Chickpea and Cashew Tikka Masala (GF,V)

IMG_0283Things have been a little rough here at the Northern office of the pantry. I’m now 4 weeks out of foot surgery and while things are decidedly better, I am still somewhat limited in my activities and as the day wears on I get pretty uncomfortable from swelling and aches associated with walking on this ridiculous contraption. As a result, my desire to stand and cook for extended periods of time is pretty limited.

While I was sitting on my fanny for the initial two weeks after surgery, I did have the opportunity to come across a feature in Vegetarian Times on “30 Minute Skillet Suppers.” Yes, please. So last night I gave one of these a go, and in my usual fashion I made some modifications to make it just right for my family (yogurt out, cashews in; serrano chile out – red pepper and chile powder in; fresh ginger out – powdered in).  This experiment was wildly successful, and it really did only take 30 minutes. The cashews balanced the spice and I love the texture they added. The greater adjustability with powdered chili allowed me to knock it down for the kids and adjust on the plate for Mr. Little Sis. My sore feet and legs were spared extra standing and our little tribe got to enjoy some fabulous Indian flavors for a very reasonable price, right there on a weeknight in our kitchen.

Chickpea and Cashew Tikka Masala (GF,V) – inspired by Vegetarian Times’ Chickpea Tikka Masala

  • olive oil for panIMG_0297
  • 1 c finely chopped onion
  • 1.5 T garam masala
  • 1.5 T tomato paste
  • 1.5 t powdered ginger (or 3 t fresh grated – I was out)
  • 1/2 red or yellow pepper, chopped
  • 2 c cooked chckpeas
  • 3 small cans diced tomatoes
  • pinch paprika
  • pinch chipotle or other chile powder to taste
  • 1 c raw cashews
  • chopped cilantro

Warm oil in large skillet (I used cast iron – the pan should be relatively deep). Add onions and a sprinkle of salt. Sauté  onions for about 5 minutes on low-medium heat, until onions are translucent. Add tomato paste and spices (other than paprika and chile). Cook for another minute or so – until the spices become fragrant. Add peppers and sauté about another minute. Add chickpeas and tomatoes and bring to a boil. Lower heat to simmer, add cashews and remaining spices. Simmer for at least 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. We served ours with leftover rice and chopped cilantro as a garnish.  Absolutely delish and deeply satisfying.

IMG_0285 IMG_0289 IMG_0293

For more quick dinners, as well as some thoughts on convenience food, check out Big Sis’ post ReCon Convenience, Step 7 in our Baby Steps Series.

Digging Indian flavors? Give these dishes a try: Mulligatawny Soup, Pakistani Lentil Kima, and Cashew Carrot Curry.

Baby Step 5: It’s Time For A Plan

By now I suspect you’re getting a little weary of legwork.  You’ve experimented with a swap, you’ve kept a food journal, and you’ve investigated your pantry, and you’ve thought for a bit about how to get those with whom you eat the most on board with the idea of a new approach to food.  You didn’t realize you’d already done so much, did you?  Didn’t do it all?  That’s okay.  Jump in here, go back to the beginning and start there – whatever.  There is no timeline.

The only due date I’d like to suggest is that you do something today.  No, don’t wait until January…  Waiting until January means losing a month of taking baby steps down the road.  Yes, there are more holidays coming, and you can decide how to deal with them, but they aren’t TODAY.  There’s no reason you can’t get a little ahead of the game and celebrate whatever season it is for you with a glow of better health and the satisfaction of knowing that in addition to anything you’re doing for others, you’re also taking care of yourself.  Convinced?  Yay!  It’s time to make a plan….

Gather your stuff.  Get that food journal.  Open that pantry door.  Peek in the refrigerator.  Your mission is to make a list of foods that you’d like to baby step out of your diet.  No, you don’t need to come up with a specific number.  And yes, we will help you figure out which ones to start with if you’re not sure.  Let’s see if we can’t make some progress with a few simple questions.

  1. As you look at your food journal, is there something that you know is unhealthy and that you eat regularly for the sake of convenience or to treat yourself?  Perhaps you have a soda habit or a frappucino addiction.  These are perfect places to start – a food that is not a meal, it’s offering no nutrition, and it’s loaded with sugar.  Am I telling you to ditch them altogether? You know me better than that. Cut them out, cut them down, wean yourself, swap them out for something healthier.  Whatever a baby step is to you… do that.
  2. As you consider your food choices, does carry out or fast food play a major role in your lunch or dinner meal planning?  Set a goal for eating one more home cooked meal or one more brown bagged lunch per week than whatever your current total is.
  3. As you examine that pantry you’ve already peeped in, take notice of the number of packaged snacks.  This is an excellent place to experiment with some snack swaps or learning to make a homemade snack.
  4. As you peek in the fridge, take notice of the beverages that are available.  How many of them are sweet?  How many of them are juice or juice-like?  Another excellent place to get started.  Remember, you don’t have to throw it out (unless you want to, and I’m certainly not going to stop you).  Cut the amount, cut the frequency, mix it with water, swap it for something healthier.
  5. Still not sure where to get started?  Some basic categories you should consider: foods with a lot of sugar or corn syrup, foods that contain excessive fat (especially hydrogenated fats), foods that contain excessive sodium (in all its forms), and highly processed foods (like those that stay good for a REALLY long time).
  6. Still at a loss?  I’m going to point you toward Michael Pollin’s food rules – eat food, real food, mostly vegetables.

Overwhelmed.  Don’t be.  Now is when you take all those answers and thinking and make a list of foods or food categories that you want to work to eliminate from your diet.  It could look something like this:

  • sugary cereals
  • soda
  • chips
  • carry out

My current list looks like this

  • caffeine (UGH)
  • salt on the plate
  • afternoon sweet

So am I going to do all of these at once?  Maybe, but I won’t cut them all out.  For my caffeine problem, I’m switching from two large mugs of my beloved coffee to one of coffee and one of black tea.  The next step will be to switch the black tea out for green tea.  Then black tea in the a.m., green tea in the afternoon… you get the picture.  I have reduced caffeine before and in addition to the headache, I’ve found that being abrupt on this one makes me miserable and inflicts some level of misery on those around me….  so I’m going to step it down, achieve my goal at a pace that allows me to make adjustments, allows me to tame my body’s addiction over time without being a horrible grouch for the holidays.

Once you’ve got a list of things you’d like to cut/limit/wean yourself off of, choose a starting place.  Pick one of them and consider how you want to proceed.  Limit the quantity?  Swap it out? Cut it altogether?  Your answer will be different from my answer – what is a baby step to you may seem like a huge leap to me.  This is YOUR plan, not a test of your character, but  series of decisions you get to make for yourself.

Finally, write down the steps you’re going to follow to get started on that change.  If you’re going to limit your quantity, write down how that’s going to work – what’s the new limit and what are you going to do to replace that item?  If you’re cutting a sweet treat in the middle of your work day, what are you going to either eat or do to replace that ritual?  Write it down.  Write down your start date (today) and then give yourself a goal date for reaching whatever your desired change is on that item.

If you want to ditch chewy granola bars, write down when you’re going to start (today), write down what you’re going to do instead (there could be a few steps here), and write down the date by which you hope to be done changing this food habit.  Does that mean you’ll never eat one again?  Maybe, but probably not.

Remember what Big Sis said – the key to healthy eating is making healthful decisions as often as you can.  Establish a new pattern so that the chewy granola bar (or soda, or candy or drive through) is an exception rather than the rule. Open the door to improved nutrition and prepare to be wowed as your taste buds come back to life and you discover new satisfaction in eating for your health.

And just in case you’re wondering, this isn’t all about what we cut out… we have plenty of suggestions about what to cut in. A little delish, morning, noon, and night comin’ up.
If you need help with some swaps, read this step.  No suggestion that works for you there?  Ask us!  We’ll answer, and probably some others will too.  You don’t have to figure it all out yourself… and if you don’t like your plan a week from now, know what you get to do?  Change it.  It’s YOUR plan.

Baby Step 4: Adventure, Experimentation, and Gratitude

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard it: “I want to eat healthier, but my kids (partner, whomever) won’t eat that food.”  Everyone who said it was 100% certain that this was true.  The only thing I am 100% certain about as regards feeding others healthy food is that if you don’t have it/make it/serve it, they certainly won’t eat it.

Changing our own eating habits is hard; convincing others that this is a group project can be daunting at best, but the difficulty of the task doesn’t mean the effort is not worth it.  Big Sis and I have both enlisted our families (immediate and in some cases extended) in our pantry transformations and we have some ideas that just might help you do the same.  The truth is that, as with any meal, eating real food is easier and more enjoyable when you do it with the people that you love.

So here we approach the core of Baby Step 4: just as eating healthier foods requires you to be more conscious of what you’re eating and how you’re making it, so too will rallying the troops involve an evolution in consciousness about food.  You must be the leader in the movement to develop an attitude of adventure, experimentation and gratitude surrounding food and mealtimes in your home.

Our suggestions fall into three basic categories:

  1. The Use and Acceptance of Baby Steps as Progress
  2. Attitudinal Adjustments
  3. Education

Baby Steps

I can’t speak for everybody, but when I embark on a new venture that I’m enthusiastic about, I want to share it.  I want to share it with everybody and I (unreasonably) want everyone to be as excited as I am…  It’s sweet, isn’t it?  The cold water of reality is a bit uncomfortable.  Just because I’m enthused doesn’t mean they will be.  My loved ones’ priorities might be entirely different than mine and the mental steps I’ve taken to prepare myself for this wonderful new transformation have not been their mental steps as well.  If we can agree that baby steps are an effective tool for making changes in our eating habits, we must remember that those we wish to encourage (and feed) deserve the same gracious and gentle introduction to foods with which they are unfamiliar and that they may not be initially inspired by.  Does this mean don’t try? No, no it doesn’t.  It may mean don’t try ALL the time.  It may mean be ready to see consumption without complaint (but no real enjoyment) as progress over grousing.  It may mean lovingly saying that you understand when deep inside you’d like to remove all the plates from the table and tell everybody to….  okay, that’s just me now and again – I know, it’s not pretty.

1. Establish baby steps with your family by: designating one meal per week to be healthier food night/ or healthier entree or side dish night if you need a gentler step.

Attitudinal Adjustments

Family mealtime means different things to different people and for many folks it is comfort.  When we are trying new foods, it’s not always so very comfortable.  So rather than highlighting the comfort of familiar foods, we must highlight the adventure of trying new things.  This can be particularly challenging with little people.  I get it, really I do.  But again, if we give up all we can be sure of is that they will NEVER try the new food.  If we persist and attempt to make it fun, who knows what will happen?

This is what we remind my sweeties of.  If you don’t TRY it, you’ll never know.  We then remind them of the foods they’ve tried and discovered how delicious they are.  If we’re trying a dish that highlights flavors from another culture, we talk about that place and the role that this food plays there.  We take an adventure.  When they are adventurous with their food, we lavish them with praise.  Big Sis had a great idea that I think we will implement – the adventurous eater medallion.  We may also try adventurous eating hats. Occasionally, in desperation, we appeal to their sibling rivalry and have a race to try the new food.  I can’t say the last method encourages delightful table manners, but it does seem to work.

Feeding this little mug is not always easy.

In addition the the positive role that adventurousness and competition can play, there is no way to overstate the importance of gratitude at the table.  Mr. Little Sis has instituted a fabulous family tradition at the beginning of our meals.  As head chef, I occasionally become discouraged by the cajoling that feeding twin 5 year olds can require.  When we sit down to eat, Mr. Little Sis immediately says, “Thank You Mommy, for making such a wonderful meal for us.”  The twins usually follow on quickly, even if they are mid-complaint or moving stuff around to see what’s under there icky-face-making.

The most interesting thing about it is that once they’ve said thank you, they rarely return to the complaints, at least not with volume and vigor, which helps keep the mood at the table a little lighter, and prevents them from discouraging one another from trying new foods. Highlighting the importance of gratitude in a positive way, “We are so fortunate to have this healthy and nourishing food, and to be able to enjoy it together,” over the “There are starving kids all over the world who would be happy to eat that ____,” rightly changes the focus at the table from whether or not the meal meets every individual’s expectations to mealtime as a time to come together and recharge.

2. Establish adventurousness and gratitude by asking for it and acknowledging it.  Reward adventurousness and model gratitude.

Education

Different strategies work for different people.  Some like the games (my daughter) and some need the rationale.  I am still making this meal even though you’ve expressed it’s not your favorite because it has ingredients in it that do _____ inside your body.  Anything that helps that boy’s allergies will go in the mouth.  Guaranteed.  It is difficult NOT to take advantage of that knowledge.  We’ve also talked a great deal about why I pack their lunches and why I don’t include many of the things their friends eat regularly.  I marvel at the lack of pushback on this.  They occasionally express their severe deprivation (along with a host of injustices that I have perpetrated), but they also, I’ve found, are able to make choices that they would not if we didn’t share so much food information.

I’ve discovered that when they are offered a treat at a party, they limit themselves, without my saying anything.  They tell me when they’ve had a surprise goody at school or with friends so that I can make adjustments to what I give them for the rest of the day.  They GET IT.  When they’re older and they ask about McDonald’s (or whatever) rather than toeing the line on that front as they do now, perhaps we’ll sit down and watch SuperSize Me together.  My husband and I watched several food documentaries before we embarked on the last round of dietary changes, discussed the information we found, researched the questions that remained.  Just as I need information to make a big change, so too do the loved ones in my life.

3. Educate your loved ones by telling them why you are doing what you are doing.

So your Baby Step?  What should you do?  You should consider your surroundings and try (gently and patiently) to get’em on board.  Your life will be easier; your food will be healthier; and your table will be a place of adventure, experimentation, and gratitude while you tackle another pantry swap, or try a new recipe.  Baby Steps for you, Baby Steps for them.  It worked for all of us once, right?

Peeping in our Pantries?

Little Sis here.  In Baby Step 3, Big Sis (against all rationality) offered you all a look into our pantries. Mercy.  Despite my many fine qualities, I have to admit to being somewhat (and I am being uncharacteristically generous with myself here) organizationally challenged.  But since my sister showed you HERS, I guess I have to show you MINE.  Yikes….  Yes, we are still talking about the pantry, not our panties, although we have been know to go that far for your entertainment. Really, this blog is getting a little personal… but all in the name of Food.  Real Food!

Now that I’ve given you a visual, let’s talk about what’s in that puppy. Big Sis was kind enough to compile her pantry list first (since she offered, it only seemed fair) so I will share hers and add the things that I keep in my pantry that she hasn’t included.  Before we get to the lists of ingredient staples that we both keep on hand in order to ensure that we can cook real food, we both have some processed bits to confess, just so’s you know that the road just keeps going before all of us and neither of us would dream of claiming to be at the finish line.

 Mr. Little Sis and I keep coffee and tea on hand as both parents in this house are nowhere near ready to drop that crutch.  We keep a few boxes of cereal (all under 5g of sugar per serving or they must be mixed with a SUPER low sugar cereal).  We also keep the occasional box of whole wheat and white cheddar macaroni and cheese for Daddy’s traveling and Mommy’s had enough emergencies.  In addition we usually have a package of storebought cookies (of the fig newton variety) to bridge the gap between baking bursts.  There are also our beloved Triscuits. :-)   – Can’t believe I didn’t mention Triscuits!  We also keep these simple gems on hand.

You want to peep in my pantry as well, eh?  I’m going to leave out the staples like coffee and tea (decaf for me because I’m a little (Big Sis is also generous with herself ;-)) high strung shall we say?), but I’d be remiss if I did not share a few smudges on an otherwise clean enough to put the scraps on record…I do keep a steady supply of boxed cereal in my pantry.  I get brands with no additives / organic once in awhile and all on sale – but there you have it.  I do make granola and we do eat hot cereal but we all like a little bit of boxed cereal with fruit as a bedtime snack.  But that’s it… except for the not-as-bad-for-you natural tortilla and potato chips that my son takes to school.  There!  I feel cleansed and refreshed, and I hope some of you are feeling better as well… We all have skeletons in the pantry, don’t we? Here are the items that I always keep stocked so I’ll be prepared to make healthy food rather than get fast food or eat something pre-made. Grains:

Dried Beans:

  • black beans, navy beans, pinto beans, garbanzos, etc.
  • lentils
  • mung Beans for sprouting

Part of Big Sis’ pantry is not IN the pantry. Pretty jars, eh?

Canned goods:

  • canned beans
  • canned (or boxed)tomatoes and paste
  • canned pineapple
  • artichoke hearts, olives

CONDIMENTS

  • Bragg’s Liquid Aminos (I use in place of soy sauce)
  • sesame oil
  • olive oil
  • safflower oil
  • salsa
  • mustard
  • bouillion
  • ketchup – I buy organic with no added sugar
  • rice vinegar
  • balsamic vinegar
  • coconut oil and butter

VEGGIES:

  • sweet potatoes
  • Yukon gold or red potatoes
  • onions
  • winter squash when it’s cold out

NUTS & DRIED FRUIT

  • cashews
  • peanuts
  • sunflower seeds
  • almonds
  • pecans, pumpkin seeds
  • raisins
  • other dried fruit purchased on sale ;-) cherries are a favorite of ours, dates, occasionally figs

REFRIGERATOR:

  • eggs
  • whole grain bread
  • milk (both dairy and almond)
  • cheese
  • carrots and celery
  • qpples
  • whole wheat tortillas
  • flax meal for vegan eggs
  • tofu 
  • sunflower cheese

FREEZER:

  • whole grain flour
  • frozen peas, green beans, corn, spinach
  • nuts (pecans, walnuts, almonds – all raw)
  • frozen herbs
  • frozen leftover pancakes

Whew.  When you list it all it seems like a lot, but it’s really NOT so much.  And truthfully, neither of us ALWAYS has all of these things. I don’t keep this list in my pocket and freak out when one item is low.  This is simply the list of things that we have discovered make it easy for us to keep our promise to ourselves to NOT turn to takeout out of desperation.  It would be lovely to have oodles of time for every dinner, but that ain’t life, and some nights there’s a shortage of time AND patience.  Being stocked up on REAL ingredients makes these nights a lot easier to face healthfully and economically.  Stick with us and we’ll show you how.  Do it for a while, and you’ll know why.

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Eat Food. Real Food.

This is the subtext for our blog.  Eat food.  Real food.  And as we have met so many fascinating people through this blog – and seen so many fascinating and clever approaches to eating healthfully (and joyfully!), Little Sis and I come back to what started all of this blogging for us.  Real food.

It is a difficult but rewarding journey to procure, prepare and eat real food within this crazy, convenience-ized, instant gratification culture of ours.

There are many wonderful epicurean lifestyles out there that claim to improve people’s health.  Sometimes they are at complete odds with each other and both sides claim to have scientific ‘proof’ that their diet is the one that will lead all people to optimum health.  Well, since when has one approach ever led even 75% of the world’s population to the same conclusion or end goal?  I mean even the notion that we should be kind and not kill each other is present in all the world’s major religions and yet, we’re still killing each other!  But let me get back to food.  Real food.

I would argue that be it the Paleo diet (lots of meat and veggies – little carbs) or a plant-based diet (with or without oil), vegan vs. vegetarian, no dairy vs. yogurt-makes-people-in-the-Caucasus Mtns-live-into- their 100′s… these diets improve people’s health when, and perhaps primarily because, they decrease the amount of processed foods in the diet.  And do you know what processed food includes?

Sugar.

Sugar is not a natural food.

What?  Bigg Sis have you lost your mind?  Sugar is the MOST natural food.  It’s what plants make from water and sunlight.  It’s what your brain consumes to allow you to sit there and type out your thoughts.  Sugar is the only food.

Let me elaborate.  Refined sugar…. concentrated sugar…. sugar beyond the amount that exists in the wonderful fruits, vegetables and milk we have at our disposal is not natural.  Even sugar cane has other stuff in it.  It doesn’t pour out of the end of the cane like a Pixie Stick!  Our bodies use incoming calories to make sugar and energy, but our bodies evolved, were created, came into being, with lesser amounts of the stuff than we currently consume.  And sugar, as in refined, as in un-natural amounts, is proving to be a very bad physiological choice for humanity.  Hummingbirds seem to do okay with it, but not humans.

So, as far as taking the first steps to improve your health via a nutritious, and beneficial diet?  Reduce processed food.  Reduce processed food and you reduce sugar – along with a host of other nasty chemicals that are also used as rocket propellant (sodium nitrite a meat preservative) and boat cleaner (azidocarbamide – a dough conditioner).  Little Sis and I are thinking that along with the series we did on sugar, we’d like to share how we have reduced the processed foods in our lives.  We’re looking for the common things that many people like to use and abuse that they think are cheaper and more convenient.  We abused too!  I promise.  I used to think it was a healthy choice to buy Mrs. Paul’s fish filets as opposed to the sticks!

I think once you get used to a slight change here and there in your routine, you will find that our methods do not take more time and are definitely not more expensive if you measure cost per nutrient.  And hey… hospitals, diabetic supplies, dialysis, drugs, and coffins are WAY more expensive than any of the concoctions my cheapskate little sister and my-cheapskate-self have come up with.

So I’d like to offer several more alternatives to boxed cereal – one of the MOST egregious users of sugar.

Little Sis has given you lots of great ideas for oatmeal – both cooked easily overnight, and soaked easily overnight.  Here is another soaker cereal recipe:

Buckwheat Groats

Buckwheat Breakfast Bowl (Gluten free)
Buckwheat is not actually wheat – it is a seed from a non-wheat plant that is somewhat pyramidal in shape.  For this recipe you want the actual seeds, not flour.
1 handful of buckwheat groats per person
1 handful raw sunflower seeds per person
Place in a bowl and cover with about 2″ of water.
Cover the bowl and let it sit overnight.
Rinse until the water runs clear the next morning – it will look a little cloudy and slimy.
Serve as is or add a little almond, soy or cow’s milk along with some raisins or chopped dates, nuts, or other fruit, a little cinnamon adds some sweetness as well.

Make your own Granola on the weekend and enjoy all week long!
Recipe adapted from Ruth Yaron’s Super Baby Food
Pre-heat oven to 350
Spread 5 cups oats in a 9×13 dish (I usually do 2 dishes at the same time)
Heat the oats for 10 minutes
While the oats are heating, mix:
1/2 cup oil
1/3 cup honey, maple syrup or a combo
1 teaspoon vanilla
(for each batch : if making 2 batches at once I mix this in 2 separate measuring cups so I can add one to each dish of 5 cups oats)
Chop or break one cup of nuts for each batch
When oats are warm add the nuts plus:
1 cup coconut (unsweetened is less sugar and available at some groceries in the bulk and definitely at health food stores)
1 teaspoon cinnamon and
an oil/sugar mixture to each pan
Stir
Bake, mixing granola after 10 minutes and then after every 5 minutes for a total of 25 – 30 minutes, or until brown.  Let cool.  Keep in airtight container

And lastly – for replacing processed breakfasts – to add to Little Sis’ wonderful pancake recipes – a relatively simple mix.  Make the dry ingredients ahead of time and your morning routine will be quicker.  In fact make 2 or 3 dry batches in advance!  After everyone has eaten, lay the leftover pancakes on a plate, put them in the freezer and the next day transfer them to a plastic bag for future breakfasts.
Buttermilk  Whole wheat Pancakes:
1 cup whole wheat or white whole wheat flour
1 cup oats
1 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1 & 3/4 cups buttermilk
2 eggs
2 Tbsp. oil
1 tsp vanilla (optional)
handful raw cashews (optional but very tasty!)
I usually make 1 & 1/2 or 2 times this recipe so there will be leftovers to freeze.
Mix dry.
Mix wet.
Mix the 2.
follow usual pancake cooking procedure – see Cast Iron Pancake Chef for tips

One need not eschew everything one loves to achieve a more healthy diet.  Unless of course all you love comes from the back of a Hostess or Frito-Lays truck.  But part of the journey is finding the healthy foods that work for you and your family.  Find the foods that bring you pleasure while nourishing your body.  You may just find that list expanding as you try new things without the numbing overly sweet and salty tastes which the processed food industry would like us to crave.  Keep us posted on the new discoveries that you make.  We have learned so much from the input, comments and blogs of our on-line companions on this journey.  It is nice to be in community with you!