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Posts Tagged ‘dinner’

There is a lot that I could write about right now in regards to my life, weight loss and how my Buddhist practice is getting me through some very stressful times but I can’t bring myself to write about that in much detail right now. Instead, I can assure you that I’m exercising, eating healthy and maintaining a vibrant practice that is making some very tough times bearable. Instead, I thought I’d share a few quick thoughts about some of the things I’ve been using lately to help me keep my life on track and my health improving.

As I’ve been actively trying to eat healthy and exercise more in order to lose weight, I’m constantly on the lookout for great vegetarian recipes. For some time, I’ve been aware of a site called Yummly however, I’ve not used it as much as I should. That’s changed recently. Yummly is like a google for recipes and they bill themselves as having the ability to search every recipe in the world. They have a great section of vegetarian recipes available here. I’ve been able to find a lot of different recipes here that have inspired me to create some really tasty meals. The ability to search by ingredient or taste profiles or by category make finding things quick and easy. Regardless of what you like to eat, you’ll be able to find something here to inspire you to make something delicious.

Another new favorite is a blog called The First Mess. Laura, the author of the blog, not only creates amazing recipes but the photographs that accompany the recipes are works of art in their own right. Her commitment to creating fresh and healthy food comes through in each of her posts and the recipes there are all wonderful to read through and look at.

As I’ve said many times here, I’m a person who relies on their smart phone for almost everything. If there’s an app for it, I’ve probably seen it or tried it. One of my new favorite apps is called OurGroceries. It is designed for quick and easy sharing of list data between multiple users and works on the computer, Android, iPhone and Blackberry phones. It makes keeping track of groceries easy and as soon as an item is added to a list, that item shows up across any device that is authorized to see it. Another great feature is the Recipe section. It allows you to specify the ingredients needed for a recipe and quickly add them to a list if you need to get something at the store for something you plan on making soon. When coupled with the recipes I’m finding from Yummly and The First Mess, this app keeps me from missing important items that I’ll need and saves me from making multiple trips to the store.

Speaking of apps, I also recently downloaded an app called allthecooks. It’s for Android and iPhone and also available as a web site. It’s got a lot of nice social features and, while it’s not as nice of an interface as Yummly, it’s a great way to find recipes on the go when all I have is my phone. I’ve found a few really great vegetarian recipes there and a few meals I’ve found on this app have made it to my meal plan for the upcoming week.

I have also been getting a lot of use out of an app called Insight Timer. It’s a meditation timer and on-line community for people who practice meditation of any type. The features and functionality of the app blend seamlessly with the act of meditation and the timers are easy to set and start/stop/pause. You can save multiple timers, quickly switch between them, integrate with Twitter and Facebook and connect with others all over the world. Creating a meditation timer that works for whatever practice you have is quick and easy with this tool and I have found it to be a great way to track my meditation practice and see how I have been progressing.

The last app that I’ve been getting a lot of use out of is called PocketCasts. It’s an Android app for podcasts. Since Google killed the products I used to follow podcasts (google reader and google listen), I had to find something new and I’m glad I did. Finding and listening to podcasts with this app is extremely easy and navigating the user interface is dead simple. It’s intuitive and powerful. I am always up to date getting episodes of Buddhist Geeks, Zencast, as well as my other favorite audio programs like This American Life, The Moth Radio Hour, Science Friday, Snap Judgement and various tech news shows. If you have an Android device, I highly recommend this app for all of your podcasting needs.

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I just finished reading a very interesting and infuriating article that I highly recommend you read. It is by Michael Moss and is an adaptation of his new book Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us. The article focuses on the way that food companies design and market foods to appeal to the consumer and to make sure they eat as much as possible as frequently as possible. It examines the way that the food companies intentionally manipulate their recipes to ensure that their customers can’t help but come back for more. In other words, how they design their products just like a drug. As someone for whom junk food has been a nearly constant companion for 35+ years, I can assure you that, yes, these foods are addictive and that breaking that addiction is incredibly hard. I’ll let the article speak for itself and encourage you to check it out. There are a few things that did strike me as interesting and I thought were worth commenting on from the perspective of a Buddhist and as someone who has suffered because of the way these foods are carefully crafted to encourage a consumer to eat more.

One of the food scientists that Mr. Moss interviewed is Howard Moskowitz. He was responsible for revolutionizing things like spaghetti sauce, Dr. Pepper and the MRE’s that are served to members of the Army. His approach is thoroughly grounded in research and experimentation. His models plot hundreds of data points in order to identify a range of configurations for these foods that people will enjoy and want more of. His work has influenced the entire processed food industry and it changed the way that the food companies formulate and package their products. When confronted with the negative impact that his research has had on the lives of millions of people, he had a very interesting defense.

“There’s no moral issue for me,” he said. “I did the best science I could. I was struggling to survive and didn’t have the luxury of being a moral creature. As a researcher, I was ahead of my time.”

When I read this line, I had to stop for a few moments and take a few deep breaths. I have to ask, when did being a moral creature become a luxury? I understand the pain of struggling to survive. I grew up in a home that, while not in poverty, was certainly not affluent. Free lunches and food stamps were a part of my life growing up and I have struggled as an adult to provide for my family. It is hard to do, but at no time did I ever consider maintaining my morals to be a luxury. Two parts of the Noble Eightfold Path are Right Action  and Right Livelihood. These two components encourage us to end suffering in ourselves and in others by acting in a way that will not harm others and by choosing a profession that does not bring harm to another being. Mr. Moskowitz did not approach his career or work with this kind of mindset and, in so doing, millions of people have suffered from obesity, cancer, hypertension, stroke and early death or been effected by a loved one who did. Here we see the way that the actions of one person have had long term negative ramifications for more people than one could hope to count. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more stark example of just how important living according to the principles of the Eightfold Path are in relieving or preventing of suffering.

Frito-Lay spent $30 million a year to develop snacks that would appeal to changes in consumer tastes. According to the article, Frito-Lay learned that

Eating real meals had become a thing of the past. Baby boomers, especially, seemed to have greatly cut down on regular meals. They were skipping breakfast when they had early-morning meetings. They skipped lunch when they then needed to catch up on work because of those meetings. They skipped dinner when their kids stayed out late or grew up and moved out of the house. And when they skipped these meals, they replaced them with snacks.

In response, they developed snacks that would be more appealing as meal replacements. They worked with scientists, marketers and psychologists to design new snacks to appeal to consumers who were in a hurry. New flavors added to current product lines were designed to maximize “bliss” so that eating these new snacks would become a regular thing rather than an occasional thing. They created products that encouraged people to forget about regular meals and, as has been examined in other places (herehere and here) encouraged the decline in cooking and food preparation skills.

In this case, I believe that a lack of right mindfulness, right effort and right concentration on the part of our society as a whole allowed the food companies to replace cooking with convenience. We have lost the aptitude to take time for making simple things in exchange for constant movement and stimulation. Having foods that are easy to heat and serve or to open up and dig into make the effort of cooking superfluous.  Why make spaghetti sauce when you can open a jar and heat it up? I’m at the top of the “guilty” list for this kind of behavior and I have the physique to prove it. I went to culinary school and I find great enjoyment in cooking and preparing food but I still reach for the box or the jar or the can in order to save time. Here’s a basic recipe that I have used before to make tomato sauce. It’s very low in sugar because of the natural sweetness of the carrots and considerably lower in sodium than any pre-made sauce you can buy. The tomato paste is the closest thing to a prepared food item in the list and it is not really necessary and (at 1 teaspoon) is really just a flavoring agent and not a significant source of salt or fat. I prefer to use fresh parsley, basil and garlic but, if you are working on a time crunch, those ingredients can be found in “convenience” versions (pre-chopped, dried, etc.). This sauce takes 45 minutes to make, assuming that chopping the onion, carrot and celery takes you a long time. It’s possible to make this in large batches and set it aside in the freezer for future use. It’s also a fairly simple sauce and is the base sauce for a lot of other really delicious and nutritious options. The foods we eat don’t have to be from cans or boxes or bags, but we have to be willing to put forth the right effort to make sure we are not falling prey to the food giants any longer.

INGREDIENTS
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
1 small carrot or 1/2 large carrot, finely chopped
1 small stalk of celery, including the green tops, finely chopped
2 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon dried basil or 2 Tbsp chopped fresh basil
1 28 oz. can whole tomatoes, including the juice, or 1 3/4 pound of fresh tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped
1 teaspoon tomato paste (optional)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

METHOD
1 Heat olive oil in a large wide skillet on medium heat. Add the chopped onion, carrot, celery and parsley. Stir to coat. Reduce the heat to low, cover the skillet and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally until the vegetables are softened and cooked through.

2 Remove cover and add the minced garlic. Increase the heat to medium high. Cook for garlic for 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes, including the juice and shred them with your fingers if you are using canned whole tomatoes. Add the tomato paste and the basil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a low simmer, reduce the heat to low and cook, uncovered until thickened, about 15 minutes. If you want you can push the sauce through a food mill, or blend it with an immersion blender, to give it a smooth consistency.

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I was sent this recipe this morning through facebook. I have not made this yet but I will be making it soon. It looked too good to not share. There are a lot more recipes over on the facebook page where I got this one. If militant vegans are not your thing, you should avoid visiting it. Otherwise, there are a lot of interesting recipes there and I think I’ll be trying more of them out.

Mango Blueberry Quinoa Salad with Lemon Basil Dressing

1/2 cup quinoa
1 cup water
1/2 cup fresh blueberries
1/2 cup cubed ripe mangos
1/2 cup diced cucumbers
2 tbsp dried cranberries
1 1/2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 tbsp lemon juice
1/4 tsp lemon zest
6 basil leaves, finely chopped

Place the quinoa and water in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for about 15 minutes or until the quinoa is cooked. Remove the lid and fluff the quinoa with a fork. Allow to cool to room temperature.

While the quinoa is cooking, combine the fruits in a bowl. Whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice and zest, and add the chopped basil just before serving. Add half the dressing to the quinoa and toss gently. Assemble the salad just before serving and toss the quinoa with the fruits and cucumber. Serve the other half of the dressing on the side.

Mango Blueberry Quinoa Salad

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I had a long day at work and when I got home, I was hungry and wanting to relax. Fortunately for me, there is one simple solution to both of those problems: COOK! I know a lot of people don’t enjoy cooking or it is something that they don’t think of as a relaxing activity. I guess it’s just one of the little quirks that makes me the person that I am. Since I was hungry, I wanted something quick but at the same time, I didn’t want to just eat a bunch of junk. I had to improvise. From my kitchen, I grabbed the following items.

1 onion
2 cloves of garlic
1 block of extra firm tofu
1 package of Trader Joe’s lentils
1 bottle of Siracha sauce.

That’s it, 5 ingredients. Time to cook! I quickly slice the onions up into teeny tiny little bits and then I minced the garlic. While I was doing that, the tofu was being pressed between a couple of plates to make sure it was as dry as possible.

This is where the flavor lives

With the onion and garlic finished, I grabbed the tofu and cut it up into small squares. At that point, prep work was done and it was time to get rocking. I quickly sautéed the tofu in some olive oil while I dealt with a page from work because apparently, I don’t spend enough time in my day dealing with people’s computer problems. With the problem solved and the tofu getting a nice golden color, I set it aside on a baking sheet and added the onion to the pan. That’s the point when the whole room started to smell real good.

Once the onion was looking nice, I added the garlic and sautéed  it for about 30 seconds. Then, I dumped in the package of Trader Joe’s lentils. They are already cooked and ready to go so it was one less thing I had to deal with on my own. They taste really good and, when used in a dish like this, are acceptable over stuff you might cook on your own. While they heated up, the tofu went under the broiler to finish up. While the tofu broiled, I remembered that I had a bottle of Siracha that needed my attention. A very generous amount of sauce went into the pan.

After the tofu was complete, I added it into the lentil mixture and that was it. From the skillet it went onto the plate and I was enjoying a hot dinner that was healthy and very flavorful in a short period of time.

Spicy lentils and tofu

 

Tofu cooked to golden brown goodness

Before I started cooking, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. I walked into the kitchen, surveyed what I had and, on the fly, came up with something that sounded good. That’s where having a solid understanding of basic techniques is really important. If you want to be a good cook, learning lots of recipes really isn’t the way to go. It’s all in the technique and learning how to have fun putting those techniques together to create something new.

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I felt that I owed you an explanation for what I’m about to do to you so that you know what’s coming. It’s only fair that you have an opportunity to plan and prepare yourselves. Red, Yellow, I’m going to cut your heads off. That’s right, I’m going to pretend that you’re the nobility and I’m a peasant durring the French Revolution. That’s not all I’m going to do to you though. After I’ve cut off your heads, I’m going to scoop out your insides and leave you a hollow corpse on my cutting board. Onion and Garlic, you’re not going to like hearing this but I’m going to go all Freddy Kruger on you and slice you up into little pieces. Before I do that, I’m going to cut off your skin and peel you like a grape. I’m sure you’ve never seen Silence of the Lambs but if you did, you’d understand.

Once you guys have all been cut up, sliced thin and left looking like some sort of Veggie Tales halloween special (I know that’ll never happen) I’m going to saute Ms. Onion and Mr. Garlic in some olive oil. Don’t be scared, it’ll just bring out your flavors and make you taste better. Once you’re thoroughly cooked, I’m going to mix you with some lentils and then stuff your remains inside of Red and Yellow. Then, all of you will go into the oven and I’m going to bake you until Red and Yellow have released their flavors and developed a beautiful browned color on the outside.

Then, and only then, will I end it all and eat you. I’m sure you’ll be delicious and I’m really looking forward to it even though you may not. You’ve been warned so you have plenty of time to evolve legs and run away before I get back from work but I have a feeling you’re just going to lay there and wait for me like the good little veggies you are. You delicious, yummy nutritious veggies.

image

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From time to time, I give my thoughts about something that I’ve tried or experienced. I always do this because I like something. I have never made anything from this blog nor have I ever received anything from anyone/anything I write about. I don’t have any plans to change this policy. With that in mind, please enjoy this non-compensated review of a product I just tried and really liked.

I’m always looking for new ideas for vegetarian recipes and decided the other day to try my hand at a quick stir fry. I was wandering the aisles of the grocery store for ingredients, I realized I needed some soy sauce for the stir fry. It’s not something that I keep in my pantry because it’s basically salt sauce. However, this would be an exception. That’s when I saw a bottle of Annie Chun’s Chinese Stir Fry sauce. It caught my eye and I read through the ingredient list. It was vegetarian though the label said it was processed in a plant that processes meat products (you have been warned if you’re a hard core vegetarian). The sodium content was still on the high side but it was less than the soy sauce that I was holding in my other hand. I decided to take a chance on it and went home with everything I needed for a quick dinner.

I cooked the brown rice, chopped up garlic, ginger, carrots, asparagus, onions and got a big handful of snow peas ready. I cooked all the veggies in some olive oil in my wok and, after removing them, browned up some cubed extra firm tofu in the wok. At this point, the rice was done so I pulled it off of the burner and dumped it into the wok with the tofu and added the vegetables that I’d set aside. Once everything was mixed, I added the bottle of sauce. One bottle was enough for the stir fry that I made. My goal was to make enough to have dinner and lunch the next day.The bottle was enough to let this happen. When I tasted the results, I was quite pleased with the taste. The sauce added a really nice flavor and, since it was more than just soy sauce, allowed me to get a bit more of a Chinese takeout flavor than I would have gotten on my own. If you happen to be planning on making a stir fry any time soon, I would highly recommend trying this sauce as part of the recipe.

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As I said in my last post, my weekend was spent at the Providence Zen Center where I took my five precepts and formally became a member of the school. The Zen Center is a beautiful place and spending time there was a great experience. Sure, I’m sore from all the bowing and odd movements that my poor, still overweight, body isn’t use to but I can’t complain too much about that. I’ve got a lot to write about this entire experience but I’m still processing a lot of it and I’m sure it will come out over the next few weeks as I continue to write.

One of the more interesting events from this past weekend was an inka ceremony. Basically, this is the way that the Kwan Um School of Zen bestows the title of Zen Master on someone. This is a process that takes years to complete and is compared to earning a PhD. After seeing the ceremony firsthand, I can see why. For 30 minutes, the candidate for JDPSN (Zen Master) status had to sit while one person after another came up to her and asked questions meant to trip her up or confuse her. In Zen studies, these questions are called koans. Watching someone answer koans for 30 straight minutes and hit each one out of the park was nothing short of awesome. After seeing this, I have a much better understanding of why they call this part of the ceremony dharma combat.

After the ceremony everyone filtered out of the dharma hall and down the stairs to the dining room for an amazing vegetarian dinner of sweet potato enchiladas. I found an open seat at a table right next to a sign reading that the tables were reserved for those who could not sit on the floor. I figured I met that criteria as I was already so sore that I was having trouble getting my legs to cooperate with me when I wanted to do things like walk or stand or move them around.

While I was sitting there trying to taste each of the ingredients in the enchiladas so that I can reverse engineer the recipe, the newest Zen Master in the Kwan Um school sat down right across from me at the table. She thanked someone sitting a few chairs down from me for their kind words at her ceremony and started to eat her dinner. A few more people sat down at the chairs around us and, before I knew it and without planning on my part, I found myself caught up in the discussion that popped up at the table. Anne, the new Zen Master, lectures on science and environmental issues among other things. As we sat at the table eating dinner we discussed environmental science, the changing ecosystem in Florida where she lives, alligators and just how cool they really are, and the importance of actions to do whatever possible to make positive impacts on the environment. She had an amazing depth of knowledge about this subject and her compassion for all living things was palpable as she talked about her experiences working with various groups and research teams.

A few other people came to the table and they were not as inclined to discuss science and environmental issues so the conversation drifted to other topics. These topics were much more along the lines of generalized discussion that happens among people at a large group: things like travel plans, how long different people had been at the Zen Center already, the quality of the food, the experiences one had in the various ceremonies going on that weekend, etc. This was where I got to see just how down to earth a Zen Master could be. The fact that she had just been through an incredible ordeal and passed with flying colors never came up in any of the conversations. It was like it never happened. Sure, she was a Zen Master, big deal, there was an upcoming train trip back to Virginia to discuss since driving in the northeast corridor is such pain to do. It was almost an inconvenience when the time came for her to get up from the table to take part in a cake cutting to celebrate her accomplishment.

After we had all gotten our cake (and it was a delicious cake) we were back at our seats and a new person joined us. This was a person with a question about something someone said in the ceremony. It was a line that had not even really made an impact on my mind at the time but the short version of the story was that the conversation eventually led to the realization that Anne has stage 4 colon cancer and she stares death in the face on a daily basis. The ease with which she tossed out the phrase “it’ll get me some day” still leaves me in awe. She deals with the immediacy of her mortality on a moment by moment basis and has learned from it and become stronger because of it. It was at this point I realized just how amazed I was at this person sitting across the table from me. Her attitude and her humility and her courage were unlike almost anyone else I have ever met. Usually, you only hear stories about people like this. This time, I was experiencing it first hand. I was almost consumed with admiration for the person sitting in front of me talking about how she had tried macrobiotics for a while to combat the cancer but didn’t want to spend all of the life she had left in the kitchen cooking foods that meet the very high bar set by macrobiotics.

She was called away shortly after that by a group of people who hadn’t seen her in a while and she went to speak to them. I continued to have some conversations with those around me but I was still stuck mentally in the previous conversation. I had never seen that kind of clarity, compassion, courage and intellect combined in one person so well. I could not help but feel angry with the knowledge that she would not be a teacher and master in our school for as long as she should be because of the cancer. Then, because this was a Zen retreat, I was left with my own thoughts about why I was feeling this way and why I was thinking this way. I did my best to learn from the example she had just set and accept the reality of the situation for what it is and to be present in this moment because it is all we have. Sure, in some future moment she will no longer be a part of our school but that’s the business of that moment. For now, there were plates to be picked up and trash to be thrown away.

A few minutes later as I was cleaning up my dishes at the sink, one of the other people I met this weekend asked me if I enjoyed having dinner with three Zen Masters. At first I thought he was trying to trip me up with some sort of “gotcha” koan. Then he pointed out to me that the other people that I had been sitting with and talking with were also the same people who usually sit up at the front of the room during the ceremonies and that the reason they did that was because they were Zen Masters. Since things were all so new to me and I wasn’t used to seeing these people outside of the ceremonies yet (I had only been there for 24 hours at that point), I didn’t even realize who some of the other people I was eating with and talking with were. How’s that for down to earth and low key? There was nothing to differentiate these Zen Masters from me, a guy who was there to take step 1: the five precepts. As my new friend laughed at me, I let the lesson sink in. I’m still trying to learn from that moment. I have a feeling I’ll be learning from that moment for a long time to come.

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