Garlic-Orange Tofu and Peanut Cucumbers with Rice

When I glance out the window this morning, it looks like it’s raining. But I look again and it’s still ash. We’ve been raining ash for the last couple days as the air quality went from clear blue skies over Labor Day weekend to a dramatic sweep of heavy smoke on Monday evening as several fast-moving forest fires have been burning in the cascade mountains and now closer near the edge of town to our east. Our hens have been out foraging as usual but I worry about their little lungs. Our teenage kitten, a truly needed and lovely new addition this summer, has been upset at the eery light the last couple of days.

I’ve been back to morning meditation lately first thing before I get out of bed or turn on the light, and this morning’s had me expressing gratitude for our air purifiers, those ‘noise machines’ that I have routinely tsk-tsked since William insisted on them in the last couple years. And also gratitude for a safe home. The alarm of LEVEL 3–GET OUT NOW evacuation alerts going off on my phone throughout yesterday afternoon for the northeast edge of the city, truly a ways off from us but too close for comfort, brought that gratitude home.

Today at least we got a sunrise, smoky as it was. Yesterday was just a dark red Apocalyptic haze, which is becoming the norm in Western Oregon in the last 36 hours.

We can still smell the smoke inside even with a couple good air purifiers so I’ve been adding turmeric to all my meals, taking or eating extra vitamin C and vitamin E-rich foods (hazelnuts, peanuts, sunflower seeds, leafy greens), and adding tulsi / holy basil, and licorice and marshmallow roots to my tea blend. The first three are taken with the idea of combatting the oxidative stress that comes with particularly toxic wildfire smoke particles. If I had a particularly vitamin-C rich food or herb on hand such as amla fruit powder, camu camu powder, or rose hips, I’d use that instead of just plain supplemental vitamin C. The last two roots of marshmallow and licorice are for soothing irritated internal tissues, such as the lungs and digestive lining. Even though I’m staying inside and out of the terrible air, this stuff is incredibly potent. Turmeric particularly helps my smoke headaches.

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While I’ve been meaning to share more about digestive health in this space over the next few days—since this is an area that my previous survey indicated is definitely a need. But first, I think we can all use a really good meal that’s refreshing, comforting, and enjoyable while summer is still here.

I know many individuals avoid tofu because they’re unsure of how to prepare it, or when they’ve tried to in the past the texture is all wrong. I was there for a long time (probably 10 years since I first attempted tofu until I was comfortable cooking / eating it). So I’ve outlined a little more detailed way to prepare it. This is my go-to method and yields the texture we prefer.

Then the tofu is paired with finely chopped cucumbers tossed and marinated in the same dressing as the tofu is marinated and cooked in, and enjoyed with simple brown rice. The result is a simple concept but the taste is truly rich and incredible. Hope you’re staying safe in whatever way where you are, and if you tend to avoid tofu because you’re unsure how to cook it, give this recipe a try.

Garlic-Orange Tofu and Cucumbers with Rice, serves 4
inspired by Anna Jones in the The Modern Cook’s Year

16 oz. / 453 grams firm tofu, drained

dressing:
3 cloves of garlic, minced
3 Tbs. reduced-sodium tamari
2 Tbs. brown rice vinegar or raw apple cider vinegar
1 Tbs. toasted sesame oil
1 Tbs. honey or maple syrup
a pinch of red pepper flakes
¼ tsp. ground black pepper
¼ tsp. ground coriander
the zest and juice of 1 unwaxed/organic orange

1 cup / 190 grams brown rice
2 cups / 470 ml water
1 ¼ lb. / 600 grams / ~4 cucumbers
a few pinches of salt
¼ cup /35 grams peanuts, toasted
a small handful of fresh basil, minced

  • Slice the block of tofu in half lengthwise, wrap in paper towels like a birthday gift, and then stack the wrapped tofu between two cutting boards. If you have something heavy in your kitchen, put it on top of your cutting board as a weight. (I use my giant Shakespeare textbook). Leave to press out the liquid for about 30 minutes.
  • While the tofu is pressing, whisk together the dressing ingredients.
  • When the 30 minutes is up, unwrap the tofu and slice it into equal size cubes (I get about 48), and combine it with 1/4 to 1/3 cup of the dressing in a container with a leak-proof lid. With the lid on, give it a few shakes to immerse in the dressing and then chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes and up to a day. More time will allow for more flavor to develop.
  • Once the tofu has marinated, turn it and its dressing onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake at 400 degrees F for about 40 minutes, flipping it over halfway through.
  • After the tofu goes in the oven, cook the rice in a medium pot on the stovetop. Add 2 cups of water, 1 cup of brown rice (ideally pre-soaked but simply rinsed and drained if not), and bring the pot to a boil. Once it boils, turn down to a simmer, cover, and cook undisturbed for 40 minutes.
  • While the rice and tofu are cooking away, dice the cucumbers into small (~1-cm) pieces. Place the slices in a colander that’s over a sink or another bowl, and sprinkle and toss through a few pinches of salt. Set aside for 15 to 20 minutes to release some of their liquid.
  • Then take your (clean) hands or a clean kitchen towel and press the cucumbers to remove any extra liquid that may have been released. Put the cucumber in a bowl and add ¼ to 1/3 cup of the remaining dressing. Add more to taste. Scatter over and stir through the toasted peanuts.
  • Once the tofu and rice timers are done, remove them both from the heat and serve with the marinated cucumbers. Sprinkle atop some fresh minced basil leaves if desired.  

Gently Spiced Beet + Orange Smoothie

It seems we’re fully into the new year now. The Christmas decor is all taken down, the neighborhood immersed back into winter darkness without the festive lights. We’re all back to work and school, business and workouts as usual. Back into our old routines and maybe struggling with any resolutions made at the turn of the decade.

I suspect like a lot of people, I didn’t actually make any concrete resolutions. But I did reflect on the old year, realizing a lot of good progress on ‘overall health and happiness’ was cemented in 2019. And since I like the changes I made to get there, I’m continuing to put an effort into them.

Because there’s still progress to be made. The last several years have brought so many health challenges my way, and I’m finally seeing real longer-term improvement.

Since I work within the public health and nutrition industries, I read a lot this time of year about the best diets, and this and that. Veganuary is under way, the climate crisis and wildfires in Australia are on the top of many individuals’ minds, and reducing plastics are a topic of discussion–in Oregon, we’ve finally instated a statewide ban on plastic grocery bags–which seems archaic that we’re only just now getting there when it was standard practice 12 years ago when I first traveled to Europe.

But that’s a topic for another day–though one I do want to get to.

It came across my newsfeed today that despite the massive media attention given to the best way of eating, of working out, of ‘self-care’ – ing, etc., the best way is still personalized nutrition and integrative health. Which means one size does not fit all. And sometimes one size doesn’t even fit most.

I made a big list this morning of the positive health changes I saw come to fruition last year and after looking them all over, I realized two big foundational pieces stood out. One, I received a comprehensive micronutrient test to measure my intracellular nutrient values – as opposed to the not as reliable serum markers that a doctor might measure (which don’t show whether nutrients are actually making their way into the cells to be utilized); and I drastically reduced my stress.

Even though I was already ‘walking my talk,’ through diet, my micronutrient test showed otherwise. You may have heard the saying ‘we aren’t what we eat, we’re what we digest.’ Coming in after marathon training and a particularly bad-timing autoimmune flare, my micronutrient status was sub-optimal in many random not obvious nutrients.

What followed were several months of repletion, and continued focus on gut health to actually absorb those precious nutrients. And feeling substantially better.

But I was also frequently reminded about the link between stress and nutrition. When stressed, we use up nutrients faster and we don’t absorb them as well, because the stressed brain and body is not a resting and digesting brain and body. That means we need to try to eat in a relaxed mindset. The smoothie I’m sharing below can cause me an uncomfortable, bloated tummy on days when I eat it at my work office in a rush, or when there’s too much stimulus in the building. And on other days when I’m relaxed, it has no such negative effects.

Likewise, partially ‘mechanically broken down’ foods like soups and smoothies help our stressed systems get more nutrients in the system when we need them.

Beyond practices that help me keep daily stress in check and continuing to work on optimally digesting / absorbing my foods, I’ve also given myself a little personalized nutrition challenge to incorporate more beets and greens in this winter season. I chose these two specifically given several months of bloodwork results, but they’re incredibly health promoting for most of us.

This daily smoothie, which I often have for a mid-afternoon snack, is my current go-to.

Spiced Beets and Orange Smoothie, makes 1 ~16 oz.
To prep for several days of smoothies, I wrap a few medium beets in foil and roast them all together to use as needed. Though the ingredients might seem tedious with this and that random seed and nut, I’ve included a range of them to hit more of the antioxidant micronutrients we need. Use whatever protein powder is appropriate for you, or if you don’t need extra protein – simply leave out.

1 orange, peeled and sectioned
1 medium beet, roasted
20 grams / 1/2 a scoop vanilla protein powder
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. cardamom
a small handful spinach or other greens, or 1-3 tsp. moringa powder
1 tsp. chia seeds
1 Brazil nut
1 Tbs. raw pumpkin or sunflower seeds
1/2 – 1 cup water, to desired consistency

  • Add all ingredients to a high-speed blender and puree until smooth. Double batch, divide, and store in the fridge if you prefer a couple days’ worth at a time.

Blood Orange & Rhubarb Smoothie {Recipe Redux}

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Last Valentine’s weekend William and I competed in a couple’s 5k race. This was the first time we’ve run such a race, where our scores and ages were combined and pitted up against a crazy-fast group of local runners. We’re often asked about running together, and though we do so only every now and again these days, our relationship did begin in part because of our mutual interest in running.

We were in the same college at OSU and happened to take a class together the last term of my senior year. Will strolled around like a laid-back California dude with his casual persona and curly blonde hair. He also routinely wore his Hood to Coast shirts. He was definitely the only guy in the class to do so. I was intrigued. 

When we started hanging out, running was our first common ground and we began running together before we were officially dating, in the final weeks before Will’s annual Hood to Coast race. A year later, we both ran Hood to Coast. Through that experience, I learned that I could still find some speed after two hours of sleep, which was periodically interrupted by manic, nearby, cowbell ringing. Having a warm-up buddy at 4:30 am after those two unrestfull hours was a definite motivational plus.

Even though we haven’t been running together quite as often these days, Will has remained my biggest supporter. He routinely wakes up early and comes to races with me, and even when he doesn’t race, he dons his run outfit and champions me through the warm up and cool down. He stands right off the starting line and takes all my extra layers at the last moment and then strategically places himself near the finish and yells at me to sprint as if my life depends on it. I jokingly refer to him as my coach because he’s been at this racing business longer than I have and he is a true encourager.

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Valentine’s Day may be past for this year, and we don’t truly celebrate it anyway, but we do celebrate the early mornings and post-workout meal of our favorite shared hobby as frequently as we can. We also share a love for healthy smoothies, and turn to them more often when amping up mileage.

As far as ingredients go, I tend to mix together stronger or more seasonal flavors, while Will consistently opts for a heavy dose of berries. I am a huge fan of rhubarb and have been hoarding last summer’s crop in the freezer for months now. Rhubarb happens to pair beautifully with oranges. Cue blood orange season, and our blender has been in a near constant state of pink-smoothie-use for several weeks straight! 

It may not feel like it lately, but spring is just around the corner and rhubarb is one of the earliest spring crops in these parts of Western Oregon. If you’re lucky enough to have your own plant, throw a dark pot over it, and you can begin to force it out of its winter dormancy. I did this at the school garden in early January, and we are well on our way to having rhubarb ready to harvest a couple months earlier! If you are not in possession of a rhubarb plant or a freezer full of last year’s cache, you can bet there is a farmer that knows this trick and will have the first rhubarb of the season in the market soon, just in time for the last of the blood oranges! Happy smoothie sipping and early season running!

Rhubarb & Blood Orange Smoothie, serves 2
2 blood oranges, peeled and diced
1 Tbs. chia seeds
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 cup unsweetened almond milk
1 1/2 cups rhubarb sauce*
stevia drops or sweetener, to taste

Pour all the ingredients into a blender and mix until it is thick and creamy. Season to taste with sweetener.

*For rhubarb sauce, chop rhubarb into small pieces, pour into a medium stock pot, add about an inch of water, and heat to boiling. Turn down to a simmer and cook until the fibers have broken down and the mixture begins to get thick. I don’t add any sweetener at this point, but you certainly can sweeten it to taste, if you like.