Healthy Butternut Squash Soup

i LOVE butternut squash soup. i don't, however, love when you get a bowl that seems to have more heavy cream in it than squash ! not only because dairy, for the most part, hates me ... but also because i don't understand why the first thing people often do to healthy eats is load it up with shit that it doesn't need. butternut squash, the healthy version, is absolutely delicious and easy to make. so why complicate it with unnecessary ingredients ? i have made variations of this recipe at least a dozen times since last fall, and i feel like i have finally perfected my take on it. i have actually made this soup three times since i started the blog, unfortunately i would always get so excited that half way though, i would realize that i had forgotten to take photos ! but luckily, (for me and for you) today is a jewish holiday and my office was closed. therefor, instead of being buried under a mountain of jeans ... i, instead, got to put the apron on and enjoy a relaxing day in the kitchen. yay !

so let me start by saying that this soup is bombtastic times ten. seriously ... it's smooth, creamy, decadent, and most importantly : deeeeeeeeeelicious ! you won't even be able to tell that it is dairy free ( the secret is to throw in a couple russet potatoes to thicken the broth. ) also, before you run out to trader joes, also note that you will need a blender to finish the magic. i use a Vitamix Pro 200 Blender ( the rolls royce of blenders, if i do say so myself )

my ingredients :
  • whole organic butternut squash, cubed
  • 2 russet potatoes, cubed
  • 4-5 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 1 onion, diced
  • couple stalks of celery, diced
  • fresh rosemary
  • fresh thyme
  • organic vegetable broth
  • couple taplespoons olive oil
  • tumeric and/or curry powder, to taste
  • salt/pepper, to taste
  • sour cream and bacon to garnish (optional)
alright, so the first thing i do is prepare and get the "trifecta of yummy" goin. that means to peel/dice the onion, garlic and celery then sweat 'em over medium heat in olive oil with a pinch of salt. while those three ingredients are cookin', go ahead and prep the stars of the show. you will need to peel the outer layer of the squash then cut off each end and slice it lengthwise down the center. then scoop out the seeds and cube the body, set aside. next, peel/cube the potatoes and set aside with the squash.
i usually put the rosemary and thyme into the "trifect of yummy" a few minutes before the squash/thyme so that the flavors have a chance to marry. then add the potatoes and squash. stir it up so that the olive oil gets a chance to evenly coat everything. at this point, i usually drizzle a little bit more olive oil. let that cook for a while, stirring occasionally, and add the tumeric and/or curry powder. once the squash/potatoes have cooked a bit, add enough veggie broth to cover everything. ( note : the veggie broth will reduce as it cooks. as it does, add water. ) reduce heat and let it simmer for about thirty minutes or until the potatoes and squash are super tender/easy to fall apart.

once the potatoes/squash are cooked thoroughly, i remove the stems from the thyme/rosemary. then put everything into the blender and let it go at full blast until everything is blended evenly. be sure to only fill the blender about half way each time, and do it in a couple batches instead of trying to do all at once. and whallah ! le soup : she is finished ! as is, it is dairy free / vegan and ready to be enjoyed. if you want to live on the wild side, a little dollop of sour cream + a sprinkle of bacon bits takes it over the top. turbo delish ... and a wonderful way to welcome the fall. also, note that this soup also holds up really well in the fridge; i actually think it tastes even better the second day. enjoy !


give it to me BLACK. and STRONG.

there it is ... staring at you, straight in the face, as you fumble your way back to the locker room. you've just spent the last hour of your life trembling uncontrollably in the pursuit of a sexier ass - curling, tucking and pulsing as if your life depended on it. you have two more classes on queue to close out the week. you are diligently becoming the best possible version of yourself. so why are you aaaaaalways stopping at the damn keurig on your way out ? or, better yet, why are you filling that damn cup with equal parts cream and sugar every time ?

it amazes me. COFFEE IS GOOD FOR YOU ! so why fuck it up by adding stuff to it that you dont neeeeeed ? is it because those fancy little caddies of land o' lakes and sugar-in-the-raw that often accompany the k-cups are free ? if so .. then you need to read my previous post about the HIGH cost of FREE food. is it because you don't like the flavor of real coffee ? if so .. then you aughtta just go ahead suck it up. most people will agree that BLACK coffee is an acquired taste. so go acquire it, baybee !

espresso/coffee has about 1 calorie per ounce. that would mean your morning ritual could have as little as 5 calories (or 37 straight up if you guzzle the magic like this croatian honey...) but most people don't consider the calories that come along with those tiny laboratory-created, pre-packaged, flavor-masking, diet-annihilating villains (which, mind you, are always within arms' reach). one single sugar packet ? about 15 calories. one container of half and half ? another 20 calories. even if you only added about one of each, you just turned that healthy lil' cup o' joe into a 40 calorie indulgence. and most people don't stop at one.

let's take a tally :
  • americano/brewed coffee, straight up - 5 calories
  • coffee, lightly sweetened with a touch of cream - 35-80 calories, depending
  • small cappuccino, with 2% - 130 calories
  • regular nonfat latte, lightly sweetened - 175 calories
  • medium caramel frappuccino - 410 calories

oh, the frappucinos ! i hate to break it to ya, sugarlips, but frappuccinos are not a beverage. they are a meal substitute. through and through. ((to put it into perspective, a caramel frap has about the same amount of calories as a double cheeseburger from mcdonalds. now, i loathe mcdonalds. but you get my point. eat 'em or drink 'em ... a calorie is a calorie)) even if you omit the whipped cream, you are still looking at about 280. now, don't get me wrong, i've been known to have my way with the blended treat every-so-often. especially on an exceptionally hot summer day. but having 10-12 per calendar year is a whole hell of a lot different than having 10-12 per month. regulate that sheezy. watch yourself. or, if not, don't act surprised the next time you step on the scale. remember : for every action, there is a reaction. and there is only one thing that can come of drinking your calories to this extent. and it involves buying new clothes - of the larger variety.

even if you are not dieting, the hidden calories will take their toll on your health. get this : if you have just 1 cup of coffee a day, with a touch of cream and sugar, you are consuming 280 extra calories per week. (and that's giving you the benefit of the doubt that you limited to only 1 pckg of each) now let's take that by 52 weeks in a year and BOOM ! you're over 14K annual added calories. that might not sound like a lot ... but trust me, it is. especially if you are not balancing the excess with exercise.

here is a little science for ya : a pound of body fat is equal to about 3,500 calories. that is how many calories you need to burn (and retain as a deficit in relation to your intake) in order to lose a single pound. so if you aren't burning off that cup of "coffee-milk" with a few extra flights of stairs each day - you've just gained almost four pounds in the course of a year. five years later, you're up twenty and wondering what happened. it's unbelievable, really. and if you have ever hit a plateau in your workout/diet regime > it could literally be something as tiny as an extra 40 calories per day that could tip you over the edge.

and i know, i know ... i bet half the people out there who stumble onto this post will be like, "pfffft. i use splenda; i do what i want !" well .... i've got news for you, too, buddy. splenda was originally created in a lab with the sole intention to be used/sold as a pesticide. but then, one day, someone realized that it kinda sorta tasted sweet so they re-marketed it in order to turn a hefty profit. THAT'S RIGHT ! your artificial sweetener is more closely related to the poison DDT than actual sugar. its a chemical. it doesn't have calories because your body doesn't know what to do with it. and as a rule of thumb, anything artificial is BAD for you.

let's put it this way. let's imagine that you just bought yourself an effin maserati. yup. a brand new, shiny, fire-engine-red $140K sports car. (not including taxes) ... it is the pride and joy of your life. you rub it with a daiper like camerons' dad in ferris bueller. you rarely take it out of your garage for fear that a pigeon might shit on it. you keep wallet-sized glamour shots of it in your pocket so you can show it off to your homies at work. now ... keeping that in mind ... would you pour a bucket of sand into its' gas tank ? would you replace the engine oil with melted cherry-flavoured popsicles ? no. and why not ? cause they don't belong there, and you want to protect your investment !

remember : you are your greatest asset. you are more valuable than a maserati. protect yourself. put things into your body that belong there. things that nourish it - not destroy it. if you need a little sweetness in your life : go with actual sugar. or honey. go with something that existed on this planet before chemistry labs. try stevia ... it's an herb. make a goal to wean yourself off of the sugar-dependencies that are crippling our nation. you'll be surprised by how little you actually need sugar/sweetener once you cleanse your body of it.

so back to why coffee is good for you ... here are a couple reasons why should you at least try to "acquire" the taste of BLACK coffee :
  • coffee increases metabolism
  • reduces the risk of type II diabetes
  • reduces the risk of parkinson's disease + certain cancers
  • increases fiber intake
  • prevents acne and improves overall skin health 
  • natural anti-depressant 

now, the above bullet points are just some of the highlights that i've come across over the years. there are a plethora of website/articles/studies out there on coffee and its' potential health benefits vs. hazards. for me, personally, i LOVE coffee. lovie lovie long time. the benefits i've noted are just icing on my cake, i'd be drinkin' it up regardless.

bear in mind that some people react poorly to the caffeinated wonder. so if the thought of coffee has you twitching like a crackhead or bouncing off the walls seven hours past your bedtime, then the benefits listed above probably aren't worth the trouble. but if you are a lover of the bean : you should go BLACK. at least try it. swap that upside-down mocha latte for an americano sometime. who knows, you might like it.
for more coffeeeeeelicious facts, check out CoffeeTalk + WebMD + Sugar Substitutes


VEGAN Spicy Asian Green Beans - recipe

back from xintang, and what do i crave ? why, more chinese food, of course ! but this time, i'm home and have total control over the ingredients. omnomnom. you see, in china, you don't really have much control over what you are eating. except of course, unless you decide to pack your suitcase full of energy bars and packaged tuna ( read : hipsters guide to surviving china ) but even so, it would be hard to live off the shit for weeks at a time. you see, authentic chinese food is a lot different than the likes of panda express and pf changs. even with the best intentions, its near impossible to avoid excess sodium and msg. it kinda just is what it is. and while i have successfully navigated the culinary minefields of southern china to find a turbo tasty menu, it is more often than not still bad for the waistline.

anyway, yea, so, when i was trying to think of what to make for grub the other day ... my mind kept wandering back to this spicy green bean dish that i had at a dim sum house in honk kong just over a year ago. it was that memorable. super spicy green beans with crumbled ground pork on top. i never tried to make anything like it before, but i figured, what the hell ? and coincidentally, i still had a packet of leftover fake "meat" kikin' it in the fridge from when i made the VEGAN bolognese dish that could totally serve as the crumbly topping. perfecto.

now, full disclaimer here : i had no clue what i was doing when i whipped this up. in fact, i had no intention of posting it on the site, but it ended up looking so good and tasting so delicious that i couldn't resist. so i recommend taking this ingredient list as a general guideline. for example : when it came to the spice level, i started with the red pepper flake and then just kept adding whatever i had lying around til it got to a heat level that i was happy with. that said, four different kinds of spice/sauce miiiiiiiight not be necessary. just play with it and you can't go wrong.

my ingredients :
  • green beans, cleaned
  • 1 pckg ground "meat" as pictured above
  • 4-5 cloves crushed garlic
  • whole scallion, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon peanut oil
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons red chili sauce
  • 1 tablespoon tradejoe's general tsao stir fry sauce
  • dash of soy sauce
  • red pepper flake to taste
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • green onion as garnish
i started by heating the peanut and sesame oils in a wok and adding the garlic/scallions. once properly sweated, i added the green beans. i continued to cook, uncovered, until the beans were almost tender, stirring regularly. then i added the "meatless" ground and 1 tablespoon general tsao stir fry sauce. after stirring it all up, and heating the "meat" thoroughly, i started the taste testing. first thing i added was a tablespoon of red chili sauce and the dash of soy sauce/rice wine vinegar. it wasn't hot enough, so i added more chili sauce and red pepper flake. i also added the salt/pepper at the end, to taste. there really isn't a wrong way to do it ... so long as you taste after each addition to make sure you keep it within your spice level. and definitely be sure to sprinkle the green onion on top, it totally makes the dish ! and there you go ... enjoy ! 


HEALTHY spaghetti squash stroganoff

sometimes you crave comfort food. sometimes you couldn't care less whether or not your jeans will fit next week ... sometimes you find yourself throwing caution to the wind and indulging in things that you know are bad for you. be it a rich, heavy pasta dish ... a cigarette with your nightcap ... a couple bucks in a penny slot ... we all have our vices and have to learn to control them. (as opposed to letting them control us) this recipe is just that : taking a seemingly innocent indulgence and learning to adapt it into a healthier option. all the gratification; none of the guilt.

SPAGHETTI SQUASH is aaaaaaaaaaaah-mazeballs. seriously. amazeballs times ten. when roasted, it is a phenomenal alternative to pasta... with the same "look" and even a similar texture to its' al dente counterpart. and oooooh so easy to prepare :

first, cut the squash in half and scoop out the seeds, etc, in the center. then drizzle the inside with a little bit of olive oil and a touch of salt. (i use a special oil-spray bottle to prevent using too much and maintain a nice even coating. after all, one tablespoon of olive oil does have 120 calories. check it out : Food Network Oil Sprayer  it's a fifteen dollar investment that you will not regret ! i use it all the time) preheat the oven to 350, and then lay the squash cut-side-down and roast for about twenty-thirty minutes depending on the size. then flip it over, add more oil (if needed) and continue roasting right-side-up until the flesh is fork tender. you'll know it's ready when you can easy scrape the sides to release the "pasta" as shown above. it's all kinds of magical. 

next, the stroganoff bit was made with turkey as opposed to beef. and it was soooo yummy you'll wonder why you ever went red on it. red meat, that is. as with most of my recipes, i whipped this up with whatever i had available in my kitchen (which explains the use of both dried parsley as well as fresh; i didn't realize i had any in the fridge) i'll go ahead and jot down exactly what i did and please take from it whatever you'd like. become inspired =)

my ingredients :
  • package ground turkey
  • whole sweet onion, chopped
  • diced garlic. i use A LOT. like a whole bulb. you might want stick to a few cloves, tho. unless you're crazy like me
  • 4 stalks of celery, chopped
  • 1-2 c. sliced mushrooms, any kind you like
  • 3/4 c. cream of mushroom soup (1/2 pckg organic pacific brand, to be exact)
  • 1 c. vegetable broth, or as much needed
  • fresh parsley
  • dash of ried parsley
  • dash of ried oregano
  • salt, pepper, garlic salt, crushed red pepper (to taste)
  • olive oil

first, i started by prepping the "trifecta of yummy" (that means, sweat the onions, garlic, celery with a dash of salt in about 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil. coat the veggies and cook over medium heat, stirring regularly, until they become translucent, but not browned) once the onions look see-through, and your kitchen smells divine, it's time to add the ground turkey. stir it all up and continue cooking/stirring occasionally until the meat has evenly browned. then add the mushrooms and cream of mushroom soup. evenly coat the mushroom soup over everything and let it cook for a minute or two; until the soup is heated through and the fresh mushrooms have started to cook down. then add the veggie broth, parsley (fresh, dried or both) and oregano. reduce heat to a simmer and let it slowly cook for another ten minutes or until the broth reduces and the stroganoff thickness. during that process, i added salt, pepper, garlic salt and cracked red pepper to taste. just know that the more the broth reduces, the saltier the dish will become. take that into consideration so you don't accidentally over-salt. it also depends how much sodium is in the cream of mushroom soup and veggie broth that you use. the best thing to do is just continually taste the dish as it simmers. also : if you want a creamier stroganoff, you can double the mushroom soup. but i prefer to keep it as healthy and light as possible, so the veggie broth is definitely my friend.

and there you have it ... a healthier alternative to a standard egg-noodle stroganoff. and, in my opinion, an even tastier one at that. enjoy !


Hipsters Guide to Surviving China

by the time this is published, i will already be back; curled up under the covers of my own bed, tucked in the north eastern corner of los angeles ... recovering from a world of pickled cocks' cock and counterfeit bottles of water. but not yet. because right now, it is still just the twentieth of july, and i have barely started packing my suitcase for yet another round of denim manhandling that will commence in less than twenty four hours.. this will be my fourth trip into china for work, and by now : nothing really surprises me. but that wasn't always the case. my first extended trip into china resulted in what can only be describe as "foodie-shock-o-rama" ... that was back in '09 and lasted just shy of six weeks. most of which i spent alone, working fifteen-plus hour days in the factories, trying to pull a miracle out of my ass. a miracle, mind you, that would set the course for the next three years of my life. all joking aside, it was amazing. because even though i accidentally ate a rotten duck egg, and even though the sea snake gave me some gnarly food poisoning, i was able to accumulate an impressive collection of badass stories from my experiences and am now a veteran at packing international survival kits of organic energy bars and yellowfin tuna...

2009 - where am i and what are you expecting me to put in my mouth

i was twenty six. it wasn't my first adventure abroad, but it was my first solo asian delight. i vividly recall the day that i was abruptly informed that i needed to procure visa, pack my bags, and get on a triple seven via aircanada ... all with little to no notice. we were down to the wire at work and the only way for us to get our samples completed on time would be for me to go and do it in person. (up to that point, the email dance had been less than fruitful.) i had no idea where i was going, and no idea who i would meet once i got there. upon arriving in shanghai, i found myself cautiously walking through customs only to not-so-cautiously walk up some random guy standing at the end of the hallway holding a sign that read, 'tina' and nothing more. "oh, please god," i thought to myself, "pleeeeaaaaase let me be the right tina. pleeeeeeeeaaase don't sell me into white slavery..." he spoke absolutely no english. he was merely a hired driver with a sign. and i, his cargo. he guided me over to his beat up buick in the airport parking lot and opened the rear passenger door for me before loading my suitcases into the trunk. again, i thought to myself, "please, for the love of god, let me be the right tina ..."

we were on the road for about twenty minutes before he called the office that commissioned him to give me a lift. once they answered, he handed me the phone and i then realized that all would be right with the world. i was the right tina, and the adventure had officially begun. it was about a two hour drive from shanghai into zhangjiagang, a two hour drive that was pounded by fierce rains and some of the most insane driving that i had ever experienced in my then twenty six years of existence ... "oh, you only have ten feet of visibility ? oh, you think uncontrollable hydroplaning in and out of narrow lanes is a pleasurable way to spend your afternoon ? oh, okay ... well then, please ! feel free to continue going over eighty miles per hour. oh, please don't mind me while i clutch my 'oh-shit' handle with white knuckles and recite thirty seven hail marys to myself ... woohoo ?"

i was a ghostly version of myself by the time we made it into zhangjiagang ... dazed, confused, and having a hard time trying to process reality. after awkwardly fumbling out of the buick, i found myself greeted by a very friendly factory merchandiser by the name of jerry. he was my only contact with the factory up to that point; and even so, our communication was limited to only a handful of emails. he escorted me across the street to the only appropriate hotel in the city and assisted with the check-in process. about eighteen hours after leaving los angeles, i had finally made it. for the next three weeks, this was to be my home.

that first night in zhangjiagang, the factory that we were working with insisted on taking me to dinner. there i was, at one of the fanciest restaurants in all of zhangjiagang, sitting amongst at least thirty five chinese homies in a private room around the most gigantic lazy susan in the history of e-v-e-r. everyone at the table was exceptionally cordial to me, all smiles and peace signs. while the only person who spoke english to me was jerry, i surprisingly didn't feel out of step at all. that is, until the food started arriving.  there is one thing that you HAVE to know about eating in china : they bring whatever is ready, whenever it's ready, disregarding rhyme or reason. dessert, entree, soup ... it's all the same. instantaneously, there were a half dozen specialties spread across the table. and no one would touch a thing until i, the guest, indulged first. this was the moment where i realized just how limited jerrys' vocabulary was. uh oh. anything that once had feathers was now to be referred to as merely "chicken" ... anything that once lived in the water, "sea fish" ... and anything that neither lived in the water nor had feathers was now just, "meat" ... triple uh oh. to make matters worse, the people sitting on either side of me must have assumed my apprehension was a byproduct of shyness as opposed to outright fear. with eyes wide as can be, and smiles ear-to-ear, they started piling food onto my plate left and right. without warning. each time something new came around on that spinning disk of curiosity, jerry would kindly explain how it was a 'specialty, a delicacy ... ordered just for you'

the first recognizable thing that was presented before me was a giant boiled shrimp-on-a-stick. only, this wasn't any normal shrimp that i was accustomed to. it was whole ... not cleaned at all. head, feet, poop chute : all in tact. i was about to use my freshly sanitized fingers to peel the shell when i looked around at my new found posse to see how they were handling the obstacle. uh oh. each and every person around me was attacking their shrimp in the most primal manner i could have ever imagined. BOOM ! just like that. bite the head off, spit it out, and then eat the whole damn rest of the thing in one swift bite. i could hear shells cracking in the mouths of every person on my side of the table. merciful-less. shameless. everywhere i looked, there were mountains of decapitated prawn heads and their licked-clean wooden serving spears. damn. i could either proceed with my timid western-accepted method of 'peel-n-grub' or i could go balls deep and do as the locals. heh. well ... when in rome !? i picked up the skewer and was about to demonstrate my cavemanabilities like the rest of 'em. with the whole lot of thirty people gawking over my fearlessness, i bit the head off ! YEA ! but when i tried to spit it out, well, that wasn't quite as graceful. apparently one of the gigantic antennae somehow lodged between my two front teeth and ended up dangling off my face for what seemed like an eternity. i instantaneously started batting at it like a kitten high on catnip. the four people who were still staring at me all jumped up in unison and literally tried to help me by reaching for the head of the shrimp. while it was still stuck between my teeth. part of me was mortified; the other part of me was laughing hysterically. i managed to remove the head on my own accord, and took a swig of my tsing tao ... playin' it off like i meant to rock the crustacean like a christmas ornament. on my face. f*k yea !

fifteen minutes later, with my cheeks still flush from the gigantic shrimp fiasco of 2009, i had yet another delicacy placed before me. this one was not so recognizable. i felt like the homie andrew zimmern of bizarre foods. i had no clue what i was looking at. jerry insisted that it was a chicken egg. it was a 'specialty, a delicacy...' oh hell. here we go again. without question, he scooped one up with his spoon and placed it on my plate. the entire table lowered their chopsticks. the constant murmur of mandarin that i was finally used to ceased, and all eyes were on me. yes, this must be something special. i glared at the egg. it was unlike anything that i had ever seen before. sliced in half with the yolk facing me, it was almost the size of the palm of my hand. now, i grew up on a farm, and i am all too familiar with the size range o' eggs ... but this one was just odd.  the shape was odd. too big to be from a normal chicken. and the color .... oh dear god. the color. the white of the egg was a dark brown, almost black ... and gelatinous. the yolk, which one would expect to be a yellow or orange ... was a swirling gray/charcoal color. i had never, ever seen anything like it. i had it on my plate for at least three minutes, debating what to do ... by then, i could tell that the majority of the table around me was becoming slightly agitated. they still had their chopsticks set down and were watching me. waiting for me to accept their strange gift. i convinced myself that it must have been a normal egg that was slow cooked in soy sauce. i mean, what else could have possibly caused such unusual coloring ? i held my breath and ate it. the taste was, if i could paint a picture, something that i would imagine a sweaty gym shoe to taste like if i ever had the urge to gnaw on one. it tasted of salt and old. as soon as i swallowed, the table around me went back to business as usual and resumed eating. jerry enthusiastically put another one on my plate, assuming that i had enjoyed it ... whereas i couldnt even bear to look at it. for the rest of my evening, i stuck to tsing tao and insisted that i was full. later, i came to find out that it was an "ancient duck egg" ... an egg that is bound in some sort of concrete-like substance while fresh and then left to rot/ferment for 6 months or more. the older the egg, the darker the color and the higher the cost. considering my bite was worthy of such profound attention by everyone in attendance, as well as the dark color of the thing, i would say that it was safe to assume that the egg could have been as old as i am. ack. need less to say, that was with that first meal that i decided that being polite just wasn't worth it. i officially learned the art of graciously declining questionable eats without expressing judgement; a very valuable lesson indeed.

three weeks later, i needed to travel to southern china for round two of mission : make men sexy. by now, i had already danced around a plethora of culinary mine-fields and was feeling confident that i could handle the rest of the trip with ease. but i was wrong. so wrong. the south had a whole slew of surprises up its' sleeve. my first night, somewhere in the vicinity of dongguan, i was introduced to a whole new array of chinese traditions. i was seated around yet another lazy susan with six fellow factory workers with whom i had just met. all of the tables at this restaurant had shrink wrapped dishes placed in front of each seat, waiting for their destined diner. once we sat down, everyone started opening their ceramic bundles with excitement. i followed suit and arranged my little bowl on top of my little plate, same as i had been doing every day and night up until that point. a petite waitress came over with a tea kettle and started pouring tea into everyone's cup with mine being the first. i graciously accepted the tea and began sipping it as she circled the table. i was nearly finished by the time the guy next to me started laughing and told me not to drink the tea. that was when i came to realize that everyone around me was washing their dishes at the table. that's right, i accidentally drank the dish water. apparently, its customary, in the south especially, to wash all of your dishes before dining. starting with the chopsticks. you hold them with one hand while pouring the water from the tea cup onto them and into the bowl you are supposed eat out of. spoon the water up and over the chopsticks repeatedly until you think that they're just about as clean as you can get them without the use of soap. then, like a slinky tumbling down a flight of stairs, you pour the water from one vessel to another being sure to rinse all sides and rims in the process. eventually, you finish by pouring the now-cooled tea/dish water into a community bowl and proceed with reassembling your dishes. every day, every meal, it is the same procedure. open, wash, arrange, eat. by the thirtieth time, it actually becomes fun ...

additionally, it was also in the south where i learned a very important saying. a saying that all westerners' must fully absorb before heading into the vast uncharted territories of china. as spoken by a local, "we eat anything thats' back faces the sun" .... that's right. anything. except for other people ... and apparently the giant panda. i am fairly certain that even though i made every effort to avoid accidentally eating questionable proteins : i surely ate dog. and peacock. and something else that i will never know what it was. it became a rule of thumb that, by the end of the trip, i would only eat animals that came with its head on the plate. you know, in hopes that it may still be recognizable. now, don't get me wrong ... i'm not dissin' dog. cultures vary. traditions persist. to each his own. (i'd just prefer to play fetch rather than have 'em served up as something to digest. but that's just me.)

2011 - same menu, new approach ...

last year was a good year. i attacked the southern side of the country on two separate occasions. luckily, a new factory that we work with is comprised of some of the sweetest honeys i've ever met. 'tis an office full of women, most of whom understand and/or are accepting of my somewhat selective diet tendencies. rose, their office manager, is a phenomenal cook and makes lunch for us almost everyday. each meal besting the one before it. (see : roses cookin') i also learned that almost every restaurant, no matter how daunting it may seem, has some actual turbo fantastic grub hiding in it's menu. when in doubt, you can always ask for : potatoes, eggplant, cabbage, pumpkin and/or any miscellaneous selection of garlicky greens. i stumbled upon and thoroughly enjoyed some random green vegetables that i never even knew existed - almost always lightly sauteed with a shit ton of garlic. yummmmmm. garlic.

last year was also my first, and only, experience at the KTV ... which is apparently the only thing to do in xintang for entertainment ... imagine it : a private-room karaoke with velvety walls, a plush couch, a giant projection screen and a handful of tiny chinese honeys waiting idly bye with open bottles of tsing tao ... eagerly watching and waiting for you to take a sip so that they can run over and top off your glass of beer forty seven times a minute. now, fill that scenario with a couple dozen high-level factory workers who can't wait to show you a good time and an evil dice game that can only be described as the dangerous love child of yahtzee and bullshit. a dice game that requires absolutely no language, yet does demand a high tolerance for alcohol. i'll keep the details of the night as vague as i can remember ... though i do recall at one point doing a waltz with rose while a factory manager was singing a chinese rendition of whitney houston ... afterward, back at the hotel, i clumsily attempted to unlock virtually door on the third floor because i forgot which room was mine ... and then woke up at five am the next morning, sitting up with my head leaning on the flat screen tv, clutching a wad of wilted lillies, fully clothed except for my bare feet (happened to find my shoes in the shower, btw ... not really sure why they were in there, though)

2012 - it ain't no thang.

alas, i am back. back from the most productive apparel-adventure in the history of the world. i cannot wait to see my new developments hit @ retail. YEA ! SEXY TIME, FTW !! 'twas two weeks of wheelin' and dealin' and i'm feelin' like a million bucks. you know, aside from the eight goddamned pounds that i gained while there. i do beleive that roses' cooking has gotten better. also, i do believe that next time i'll opt for bottled water over beer no matter how much everyone insists otherwise. while my weight has already balanced back to normal (god bless pedal spin + barmethod), the last five days have been epic. jetlag. groggy workout sessions. detox. (even the best of food in china is still ridden with excess sodium and MSG. /le sigh...) if there is one bit of advice i can give now, it would be to beware of the lazy susan ! every time i put my chopsticks down, something else delicious would magically appear in front of me. also, the greasy donuts, while tasty, arn't really worth the calories.

... this last trip was the first time that i came back to the states with my survival kit in tact. need less to say, my kitchen is now stocked up nicely in case there is a big earthquake or whatnot. so that's kool ... i'm just stoked to get back to posting recipes and positive-energy, healthy-type stories. this brief hiatus was a bummer ((le good 'ol chinese government didn't want to allow me proper access to my account. silly government censorship)) anyway, yea ... recipes. i already have three on queue. be sure to follow/like so you don't miss a beat. i've got some healthy asian-inspired yumminess up my sleeve that you know you want to try. also, if you are going to be traveling to china, and have any general daily-life-type questions, feel free to hit me up. i'd be more than happy to offer more tips ;) much love, t.

for photos of my various chinese escapades : click here


VEGAN curried fried rice - recipe

it was one of those kind of days today. you know what i am talking about. when you end up working later than expected just to come home and realize that you are still nowhere near done. turn that computer back on, honey, cause it's going to be a looonnnng night. those are usually the kind of days when all you can fathom is a quick fix. when hittin' a drive thru or ordering a pizza seems like the only logical solution to the grumbly tummy that your neighbors can most likely hear through the walls. the kind of days when the absolute last thing you want to do is slave over the stove for an hour. but i've got news for you : you are STRONGER than that. 

while i still wanted nothing more than a quick fix, i wasn't going to settle for something that i would soon regret. so i opened the fridge and grabbed whatever i had to work with. some left over brown rice, a bag of spinach, a sweet potato and the usual suspects that everyone should keep extra of in case of emergency: sweet onion, garlic and celery. i like to call them, the "trifecta of yummy" ... this dish only took me about thirty minutes to make. and the whole time, mind you, i was talking to a girlfriend on the phone and barely paying much attention to what i was doing. i would say that this would be the perfect dinner to make if you had kids or whatnot, cause its just SO damn easy. and tasty, too. it's also the perfect opportunity to use up whatever random veggies you have in your fridge : just toss 'em in a play with it. 

my ingredients :
  • whole sweet potato, peeled and diced
  • fresh spinach
  • whole sweet onion
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 3 stalks of celery
  • already prepared steamed brown rice
  • 2 tablespoons turmeric
  • 1 tablespoon of yellow curry powder
  • coconut oil
  • light olive oil, optional
  • salt, pepper + cracked red pepper to taste
i started by putting about a tablespoon of olive oil in a pan (or wok ... you know, whatever's clever) and then sweated the "trifecta of yummy" until the kitchen smelled of magic. half way through, i added about another tablespoon of coconut oil. (note : normally, i would use only coconut oil for this, but i forgot that i had some. i guess that that's just what happens when you are distracted and tired, but it's all good. it tasted fantastic regardless. this just further proves my point that you don't really need to try so hard or stress yourself out to make a healthy and delicious dinner on a whim) 

second, i added the diced up bits of sweet potato and stirred it up as to evenly coat the potatoes in the oil. then i added the rice, turmeric, curry powder, salt, pepper and cracked red pepper. i let that cook for another five minutes or so until the potatoes were almost squishy and rice got a good bite. lastly, i added the spinach and mixed it all together. the spinach barely needs to cook. just let it wilt and then put a lid on if for a minute or less to steam the rest of the way. and that's it ! soooooo easy. this is probably the healthiest version of fried rice that i have ever had ... it wasn't greasy at all and the word "fried" is used loosely. i'm honestly just too tired to think of a more appropriate name. give me a break, after all, its been one of those days. if you've got a better idea, lemme know ;) thanks ! t.


Balsamic Strawberry Sorbet, FTW !

if only all of my experiments were this successful. either i have watched one too many episodes of chopped or i really did get high during spinning tonight. regardless, i thought of this little number while driving home and trying to figure out inventive of ways to utilize the leftover juice concentrate that was kickin' it in my fridge. you know, aside from just drinking it, cause that'd be soooo boring.

the ingredients :
  • frozen organic strawberries
  • balsamic vinegar
  • organic apple juice concentrate
  • whole banana
  • black pepper
  • ice
since strawberries are already so sweet (unlike yesterday's spinach ice cream recipe) i decided to dilute the concentrate by about 75% with water. i then poured the juice concentrate into the vitamix (check out : Vitamix Pro 200 Blender) til it completely covered the blades and added about 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar.
next, i added two big pinches of black pepper, the whole fresh banana and about two cups of frozen strawberries. top it all off with ice and begin to blend on low, slowly increasing the speed til you flip to switch to full blast. use the tamper to push the ice, ect, into the blades as needed. (tip : make sure that you have enough liquid in the blender to start off with, otherwise you can easily overheat the motor and the vitamix will shut itself off. if this happens, wait five minutes for it to cool down before givin' it another go.) you'll know that the sorbet is ready when you pop the lid and it looks like the photo shown ... as you can see, there are four distinct lines in the mixture almost resembling a flower. when i made it tonight, it had a bit more of a smoothie consistency straight out of the blender, so i poured it into a separate bowl and into the freezer for twenty minutes to firm up. worked like a charm.

when ready to serve, you should definitely drizzle more of the balsamic vinegar on top with an extra sprinkle of black pepper. (as shown in the photo) i'm pretty sure that the leftover sorbet will be rock hard tomorrow morning, so keep that in mind if you plan to make it in advance; you may need a little thaw time in order to scoop it ... i am SUPER stoked about this concoction. please drop me a note if you give it a go and lemme know how it turns out. thanks and much love, t.


SPINACH for dessert ? YUP !

few months back, i stopped by the local whole food's with the sole purpose to maul their self service salad bar. i walked into that place like i had a homing device strapped to my back. dodging children and old folk alike, i only had one thought running through my mind : must. find. hummus. with no intention to linger or impulse shop for thirty seven dollar a pound locally-grown organic cherries, it would have taken a miracle to make me stray course. but that's just what happened. a miracle. a spinachy-ice-creamy-miracle.

see, at that time, i had already owned a vitamix for about seven or eight months. i loved it. how could i not ? it's like the rolls royce of blenders. it is, by far, (one of) the sexiest things i have ever had on my kitchen counter ... and while i was already comfortable having blades spin at 240mph on my command, i hadn't really explored all that the machine was capable of. until now. enter : vitamix demo day. the homie ingo was serving some ridiculously good corn chowder in tiny little dixie cups as i was storming bye. need less to say, he stopped me in my tracks. the soup smelled delicious and tasted just the same. while i was devouring it, he made promises of a healthy dessert ... made with spinach. oh ? really ? well, now... i just had to stay for that ! and sure enough, mister demo delivered. the ice cream that he prepared was bomb-tastic times ten. 
in fact, it was so bomb-tastic that i ended up spending over an hour at that market on what was supposed to be a fifteen minute recon mission ala already-prepared middle eastern delights. well, not anymore : i immediately needed to go home and attempt this magical frozen mystery on my own. the hummus would have to wait. i shifted gears and set out with a new grocery check-list in hand. bananas ? check. spinach ? check. organic apple juice concentrate ? check. check. check. i was ready to get this party started ! now, while i cannot take full credit for this dessert, i did make a few adjustments to suite my fancy. feel free to do the same. consider this a blank canvas. waiting for you to paint on it ...

here is what you will need :
  • raw spinach
  • organic juice concentrate
  • a banana
  • vanilla extract
  • cinnamon
  • nutmeg
and here is how you do it : first, get'cho vitamix ready ... (if you don't know what a vitamix is, check this out : Vitamix Pro 200 Blender seriously, 'tis the rolls royce of blenders. i highly recommend one. don't worry, your kitchen will thank me for it later)

you want to start by pouring just enough of the fruit juice concentrate into the container to cover the blades. (mister demo recommended apple juice concentrate ... so you should probably start with that and then feel free to experiment once you've made it a few times and know what you are getting into) after pouring the juice, add a healthy dose of both cinnamon and nutmeg .. also vanilla extract to taste. then add a whole lot of raw spinach. personally, i always go for at least two or three heaping handfulls ... then a whole banana. (banana can also go before the spinach) lastly, top off the blender with a lot of ice. they say to use three parts ice to one part liquid. here are some tips : the riper the banana, the better the ice cream. if you have an under-ripe banana, you might want to add a little bit of organic agave nectar to it or whatnot. i once made it with apple-kiwi concentrate and it was sooooo good. it was definitely the sweetest of all the times that i made it. if you are making this for a kid who is used to a sweeter type of ice-cream, etc, it might be a good idea to start with the apple-kiwi or grape concentrates first. i found those to be a lot more tart in this application. plus, it could be a good opportunity to hide some greens in their diet. once you get all of the ingredients in the container, start the machine on low and then gradually speed it up until you have to flip the switch to high. use the tamper to shove the ice down, and let the machine work it's magic. 

at this point, if it looks more like soup than ice cream, add more ice (also consider adding more banana if needed to get that creamy consistency) if you didn't have enough water to boot, you might temporarily overheat your motor and the machine will automatically shut off to kool down. this happened to me once when i was making raw energy bars. just wait five to ten minutes before you turn it back on. (don't freak out, it's totally normal, and the machine comes with a seven year warranty so you owe it to yourself to use the hell out of it. don't be skrrrrd.) you will be able to tell pretty quickly when the ice cream is ready. if you're not sure, peek under the lid and just look to see that its all smooth and creamy without hunks of spinach anywhere. unless you like hunks of spinach. if so, then rock on !

this is one of my favorite things to make; and it's always a crowd pleaser. i hope you get as much enjoyment out of this recipe as i do. thanks a million ! t.


VEGAN pasta bolognese - recipe

not only was tonight was my first attempt at cooking with faux-meat, but it was a damn good success if i do say so myself ! after barmethod this afternoon, i stopped by the local fresh 'n easy for a couple bananas and this strange package of plant-based gound "meat" caught my eye. now, i'm not usually a fan of fake meats. matter of fact, i more often than not avoid them like the plague.  if at a vegan restaurant and given the option to go meaty or no, i always stick to normal, recognizable vegetables. mushrooms over soy all the way ... but this time i was oddly intrigued by the box.
what can i say, i am a creature of packaging and their graphic designer got it right. inviting logo, complimentary colors ... it somehow looked like it might taste good. heh. what the hell.

so i put the garden-grown mystery-magic in my basket and contemplated what i could make with it. hmmm. first thought : tacos. maybe its 'cause the "meat" on the box kinda sorta resembled the crap at taco bell more than anything else i've ever had in my kitchen. you know what i mean : the perfect crumbles. the perfectly abnormal crumbles. but then i remembered that i basically already had everything that i needed to make some quinoa spaghetti at home. no need to buy any additional ingredients ? SCORE !

when i cook, i usually take whatever i have in the house that makes sense and smush it together. this was no different. take this recipe as inspiration and feel free to perfect upon it. after all, there are no rules with food. (well, i might not eat raw chicken. but that's just me. eep !) anyway, so this is what i had to work with
  • 1 whole sweet onion
  • couple stalks of celery
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • sprig of rosemary, fresh
  • brussel sprouts, whole 
  • pkg of cherry tomatoes
  • 1pkg ground "meat" as pictured above
  • olive oil, light + extra virgin
  • quinoa spaghetti
  • salt, pepper and red pepper flake to taste 
so first things first, i chopped up the onion, celery and garlic and then cooked 'em over medium/high heat in light olive oil until they were sweated all happy-status. (light olive oil is better for cooking with high heat than extra virgin) half way through, i added the rosemary so the first five ingredients could marry. make sure you continually stir the concoction so that your onions/garlic don't accidentally burn. once ready, add the brussel spouts (notes : you want to make sure the sprouts are clean and ready to go. i usually soak them in water for a couple minutes and then chop the ends/clean any leaves that look less-than-desirable) after you let this cook a while, add the cherry tomatoes. this is usually the point where i add salt, pepper and crushed red pepper flake. (i like is spicy) ... once your tomatoes start to burst, add the "meatless ground" and stiiiiiiir it up like bob marley. the package says it only takes a few minutes to heat thoroughly.

while all that was goin on, and just before i added the protein to the wok (yea, thats how i roll. i rock the wok. ha. but you can totally use a skillet or whatnot. again, there are no rules here) i got the pasta goin'. quinoa pasta is SO good, SO good for you, and SO easy to make. no need to tell you what to do here : just read the box ;) .... but in case you don't know what it is, quinoa is an ancient grain from south america. the incas called it the, 'mother grain' and it has been treasured for over 5,000 years. the pasta pictured has 4g of protein per serving and no saturated fat. if you are gonna do pasta, this is a super radtastic alternative to traditional spaghetti. om nom nom.

well there you have it ! once the pasta is tender, you just assemble the wonderment as shown in the photo above. (or don't ? it's totally kool : eat it any way you like. i won't judge) i drizzled a tiny bit of olive oil on top of it all as a finishing touch. you can also do parmesan or romano if you aren't into the whole vegan thing entirely. the sky is the limit, buddy. if you try it, lemme know what you think !! i'd love to hear. much love, t.


i vote GOAT !

with 20% fewer calories and less than half the fat of beef : i vote GOAT !

there are about a gazillion reasons why you should give goat meat a shot. first and foremost, it's delicious ! goat makes up over 60% of the red meat consumed in the world and has fewer calories than pork, lamb, or even chicken ! goat meat is also low in saturated fat, while high in zinc + iron.

i am a huge fan of game meat; my favorites being goat (of course), venison, rabbit, bison, quail and duck. if i am going to eat an animal-based meal, fish aside, i would definitely opt game over anything traditionally found in your everyday grocery store.

recently, i found out that i had developed an intolerance to beef. it's actually quite common now with how cattle are raised. the modern day practices in our beef industry are appalling ... where it is customary to "finish" a cow in a feedlot where they are fattened up by any means available : given antibiotics and hormones to make them as fat and profitable as possible. gorge them with genetically modified grain and soy; neither of which should ever be a part of any animals' naturally occurring diet, ours included (we'll get into more all of that later via a separate blog)

pictured above is a dish called "espinazo y pierna con consome" its slow cooked goat that is so tender it falls apart just by looking at it ! served in a bowl of spicy mexican broth with onions, cilantro, lime and hot sauce on the side. (it also comes with corn tortillas in case you feel like rollin' a taco) now, while this might not be the most healthy application of goat, it would definitely be the best alternative to having a similar dish prepared with either beef or pork. (it's all about finding balance, so if you want a taco : have a taco ! just choose best option. om nom nom.)

the SPOT : birrieria jalisco