Friday, April 27, 2012

Green Smoothies

I was able to spend last Sunday morning with some friends up in Charlotte and I was offered a real green smoothie.  I know I have snuck in some greens in a shake, like my Protein Shamrock Shake or the Strawberry Cucumber smoothie,  but the smoothie my friends made was mostly greens--spinach, kale, mint, with a few orange segments and strawberries (stems included!)  The idea was based on the concept that the best way to absorb all the nutrition and anti-oxidant goodness of greens was to ingest it completely pulverized. 

I loved it.  It felt like I was ingesting pure nutrition and vitamins.  And since water was added (instead of a milky beverage)--it really made it a refreshing and thirst-quenching drink as well.

So I decided to try to make one myself.  I started with baby spinach (I hit the Costco in Charlotte and brought back a bucket of organic baby spinach):

I added some strawberries (frozen is what I had on hand-I recommend letting them defrost a bit) and a hunk of banana for sweetness since I didn't have an orange:

Then water:

And blend!

Vitamins in a glass!

Spinach, strawberry, and banana

I liked this one okay, but I decided to forgo the banana in the future. It actually made it creamier and more viscous than I wanted--I think a green smoothie is definitely better on the thinner side for easy drinking. To me, as one who isn't naturally a big vegetable lover, it's best to keep green smoothies like these on the less chunky/thick side.

My next try was spinach, a chopped gala apple (I removed the stem and seeds, but didn't bother peeling the skin), a spoonful of orange juice concentrate (still did not have a real orange on hand) for a little sweetness and vitamin C, and of course, water:

Spinach, a gala apple, & spoonful of OJ concentrate
I liked this a lot--nice and bright.

I hit the store and picked up some kale and mint.  I found a can of pineapple chunks in the cupboard and tried a combo of two handfuls of spinach, one handful of kale, a few (defrosted) frozen strawberries, a few pineapple chunks, the leaves from a couple sprigs of mint, and of course about 1.5-2 cups of water:

Spinach, kale, strawberries, pineapple, and mint
Really promising--I didn't notice the kale which I think is a good sign, flavor-wise.  I'm going to up the mint, probably double or triple the amount--it gave a nice sweet and refreshing pop and I'd like to amplify it next time.  I couldn't even taste the pineapple--I think it was overwhelmed by the strawberry.  Next time I'll try the pineapple alone with maybe the OJ concentrate and still the mint--really loved it!

I highly recommend trying a green smoothie.  It might seem weird or off-putting to drink a smoothie where a green leafy vegetable is the base, but I'd say the benefit is at least worth trying it.  I definitely recommend trying spinach and some fruit as a first one. Besides the fact that spinach is a vitamin powerhouse, it's actually pretty mild, flavor-wise. Adding some kale surprisingly had little effect on the taste and I like adding another dark, leafy green into the mix.  Ideally, I'm sure it'd be best if all the ingredients were fresh, but I'd like to think all benefit is not lost using a couple of frozen or canned ingredients with some fresh ones.  I really look forward to trying different combinations--anybody trying this and got some favorites/recommendations?

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Vegan Columbia: Lamb's Bread Cafe and Good Life Cafe

For my birthday we hit the two Vegan restaurants in the greater Columbia area.  For dinner, we went to Lamb's Bread Vegan cafe:

They've got a strong cosmic-African-love vibe outside:

And inside as well.  It's a low-key setup where the menu is Soul Food oriented and offers different proteins (e.g., vegan versions of beef tips, rib, chicken nuggets) and sides (e.g., cabbage, yams, broccoli) posted on a whiteboard as well as vegan versions of popular sandwiches (e.g., reuben, cheesesteak, BLT, chicken salad).  The night we went, it just one friendly man behind the counter.  We ordered there and he would prepare and bring out the food when it was ready. 

I'd love to know why Lamb's Bread is a vegan restaurant (most vegan restaurants profess their reasoning on their websites and menus, usually for health and/or ethical reasons).  The only explanation on the back of the menu was: "Lamb's Bread Vegan Cafe was established to assist the raising of human vibrations in preparation for the inevitable cosmic shift through a high frequency vegan cuisine." Unfortunately, it's still not clear to me why they choose to cook only vegan food (I'm kind of thinking health?), but in the end, I guess it doesn't matter.  I certainly appreciate that they're doing it.  Again, it's nice to eat at a restaurant, knowing I can eat anything on the menu.  The cafe also had this interesting huge altar in the middle of the place with a lot of African arts and sculptures:

For my dinner, I got the beef tips plate with collards, sweet potato souffle, and rutabaga with a pineapple & ginger lemonade, while Paul tried the Reuben:

I enjoyed my plate--really tasty, home-style food, and needless to say, I'd didn't miss the meat.  The pineapple & ginger lemonade was really bright and refreshing--I loved the pineapple and ginger.  And the Reuben was delicious as its own unique sandwich, though having eaten real Reubens before, this didn't quite taste like a Reuben--besides the salty tender pastrami, it was missing the sauerkraut and the flavor of thousand island dressing.  Hands down, best Reuben in my book is still from Native Foods.

Velina ordered the Philly Cheesesteak with red potato home fries:

She LOVED the red potato home fries and I agree, they were really good.  I don't normally get home fries, being a hash browns addict myself, but these were dynamite.  The Philly Cheesesteak was again, delicious as a unique sandwich on its own, but having eaten plenty of Philly Cheesesteaks as a kid, I wouldn't say anyone would mistake this vegan version for a real one.

Unfortunately, they were out of dessert.  So we headed to the only other vegan place in the greater Columbia area, Good Life Cafe.  Not only is this place, vegan, it is also all organic and raw.  Which means all ingredients are organic and that basically nothing is baked, cooked, or even heated above 115 degrees.  We arrived 20 minutes to closing but we grabbed two desserts to go.  One was the cinnamon roll:

I really enjoyed this--the flavor was awesome, really cinnamony.  Again if one is expecting a Cinnabon, they will not be fooled with this cinnamon roll.  But as its dessert, it was delicious.  The "roll" part was a firm, sticky "pastry" of various nuts, sweetener, and some kind of flour?  It kind of reminded me of the filling in baklava (another one of my favorite delicious desserts).

We also grabbed a mocha cheesecake:

Yum--the mocha flavor was really good. And frankly if it didn't get un-chilled in the car ride home, it might actually come close to fooling someone into thinking it was the real thing, like a lighter version of cheesecake.  The only downside to Good Life Cafe is the sticker shock--understandably as an organic and raw cafe, their ingredients and labor are going to be much, much more expensive than standard cafe fare.  But to me, as an occasional treat, it will be worth it.

Overall, I loved my birthday food fest!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Greetings from the South Carolina Hunger Games!

Kidding, of course.  Today was my inaugural attempt in the USMC Mud Run in South Carolina.  Aannnddd  I can now cross it off the bucket list!  I was so lucky to be with such a great team.  It was all of our first times except for our captain, Carol, who had done it for the first time last October.  It was really great to have someone who had experienced the obstacles before and shared other tips and knowledge (including how to tie our shoes so we didn't lose them in the sticky mud!) and had faith in us that we could all do it--truly a great captain:

Team Hard KORE 1181: Sheena, Carol, Sharon, and me

So let me start at the beginning:  a caravan of us arrived to take on "The Leatherneck"--nervous yet excited, and so clean:

It was a great experience.  Some parts that I thought would be challenging were incredibly doable as a team effort.  I learned it was a general understanding that to keep teams moving and conserve energy for all 36 obstacles, that team effort would be used whenever possible-so we would put out a knee for a step up to get over 5' walls and we pretty much slid our team members across as each of us clung to the bar of the Under Bar slide.  And sometimes we relied on other teams to help--whether it was getting our first (or last) team member up the sheer side of a 10' wall or helping hold a 12' cargo net taut.  It was, of course, etiquette to return the favor to another team.

A memorable challenging obstacle that surprised me was doing the low crawl under logs, as we were submerging our heads under muddy water.  The physicality wasn't difficult but I remember how I couldn't help get the muddy water and grit in my eyes as I had nothing dry or clean to wipe my eyes with.  I'm not sure if having contact lenses made it worse but I remember everyone saying how there was a gray sheen in our sight for a while after that obstacle.  You know how sometimes your ears ring after hearing a real loud bang?  This was like an analogous visual impairment (that, thankfully, eventually went away).

I also remember feeling briefly panicked when I reached the top of the 15' wall.  I guess I didn't expect the top to be so thin and when I got up there I looked down and it just felt so high up.  Fortunately, I was able to get my legs over to the other side before panic froze me up (which I witnessed with a couple of people on other teams).

The other thing I remembered was that some obstacles were challenging enough in their own right like the ascending/descending monkey bars and arm walk on parallel bars.  But adding wet mud to them?  As much as we wanted to try to do some of these obstacles unassisted, the wet mud on the metal bars added enough challenge to eschew individual effort and make them a team strategy.

And man, so much mud, dirt, and grit.  A lot of the obstacles were about crawling and running through mud and sand.  My shoes and clothes felt so heavy with it all and I swear the worst was having some of the grit in my teeth, shoes, and of course, my eyes.  Also wading through a creek and cutting up my shins stumbling on thick roots and branching lying underneath the water was an unexpected stinging experience.  In that regard it was actually a nice relief to the swimming obstacle where we swam across a water hole 48' long and 10' deep:

I went with a crawl/doggy paddle hybrid to keep my face above the muddy water:

I remember we all agreed that it was the most "refreshing" obstacle because you felt so rinsed off and cleaned up when you emerged:

We surprised ourselves by getting through the Weaver as a team because at first when we saw how we were expected to get ourselves over and under (yes, weave) the ascending and descending logs without touching the ground we almost skipped it for the penalty.  But we agreed to give it try and we did it.  Great feeling after that one.

Another challenging obstacle for me mentally was the last mud hole.  It was so thick and deep (up to our chests) that you needed to dig into the side of the wall to pull yourself along.  But the worst part was the texture of the mud.  Not only was it super thick (like concrete as it's getting poured) but it was warm and so grossly chunky.  I swear at times it felt like I was making my way through a canyon of poop.  I don't know how they got that mud to be chunky like banana halves--it literally felt like my hands were wading through turds

The only obstacle we officially failed at was the Tarzan, where 5 ropes hung down vertically about 5-6 feet apart and one was supposed to swing rope to rope without falling.  It was pretty much individual attempts and most of us fell into the pit trying to switch to the second rope--except for Captain Carol who at least successfully transferred to rope 2.

Finally we reached the last obstacle:  a fireman carry for a 100 yards.  We were all so happy to reach (and finish) the final obstacle:

Because it meant we finished the Mud Run!  We did it in a fairly inglorious time of over 2.5 hours (teams who really race it do it in a little over an hour) but we did hit some bottlenecks and occasionally walked between obstacles.  But honestly, I was happy and proud we completed it--no matter what the time.

Afterward, we started talking about parts we wanted to improve on for the "next time".  For me, I aim to eventually transfer to the ropes in the Tarzan and conquer that Weaver unassisted!

I would have loved if the reservoir was the last obstacle.  It would have been awesome to have rinsed off all the sticky mucky mud off.  I tried my best with the communal showers but as you can probably see from the picture below, the water coming down those PVC pipe holes had the effective power washing ability as if the dial was set to "drunk tinkle".  On top of that, they wanted to limit people to 1-3 minutes in the "showers"--making it fairly impossible to get all the mud off.

I settled for getting the thickest parts of mud off and rewarded myself with a post-race sno-cone:

Here's to the next Mud Run, y'all!  Now to get ready for the Mud Run in Camp Pendleton!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Getting Ready for the Mud Run

I've been trying to get ready for two Mud Runs, my first ever. My first will be here in South Carolina, where I've been told that though it is an over 5 mile course, the focus is less on running distances than it is on obstacles--36 in all. And looking at the description of the course obstacles, I'm definitely getting a bit nervous.

In terms of running, I did a serious run (for me) of 4 miles when I was NJ last month, where I was pleased that I was able to average 10 minutes per mile:

The next time I ran a straight distance was 2 weeks ago, while I was in California and had an opportunity to run with some of my co-workers with whom I'll be doing the Mud Run at Camp Pendleton in June.  I was pleasantly shocked at how much my time improved running with friends from work.  I guess running with friends motivated everyone to pick up their speed:

That said, I haven't run a straight distance since then, and kind of just been fretting about all the obstacles that I'll be doing this Saturday.  And carbo-loading.  For what it's worth, a woman on my team and I have been trying to practice some obstacles, like getting a team over the sheer side of a 10 foot wall and swinging on monkey bars.  Has anyone been on monkey bars lately since they were a kid?  Man, I though my arms were going to pull out of their sockets! 

Yeesh, is it time to panic?

Friday, April 13, 2012

Jiro Dreams of Sushi

"Jiro Dreams of Sushi" played at a small indie film theater here in Columbia for a few days and we grabbed an opportunity to see it after some good reviews.

First off, if you know me, I love sushi. It is my hands-down, choice of food for celebration or any special occasion. When I travel to certain cities, I eventually find favorite sushi places that I love visiting.

Second, I've grown a certain amount of discernment when it comes to sushi. I don't bother spending money on those pre-wrapped trays and platters at the grocery store, Trader Joe's, or Costco. The rice is usually overly wet, hard, and cold, making for a very disappointing experience. Though I can usually enjoy standard sushi joints (even those on revolving tracks keep it pretty fresh in some cities), I relish when I visit a sushi place of really high caliber.

So a documentary on one of the finest sushi chefs in the world? Especially one of a small 10 seat restaurant located in a Tokyo subway station that earned 3 Michelin stars, commanding $300 a meal? I am so there.

"Jiro Dreams of Sushi" was a lovely overview of Jiro's life as a sushi chef, with the cultural challenge of passing the legacy on to his sons, but it left me wanting more details about his life, his family, and his craft. Some may be surprised at the simplicity of his sushi. It seems that a lot of popular sushi restaurants go in the direction of more: more sauce, more fish, more fillings. Not that these types of rolls aren't enjoyable or delicious but it seems more sushi restaurants feature specialty rolls loaded with more than one type of fish or topped with another fish, than drizzled with some "dynamite" sauce. A lot of the work and attention for Jiro's simple sushi comes before he puts it together--buying the best fish, prepping the fish, and preparing the rice--no Dynamite rolls in his house.

One of the fascinating aspects confirmed what a friend once advised regarding the egg sushi. You know when you get a sushi platter, where there's an assortment of sushi? And the one everyone usually dismisses or groans about is the one with a slice of egg omelet on top. A while back, a Japanese friend remarked that in Japan, the egg is the hallmark of the sushi chef: the egg embodies his delicious skill. And in the documentary, you see an assistant share how he moved from general prep of the fish to preparing the sushi rice (a huge milestone in itself), and eventually being allowed to prepare the egg. It took hundreds of preparations before they finally allowed his egg to be served. He said he was near tears of elation when that happened. And all I could think of is how everyone here in the States pretty much throws away the egg sushi--though to be fair, I don't think the standard of the egg here reaches anything close to the standard in Japan.

This movie would leave most sushi-lovers a desire to eat at Jiro's and for me--also to attain an experience as close to it as possible. I dream of sitting in a quiet sushi bar, just me and a sushi chef presenting precious, delicious bites of sushi as I enjoy moments savoring every mouthful. Heaven!

Overall this movie was enjoyable in its simple elegance. Just like Jiro's sushi.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Protein Pancakes

For a protein-packed switch up from regular pancakes, I tried out these Protein Pancakes from Nutritious and Delicious by Maria Emmerich:

They're a bit "eggy" and sweet, but my husband loved how protein loaded these were.  My daughter on the other hand, didn't care for how "eggy" they were--they were a bit of stretch (on the disappointing side to her) from what she was expecting when I told her I was making pancakes for breakfast.  They weren't bad tasting, just not what one would expect from pancakes.  Overall, I thought they were pretty tasty for the protein punch they had--I'll probably make them again but say I'm making "sweet eggy protein circles" next time.

Protein Pancakes

- 1/2 cup cottage cheese
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 cup vanilla whey protein powder
- 2 TBSP vanilla unsweetened almond milk
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp Truvia

Blend all ingredients in blender or food processor until smooth. Let sit for 5 minutes to allow baking powder to fluff up batter, while heating skillet. Cook like regular pancakes--lightly grease or mist pan with butter or PAM, pour scant 1/4 cup, flip when bubbles form.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Coconut doughnuts

Thanks to my mother-in-law, I used a gift certificate for the Baker's catalog from the King Arthur Flour company a couple of years back, and got myself a doughnut baking pan. I was excited to make healthier versions of doughnuts at home but their standard recipe for baked doughnuts was a bit meh.  Into the cabinet the doughnut baking pan went until I decided to give it another go and perused other recipes on the King Arthur site.

I discovered a winner--Baked Coconut Doughnuts:

It calls for a few atypical ingredients (coconut milk powder, potato flour) that I had to order from King Arthur, but they seemed worth it because these doughnuts were delish. Half I tossed in a paper bag with equal parts confectioner's sugar and coconut milk powder. The other half I drizzled with a glaze made with confectioner's sugar, a trickle of milk, and some heavy drops of coconut extract.  I think I gave the slight edge to the powdered version.  But both are so good.

Though they're baked, they're still a treat, calorie-wise, and unfortunately, with the few unique ingredients, it's not exactly a cheap treat, either.  But, I enjoyed them so much, they're worth the luxury every once in a while.

I've seen the doughnut baking pans in stores like Target now, so if you're interested in an indulgent change up from pancakes or waffles, you could give these baked Coconut Doughnuts a try!

Baked Coconut Doughnuts

* 3/4 cup King Arthur Flour Mellow Pastry Blend
* 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
* 1/2 cup coconut milk powder
* 2 tablespoons potato flour
* 1 teaspoon baking powder
* 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
* 1/4 teaspoon salt
* 1 large egg
* 6 tablespoons water
* 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
* 1/8 teaspoon coconut flavor

1) Preheat the oven to 375°F. Butter or grease your standard doughnut pan.

2) To make the doughnuts: Whisk together the dry ingredients.

3) In a separate bowl, beat the egg, water, oil, and flavor until frothy.

4) Pour the liquid mixture over the dry ingredients, and stir until well combined.

5) Fill each doughnut form about half full, using ¼ cup batter.

6) Bake the doughnuts for 12 to 14 minutes, until they spring back when touched lightly and are very light brown on top.

7) Cool for a few minutes, then spread with glaze, or dust with powdered sugar.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Pattern Bar

I am a sucker for a good cocktail, especially one with a catchy names like the ones at Pattern Bar where they're named after designers:

Come meet The Jacobs (Jack Daniel's honey, muddled strawberries, agave, apricot liquor, ginger ale):

I can't remember if this was the D Von Furstenberg (Overholt Rye, honey liquor, mint, and orange) or The Chanel (Hornitos Reposado, Grand Marnier, fresh cilantro, agave, serrano pepper, and lime)--but it was snappy:

The McQueen (Hendricks Gin, elderflower, fresh passion fruit):

The tapas here were quite enjoyable too.  I recommend La Pomme (slice fuji apple with blue cheese, candied walnuts, fruit, and honey):

And by the end of the night, I asked the bartender to come up with a Tom Ford:

It was a bourbon drink--strong, assertive, and would probably hate my clothes--sooo Tom Ford, amirite?

It's a nice friendly bar, with wonderful cocktails and tapas--I recommend it if you're in downtown LA.


Last night, I had an amazing meal at Umamicatessen with some friends up in LA. Where to start? How about some cocktails?

I can't remember the beer on the right, but that's a Velvet Mule (Beluga vodka, Velvet Falernum, lime juice, ginger beer, Angostura bitters) on the left, and my Red Sapphire (Bombay Sapphire gin, St. Vincent raspberry syrup, Earl Grey tea syrup, maraschino, lemon juice, egg white) front and center. Tasty, tasty, tasty.

I had the Earth Burger: mushroom and edamame patty, white soy aioli, truffled ricotta cheese, cipollini onions, butter lettuce, and slow roasted tomato.  Gorgeous.

And by far, the BEST vegetarian burger I have ever had.  So, so satisfying, so hearty, kind of how I remembered what eating a good burger was like.

We shared the truffle cheese fries, which were excellent.  One of my friends even managed to get a side of Brainnaise (a mayo featuring pig brain) to dip into as well:

This Truffle Beet Salad.  Featuring truffled ricotta, smoked almonds, wild baby arugula, truffle dressing, and golden beets.  To die for.  What an incredible mix of flavors.

And for dessert--donuts!  Totally loved this one featuring tres leches, cajeta, and ceylon cinnamon:

And this one featuring meyer lemon curd, yogurt glaze, and freeze-dried blueberries:

I HIGHLY recommend eating at Umamicatessen if you're near downtown Los Angeles.  I cannot wait to eat here again!

Also, around the corner is a parking lot that Banksy improved with some of his art:

And this is me photobombing when a friend was trying to take a picture of it: