11.12.12 Here Comes the Sun(choke)

Roasted 790 xxx
photos by gluttonforlife
On the heels of the storm, I flew to California for a long-planned and eagerly anticipated retreat at The Ashram, a uniquely wonderful haven in the Santa Monica mountains. I had been once before, nine years ago, and so was prepared for the grueling daily hikes, restorative yoga sessions, simple vegetarian meals, extraordinary massages and deeply supportive staff. What I was not prepared for was the hideous chest cold that came on as I stepped off the sub-Saharan plane flight and had me straining for every breath as I climbed steep hills in the unseasonal 90-degree heat. After much struggling and malaise, I simply succumbed and flew home, just two days into the week-long program. Words cannot express the depths of my disappointment. On the bright side, in those brief days, I received some very valuable insights that I'm excited to share with you. (And at the end, there will be a recipe for sunchokes that will help you stop gazing at them in that perplexed fashion once and for all.)
J choke 790 xxx
play the tuber
One day after lunch, we had a visit from Billy Merritt who leads the Ashram's nutrition program and whose company, Infinity Greens, supplies them with his special uber-nutritious green powder. He made a few recommendations that I have really taken to heart.

* Walk barefoot indoors. We're constantly wearing shoes. Our arches never get a workout. This is something we can easily address.

* Hike up hills. It's the best exercise you can get. Want to add an upper body workout? Carry hand weights.

* Eat more greens. This was not exactly news to me, but somehow it really hit home how vital it is to maximize our intake of chlorophyll. It's the life force. It's the reason we eat plants. Ever notice how we only eat animals that eat plants? It's just another way we're trying to get those nutritious greens, even by proxy. Billy recommends making lots of green sauces, purees and pestos that you can add to your foods. It's a really smart way to condense your greens so you don't feel like you're always munching mountains of leaves. More on this later.

* Cook with butter or coconut oil. Remember that most oils are quite fragile and so aren't really meant for high heat—this includes olive oil, which you're better off using for salad dressings and to drizzle as a finishing oil. Butter and coconut oil are the best, most nutritious fats for cooking. They taste pretty damn good as well.

* Reject things in boxes and cans. Wherever possible, go fresh. We know this, right? But it also applies to those boxed nut milks and stocks. Make your own. It's so worth the relatively minimal effort. I just finished a piece on stocks for the forthcoming winter edition of Edible Hudson Valley magazine and it was a great reminder of their infinite nutritional value and superior flavor. If you've ever made your own almond milk, you know that the stuff in the box simply can't compare.
Sesame seeds 790 xxx
open, sesame
I came home all congested and weak, disappointed in my immune system, down on myself for wasting my precious vacation, but also inspired. I had a kind of epiphany. Here and now, on the cusp of my 50th birthday, I am more passionate than ever about eating only what supports my health. Part of it is vanity: I want the radiant skin and the slim figure. But equally important are the energy, strength and overall well-being that come from caring for yourself in the right way. Exercise is critical. So is finding a way to be happy. But nothing is more vital than what you eat, how you fuel your body.
Tray 790 xxx
take root
Of course I still have a real passion for flavor. I'm not talking about a Spartan diet, by no means. I love discovering new cuisines, exotic ingredients, the latest restaurants, the hottest chefs. But I'll be focused on making the choices that nourish me best, because no taste can surpass the wonderful sensation of radiant good health. What does this mean in practical terms? More greens. More water. More fresh fruit. More fermented foods. More millet, amaranth and quinoa. No sugar (maple syrup, honey & molasses in moderation). No white flour (rice, teff and coconut flours in moderation). Less meat and only from pastured animals whose provenance is well known to me. More small oily fish (sardines, anchovies, mackerel). Did I say more vegetables?
Roasted2 790 xxx
next year in jerusalem
More vegtables means more kinds of vegetables, too. Diversity in your diet is extremely important, so branch out. Jerusalem artichoke—the name is a bastardization of the Italian word for sunflower, "girasole"—also known as sunchoke, sunroot or Helianthus tuberosas, has a watery crispness and a subtle, nutty flavor. Tossed with sesame oil, sesame seeds, scallions, garlic and Bragg's (an amino-acid-rich substitute for soy sauce made from fermented non-GMO soybeans) and roasted until tender and lightly caramelized, sunchokes make an excellent seasonal choice. Eat this dish hot, along with some brown rice and a pile of steamed spinach dressed with melted butter. Or at room temperature, as I did, as part of a composed salad with soba noodles, pickled ginger, shredded cabbage and daikon radish. Now that's how you nurse a cold.

Sunchokes Roasted with Sesame

serves 4
  • — 3 cups sunchokes, in chunks
  • — 2 tablespoons sesame oil, or other neutral oil
  • — 1 teaspoon roasted sesame oil
  • — 5 scallions, thinly sliced
  • — 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • — 1 tablespoon Bragg's, or soy sauce
  • — 2 tablespoons sesame seeds

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cover a baking sheet with parchment.

In a large bowl, toss together all the ingredients until the sunchokes are very well covered. Spread in a single layer on the baking sheet and roast until tender and lightly browned, about 30 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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Yum. I have a thing for sunchokes, and I'm looking forward to making them the way you do here. And I'll follow your lead on your new "food rules." It's how I've been thinking these days, but somehow I think your more diligent than I!
julia on November 12, 2012 at 4:36 pm —
Um, I meant "you're." I hate when I slip on glaring things like that. I'm sorry you got so sick, btw. And that you had to come home to....Bleh.
Julia on November 13, 2012 at 7:39 am —
It's always a work in progress, Julia..xo
laura on November 12, 2012 at 4:42 pm —
wonderful wisdom. I've been taking measures not to use sugar in our daily life (I really like coconut palm nectar!) I love the suggestion of pureeing greens into sauces, While I'm happy eating 3 bunches of collards with a splash of bragg's, I don't want it everyday. I must say I've never developed a like for sunchokes, If I come across some I will try them again in this recipe, it sounds delicious! Lovely photos!
tamika on November 12, 2012 at 6:19 pm —
Let me know if this converts you to a sunchoke lover! And stay tuned for some ideas for green sauces...
laura on November 12, 2012 at 7:13 pm —
Laura, what a bummer to hear your stay at The Ashram got cut short. Looks like the wisdom you still were able to take away though will make the rest of your days that much brighter. And, thanks to you sharing, ours too! Beautiful, inspiring post. Eager for the green sauces!
Stefanie on November 13, 2012 at 12:10 pm —
Stay tuned for green sauces!
laura on November 13, 2012 at 12:51 pm —
This post really hits home! Those are some of the resolutions i was just making this morning! But how to go about it? I, like many others I believe, have a hard time to sticking to resolutions. First of all I need to get rid of temptation, hide or get rid of foods I have decided to avoid. Then everybody needs to be on board, it's hard to eat an apple for a snack if your boyfriend is downing chocolate chip cookies... Last but not least, the foods that I do eat need to be scrumptious—that's where you come in!!! I'll be looking forward to reading your ideas of how to sneak greens in. I'm very sorry your trip had to be interrupted! But definitely seems like you did not come back emtpy-handed!! Imagine you could have spent a lovely week at the Ashram and not have come back with such an insight had you been feeling great! I do hope you are feeling a lot better now!
alwayshungry on November 19, 2012 at 5:39 am —
I feel your pain, but I think you have to approach any life change as less about "sticking to a resolution" and more about doing what makes you feel good. But truly good, not just satisfying a craving in the moment. Really evaluate if your current habits are rewarding or not. Trying to get everyone on board is bound to be a drag, though it really does help if your loved ones have similar "food values." I 've found they can be converted! And making healthy treats that are delicious is a good start. I hope that many of the recipes I post fit this description. Remember, the goal is not deprivation but real satisfaction. xo
laura on November 19, 2012 at 8:12 am —
"Every time im full i just want to puke. . . . " I just loove u! Guffaw Me thinks I may have to have Grapes and Pomegranates, Laura. Your blog just gets better and better, you know? Don't you? Totally special, and you have a modeling career ahead of you, too! Lots of x's & o's Susan
Susan on November 26, 2012 at 8:47 pm —
Susan, not sure what that quote is about but the general tone of the comment sounds so positive I'll just say thank you very much!!
laura on November 26, 2012 at 10:31 pm —
It's taken from Twitter@glutton4life on the opening page of your blog. "everytime I'm full I just want to puke everything out and continue eating." it tickled my funny bone. Sorry if it disconcerted you. I admit it was an odd opening! :)
Susan on November 27, 2012 at 5:15 pm —
Oh, someone must have hijacked my twitter handle/hashtag. Hate it when that happens. "Puke" is not a word I often put in print. ;-)
laura on November 27, 2012 at 10:32 pm —