Moroccan Sweet Potatoes Signify a Sweet Six Years

Moroccan Sweet Potatoes

This delicious sweet potato preparation is both sweet and spicy from the natural sweetness of the potatoes and the crushed red pepper.

The salad marks a special “anniversary” for me — it was six years ago to the day on Halloween that I opened my cafe on the Square in Woodstock, Illinois, beginning my life as an accidental restauranteur and my romance with one of the most wonderful towns in the world.

Apropos of Halloween, I began my restaurant career with a bit of a “trick.” As I said, I was scheduled to open on October 31. On October 29, I was scrambling around trying to finish the final setup in the Cafe and get ready for final health department approval on the 30th.  My menu boards were on the wall, and my menus printed. Then I got a call that the fire department had not approved our countertop fryers that we planned to use for falafel, our main menu item. Hmmm.

This unanticipated change meant that at the zero hour, I had to create another menu with new centerpiece dishes, rewrite the menu boards and print new menus.  In those anxiety-ridden hours, I created Ful Pockets and Grateful Pig Breakfasts. I make my falafel with fava beans, and Ful is a fava bean dish that doesn’t involve frying. The Grateful Pig Breakfast included popular items we could make on our approved hot plates, and that included Moroccan Sweet Potatoes and Shakshouka (eggs poached in Matboukha, or Moroccan salsa). Originally served warm, eventually both the Ful and the Moroccan Sweet Potatoes became part of our cold salad repertoire.

Well, I did it, and the health department came in and approved us to open late in the day October 30. Finally I was able to shop and start cooking so we could open the next morning, on Halloween. I got back to the cafe with groceries around 7 PM and spent the night cooking. Needless to say, I was exhausted by the time we opened the next morning, but we opened right on time and starting serving up the foods people had come to love through the Woodstock Farmers Market.

One of those items was this zesty Moroccan Sweet Potato Salad. I serve this salad either cold or hot. Sometimes it’s part of a mezze, or Middle Eastern appetizer table before a meal, and sometimes it’s a side dish with a meal. I put it into pita pockets or taco shells with other items — it makes a great taco filling along with some black beans, chopped red peppers and cilantro dressing. And of course I still sometimes serve it up as part of a Grateful Pig Breakfast, which became very popular.

MOROCCAN SWEET POTATOES

Ingredients

  • Extra virgin olive oil, 2 TB
  • Sweet potatoes, 3 medium-large, petite diced
  • Tomato, 1 large plum, petite diced
  • Garlic, 2 tsp. crushed
  • Fresh ginger root, 1.5 TB peeled and minced
  • Onion, 1/4 cup chopped
  • Crushed red pepper, 1 – 1.5 tsp. (to taste)
  • Salt, 1.5 tsp.

Instructions

  1. Saute garlic in 4 quart sauce pan with extra virgin olive oil.
  2. Add remaining ingredients except potatoes, and saute briefly.
  3. Add potatoes, cover and steam at medium heat, stirring occasionally.
  4. Cook until just tender throughout.

What I love about Middle Eastern mezze is the amazing rainbow of colors. This is one of the dishes that adds such beauty to the table.

Moroccan Sweet Potatoes - the prep
Moroccan Sweet Potatoes – the prep

For more, visit my blog, vegetatingwithleslie.org, “Like” me onFaceBook/Vegetating with Leslie or follow me on Twitter,@vegwithleslie.

Zen and the Art of Peeling Potatoes

Sweet Potato Soup – oh, so creamy with not a drop of cream!

Printed in The Woodstock Independent, January 2013

“Avoid food that makes health claims. Don’t take the silence of the yams as a sign that they have nothing valuable to say about health.” – Rule # 2 from Food Rules by Michael Pollan.

One food I have never much liked is Candied Yams. It’s hard to experience the glorious flavor and sweetness of the yam itself buried under those ubiquitous marshmallows. Ah, here we are again . . . Real Food vs. Food Products. I present to you the ingredient label on a bag of marshmallows: corn syrup, sugar, modified corn starch, dextrose, water, gelatin, tetrasodium pyrophosphate (a thickener or emulsifier), artificial flavor and blue 1. Hmmm.

It’s hard to imagine opening a bottle of tetrasodium pyrophosphate to add to a dish I’m making. And if our food had real flavor, we shouldn’t have to add artificial flavor, right?

That doesn’t mean I want to skip the yams or sweet potatoes. Although not the same, yams and sweet potatoes are both satisfying, flavorful and versatile veggies with many health benefits. Both are fiber rich and high in potassium, magnesium, phosphorous, selenium, zinc and copper. Both low on the glycemic index, they don’t cause spikes in blood sugar like so many other foods we eat. Unfortunately those marshmallows pretty much obliterate the benefit.

Sweet potatoes and yams may impart a somewhat different taste and texture to recipes. Due to their nutritional differences, it’s worthwhile experimenting with both. Sweet potatoes are extremely high in Vitamin A, supplying eight times the daily requirement in one serving. Yams have a better balance of essential fatty acids, heart healthy Vitamin B6 and C, but sweet potatoes have more calcium, iron, Vitamin E and protein. In addition, sweet potatoes are loaded with anti-inflammatory compounds.

I make a Sweet Potato Soup that is deliriously simple and amazingly delicious. Without an ounce of dairy, it’s oh so creamy. A visiting vegan tasted it and determined she couldn’t have it because it was loaded with cream. I assured her it wasn’t . . . but there you go. That’s the amazing thing about Real Food. Its qualities may surprise you with great taste — unlike tetrasodium pyrophosphate, which I doubt would surprise anyone.

Besides, unlike tetrasodium pyrophosphate, sweet potatoes and yams are good for “vegetating.”

Zen does not confuse spirituality with thinking about God while one is peeling potatoes. Zen spirituality is just to peel the potatoes. – Alan Watts

Sweet Potato Soup

Ingredients

  • 6 Sweet Potatoes (about 5 lb.), peeled and chunked
  • 2 Large Spanish Onions, chunked\
  • Fresh Ginger Root (peeled slices, enough to make 2 well-rounded
  • TB if minced)
  • 1.5-2 Tsp Salt
  • 1/2 Tsp Hot Paprika
  • 1/4 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 2 Quarts Water

Directions

  1. Peel and chunk sweet potatoes and onion.
  2. Peel and slice ginger root.
  3. Add 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil to soup pot.
  4. Add onion, ginger root and potatoes along with seasonings.
  5. Add water barely to cover, approximately two quarts. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer until potatoes are soft.
  6. Puree in batches in VitaMix or conventional blender. Adjust thickness with more water if desired. Adjust seasoning.

Healthy, happy eating.

For more, visit my blog, vegetatingwithleslie.org, “Like” me onFaceBook/Vegetating with Leslie or follow me on Twitter,@vegwithleslie.

It’s Fall! Mushroom Barley Soup on the Menu

Mushroom Barley Soup
Mushroom Barley Soup

Yesterday I made my first pot of Mushroom Barley Soup for the season. Oh, so good! I had three big bowls for dinner. This one is easy, folks, even if you’re not into cooking. How hard can it be to throw things serially into a pot with water? Well, you do have to cut things a little, but if I can do it, “the worst person in the world” with a knife, as Keith Olbermann would say,  so can you.

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 Spanish onion, petite diced
  • 3-4 carrots, sliced on the bias
  • 3-4 stalks celery, sliced
  • 8 medium to large plum tomatoes, petite diced
  • 1 lb. pearl barley
  • 2 lb. baby belle mushrooms, quartered
  • 2-3 cups chopped greens (kale/spinach/chard, any or all)
  • 3 quarts water
  • 1TB + 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. hot paprika

Instructions

  1. Add extra virgin olive oil to the pot, then the diced onion. Saute for a moment, then add sliced carrots and celery, continuing to saute.
  2. Add the barley, then 3 quarts of water. Bring to boil, turn heat to simmer, and cook until barley is done.
  3. Add petite diced tomatoes and seasonings. I ended up using about 4-5 tsp. salt for this quantity, but start with 1 TB, and add to taste.
  4. When soup has cooked together for awhile and flavors blend, add the mushrooms. Cook for another 10 minutes.
  5. Add chopped greens in the last five minutes of cooking time. Mix in, and as soon as the soup returns to the simmer, remove from heat.

Eat and enjoy!

For more, visit my blog, vegetatingwithleslie.org, “Like” me onFaceBook/Vegetating with Leslie or follow me on Twitter,@vegwithleslie.

7 most important health practices from my “aging” vantage point

Dance like no one is watching . . . they're probably not. But it helps maintain hope, joy and gratitude.
Dance like no one is watching . . . they’re probably not. But it helps maintain hope, joy and gratitude.

As many of you know, I have been interested in health and particularly in good eating for most of my adult life, ever since my grandmother died of colon cancer in 1969. During those years, I’ve watched a lot of fads come and go.  I’ve avoided most of them, have tried a few and have stayed with those that made sense and produced results for me.

You probably also know I’m not a scientist (a Ph.D. in psychology who used me as a guinea pig to take tests she needed to administer as part of her degree program told me my personality and aptitude results were the most skewed she had ever seen, toward religion and the arts). I’m not a certified practitioner of any kind. I just read a lot and think a lot and try things on myself and try to stay in the realm of good sense with a dose of realism.

In my last post, I mentioned a 9-part series on cancer I’ve been watching. The first four segments were interesting and contained enough pieces of information I know are true that it persuaded me to continue listening.  The fifth segment went a little over the edge for me, comparing our position on vaccination in this country to Nazi experiments in the concentration camps. Huge red flag.

I’m still listening, picking out what’s useful and interesting and leaving the rest. It did inspire me to write this post, though. Following are the five things I believe are true about health at this point in my life at the grand old age of almost 67. Some things have shifted as recently as during the last few months, one during the last couple of weeks:

  • Reject black-and-white ideas about health. Reject “super foods” and “demon foods.” Suspect anything that comes from a mentality of conspiracy theories and paranoia. The enemy on all sides of any argument, at least in this country, is much more likely to be opportunism, arrogance and thoughtless good intentions than evil intent, and there are bound to be a lot of gray areas. Be open, listen, consider what’s useful — but it won’t do a whole lot of good for your health and will cloud your judgment to start feeling persecuted.
  • Fiber. Found it 45 years ago and have relied on it ever since. It’s a pillar of my health program — but there’s a disclaimer here. I’m not talking about fiber supplements, and that brings me to my next point.
  • Eat real food. IMHO, eating real food, whole foods with all their parts, hopefully bypassing commercial food processing completely, is more important than buying organic, avoiding GMOs (if you’re into that), or any other “health food” practice for that matter. This includes juices: they are denatured fruits. Instead drink water and eat whole fruits. This includes bread, for the most part. Make your own with whole grains and little or no sugar.
  • Focus on plant foods, and all the slogans work for me here: “Eat the Rainbow,” “Nutrient density” (an equation that represents lots of nutrients in relation to the number of calories), “G-BOMBS” (drfuhrman.com – an acronym for an anti-cancer diet, which includes enjoying daily Greens, Beans, Onions, Mushroom, Berries and Seeds).
  • Eliminate added sweeteners of all kinds from your diet along with refined carbohydrates. This means, in effect, eliminate all commercial food products.
  • Calories count, but not the way I learned many years ago. This is a change in my thinking during the last week since I started watching the series on cancer. The best way to create an anti-cancer, healthy internal environment is to keep calories in the recommended range for your height and weight, but those calories need to be the kind of things mentioned in #4 above. Keep protein and starchy carbohydrates at a minimum and enjoy good fats, even saturated fats, especially if they are the fats contained naturally in foods like avocado, nuts and seeds. My diet contains fats way above the percent commonly put out there, 25-30%. It’s more like 50%. I believe this is fine, perhaps even good, as long as I stay within the recommended range of calorie consumption.  I can do that by eating lots of high water content veggies.
  • Exercise is critical. This is another change in my thinking during the last few months. My focus has been on the metabolic aspects of good health, although I always exercised regularly. I liked individual sports and activities, and my own have included ice skating, gymnastics, swimming, running (not my favorite), yoga, biking, hiking and walking. As I got older, and obligations other than to myself started to fill my time, it was harder for me to maintain my exercise habits. I’ve tried to get started again since my work environment has changed, and my effort has highlighted dramatically how important exercise is. I got a pedometer, and most days I get in an hour of walking (split into segments) and hopefully 15-20 minutes of yoga-like stretching. During the winter I replace some walking with jumping on my mini-tramp. It’s not enough, and here’s why I say that: my work now is more sedentary than it has been for the last nine or ten years. Have you ever read the statistics on what happens to your body if you sit eight or more hours a day, even broken up with exercise? Google it. Scary.

Did you do that? Here’s my proof that those statistics don’t lie: I am experiencing it. After I eliminated added sugars and all processed foods from my diet about five years ago (I had eliminated most processed foods years ago), I lost 15 pounds and remained at a fixed weight, the weight that is right for me, year-in and year-out during those five years. My blood sugar level dropped to a happily normal 90, my cholesterol dropped and my HDL went up into the good range.

I haven’t changed anything in my diet in the last nine months since I left the food business (where I was on my feet and active all the time), but I’ve gained 3 pounds. I will venture a guess my next blood tests will show that my blood sugar levels are creeping up along with my cholesterol levels. And I have developed chronic pain in particular locations in my frame. You probably won’t realize how important exercise is when you’re working at a desk in your thirties and forties and fifties — but when you get into your sixties and older, you will experience the results of not doing enough.

I’ll end as I began, with a focus on worldview. Here’s one additional thing I have learned about good health: do whatever you need to do to keep yourself in a positive, hopeful frame of mind.

This may sound like blasphemy to some, but I’m not at all sure that we have a positive purpose and direction put in place for us on our behalf by a force outside ourselves.  I choose to believe that we have a positive purpose and direction, and there are times when it’s hard to maintain that belief, to maintain my sense of joy and gratitude. I look for and do things that support me in that. Call them placebos or a crutch for the masses if you’re a serious skeptic, but studies show that 18-88% of people are helped by placebos. Worth thinking about.

For more, visit my blog, vegetatingwithleslie.org, “Like” me onFaceBook/Vegetating with Leslie or follow me on Twitter,@vegwithleslie.

Politics: Hope and Money

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I don’t come from a tradition that views money as the source of all evil. Money is useful. Money feeds people, saves people, builds and creates. Money can accomplish amazing things. It can also subvert a political system, corrupt our food supply, limit our medical options and destroy entire populations.

Kind of like the mantra we hear from the NRA, “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” Yeah, and money doesn’t kill people, people kill people.

But too many bad things are happening with guns in the U.S. And too many bad things are happening when a very few people have all the money in the U.S.

Well, it’s a big world, and the problems in it are complex and multi-faceted, and no single solution is going to solve our problems — but we have to start somewhere. Better regulation of guns and money seems like a good place to start. Or two of many places to start trying to correct our problems.

So one of the things I notice is that money is power. It gives people a bigger voice. Maybe they’ll use that voice to do something I agree with, something wonderful, something that benefits the world. But maybe they’ll use that voice to do something I don’t like at all or that is destructive. And if that money gives someone a bigger voice than me, or a bigger voice even than a majority of people, that’s not right. That’s not what democracy is about. One person, one vote.

Today I saw a couple of things on Facebook that started me thinking about how this money theme winds its way through my brain right now, impacting my food choices, lifestyle choices and politics.

1) The first is that picture at the top of this page. A friend who “liked” it commented she wondered why it’s so hard to find this place in life. I’m thinking it has something to do with the complications caused when money is the foundation of our existence in this culture — and by that, I’m not talking about having lots of money. I’m talking about having it, not having it or having some of it. It doesn’t matter — it’s not the money itself. It’s the fact that money is the basis of our values, it’s the engine that drives the machine in this country. It shapes our decisions. It can put us in situations we then have to spend all our time supporting. It can keep us up at night. It can distort how we see things. It can militate against simplicity, making our lives very complicated.

2) The second was a conversation surrounding a post on GMOs and Monsanto. On the theme of distortions, a professor of mine once said with regard to the Bible, the narrative is shaped by those who “won,” historically speaking. So applying that principle to the current state of our food supply mechanisms, I wonder if the narrative hasn’t been shaped by those who “win” in this culture, namely those who have money? Good research is expensive, and someone with dollars has to support it.

A blogger I like raised questions about some comments I made related to GMOs. And the comments are well-taken. But what occurs to me is that there is so much hype out there on all sides of any issue, so much research on all sides of any issue — that an ordinary person, someone who’s not a scholar in these areas and has other things that consume their time, could spend the rest of their life reading through it and still not find “the truth.” And back to money: there’s the question of who’s funding the research and making it public? For the most part, probably “mainstream” food operations who are making lots of money. That doesn’t make it bad, just one-sided.

The internet has changed the picture to an extent by democratizing our voices, but opinions or guesses or concerns aren’t the same as solid research, which brings a non-mainstream opinion back to the reality: money governs, to a large extent, the ability to do the research and disseminate it.

So the medical profession told us for years that butter and eggs will kill us and didn’t say a word about added sugars in foods and lack of fiber. Different information was out there — just not enough funded studies and not disseminated widely enough. And a strong sugar lobby that suppressed information. Now we have those with money going after a small company that is successfully selling an excellent vegan mayonnaise.

I’m not a conspiracy theorist, not at all. But I do think money chooses what research will be done, what information will be put out there, spreads it far and wide, in short, has the capability to influence our view of things. I don’t have time to research everything, especially things not in my area of study, so what I see is what crosses my line of vision. What crosses my line of vision as far as good, solid research is more likely to be well-funded and widely marketed research. Or quick and easy posts to the internet that may not yet have research backing them.

3) Medicine brings me to the third thing, a video series I’m watching. I was born in 1948. I’m old enough to be the beneficiary of many years of unchallenged bias in favor of medicine rather than “healing.” I recognize in myself hesitation when someone starts to talk about the latter for prevention and treatment instead of conventional medicine. I’ve watched how difficult it has been to achieve recognition and legitimization for basic concepts like “integrative medicine,” the damage we have caused to ourselves with our food choices, the link between certain diseases and environmental factors including our food choices. It’s difficult to achieve recognition and legitimization for the role of meditation and faith in health. For the potential that naturopaths, eastern modalities, folk remedies, faith-healers, shamans, rituals and ceremonies, micro-nutrients and more may have something to offer in terms of healing. What are we so afraid of?

Why do we suppress ideas and approaches that don’t fit with one point of view? And invest quite a bit of money accomplishing that suppression, by the way. Why not spend the same money on doing and disseminating good research?

And that brings me to the third item I want to share on this topic. I came across a 9-part video series on cancer that drew my attention. I approached it with my usual ambivalence, favorably inclined toward health and healing but indoctrinated to view only conventional medicine as a “real” solution to this terrible disease. Plus I was looking for the sales pitch.

I haven’t yet come to the sales pitch for this series, and I have been fascinated with some information in it about how mainstream medicine came to be while alternative approaches were suppressed and made illegitimate. I can’t vouch for all the information in this series — I haven’t even viewed the whole series yet — but it accords with my personal belief that our bodies seek health and are capable of amazing healing. We just need to get out of their way. In that process, fear is our biggest enemy. There are also enough points that I know are true that it stimulates my interest in the rest.

Most importantly, the video series brings me hope. I’ve lost four people I care about to pancreatic cancer in the last three or four years. The common element was that all were told, there was nothing else to be done. No hope.

I believe there is hope, for pancreatic and other cancers. This video series gives a specific shape to my belief. That shape may change over time, as conventional medicine has, but I’m open to considering these possibilities and would like to see us putting money into learning more about them.

What if these things work in the ways people claim? Why shouldn’t they be covered by insurance, especially when conventional drugs on which people depend can get 5000-fold increases in price overnight? From the death rate for those affected by pancreatic cancer when treated by conventional medicine, which is covered by insurance, I’d say we don’t have much to lose by insuring alternatives. And the alternatives cost so much less because they rely on our natural ability to heal.

Why shouldn’t these possibilities be included in any discussion of options before we say, no hope?

For more, visit my blog, vegetatingwithleslie.org, “Like” me onFaceBook/Vegetating with Leslie or follow me on Twitter,@vegwithleslie.