Cultivating Life: April/May 2012

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I'm a giant carrot

by LeAnn Locher, PQ Monthly
  If you are what you eat, after this past year of changing up my diet, I’m a giant walking carrot. About a year ago I set out on a journey to change up my health, and it began with what I was eating. I do a lot better with what I can have versus what I can’t. Tell me “no†to something, and it’s all I can think about. A no carb diet? I dream of big bowls of pasta. A ban on sugar? I crave chocolate chip cookies. Author Michael Pollan’s mantra “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants†resonated with me. Inspired to change up my diet in 2011, I focused more on what I could have — being fruits and vegetables — as a way of eating better and what I discovered has changed my life. In the end, I’ve become the woman who craves kale, salads, and roasted vegetables. If you’re rolling your eyes, I would have too a year ago. Here’s what I learned:
  • Prioritize your meals around produce. The biggest shift has been beginning with the vegetable as the main ingredient versus the meat or carb. The USDA released a replacement of the old food pyramid in 2011: half of the plate is filled with fruits and vegetables. Bingo.
  • Put your money in the best produce you can buy: organic, direct from the farm, as fresh as you can get it. The fresher the produce the better the flavor. The flavor factor from the freshly pulled carrots from my local farmers market stand are 100 times better than the bagged, dried out baby carrots from a big box store.
  • Develop staple meals based on vegetables you always have on hand. My two go-to’s have become roasted carrots, celery, onions, and any other root vegetable, tossed with a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper, and roasted at 450 degrees for 20-30 minutes. Delicious and filling, roasting develops flavors in vegetables you never knew they had. This includes cauliflower. Another staple meal? Kale sautéed with a little bit of broth, and halfway through adding a can of fire roasted tomatoes and drained black beans. There are about 50 variations of this combination, but at the base of it all is the kale.
  • Rethink the meals you love and replace elements of them with vegetables. Dreaming of pasta? I’ve replaced it with braised cabbage. I know it sounds crazy, but shredding a big green cabbage, and cooking it over low heat for 20 minutes or so, and adding a little bit of butter if you want near the end, delivers an amazing base for chicken sausage, homemade tomato sauce, or more sautéed vegetables.
  • Let fresh fruit star in desserts. My palate changed drastically after forgoing sugary sweets for a few months. When I had a dessert of Greek yogurt (dollops of the whole milk yogurt is worth the rich creamy goodness) layered with fresh strawberries and drizzled with honey, the sweet explosion in my mouth was heavenly. Give the processed sugar addiction a break and you’ll easily learn to love fruit in a whole new way.
  • Get to know super foods. Geek out with foods that can do more for you than fill your belly. That part of focusing on what you can eat versus what you can’t? I’ve focused on super foods, also known as whole foods with a high nutrient content. They’re things that can often help you actually lose weight because they increase caloric burn and help curb cravings. Examples? Apples, blueberries, almond butter, yogurt, and quinoa are but few. I’ve been getting to know a new-to-me superfood, chia seeds, and am blown away by all they deliver: rich in fiber and iron and packed with omega 3 fatty acids, these seeds plump and gel up when mixed with liquid. I recently had a delicious chia pudding at a farmers market in La Jolla, Calif., that provided the perfect delivery vehicle for fresh fruit. It reminds me of tapioca pudding but without any dairy, processed sugar, and the added health benefits of chia.

Ch-Ch-Ch-Chia Pudding

  Find chia seeds in the wellness section of your local health food store. You can also use coconut milk or agave for sweetener, but in my tests I found the following makes the tastiest combination. Switch the vanilla for cocoa powder for a delicious chocolate version. ¼ cup cup chia seeds 1 cup almond milk 1 teaspoon vanilla 1 teaspoon or to taste maple syrup Mix the above ingredients with a fork until well combined. Pour into serving glass and refrigerate or let sit for 30 minutes or more, allowing the chia to gel. Top with fresh fruit like strawberries or cubed mango, or whatever is in season. Makes one serving.  
LeAnn Locher gardens and cooks from her home in North Portland. Connect with her on Facebook at