25 September 2013

Orange Walnut Quick Bites + Travel Tips

I love reading interviews with wellness experts because their perspectives are so vast and responses always interesting. They are asked fun questions such as: "If you had to convince someone that healthy eating can be delicious, what would you make for them?"; "What nutritional misconceptions are you always having to clear up?"; "What is your usual breakfast?"; and "What are your go-to meals when busy?". 

But the one question that leaves me feeling torn is when they are asked the following: "What are your non-negotiables when it comes to your diet?". I understand and appreciate the intention of the question, and I agree that having strong convictions about the food we choose to put into our bodies is extremely important. I also have strong convictions about food and certainly stay true to them whenever possible, because doing so is part of who I am, my lifestyle, and what makes me feel good.

But having said that, most of us are not monks or hermits, and we cannot remain in the comforts of our own home, kitchen, and routine all of the time. So thinking in terms of 'non-negotiables' makes me feel like there's no allowance for flexibility. It would put pressure on trying to maintain an 'ideal' diet when it's just not possible, which can provoke anxiety or frustration, making it that much harder to adapt when necessary and in the end doing more harm than good.

These thoughts were floating around in my head while on vacation. I was eager to jot them down to share with you because I think they are tied to a larger struggle in our society, that of striving for perfection.  Whether its perfecting our bodies, diets, careers, or partners, we (myself included) are always looking to make something just right, no? But life isn't about perfecting; it's about practicing, acceptance, and bringing a state of mindfulness to moments, actions, and decisions. 

So as strong as my food convictions are, I don't try to perfect them when I'm out of my routine. Though I do want to share with you some strategies I use when traveling that keeps me feeling good, both physically and mentally, and eases the transition from my usual routine to no routine.

And that's where these orange walnut bites come in. They are raw concentrated shots of energy and nutrition, quick to put together, and perfect for trips or busy days on the run. They can hold you over in the morning if you have less-than-desirable breakfast options, they're a great pick-me-up afternoon snack, or a small sweet ending to a meal. Or, as a friend suggested, drizzle over melted dark chocolate and include them as part of a holiday spread. Next time I think I'll add in unsweetened cacao nibs for crunch.

I will leave you here with the recipe and the strategies I've found helpful when traveling.

Do any of these ideas resonate with you? What are some of your strategies while traveling? Leave me a note in the comments below, I love hearing your thoughts!

Strategies While Traveling
  1. First and foremost, enjoy the experience and food for what it is. Enjoy being served when dining out and having a break from normal routine.
  2. Take along wholesome snacks that travel well, such as these orange walnut bites, nut butters, or dried fruit and nut mixes. It's a small thing but they have saved me many times when there were long stretches between meals or when there are few decent restaurant options on a long road trip.
  3. Take along a small plastic bag of shelf-stable super foods such as chia seeds and hemp seeds. They can easily be added to yogurt or juices on the go if you're feeling you need a nutritional boost.
  4. Do your research in advance. Find small hole-in-the-wall cafes, eateries, or juice bars whose food philosophies resonate with your own.
  1. Visit a gourmet grocer and buy goods for a picnic lunch. It may be pricier than a corner grocery store, but it's still cheaper than many restaurants, and it's fun to shop like a local, if only for a few days. Plus I always manage to find unique regional pantry items like oils, vinegars, olives, sea salt, etc to take back home with me.
  1. For longer trips, rent an apartment for part the time, if possible. It's fun to live like a local in a new place, plus having access to your own kitchen after  days of non-stop eating out can reinvigorate and refresh your senses. 

Orange Walnut Quick Bites
Makes ~20-22 bites

UPDATE: A favorite variation is to dip the formed balls in melted dark chocolate and let them set up in the fridge so the chocolate hardens. Store in the fridge for a week.

Notes: For maximum nutrition absorption I soak the nuts overnight, drain them, and dry them out in the oven on the lowest possible temperature for a few hours. Optionally, if you would like additional crunch stir in unsweetened cacao nibs right before molding.

4 dried figs
3/4 cup soft dates, pitted (if they are not soft, soak in water for 10 minutes)
1/2 cup raw walnuts
1/2 cup raw pecans
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
3/4 tsp. cinnamon
Zest of 1/2 orange
1/4 tsp. salt

Add all ingredients to a food processor and pulse to break up the nuts and dried fruit. Keep pulsing until the mixture is sticky, has a crumbly sand-like consistency, and sticks together when pressed between your fingers.

Use a tablespoon to measure and scoop out the mixture. Mold in the shape of the tablespoon or roll into a ball.

Store in the fridge for a week or on the counter for a few days. They may also be frozen.

03 September 2013

Sprouted Black Rice & Tomato Stacks

Are you getting your fill of tomatoes this summer? I've mostly been enjoying them simply with a pinch of salt and a drizzle of balsamic. But I was recently inspired by Sarah's sprouted wild rice salad on My New Roots and decided it was time to jazz up the juicy bright yellow tomatoes before they were crowded out by warmer-toned apples, mushrooms, and winter squash, which is already starting to happen over here. How is that possible?!

Thick tomato slices are stacked high with alternate layers of basil-lime sprouted black rice. The flavors and colors really pop and the stacks are a delightful addition to any meal. I've already talked about why I love black rice here. And for this recipe, the rice can of course be cooked as usual (just be sure to toss the rice with the vinaigrette while it is still warm so it absorbs the yummy flavors). But sprouting grains is a nice change for warm weather if you are looking to keep your meals on the cooler side. Sprouting also offers many health benefits including but not limited to neutralizing the phytic acid coating and activating enzymes. Check out this informative article on the many benefits of sprouting and for a "how-to" on different sprouting methods.

Don't let the idea intimidate. It is easy in fact, but it does take a few days to see the process through, most of which requires none of your attention. There are many methods for sprouting. I use this nut milk and sprouting bag from Amazon. A large Mason jar with holes punched in the lid for smaller seeds/grains or a colander for larger legumes/grains also work. I include two methods for sprouting below, one of which requires no special equipment. And if you are worried about texture, black rice softens nicely after being sprouted, which is why I wanted to feature it here. 

I will leave you to ponder over the magic of sprouting for the next few weeks, as I will be taking a break from posting to enjoy a long-awaited late summer holiday. 

But in the meantime I would love to hear your thoughts on sprouting. Do you sprout at home? If so, what do you enjoy sprouting the most? And how do you incorporate the sprouts into a recipe? 

Sprouted Black Rice & Tomato Stacks
Inspired by My New Roots
Serves 4-6

Notes: Before starting the sprouting process, make sure the rice is fresh and has not exceeded its expiration date. This will ensure the rice will sprout or 'bloom' properly. If it does not split open and become tender after 2-3 days, you should throw it in a pot and cook it instead.

1 1/2 cups black rice
1 small red onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup basil, chopped or torn
1/2 cup cashews, toasted and chopped

Juice from 2 limes
1 1/2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 small garlic clove, minced
1/4 tsp. salt
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

4 large colorful tomatoes, cut in thick slices

Mix ingredients for the vinaigrette in the bottom of a large mixing bowl. Add sprouted (directions below) or cooked black rice, onion, basil, and cashews. Toss to combine.

Place 1 layer of tomato slices on a plate and spoon (or use an ice cream scoop) mounds of black rice mixture on each tomato slice. Top with another tomato slice and finish with more black rice.

Rinse rice and add to a large glass container. Fill with water, cover, and let soak on the counter overnight (~ 8 hours). In the morning drain and rinse. Then continue on with sprouting method 1 or 2 below.

Method # 1 (Nut milk/Sprouting Bag)
Place rice in the sprouting bag and hang somewhere that allows water to drain from the bag. (I hang mine in the shower, but it could also hang from a kitchen or bathroom cabinet if it is directly over the sink ). Rinse the bag 2-3 times per day and leave hanging for 2-3 days, until you see the rice grains split open and are tender. This took me 2 days.

Method # 2 (Refrigeration - Courtesy of  My New Roots)

Cover rice with fresh water and put in the fridge. Drain and rinse the rice at least twice per day for 2-3 days until the rice has “bloomed” – some or all of the grains will have split open, and it should be tender to eat.