7 Reasons Why I Juice Feast

Carrot Juice

Some of you may have noticed that I’ve been at it again with the Juice Feast (hashtag #JuiceFeast!), along with my friend Marie Leggo who I’m guiding through the process. In case you don’t know what I’m talking about, here’s the gist:

We are drinking only fresh pressed juices for seven days in a row following the same programme I did last year.

Someone on Facebook asked if I could elaborate on WHY we’re doing this, and I thought I would summarise my answer here. My earlier blog post (Juice Feast in Review) explains why I did this in the first place: largely, curiosity. But having done it I’ve amassed all kinds of reasons to do it again. Please note that this post is about why I juice feast, not why it works. But I’ll touch on that below.

7 Reasons Why I Juice Feast

  1. The Uber Reboot: I’ve just come back from a four week trip to Chicago and like many of us have been feeling a little sluggish and soft around the edges as a result of holiday gluttony. I feel eager (impatient?) to get back to how I was feeling pre-Christmas, and to push myself further to feel even better than before. I talked about one way of rebooting at my New Year Reboot class last week (heavy emphasis on soups and smoothies). Well, juicing is another way.  
  2. Mental benefits: Last time I did the Juice Feast, by Day 4 I was on fire. I can’t remember the last time I felt so clear-headed and energised. I got so much done. It was during that time that I wrote almost all of Smarter Fitter Smoothies. Here’s what I said in my earlier post: “So after Day 3 is when things really got crazy. I suddenly had all kinds of energy that lasted from the time I woke up until the time I went to bed. It was marvellous. I got so much done. I was focused. I put in lots of time on everything. I had to force myself to go to bed at night even though I wasn’t tired. I felt like I did things with purpose.”
  3. Physical benefits: Exercise is an important part of the Juice Feast and I’ve been mostly keeping up with the gym and my 10,000 step goal (Fitbit!). As with my brain brain, my body is feeling better, too. In fact, I’m feeling pretty sprightly, especially with my cycling and weightlifting, and again, purposeful.
  4. Reflection: This ties in with #3. I’ve recently felt like much of my thinking around exercise has been skewed. The warning sign is this: often when I go for a walk or a swim or the gym, I find myself looking forward to the end as soon as I’ve began. And my motivations are wonky: I’ve found myself thinking “I should go because I need to work off all that cake I ate over Christmas” rather than “I should go because I want to”. And when I think that way, I find the act boring, or worse, I push my body beyond its limits, thus subjecting myself to injury. So I’m using this time as an opportunity to think about all of my intentions and how I’ll see them through at the Juice Feast. This goes for my physical activity as well as other life stuff like building up my business and tweaking some of my thinking around food (a subject for another time!).
  5. My winter solstice mission: At winter solstice last year (mentioned in my Chicago Trip Highlights) I decided that this winter would be all about nourishment. For me, this Juice Feast is part of my way of mentally and physically nourishing the body, but also thinking about how to carry on that theme of nourishment for the rest of winter (see #4. Reflection).
  6. Catch up on life: The nice thing about juicing is it frees up a lot of time. Juicing is quick and easy compared to cooking, and I’m not spending time eating meals, either. Granted, I miss meal time, one of life’s great joys, especially with friends. But for a week, I can do without, and it’s nice to have a chance to catch up on things, and also feel a smidgen of time freedom to invest in that needed reflection I mentioned above.
  7. Get AMPED for feeling awesome. In the end, I’m doing the feast for sustained benefit. I know juicing isn’t a sustainable way to live and I wouldn’t want to. But by the end of the juice feast I should be in a great place physically and mentally to carry on doing the things that are best for me. This is all about feeling awesome all of the time – my eternal quest! The juicing should leave me in a good place to carry on with gusto. (See #1. The Uber Reboot.)

Of course, we all have different reasons for Juice Feasting. Marie summed up hers on Facebook:

For me its not just about the weight loss I’m doing it to feel great – as Jason Vales book says: ‘power-pack your body wth nutrients and enzymes to make you feel energised and invigorated’

And speaking of those enzymes, as I mentioned earlier, this post is all about why I Juice Feast, not why it works. In fact, there isn’t a whole lot of evidence out there that it “works” for any of the reasons claimed by most juicing “celebrities”. A lot of it reads like a lot of detox mumbo jumbo to me (and in fact much of it is). One argument makes some sense: Juicing gives the digestive system the ultimate spa break. How? The act of juicing makes the nutrients in the juice super easy to digest, so the body not only gets flooded with nutrients, but it also has energy for repair (energy that would otherwise be spent digesting solid food).

But beyond this, the evidence is anecdotal at best. And I suppose my own anecdote is enough evidence to convince me that the Juice Feast is worth doing.

Three days left and a world of possibilities lie ahead. Bring it on!

New Year Reboot Workshop Recap

New Year Reboot Detox Class at Demuths Vegetarian Cookery School

Last Tuesday I hosted my first cooking class ever! The title was New Year Reboot and the aim was to show people strategies and recipes to help them recover their body from a season of excess and get back to (or get started with) feeling awesome all of the time. The class was held in Bath at Demuths Vegetarian Cookery School, owned and operated by Rachel Demuth, one of the best vegetarian chefs in the UK (she’s been at it for 30 years so she knows her stuff!).

New Year Reboot Workshop

I was very grateful to work alongside Rachel as I taught the course. While I demonstrated smoothies, soups and salads, Rachel showed how to make your own veggie stock, quinoa and the ultimate soup garnish: kale chips!

New Year Reboot Workshop

I was so grateful to have Rachel there, along with my helper and friend, Marie Leggo of Lanyon in Cornwall. I now realise just how much effort goes into teaching a cookery class, and I have new appreciation for the work that cookery teachers like Rachel put into what they do. It’s quite possible that I bit off more than I could chew with the menu, but Rachel and Marie helped everything flow.

All of the dishes were vegan, gluten-free, soy free and dairy free. Here’s what was on the menu, with recipes where available:

The students made their own pear and avocado smoothies and quinoa bowls, and it was fun seeing the different variations they came up with (I applaud their copious use of fresh herbs – my students were flavour genius!).

I was further delighted by how much they liked my cauliflower soup, where the creaminess comes from cashews rather than milk or cream. And in another cauliflower trick, the raw winter tabbouleh used cauliflower in place of bulgar wheat (the cauliflower gets broken into bits in a food processor).

New Year Reboot Detox Class at Demuths Vegetarian Cookery School

Of course, the best part was meeting and cooking with a bunch of new people, all eager to learn a bit about this healthy eating stuff and exchange ideas. It made all of that effort worthwhile and certainly assuaged any new-teacher-nerves I might have had!

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A big thanks to Rachel for providing such a wonderful environment for teaching, and thanks in particular for all the help with preparation. And thanks to Marie who helped clean up our messes!

Finally, thanks especially to everyone who came on the course – it inspires me to keep on pushing with my own healthy habits, and healthy output like recipes, cookbooks and workshops. Beetroot smoothies all around!

 

Vegan Cream of Cauliflower Soup

Vegan "cream" of cauliflower soup     Lunch today & on the menu for my #detox workshop this Tues at @Demuths!

Last night I hosted my New Year Reboot cooking workshop at Demuths Vegetarian Cookery School in Bath. The whole “reboot” concept is all about giving the body a chance to rest and recover after a season of excess, and get back to (or get started with) feeling awesome all of the time. The aim of the class was to provide strategies and recipes to help people design their own “reboot” according to their own personal tastes.

One of the strategies involves eating foods that are vegan, gluten-free, soy-free and dairy-free. Another strategy involves eating a lot of soup (easy to digest, nutrient rich meals – kinda like smoothies)!

One of the soups I demonstrated was this “Cream” of Cauilflower soup. Blended cashews give this soup its velvety creamy texture – no dairy required! And based on the mmm’s of the students, I’d say this was one of the top recipes of the evening.

5.0 from 2 reviews

Vegan Cream of Cauliflower Soup
 

You don’t need milk, cream or potato to make soups creamy – use cashews instead. You also get the protein and healthy fat bonus that comes from using cashews. Plus, adding cashews or any nut to your soup will ultimately make them more satisfying, keeping you fuller for longer and keep you from needing to snack later in the day. You can use this same recipe to make all kinds of vegan creamy soups – broccoli and celery are great here.
Ingredients
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 head cauliflower, broken into florets
  • salt, to taste
  • 1 liter of water or stock
  • a large handful of raw cashews
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Instructions
  1. Warm the olive oil in a heavy-bottom pan. Cook the onion on a medium heat until it is soft, without letting it brown.
  2. Add the cauliflower and 125ml water. Raise the heat slightly, cover and let the cauliflower cook for 15-18 minutes, until tender.
  3. Working in batches, puree the cooked cauliflower with the stock and the cashews, then return to the pot and heat thoroughly.
  4. Serve garnished with sauteed mushrooms, kale chips or whatever tasty garnish you can think of!

Chicago 2013-2014 Trip Highlights

Marina Towers

I was in Chicago from December 13th – January 13th (lucky 13!) visiting family and doing the whole Christmas thing. There wasn’t much chill time (even though the temperature was -20 F at times!). Instead, we did as we usually do – as much as possible, to make up for a whole year of absence. Here were the highlights, in rough chronological order.

Meeting my niece

This has to go at the top of the list. My sister Stephanie’s baby Jordan was born on October 22, 2013 and this was the first chance I had to meet her. She is not an ugly baby! In fact, she’s charming… when she’s not suffering internally. The poor little girl (Stephanie and her partner nicked named her “PJ” for “Poor Jordan”) has colic so is not her best self at the moment. But she is a trooper. One of my Jordan highlights was on “Christmas” (see below) – Jordan was crying so I took her to give my sister to sleep. I actually managed to get her to stop crying for a few minutes. Who knows, my maternal instinct may emerge yet!

Christmas time on Harmony Rd

The other bonus of meeting my niece: getting to spend time with my sister and her gorgeous dog, Halo. I am really REALLY looking forward to Jordan being old enough to accompany my sister and I on our famous road trips and camping expeditions.

The Schwinn

Wish I could take this bike home with me

My parents have this amazing old 1963 Schwinn given to them from my grandpa. I’m in love with this bike, and one of the big achievements of my trip was in having it cleaned up, greased, tires changed and ready for action. Thus, this was much ride during my trip – I wish I could have taken it home with me.

I love this Bicycle

Meeting some of my Mom’s crew

My mom is always talking about her awesome friends and this time I got to meet a few of them over a potluck lunch. I brought kale sale (a riff on the family recipe for Mandarin Orange Salad), Turkish style flatbread and no knead bread. Mom made her awesome Middle Eastern red lentil “Shorbat Adas” soup  Her friend Kathy made a stellar Iraqi rice Sweet and Sour Salmon in Almond Prune Sauce from Delights of the Garden of Eden by Nawal Nasrallah (the sauce alone was outstanding). I attempted to make Iraqi rice that didn’t exactly have the crispy rice crust (hikaka) I was hoping for but it was good.

Lunch at Kathy Ellingson's

Dessert was pretty special: Kathy made Ginger Ginger Cake using fresh ginger and stem ginger. It was pretty much perfect, and even extra amazing with labna and jasmine tea.

Kathy Ellingson's Ginger Ginger Cake

Father Daughter Day 

Father Daughter Day

Dad and I planned a couple days out together, partially give my mom some well-deserved time for herself, but also, it’s great having some one-on-one time with dad! We deliberated over what to do – museums, movies, bowling… but in the end it was my mom who had the best idea ever: a day out at and around the University of Chicago campus, where my dad got his PhD and a source of many of his stories. This was one of the best days ever!

Brunch. UofC. Robie house. Gargoyles. Carrot cake. Trivia. The awesomest day out in the city ever with @shawtreks.

We started with lunch at one of our favourite Chicago spots, Victory Banner in Roscoe Village. Then we cruised down to Hyde Park, had a romp around the U of C campus (via the book store so I could pick up a souvenir sweatshirt). Then we went on an excellent tour of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House on the U of C campus, then finished with coffee at cake at Medici, where my mom says she and my dad “fell in love”.

More photos on Flickr: Father Daughter Day

 

Winter Solstice

Morning walk - the day after Winter Solstice

I have developed a soft spot for solstice and equinox occasions over the last year (see this post) and I was very grateful that my family was willing to do something special for the occasion. I started the day with tea, a smoothie and some mood padding. This was also the day of my Aunt’s cookie mission (see above), and I can’t think of a better way to spend winter solstice afternoon than in the spirit of creation and collaboration with my family, especially those extended family members I rarely get to see.

Nourishing beetroot, apple & avocado smoothie for winter #solstice breakfast. Score: mom has a juicer.

In the evening, mom made a wonderful wintery meal of veggie chilli (Emeril’s Vegetarian Chilli recipe, and it’s a total keeper – bam!). I made cornbread and glogg. We reflected and talked, then took a post-dinner walk to welcome in the darkness (and practise our carolling). Back home, it was dutch apple pie for dessert (Kate Hill’s Easy French All-Butter Pastry for the win), then an early-ish night in order to wake up for a sunrise walk in the morning: a stroll in the woods, snow falling all around me, and thoughts about what this season means to me.

Winter solstice Rocky

My winter solstice mission: to make this winter a time of nourishment, mentally and physically.

Flickr photoset: Winter Solstice

 

Christmas Cookie Baking

Cookie Day Output

Every year my Aunt Sue has a day in which she bakes all of her Christmas cookies, and she always invites some helpers along. I’ve been very grateful to have been on the invite list the last couple years, and as I said above, I treasure these days because it’s a great opportunity to hang out with my extended family in a more intimate way than at big family parties. Plus, there’s baking involved! And this year saw a new cookie revelation: rosemary shortbread! I basically followed Chocolate & Zucchini’s Shortbread recipe, and added some chopped from rosemary from my Aunt’s kitchen garden. These were delicious on their own, but even extra special with cheese (particularly Stilton, thank you UK!).

New Ove Glove - Thanks, Sue!

I also got a new Ove Glove – thanks Aunt Sue!

Flickr photoset: Chicago 2013 / 2014

 

Christmas

This is what it’s all about, right? Well, unfortunately my mom and Jordan were both sick, so we decided to postpone Christmas with the immediate family until everyone was better. On the plus side, Dad and I were feeling well and made it to the big family party – and the family keeps getting bigger. I’m hoping to see more Christmas Sweaters next year.

Christmas Collage

Flickr photoset: Christmas 2013

 

The Ohioans 

Shaw Brothers at The Baked Apple

My dad is from Ohio and has two brothers who live there with their families. I don’t get to see “The Ohioans” very often, so it was pretty cool that they were ALL able to come down for a few days between Christmas and New Year’s. We crammed a LOT into those two days. I had an especially good time on the day we tried to go to Brookfield Zoo, only to get on a non-stop train to Chicago. We ended up having a terrific day in the city and the weather was beautiful.

Downtown Chicago

We also had some great outings to Morton Arboretum and my sister’s place, plus some good meals too. There was the Mexican feast: tortilla soup, pan-fried cod with chilli seasons and an amazing apple cobbler, which was extra good because we all pitched in to make it (Aunt Rosella had the genius idea of adding oats).

Dottie, Rosella, Monica and Melissa

The best might have been our final breakfast at the extremely friendly, reasonably priced and quite good “family restaurant”, The Baked Apple  We were all in high spirits following an incredible trip, plus we scored a free baked apple pancake from the charming Angelo.

Angelo

Consequentially, I also invented the “Monica Frittata” – basically their veggie frittata without the potato, plus jalapeno. I am only writing this so that I remember to order it again next time I go. Delicious! (Though Uncle Ed would argue, not as delicious as their grits and blueberry waffle.)

"Best grits ever."

Flickr photoset: The Shaws Come to Town

 

New Year’s Eve with Matt & Abby

Cheese board, bread, leftovers, mimosa's - New Year's Day is made!

Matt and Abby are two of my dearest friends and I’ve been very grateful to spend my last couple of New Year’s Eves with them (it’s becoming a tradition!). One of the reasons why we get along so well is that we enjoy the virtues of staying in, which is especially handy when New Year’s Eve coincides with a snow storm and some very cold weather.

Quinoa Salad with Sweet Potatoes and Apples

We did another one of your New Year’s Eve smorgasbords, this time incorporating a few new recipes and a few new people. We ate cheese, played The Bowl Game, drank craft beer and stayed up talking until about 3am. Pretty solid.

Matt & Abby revisit the NYE feast

The menu (more on this in a separate post):

Flickr photoset: New Year’s Eve 2013

 

Snow Day(s)

Snow Globe -esque

We had some pretty serious cold weather in Chicago this visit, and a lot of snow. I loved it, but it helped that I had nowhere to be. It also gave me, mom and dad the chance to do some hunkering for a few days.

Snow Day

Our outings were constrained to bowling, lunches and movies. We all had a delicious nourishing lunch at Prasino  where I satisfied my craving for fish tacos and mom had some amazing mushroom soup (no problem finding a table that day).

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We saw Saving Mr. Banks and Gravity at the cinema. And back at home we watched an epic amount of the Muppets, a theme which carried throughout the whole of the trip (let 2013 forever be known as the year I discovered The Muppets). I also discovered the wonderful thing that is sweet potato fries at Standard Market. The place has a whole ROOM devoted to cheese – amazing! And they also do great pizzas and a pretty mean veggie burger (extra pickles, please).

Flickr photoset: Chicago 2013 / 2014

 

“Christmas”

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The upside to everyone being sick at Christmas meant that we got to extend the holiday merriment a little longer and were even extra prepared when we finally had Christmas together in January. Aside from getting the car stuck in Stephanie’s driveway (did I mention the snow?), everything was perfect, and we all learned something: Christmas is far better when you keep it simple. With the gifts, as well as the food. The menu was basic and came together without stress:

 

  • Bread and insalata caprese with Mom’s balsamic reduction for appetisers
  • Roast vegetables
  • Blanched green beans with toasted almonds
  • Mashed potatoes (expertly made by dad – learning moment: when out of milk, use sour cream – it may have actually been better than the usual)
  • The requisite veggie loaf with cashew gravy
  • Ginger Ginger Cake for dessert

Balsamic Reduction

We’re thinking that we’ll do more “alternative Christmases” like these in the future. Since I’m out of the country, anyway, why not have them at a completely different time of year when the world is less crazy with holiday buzz? I’m all for this.

Flickr photoset: Chicago 2013 / 2014

 

Raw food lunch at Borrowed Earth Cafe

Raw Raspberry cheesecake

My parents’ town is home to one of the few raw food restaurants in Chicago, Borrowed Earth Cafe  and it’s a pretty good one at that. Mom and I met with my friend Jim for lunch and had a pretty inspiring meal. Raw gyros, lasagne, pierogis, tortilla soup and an impressive raw raspberry cheesecake that I’m hoping they’ll share the recipe for!

Raw pierogis

"Gimme a Gyro" Cross Section

Raw Lasagna

Photoset: Borrowed Earth Cafe

 

Kate Hill tribute dinner

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Inspired by the enviable cassole that Kate Hill gave to me to give to my mom last summer, Mom and I put it to use in a mushroom and eggplant cassoulet. We DEVOURED this.

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For dessert, we made Kate’s recipe for prune clafoutis. We devoured that too. My mom was in ecstasy eating this meal, and Dad gave it a “10 plus”. Camont in Chicago – it was the best!

Flickr photoset: Chicago 2013 / 2014

 

Lunch at Topolobampo

Following my dad’s and my outing to Rick Bayless’s Frontera Grill last year, we decided then and there to take mom to his “fancy” restaurant, Topolobampo this year.

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I had to book a table two months ahead! But we went and it was DELICIOUS. Interestingly, the appetisers blew the main dishes away, especially the “Modern Mexican Winter Salad” and the “Nutty Stuffed Pasilla Chilli”. I think mom was especially blown away by the flavour bomb, and she seemed to have a mushroom a-hah moment. The pasilla chilli and the “Griddle Baked   Huitlacoche Quesedillas” both included wild mushrooms and both dishes seemed to cause my mom to enter another plane of existence (that and the coconut horchata).

Modern Mexican Winter Salad at Topolobampo

We were all impressed with the dessert, too. Super rich brownie type cakes with vanilla bean ice cream, corn masa crisps, sweet puffed rice and some kind of jellied thing. I mean, look at it:

Amazing dessert at Topolobampo

Flickr photoset: Topolobampo, Chicago

 

Dinner party and sleepover at Dawid’s

Geeking out with @dawidlp. Just like Room Ten.

I’m so glad I made the time to have an overnight in the city at my friend Dawid’s, one of my dearest friends from University (jeez, he’s known me for over a decade!).On Friday, Dawid hosted a wonderful dinner party with me and three of his friends. I arrived early to help and it was so much fun cooking together, just like old times but with far better taste in food. I learned that hosting a good dinner needn’t take an excessive amount of time or turn the kitchen upside down. Not everything needs to make from scratch, especially when there are quality producers out there (and there are many in Chicago).

a collage for you

Flickr photoset: Dinner Party Sleepover at Dawid’s

 

Shaw Family Breakfast Buffet

Cinnamon rolls

A new family tradition? We decided to theme our last get together around a breakfast buffet. I resisted my urge to set up an “omelet station”, but I did do poached eggs, cinnamon rolls, no knead bread and granola. Stephanie made an awesome baked apple pancake and mom did roast potatoes on the weird (but effective) Pizza Pizzazz.

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Flickr photoset: Chicago 2013 / 2014

 

Game Day

One last roll before I return to the land of an entirely different kind of #bowling. #GameDay #latergram

So I’m getting into games, and mom and dad treated me to a day of gaming and food, including bowling, lunch at Standard Market, and a dinner, Yahtzee and craft beer evening and the nearby Ballydoyle. The super great bonus was having Matt, Abby and Sam along for the Yahtzee bit, and sunshine cake after!

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Flickr photoset: Game Day aka Monica Day

 

Sunshine Cake

Yes, sunshine cake. It’s a family recipe from my Auntie Jo (RIP) and I’m pretty sure it’s the best cake ever. It is so simple and easy to make (flour, sugar and eggs!) and is THE perfect delivery device for strawberry shortcake. Recipe to follow in a future post.

Sunshine cake

Shera

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My family has been going to Sher-A-Punjab (or just “Shera” as we call it) for decades. It’s an Indian buffet. No big deal. But it’s special to us. My dad (a former priest) says their food is the closest he’s ever been to heaven. My parents still go at least once a week. And this visit we learned they were BYOB, too. Bonus!

Consequentially, Shera is the place where I had the buffet binge nightmare that resulted in my slow eating mission (you can read about it here: In Praise of Slow Eating). The experience jarred me to the core, and changed my life forever.

Dinner at our family favourite Indian restaurant.

I’ve shied away from going to Shera ever since, but I knew how much it meant to my parents – especially dad – to have me go with them again after so many years. So I decided to go for it, but with a different approach. We decided to enjoy the buffet in “courses”. No piling on of plates. No going back for seconds. And it worked SO well. I started with soup and a samosa, then moved on to some of the curries, and finally a bit of dessert. I was very tempted to heap my plate high, and very VERY tempted to go back for seconds (their food really IS great). But I kept it real and saw it as a real achievement. I now think every trip home will involve a visit to Shera – instead of a thorn in my side, let this place be a reminder of how I’ve learned to CONTROL MYSELF. From now on, let Shera be a symbol of SUCCESS! (Yes, I’ve been practising my positive thinking.)

And, also, who can deny the delight of fresh tandoori-baked naan. Shera’s is the best!

The best naan
 

Beer 

I made a point to taste a lot of local-ish beers while at home (and a local craft Root Beer, too!). This one was my favourite: New Belgium Brewing’s seasonal winter “Accumulation Ale”.

Happy Christmassy things

 

Sushi

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My last hours in the USA were spent having sushi with my parents. We meant to go to our local favourite, Yokohama  but – gasp! – it was closed. We were hell-bent on sushi so decided to try Nabuki in nearby Hinsdale. Where Yokohama is very traditional (why we like it), Nabuki is a much more elaborate affair. Fancy sushi for Americans! But guess what – it was REALLY good and I think it may have opened dad’s eyes to the idea of sushi (even the raw fish part).

Last family selfie taken after sushi lunch at Nabuki

I like the whole pre-flight lunch idea. It forces me to pack up early and puts us all in a place where can just relax and enjoy our last couple hours together without distraction.

 

It’s always bittersweet leaving home. I always think a lot about the things we didn’t get to do. But on this visit, even though there were a lot of hitches (illness, plan-cancelling snow storms, pulled butt muscles), I had a great time and I can only focus on all the great things we did together. I am very grateful to have a family that I LIKE and who likes spending time together. I think when we’re young, it’s easy to blame our parents for all of our shortcomings. True, I often lament that I’m “turning into dad” (partly when it comes to mannerisms and inability to get a haircut) but these days I’m seeing all the ways my family make me a better person. Perhaps having everyone sick or busy or stressed gave me a chance to “take care of them” for a change. I am the Toast Fairy, after all.

The Easiest No Knead Bread Recipe Ever

I’ve been a little quiet these last four weeks, due to recent holiday travels to the States which typically saw a serious decline in all productivity (the evidence is in the nearly 1000 photos I took while there). On the plus side, it saw a huge upswing in QFT (Quality Family Time) and gave me the chance to binge on baking as I knew I’d have plenty of willing recipients to devour my creations!

One of my staple bakes is the infamous no knead bread. I have been making this loaf for years and it is the bread I bake most (see Easiest No Knead Bread with Variations). There are two reasons for this: (1) it’s the easiest bread recipe in the world and (2) it is the bread that always gets the most positive reviews (which makes me wonder why I slave over sourdough, but that’s a topic for another time and place).

The no knead bread recipe is based on this recipe from the New York Times. And it really is a loaf that ANYONE can make – mix the dough, let it rest for ages, shape it, then bake it. The only tricky part is that it requires a dutch oven or cast iron pot, and involves transferring the risen dough into the hot pot after it’s pre-heated in the oven. This step is easy to overcome, but still, as much as I’ve tried to convince the people who love this loaf that YES THEY CAN bake it themselves, few give it a go. I guess buying a loaf is still just that much easier – and far less scary. Until now!

No knead bread just got way easier. Lazy approach wins. Baked this one 36 hours after mixing the dough in a bread tin (no proving).

While I was in Chicago, having fun and neglecting this blog, I was also often neglecting my dough! I’d mix the dough with the best intentions but then something would come up and take me out of the kitchen for hours or days. The original no knead bread recipe says to let the dough rise 12-18 hours, but there were times when I’d let the dough rise for 36-48 hours. Gasp!

There were other times when I didn’t have a lidded pot to cook it in. Surely I was cruisin’ for disaster.

And yet, every loaf turned out just fine. In fact, better than fine. The bread – and in turn, the toast – became legendary!

Dad, Monica, Bread

This was the trip where I learned just how forgiving the no knead recipe is. Not only can you let the dough sit for days, but you can also bake the loaf in a normal bread pan without a lid and still get stellar results (see the recipe below).

I did this a LOT while my relatives from Ohio were in town. Toast was high on the breakfast agenda, and my family quickly soon started referring to me as the “toast fairy” because their kids would wake up and there the bread would be, magically waiting for them with butter and jam (what can I say, I’ve had a lot of practise with Airbnb). This was almost as magical as the view outside (prime toast-eating weather):

Snow Globe -esque

Throughout their stay, the “toast fairy” theme took on a life of its own – we schemed ideas for cafes and childrens books and animated movies. After all, who in the world isn’t comforted by a slice of toast? Consequentially, this is not a new discovery – San Francisco is already hip to the artisan toast trend (as written in this highly moving article in the Pacific Standard about where it began); it’s only a matter of time before the toast trend hits London. Which makes me wonder, being the “toast fairy”, if I’ve stumbled upon my true calling?

Toast Fairy Apron from Melissa and Jim

(I big pile of thanks to Jim and Melissa for the apron! If only toast travelled well, I’d send you a thank you slice from here to Ohio!)

Now here is that recipe I promised. People who fear baking bread, I implore you to try this! You can and will succeed!

5.0 from 1 reviews

The Easiest No Knead Bread Recipe Ever
Recipe type: Bread
 

This is a simplified version of Jim Lahey’s no knead bread recipe. This recipe is for people who don’t have a lidded pot to bake in, or who are intimidated by some of the steps in Lahey’s method. When you’re ready to take things to the next level, check out my previous post on no knead bread with variations – the seeded crust variation is my favourite.
Ingredients
  • 3 cups (470g) all-purpose or bread flour
  • ¼ teaspoon instant yeast
  • 1.25 teaspoons (10g) salt
  • a little milk
  • sesame and poppy seeds (optional)

Instructions
  1. In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 1⅝ cups (350g) water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature. I’ve left the dough for as much as 36-48 hours and it works just fine!
  2. The dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface (or a big plate or cutting board). Wet your hand and use it to pull the dough out of the bough and onto the work surface. Fold the dough into thirds (as if you were folding a letter), then rotate the dough and fold it into thirds again.
  3. Lightly grease a bread pan. Place the dough into the pan with the folded seam up. Brush a little milk or water onto the loaf and sprinkle with sesame and poppy seeds. Let the dough rest 60-120 minutes (you don’t HAVE to do this but it can help – definitely don’t let it rest more than 2 hours).
  4. Preheat the oven to 500 F / 260 C (or as hot as the oven will go). Put the bread in the oven. After 20 minutes, turn the oven down to 400 F / 200 C. Check the loaf and make sure it’s not getting too dark – if it is, cover it with some foil. Bake for another 15 minutes.
  5. Cool the loaf on a wire rack.

 

Christmas Granola with Orchard Cottage Apples

Christmas Granola with Orchard Cottage Apples

So it’s that time of year when I get a little obsessed with homemade gifts and seem to wind up putting cinnamon and nutmeg into everything. I’m lucky to have an orchard, and so most of my gifts are inspired by that, and the hedgerows that surround it. Jam, chutney, sloe gin… you know the drill. But this year, my very generous friend, Kanna, loaned me a food dehydrator, glamorously named “The Excalibur”, which has taken my apple preserving – and my gift giving – to a whole new level.

Dehydrated Apples

Right about the time I’d amassed my third mountain of dehydrated apples, a neat kitchen-y thing arrived at my doorstep: this nifty recipe box from Instaprint, along with recipes from ten groovy foodies (including me and my recipe for Pear and Avocado Smoothie).

Christmas Granola with Orchard Cottage Apples

Flipping through the recipes, I came across Karen’s Maple Almond and Pecan Granola with Blueberries which instantly inspired me to create something similar with my apple stash. I liked the heavy dose of pecans, the wintery spices and the coconut action. And I really liked the idea of doing something OTHER than jam and chutney for my DIY Christmas presents this year.

Christmas Granola with Orchard Cottage Apples

I didn’t change much from the original recipe. I used honey instead of maple syrup and dried apples (plus a few dried cranberries) instead of blueberries.  I kept the dried apple pieces really big and left the pecans whole. I love the crunchy rustic-ness of it all. And I love how it smells! Just like Christmas. 

Christmas Granola with Orchard Cottage Apples

Christmas Granola with Apples, Almonds and Pecans

  • 125mls honey (use maple syrup or similar to make this vegan)
  • 25g Demerara sugar
  • 30mls rapeseed oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 400g jumbo oats
  • 100g porridge oats
  • 50g pumpkin seeds
  • 50g sunflower seeds
  • 100g whole almonds
  • 100g pecans
  • 100g dried coconut flakes
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt (I use Maldon)
  • 2 teaspoons ground mixed spice (or ground cinnamon if you prefer)
  • 150g dried apples and cranberries

Method

  1. Pre-heat oven to 180C/350F. Line three large roasting tins or trays with baking paper.
  2. Pour the honey into a large bowl and then add the sugar, oil and vanilla extract. Mix well before adding the oats, mixed seeds, almonds, pecans, coconut flakes, sea salt and mixed spice.
  3. Using your hands, mix all of the ingredients together so that all of the dry ingredients are coated in the the maple syrup and oil mixture.
  4. Spoon the mixture over the paper lined trays so that is is evenly spread and in a single layer. Bake it in the oven for 10 to 20 minutes, checking every 5 minutes or so and giving it a good stir. Make sure it doesn’t burn!
  5. The granola is done when it’s toasted to a light golden brown colour. Remove it from the oven and allow to cool completely before mixing in the dried apples and cranberries.
  6. Store the granola in airtight containers and use within 3 to 4 weeks.

Fungi To Be With Supperclub, London

Fungi To Be With Supperclub

I went to the most interesting supperclub last night, where the theme was one of my favourite subjects: mushrooms! The event was hosted by Andy Overall, the fun guy behind Fungi To Be With, and his wife, Heather, at their home in London near Hampstead Heath.

Andy leads a series of walks, workshops and dinners “dedicated to connecting the Greater London public to the natural environment through the magical world of fungi”.  And connect with fungi we did!

Fungi To Be With Supperclub

There were nine of us for dinner – a nice cozy group. Both Andy and Heather mingled with us throughout the meal and told us all about what we were eating and the fascinating types of mushrooms that featured in each dish. I really enjoyed their company, and the dynamic between the two of them: Andy is obviously the mushroom hunter-gatherer in this duo, while Heather is the chef, and a very competent one at that. The entire menu shined.

Here was the menu:

  • Pumpkin and Aurea Noir Soup with Chicken of the Woods Bruschetta
  • Fig, Pear and Goat Cheese Salad
  • Chanterelle Lasagnielle
  • Risotto with a White Truffle Bechamel
  • Rose, Cardamom and Pistachio Gelato with Italian Cookies

Each course kept cranking out the hits. The Chicken of the Woods Bruschetta was a revelation. Chicken of the Woods is a type of mushroom that I’ve long wanted to try, and it didn’t let me down. The mushroom is extremely firm and “meaty”; it reminded me of halloumi and was just delicious served simply on crusty bread with oil and vinegar. 

Chicken of the Woods Tartines

It’s gone cold in the UK which made the pumpkin and mushroom soup all the more inviting. Meanwhile, the fresh fig salad offered a sweet break from mushrooms to cleanse our palette and get us ready for what was to come.

Fungi to Be With Supperclub

The chanterelle lasagnielle was basically a baked ramekin of pure concentrated mushroom heaven – we were all having foodgasms over this dish. And then came the most epic risotto ever, full of all kinds of exciting mushrooms: Winter Chanterelles, Hen of the Woods, Horn of the Plenty and Horse Mushrooms. This time I was wooed by the Hen of the Woods and the Horn of Plenty, both of which had real flavour and amazing texture.

Fungi To Be With Supperclub

There were no mushrooms in the dessert course but I was glad I’d saved room for it. Heather’s rose, cardamom and pistachio gelato was almost like an Indian kulfi. I was totally enamoured by this and hope she will share the recipe with me.

Fungi To Be With Supperclub

Part of why the supperclub worked so well was the atmosphere. There’s no pretence or pressure. Not all of us were mushroom geeks but it didn’t matter: Andy and Heather made us all feel totally welcome in their home, which is charmsville, by the way (as is their dog, Sophie). 

This has to be the best butter knife ever. @fungitobewith

If you’re at all interested in mushrooms and foraging, I definitely recommend spending some time with Andy and Heather. For more info about upcoming walks, forays and dinners, check out the website: Fungi To Be With.

Thanks to my friend Kanna for organise such a terrific dinner crew – I’m so glad I came along!

Chaat Masala Salad

Chaat Masala Salad

Here’s a little something I made up the other day for a quick lunch that was so good I had it again the next day. I say “quick”, because this “chaat masala salad” took advantage of a few leftovers, including cooked dal I’d stashed in the freezer, some chaat masala I made previously and tamarind chutney from Asma ‘s Darjeeling Express Supperclub. Were I to start from scratch, it would have taken lots longer, but all the more reason for keeping these Indo-staples readily available. Particularly the chaat masala, my new favourite salad condiment!

New favourite thing for making lunch salads #awesome: chaat masala.

The whole idea was inspired by Urvashi Roe’s Gujerati Class at Demuths Vegetarian Cookery School, where she showed us how to make Indian “street food”, including “chaat“, basically a mish-mash of random tasty ingredients – a total whole-greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts situation.

Urvashi's chaat

Technically my chaat masala salad wasn’t a “chaat” at all, lacking the yummy fried dough bits that are typical of dishes of this kind. But never mind, it was delicious, and I got my crunch factor from toasted cashews!

Here’s how it came together:

  1. Heat up about 1/2 a cup of cooked lentils (chickpeas would be good here, and/or boiled potato). While this is happening…
  2. Combine together some finely chopped or grated vegetables. Good contenders include: cabbage (white and red), carrots, tomato, and cucumber. 
  3. Finely slice 1/2 shallot. Chop a small handful of coriander. Add this stuff to the vegetables. Toss the whole thing with a squeeze of lemon juice and some salt. 
  4. Now, put the dish together, starting with some lentils at the bottom of a bowl.
  5. Top with some of the salad mixture. 
  6. Sprinkle with chaat masala.
  7. Drizzle on some tamarind chutney.
  8. Sprinkle on some grated or desiccated coconut.
  9. Sprinkle on some toasted cashews.
  10. Serve with any extra salad on the side. And keep the chaat masala, tamarind chutney and coconut handy in case you want to add more as you go.

Here is the recipe for chaat masala that I used. And here’s a recipe for tamarind chutney (though I’m hoping Asma will share hers one day!). Both are worth keeping around, along with cooked beans and lentils, for thrown-together random salads like this one.

Vegetarian Thanksgiving with Friends and Klingons

Star Trek Cheese Invasion

I am very thankful to have a few of my fellow Americans close by on this side of the pond. And I’m extra grateful that some of those friends happen to be vegetable-eating sci-fi geeks like myself. Thus was the foundation of this year’s Thanksgiving, aka Thanksgeeking, aka Thanksgivukkah, which brought me together with my friends Emily and Robert for two days and two nights of vegetarian cookery and geeky hijinks in Cambridge.

Geeking out on pecan pie smoothies in our respective geeky t-shirts.

A little bit more on the geeky stuff in a moment, but first, the menu, which basically reads like a litany of blog post fodder, because everything was great – even the failures offered some learning moments.

Here’s what we made over the course of Thanksgeeking (menu shamelessly copied from Emily’s blog post):

Smoothie  Making

  • Mushroom Ginger Matzo Ball Soup – a total stroke of Emily genius

Matzo Ball Soup

Thanksgiving appetizers

NPR Cranberry Relish

  • Eggplant “Bacon” (vegan) – holy aubergine, batman – dehydrated eggplant may be my new favourite thing

Aaaaaah. The smell of eggplant 'bacon' in the morning.

Thanksgeeking

And for dessert:

Pumpkin pie shooters with coconut whipped cream. #vegan #thanksgeeking #latergram

The real stroke of genius is what we did with the leftovers: PIZZA. Yes, green bean casserole pizza (with crispy onions) may be even better than straight up green bean casserole. I challenge you to find out.

Arguably the ultimate geek food: pizza. (In the company of Klingons.) #thanksgeeking #latergram

As to those geeky hijinks, they mainly comprised cheese boards, t-shirts, action figures and terrariums. How have I lived this long without ever experiencing Moon Sand?

And for my next geeky trick: Dragon Fruit Jellies. Stay tuned.

Thanksgeeking

 

There are more Thanksgeeking pictures on Flickr.

Juice Feast in Review

So it seems spirulina makes smoothies look like something out of Ten Forward. This is cool to me. #trekkie

As I mentioned in a previous post, I recently did a 7-day “juice feast” in which I drank only fresh-pressed fruit and vegetable juices for seven days in a row following Jason Vale’s annoyingly-named “7lbs in 7 Days Super Juice Diet”. I’ve already written about how stupid it all sounds (I normally wouldn’t buy or buy into anything involving the word “diet”, but even book publishers have to eat… or drink as the case may be). But I did it, not so much for the weight loss, but just to see how it would make me feel. I wanted an adventure!

Having finished the seven days (successfully!), I just wanted to share a few random thoughts about the whole thing.

Let me make this clear: THIS IS NOT FASTING

When I told some people about this juicing thing they were automatically like “oh my god, you’re going to to disappear”. I want to stress that this juice plan wasn’t a starve yourself plan. I drank 6 substantial juices throughout the day at 3-hour intervals. Some of those juices got blended with avocado or greek yogurt, so were more like smoothies. It’s tough to count how many calories I was eating, but as a very rough estimate, I’d say I drank 6-7 cups of juices per day plus 1-2 avocados plus 200-400g yogurt. If a cup of juice has 100 calories, an avocado 400 calories and yogurt (I chose Greek!) 100 calories per hundred grams, that’s about 1200+ calories per day. And the plan is flexible – if you’re hungry, have more juice.

Attempting the family jello 'mould' using fresh juice. Beet for colour!

In fact, I wasn’t hungry

As much as I was never full, I was never really hungry. There were some days when I didn’t even drink all the juices because I just felt satisfied with what I had.

No planning or thinking required: I like that

Well, there’s a bit of planning – you have to go to the grocery store and buy all the ingredients. And get a juicer. But the day-to-day stuff is completely laid out on a wall chart. There’s your seven days. No researching recipes or thinking up creative low calorie meals. The work is done. And as much as I normally love inventing recipes, this juicing thing was totally new to me and I appreciated the clear guidance.

Headaches

I experienced headaches on Days 2 and 3, in the evening, but these went away after that. Caffeine withdrawal? Kale withdrawal? Who knows.

Crazy amounts of energy

So after Day 3 is when things really got crazy. I suddenly had all kinds of energy that lasted from the time I woke up until the time I went to bed. It was marvellous. I got so much done. I was focused. I put in lots of time on Smarter Fitter Smoothies. I put in lots of time on everything. I had to force myself to go to bed at night even though I wasn’t tired. I felt like I did things with purpose. I wonder if…

Was it the superfood?

The plan calls for supplementing with wheatgrass (fresh or powder), spirulina, “friendly bacteria” and his “Superfood” supplement. I bemoaned the idea of buying more stuff, so I didn’t, but then had the great fortune of receiving some wheatgrass powder and spirulina samples from Naturya (more on that in a separate post). These arrived at the end of Day 3. So I’m left to wonder whether my energy came from the “superfood” or just the simple fact of my body settling into a juice routine. Regardless, I’m going to keep up with the superfood in my post-juice-feast smoothies and see if the energy wave continues.

Physical energy, too

Throughout the seven days I maintained my usual morning gym routine of swimming and weightlifting and even upped the ante a bit with some afternoon cycling on my new bicycle trainer. My workouts that week were better than they’d been in months. I was swimming faster, lifting more, and generally just feeling more focused on my activities, and thus, pushing myself harder.

Sorry to sound so smitten but

I felt better at the end of those seven days than I’d felt in probably years.

But I was glad when it was over

It felt so good to chew food again and to eat things that were (a) hot and (b) SAVOURY. In fact I made my first savoury smoothie the day after the juice feast.

Whole food is hard on the body after a week of juicing

Jason’s book stresses that you must ease back into normal eating slowly. Days 8-10 should consist of smoothies for breakfast, raw salads or soups for lunch and a protein-rich dinner. So that’s what I did – lunch was an apple, avocado and rocket salad and dinner was a thai-style fish soup with lots of vegetables. But even then, my stomach felt off on Day 9, like it was sore from all the hard work of digestion! So I kept Day 9 pretty light with a juice for breakfast, a small salad and juice for lunch, and another salad with grilled fish for dinner. Today is Day 10 and I am feeling much happier on the inside. 

What about those 7lbs?

I guess for a lot of people this is what it all really comes down to. I lost 6lbs. I wasn’t able to measure body fat so I don’t really know how much of that weight loss was water, fat, muscle, etc. As much as I didn’t do this to lose weight, when I looked in the mirror at the end of it and saw just a HINT of an abdominal muscle, I felt kinda pleased. Hello Christmas six-pack.

Expensive, but not as much as I thought

I put the vegetable ingredients into Tesco’s online shopping cart and the grocery bill came to £43.68 (with about £15 coming from the 85 apples!).To me that isn’t absurd for a week of groceries. The real expense comes with the equipment and the supplements, if using. The juicer alone cost £199 (you can get them cheaper, mind you, but expect to pay at least £80). And if you buy his recommended supplements, you’re looking at another £50 for spirulina, wheatgrass, psyllium husks, “Friendly Bacteria” and “Superfood” (I didn’t use the latter three). Plus the cost of the book and the iPhone app (which is awesome), about £10.

So in total it costs about £200-300 to do this thing.

But why?

I only wish I knew more about why the plan was laid out the way it was, in the given order on each day. Why did I have to wait three days to have the glorious yogurt and spirulina smoothie?! This was not covered in the book, or if it was, only in fluffy, non-scientific terms. I want someone to explain the way I’m feeling so I know how to make it last!

How long can I keep this up?

I’m still feeling pretty awesome and incredibly motivated to KEEP feeling this way. I just have this worry – now that I’ve stopped juicing, is all this awesome energy going to wear off? Well, I guess that’s the next adventure. Let’s so how I long I can keep it around for!