on coffee


(source)

It happened. I fell off the wagon. I’m drinking coffee again.

For so long, I stayed away from coffee. I didn’t want to feel dependent on something every morning. I wanted the foods I was eating and the restful sleep I was getting to be enough to keep my energy levels high. That worked for a while.

And then I started drinking tea. At first it was herbal tea: no caffeine, lots of benefits; I felt good about it. Then green tea: tons of antioxidants, trendy superfood, low caffeine levels. And then I fell in love with black tea: chais, oolongs, blends, simple breakfast teas. My gateway drug. I fell in love with the brewing process, the loose leaf snobbery, the ritual of stumbling out of bed in the morning, brewing myself a hot cup of tea and sipping it cautiously as I began my morning ritual of attempting to meditate meditating before yoga class. The kick of the caffeine got me off my ass and onto my mat, and I appreciated the ability to wake up before class rather than mid-chaturanga.

For months I kept up my habit of drinking black tea first thing after waking up. I felt very grown-up, having my own morning ritual, shuffling around my kitchen in the pre-dawn darkness, using a tea kettle, gripping my artisan mug gratefully. I felt superior to those people who drank coffee: my addiction was classier, less intense, more healthy. I told myself that the caffeine in black tea was much less than that of coffee, so I wasn’t “hooked” on it like I used to be back in my coffee-drinking days. I could quit whenever I wanted. The classic addict’s phrase.

At my high school reunion in June, however, I broke my coffee-fast and allowed myself an iced latte (soy, duh) to caffeinate myself for a long night of partying reminiscing with old friends. And it tasted so good. I started treating coffee as a “treat”, something I allowed myself on the weekends or in preparation for an especially long day at work.

This once-a-week treat soon turned into twice a week, then daily – strolling into starbucks on my way to yoga, sipping the second half of my iced cappuccino as I drove home a sweaty, relaxed-yet-caffeinated mess. It just tasted too good to give up.

Here’s the thing: I think coffee gets a bad rap. Yes, it’s a diuretic, so you should drink extra water to compensate and try to limit your intake to one cup a day. But if you’re only drinking coffee once a day, and you’re not loading it up with heavy cream and loads of sugar (or, worse, artificial sweetener), it will most likely not a) kill you or b) make you obese. Some days I go without coffee and I’m okay. Some days I’m just not in the mood. But when the smell of roasted coffee beans wakes up my senses in the morning, and that first sip of foamed milk and delicious espresso touches my lips, I can’t help but smile. We can’t deny ourselves these little daily rituals that bring us such joy.

So today I proudly stand up and say, my name is Marian, and don’t talk to me until I’ve had my coffee.

Maybe this is what being an adult feels like?

sometimes

Sometimes I wake up at 5 AM on a weekday to go to yoga and start my day off with a good sweat and a clear mind. Other times I wake up at 3 AM on a Sunday morning, can’t get back to sleep, and decide to make a trip to the 24-hour grocery store so I can make Peanut Butter Fudge Pretzel Brownies.

heaven.

Sometimes I judge the stringy-haired teenager working the night shift at Harris Teeter. And then I ask him for paper bags and we bond over soy-free Earth Balance. Don’t judge a book by its haircut.

Sometimes I make balanced breakfasts and eat my daily requirement of vegetables. Other times I spend my Sunday morning eating brownies, drinking coffee, and watching Freaks and Geeks in bed.

Sometimes I call my mom and cry because I’m lonely, and bored, and lost. But then, I randomly find myself baking and dancing around my kitchen at 4 AM, just because I can, and I remember how much fun this whole single-irresponsible-20something thing can be.

Sometimes I spend my Saturday evenings cooking nutritious dinners and reading books. And then there are the times where I ride in Karaoke Cabs on the way to dinner and eat a huge plate of sweet potato fries. (Sweet potatoes are good for me!)

don't stop believin' in the awesomeness of karaoke cab

Sometimes I pride myself on eating healthfully and taking good care of my body and doing things that are good for myself and good for the earth. But sometimes I just want to bake a huge batch of brownies and drink too much coffee and be lazy and carefree. I’ve learned that I have to allow myself these things – as long as I learn how not to eat the whole pan in one sitting.

While it’s important for me to treat myself well, establish healthy habits, and feel good, sometimes that means indulging in treats, or laying in bed and watching a movie, or going out with friends instead of getting a proper night’s sleep. We can’t expect ourselves to be perfect in any aspect of life – diet, job, relationships – or else we’ll just go crazy. So sometimes we have to learn to cut ourselves a little slack – because if we don’t allow ourselves that lazy Sunday or second third brownie, we begin to resent the healthy choices we are making. Eat salads and balanced meals and vegetables 90% of the time. And for the other 10% – let yourself live a little. Because what’s life without brownies every once in a while?

CUPCAKES

So about these brownies. I veganized them! And they are amazing. They even got roommate approval. If you do eggs and dairy, follow the original recipe and it’ll knock your socks off, I’m sure. But I’ve included my notes on what I did below. Either way, go make these. Now.

Pretzel Layer:
I used melted Earth Balance instead of butter. Make sure to crush your pretzels up small! And don’t underestimate the combination of melted butter and salty pretzels – try not to eat it by the handful. [Note to any angsty girls out there: put on some Adele and whack a plastic bag full of pretzels with a heavy kitchen object. It will solve all of your problems!] I might try adding this layer on top of the brownies next time – some of the crumbles stayed in the pan, and I like as many salty pretzel bits as I can get.

Brownie layer:
I used my favorite brownie recipe and used about 3/4 of the batter (the rest went into my mouth a few muffin tins)

Peanut butter layer: Make sure to microwave and mix right before you pour this on. Again, I didn’t use all of the PB mixture – maybe 3/4. FYI: I try to use organic powdered (and regular) sugar, as regular white sugar is often processed using bone char (source).

I baked these for 30-35 minutes and stuck them directly in the fridge to cool. The edge pieces are CLEARLY my favorite. Especially with extra pretzels crumbled on top. I have a feeling they won’t last very long.

Happy Baking! Go give yourself a hug and eat a brownie.

black-eyed pea eggplant burgers

I finally did it! I created a veggie burger recipe that doesn’t a) fall apart, b) taste like paper, or c) crumble between my fingers. When I received two pounds of dried black-eyed peas from my CSA this summer, I couldn’t wait to find fun ways to cook them up (just ask me how long it took me to shell those babies. I dare you). And once a few late summer eggplants made their way into my kitchen, my imagination started working on an earthy, fresh, and hearty veggie burger recipe. Thankfully it actually turned out! I must admit, I was pretty proud of myself for this one.

Sometimes I pout over veggie burger recipes because I don’t have a food processor (cut to a picture of me crying over my Vitamix… #whitegirlproblems), but honestly, you could probably even make this recipe in a regular old blender. A note – I added both ground oats and cooked brown rice to add some carbs and bind the patties. They’re delicious even without the brown rice, but it adds extra chew + complex carbs. And I love carbs. Try these – they’re seriously delicious, and healthy to boot.

Grilled Zucchini and Ketchup. All you need.

Black-Eyed Pea Eggplant Burgers
Makes 5-6 patties

1.5 C Cubed and roasted eggplant, using this method (about 2 small/medium eggplants)
1.5 C Cooked black eyed peas
1/4 C Ground oats*
1 Small onion, chopped
2 Cloves garlic, minced
1/2 Small jalapeño, seeded and minced
1/2 C Cooked brown rice (optional)
2 t Soy sauce*
2 t Dijon mustard
1 T Tahini
1 T Ketchup
1/4 C Sunflower seeds
1/4 C Chopped parsley
1 t Coriander
1/2 t Cumin
1/2 t Red Pepper Flakes
Smoked salt and black pepper, to taste

*Use tamari and GF oats to make this recipe gluten free

1. Preheat oven to 375 F
2. In a high-speed blender or food processor, pulse roasted eggplant and black-eyed peas until somewhat combined but still chunky (I pulsed them separately in my Vitamix and then combined later).
3. Empty mixture into a large bowl, and add all other ingredients, mixing with a wooden spoon until combined
4. Form into patties (should make about 6, unless you start eating the batter by the spoonful, in which case it will be more like 5) and place on a lined baking sheet (I use a Silpat and love it!)
5. Bake for 15 min on each side, or until slightly browned.

Enjoy!

smart people make me happy

This morning, I discovered the new “Healthy Eating Plate” via Peas and Thank You. Those smarties over at Harvard have developed simple yet thorough guidelines for what we should strive for at each meal. Check out the full website here.

I think that this is an improvement upon the USDA’s recent MyPlate program, as it gives more concrete examples for each category and limits dairy, sugars, and processed meats. It seems to me that the best food advice includes giving people lots of options for what they can eat, rather than listing out what they “can’t“. The only issue is that I can’t count french fries as a serving of vegetables. What do you think?

Grateful Wednesday

My legs are all tingly and my arms are shaky as I sit here typing at a coffee shop named after a Phoebe Buffay song. There’s sitar music playing in the background and I’m not sure how I feel about it. (I think I like it, but maybe that’s just two cappuccinos worth of caffeine pulsing through me?)

Yesterday during my Ashtanga practice, my teacher told me about a new Wednesday morning Mysore-style class being held at NoDa yoga in Charlotte. The instructor was amazing, he said, and encouraged me to try it out. So at 8 AM (okay, 8:15, I’m trying to cure myself of my chronic lateness) I sat outside the tiny studio tucked away in a residential neighborhood, looking for a sign of life inside the shuttered windows.

I saw the glimmer of votive candles inside and saw what looked like a hand waving at me, so I grabbed my mat and ventured to the door. NoDa yoga is the type of studio where you walk in, and you’re in the studio: no lobby, no cubbies, just a large room with an adjacent bathroom and a desk in the corner. No mirrors – I love this – and beautiful art on the walls. The two women already inside – the instructor, Lisa, and another woman, Laura – were friendly and welcoming and inviting. I instantly felt at home. Two more women showed up within the next 20 minutes, both instructors in Charlote whom I have taken class with before and whose practices I admire. I parked my mat next to the gas-logs fireplace flickering in the wall and smiled with anticipation.

As we recited the opening chant together, I knew I was a part of something special. There’s something so powerful and beautiful about a small group of women coming together and sharing something that they all value. I can’t put my finger on why it affected me so much, and all of these words I’m trying to use seem so silly and insufficient. But it was lovely, and meaningful, and lighthearted at the same time. I felt like part of a little club. There was focus, and hard work, and chatter, and laughter, and encouragement. There were swear words and groans and discussions about the true meaning of yoga. Lisa, the instructor, was so kind and informative – she has been practicing Ashtanga since before I was born – and I felt so blessed to practice with her. She was the kind of teacher who, by sharing their own struggles and faults, inspires even more admiration from her students.

If there’s any point to what I’m writing right now, it’s this: sometimes the most beautiful experiences in life are the little ones, the ones we have to seek out, the ones that are tucked away behind leafy trees and shuttered doors. They’re not the marathons, but rather the leisurely walks that are unexpected but ever-so-needed because the light is just right and you never realized how much you love being outside. They’re not the crazy poses, but the deep exhales, the generous assists from a teacher, the friendships built through yoga, the smiles between new acquaintances. I’m so grateful for my practice this morning. And that’s all that I can think of to say.

Namaste, y’all.

making mama proud

My mom is my best friend.  She has made me who I am, taught me compassion, and shown me how to live life with optimism and an unfailing desire to make the most of each day.  She also taught me how to bake.

baking pie, summer 2010

Countless times throughout my childhood, we would pull a red box of brownie mix out of the cupboards in our kitchen and dump the chocolate powder into a large metallic bowl.  We would add in water, oil, eggs, and stir until they made a sweet, rich, irresistible batter.  Sometimes, the batter would actually make it into a pan (Salmonella who?).  But there were always two crucial steps in the process.

First, my sister and I always got to lick the bowl.  And the spoon.  The amount of batter that “remained” in the bowl after pouring into the pan always varied.  I distinctly remember one time smearing batter all over my belly and promptly being placed into the bathtub.  We may not have been perfect (or clean), but we always had fun.

Second – and I hope my mom won’t disown me for giving away her secret to almost all baked goods – the brownies were underbaked.  This always created a gooey, delicious consistency – those that weren’t eaten straight out of the over went into the fridge, to be enjoyed later once they had become dense and fudgy.  Never cakey.  They were brought to school, lacrosse games, birthday parties – or just into the TV room.  But they were always the best.

Side note: my mom is also awesome because, knowing that edge pieces were my favorite, she would take a batch of brownies to my sister’s field hockey games but cut off all the edges and leave them at home for me. If that’s not love, I don’t know what is.

Now that I try to avoid processed foods and animal products, I’ve been trying to find a legitimate vegan brownie recipe.  It’s sort of been my baker’s Everest.  A brownie-like texture is hard to achieve since eggs do so much for texture, taste, binding, and rising.  There are a lot of recipes that SAY they are vegan brownies, but they’re really just chocolate-flavored baked goods.  But I FINALLY found the perfect recipe on one of my favorite healthy living blogs, Une Vie Saine.  Warning: these are not health food. They are fudgy, chocolatey, perfect.  Find the recipe here.  I added in 1 C chopped 100% dark chocolate and followed the rest of the recipe to a T(easpoon?).

I think my mom would approve.  Now who wants to help me finish the pan of brownies in my fridge?

Father-Daughter Book Club, part one – Eating Animals

This summer, I finally read Jonathan Safran Foer’s popular new book Eating Animals, which had been on the top of my “to-read” list for a while.  I finished it in less than a week, and it blew me away.  I wanted to share it with others.  So I challenged my Dad – an avid reader and a writer by trade – to a father-daughter book club challenge.  I’d pick the first book, he’d pick the next, and so forth.  The only thing more moving to me than this book was my Dad’s response.  Read it here, then read my take on the book below.  Then read this book.  Then share it with someone you love.
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The cover of my book was quite striking, bright green with white lettering.  Every time somebody asked me what it was about, my answer was always insecure and vague.  And I’d sort of sheepishly smile to let the person know, Don’t Worry!  I’m not some crazy militant vegan!  Please still be my friend!  I won’t throw paint on you!

But then I felt like a phony.  Because what I really wanted to say was, This is a book that everyone needs to read. But how do you say that without sounding like you’re trying to convert people?  Let’s try, shall we?

When Jonathan Safran Foer, an off-and-on vegetarian, found out that he would be a father for the first time, he gained a desire to understand why we eat meat, where our meat comes from, and how to explain to his son why it is okay (or not okay) to eat some animals and not others.  Eating Animals explores the ethical and logical arguments surrounding the idea of eating animals, then delves deeper into the production of meat (and eggs – he somewhat ignores dairy) in the United States, both from factory farms and family-owned farms.  The book is meticulously researched, engaging, and eye-opening.

Before addressing the issues of factory farming, Foer addresses the “why” behind the idea of eating animals.  Through experiences with pets and, perhaps, an innate feeling of connectedness, we have positive feelings towards animals.  We cringe at the idea of eating the family dog, or abusing another domesticated animal, so why do we condone the killing and torture of other animals?  It’s a common argument for vegetarianism. My favorite idea here, however, is Kafka’s reference to animals as “receptacles of forgetting”. Eating animals requires a certain level of forgetting – forgetting how similar they are to us, and in today’s society, forgetting the means by which they arrive on our plates. Sadly, this makes it easier for factory farming to exist.  If we don’t know how food gets on our plates, we can’t let it affect us.  Ignorance, in this case, is bliss.

And then there’s factory farming.  The first chapters on factory farming appalled and shocked me.  What’s sadder is that, by the end of the book, I wasn’t shocked anymore; I had heard everything.  Factory farming treats nature as an obstacle.   Their business model entails calculating how sick they can keep their animals without killing them (yet).  Secrecy is of the utmost importance.  Chickens cannot live past adolescence because their genetics are so messed up. “Not a single turkey you can buy in a supermarket could walk normally, much less jump or fly” (111).  I could go on.  The bottom line is, factory farming is disgusting.  Animals are confined, neglected, and treated as inventory rather than sentient beings.

Another topic that Foer addresses that I had never before considered is the cruelty inherent in the fishing industry. Because of the methods used to catch fish, 4.5 million sea animals are killed annually in addition to those fish we actually consume.  And the slaughter of fish is never humane: “Although one can realistically expect that [mammals] are slaughtered with speed and care, no fish gets a good death” (193).  We often think of eating fish as less cruel than eating cattle or pigs.  They seem less important.  But Foer discredits this claim, and does so convincingly.

Before reading this book, I knew that factory farming was cruel.  But I was unaware of the serious effects that it had on public health and the environment.  I’ll simply include excerpts here.

Public Health issues (p. 134):

  • Because of the unavoidable level of cross-contamination in the processing of chickens,  the USDA had to reclassify feces.  It is now considered a “cosmetic blemish” for inspection purposes so that the majority of chicken will pass inspection.
  • “Every week…millions of chickens leaking yellow pus, stained by green feces, contaminated by harmful bacteria, or marred by lung and hear infections, cancerous tumors, or skin conditions are shipped for sale to consumers.
  • Next the chickens go to a massive refrigerated tank of water, where thousands of birds are communally cooled…the water in these tanks has been aptly named ‘fecal soup.’”  This practice is “practically ensuring cross-contamination.”

…This is not just the dog-food-grade meat we hear about at Taco Bell.  This is the chicken you eat everywhere: fast food joints, fancy restaurants, and your neighbor’s dinner table.  I don’t ascribe to the claim that this is the only cause of Western diseases, but it certainly isn’t making us healthier.  The food we feed our children has been soaked in shit.  Think about that.

Environmental Issues (pp 175 – 177):

  • Farm animals in the US produce “roughly 87,000 pounds of shit per second”, with almost no waste-treatment infrastructure for farmed animals.
  •  “And not all of the shit is shit, exactly – it’s whatever will fit through the slatted floors of the factory farm buildings.  This includes… stillborn piglets, afterbirths, dead piglets, blood, urine, antibiotic syringes, broken bottles of insecticide, hair, pus, even body parts”.
  • “If all goes according to plan, the liquefied waste is pumped into massive ‘lagoons’ adjacent to the hog sheds…if you were to fall into one, you would die”

Factory-produced meat is making us sick and hurting our environment.  Factory farms are cruel.  This is not a radical viewpoint.  As described by an animals rights activist, “factory farming is a middle-of-the-road issue – something most reasonable people would agree on if they had access to the truth” (90).  Like I said – it’s hard for me to talk about this book without sounding like I’m trying to convert the world.  But it’s hard not to want everybody to know these things.

So what differentiates these issues from all the other atrocities going on in our world – famine, murder, war, abuse, injustice, bigotry?  The difference that I see is that this is something we can have an effect on every time we eat.  This is a problem we can begin to solve with small daily choices. Yes, our ancestors ate animals.  But that doesn’t mean that we have to.

Finally, Foer discusses the role of food – including meat – in our culture, and acknowledges these roles as meaningful.  Food is not just something we put into our bodies – we share it with our family; it creates memories; it brings us together.  But is that enough of a reason to continue eating meat, given the arguments presented in this book?  Will Thanksgiving still be meaningful without a Turkey?  Foer sums up the issue well, in a quote I’ve included below.  For me, especially after reading this book, eating a vegetarian diet is a no-brainer.  For others, hopefully it will at least force some introspection.  We don’t have to see vegetarianism as an all-or-nothing thing; decreasing meat consumption still means less cruelty, less pollution, less sickness.  But regardless of what you think about eating animals, it should at least be discussed.  Bravo to Foer for intelligently inviting us to the conversation.


“Is [animal] suffering the most important thing in the world?  Obviously not. But that’s not the question.  Is it more important than sushi, bacon, or chicken nuggets?  That’s the question.”