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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Rosh Hashanah Classes

Hello everyone!

I hope the end of the summer is treating you well, but you know what that means...The Jewish Holidays are ringing the bell!
That's why I wanted to let you know that I will be teaching 2 classes to prepare for Rosh Hashanah. One will be for desserts and the other one for a meal (please note the order of my priorities! :). All the recipes are inspired by the use of the simanim, or good omens for the New Year. They are surprisingly easy to prepare, very nutritious and ingredient conscious, making everything as delicious and healthy as possible. The classes will be held at 8:00pm in the Upper East Side, trying to accommodate everyone with kids and/or day jobs.

Each class is $60.00, but if you decide to take both, it's $100.00 total.

Groups will be VERY small, so please let me know (by emailing me at ) ASAP, if you are interested.

Dessert class (all pareve): September 4-Bonne Annee ice cream (vegan, gluten free, no nuts or added sugar or fat) with fix ins
-homemade chocolate magic shell (vegan, gluten free)
-honey, dates and apples kombucha cake (wheat free, no nuts, dairy or eggs)
-pomegranate "chutney" (gluten free, no nuts eggs or dairy)

  Rosh hashanah meal class: September 9-Carrot, squash and apple soup
-Honey-zaatar chicken with dried apples and pomegranate molasses
-Barley with dates, pomegranates and mint
-Roasted beet salad with cabbage, pumpkin seeds and fenugreek

I hope you can join me!
In the meanwhile, I wish you a wonderful and sweet New Year

Friday, August 24, 2012

Of Rice and Beans....

"I don't want arroz e feijao again," whispered my daughter to my ear after asking her grandmother what was there for lunch. We're in Rio de Janeiro, visiting my in-laws. For some reason, what immediately came up to my mind was HSBC's ad campaign (see below), that consists of three photographs of the same object, but each illustration has a different word defining its meaning or perspective to various peoples.

My daughter sees the daily dish of rice and beans as something repetitive, monotonous and a bit imposed, as something she wants to avoid as much as possible, but without breaking her grandma's heart. The Brazilian people see arroz e feijao as their national food, the ubiquitous presence in their lunch and dinner, the main component of their trademark feijoada, a part of their heritage, and the base of their sustenance. It's comfort food.
My mother-in-law sees it as black and white fork fulls of motherly love, responsibility, duty, and the conduct for the typical guilt-driven moral-blackmailing servings of a true Jewish (Brazilian) mother. If her grandchildren eat their arroz e feijao, life is good, and she'd have accomplished her goals!
I keep thinking about the ad campaign later, as I eat the arroz e feijao, that I happen to love, and wouldn't mind eating every day, twice a day and forever. I did grow up eating it often at home in Mexico under the name of "moros y cristianos" ("Moors and Christians," the darker hued beans standing for the Moors that dominated Spain before the XV century, and the light-colored rice representing the Christian Spaniards).
Rice and Beans, despite being such a favorite in Brazilian kitchens, is a popular pairing in all Latin America and the Caribbean (and I would venture to say the whole World, just the beans some times turn into other legumes such as lentils, garbanzos or soy). Different variations of dried beans native to the Americas might be used in the typical preparation. Black, kidney, blackeyed, pinto, red, cannellini or navy (the last two, types of white beans) could be served.
After the Conquest, the Spaniards, Portuguese, and the West African slaves shipped to the New Continent, brought with them rice. Eventually, a perfect marriage took place, resulting in one of the first, and probably the most important fusion dishes: rice and beans. Like a great couple, the cereal and the legume complement each other. The amino acids that each one lacks are provided by the other, therefore eaten together, they supply complete protein in a much less expensive manner than any meat. Rice has a high glycemic index (which might spike the glucose blood levels), and beans have the opposite effect, balancing out blood sugar and producing satiety. For many, many years, the rice and beans team has sustained nations by providing them with accessible complete protein, fiber, B vitamins, iron, potassium, manganese and magnesium.
Yes, in deed, they are a match made in heaven. However, I was too, adding my own HSBC meaning to the picture: white rice, while being the traditional choice since someone discovered that removing the bran and germ from rice produced beautiful, pure-looking white pearl-like grains, is not the healthiest option. As the process removes healthy oils, fiber, iron, magnesium, and vitamins B1 and B3, and produce a cereal with a higher glycemic index (which has even been associated with an increased risk for Type II diabetes), my own interpretation was, "why isn't this brown rice?". I mentioned it to my mother-in-law, and she said she'd tried, but my father-in-law refused to eat the unrefined version, so I guess he too as his own caption for the ad...
Well, we're all free to think whatever we want given our age, background, gender, nationality, education, culture, taste and status. However, my take is this:

-Enjoy arroz e feijao as often as you want. Mix them or keep them separate on the plate. It's up to you, as either way, it's a great dish!

-For optimal nutrition, the ratio should be about 2/3 beans and 1/3 rice (not more rice than beans!)

-Garnish it with a salad or a salsa-type sauce, as the vitamin C present in tomatoes, chile peppers, citrus and other raw fruits and vegetables is great for leveraging the combination even further, as it makes its iron much better absorbed by our bodies. And as always, fruits and veggies always contribute with their vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. Raw garlic is heavenly in taste and in keeping us healthy, goes great with rice and beans. Some pico de gallo (tomato, onion, lime juice,green chiles, fresh cilantro, evoo and a bit of salt) is awesome, or make the Brazilian "molho vinagrete" (a similar version with chopped tomatoes, onions, bell peppers, parsley, cilantro, scallions, evoo, vinegar, salt and pepper), they are both fabulous!

-Play around with whole grain rice. Rice comes in many varieties such as Japonica, basmati, arborio, jasmine, long and short grain, etc. My favorite whole grain rice types are forbidden rice (Chinese black rice), which is full of antioxidants, Bhutan red rice (Lotus Foods offers both, but other brands sell them as well), germinated brown rice (by truRoots) and brown sushi rice. They are all very delicious, and you won't miss the polished versions.

-To make beans more digestible (aka less gas-y), soak them in water (enough to cover beans by 2 inches) overnight (or even 24 hours, if you can); or boil them in water for 2 minutes, turn the heat off and let them soak for 1 hour. In either case, discard the soaking liquid, rinse and drain beans and cook them in fresh water. Some people suggest adding garlic, bay leaf and a clove to make them even more digestible.

-Rinsing or soaking rice is not indispensable, but recommended.

-Add salt to rice before boiling it, but salt beans half way through the cooking time.

-There are many techniques for cooking rice and beans. My favorite way for beans is in the slow cooker, but you could use the oven or the stove. Rice cookers are great for the grain, but there's no need to get one if you don't make it that often. The rice-water ratio is usually 1 part rice to 2 parts water, but depends on the specific kind of rice and cooking method. Here are great step by step instructions in The Kitchn at:

-Nutritional yeast can be a great flavor enhancer for rice and beans.

-Play around with the kinds of beans. There are worth exploring, as they come in a huge range of colors and sizes. sells fantastic ones.

-Cooked beans freeze beautifully.

Oh No! Not again!

Oy Vey! You're killing me. Just eat it. You're so skinny!

Delicious national pride!

Perfection. Don't you dare change it.


Where's the whole grain?

Monday, August 13, 2012

Friends and Arts

I can't believe summer is approaching its final stretch. Kids are done with camp, clothing stores are displaying sweaters in their windows and all shops promote their "back to school" merchandise. Where did it go? I have no idea, but it went fast!
The season has been full of friendship related events. Some dear friends have left New York, while others have visited from foreign countries, the West Coast, and we even went to New Jersey for a visit (that zipcar is taking us faaaar!!!). We've celebrated birthdays, weddings, farewells and visits. 
We've also been able to enjoy some museum visits.
I took my daughter to The Met, and as we went into Tomas Saraceno's Cloud City on the museum's roof, she asked me if we could come back again some other day. "No," I said. "This is not a permanent exhibit. We have to enjoy the installation now, while we're here." She looked at me and said, "OK, then I will never forget it." And I just loved that!

After the roof, we walked through different wings in the museum, bumped into friends, took pictures (and by that I mean my daughter took my phone and photographed every single Impressionist painting, and now my phone can barely respond, it might be intoxicated with the pleasure of the art...) and sketched a bit. As it always happens to me, I fell back in love with NYC. The Met does is for me. It sweet-talks me and convinces me all over again that every pain in this City is worth it, just because I can walk into it any day (but Mondays, as I once learned the hard way...). 

Yesterday, and after a couple of attempts (another one of those masochist NY moments of waiting in a line that goes around the block on a 100 degree late morning), I was finally able to get us tickets to see Fireflies on Water by Yayoi Kusama at the Whitney. I took both kids to this one, as my son was done with camp by then too. The light installation takes place in a tiny room, so visitors are only allowed to be in for 1 minute at a time (children go in with their grown ups). The three of us were mesmerized. In awe for 1 minute. They loved it and once more, I hope they can remember those 60 seconds forever.
Yayoi Kusama (b. 1929), Fireflies on the Water, 2002. Mirror, plexiglass, 150 lights and water, 111 × 144 1/2 × 144 1/2 in. (281.9 × 367 × 367 cm) overall. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase, with funds from the Postwar Committee and the Contemporary Painting and Sculpture Committee and partial gift of Betsy Wittenborn Miller  2003.322a-tttttttt. © Yayoi Kusama. Photograph courtesy Robert Miller Gallery
Yayoi Kusama (b. 1929), Fireflies on the Water, 2002. Mirror, plexiglass, 150 lights and water, 111 × 144 1/2 × 144 1/2 in. (281.9 × 367 × 367 cm) overall. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase, with funds from the Postwar Committee and the Contemporary Painting and Sculpture Committee and partial gift of Betsy Wittenborn Miller 2003.322a-tttttttt. © Yayoi Kusama. Photograph courtesy Robert Miller Gallery

While thinking of everything we'd seen during that week, I just thought that we're lucky we don't have to pick one single favorite piece of art. We can love many for many reasons. Just like friends: both enrich our life and make us better beings. You can never have enough of both. Each one, with its own particularities, essence, textures, their origin and their own message; color our lives and imprint something in us. They help make us who we are...

But yes, this blog is generally about food (OK, and everything else I make you read some times...), so please don't be disappointed if I got carried away. Eventually, all roads take me back to eating. I'm not giving you a recipe on this post this time, as we're taking a plane tonight and the apartment is overflowing with suitcases, boxes, trash, and an empty fridge, but will share with you some of my favorite kitchen friends, those loyal, trustworthy, likable ingredients that don't spoil easily and that you should always keep around. They make everything better, they are good for your health and they elevate a regular dish into a piece of flavorful art.

-Extra virgin olive oil is my go to oil for almost everything, including roasting, dressings, and yes, baking (ah! and it's a wonderful hair conditioner, and I rub it on my kids' skin before removing a band aid). I'm fond of the unfiltered Fairway brand, as its mild taste harmonizes with most dishes, But yes, I do love strong tasting ones when I want the olive flavor in the food I'm preparing. Like wine, olive oils reflect their terroir, and end up being incredibly interesting according to their origin. As far as the health benefits, you know how it goes: extra virgin olive oil can help prevent inflammation, can protect the digestive system (against cancer and bacterial infection), is good for the cardiovascular system and can help prevent certain kinds of cancer.
-Toasted walnut oil is my latest obsession. For people blessed with no nut allergic reactions, this oil makes a great finishing (not cooking) seasoning do drizzle on carpaccios, pasta, lentils, fish or salads right before serving. Should be kept in refrigeration, and it's a good source of Omega 3s.

For that je ne sais quoi that imparts deliciousness, I always have these three:
- White miso paste and tamari- which keep forever in the fridge. Visit here for more details.

- Nutritional yeast- This hippie seasoning is made of deactivated yeast (like the one used in bread making, but this one wouldn't make the dough rise, as it's killed with high temperatures). The yellow flakes are rich in glutamic acid, which is one substance needed to produce the umami flavor (when the yeast cells are killed, the protein that forms the cell walls begins to degrade, breaking down into amino acids, and glutamic acid is one of those). Nutritional yeast isn't only a great flavor enhancer (that tastes a bit like cheese, but is vegan), but is high in complete protein, fiber and vitamins from the B complex. It's often commercially enriched with vitamin B12, a common deficiency amongst vegans, although you need to read the ingredient label to know if a particular brand has had B12 added to it.

- Smoked paprika and chipotle chile powder: mainly, high in vitamin C and in fabulous phytochemical capsaicin that fights inflammation, a shake or two on any food makes it way more interesting and exciting. Smoked paprika gives the dish a nice smokiness without the heat, while chipotles bring in an addictive punch. On fish, rice, beans, sushi, chicken, beef, eggs, sauces, veggies and even fruit, life isn't quite as interesting without them.

Keep them near you, as true friends, they'll prove to you they are good to have around!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Best Milk Ever!

I just found out via New York Family magazine that this is World Breastfeeding Week (first week of August). And this is why this post is about that magnificent feat.
I'm very partial to the issue, as it literally is quite close to my heart. I'm not into politics and usually neither into public protests, but when my daughter was a baby, I did stand along with many other breastfeeding moms in front of the ABC headquarters on the Upper West Side after one of The View's TV show former hostesses made some offensive comments against breastfeeding. And there I was seven years ago, feeding my hungry daughter with no bottle nor zippy cup, making a statement on West 66th Street.
That's when I wrote this "article" that I tried (not very hard, though) to get published. None of the few publications I pitched to was interested, but now, I have a blog and I can write whatever I want (and only if you want, you can read it).
Here it is:
My Breast Effort

"Please Lord, send her a blanket to cover her breast," I silently
prayed as my mother’s best friend nursed her fourth daughter sitting
on a bench in the middle of Disney world. Then, I made a promise to
myself: I would never, under any circumstance feed my babies in public
without total coverage. That was when I was about 10. Almost twenty years later, I’ve broken my promise more times than I can remember. I’ve fed my little girl in restaurants, parks, planes, cars, hotel lobbies, bathrooms, stores,
Central Park West, friends’ apartments, museums, and although I
haven’t made it to Disney world yet, at this point I would do exactly
what my mom's friend did.

Have I lost my dignity? Maybe. But after having my breast out in the
air for 90% of the day (including the night), I’ve reached a point in
which I don't care anymore. Just for reference, if you’re planning on
breastfeeding exclusively as I did, at the beginning of his life, your
little bundle of joy will cry for food about every two hours, and that
time starts counting the minute he starts eating (not when he’s done),
which in the first weeks might take up to an hour. Then, experts
recommend to let the breast air-dry for about ten minutes to prevent
infections. By the time the breast finally makes it back into the nursing bra,
it'll be time to bring it out again.

Of course, the first time of doing it in public was the hardest. Our baby
was just a couple of weeks old when we all ran out to get some lunch
after feeding her. She was sleeping like an angel. But seconds
before they brought my salad, the little one woke up in fury demanding
to have lunch too. I felt electroshocks going through my body and cold
sweat running down my forehead. I couldn't see my face, but I could feel it
was boiling red. It was pouring outside, so running back home, as I had done in previous occasions, was impossible. The angel was roaring, so I breathed in deeply, took her out of the stroller, grabbed a blanket (of course), and tried positioning her so she would eat. In a failed attempt to find my nipple, she kicked, screamed and squirmed her little body in frustration as I held my breast with one hand, her body with another one, and the blanket with the third hand that seems to show up in every female body after delivering a baby. As I struggled, my mother-in-law was trying to help me hold the blanket on one side, but inadvertently uncovered the other one. I yelled to let her know what she was doing (but you should not yell at you husband’s mother) and then I tried telepathy as I repeated in my mind: “please, Vietnamese-restaurant-waiter, please don’t look in my direction. Please don’t look at my bare boob.” I don’t remember what happened next, but everything went all right, as I slowly began the practice of feeding my baby wherever hunger struck her. That’s how I became a “Mom Gone Wild.” I just lift my shirt whenever my baby needs to eat. By now, she knows her way quite well and suctions better than a Dyson vacuum. I still feel uncomfortable if strangers watch, but I’ve decided that if they do, they’re stupid, childish or perverts.

But not all breastfeeding moms strip on their baby’s cue. In New York, where privacy is quite limited (there are always others in the bus, cab, subway, street, office, restaurant, store, and pretty much everywhere else), I’ve met moms who deal with the issue in different ways. As I’ve said, I’ve “Gone Wild,” along with others. Some of my friends have become “Cinderella Moms.” They keep looking at their watch, and when the time of the feed approaches, they stop doing everything and run back home, before the spell of a happy baby is broken with the first hungry cry. Others have turned their babies into “Social Drinkers.” These moms bring bottles with formula for when they are away from home. And last, the fourth category I’ve found is the “Pumping Iron Moms.” These women extract breast milk from their bodies and feed their babies with it through a bottle. This kind of breastfeeding women, I have to say is the one I admire the most, as I’ve found pumping milk to be the most frustrating and uncomfortable activity a mom can do, including diaper changes with all its variations (a topic for a whole other article). When pumping, instead of a cute little baby in your arms, there’s an ugly little plastic valve milking your body. However, as much as I don’t enjoy it, it’s the only alternative for moms who work away from home and still want to breastfeed. One breast pump manufacturer even has a product that promises to “Pump In Style.” I believe that’s pushing it too hard. How chic could a woman connected to cow’s equipment look? Seriously, pumping moms deserve a special applause…
And so do all breastfeeding moms, whatever their public feeding techniques are. Overcoming pain, engorgement, mastitis, bleeding nipples, rookie babies and relatives with opinions can be physically and emotionally challenging. Especially when you add it to the pain after delivery, gummy bear body after pregnancy, baby blues and sleep deprivation. So, why should women feeding their babies in public feel bad about it as well? Our society should encourage them to feel proud about nursing, not embarrassed. Breastfeeding is a hormonal miracle stimulated by the baby’s suckling, and it brings a lot of perks. It’s healthy for both, mother and baby. It can protect mothers against breast cancer, while breastfed children have reduced incidences of childhood obesity and asthma, and stronger immune systems. It’s nutritious. It’s the perfect food, with just the right amount of protein, carbs, fat, vitamins and minerals the baby needs for the first 6 months of his life. It has no artificial ingredients, and it’s definitely organic. Breastfeeding is quite convenient. There’s no preparing, washing or sterilizing needed, and the breasts can’t be forgotten at home. It’s also aesthetic. I got bigger breasts for a year without plastic surgery. Jumping from an A cup to a C was quite an experience! And also, is there anything lovelier than a mother feeding a baby? For some women breastfeeding is even physically pleasurable. The much-lauded bonding of mother and baby through breastfeeding is not a myth, but quite a sublime feeling. And finally, breastfeeding is free. I’m still trying to convince my husband that I deserve to go on a shopping spree with the thousands of dollars we saved on formula and bottles!
However, not all women are able to breastfeed. For different reasons some don’t produce enough or any milk at all. Others have certain health related problems that prevent them from doing it. And a group of women don’t do it because they don’t enjoy the experience. It’s all quite respectable. I just wished everyone gave it a shot before making a decision or judging. I must confess that despite all I’ve said, I still carry a blanket around, just in case. It’d be wonderful if I felt I didn’t have to, because as what a lovely gentleman told my blushed friend breastfeeding in the supermarket, “from there, food comes out warm, instantly, and from the most beautiful containers...”

Don't worry, I will not give you a recipe to prepare breast milk, as that's more a Divine process than a kitchen task. But when I was a new mom, I barely had any time to feed myself. I lost a lot of weight and I barely ate anything but power bars. However, once in a while I would make no-cooking required dishes, and the following one is a healthy, quick, easy option that only needs a Tupperware container with a lid, and a can opener. No washing, cutting, cooking, marinating. Just mix and eat! Plus it is made with good for you veggies and legumes. Yes, they are frozen, not fresh, but when you have a crying baby on a strapped carrier on your chest, this is a good dish to make.
I dedicate it to all those hungry, busy moms feeding their babies. You have to look after yourself too, especially when you are a milk producing facility. I hope you enjoy it!


-1 (10-ounce) bag frozen organic green peas
-1 (10-ounce) bag frozen organic corn kernels
-1 (15.5 ounce) can cannellini beans (preferably EDEN brand), rinsed and drained
-2 teaspoons organic veganaise (or mayo), it's OK to eyeball it, or to taste
-1/2 teaspoon rice vinegar, or to taste
-Some drops of organic soy sauce (I like tamari)
-Nutritional yeast, to taste, optional
-1 pinch turmeric
- Black pepper, to taste

Empty the contents of the pea and corn bags into a plastic container (BPA free). Add the rest of the ingredients. Cover with the lid and shake to mix. Let peas and corn thaw for a couple of minutes and enjoy!
This is a great picnic or bring-to-playground food for you or a perfect while-baby-naps meal.
If you want to turn it into a full meal, serve it with hard boiled eggs, cooked salmon or canned sardines in olive oil.