the next 7 days. I will either cook once every day, until next Saturday (with one day off, just in case), or I can choose to cook twice in one day, or whatever. The point is that I need to get back in the kitchen. It's what I love. It keeps me balanced and happy and makes me feel like I'm doing something good for myself, even if it's all I manage to accomplish that day

I will blog about it daily hopefully, so stay tuned. 

My awesome followers!