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Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Break

I love NYC and I'm thankful for the privilege of living here, I've said that before. However, summer in the City is a tough, steamy business. And that's why whoever is able, leaves Manhattan every Friday by 2:00 PM or moves out for the entire season, fleeing to the beach or the country, near water, green, and trees. It's kind of a survival mechanism of everyone who can afford it logistically, financially, professionally and physically. For the last 12 years, we've spent summer in the City, and tried to take advantage of the amazing possibilities it has to offer during the hot months: concerts, The High Line, plays, Governors Island, playgrounds with sprinklers, Central Park, ice cream trucks, The Met's Roof Garden, Statue of Liberty, and the list keeps going. However, I do feel at unrest when the neighborhood turns into a ghost town.
Added to that feeling was the fact that my children refused to get into the swimming pool at every possible occasion. At 6-years-old, my son was even afraid of getting into the water! As a parent, even if I suck at many things, it's clear to me that I need to facilitate my kids basic survival skills, and swimming is on top of the list. 
Then the plan took shape: some very dear relatives with an empty apartment in Florida agreed to lend it to us. I thought there was no better encouragement for my non-swimmers to jump into the pool than the thermometer hitting the 90s and the peer pressure of day camp mates that have been swimming like dolphins since they were 2 months old. My heart is at rest now that both kids are diving in and comfortably swimming, yes doggy style, but that's enough to survive! 
I had lots of projects to take care of while we were in Florida: I brought some work with me and I was going to draw, paint, write a book, make my own yoga retreat by the pool, figure out how to fix the comments section on this blog, post weekly, become proficient in social media, detox my life, my soul, my body; and solve the whole professional tongue twister I've got myself into. it happens when you are having fun (and when you have to drive kids to and from day camp, and you examining the isles at Whole Foods one product at a time), I didn't accomplish most of my goals. However, stepping out of my life routine did marvels. It helped me think, and start putting together my life after a couple of complex years. I'm a nutritionist with a master's in food studies, a certified pastry chef, a former cake designer, the owner of a tiny artisanal baking company of wholesome products, a blogger, a recipe developer and tester, someone who loves painting and learning about art, a writer who writes in a language that she's barely proficient in, a health food chef and advocate, a teacher and an ice cream lover! I studied and read a lot while I was away, I saw friends I had not seen in a long time, and I visited with myself too. There was no oven in the apartment, which at the beginning worried me. What was I going to do without one? The impossibility of an oven ignition ignited many other things in my brain. I made some tasty raw treats and not baking gave me the break and clarity that I needed more than I thought. The most exciting decision is that I'm getting certified as a Health Coach, and will soon launch my own practice. I hope this is the last piece of the puzzle that I've been trying to put together for almost 20 years, where my love for food and cooking, my history with eating (not always healthy, but where health has prevailed, and often related to my emotions), and the passion I feel about the culture, science, art and psychology that surround food, can come together while I work with people to help them feel happy and peaceful about eating well. 
Sometimes, we just need the break and step outside in order to understand ourselves better. I'm very thankful for having had this opportunity, and I hope I can learn to remove myself routinely in different ways when I need answers in my life.

I learned that stepping out is so helpful, that we started a tostada (or taco) night tradition that allows me to step out of the kitchen on a weekly basis. 
While in Florida, during one of my multiple visits to Whole Foods, I found these amazing Mexican oven baked flat tortillas  
And why do I make a big fuzz over them, since every supermarket carries taco shells, tostitos and tortilla chips? 
Well, tortilla shells are an American invention. Most brands are greasy and full of additives and GMOs, so I wouldn't recommend those. These ones are flat and made just with ground corn processed with limewater, which is an ancient Mexican method of making tortillas, called nixtamalizacion. By adding the alkaline solution, the calcium content of the tortillas goes up to the roof, and the availability of the corn's B vitamins and aminoacids also increases considerably. Unfortunately, I can't find them in Manhattan and I'm waiting for my amazon order to arrive. In the meanwhile, I've been using organic tortilla shells, which aren't as nutritious as the nixtamalized tortillas, but at least don't have GMOs nor weird chemicals, and since I won't let a fightless dinner every week to pass, the shells will do for now.Alternatively, you can purchase corn tortillas and toast them on a baking sheet in the oven until they are firm; or, you can make your own tortillas from scratch using masa harina flour (nixtamalized corn flour), it's very easy, although a bit labor-intensive for a stepping-out-of-the-kitchen dinner. I'll blog about the how to soon!

So, how does tostada night work?  
Here's the tostada night scene:

Collage made on a CB2 catalog spread with cutouts from other magazines, watercolors, labels, washi tape and Lego figures

  • I make some beans (OK, canned also work if I lost you at "I make". I recommend EDEN organic brand, because it's can is BPA-free and they are unsalted and prepared with kombu seaweed, which makes them more digestible) 
  • Cut up MANY different veggies in a variety of colors (I often enlist my kids help): Romaine, red cabbage, zucchini ribbons (use a peeler all the way through), sliced radishes and/or kohlrabi, baby spinach, carrots, corn, assorted sprouts, etc
  • Make guac: Just avocados, fresh lime juice and sea salt, but feel free to add in onion and jalapeno or serrano chiles and cilantro.
  • I dice fresh tomatoes and season them with raw apple cider vinegar, a tiny bit of avocado oil, sea salt and fresh herbs, if I have them at hand.
  • Organic store-bought mild salsa
  • Goat milk yogurt or Greek yogurt (or sour cream) 
  • Shredded cheese or crumbled goat or sheep cheese.

 The rules are that the tortilla(s) should contain at least beans and 1 vegetable and everyone prepares his own. By having the fresh veggies in separate bowls, my kids end up eating way more of them than if I ever served them on a plate or combined and they love customizing their meal. They have their protein, their veggies, their fiber, their minerals and vitamins, their texture contrast and their independence (and mine!). 

*You can also cook ground beef, chicken or turkey and offer it along. If you keep kosher, just omit the yogurt or sour cream and serve Daiya vegan cheese instead of dairy cheese.

I should have written posts before Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, but I was swamped with work. For pre-fast tips, please visit last year's post at: 

And here's the link to my Rosh Hashanah posts for Kosher Scoop. They were inspired for the New Year, but are great for the rest of the Holidays:

Apples and Honey--From Appetizer to Dessert. 

If you observe Yom Kippur, have a meaningful fast and G'Mar Chatimah Tova. If you don't, enjoy the day and have a delicious meal thinking of your Jewish friends!