community service, cooking, food, volunteer

This just in: Come volunteer with me at Chef’s Best in DC on 6/15

2015 Chef's Best
2015 Chef’s Best

Love food? Live in DC? Want to help a great nonprofit help others in need? Chef’s Best Dinner & Auction is happening in DC at the brand new Marriott on Monday evening, June 15th, to benefit Food & Friends. Food & Friends is an incredible nonprofit that delivers free nutritious meals to people with life-threatening illnesses right to their door in DC and the surrounding areas. We’re still looking for people to help volunteer at the 1300+ attendee event, and it’s going to be a spectacular evening. Plus, we’ll get to hang out and have fun.

If you’re interested in volunteering, call Food & Friends at 202-269-2277. And tell ’em I sent you! See you there!

community, community service, food, health, volunteer, Washington

This just in: I’m a new volunteer at Food & Friends

Food & Friends
Food & Friends

Today I went to new volunteer orientation today at Food & Friends​, a local D.C. nonprofit that prepares and delivers healthy meals, groceries, and nutrition counseling to people in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia who have life threatening illnesses. 10,000 volunteers help make their work possible and I’m very excited to join them. I’ll be cooking, delivering meals, and helping at special events.

If you’re looking for a great volunteer opportunity, they always need extra hands and hearts. Individuals, groups, and people of all ages (including kids) can be a part of their work on a very flexible schedule. I love this quote from one of the people who has received meals from them: “This isn’t just about food. It’s about life.”

I hope you’ll join me!

action, food

This Just In: Make food, not war

Make food, not war
Make food, not war

I think there are very few problems in this world that can’t be worked out when people prepare food and eat together. There’s something about the act of nurturing ourselves while nurturing others that makes us feel whole. Food heals wounds and helps us better understand ourselves and others. We cannot fear or hate on a full belly.

There are times lately when I wish it were possible to get fighting factions—the police and protestors, Democrats and Republicans, Russia and just about everyone—together in the kitchen for one night and see what might come of baking and breaking bread together. I wonder if that might work. Can we find a way to make food, not war?

commitment, Florida, food, New York City, Orlando

This Just In: Orlando creates a scene with food

East End Market, Orlando, Florida
East End Market, Orlando, Florida

When I lived in New York City, I loved the vibrant food scene there. Growing up in a rural area of farm country and later working for an environmental nonprofit, I’ve always felt really connected to the dirt despite living in cities for more than half my life. I didn’t know if I’d find anything like that food scene when I moved to Florida but yesterday (ironically) The New York Times shined a light on what is growing here as it picked Orlando as one of its top travel destinations for 2015. Why? Because of the local food scene driven by places like East End Market and Cask & Larder.

While nowhere near the size of New York’s food scene, Orlando-based farmers and food artisans are building a locavore community with passion. I’m hoping to get more involved with that world now that I have the time and space to do that. I’ll let you know what I find. In the meantime, check out this article that highlights several food entrepreneurs that are making a delicious life here in the central part of the Sunshine State. (Scroll to number 15 on this list.)

books, food, health, yoga

YOGALEAN: Poses and Recipes to Promote Weight Loss and Vitality-for Life. A new book by Beth Shaw.

I took my first yoga teacher training through Beth Shaw’s YogaFit program. At the time, her approach appealed to my desire to cultivate fitness and health without continuing to pound my body through competitive running and heavy gym workouts. Her program caused me to further investigate yoga as a physical, mental, and spiritual practice, and 14 years later, I’m still teaching.

Beth has a new book out this week, YOGALEAN: Poses and Recipes to Promote Weight Loss and Vitality-for Life. This book is perfect for people who want to integrate yoga and nutrition into a 360-degree program to lose weight and increase their energy levels. The book walks readers through cohesive plans for four distinct motivations: amp up energy, promote a leaner body, increase immunity, and promote youthfulness inside and out. Each motivation has a common set of components:

  • Yoga poses that promote a lean physique, strengthen your core, and increase energy
  • Cardio and weight-training workouts to complement your yoga, refine your physical strength, and ward off disease
  • Easy recipes for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks that will help you burn fat more efficiently
  • Stress-reducing and clarity-enhancing daily meditations
  • Breathing exercises to calm your mind and sharpen your focus
  • A one-week jumpstart plan outlining precisely what to eat and how to exercise your body and mind

The book is now on sale in bookstores across the country and online. Congrats to Beth on the next evolution of her mission to bring health and wellness to all people everywhere!


cooking, eating, food

Beautiful: I’m Blending Up a Recipe for Vegan “Ice Cream” in My Kitchen, Arrested Development-Style

My first humble and delicious bowl of banana custard
My first humble and delicious bowl of banana custard

I’m going to toot my own horn for a moment and say that lately my little cocina has been buzzing as if it were competing for a chance to be Good Housekeeping’s satellite test kitchen. I’m a bread-baking, pasta-shaping, vegetable-roasting, salad-tossing, body scrub-making, and now ice cream-blending machine.

My love of ice cream and Mister Softee is well documented on this blog: here, here, and here. Regular readers also know that I am making more of an effort to eat fewer animal products in my quest for a cleaner planet. Ice cream is one of my weaknesses. I’ve never met a cone I didn’t like. Lately, I’ve been a little horrified by the price of ice cream at the store so I’ve been depriving myself a bit.

A few months ago, I saw on Pinterest that people were whipping up homemade “ice cream” from frozen bananas. Even though this activity reared its head on Arrested Development years ago, I naturally assumed that the making of ice cream had fallen under a spell of “Hollywoodification” and that everyone was lying to me. How could bananas, with no other additives, be blended into soft serve ice cream? Rubbish.

This week, a carton of very generic ice cream at my local Whole Foods topped $6.00. Same thing at my other less-than-clean neighborhood grocery stores. I can afford a $6 carton of ice cream but it’s the principle. I think stores are gauging us due to the heat wave and I’m not about to succumb to that kind of pressure, no matter how much money I have in my wallet. That old Pinterest post popped into my head so I went over to my local fruit cart vendor on the corner near my apartment. 4 bananas for $1. I was skeptical but desperate for a frozen treat fix and determined to hang onto my dignity by avoiding the ice cream gauging grocery stores so I gave it a whirl, literally and figuratively.

I chopped up the bananas and put them in my freezer overnight. The next day, I fixed by Ninja blender on my kitchen counter, piled in the frozen bananas, and hit “blend” with a healthy dose of doubt. For the first minute, my simple concoction looked like nothing more than finely diced banana. I knew it. Bananas turned into custard is total BS and the very idea is used to make fools of ice cream junkies like me. There goes my dignity… and my $6 that I’ll be paying at Whole Foods for ice cream.

I persevered reminding myself of my bread baking misadventures turned crusty outside, heavenly chewiness inside. (The key is patience.) And I’ll be damned! Slowly, slowly, slowly those frozen bananas started to come together into a creamy swirl. I jumped up and down with excitement and let out a loud “whoop!” See how little it takes to make me happy?

Once it looked sufficiently blended, I brought my Ninja to a halt, popped off the blender top, and what to my wondering eyes did appear but delicious, creamy, vegan banana custard! I was overjoyed. Phineas even tried some and gave his “woof” of approval. I’m already planning add-ins for future batches. This is going to be one sweet summer – surely this skill is going to help me make friends in California, right? If you read about a girl and her adorable dachshund setting up an “ice cream” stand at the Santa Monica pier, you’ll know we found a reliable banana supplier in our new neighborhood.

books, cooking, food, learning

Beautiful: Life Lessons from Baking Bread

I’ve been in my kitchen exploring the recipes of Jim Lahey, Founder of the famous Sullivan Street Bakery. His no-knead bread recipes have turned many non-bakers into flour tossing evangelists of the hearth, this girl included. About a year and a half ago, I wrote a post titled I Don’t Bake after making a disaster of a pumpkin pie and quickly began to assemble a collection of essays on other things I don’t do that are commonly considered to be in the wheelhouse of American women. Jim Lahey made a liar out of me and I couldn’t be happier about it. I’m now churning out bakery-quality breads from my tiny little hovel of a kitchen.

In the midst of my bread-baking frenzy, I started to reflect on what I’ve learned in this 18-month journey from non-baker to baker. There are a lot of lessons in the process, and most of them have nothing to do with the task at hand.

Have patience
It is something I used to have in short supply. By nature I am one of those people who wants everything yesterday. In the process of baking bread the Lahey way, it takes roughly 24 hours and most of that time I’m not doing a damn thing except giving the concoction of flour, water, yeast, and salt a chance to meet, mingle, and coalesce under the proper circumstances. The bread requires more patience than skill to bake up to its potential.

Do less
Adding on to the bit about patience, Lahey’s recipes require restraint. I am someone who likes to do things, but with bread baking I have to let go of that impulse. The more you do with this dough, the harder it is to create a crusty, delicious loaf. The trick is to do less, far less, than you think you need to.

Have the right tools
This is one piece of Lahey’s method that requires focus. You need a very hot, reliably calibrated oven and a hefty cast iron dutch oven with a lid that can withstand the heat. There are no compromises here. You can’t make do with a faulty oven and a different kind of pan. The right tools make everything easier.

Try, try, and try again
Your first loaf might not come out perfectly. Your 10th loaf might not come out perfectly either. Lahey is very honest about his bread brick road, and there were many bricks along the way. He’s not shy about dumping bread that isn’t up to his standards but he never lets that deter him on his journey.

Spend your life doing what you love
In Lahey’s book, My Bread, I found his personal story to be even more riveting than his recipes. He put in countless hours of training and experimenting to get where he is, many of them in Rome as an apprentice baker. At the center of all of his efforts is his great love of bread. His motivation is pure and his passion unabiding. These two ingredient are essential to good bread and a good life. Find what you love and keep doing it.

Have you learned lessons in the kitchen that have pervaded other areas of your life? If so, I’d love to hear them!

books, eating, food, health

Beautiful: Mark Bittman, My Parents, and I Are Part-Time Vegans

“Hi Gang! Guess what? Oh, you’ll never guess in a million years so I’ll just tell you. We’re becoming vegans and tonight we launched the operation.” This from my mother who is 71 glorious years old and a passionate omnivore. Their chiropractor has recommended a vegan diet to improve overall health so they’re going for it. If Bill Clinton, fast food’s most loyal customer, can do it, so can we. Somewhere, Mark Bittman is smiling wide.

Ironically (or as my therapist, Brian, would say – synchronistically), when my mother’s email arrived I had just started reading Mark Bittman’s new book, VB6: Eat Vegan Before 6:00 to Lose Weight and Restore Your Health . . . for Good. Her email flew into my inbox about 6 hours after I read the intro to Mark’s book and I thought, “You know, I should send this book to my mom.” Oh, Universe…

I’ve failed at being a vegan, and for that matter being a vegetarian, for many years. That Mister Softee song starts playing on my block, and I’m done for. (Mister Softee and Access Hollywood Live – my guilty pleasures.) It’s been a sore point with me for some time and I had all but resigned myself to never being able to live up to my dietary potential. I know being a vegan is better for me and for the planet. And I love animals, very often more than I love people, so why couldn’t I just do it?!

And then Mark Bittman gave me permission to try on veganism on a part-time basis. Now this kind of deal is music to my ears. His plan is simple – give up highly processed food (okay, I can let go of Mister Softee in favor of real ice cream but do not ask me to give up Billy Bush!), eat more plants, and be a vegan until 6pm. Once 6pm rolls around, I’m free to eat whatever I want. There’s nothing magical about 6pm. There isn’t even anything magical about making dinner your non-vegan meal. He’s saying give yourself one meal to have whatever you want and then be a vegan the rest of the time. He even gave me permission to slip up and fall flat on my face off the vegan wagon once in a while. And then he told me that I can always just start again.

This is similar to the advice that I got when I first really started to learn how to meditate. I had tried for a number of years, wouldn’t feel anything happening, and give up. Then, I read some advice from Sri Swami Satchidananda. “When you notice your mind wandering, just come back. It happens to everyone. You don’t have to give up. Just start again.” Now three years later, I’m still practicing meditation and teaching it to others without any kind of angst or sense of inadequacy. Failure is only permanent if we allow it to be.

And so, I started right then and there to be a part-time vegan, after beginning Mark’s book and reading my mom’s email. I didn’t need to plan to start. It wasn’t hard; I didn’t need to analyze it and make a pro / con / consequences / “oh crap, what am I going to do if this doesn’t work out” list. I just decided to begin. Want to join me?

education, food, health, learning

Beautiful: You Are What You Eat

logoA few weeks ago I started taking a nutrition course. The Fundamentals of Nutrition is offered by Coursera and is a wonderful example of a Massive Open Online Course, or MOOC. It is taught by Dr. Kristina von Castel-Roberts from the University of Florida. I decided to take the class because I really want to improve my eating habits even further this year.

One of our first assignments involved using Supertracker, an online tool from the USDA that helps you track your food intake, physical activity, and other health-based metrics. I’ve never actually kept a food diary and the psychology behind this activity is fascinating. I have a strong sweet tooth. A very strong sweet tooth. Yesterday I was at a breakfast meeting with all of my favorite goodies – muffins, pastries, donuts, and fruit. Usually I would gobble down anything and everything that looked appealing. Now that I have to commit my food intake in writing and actually see its nutritional content, I held back. I had one very small pastry and loaded up on fruit.

If we really want to achieve a goal, charting our progress toward it in writing is one of the most useful motivators. Write it down!

cooking, creativity, food, weather

Beautiful: When I Need to Think, I Go to the Kitchen

French onion soup - one of my favorite comfort foods!
French onion soup – one of my favorite comfort foods!

“On days when warmth is the most important need of the human heart, the kitchen is the place you can find it.” ~ E.B. White

Cold enough for ya? In New York City, we are braving some serious cold and wind. It’s that biting kind of cold where you’re quite sure that if you smile too wide, your face will crack. I’ve found myself eying my new Ninja crock pot and cracking open my cookbooks to create a shopping list of ingredients to create warm, comforting meals.

This weekend, I have brunch plans on Saturday and Sunday and otherwise will be inside working away. I find that I do my best work when I nourish my mind and body with nutritious, delicious food. Additionally, I also love that cooking helps me to quiet my mind and reduce stress. When I hit a road block in my writing, I back away from my desk and head for my stove where I’m sure to get my creative juices flowing again (cooking pun intended!)

Like a good story, a good meal is cobbled together by the hands, inspired by the spirit, and nurtured with love from the heart. This weekend may you find refuge in the kitchen despite the frightful weather outside.