Monday, July 1, 2013

Chickpea and Corn Cakes with Goat Cheese

Ahh, summertime. As a teacher I'll be able to relish in summer's magnificent beauty forever. Most people have New Year's Resolutions, but for me and my teacher friends, our resolutions tend to come in the summer: "I'm going to be better in all these 1 million ways and my life will change so drastically in 6 weeks that I may never have to teach again because I'll be so f'ing rich and rolling in the good life."

Sorry, kids, this is what teachers say when we are tired and need a vacation. We only mean it a little bit.

The reality for me is sleeping in, cooking a lot, eating too much, and just general, glorious laziness. Naps every day and all that jazz. When I picture my summer so far, instead of walking, I've been skipping myself from place to place, giving out high fives and fist pumps like it's my job. Except it's not. Because I'm on vacation!! Let's just say that the rest has been necessary and it's making me very, very happy. 

I've been exercising because now I have the time and the energy to do so, and it feels oh so good. I know that exercising may contradict the laziness statement I made above, but it helps me feel relaxed and I love feeling like I'm getting in shape. Staying in shape is the hard part! Am I right?

Look at all this great shit exercise does:

  • Exercise raises norepinephrine levels (say what?), which is a chemical that reduces the brain's response to stress. While you physically try to get rid of whatever is stressing you out through exercise, not only do you leave your body feeling fresh, but you it are also exercising your brain's ability to deal with mental tension. Mind and body training, bitches!
  • Exercise releases endorphins which, literally, make you happy. Even just 30 minutes of exercise a few times a week keeps mild depression at bay. We all get a little sad sometimes, so, get moving. In all seriousness, the endorphins are what keep me coming back for more! I love how I feel after I work out. It clears my mind, gives me perspective, and boosts my mood. I consider it therapy.
  • Exercise is also proven to boost creativity. For up to 2 hours after a hard workout, it is proven that creativity levels are higher than before, Feeling creative on top of our day-to-day responsibilities sometimes feels like a luxury, but it shouldn't be. On top of feeling more physically self-confident when you exercise, watching yourself become more creative and productive will make you feel better about your own worth and value, to yourself and to the rest of the world. (http://greatist.com/fitness/13-awesome-mental-health-benefits-exercise)
  • For you digestively-challenged people like me, exercise also makes those bowels move. Sorry, TMI, but it's the truth.

All in all, we love you exercise! Kiss kiss!

The exercise that I'm swearing by right now is Pilates. I started doing Windsor Pilates in high school and the results were magical. About a year ago I discovered Blogilates which has literally changed my exercise life. Cassey Ho, the Blogilates wonder-woman, is so full of energy that yes, sometimes she is irritating, but her videos work. With about an hour of her videos 3-4 times a week, plus significant cardio 2-3 days a week, in a couple of weeks I already see changes! And I definitely feel them, which is just as important. 

Check out her website - she has pilates/cardio/circuit videos for beginners to advanced, along with different sections for healthy meal plans and recipes. You can download her videos from her YouTube Channel, ironically named Blogilates. And everything's free so you can do it at home with just a couple of dumbbells. 

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So, for today's recipe: Chickpea and Corn Cakes with Goat Cheese. Damn these are good. We had people over on Saturday for food and drinks, and these babies were a HIT. I mean it, they were gone the second they hit that plate. They are super low fat and loaded with protein and fiber, which is perfect for me and my cray diet! I'm lactose intolerant but I tolerate goat cheese in small amounts, so this gives me a burst of cheese that I so desperately miss. If you can't tolerate goat cheese, replace it with the dairy-free cheese that I'm sure is in your Stateside supermarket. I wouldn't omit the cheese all together though - it really adds a creaminess that makes these cakes sing.


And they are pretty to look at, too!

Recipe
(Thank you BetterRecipes.com)

1 1/2 cups fresh (about 3 years) or frozen corn 
1 cup chickpeas, drained
2 eggs
1/2 cup cornmeal
1/4 cup rice flour
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
6 scallions, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 ounces of goat cheese, crumbled
2 tablespoons olive oil


Pulse 1 cup of corn, the chickpeas, and the 2 eggs in a food processor/blender until it has the consistency of a thick hummus.

Seriously, make these. You can thank me later.
In a mixing bowl, whisk the cornmeal, rice flour, cornstarch, and baking powder. Stir in the rest of the corn (1/2 cup), the corn/chickpea mixture, and the salt and pepper. Check to see if you need to adjust the seasoning, and then fold in the goat cheese.

Heat the olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Mold 1/4 cup of the mixture into burger shapes and drop them onto the hot skillet. You may need to slightly remold the cakes with your hands or a spatula once they are on the pan, so be careful, but there is no need for perfect circles! You are going to eat them after all. Anyway, let them cook for 4-5 minutes, and if you see that they are cooking too quickly, lower the heat. Carefully flip them and cook for another 4-5 minutes. Dat's it! Keep doing this until you run out of dough, and try not to eat all of them while the rest are cooking.


Serves 4! Or 2 hungry people.

A buen tiempo!


Thursday, June 20, 2013

Stress and the Digestive System: Babaganoush and Brown Rice with Chickpeas, Carrots, and Aji Gustoso

Time, in my world, is defined by the start and stop of a school year, and our school year just ended.  In both my personal and my professional life, it was one of those years that makes you cringe. But finally, my vacation has begun and I'm already seeing the world differently!

A sunny day in Bahoruco, DR, on a mini-vacation day in the spring.
This picture makes me happy. It's summatime, bitches!

Even though stress has been something that has plagued me since high school, I've been taking active steps to control it for the first time in my life. Physical health is so linked to mental health, and when one is out of wack, the other is, too. When I'm eating no lactose, no gluten, and very little meat, I know that, at least, the physical part of the equation is under as much control as it can be. However, it's been so hard to be consistent when I've been under so much stress.

Stress f's up our digestive system, and mine is already slow. I know what I need to eat and when I need to eat it. I know the importance of following my diet. But on the really trying days, that's the hardest thing to do.

 Everydayhealth.com talks about the effects of stress on the digestion system.
"Digestion is controlled by the enteric nervous system, a system composed of hundreds of millions of nerves that communicate with the central nervous system. When stress activates the "flight or fight" response in your central nervous system, digestion can shut down because your central nervous system shuts down blood flow, affects the contractions of your digestive muscles, and decreases secretions needed for digestion. Stress can cause inflammation of the gastrointestinal system, and make you more susceptible to infection."
On top of these effects, stress and anxiety can cause uncontrollable cravings, particularly for carbohydrates because they boost our serotonin levels (also known as the happy hormone), and for fat and sugar, which have calming effects on our bodies. For most people, even though these foods might not be the most healthy, they don't have debilitating effects on their day-to-day life. The foods I crave - chocolate, cheese, chicken, and anything with sugar - I just don't tolerate. At all. Ever. But I can't seem to stay away from them.

Cravings + food intolerances + lazy colon + stress's natural effects on the digestion system = 
3 enterocolitis flare-ups for the first time in my life. These 3 flare-ups just happened to coincide with the 3 very difficult periods this year. Enterocolitis, an infection that results in the swelling of the intestines, is my body's way of telling me to slow the fuck down. Get it together, woman! The infection goes away in a week or so with antibiotics, but it's painful and embarrassing because I know I could have prevented it. 

Why am I talking about this now, you ask? Because a few weeks ago I had my 3rd flare up, and I know that I can't keep falling back into this cycle. The changes I'm making in my life are helping - more exercise, meditation, yoga - but bigger changes need to happen. I need to feel alive! And at peace. I know that good things are coming because (1.) I can feel it and (2.) I'm making them happen. We cannot underestimate the power of the mind on the body, which we so often do.


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So, a few weeks ago, we had the day off from school, and I spent it cooking and relaxing. I spent the day at peace, stress free, and creating healthy food for the fiancé and me. After spending the previous weekend in Las Matas de Farfan for Dominican Mother's Day, the fiance's mama sent us back to Santo Domingo with 2 huge boxes of fresh produce: carrots, auyama (it's like the DR's version of butternut squash), tomatoes, eggplant, limes, cucumbers, ginger, red peppers, and sweet potatoes. Needless to say, all this produce kept me busy.

I made:
- Babaganoush (roasted eggplant spread) with red pepper slices
- Brown rice with carrots, chickpeas, and aji gustoso
- Roasted eggplant and squash ratatouille
- Baked polenta with corn and sage
- Detox Water (Water with cucumber, mint, lime, and ginger) (Pictures and recipe coming later)

Today I'll just be sharing the first 2 recipes: babaganoush and brown rice with carrots, chickpeas, and aji gustoso


Recipe
Babaganoush
(http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/roasted-eggplant-spread-recipe/index.html)

Babaganoush with red pepper slices


1 medium eggplant, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
2 red bell peppers, roughly chopped into 1/2 inch-1 inch pieces
1 red onion, roughly chopped into 1 inch pieces
3-4 cloves of garlic, smashed
3 tablespoons of olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons of salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup tahini
1 tablespoon of tomato paste

Pre-heat your oven to 400 degrees.

Put the eggplant, peppers, onion, and garlic in a large roasting pan. Add the olive oil, salt, and pepper and toss so that they are distributed evenly among the veggies.

Ready for roasting!

Roast for 45 minutes, tossing once while they are cooking. You'll know when they are done when the vegetables are soft and lightly browned. Let them cool for around 15 minutes.

Place the cooled roasted vegetables in a blender with the tahini and tomato paste and blend/pulse until smooth. Enjoy with red pepper slices, gluten and dairy free crackers, or anything else that your little heart desires.


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Recipe

Brown rice with carrots, chickpeas, and green peppers (aji gustoso)



Brown rice and veggies!
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 large carrot, cut into cubes
1/3 cup aji gustoso, or whatever pepper you would like to add, mild or hot
1 14 oz. can chickpeas
2 cups uncooked brown rice
4-5 cups water
1 tablespoon salt



First, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil on medium-high heat in a medium-sized pot with a perfectly fitting top. Add the garlic for about 30 seconds, then add the carrots and peppers, or whatever vegetables you would like to have with your rice. Then, add the can of chickpeas and salt. Stir so that the garlic does not stick to the bottom of the pot. Scoop your uncooked rice into the pot, along with the water, and stir again.

Let the pot boil on medium-high heat, uncovered, for about 30-40 minutes, or until the rice has soaked up most of the water. You want a little water in there for the final step of making the rice fluffy and soft.

Brown rice takes longer to cook than white rice, so keep that in mind. When you think that the rice is ready to be covered (the next step), you need to check to make sure the rice is cooked enough. Normally when the rice is not ready, one part of the grain is still hard as a rock and white-ish in color (its original, uncooked color). When all of the rice is uniform in color and no part of the grain is hard, and there is still a little water visible in the pot, you are ready for the next step. IF there is no water left in your pot, and you notice that the rice is still a bit uncooked, add another half cup of water. Check again in 10 minutes or so to see if the rice is ready. If it isn't, add another half cup of water and repeat until it is.

Once the rice is uniformly cooked and there is still a little water visible in the pot, lower the heat to low, and cover. Let the rice sit for another 15-20 minutes. When you take off the top, the rice should be moist and fluffy.

Serves 6!


a buen tiempo!
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