Friday, June 14, 2013

Eating Omily: That Was Smooth!

So as you might recall from a recent post, I'm trying to gently nudge my diet in a healthier direction.  I think it's important to do that versus, 'totally revamping my diet!!!' because, generally speaking, you don't stick to dramatic changes.  Little, slow, subtle ones, though?  Those you can do.  I knew I wanted to eat more fruits and veggies, and maybe cut back on processed carbs, even whole grain ones, but I didn't have a clear direction for how to do that until the smoothie workshop at the Women and Wellness Day event for St. John's alumni on Saturday.  Smoothies!  With Veggies!  Bingo!  So, I've been having a green smoothie every day for nearly a week now, and, it's true: I've already noticed a different in my energy levels.

I've taken to jotting down 'low', 'medium', or 'high' on my callendar at the end of each day so I can track my energy levels and look for patterns, and for the first two weeks, it went something like this: low, low, low, medium, low, low medium, low, low...you get the picture.  A few days into smoothie week, it started to look like this: medium, low, high, medium...can you see it?  It's early to get really excited, but it does look like an improvement!

And let me be clear, the smoothie thing really works for me: it gets lots of veggies into my system, it's something I can take with me when I'm running out the door, it's tasty, it uses up the mountain of veggies I get in my farm share every week, it makes me feel good. THAT DOESN'T MEAN IT WILL, OR SHOULD, WORK FOR YOU. By all means, I recommend giving it a shot if you're interested, but under no circumstances should you guilt yourself into making smoothies, or feel like you're less healthy because you're not into them.  I make a point of saying this because I just don't think that kind of thing is obvious in today's society where, basically, if you aren't all but killing yourself to fit into a smaller jeans size, then you must be a lazy lard ass.  Thanks, Fat Shaming society!

SO, if you would like to give the smoothie thing a try, I recommend first making one.  Just one.  And seeing if you like how it tastes.  If you do, then get your supplies and plan to do one smoothie a day for a week, so you can evaluate how it's effecting your body.  Easy as pie.  Now that we've got all that worked out, I want to share with you my green smoothie tips.  Some of this I learned from the smoothie workshop, and some of this I have learned from experience.  Trust me, it's all good.

Basic Smoothie Ingredients:
1. Dark, leafy greens: anything but iceberg is ok, but the darker the better.  Generally, the darker it is, and the more it needs to be cooked to be eaten, the stronger the flavor it will impart.

2. Liquid: this can be water, iced tea, fruit juice, milk, coconut water...you get the picture.  Keep in mind that this kind of smoothie isn't dessert: it's a super-healthy snack.  Don't use a sweetened juice blend, and don't go too crazy on fruit juice: try mixing it with water.

3. Fruit: For a frosty smoothie texture, you'll want to use frozen fruit.  If your only option is to buy organic frozen fruit, then do that.  Berry mixes tend to be the most versatile.  Frozen bananas add a lot of masking flavor and sweetness, but pack less of a nutritious punch, so you don't want to use them all the time.  The better choice, of course, is to buy and freeze local fruit!  Throw in an apple for extra green-masking sweetness if you need.

4. Extras: chia seeds are amazing because they have such a fantastic balance of healthy fats, protein, and fiber.  Throw in a spoonful or two, and you've got lunch.  Half an avocado will give your smoothie more staying power, too, or even flax seed or flax seed oil.  Protein powder, or nutrient powders are options, too. I find that they just don't taste very good, but lot of people love them for the texture they give. You can treat yourself by blending up frozen bananas with greens, water, a little natural sweetener, and a spoonful or two of unsweetened cocoa powder.  Stevia is a great sweetening choice, raw honey, and 100% pure maple syrup can be good choices, too.  Obviously, don't go too crazy with them.

5. A blender: not a shitty one.  You'll burn out the motor of a cheap one before the week is out.  So far, my Oster model with 'ice crush' and 'easy clean' modes is working really well. Word on the street is that if you get really serious about this, it's only a matter of time till you invest in a vitamix: the Lamborghini of blenders.

That's it.  That's all you need.  Now, onto technique...

Chop your greens.  I know, I know: why do I gotta chop them when they're just getting blended??  Because, greens have these long, stringy fibers, and they're prone to getting wrapped around the blades of your blender in a really obnoxious, impossible to clean, oh shit, my blender smells like rotting salad kind of way.  Just trust me on this one.  Take the extra thirty seconds to roughly chop your greens.
Put your chopped greens, liquid, and any extras or non-frozen fruits you're using in the blender.  Put the blender on a low setting.  PUT THE LID ON YOUR BLENDER.  Turn on your blender.
WATCH CLOSELY.  Are the greens kind of hopping up and down, but not getting sucked down and blended?  Is the blender making kind of a choppy rrRrrRrrRrrR sound?  Turn OFF your blender.  RIGHT NOW.  Do you want to burn out your motor??  Add more liquid.  Just a little at a time.  When you have enough, the blender will effortlessly suck down the greens and chop up everything, and at that point, you can turn your blender up to a more medium setting to get those veggie/fruit/flax seed pieces really small.  When the consistency looks smooth, turn off your blender.  This is a good opportunity to CAREFULLY (when the blades have completely stopped spinning!) stick in a finger for a taste.  Sweet?  Earthy?  Toasty from the flax seeds?  Keep in mind you're about to add more fruit, but if it isn't palatable at all, add more fruit juice, thawed fruit, a little sweetener, or more frozen fruit than you had planned to balance the flavor.  Don't waste your ingredients making a smoothie you won't drink.
I know, it doesn't look like much, yet.  Notice, also, how all those veggies blend down to just about nothing volume-wise.  You can't eat as many raw veggies as you can blend.
NOW, add your frozen fruit or ice cubes.  Go ahead and crank that baby up to the highest setting.  Let it run a bit longer than you think you need to, but not long enough that you're tempted to walk away and do something else while you wait.  Turn off the blender, pour into a glass, and enjoy!  Yay!
That graniness you see is from the flax seeds.  Notice how the frozen fruit changed the color from 'swamp' to 'berries!' The flavor is tart-sweet fruity, but also a little earthy-green, and roasty-toasty.  I love how all those flavors balance each other out, and make me feel like I'm eating a complete (small) meal. This smoothie is likely too intense for a beginner.
BUT WAIT!  You're not done!  Do you want your blender to last more than a week or two?  Remember what I said about the smell of rotting salad? Thought so.  Pour all of the liquid out of your blender jar.  Maybe you made too much. It happens. Pop it in the fridge, or better yet, in popsicle molds in the freezer. Now, rinse out your blender jar thouroughly, carefully using your hands to wipe down the sides a bit.  Nope, still not done!

Put some dish soap in the bottom of your blender jar, and run in some hot water, at least a third of the way up, but not more than three quarters.  Put the lid back on, and turn your blender on low for thirty seconds or a minute.  NOPE, STILL NOT DONE!
Rinse out your blender jar, very thoroughly, again.  Now you may go enjoy your smoothie.  You should still wash out your blender jar the old fashioned way before you use it again, but in a pinch, it is good to go. Do not leave your blender jar full of water to soak.  This seems like a good idea.  It's not.  Don't let your blender dry out before you accomplish this process. Just. Don't.

I know I just made smoothie-making sound very complicated, but truly, after the first couples of times you take your blender for a spin, you'll get a good feel for quantities of ingredients, your blender's speeds and timing, and the cleaning process, and you'll be churning out smoothies and cleaning your blender in under ten minutes. I promise.

 Caution: If you're not a big veggie eater, or have a serious sweet tooth, you will need some time to acclimate to the pleasantly earthy base flavor of a nutrient-packed green smoothie.  Don't rush the process, or you'll just put yourself off smoothies forever.  Start with a fruit smoothie: frozen bananas and berries, water, a little honey...and add just a couple leaves of romaine or spinach.  The next day, add a few more leaves, and a little less fruit.  Over the next few days, play with a banana-free smoothie, or a smoothie with banana, but a decent quantity of green stuff.  Try eliminating the added sweetener, experiment with adding just a little flax seed oil, and if that's ok, try adding just a little whole flax seed.  Don't rush it.  Your taste buds will adjust, and you'll find you love smoothies the color of a swamp eventually, but if you make yourself one of those on day one, you'll just have a negative association with green smoothies, and that's just sad.

I know you've got some smooth moves up your sleeve!  Let's see them!  Tell me how your smoothie-making adventures go!

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