Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Awesome Appetizers: Caprese "kabobs"

This appetizer really is awesome - 4 edible ingredients plus toothpicks, a recipe as easy as it gets and they are delicious. I found the inspiration here and adapted it slightly for my needs. I was headed to an afternoon birthday party but had to leave home early in the morning with my potluck contribution already prepared. The number of guests was unknown, and I needed something with little clean-up involved since the party would be outside.

What you need:
Fresh mozzarella (one large ball or mini mozzarella balls)
Cherry or grape tomatoes
Fresh basil
Extra virgin olive oil
Toothpicks or cake pop/kabob sticks

What you do:
-Rinse the tomatoes and cut them in half width-wise (to make two half spheres instead of two half ovals)
-Cut the fresh mozzarella into about 1/2 inch squares, or if using mini mozzarella balls, cut in half
-Rinse the fresh basil and pat dry, then cut into small squares (remember a small piece of fresh basil can have lots of flavor)
-Assemble the "kabob" on the toothpick as follows: tomato first, then basil, then mozzarella (if using mini mozzarella balls, assemble so that the half tomato and half mozzarella ball create a complete sphere like a cake pop)
-Lay the finished kabobs on a trap and drizzle or spray with olive oil

After about 30 minutes of prep and assembly time and less than $8 worth of ingredients, I had a tray of around 40-50 Caprese "kabobs." All I had to do when I got to the party was take the lid off the tray. No plates needed for these awesome appetizers - just enjoy and toss your toothpick in the trash or compost bin!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Currently Reading: VB6: Eat Vegan Before 6:00 to Lose Weight and Restore Your Health...For Good

"Currently Reading" is a new feature I'll be adding to Part of the Whole. I love stumbling across a good book - even better for me (and you!) when it's a book packed with information useful to my (and probably your) daily life. So, when I do pick up a book I think would be of interest to readers, I'll be sharing my review. Hunker down folks, this one might take awhile.  

In March, I had the opportunity to attend a Mark Bittman lecture (maybe you've read his food-centric NY Times column or have one of his cookbooks). Just a few days before, Bittman tweeted an offer for his followers to respond via tweet or email for a free, pre-publication copy of his latest book, VB6: Eat Vegan Before 6:00 to Lose Weight and Restore Your Health...For Good (see the Kindle version here). This, his latest book, will be released on April 30, 2013. Perfect timing! The lecture was enjoyable and a good reminder of many topics I'd become familiar with through watching loads of food and farming documentaries and reading other literature on the topics. Bittman introduced the VB6 concept, touching on the conversation with his doctor and the condition of his health that led to his decision to eat a vegan diet before 6 p.m.

Finally, a few weeks later, I'm able to spend some time reading VB6. The concept is simple. I should say that I've done my own informal research on the wide array of specialty "diets" out there (I like how Bittman brings to light the way the use of the word "diet" has become warped so that its general connotation is a short term way of eating for quick results, rather than long-term) - paleo, Whole30, raw, vegetarian, vegan, etc. Obviously, for those of us who are considering changing our (long-term) diet, we are starting at Point A and aiming to settle into the eating habits at Point B. Often, this means saying farewell to certain foods - possibly dairy, gluten, sugar or meat. My educated guess tells me that the initial shock of "I have to give up ____?!" is where some people jump ship before even putting in the effort. Others happily accept the challenge and push on. VB6 seems to be a nice little compromise somewhere between Point A and Point B, wavering throughout the day but generally landing you much closer to Point B than Point A.

Here's the premise of VB6: from the time you wake up until the time you eat dinner, you adopt a vegan diet. You exclude all animal products and byproducts (meat, eggs, butter, cheese, etc.) from your meals and snacks - an extra thumbs up for also restricting your intake of highly processed, nutrient-poor and sugary foods (white bread, pasta, get the idea). But at dinner time and for any evening snacks, feel free to enjoy those foods you excluded earlier in the day (mainly the animal products and byproducts - it would still be wise to limit or restrict your intake of the highly processed, nutrient-poor and sugary foods). Bittman's reason for the dinnertime allowances makes a lot of sense - this is when we tend to eat out, socialize, have large meals and maybe dessert, a glass of wine or a beer. I'd dare to say that this is when people on a typical diet tend to "slip" - not to say that going from vegan back to your typical eating habits at dinnertime is a built-in "cheat," it just allows for flexibility. And as with just about anything, room for flexibility will likely lead to longevity and success. Also, as Bittman explains in his book, there's no required counting of calories, tallying of points or any other such keep-tracks (unless of course you have some other reason that you want to).

As I was getting ready for bed last night (and I was nowhere near finished with the book by that point), I thought about VB6 and how I should just go ahead and do it. It's really not that hard. Sure I like cheese. I like some chocolate now and then, and a beer on a sunny day. Oh yeah and a good pulled pork sandwich. But will waiting until dinner time to enjoy these foods kill me? I highly doubt it. If anything, it might make me savor and appreciate them a bit more. Luckily, I'd just done a quick grocery shopping trip and was planning on eating vegetarian lunches for the rest of the week, so I was pretty much all set.

So, as I dove into my first attempt at a VB6 day, here's what I ate before dinner:

Breakfast: Grapes, walnuts and black coffee with a little sugar in the raw (the black coffee was a fluke - we were out of half-and-half at work...I wasn't going to budge on the half-and-half and was going to adapt VB6 to "VB6 but after my morning cup o' joe")

Lunch: A honeycrisp apple with extra crunchy peanut butter, Wheat Thins with roasted garlic hummus, more walnuts and water

Guess what? I survived.

On Sunday I run in my first ever 5K - and let me tell you - I am not a runner. That being said, I've learned to enjoy the workouts and the training schedule, and I'd like to sign up for another 5K sometime this summer or fall. I'm looking forward to using VB6 to guide me back to better eating choices as I prepare for round two.


Always consult your physician before beginning a new diet or fitness plan.

I received my copy of Mark Bittman's VB6: Vegan Before 6:00 to Lose Weight and Restore Your Health...For Good for free from Clarkson Potterson/Publishers through a promotion by Mark Bittman via his Twitter account. Although I did not purchase this book, the review is my uninfluenced opinion and the choice to try the VB6 diet is my own educated decision.