Going out, grass feeding in Northern Virginia

Maple Avenue Restaurant Kobe Burger, Vienna, VA

happily, we are seeing a rising trend towards restaurants serving grass fed meats, at least in Northern Virginia. Thought people might want to know their options as much I’m aware of them.

1. Maple Avenue Restaurant, Vienna, VA — This is a sweet little place, right on the main drag in our Vienna town. We went for the first time on Valentine’s Day and its a great local food find. It has the feel of an urban…lunch box with windows…that’s how small it is. Clearly they want to put the focus on food–the wine selection is small but good; the beer selection looked similar.  Outstanding moments: the Thai fried okra, the shrimp and grits infused with okra and chorizo. These flavor combinations…original and tasty. To me, that signifies talent I can respect. They source their meats locally, even using the Market on Maple (which sells the grass fed bison we love). I called to clarify if the meatas are grass fed and  learned that the locally sourced ones are, and the majority of the non-local sources are too. (The waitress there did not know.) Oh the greens are organic too. The OhEmmGee flourless chocolate cake…deserving of the name. Check out the high ratings and photos on Yelp.

2. Elevation Burger , Falls Church, VA — You know, when you get a hankering for that burger, at least make it grass fed. Prices are reasonable and toppings include carmelized onions and balsamic mustard. You have to monitor your own self on the fries (100% olive oil) versus salad side choice!

3.  Chipotle, Vienna, VA (and other locations) — This one requires some context. First, they say that all of their pork is raised with pigs living the way pigs are meant to live–nose burrowing in the ground, eating grass. Chicken? They say 100% of their chicken is now naturally raised. That is not the same as free range, where the chickens have plenty of room. It means that they get more room than CAFOs (Commercial feed lots), have no animal by products in their food, and no antibiotics. Also, a vegetarian diet can include grain. They say 50% of their beef is naturally raised (similar definitions). I want to give alot of credit to this company on this account–that they are willing to pay more for better raised meats and therefore, are tactically helping raise the standards out there using their demand driven purchasing power. On the other hand, let me warn you–buttered rice in your burrito with cheese and sour cream and a 200-300 calorie tortilla….means lunch is inching towards 1000 calories. Healthy choice awareness?…eating just half the meal at one sitting?….yup, still necessary.  As a side, an interesting article by the Chipotle owner on last year’s USDA defintion of “naturally raised.” We might need to write the USDA and remind them that we have brains (and stomachs we want to protect!).

Other mention:

The Majestic, Alexandria, VA — Wonderful joint, in a way, some of the food is similar to Maple Avenue Restaurant–burgers, ribs…home-y american food, with less fusion options. I know for a fact that this restaurant gets some of its meats from Polyface Farms in VA, which are all grass fed. However, upon calling them they did clarify that not all of their meat is grass fed, though it is all local. Again, let’s start requesting!

By the way, a big shout out for Maple Avenue Market, our gem of a store in Vienna that serves all Locally Raised grass fed meats including bison and lamb to name a few. They also have grass fed dairy: milk, chocolate milk, and some cheeses from what I recall. Easy to find–kitty corner towards the far left across from the Whole Foods!

Please let me know if you know of other restaurants serving grass fed meats? Would love to see this list expand, at least for Northern VA. perhaps even DC?

Finding the house of my belonging, Part Deux

I seem to be changing my relationship to food. My awareness is shifting. Earlier this week, I wrote about feeding more. I am more conscious of the elements in my life—from my relationships, to my activities, to the written word and even my thoughts that all play a part in feeding me. All of these, I now accept, enter my body and mind, heart and spirit. (and, they are all choices!) I love the similarities of all the words normally associated with eating, (and with the mouth), that also apply to all of these parts of my life. These activities, experiences, all part of my life-style are also my life’s ‘diet’, content to digest! Does what I am doing or reading or producing feed me, does it nourish? How is it to digest? I even had a dream recently where a large stomached man with a mustache (irrelevant detail?) winked at me and said, “The heart is the true stomach.” Chew on that why don’t you?  

As a result, I am less attached to food as a source to fill me. (It may sound cliché, but this is the stuff of daily habits and on the surface, not easily ripe for change). Living from home for seven whole days during this snow storm has helped a lot. No stress or time lost with food storage, transport, reheating, which has been very stabilizing. I am conscious of simply filling myself with less food– a bowl of home cooked chicken soup for a meal, rather than whatever my notion of a full meal was before. Right now, I am eating anywhere from 120-300 calories per meal (400 with some indulgence). Now the import of this is not that I am doing it, the import of this is that I am doing it organically. That is, making this choice doesn’t feel like deprivation or delayed gratification. It actually feels as if feeding myself in other areas of my life is snapping or draining that feeling of deprivation inside and organically loosening up my ties to food. It feels peaceful, without conflicts or fears inside me about attaining external goals. I woke up this morning to find I have lost 6 pounds, almost 4 this week. (More of that, please!)

That does keep me motivated to remain conscious around eating, particularly eating less. Its as if my ‘unconscious’ eating is a mental construct rather than a biological construct. Its definitely about regaining awareness of it as a biological source of intake. Of course, this part of the approach applies to my particular life, because I have achieved the worst of modern comforts: a highly sedentary life. I am carrying more weight than is right for my body and doing all of this helps me while I cultivate a stronger habit of exercise. I am even beginning to get comfortable with just letting myself feel hungry for a little bit. I never ‘thought’ this was an option before and is rather exciting in its own way.

What is my other food these days? Meditating, and reading 2 David Whyte books: the House of My belonging and Three Marriages, and giving myself up to my love of words. Maybe even the possibility of giving myself up to pLaY.

Finding the house of my belonging

I would like to introduce you all to the Great Cat of Re. No, this is not a real cat. It is a cat that visited me in my dreams. Such a vivid visit that its presence is with me still…weeks later and I must share it with you because it continues to teach me so much. I named it the Great Cat of Re because of its huge size and especially because–ding ding ding (time to credit the source)–I have been reading the Amelia Peabody mystery series voraciously lately and she had given one of her feline characters this name.

I hadn’t meant to post about this. I just finished writing another post that builds on the ‘feed more’ theme of my last post. I was searching for a name for that post and decided to try this: Finding the house of my belonging. I have been reading a beautiful poetry book  by David Whyte, called the House of Belonging and it speaks to every open and shuttered window of my soul. It fits my post, and yet, as soon as I wrote it, I remembered the great cat that visited. So, for now, this post is for him.

In this dream, my husband and I ‘owned’ this cat (emphasis explained later). In real life, my husband grew up with cats while I am allergic. He had to give his cat up before we got married. I’ve always felt sad about it and it remains my intention to bring up a cat in our home in the near future somehow. So in the dream, it seemed natural that our home now included his cat. Well, this cat was quite large–long and bulky, you know, not fat. It had a habit of disappearing for days and then returning. We would never know where he had gone. Then the dream transitioned into a sitting room, a common room in my own house. All of these people came, and I wondered why they thought they belonged in our home. They all had come because they knew the Great cat.

This being turned out to be a much more magnificient presence than either my husband or I had noticed. He would leave our house, and walk knowingly to all of these other houses, down streets and roads unfamiliar to the two of us. But he knew who he needed to visit. His purpose, beautiful. With his presence he chose to remind each of these individuals that they were not alone. That life does not need to be about striving so hard, so on our own, alone. I notice you, he said, with no voice, just his being. I care, he said, by his return. All of these individuals were touched in exactly this way by his presence. And they all got it…he was able to carry this message to their hearts, slowly as they looked forward to the surprise of his return visits, slowly accepting another being to love before they could fully accept this love for themselves. Somehow, the cat all lead them back to our place. Now, it was our time to learn–me and my husband.  

Belonging? What is belonging? What is house? This cat, he carried his house with him. He walked the earth strong in his knowing. He belonged to himself. But look, what he chose to do with his presence: he brought belonging to each house he visited. We belong here, in our own knowing, he says, in the love of our own hearts. At the end, perhaps like every loving cat, he brought his deepest knowings to our doorstep, where we lived.  The individuals all entered, with joy and familiarity seeing the Great Cat. Then that lapse of a moment, where all of our unknowings of what we were doing in that room met his steady, ever-present gaze and his constant clear knowing presence. Look at each other, he seemed to be asking. Each of your hearts is the house of your belonging. Rather than deny this, we can accept. and with that choice, to make this greater leap: that we all belong to each other.

Thank you Great Cat of Re.

To readers, I would love to get your feedback too. There is still much to be explored in this dream.

Feeding myself on grass fed

I have tasted the bounty that is farm fresh eggs, and I can never go back to the grocery store. We are Blessed here in Vienna, VA to have a new small business that focuses on delivering grass fed dairy, meat, and eggs. I learned that grass fed bison has much less fat  than other meats, about 2.4 grams per 3 oz. serving, rivaling the leanless of skinless chicken. It is only 120 to 140 calories per three ounce serving. It also has additional Omega 3s. From www.eatwild.com, “Meat from grass-fed animals has two to four times more omega-3 fatty acids than meat from grain- fed animals.”

We have eaten about 3-4 ounces of grass-fed bison once a week for the last few weeks. Let me tell you, my body notices the difference digesting grass fed eggs and meat right away. When i digest it, I feel this release of energy, instead of the lagging, lower energy, draining feeling I normally get when digesting after I’ve eaten out or some such.  Is it the life energy…the process of photosynthesis, that is digested, processed and released in my body? a on-going sun-giving cycle. even that small change in energy, in my gut, is noticeable.

Grass-fed eggs and meat have a strong connection to my spiritual values, the ones Michael Pollan writes about when he says, Eat food. Mostly plants. If I am meant to eat animal products, maybe I should eat the animals who got to live as Nature intended. This is the gospel of Polyface Farms. Joel Sallatin, one of the family owners, says it is cheaper for him to raise his pigs, cows, and chickens on grass. He does not have costs for grain feed OR all the other maintenance costs it takes to raise animals in feed lots as sanctioned by the USDA. The movie, “Food, Inc.” got at least one thing right. It showed how the food industrial complex is so convinced of the efficiency of its industrialized process that when animals get sick or when the methods produce salmonella and eColi infestations, it doesn’t ask itself about the basic methodology. It just tries to engineer a fix within the existing process. LIMITED THINKING. A very post-World War II approach to our food supply that….well, suffice it to say that I don’t think it has been good for us Americans at all, particularly in terms of the ability to produce cheap hamburgers and soda and keep us so obese.

So, does it cost more than grain-fed meat? It definitely cost more than buying meat produced from our industrialized processes. Chicken I buy at whole foods is much more expensive than what I can get from Perdue at Giant. But is it less from locally farm grown and supplied grass-fed meat? I don’t know yet. I bought sirloin cut bison for $19 a pound. I bought probably six ounces, totally to about $10. I will update this post with two more pieces of data. One, trying to compare ground bison and various cuts with their like counterparts from say, a Giant and Wholefoods. Second, I want to provide a map of where grass fed products are sold for retail in the Northern VA area.

This is a real example of so many principles on this blog. One, where should we put our money? Into our bodies, so that they may keep us. Money is an exchange of time in this American society where everyone has to run around, be productive and live in independent nuclear family units that becomes so stressful that it becomes a challenge to truly feed ourselves. Instead, we become victim to take-out, processed foods from the grocery store, and fast-food. Its difficult, but I advocate taking TIME to buy right, cut and chop, either assemble or cook, and finally FEED yourself and your family. Don’t eat, FEED. let the light of the sun which fills the green blades of grass, reach your body.

Crepes!, with savory chick pea flour

In fishing out a recipe for a fushion crepe dish I had posted earlier, I realized I had never actually specified how to make the crepe batter. I want to rectify that now, especially since this batter uses chick pea flour and is nutritive-ly far superior to its French counterpart.

I had hesitated in providing that recipe because it was from a cook book. However, today, I was sans cook book due to an apartment repair job which required us to pack up all of our books from one wall. It is for a traditional Indian dish called “cheela”. 

So, I called my mom and promptly forgot most of what she told me. I did remember her saying that outside of the salt and pepper, all else was free to experimentation. So here are the results of my delicious experiment:

  • 1 cup chick pea flour (also called Besan, in indian stores)
  • 1/2 large onion, diced (I used yellow)
  • 1 medium green chili pepper (these are long and slim), chopped
  • at least 1 Tbls Fresh coriander (or more if you’d like)
  • 1/4 tsp Salt 
  • 1/4 tsp Black Pepper
  • 1/4 to 1/2 tsp red cayenne pepper

Optional:

  • Garam Masala (1/4 to 1/2 tsp) (I only used this because I had it, not because its imperative to the dish)
  • ground coriander (1/2 tsp)
  • ground cumin (1/4 to 1/2 tsp)

Toss and mix all the ingredients in a bowl. Then, add water, starting with one cup of water. You want to make it about a pancake like consistency in the batter. If needed, add up to 1/4 cup more. Whisk together to create the batter for the crepes. Then follow the cooking instructions in my previous post–that post describes how proten-acious this crepe is and how it barely takes any oil to cook! I made up to 7 crepes using this recipe, could have possibly stretched it to 8, to feed 3 adults. Enjoy!

A side note on the amount of spices: Note, when I don’t have a specific measurement in mind for a basic spice such as salt or pepper, I basically sprinkle the salt over the surface of the other ingredients in a left to right manner until I have the surface at least lightly coated. In this case, because chick pea flour has a strong taste, I decided I was use just a pinch or dash more salt. Same with the black pepper. I sprinkled until the surface of the flour in my bowl was fully coated because I love black pepper. Otherwise, I added some ground cumin because I LOVE it and I used ground coriander because I didn’t have fresh.

Enjoy!

pumpkin

Loaded with beta carotene

For a few years now, I’ve relished creating with pumpkin because of its texture and taste. With fall comes the convenience and affordability of pumpkin puree, so the plunge is even easier. Pumpkin is simply not just pumpkin pie. I experimented with healthi-fying foods. I make pumpkin breads, pumpkin muffins, adding cranberries, nuts, whatever. This past weekend, I found a very good recipe for pumpkin pancakes that relied extensively on whole wheat flour. I am telling you, the pancakes cooked fabulously–just the right flakiness, sweetness. We served it with organic maple syrup, soy sausage and a lovely fresh fruit chat. So thank you to the PinchMySalt.com blogger for providing her original recipe:

  • Whole Wheat Pumpkin Pancakes
  • Fruit Chat — Chop one pear, one apple, one avocado, and one banana into serving bowl. Squeeze 1 lime or 1/2 lemon juice and toss with 1 teaspoon of roasted ground cumin and a pinch of salt. If you have black salt, that is best. For those that have some chat masala, tossing some in is an added perk.
  • Soy Sausage – Wholefoods 365 brand

On a related note, Interestingly enough, before leaving Philadelphia, my husband and I fell in love with a new BYOB called Pumpkin. We rave about it–an intimate culinary experience to check out if you are there!

Yum Yum, Tandoori Chicken at home

There is so much catch up I want to do on this blog. Let’s start with our home’s recipe for tandoori chicken. This recipe meets all my criteria: its a healthy food choice, easy to make and affordable. Let’s go:

Easy to make – This is simple because its based on a quick marinade and the flavor can stick in as little as half an hour. In a medium bowl, for each pound of chicken spoon in:

  • 2 tablespoons of non-fat plain yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon of Tandoori masala
  • 2 teaspoons of ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala
  • 1/3 teaspoon tumeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (more if you want)
  • 1/2 cup of chopped cilantro (optional)
  • 2 teaspoons of garlic and ginger paste (optional)

Mix together well. Toss in the chicken and mix so all sides are coated. Make sure your chicken is skinless and cut out all chunks of fat that you can. This is essential for this to be healthy. For the Tandoori and garam masala, I happen to use Rajah masala which can be found at most Indian grocery stores but use what you have. I only mention it for those people who are not familiar with how to shop for the spices. For the other spices, see if you can find a place which sells the ground coriander or tumeric in bulk!

Also add chopped vegetables, cut into chunky pieces: 1 bell pepper (any color), 1 small red onion, and a handful of grape tomatoes. Toss in the bowl and coat. Put the marinaded bowl of chicken and vegetables in the fridge (cover with simple saran wrap) for at least 30 minutes. Then bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes.

To make it affordable, I typically use drumsticks and thighs but I do try to make sure that meat is as naturally and wildly fed as possible. This time I used skinless/bonless chicken breasts which I had found on sale at Whole Foods and frozen for later use. With breasts, I could actually cube the chicken as if we were going to skewer them (chicken tikka). Now the benefit of this is that the smaller the pieces, the easier it is to coat and the shorter the time that is needed for the marinade to adequately flavor the meat. I was able to marinade the cubed chicken for only 30 minutes and achieve full flavor. So, with whole pieces of chicken meat, it will take more time to flavor. Here, I would also take the extra step of poking holes in the meat with a fork or a knife to let the marinade soak in. Of course, the longer you can let the marinade sit the more the food will reward you. But we were cooking on a hungry stomach on a Sunday night and this is what worked!

I put aluminum foil on a broiler sheet (you can use nonstick baking sheet) and sprayed olive oil spray (because its what i had) and spread the contents of the bowl on that (cubed chicken and vegetables). You can also skewer chicken and vegetable pieces alternatively on bamboo (or other) skewers. Make sure there is a pan under the broiler sheet to catch the water that drains from the vegetables (and maybe also from the yogurt). I then baked for about 20 minutes on 375 degrees. Of course, you will have to cook it longer if you have larger pieces of meat or more than a pound of meat. Cut a piece of chicken to make sure it is cooked through.

Serve hot, with garnishes of lime to squeeze on to the hot chicken. Delicious!

We served with a side dish of asparagus and wheat cous-cous flavored simply with chicken broth.

Cost per serving, tandoori chicken: $1.30 per serving. Cost per serving includes: skinless boneless thighs from Whole Foods, Rajah Tandoori masala and Garam Masala, yogurt, 1 red pepper, 1 small red onion and limes.