A Little Word on Safe-Fasting

The New Bite

Tonight at Sundown, many practitioners of Judaism began partaking in the spiritual Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur. For 25 hours, those observing the day will be fasting, refusing both food and water, in order to atone for sins.

Fasting is practiced in many religions, from Catholics who abstain from eating meat on Fridays during Lent, to Muslims who refuse food, drink, and other pleasures from dawn to sunset for the month of Ramadan. Fasting is believed to enhance spiritual and religious focus, and purify the body.

Even if you have no intention of fasting for spiritual or religious purposes, a number of studies shown that brief intervals of fasting can help the body slim down, lighten up, and rid itself of harmful toxins. While simply restricting caloric intake is directly related to weight loss, fasting cannot be considered a long-term method for losing weight. However, improved cognitive function, decreased risk of cancer, and reduced severity or presence of allergies are benefits linked to fasting.

Intermittent fasting, as this  known, can be practiced in a number of ways. Try starting with 5:2, or five days of normal eating with two days of moderate fasting, consuming only 500 or 600 carefully chosen calories. Some people prefer a one day, more intense fast, usually for a thirty-six hour period. Fasting for more than three days can be dangerous, and should not be done without first consulting a certified physician.

Preparing your body for a fast is an integral part of the process. In order to avoid weakness, dehydration, or faintness while fasting, set your body up for the day[s] ahead by taking a few small changes to your regular routine.

  • Begin eating smaller, less frequent meals.
  • Decrease your intake of caffeine, salt and sugar. These ingredients are notorious for dehydrating the body, and are also linked to withdrawal-like symptoms.
  • For a last meal, try cooking a supper high in complex carbs (such as whole grains) and fiber. Recipes with these nutrients, such as Spinach-Stuffed Mushrooms with Bulgar can help your body absorb water and and digest slower. Conclude the evening with a bowl of fresh cut fruit with high water content. Navel oranges, cantaloupes and other melons are seasonal in the late summer and early fall, and have a water content of 85 percent or higher.

There are a number of important things to consider during a fast, as it is dangerous to simply stop eating and drinking with no regard for the rest of your lifestyle.

Calorie-free, hydrating, and packed with antioxidants, tea is always a wonderful alternative to high-sugar, high-caffeine beverages. During a fast, tea is a good substitute for water if you’re getting tired of the tap.

  • Drink lots of water. Unless your religion specifically forbids it, you should always remain hydrated during a fast, drinking water or tea.
  • Refrain from chewing – even the act of chewing gum can trick the body into expecting food, stimulating hunger.
  • Remain active, but stop any excessive, strenuous activity. Instead, go for a long walk or practice an hour of yoga.
  • Support a more long-term fast by drinking juiced fruits and vegetables.

Whether your interest in fasting is spiritual or physical, this widely-used practice can be a helpful step toward leading a cleaner, healthier, calmer lifestyle. In a world so overrun with excess, there’s no Fasting should never resemble starvation. More than anything, try always to be in touch with your body, and listen to signs that you need to stop.

For more information, check out some of these interesting articles and sites:

Dr. Andrew Weil takes a personal and cultural approach to discussing fasts.

A detailed breakdown by Dr. Elson M. Haas, describing nutritional plans, risks and benefits of fasting.

Another bite from Mark’s Daily Apple, the authority on all things primal.

Good luck and healthy fasting to those observing Yom Kippur, and to those of you who might give this little practice a try.

If you’re a seasoned faster, what tips and suggestions do you have for having a healthful, successful fast?

Until the next little bite,

Melanie

Where to Bite Summer – Deuxave [Boston, MA]

Where to Bite

The colors and flavors of summer are still available from the kitchen at Deuxave, where you can snag a last minute taste of the season.

It’s officially fall, and you can feel it in the early morning and once the sun starts going down. The air is crisper, cooler, and the leaves are loosing their vibrancy. But I’ve been a little stubborn about turning to those quintessential fall flavors, as I try to savor the last stretch of summer. While many restaurants have moved on to pumpkin ravioli and stuffed acorn squash, a few are still showcasing the best in late seasonal ingredients.

Deuxave, one of Executive Chef Christopher Coombs’s restaurants [a competitor on the Food Network’s Chopped] is one of those places – and the refined French cuisine does nothing short of highlighting the very flavors that have come to define the summer season.

This weekend, I finally got around to making a reservation at Deuxave – and I was glad to catch their menu while they were still featuring the vegetables and fresh flavors of the summer. My parents were in town for the day, and I was glad for the extra mouths to help me sample the menu – which had a few natively vegetarian options I was dying to try.

While I always appreciate a restaurant’s last-minute flexibility and creativity in designing vegetarian or vegan dishes upon request, it’s always refreshing to have options available from the get-go.

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Crispy wild mushrooms served in a cast iron skillet make a savory, salty accompaniment to the particularly sweet notes of the summer vegetable dishes.

Recommended Dishes: Without a doubt, the Celebration of Late Summer – the vegetarian entree – was the best plate I had at Deuxave. What’s more, it was one of the more creative vegetable dishes I’ve had in a long time. Here, Coombs transforms roasted corn into a sweet, polenta-style custard, with local tomatoes, snap peas, and marinated cheese curds. A kalamata olive vinaigrette is drizzled around the elegant plate, pictured aboe. My favorite appetizer was the melange of heriloom beets, with walnuts, pears, and chevre.

The Not-So-Good Bite: While the menu boasts a purposeful continuity, a lot of the flavors and ingredients were repeated throughout the dishes. The abundance of corn was perhaps the most notable. In addition to the Late Summer entree, the scallops are paired with a sweet corn ravioli, and duck confit is paired with a sweet corn soup as a special appetizer. The crispy mushrooms show up in a number of dishes, and pancetta is used frequently. While this shows a clear, methodical approach to highlighting certain flavors and using each ingredient in its entirety, I also craved more variety to choose from.

The Good Bite: At Deuxave, the bread service is an indication of the general attitude toward food. A single warm roll is presented to each individual diner. As I discussed with my experience at Trade, I appreciated the attentinon Deuxave demonstrates to portion size, and the efforts at preventing food waste. As always, mindful eating makes for a more satisfying, healthy meal. There’s no reason to over indulge in high-carb, high-calorie bread with the series of healthy, proportionate starters and mains available.

The Best Bite: There’s no argument that the menu presents a story of the season. The careful selection of ingredients that articulate a particular time of year and harvest makes for a bright, colorful meal. You can feel good about the dishes you order because the items in each dish are fresh and local. The Summer Vegetable Salad, for example, was my mother’s appetizer – and was an elegant tower of local tomatoes, farm fresh baby greens from Sheffield, and other carefully selected vegetables. Eating out of and around the crispy “basket” made from potato would make this a lighter dish, but either way, it is a refreshing start to a delicious meal that truly encapsulates the bold flavors piquancy of the late summer season.

After dining at Deuxave, it’s evident that Coombs’s self-described “obsessive-compulsive” desire for perfection and respect for food is the fundamental backbone of the elegant restaurant. I would gladly return next season to see the way the menu is influenced and altered to reflect autumnal flavors and ingredients.

Until then, I’m off to find another seasonal bite.

Melanie

Brown Lentil Mujadarah – [Or, A Little Word On Entertaining] – CYOB

Create Your Own Bite, The New Bite

This one dish meal is sweet, nutty, and full of flavor. Even halved, this recipe easily serves four people.

Create Your Own Bite #11

Brown Lentil Mujadarah

Adapted from Michael Natkin’s cookbook, Herbivoracious.

3 Cups of White Onion, Chopped

1 Tablespoon Butter

1 Tablespoon Oil (Or, 2 Tablespoons of Oil and No Butter for a Vegan-friendly version.)

1/4 Cup White Wine

1/2 Cup Brown Lentils

1/2 Cup Baby Bella Mushrooms, Sliced

1 Cup Brown Rice

1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cumin

1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon

Salt and Pepper to Taste

2 Tablespoons Parsley, Chopped, for Garnish

This recipe was supposed to make 2 Servings of Mujadarah, but could easily feed four.

Estimated Calories: 315

On the top of my Christmas/Hannukah list this year is Herbivoracious, a healthy-choice cookbook with all the glossy, full-color images you can feast your eyes on.

A wonderful friend from my hometown came to visit me in Boston the other day, and we hopped in to Trident Booksellers and Cafe on Newbury for a late afternoon bite. While there, we rifled through some of their vegetarian cookbooks to get some dinner inspiration. My friend picked a recipe for Mujadarah, a Middle-Eastern one dish meal. Mujadarah is a hearty vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free meal that consists of carmelized onions, rice, and lentils.

As I’ve been on a serious mushroom kick this summer, I tossed in some sliced baby bella mushrooms just to round it out.

Even though we halved the recipe, this towering plate still easily served four – and there was plenty of rice and lentils leftover that we didn’t mix in with the vegetables.

Start this dish by melting the butter down in a large skillet with the onions. Stir occasionally, until the onions become transluscent, approximately twenty minutes.

Meanwhile, cook both the rice and the lentils in separate pots. The lentils should be cooked al dente, just past the point when they loose their gritty crunch.

Before you embark on this dish, make sure you have all of your pots and pans cleaned. 

 

As the rice and lentils are cooking, turn the heat up on the onions and continue stirring for another twenty minutes, or until the onions are browned and very sweet. Feel free to toss a few pinches of brown sugar in to the mix for some extra carmelization. Pour in the wine to deglaze, or remove the carmelized residue from the onions, to make a pan sauce.

This is also a great opportunity to pour your friends, and yourself, a glass of wine.

Here, we added the mushrooms, cooking until they were soft and thoroughly incorporated with the onions.

The mushrooms, once cooked, should be similar in texture and color to the onions. Golden brown and soft, they add a heartiness to the pilaf.

Once the rice and lentils are cooked, combine them in a large mixing bowl with the spices and half of the onions and mushrooms. To plate, pile the mixture in a mound, and top with the remaining vegetables. Sprinkle the parsley over the Mujadarah, and around the base of the mound.

If you’re looking to entertain a group of friends, this dish is a fabulous way to satisfy everyone’s dietary needs, and fill everyone’s stomachs. Herbivoradcious recommends passing around a bowl of Greek-style yogurt with  this dish, for your guests to mix in as they please. The tart, refreshing yogurt serves as a wonderful contrast to the rich flavors of the Mujadarah.

If you’re having a big group over, double the recipe (which should serve eight) and toss together a salad of romaine lettuce, halved cherry tomatoes, diced cucumbers and parsley leaves for a light, crisp contrast. Between the Mujadarah, the yogurt, and the fatoush-inspired salad, everyone will have more than their fill of a balanced, healthy meal.

Until next time, I’m off to find another little bite!

Melanie

Zucchini Carbonara with Coconut Milk – CYOB

Create Your Own Bite

Keep things grain-free, or primal, with that good old zucchini pasta from LittleWordBites past. The sweet coconut milk balances the salty “bacon” and rich egg yolk.

Create Your Own Bite #10

Zucchini Carbonara with Coconut Milk and MorningStar Bacon

Adapted from a Primal Blueprint cookbook, “Quick & Easy Meals,” by Mark Sisson

1 Large Zucchini

1 MorningStar Bacon Strip, Chopped

1 Egg Yolk

2 Tablespoons Coconut Milk

1/2 Teaspoon Olive Oil

Salt and Pepper to Taste

1 Teaspoon Fresh Parsley, Chopped

This recipe makes 1 serving of Zucchini Carbonara.

Estimated Calories: 285

Going grain-free, or trying to return to a more natural “primal” diet, is a health regime that has recently gained popularity. It’s known primarily for suggesting that we should eliminate post-agricultural grains from our diets. This “blueprint” can be a pretty difficult undertaking if you’re a vegetarian, as it relies heavily on meat-based meals.

While not my dietary concern, there is nonetheless a Primal Blueprint cookbook in my apartment, compliments of my roommate, who made some “primal” changes to her lifestyle recently.

Looking for something more challenging than the vegetarian-cooking for college students cookbooks I’ve been stockpiling, I started flipping through, and was totally wowed by this recipe for Zucchini Carbonara. If you’ve been with me for a while, you know how much I love my “plates of illusion.”  This recipe, which calls for slicing a zucchini into pappardelle-style noodles, is a rich and satisfying meal that, with just one small adjustment, becomes a recipe fit for any grain-free, gluten-free, ovo-vegetarian.

After slicing the zucchini into thin noodles, get started on the creamy sauce that makes this dish, while challenging, very worthwhile.

A creamy combination of coconut milk and egg yolk is perfectly balanced by freshly cracked black pepper and the saltiness from the MorningStar bacon.

Separate the yolk, and mix it together with the coconut milk and pepper. I microwaved the MorningStar bacon, but feel free to toss it in the pan to give it a slightly crispier texture and more authentic bacon flavor.

Combine the sauce and the bacon together, and then toss the zucchini noodles into a pan on medium heat and sautee until soft and browning.

A Little Note: This is the tricky part. Make sure to keep the pan, and the zucchini noodles, at a medium-to-low heat, when adding in the carbonara sauce. Stir the noodles and the sauce together, but be careful to remove the pasta before the egg cooks and turns into a sweet and salty scramble.

Once plated, add a sprinkle of freshly chopped parsley and a crack of fresh sea salt, to taste.

So whether or not you’re going primal, or just looking to cut out high-calorie, starchy foods, this dish is a filling way to warm up any fall evening – and yes, my friends, its almost that time.

Melanie

Where To Bite Local Produce – Trade [Boston, MA]

Where to Bite

Local burrata is complemented by the tartness of the heirloom tomatoes and the balsamic in this fresh, clean appetizer.

A truly divine meal comes from a combination of divine service, a fabulous cocktail list, and a thoughtful menu you can feel good about ordering from.

At Trade, a passion for supporting local farmers and a “waste not want not” sensibility make dining out something you can feel good about. A seasonal menu features only products that are fresh and abundant – ingredients are local, and there are a number of vegetarian options. A Chef’s Choice vegan option is always available, depending on the produce in house.

I was drawn in by the light atmosphere of this bayside restaurant, and by the unique menu and vegetarian variety. But once inside, I was overwhelmed by this restaurant’s class and culinary perspective.

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Plated almost like a tart, this thick-cut eggplant slice is given necessary tartness from the olives, capers, and pomegranate glaze.


Recommended Dishes: The appetizers at Trade include some of the most innovative and delicious dishes I’ve sampled in a while – the local burrata with heirloom tomatoes, balsamic and local lettuce, as well as the pomegranate glazed eggplant pictured above, were two of the evening’s highlights. On the side, “A Little Extra” you can’t leave without trying is the roasted summer squash with fennel and muhammara – an Arabic hot pepper dip.

The Not-So-Good Bite: All of the recommendations I just made may be for naught. Because the menu relies almost entirely on what local farmers are turning out, the selections are in constant flux. While I certainly hope to have another bite of the pomegranate eggplant, and am hoping to sample the avocado mango-tamarind chutney, this “not-so-good” bite is really one of the best things about Trade. New options, reflecting the season’s best, make Trade a timeless dining option.

The Good Bite: My dining weakness has always been the bread basket – who doesn’t love to rip into a fresh country loaf or soak up the extra sauce with a slice of olive baguette? My parents and I requested bread service – and were informed that Trade doesn’t offer this option. While this was a little disappointing, it turned out to be a good bite in the end. We didn’t fill up on unecessary, empty carbohydrates, and, what’s more, took home a little word of advice about waste. “Waste not, want not,” the signature phrase of Trade’s team.

The Best Bite: A number of vegetarian options and the endless supply of local foods – including a Pineland Farm skirt steak from Western Mass that satisfied my father’s carniverous appetite, made dining at Trade a true treat. But after informing the waiter of my vegetarian diet, she and the chef offered a vegan option tailered to my vegetable preferences. Brown cashew rice with sauteed chili greens, asparagus and mushrooms was an off-the-menu surprise that I ate every bite of.

This Asian-inspired “Chef’s Choice” vegan dish hit all the right notes. Nutty brown rice and salty Szechuan made for a satisfying main course.

The next time you’re passing through Boston’s waterfront, this local gem can’t be missed. Open for lunch and dinner, you’ll be educated, nurished and satisfied. The waitstaff is bursting with knowledge about the ingredients, the dishes, but doesn’t hijack your night out with information-overload.

Service is smooth, the atmosphere is relaxing, but best of all, you can feel good about every little bite – or giant mouthful. There are few restaurants that hit every note, but this upscale restaurant is all the class without any of the pretention.

Whenever you’re treating your body, and supporting local providers, you’re doing a good-food deed. And these are all things to feel good about when you walk along the bay with a full stomach.

Until next time, I’m off to find another local bite.

Melanie