Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Appliance That's Changing My Life

So, as you could tell from my last post, I have been into green smoothies lately. The stars must have been in alignment, because suddenly it was Vitamix Demonstration time at my Costco. Normally I find this akin to a carnival sideshow where an obnoxious man on an elevated platform hawks seriously overpriced, sham-wow blenders. I did enjoy the smoothie samples (it's important to time one's visits to Costco with the need for a snack and/or dinner), but I didn't believe the claims - that this thing could make ice cream in thirty seconds? That it broke food down to the cellular level so that your body obtained maximum nutrients from it, much more than a normal blender could do?

But this time, the demonstrator was a very kind, Cuban-American woman named Loretta. She exuded motherly care, she was vivacious without being pushy, and Sofia took an instant liking to her. Over our next few visits, Loretta showed us what the Vitamix was capable of. Here's what sold me: watching her throw undetectable spinach, red cabbage and kale into the Vitamix, along with a host of fresh fruits, and having Sofia eagerly drink up the results. Sofia is already fascinated with food, will try almost anything you give her, and we spend a lot of time in the kitchen together making things. But I liked the idea that with this machine, which can pulverize in a way a blender just can't, we'll be eating even more fruits and vegetables. Also, I've always been a bit disappointed that my smoothies were routinely a little grainy and never had that smoothness of a smoothie from a restaurant. This changes everything.

We learned how to make a mint mojito smoothie, a frappucino to rival Starbuck's, tortilla soup (the Vitamix cooks!), and a number of other concoctions. Back home, I spent some time with the Magic 8 Ball that is Google asking questions like, "Is the Vitamix a sham/scam/etc?" Most people who owned them didn't think so, and now that I own one myself, I'm 100% sure it was a good investment. Plus there's a seven year warranty, and I've already been through three blenders in the past six years alone. This thing is so heavy duty, it can handle anything you put into it. It could make a smoothie out of a shoe. And I can make a few of my own personally verifiable health claims, too: I have lost my intense craving for sweets (the reason for so many dessert recipes on this blog), my complexion is better, and I have more energy. I'm sure of those "facts."

The Vitamix also comes with a great cookbook - we've tried at least ten of the recipes so far, and have a lot of favorites - the enchilada sauce is great (we combined half with shredded chicken, rolled into tortillas, covered with sauce and baked), and another one I like a lot is a peanut butter and chocolate shake made from raw peanuts, which would be impossible in a regular blender.**

So here's a favorite recipe - for yet another green smoothie. Its consistency in the Vitamix is unbelievable.

Green Smoothie

1 cup organic green grapes
1 slice cantaloupe with seeds
1 slice pineapple (or handful frozen pineapple chunks)
1/2 banana (skin removed)
1/4 orange (not skin)
1/4 organic apple with seeds and skin
4 pitted dates or 1 tsp. honey
1-2 cups spinach
2 cups ice

Blend on high for 1 minute. It's that simple.

**Peanut Butter- Chocolate - Banana Smoothie

Here's my take on the Vitamix chocolate-peanut butter smoothie recipe. I'm having this for lunch today, and it's incredibly delicious. Would make a good post-workout smoothie as well. Makes enough for one, but you can easily double it.

1/2 banana
1/4 cup unsalted, roasted peanuts
1/2 cup almond milk (could use any type of milk here)
1 Tblsp cocoa powder
1 Tblsp agave (or to taste)
2 cups ice cubes

Place in Vitamix, start at 1 on variable, then go up to high. Use tamper if necessary to distribute the nuts for grinding. Blend 1 minute until milkshake consistency.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Green Monster Smoothies

In Morocco, most cafes serve a few different types of Moroccan smoothies, known as panaches (pronounced pa-na-shay). My favorites are a milk-based avocado smoothie and an almond one. Encountered by first-timers (as I saw when I took a group of students to Morocco this past Spring), the sickly green avocado panache can be a bit disconcerting. But it's delicious, and after you drink it, you feel fortified with energy and ready to conquer the world. During Ramadan, which is happening right now, many Moroccans drink the avocado panache for s'hor, the early morning meal that will, especially in this brutally hot August, have to last them until eight p.m. at night when they break the fast.

This summer I also discovered the green monster movement, through one of my favorite websites, though it looks like it originated here. The philosophy behind this one could basically be said to be that spinach=fountain of youth. You get both a fruit and a vegetable serving, and for many of us who are not getting enough veggies, it's a good way to get in a serving that, and here's the most amazing part, YOU WON'T EVEN TASTE IT. I like spinach fine, though I worried that in a smoothie, it would muck things up. However, it's almost impossible to detect. And my three-year-old, who helps me make them, loves the idea that we're drinking a monster. We make it a couple times a week, and I have to say that at least so far, many of the health claims of the green monster movement seem to be panning out - my complexion is a lot better, I have more energy, and I crave sweets a lot less.* So, here's the recipe I've been making the most frequently, though the varieties are endless (and can be found on the above link to the green monster website):

Green Monster Peach Smoothie

1.5-2 cups loosely packed, organic baby spinach
1 peach, peeled & cut up (or substitute banana)
1 cup milk
1/4 cup crushed ice
dash of sweetener (I use a squirt of agave syrup)

Following the order above, starting with spinach, place the ingredients in a blender. Blend at least one minute. Serves 1, or a parent and very small child. (To make small child happier, after blending, thrown in a handful of cookies and blend for 10 seconds, making it a cookies and cream smoothie)

The varieties are infinite - substitute mango for peach, add blueberries, throw in some flaxseed, matcha powder for a caffeine boost, etc. Or add half an avocado, which makes things a bit creamier and more Moroccan. But interestingly, you never taste the spinach.

*Disputed health claim: this could also just be a factor of summer, which, in a professor's life, is infinitely less stressful.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Miskuta (Moroccan Pound Cake)

When Americans bake, we're pretty obsessed with measurements. It's gotten to the point now where many cake recipes don't even call for measured cups of dry ingredients anymore, but you're supposed to be weighing your flour - as if your cake will be a flat disaster if you don't have, say, a perfect 113 grams.

But in Morocco, it's different. Not only are recipes still a pinch of this, an eyeballed quantity of that, but the same goes for cakes. There's a wonderful pound cake that my sister-in-law makes, and I've been unable to approximate it without help, despite having a number of delicious American pound cake recipes. The quest ended this summer when I observed her making it from start to finish. And the best thing about it is that she uses a small tea glass for measurements - and it always turns out wonderfully, even if the glass varies in size from time to time. You'll also see some seemingly bizarre variations that actually turn out quite wonderfully - orange juice or milk, who cares? I've made it with both and seen her do the same. The best part is how easy this cake is-- in under fifteen minutes you can have it in the oven. I brought back a Moroccan miskuta pan, pictured in the back, which is more like a bundt cake mold than an angel food cake one. And you can use your American cup measures - no need to find a Moroccan tea glass.

Kenza's Miskuta (Moroccan Pound Cake)

1 cup milk (OR orange juice)
3 eggs
1 1/2 cup sugar
1 cup cooking oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups flour
2 Tblsp. baking powder
dash salt

Mix milk, eggs, sugar, oil and vanilla in a mixer OR a blender. Add 3 cups flour, 1 cup at a time, and mix well. Prepare bundt cake pan by buttering and flouring the surface. Pour cake in pan. Bake at 350 for 45 minutes to an hour (check with a toothpick to see when it's done; it should be golden brown). Leave as-is to serve, or sprinkle with powdered sugar, or glaze with honey.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Feeling the Zumba Love

I've fallen hard... for Zumba. I hesitate to make enthusiastic pronouncements in writing. I've always been prone to mild obsessions, which I throw myself into, heart and soul, only to burn out after a couple months. Marathon running. Photography (obviously not in evidence from anything I've posted on this food site). Stocking up on purees to sneak into the food of the child who was not even born yet (and thankfully, at three, eats almost everything). It's almost embarrassing, later on, to witness my absolute lack of consistency, recorded for posterity in a blog post. So, with full knowledge that I might read this some day and be annoyed at myself for finding yet another all-consuming hobby that I could not stick with, I announce my great love for Zumba.

I had really been enjoying the Zumba classes at my local YMCA when I found out the Zumba convention was here in town. I decided to check it out and talk to people about why they loved Zumba so much (approaching the whole thing with my anthropologist's cap on), after which I wrote this piece. But going to the Zumba convention got me hooked. Until then, I found the outfits a little bit too bright, a bit garish. But afterward, suddenly I was on EBay browsing bright orange racerback tanks emblazoned with inspirational Zumba messages. I reached out to a couple old, old friends on Facebook who I knew were Zumba instructors. I started following a couple blogs. I couldn't believe some of the stories I was hearing- both in person at the Convention and through the blogs. People who lost over a hundred pounds with Zumba. People who conquered major illnesses, addictions, you name it. Could a sport/dance/fitness program truly be that transformative? Will those people gain that weight back later, will interest in Zumba fade? I have no idea. But I understand why it's so infectious.

Then there are the classes, which remind me of how much fun exercise was as a kid. Back in the days when I'd pretend to be a Solid Gold dancer and choreograph routines to Chaka Khan (fantasizing that at some point I'd surely get a gig on Soul Train). It appeals to the 4th grader in me who brought a dismantled refrigerator box to my private school's playground so I could breakdance (alone) during recess. (Okay, so I was kind of an eccentric). I also spent a couple years studying Middle Eastern dance (a respectable term for belly dance), and many happy nights when I used to live in NY and New Jersey going to salsa clubs. I have always loved reggaeton, salsa, merengue, etc., which forms the core of Zumba's music. It's like all of that history is suddenly coming together in a fitness program, and when I'm in a class, I literally forget about everything for a little while.

Not only have I been trying to attend different classes here in Orlando to check out different instructors' styles, but I just returned from visiting family in South Carolina for a couple weeks, and I went to six classes with four different instructors. Each class is not only an intense workout masquerading as a good time, but also a mini ethnographic experience - what, in anthropological terms, sort of means checking out a different culture. Here in Orlando, the classes I've attended so far have been more intense, with maybe 90% international music, 10% garden variety hip hop. In South Carolina, there was a lot more hip hop. But the diversity of the participants has been unbelievable-- diversity in age, race, you name it. This morning, for example, at my local Y, there were forty people in the class, ranging in age from 16 to 80. People are drawn to Zumba for different reasons. I love people watching and thinking about how you'd probably never find the same group of people in a room for a common interest, except for Zumba. But most of all, I just love going to Zumba classes, and I hope it doesn't go the way of most of my obsessions but instead can simmer for awhile without boiling over. Because my life is infinitely happier with Zumba.

So how does all this relate to food and cooking? It's summer, and I've been cooking so much lately that I have multiple recipes stocked up, ready to write about. I'm eating way less meat and chicken, much lighter in general, except for the desserts, which will always be my weakness. But also, with the Zumba, I am working harder than ever at eating well, and I feel great. Exercise has always been important to me, especially so that I could eat what I want to, but now, with Zumba, it's like not even trying. It just makes everything fun. So, please bear with me if I occasionally post something about Zumba, and I'll be back soon: with recipes for Moroccan pound cake, a green monster smoothie, and more...