Friday, April 29, 2011

Baba Ghanoush as Comfort Food

It's Friday, and I'm meeting my wife at the gym later--Friday is the best day for this, because most people are blowing it off, so we have the place pretty much to ourselves. We usually get home around 8:00 PM on gym nights, so it's good to have some food made in advance. Tonight I'm assembling "Sweet-Sour-Hot-Pungent Lettuce and Tofu," a dish from Speed Vegan that I'll be presenting at Summerfest in July (a test, to see how many tasting portions it will yield).

However, Friday is also, well, Friday, meaning at least one comfort food is in order. Not so much for me--I'm self-employed, so every day is pretty much the same--but for my wife, who deserves all the comfort I can offer. So when we walk in tonight, I want to have one of her favorite easy-noshing comfort dishes ready to eat--while I busy myself with the other menu item.

I had picked up a couple of smallish, perfectly ripe eggplants yesterday, so the choice was obvious: baba ghanoush (mmmm...).

We recently decided to go gluten-free to see if we notice any benefits (and we did!), which means the traditional pita bread for dipping is no longer an option. Instead, I prepped a pile of celery sticks to go with this fabulously flavorful, rich and sensual Lebanese treat.

I say Lebanese because I first learned how to make it from a Lebanese friend, although baba ghanoush appears in the cuisine of other Arab countries also (so I hope none of my Arab friends from these other places will take offense).

This is a very easy dish to make. The hardest part is grilling the eggplants, and if you don't have a grill available, I have a sneaky way around that: just put them directly on the stove--if you have a gas stove, that is. Once that step is done, the rest is a breeze. Here's the recipe, taken from my first book, Omega 3 Cuisine:

Baba Ghanoush
Makes about 4 cups

2 large eggplants
1 cup chopped fresh parsley
1⁄4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
4 cloves garlic, peeled
1 teaspoon sea salt
11⁄2 cups tahini
1⁄2 cup Udo’s Oil
Extra-virgin olive oil
Kalamata olives
Parsley leaves

Grill the whole eggplants, turning them occasionally so all
sides are evenly cooked, for 15 to 20 minutes, or until they
are tender to the touch. Let cool. Slit open the eggplants,
scoop out the flesh (and discard the skins), and place in a
food processor along with the lemon juice, garlic, chopped
parsley, and salt. Process until well blended. With the motor
running, add the tahini, a spoonful at a time, followed by the
Udo’s Oil. Process until smooth. The mixture will be a light
beige color with a beautiful greenish tint from the little flecks
of parsley.

Spread in a shallow dish, making a shallow, circular
trough in the surface with the back of a spoon. Pour olive oil
into the trough and decorate the dish with the olives and
parsley leaves. (Just like the picture.)

Note: If you don't have any Udo's Oil, don't let that stop you! Just substitute with olive oil (that's the authentic oil to use anyway--I just include Udo's Oil because I want the omega-3s).

Baba Ganoush on Foodista

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Yelloweye Stuben Beans

I was sorry to receive the news that "Extraordinary Ingredients," a wonderful store in downtown Colorado Springs was closing. It was one of so very few remaining brick-and-mortar specialty shops--sources of high-quality, unusual and hard-to-find foodstuffs, where you can not only find your favorite herbs, spices, beans and grains, but discover new ones you never heard of before, and learn about them from a knowledgeable shopkeeper. A rare find in this area, now lost to this food enthusiast.

Yelloweye Stuben Beans
On the bright side, up until the last day, everything was on sale at dramatically discounted prices.

So off I mournfully/gleefully went, to buy up whatever I could before it was too late. Among the items I made off with was a bag of "Yelloweye Stuben Beans," an heirloom bean variety that was brand new to me.

Now, I know some people might be thinking, "So?" But I have more than a mere passing interest in beans; I happen to love beans--even the smell of beans cooking is delightful to me. So for me, to find a new variety is a real treat. But an heirloom variety is doubly exciting, because just by the act of buying them (even at a discount), I'm doing my part to support those heroic farmers who are keeping biodiversity alive--and protecting the future of food itself. Think of these guys as the Un-Monsanto farmers. I can feel a post coming on about heirloom seeds and the urgency to keep traditional organic farming methods vibrant and viable. So important.

Anyway, back to the beans. The first time out, I decided to boil them first with no other ingredients, so I could enjoy their unique flavor and texture alone, in an uncomplicated form. I was pleased to see that their characteristic "eye" (much more brown than yellow) didn't melt away, but remained distinct once the beans were cooked. I had been so disappointed the first time I made Anasazi beans, because their gorgeous red and white mottled coloring had homogenized like those on the pinto bean. They were still tasty, but I had expected the colors to remain intact. These beans, on the other hand, did not disappoint.

Once the beans were done and had been tasted, they called out for a suitable pairing of some kind. They didn't seem to want hot spices, but were leaning rather in the direction of comfort food, along the lines of a mild but rich stew or soup. So here's what I ended up doing:

Click the image to enlarge.
I heated a couple tablespoons of EVOO in a large pot and sautéed diced onion, celery, and carrot for a few minutes, until they began to soften and release their aromas. Then I added minced garlic, diced broccoli stems (peeled, of course), red Swiss chard stems, potatom and zucchini, and continued to stir until the mixture was nearly dry. Then I added a quart of water, the cooking liquid from the beans, a few cubes of vegetable bouillon, and a little salt. After it all came to a boil, I added the Swiss chard greens, cut small, and turned the fire down to let it simmer gently until the vegetables were tender and the liquid had thickened into a rich broth. Then I added the beans and turned up the heat. Once the beans had had a chance to meld with the soup, I tasted the soup and added just a touch more salt (my wife and I both are blessed with low blood pressure). I served the soup just as it was, garnished with a few fresh thyme tips.

I will miss Extraordinary Ingredients, the surprising finds I always encountered there, and the shopkeepers' passionate enthusiasm for food. But I've still got a big bagful of "last days" bargains to go through, which will afford me a gentle withdrawal (sigh).

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

As Fast as Food Needs to Get

Click on the image to increase size

Okay, I cheated just a little. I used (organic, BPA-free) canned beans. And I used some vegetable bouillon paste from a jar (also organic, made with only vegetables). But with these two minor shortcuts (and a spice or two), I quickly whipped together a one-dish meal that anyone can easily duplicate--once again proving that fast doesn't have to be a compromise in health or pleasure.

Try it: Just heat a couple tablespoons of coconut oil in a large pot (using a large one makes it easier to stir wildly without sloshing ingredients out and onto the stove). Add a red onion and a couple stalks of celery, diced fairly small (size matters, but not that much). As they begin to soften, add a couple of diced zucchini and keep stirring. When the juices have been absorbed, and just before anything starts to really brown, add the juice from two 25-ounce cans of organic black beans, a tablespoon of unsalted organic vegetable bouillon paste (or 2 bouillon cubes), and about a half-teaspoon of smoked serrano chile (or smoked paprika). If you like spicy food, you could also add a spoonful of chipotle chile purée (page 40 in my book, Speed Vegan, or see the video here) for extra heat and flavor.

Once the mixture starts bubbling, cut the kernels off about four or five ears of corn (I like white corn the best, but all I had was yellow--oh well) and add them to the pot. Cook about five minutes or so, stirring from time to time. Then add the beans and reheat. Taste and add salt, if you think it's warranted (the juice from the canned beans will be fairly salty,  so don't add salt before tasting!).

To serve, ladle into bowls, place a generous amount of diced avocado in the center, squeeze half a lime over the top, and garnish liberally with coarsely chopped cilantro. This high-fiber dish gives you a decent serving of vegetables. The beans and corn combined make a complete protein, the avocado brings more fiber plus healthy fats, and the chile will kick your endorphins into overdrive. Unless any of the ingredients themselves don't agree with you (and if so, then I would say just leave them out or substitute with something comparable), I'm confident you'll really enjoy this. I know I did.

If this took you any more than twenty minutes or so, then all you need is a little practice!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Real Issue Behind the Big VegNews Boo-Boo

Full disclosure: this is a real pepper.
Like many people, I was a bit surprised to read that VegNews had been caught passing off retouched stock photos of meat and dairy dishes as vegan faux-meat and dairy dishes. And it is a bit jarring when an outfit so dedicated to vegan and animal rights causes turns out to be using photos of dead animals in its publications--outrageous, some would say. But there are two things I haven't seen mentioned anywhere that I think need bringing up:

The first is that in the food styling business, cheating is rife. Those mouth-watering dishes you see in magazines (and on glossy menus at low-end restaurants) are most often inedible. Food stylists use all kinds of sneaky tricks to get that look--a little hair spray, shoe polish, perfectly cut styrofoam "cakes," in short, whatever it takes to make the "food" in the picture look appealing and delicious. I'm against this practice myself--all of the photos in my books and on my blog are real food (which I eat and share after the shot is taken). However, I do know that it's very common in the industry, so I'm not terribly shocked when a magazine "fakes" a shot--nor do I consider it a gross betrayal of the magazine's ethos. It's merely standard practice, and I don't believe anyone meant any harm. I've met some of the people who produce VegNews and I admire both their intent and their dedication. 'Nuff said about that.

More to the point is the other, unaddressed and--I think--much more anti-vegan issue, which is the fact that food is being tarted up to imitate meat in the first place. Think about it: if there were no market for "I can't believe it's not (fill in the animal)" stuff, there would be no meat-imitative products out there. No issue of  anyone being bamboozled,  no big stink, and no one at VegNews would have been compelled to apologize. Seriously.

A friend sent me a link to a New York Times article about this scandal, and as I perused it, one sentence jumped out at me:

Angry at being taken in by the images, one reader commented on the magazine’s Web site how awful it felt “to have craved any of the foods featured here, because now I feel I was craving animals.” 

Uh, sweetie, you were (and you are) craving animals. That's why you drool over pictures of food that look (and you imagine, taste) just like a cheeseburger or a juicy rack of baby back ribs. That's why there is a multi-million-dollar industry gleefully developing and churning out fake meat and dairy products. If no wanted to have their cute farm animal and eat it too, these products wouldn't sell, period. This is the real source of the controversy. If people didn't crave recreational drugs, drug dealers would have to find other (far less lucrative) work.

I'm new to the 100% plant-based diet thing. I've only been eating this way for a couple of years. And maybe I'm not typical, but I take what I feel is a straightforward, common-sense view on this:

If you're going to leave something behind, don't bring it with you.

Now, I know there are a lot of well-intentioned people who have decided that they don't want to participate in the exploitation and cruel treatment of animals, and this is what drives their dietary choices. I find their commitment admirable. However, they have a glaringly vulnerable flank if they haven't made a clean break from their former carnivorous bent, because it leaves them open to being taken in by images (and dishes in unscrupulous restaurants) that not only look like meat and dairy, but (surprise!) actually are what they appear to be.

Please understand, I don't mean to accuse, much less offend anyone. I'm simply pointing out the chink in the vegan armor. No one likes to be played for a fool. So it's understandable that when it got out that the pictures everyone believed to be of fake meat turned out to be photoshopped images of real meat, feelings were hurt. And it's understandable that injured feelings led to the pointing of fingers. But let's face it--if no one was eager to enjoy all the fun of eating animals without actually eating them, the fake food and the fake photos would never have existed.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Three Documentaries I Want To See

These look like very important films:

I'll be following up with reviews, once I've had a chance to watch them.

If you've seen one of them, please leave a comment!

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Carnivore's Dilemma

This morning I read a piece by Bob Comis, a contributing writer on Grist (and according to his bio, a guy who was a "very unsuccessful vegan" after a three-month attempt). The title had intrigued me: "The omnivore's other dilemma: expanding access to non-industrial food," a topic that interests me very much. It turned out this was not about access to non-industrial food, but non-industrial meat. As I read, I found myself mentally backing up to a time when I ate meat regularly, and was just beginning to make the journey from taking animal food for granted, through the incremental steps to demanding naturally, organically and humanely raised animal food, to realizing I couldn't justify eating animal food at all.

There are several points that came up for me as I thought about the man's dilemma--and for my vegan readers, let me interject that we'll need to suspend our personal views for the length of this post in order to understand and empathize with the meat-eating public (which is vast). My personal view, for example, is pretty straightforward: "Eat plants--what freaking dilemma?" And it works for me, because I've made the effort to unravel the other parts of Michael Pollan's now-famous seven word solution, consider the implications of what I eat, and arrive at my own conclusions. But what about people who haven't come to the same conclusion?

Say I'm wrong. Say a human being MUST have animal food in order to be healthy and thrive. And to be honest, I really don't know, because although there are many examples of people who have been on a vegan diet for twenty, maybe even thirty years, we're all different and some of us may have specific needs that others don't--and one thing I've learned is that it never pays to be dogmatic about anything. Even after two years, I'm still thinking about this. I'm paying close attention to the way I feel on a day-to-day basis, and wondering if I'm getting all the nutrients I need to enjoy optimum health. So far so good. I haven't been sick a single day, and (I think) I'm in better shape than I was before. But let's just say I'm wrong, and people do need to eat animals. That would remove a large part of the ethical component, wouldn't it?

So here we are, in modern times, with not thousands to feed locally, but millions--and, in at least two countries, billions. There are only two possible scenarios for the near future: either we drastically cut back on our animal consumption (or simply drop it altogether), or we will ultimately destroy our environment in the attempt to feed everyone in the style to which we have become accustomed. I'm not talking ethics here; I'm talking survival. You see, when we talk about the environment, global warming, "save the planet" and all that, it's not really the planet that's in danger; it's the human species (and a lot of the animal kingdom). If we die out, the planet will most likely return to the equilibrium that made human life possible in the first place, but we will be gone.

Right or wrong, we're at a crossroads. The choice we make in the next decade or two will most likely determine whether or not we ultimately survive. Raising animals for food as we know it is following a trajectory that is unsustainable.

Yes, it's possible to raise animals naturally, humanely and kindly. I'm not too sure about killing them this way, but I suppose that an argument could be made that this is possible too, by taking the time to do it carefully and consciously, calming the animal, giving it as swift and painless a death as possible. This, for example, is the essence of "hallal," the "permitted" method of animal slaughter according to Islam--everything must be done to minimize suffering, and even at the moment of cutting the animal's throat (with so sharp a knife that it barely realizes what has occurred), the executioner, with an attitude of humility and gratitude, utters "bismillah"  ("in the name of God"). With a meat-eater's view in mind, I could never argue with this approach. It covers just about every possible ethical angle--if one believes animal consumption is necessary. Native Americans had their own version of this, as have many cultures around the world.

But here's the carnivore's dilemma: how can this realistically be done on a scale that will feed meat to billions of people every day? How, indeed, could we even manage to supply dairy products alone (humanely, organically, naturally, kindly, sustainably) to all these people?

The answer is not a vegan answer; it's a human answer. I don't call myself a vegan; I'm simply a human being who's paying attention and wants to do the right thing--no more, no less. And from all that I can tell, the answer is concise and straightforward--even without considering the degrading filth, disease, unconscionable cruelty, and irresponsible pollution associated with mass animal farming: it really can't be done, and if we hope to survive as a species, it must be drastically cut back or abandoned.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


Huitlacoche (also called cuitlacoche) is "corn smut," an inky-black fungus that infects and grows on ears of corn. It's pretty disgusting-looking, which explains why consumption of this delicacy never took off in the United States, even after James Beard elegantly renamed it "Mexican truffle." In Aztec times, it was purposely cultivated (the name comes from nahuatl, the Aztec language), and it's still highly regarded in Mexican cuisine. Usually, huitlacoche is served in creamy, cheesy dishes--the perfect foil for its rich mushroom-like flavor. Although nowhere near as full-flavored as fresh, canned huitlacoche can be found in Mexican markets and some specialty shops. I always grab a can or two whenever I find it.

I used to enjoy it in quesadillas and in "crepas de huitlacoche," a creamy crepe specialty at some high-end restaurants in Mexico City. So since I stopped eating dairy products, I realized there would be a challenge for me to develop a recipe that takes advantage of huitlacoche's flavor, color and odd textures. Then I had the idea to create a creamy soup based on the classic potato-leek combination, with white corn added.

First I warmed a little olive oil in a pot and added finely sliced onion and leek. I covered the pot and turned the heat down low to let the vegetables sweat for about 10 minutes. Then I added sliced russet potato, white corn kernels, water and vegetable bouillon, and simmered the mixture until everything was quite tender. I pureed it in a blender, strained it back into the pot and reheated it.

To serve, I ladled the soup into bowls, placed a dollop of the huitlacoche in the center, and swirled it with the back of a small spoon. Then I added another gob, a generous squeeze of lime juice, and a garnish of chopped cilantro. Yum! Even my wife, who is not pre-disposed to like unusual Mexican foods the way I am, loved it.

If I had had any fresh epazote (an herb used in Mexican cuisine with a very unique taste), I would have added it to the huitlacoche to boost its unusual flavor profile. All in all, this was a good alternative to the cheese and cream-based dishes with which I was familiar. Next time I think I'll add a few cloves of garlic at the beginning (and try to score some fresh epazote!).

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

White Asparagus

You know it's spring when white asparagus appears. Green asparagus is available year-round, because it's grown in Mexico, where the climate supports it. But I suspect they haven't caught on to the unique farming methods that produce the white version. It's a European thing. Unlike green asparagus, the white is grown in the dark--that is, with the dirt mounded up around the shoots as they grow. Because they cannot  perform photosynthesis without exposure to the sun, they remain white, and some say this gives them a milder taste and a more tender bite. Their skin, however, is quite tough and bitter, so they need to be peeled before cooking.

I first had white asparagus in Austria, where it's usually served with a brown butter sauce. Now that I'm not eating butter (or hollandaise sauce either, for that matter), I've decided to invent my own way of serving this elegant vegetable. Later on, I'll come up with a way to serve it hot, but for now I'm totally sold on this cold dish I'm calling "White Asparagus Salad with Sherry Vinaigrette."

It's really simple, but the flavor is unbelievable. First, I wash them meticulously to make sure the tips don't have any embedded dirt (a huge turnoff when you're eating them), and cut them to equal length--the ends are very tough, so these need to be cut off, and I figure while I'm at it, I might as well make them eye-appealing. Then I peel them, which is the only real laborious part. Once peeled, I drop them into boiling salted water and cook them until tender, which could take anywhere from eight to ten minutes, sometimes a bit more. Once they're done, I scoop them out and refresh them in cold water, and then lay them out on a towel to drain, blotting them with another towel.

Tonight, while the asparagus were cooking, I made a vinaigrette with aged sherry vinegar, just a dab of Dijon mustard, salt and pepper, and walnut oil. As a final touch, I whisked in a couple teaspoons of white truffle oil. Once it was emulsified, I stirred in about two tablespoons of finely diced shallots. To serve, I laid the asparagus on Limoges plates in a single layer, spooned the vinaigrette over them, and sprinkled some very fine snipped chives all around.

This was a real treat, let me tell you!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Watermelon Radishes

I recently came across a "watermelon radish," a variety I had never seen before--greenish-yellow on the outside, red-streaked on the inside, larger and somewhat milder than the more common red radish. As usually happens when I find a new vegetable or fruit, I began to visualize a few applications.
After an initial lengthwise cut to see the inside, the first thing I wanted to do was to try a cross-section. So I got out my truffle slicer and slashed off a few rounds, as thin as I could, without shredding the outer layer of skin. Seeing the reddish interior, I decided to make a quick "carpaccio" by laying the slices out in a scalloped pattern. I brushed on a thin film of olive oil and then added some Haleakala Hawaiian red sea salt crystals and freshly ground mixed peppercorns (black, white, pink and green). Pretty and tasty.

Next, I made a radish salsa--one used in Veracruz as a condiment with fish, which is simply  radish and onion cut into roughly 1/4-inch dice, with fresh lime juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. Once combined, the ingredients are left to macerate a short time, until the juices flow and the pigment in the radishes turns everything pink-red. It tasted good, but I felt it needed just a little heat, so I added a healthy dash of sriracha (quite unorthodox for Mexican food, but I've never known anyone to complain about any kind of chile in Mexico, so I'm sure I'd get away with it).

Finally, I made a salad with the radishes, red onion and fennel. I used freshly harvested greens from our bathtub garden, including red Swiss chard, mizuna, red leaf lettuce, and tat soi, with green leaf and romaine lettuce microgreens. To tie it all together, I made a fresh basil vinaigrette by blending basil leaves, garlic, Dijon mustard, golden balsamic, EVOO, salt and pepper.

I'm sure a few more applications for this unusual radish will come to mind, but I'm happy with the results so far--and since I've used up all the ones I bought, that about covers it for now.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Learn To Cook And Eat At Home

This has almost become my motto. I'm adamant about its importance, for two fundamental reasons:

1) I know what goes on in the back room at even the finest restaurants (you don't wanna know, believe me). I also know how vile the product (I won't say food) is at fast fare outlets (I won't say restaurants). More importantly, I know that the only way to break free from an over-reliance on unhealthy options is to prepare food at home, using primarily fresh, whole, preferably organic ingredients. The importance of this cannot be overstated.

2) There is a distinct pleasure, different from all others and irreplaceable, that comes from making our own food. It is a primary connection we have with one of the essentials of our survival, which cannot be abridged or imitated. It's an essential art that everyone can practice and take part in, young or old, regardless of their skill level.

After my father died, almost ten years ago, I was selecting some of his photos to keep. He was an ardent, excellent photographer, and there were thousands of images to sort through. I came across a detail shot he took in the kitchen of our first home in Mexico. There were no others of that kitchen, so I kept it, even though it was a bit faded and it didn't show much (or so I thought at the time).

A few nights ago, I came across this picture and began poring over the details. At the upper left corner, hang a set of pots  (this would be just to the right of the stove). These were the original "Revereware" pots, with thick copper-clad bottoms--not the flimsy ones they sell now, with barely a micron of copper on their skinny butts. On the wall are hand-painted ceramic tiles, each one wildly different from every other, and one of a pair of hand-carved stone pieces salvaged from a demolished hacienda--a decorative support for the extractor-fan hood (hand-made from wood beams, brick and mortar). On the ledge are "The Joy of Cooking," a couple of issues of "Gourmet Magazine," a well-worn copy of "Mastering the Art of French Cooking," and a Mexico City edition of the "Junior League Cookbook." In the window (a little dark to see) two large locally crafted glass jars contain home-made cookies. On the counter, four canisters hold the essential staples, flour, sugar, coffee, and salt. For some reason, a plastic ice tray sits atop a molcajete, the three-legged volcanic stone mortar ubiquitous in Mexican kitchens.

The significance of this picture for me is profound. For one, it was the first kitchen I ever cooked in. It was right there that I first learned to heat a tortilla over an open flame, flipping it bare-handed until it was slightly charred. I must have been about seven or eight years old at the time. Over the years, I went on to learn many other things from the maids, both Mexican dishes and the American stuff my mother had taught them to make. My parents wouldn't eat Mexican food, so after lunch, I would sneak into the kitchen to have a second meal with "the help." This gave me an opportunity not only to eat some seriously exciting food, but to watch it being made, see the individual steps, and inhale the exotic aromas.

I can still feel the warmth, the wood-and-woven-straw kitchen chairs, the uneven tiles on the walls; I can smell the fresh-made tortillas, fire-roasted chiles and bubbling sauces; I can hear the commotion, the unique sounds of that kitchen--the molcajete being used to grind tomatoes, onions, garlic, and chiles into a puré, and the "choom!" sound as the puré was added to a hot pan; I can taste the sopa de fideo, chilaquiles, chiles rellenos, and many other fabulous dishes, conjured from the ancestral body of knowledge our maids brought with them into our home and into my life. Whatever I cook today was born here.

The other significance of the picture is the very heart of the message I began with, which is that the closer to "hand-made" we live our lives, the richer our experience of living is, and the more indelible our fond memories will inevitably be. Truly, there will never be a more fulfilling meal than one cooked at home, by someone we know--someone who has our health and pleasure in mind, and genuinely hopes we enjoy it.

In Mexico they wish you "Buen provecho!" when you sit down to eat. Unlike the French "Bon Appétit!" which wishes you a good appetite for the meal, this saying expresses the hope that you'll enjoy a "good benefit" from eating it. Both sayings come from a tradition as old as civilized human beings--one I hope to keep alive, add my creativity and love to, and help others to participate in with gusto: the home-cooked meal.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

An Easy One-dish Dinner

Today was one of those days where you end up doing a lot of things you never planned on doing, and then you get to the end and your to-do list has like one or two things checked off (at least they were important) and the rest will have to get added onto tomorrow's list. Ever have one like that?

My wife and I had decided a couple of days ago that on the evenings when we don't go to the gym, we would at the very least hike up to "the reservoir" (a lake about 1000 feet above our house). This was the first such evening, and the odd energy of the day prevailed. She got home around 6:30, and I was just getting started on dinner. A wind was kicking up and it was starting to get dark in the canyon. Compromise sucks, but here's what happened:

This bowl is bigger than it looks.
While she changed into her hiking clothes, I quickly started this soup. I sautéed some diced onion and celery in a little coconut oil for a few minutes, added a diced roasted red pepper, a kabocha squash and a four zucchini. When the vegetables were nice and fragrant, I added water, vegetable bouillon cubes, a spoonful of ras el hanout, a little red chile, some smoked paprika and celtic salt. When it started to boil, I added a handful of quinoa and a bunch of kale, chopped fairly fine. Then I decided to add the remaining tomato puree that I had in a bottle in the fridge. By then it was really boiling, so I turned the flame way down, covered the pot, and and we took the dogs for a brisk walk around town (just enough to get your heart rate up, but not enough to break a sweat). When we got back, I added a couple cans of red kidney beans and chopped cilantro. Just before serving, I added just a squeeze of lime. So good.

I took the shot, we ate, now I'm posting. The bed has been beckoning for the last hour. Good night everyone.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Spring Training

Now that I've signed up to run the Pikes Peak Ascent again (a borderline-masochistic move), I need to start getting in shape (all over again--winter isn't the best time for running up mountains, so I've gotten a bit slack). Fortunately, my brother-in-law is an enthusiast, so I never have to go out alone, and he sets a good pace, so I have someone faster than me to keep up with. Yesterday we set out to charge up to a spot I'd only seen from (way) below. To give you an idea, this picture was taken from a spot about 1500 feet above our starting point, and the spot we were headed for is well above the highest rock.

Why, you might ask, am I doing this? One part of the answer is that I'm enjoying the challenge, it's making me feel very good physically, and I get to do it all in gorgeous surroundings, breathing brisk, clean air. The other part of the answer is that since I switched to an all-plant-based diet, I'm out to prove to myself (and my incredulous doctor) that I can do all the same stuff as before, only better. This was the initial story behind "vegan ascent."

We set out around 8:30 AM with three dogs. My wife came with us part of the way. It was about 35 degrees out, with a fairly fierce wind blowing down the canyon as we began our ascent. You can't see it, but there is a trail that runs along what looks like a massive rockfall, called "Ice Cave Creek," which begins just to the left of that boulder at the bottom left of the picture. It leads to another trail that eventually takes you to a high ridge, and that's about halfway up. I won't lie, this was a grueling enterprise, but the payoff was well worth it.

The view was spectacular. Toward the east, we could see halfway to Kansas (slight exaggeration); to the southwest, Pikes Peak towering over every other mountain in the area. Just check out these shots:

At the summit, Bill checks his email.

Remember that first picture? This is taken from behind and above those rocks.

Some amazing rock formations, with trees growing out from the cracks.

Pikes Peak, about 40 miles to the southwest.

My cheerful little dog, always glad to see me. She was pretty beat when we got home.

Running back down (shot by holding my iPhone at arms length).

After a 2-hour climb, a 45-minute descent.

I had planned to finish working on my taxes after we got back, but that never happened. I had also planned to put up this post that afternoon, but let's face it--I was only good for non-interactive stuff, like reading, web-surfing, napping and eating. I went to bed early and slept like the dead--except for that one time I woke up with a foot-to-groin cramp in my left leg; after cursing and walking around for about 20 seconds, I went back to sleep until the alarm at 6 AM. Tonight I went to the gym, and did mostly upper body stuff (why should any part be spared?). Believe it or not, I'm really enjoying this!