What is Plant-Forward eating?

Over the past years, I noticed a shift in my eating habits. As time goes by, I see myself enjoying more and more plant foods and less animal protein. I witnessed some friends suddenly stating things like, “This is it. I think I’m going vegetarian.” Finally, I keep hearing more people concerned about the world’s food supply and sustainability.

Marie Molde, RD

To get more clarity of what’s going on, I talked with a good friend of mine, Marie Molde. Marie is a registered dietitian and works for a food insights company. She is also growing as a public figure and quoted in publications from major media like the New York Times.

Plant-forward has gotten a lot of traction in recent years. – she began explaining – If we think about where this trend started, it wasn’t a single anyone event but more convergence of a few different trends that brought us to where we are today. One of them was the rise in communal dining, people sharing meals and dishes, where a big part are side dishes. Sides tend to be inherently meatless and introduced people to more vegetables and different palatable vegetable preparations, like roasted cauliflower and blistered shishitos.

The culinary institute of America (CIA) defines plant-forward as.

“A style of cooking and eating that emphasizes and celebrates, but is not limited to, plant-based foods—including fruits and vegetables (produce); whole grains; beans, other legumes (pulses) and soy foods; nuts and seeds; plant oils; and herbs and spices—and that reflects evidence-based principles of health and sustainability.”

Menus of Change. in Collaboration with the CIA

Plant-forward, thus, is a way to classify recipes and an eating style that celebrate plant-based ingredients with animal products used only as seasonings or garnish. This term is equivalent for those who, like Marie, call their eating style “flexitarian.”

Speaking about the evolution of the trend, Marie shared some insights.

People started paying more attention to plant-based alternatives in 2016 when David Chang introduced the Impossible burger (“the plant-based burger that bleeds”) at his restaurant Momofuku in NYC. Since then, Impossible and Beyond burgers penetrated steadily on US menus and represent 5% of US restaurants today. Around the same time, people gained awareness of the environmental and health impacts of consuming animal products.

Climate change is impacting food choices, where increasingly severe droughts, shrinking of growing seasons, and extreme temperatures impacting crop yields are forcing consumers to feel the effects of climate change personally through food. The UN predicts that the global food system could be majorly affected by climate change within 30 years without drastic action to reverse climate change.

– Gen Z consumers, especially, are worried about the planet’s future. They know that what they consume will affect the outcome, so they select more plant-based products to protect the planet better.

– 62% of Americans agree if we reduce our consumption of meat and increase our consumption of plant-based foods, we would be healthier (and 52% agree we would have less of a negative impact on the environment). – Marie highlights.

Finally, the presence of food allergies has increased in recent years, driving consumers to seek alternatives that will satisfy them and not make them sick. Many of these alternatives tend to be plant-based, especially for dairy alternatives (oat milk, almond milk, vegan cheeses, etc.)

All of these phenomena, evolving concurrently, are driving the momentum toward plant-based and plant-forward eating that we see today.

I asked Marie how did she get involved in the matter?

My background is in food and nutrition, and I’m an enthusiastic advocate for plant-forward eating because of the potential it has to improve our health and the health of our planet. I started working for a food trends and research firm in 2016, the same year the Impossible Burger launched at Momofuku, and plant-based / plant-forward has been a major trend in the food industry and the theme of my work ever since. I’m also a member of the Menus of Change Business Leadership Council, a group of leading chefs, food and foodservice executives, and social innovators working to advance plant-forward eating.

What are other benefits of being a flexitarian or eating plant-forward meals?

People think they need more protein than they do. For example, there is the misconception of plant protein being of less quality, which is incorrect, and the knowledge is spreading more and more. You can get lentils for lunch instead of beef and still have the protein you need; people now realize that. An additional benefit is that produce is typically less expensive so that you can spend more on better-quality ingredients.

Finally, I feel that plant-based meat alternatives are great as a gateway for people to get more curious about plant-based and plant-forward eating. Hopefully, it will help people to include more produce, nuts/seeds, legumes, and other whole-food plant-based items in their diets. With plant-forward, you can have a burger composed of 30% mushrooms, lentils, beans, grains, etc., and the rest beef, thus enjoying the best of both worlds. I would love to see more people eating plant-forward meals; that’s my wish for the planet. – Marie concludes.

That concluded my conversation with Marie. I felt very inspired by the movement and happy to see in the future more dishes centered on vegetables and produce as a way to increase sustainability and see people living healthier lives.

My Favorite Three Croissant Spots in Seattle

When it comes to croissants, there is a sizeable difference between one worth paying for and one that’s not. I have been trying out bakeries all over Seattle, and I would like to share the top three that deliver outstanding results consistently, so the next time you visit Seattle, you know where to go.

What makes a good croissant? I am a long-time baker, and I have taken pastry classes from different institutes and pastry chefs. So I based my evaluation both on the experience and the technical execution of the croissants. I also tried to incorporate some non-technical components, like if the croissants bring me memories of my trips to France where I had exceptional ones.

The croissant from Maison Pichard, my favorite croissant in Paris.

Here are the basics:

  • Visually: It should be golden brown, with a caramelized crust. Depending on the glaze, it might be shiny or not. All the layers from the lamination of the dough have to be visible, and it has five or seven distinct elements.
  • Smell: It should give you a ‘bakery’ feeling, and you should feel the butter and the bread as the prominent aromas.
  • Weight: the croissant should feel very lightweight and airy when holding it in your hands.
  • Texture: A good croissant is very flaky, and it makes a mess of crumbles while eating it. The interior is moist, and the crumb is very open, almost like a spider web.
  • Flavor: A croissant contains a lot of butter; thus, its quality must stand out. If you want to appreciate the flavor, I recommend tasting different high-quality kinds of butter to get a reference. It must not taste either too salty or too sweet.

You can watch this video of Alex trying out various croissants in Paris to have an additional reference.

Best Croissants in Seattle

Here are my top three choices. There is, however, a fourth one worth mentioning that didn’t make it to my top three because their results are not consistent: 1 out of three times, I’ve got a good croissant and the remaining average to poor. This bakery is Cafe Besalu in Ballard.

I also like Macrina Bakery for other baked goods, but their croissants don’t pass the visual test.

Rosellini’s Bakery In Ballard

This place not only serves the best croissants in Seattle but also serves excellent coffee, an outstanding selection of viennoiseries, and my favorite granola so far; I will be making another post to talk about local granolas.

The crumb structure of Rosellini’s croissant is near to perfection.

Sea Wolf Bakers in Fremont

This place is extremely close to Rosellini’s, and they make outstanding bread and savory baked goods.

The croissant at Sea Wolf bakers, you can see the high quality execution of it.

Fuji Bakery in West Queen Anne

This Japanese bakery doesn’t look like much from the outside, but their baked goods are outstanding. They even took trouble of labeling their croissants as made with European butter.

The croissant from Fuji Bakery, see the attention to detail present in this croissant. It was extremely flaky.

Final Thoughts

For discussion’s sake, I haven’t covered all of the bakeries in Seattle. There are many that I haven’t tried; however, I’ve been to the top-rated ones from various sites, and blogs, and the Seattle magazine.

If you know any bakery and would like me to try it, please let me know in the comments section below.

Eggs Benedict Deconstructed

Keeping a good relationship with food is key to a healthy lifestyle. Thinking of what (and how much of it) is in each thing you eat will help you make better nutrition decisions. Now, not everyone has the time to think about these things while eating. The posts in this series will help you gain that ballpark knowledge of everyday items we have. If you like this analysis, please feel free to request more items.

I had many ‘bennys’ in my life. Some were better than others, yet all are an undeniable staple of the American brunch. I chose this dish to deconstruct because it consists primarily of ingredients that people commonly demonize. So today’s post tries to address the question: What’s unhealthy in Eggs Benedict, and what is its impact on weight management?

In its simplest form, this dish consists of four main elements: One English muffin, two poached eggs, two slices of pan-seared Canadian bacon, and a few tablespoons of Hollandaise sauce.

If we further break down the muffin and the Hollandaise sauce, we find that some of their components are:

  • White flour.
  • Whole Milk.
  • Sugar.
  • Salt.
  • Butter.
  • Egg yolks.

I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that people label the benny’s as unhealthy. But let’s look a little deeper.

For simplicity’s sake, I will rely on the nutrition information that the USDA has of English muffins and not deconstruct the bread. However, if you’re curious, I found this recipe from King Arthur that’s pretty close to the standard.

Hollandaise Sauce

Nutritional information of Hollandaise Sauce

Considered by chef Carême as a French mother sauce, this sauce is a close cousin of Mayonnaise. In essence, it’s an emulsion between egg yolks and clarified butter, even though some make it out of regular butter. After the emulsion is ready, we flavor the sauce with salt, lemon, black pepper, or cayenne.

Let’s look at the nutrition information per tablespoon. For our recipe, I estimate that we will need about three tablespoons. By taking a closer look into the cholesterol levels, it seems like three tablespoons of this sauce might make it relatively high in this lipid.

Eggs and Bacon

Nutritional information of 1 egg and 1 commercial slice of Canadian Bacon

The traditional recipe calls for two slices of Canadian bacon and two poached eggs. Canadian bacon is much leaner than American bacon, which comes only from the pork belly. However, the pan-searing method would render out of the cured meat most of its fat anyway. Because of how it’s cooked then, the pan-seared version (if drained correctly and without any added oil) will be much leaner than the uncooked one.

Poached eggs have the same calories as regular eggs. Here is the nutrition information of both components combined, one slice and one egg.

By paying close attention to these two components, we can see that they don’t contain any trans fat, but they’re high in cholesterol, mainly from the egg.

Putting It All Together

Now let’s stop and analyze the complete recipe. First, a note on the ingredients, I added 1 tsp of butter to the recipe because I like to use it to toast the English muffin. You can see, either way, that the added butter doesn’t move the needle in terms of calories. The following table summarizes the calories of each component of the recipe.

QtyUnitFoodCalories% of Recipe

3

tbsp

hollandaise sauce

248.2

39.92%

1

muffin

English muffin

133.95

21.54%

2

slices

Canadian bacon

62.7

10.08%

2

large

eggs

143

23.00%

1

tsp

butter

33.92

5.46%

1unitrecipe621.77100%
Breakdown of a traditional ‘benny’

Also, we can see the recipe’s nutritional information, including the micronutrients and the breakdown of the macros.

Nutrition information of the traditional ‘benny’

As you can see, this recipe, depending on how much Hollandaise sauce we use, is not excessively high in calories. Therefore, it would fit well either as a lunch or a dinner for someone who is not trying to gain weight. Also, it’s noteworthy that most of the calories come from fat. You could quickly transform this breakfast into keto by replacing the English muffin with a few pieces of pan-seared cauliflower.

Weight Management and Health Analysis

The previous analysis poses the question: if calories are not excessive, where’s the unhealthy of a plain benny?

The first thing that stands out is the 200% of the recommended value for Cholesterol. This lipid comes mainly from the eggs. There are eggs in the bread, the sauce, and in poached form. You can drastically mitigate this factor by having your benny as a sandwich, avoiding one of the eggs, half of the sauce, and one slice of bacon.

The second thing that stands out is trans fat. This fat comes from hydrogenated oils that commercial bread have to prolong their shelf life. The fix? Bake your own!

The final component is much more subtle. As English muffins are white bread, they have very little dietary fiber and a high glycemic index; this means that you’re likely to experience a glucose spike and feel hungry again when it goes away.

Is bacon a problem? From the point of view of our data, it’s not! From the nutritional perspective, it adds protein which helps you feel satisfied for an extended period.

To put things into perspective, by baking the muffin myself, using whole wheat flour, and converting my benny into a sandwich, I would consider the meal healthy, especially if for a high-fat eating style. There are also ways of further enhancing the recipe by replacing the eggs in the sauce with aquafaba and dijon mustard as emulsifiers.

Conclusion

Plain eggs Benedict are not excessive in calories, even though it’s a dish entirely composed of ingredients traditionally demonized like eggs, butter, bacon, and bread. From the nutrition analysis perspective, replacing the excessive amount of eggs with some alternative and baking your bread would eliminate the artificial trans-fat, reduce the cholesterol levels, and increase the dietary fiber content. All of these upgrades would bring the dish into the “healthy” gray area in my books.

How do you feel about these ingredients? Have you banned English muffins from your diet? Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.

Minimalistic Kitchen Basics: Knives

I had plenty of kitchen tools in my life. But when I moved to Seattle, I decided to learn how to do more with less. I live alone in a tiny studio, so it’s the perfect opportunity to challenge what my tools can do.

I’m beginning this series of posts with every chef’s pride and joy: Knives. And more importantly, why my journey led me to Japanese Knives. Choosing knives is very personal, and I don’t intend to cover the why’s and how’s of knife choosing. Instead, I chose a few very informational youtube videos that will help you think about your knives.

The first video is from Epicurious, a comprehensive description of every Japanese knife. You don’t have to watch it now, but I recommend it; I love that channel. It’s an excellent resource for home cooks that want to bring their cooking game to the next level.

Also, one prevalent misconception is that you ought to buy the most expensive tools out there. While I typically recommend spending your hard-earned dough on knives more than anything else, there are excellent budget Japanese like the Komachi’s. I found this “Worth it” episode about knives that might help you think about your budget.

We are now ready to review my selection of knives. As I mentioned at the beginning of the post, I own many more knives, but I have used almost exclusively this minimal set, and I’m considering getting rid of the rest.

My minimal set of knives is:

  • One German pairing knife. It is a Wüsthof classic, and it’s been an excellent knife. If I didn’t have one, I would have gotten a Japanese one, but I don’t have absolutely any reason to change it.
  • One Japanese petty knife. I got it from a Japanese knife maker in Berkeley, California, and I don’t know the brand. I got it with a European-style handle because it felt more comfortable in my hand than the Asian-style counterpart.
  • One Japanese nakiri knife. I got it from the same make as my petty knife. This knife is possibly the one I use the most.
  • One German bread knife. It’s a Wüsthof classic from the time I loved that brand, but still excellent, and I don’t have any reason to change it.

That’s it! With them, I managed to accomplish any task that an omnivorous, plant-forward person might perform in the kitchen.

This is my trusty set of knives.

As you can see, not all of them are Japanese, but if any of my germans broke or gone missing, I would not hesitate to get their Japanese counterparts. Why? Simple, their unique shape and the technique to use them allow for precise cuts. Also, they’re extra sharp and comfortable. If you don’t mind the additional maintenance, you can even get them on carbon steel for extra sharpness.

Let me now walk you through some of the uses I give to each knife.

  • Pairing knife:
    • Peel and prep fruits and small vegetables.
    • Butcher or debone whole chickens and other animal proteins.
    • I don’t have steak knives, so I use this guy on the table as a steak knife.
  • Petty knife:
    • Prep smaller and medium-sized vegetables and fruits, where sharpness matters.
    • Mince almost everything.
    • Score fish, duck breasts, eggplants, etc.
    • Sashimi fish.
  • Nakiri knife:
    • Prep almost every medium or large vegetable and protein.
    • Smash garlic.
    • Mince meats and crush bones with the spine.
    • Transfer ingredients to the pan.
    • I use it to slice sushi or kimbap rolls.
  • Bread knife:
    • Slice bread (I do that a lot)
    • Prep tomatoes, chiles, peppers.
    • Carve bigger cuts of meat and roasts.

Every kitchen tool will require maintenance, and so does knives. Knives require constant honing and sharpening to cut optimally. Therefore, every chef out there recommends learning how to sharpen knives yourself. To do so, you need two things: one knife steel and a wet sharpening stone. I hone my knives before every use. It truly makes a difference. However, some of my knives I don’t dare to sharpen myself yet.

In sum, keeping a minimalistic kitchen poses some challenges. However, I believe it’s possible to prepare every recipe with the four knives I have in my kitchen. The choice depends on the size of your household and your eating style. Now I would like to know from you, what are your favorite knives? Please add your comments in the section below.

The Journey to Growing San Marzano Tomatoes in a Balcony

Ten months ago, I moved to Seattle from Berkeley, California. During last year’s pandemic, I picked up, like many others, on gardening. I was very impressed by how easily and quickly tomato plants grow. By the end of last season, I had bought seeds of my favorite kind, San Marzano, and I was excited to plant them. However, when I moved to Seattle, I downsized considerably in space, and suddenly I had to get creative with my gardening. Another challenge was the weather. I didn’t know when it was going to stop raining and become appropriate for tomatoes to grow. Today, despite all the mistakes I made, I’m harvesting many of these delicious sauce ingredients. It was quite a journey.

My baby San Marzano plants just moved to their final home.

I planted the seeds the first week of February. In hindsight, this was way too early because the plants were quite large after a few months. April was still showing nearly freezing temperatures, but my plants were ready to go out.

I went to my favorite nursery in Seattle and got two pots of a size I believed was appropriate for grown tomato plants and two 5 foot long wooden stakes to support them. I intended to keep both plants as a single leader. I transplanted my plants to their final home with their support.

Initially, I saw the plants develop quite large sun leaves, and they were bushy. So I took my plants outdoors by the end of April, and soon I learned a lesson about planting in balconies: it’s much windier than at ground level. So I had to secure them, making it harder for me to move them around to optimize the sunlight.

Despite these challenges, the plants kept growing happily, and by mid-May, I began seeing my first tomatoes grow. I saw the larger leaves wilt, and as I pruned the plants, they developed much smaller leaves. At this point, I believed the sun was drying out the soil in the pots, so I added some mulch, but this kept happening. I can only guess that the sunlight was too intense compared to the grow light I used the first months, and the plants decided they needed smaller sun leaves.

This was the first tomato to grow.

The plants grew many flower pods that didn’t bear any fruit. I then realized that since I was on the 6th floor, there were not many pollinizers, so I gently began shaking the flowers to help them pollinate. This action helped with fruit production.

Last year I didn’t get the chance to learn how large tomato plants could get. Instead, I was unfortunate enough to get infrequent visits of a deer that consistently snacked on my tomato plants. So this year, I learned that, as a variety of indeterminate tomatoes, San Marzanos grow to over 7 feet tall. Much more than the humble 5 feet long support stick I got them. They were growing taller than the support stake, which didn’t seem to be a problem until late July, when the plants got very productive. The few leader branches I had allowed to grow unsupported began hunching and bending until one windy day when some snapped. Lesson learned, do not leave tomato plants half-supported.

Here you can see the plants that outgrown their stakes

To salvage this, I carefully cut the snapped branches and dipped them in a bit of honey to prevent infections. Then I placed them in vases with water. Some of them even developed a root system!

Speaking of deer, one thing that excited me about planting on the sixth floor was the feeling of safety. No animals would come and munch on my plants anymore! Wrong! Where some plants are out of reach for the deer, you will see crows feasting. And so, I learned that crows love tomatoes too! Seeing them poke with their beaks on ripe fruit to eat the seeds it’s pretty frustrating. Even if you’re planting on a balcony, you will not be animal-free!

These plants kept surprising me with how resistant they are. They survived an early planting, a few sub-freezing days, a 100ºF+ heatwave (that I thought killed them), inadequate support in a windy situation, and crows. Unfortunately, the final mistake I made was to pick the wrong container size. I can tell they’re root bound, but it’s simply too late to move them around. As annuals, they only have one or maybe two more months of useful life before they die.

What will I do differently next year? First, plant the seeds by mid-march instead of early February. Second, find a larger container, maybe one with a heavy base meant for a tree so the wind can’t knock it down so quickly, and finally get 6 or 7 feet long stakes to support the plants as they grow. Additionally, as I trimmed the suckers, I had the opportunity to propagate them for additional yield. I propagated and planted just one in the same pot as a basil plant, and even as a cutting, it decided to grow a tomato. I was in awe the moment I noticed the small fruit!

At this point, I would like to know if you, as a reader, have any advice to give for next year’s tomato harvest. Please let me know in the comments section below.

Mini Gluten & Dairy Free Chocolate And Orange Cake

I recently faced the challenge of making a gluten and dairy-free cake for a good friend’s birthday. I found the experience very satisfying and decided to document it.

As time goes by, I bump into more people that don’t want to eat gluten or dairy, not because of food allergies or celiac disease, but for health reasons. For example, some studies show that gluten causes inflammation in some people. Also, dairy consumption is not environmentally friendly, and our ability to process lactose diminishes over time. While I try to keep my dairy consumption to a minimum, I never hold back on any ingredient, so this seemed an excellent opportunity to take on a different challenge.

The list of ingredients for this cake is not long, but technique-wise is not that simple. In the baking world, gluten-free equals dense texture; this is because the gasses produced by leavening agents will escape with ease. To solve this problem, I used two techniques. First, I added a bit of baking soda. Second, I whipped the egg whites to stiff peaks and folded in the batter. In this recipe, it is best to use baking powder because it won’t react to the orange’s citric acid; luckily, I didn’t see any reaction in either of my two attempts.

The recipe tester cake, I tried garnishing with brown sugar before the ganache was set, bad idea.

There was, however, one problem left to solve: I wanted the cake to be moist inside, which is why we put butter in cake batters. However, since my cake was dairy-free, I replaced butter with olive oil. Finally, I made the chocolate ganache with almond milk.

I created the recipe thinking of satisfying one or two people. As a single, I’m used to cooking small-scale to avoid tons of leftovers, and on this occasion, it was going to be only two enjoying the cake. From it, you can get two substantial servings, three normal-sized servings, or four tasters.

Mini Gluten & Dairy-Free Chocolate and Orange Cake

  • Servings: 3
  • Difficulty: Medium/Hard
  • Print

Small cake to remain healthy but satisfy your sweet tooth.


Ingredients

  • 6 tbsp almond flour
  • ¼ tsp baking soda
  • Sea salt
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 tbsp sugar (I used brown)
  • Zest of 1 orange
  • Juice of ⅓ of the orange
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp of Cointreau (I used rum)
  • ½ cup almond milk
  • 40g of dark chocolate, chopped into small pieces

Directions

  1. Preheat your oven to 350ºF (175ºC), and oil a small cake pan. I used a large cookie cutter. Make a circle with parchment paper and line the bottom of your baking vessel with it.
  2. In a bowl, mix the dry ingredients: almond flour, baking soda, and 1 pinch of sea salt.
  3. I two bowls, separate the egg whites and the egg yolks, making sure the bowl with the whites is completely dry, and there are absolutely no traces of the yolk when separating.
  4. Mix the remaining wet ingredients (NOTE: Make sure to reserve the specified quantities of sugar, orange zest, and Cointreau) 1 tbsp sugar, zest of 1 orange reserving ½ tsp, orange juice, vanilla extract, olive oil, and 1 tbsp Cointreau (reserving one for the ganache).
  5. Beat the egg whites to soft peaks (a hand blender is handy, but I did it with my humble whisk), incorporate the rest of the sugar, and beat until you get stiff peaks.
  6. In a small saucepan, warm up the almond milk to about 160ºF (60ºC) and incorporate the chocolate pieces, continuously stirring to make a ganache. Do not let the temperature rise too high, or the chocolate might separate. Stir until the ganache is uniform. Stir in the remaining Cointreau.
  7. Mix 4 tsp of the ganache with the wet ingredients. Incorporate also the dry ingredients and mix until uniform.
  8. Little by little, combine the egg whites with the rest of the cake batter, folding gently and trying to lose as little volume as possible. This last step is tricky, so be patient with it.
  9. Place your cake batter into the baking pan and bake for 30min or until the cake tester comes clean.
  10. While the cake is baking, mix into the chocolate ganache the remaining Cointreau, a pinch of sea salt, and orange zest.
  11. Once your cake is ready, let it cool off for about 1 hour, then decorate it by pouring the rest of the ganache on top and evening out with an offset spatula. I made a two-layer cake with toasted almonds and chocolate ganache inside.
  12. Refrigerate for at least two hours and enjoy!

Recipe: Pistachio & Dates Rice Pudding

Not long ago, I got my wisdom teeth removed. This procedure gave me the perfect opportunity to experiment with smoothies. In my quest to innovate with flavor, I stumbled upon pistachio milk in the nut milk section of my grocery store. I had never tried it before, and it looked like a great candidate to combine with bananas and dates. The combination of pistachios and dates is one of my absolute favorites, and I use it a lot in my cooking.

Four days after my procedure, I found the courage to begin eating sold items again. I didn’t want to go too solid, though, for fear of the pain. I figured that a pistachio rice pudding could be delicious, and thus, I gave it a try. It turned out to be fantastic. Here is how I prepared it.

Pistachio and Date Rice Pudding

Delicious rice pudding that can be enjoyed as a dessert or a snack.


Ingredients

  • 1 cup Pistachio Milk
  • ½ cup carnaroli rice (I used sushi rice)
  • ⅛ tsp of Spanish saffron strands
  • ⅛ tsp of ground cardamom
  • 1 tsp of ground cinnamon
  • 1 bay leaf
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 small pinch of salt (to taste)
  • 3 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp Meyer lemon zest.
  • ¼ cup mint leaves
  • 6 dates
  • ¼ cup Lightly roasted and salted pistachios

Directions

  1. Rinse the rice thoroughly in cold water to remove the excess starch.
  2. In a small saucepan, combine the pistachio milk, the rice, saffron strands, cardamom, cinnamon, bay leaf, and vanilla extract. Let it soak for at least 30 minutes.
  3. Bring the mixture to a gentle simmer and cook until the rice is tender for 10 to 15 minutes.
  4. Off the heat, remove and discard the bay leaf, and add the sugar. Adjust to your desired level of sweetness, considering that you will be adding chopped dates.
  5. Chop the mint, the dates, and the pistachios and stir into the pudding, saving some to use as garnish.
  6. Let the rice pudding infuse with flavor for 10 minutes. Then, plate the pudding and enjoy it warm or put it in the fridge to enjoy it cold. Add pistachios and mint for garnish.

Book Review: Sapiens, A Brief history of Humankind

“But the best thing fire did was cook. Foods that humans cannot digest in their natural forms – such as wheat, rice, and potatoes – became staples of our diet thanks to cooking”

Yuval Noah Harari
Book Review: "Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind" by Yuval Noah Harari -  The Scholarly Kitchen

The book “Sapiens: A brief history of humankind” by Yuval Noah Harari is one of my favorite books of all time. Throughout the book’s pages, the author tries to connect our history as a human race with how we live today. Looking at people through that evolutionary lens feels very powerful.

Even though the book doesn’t have 100% historical rigor, since it makes assumptions based on missing pieces of information, it teaches a way of thinking that helps understanding human behavior in general. I’m a highly analytical person, and I found that this way of reasoning allowed me to build empathy with others and made it easier to understand their feelings.

While reading the book’s pages, I also realized the importance of food and cooking in our society; cooking seems to be the most critical driver in human society.

The book has four parts:

  • The cognitive Revolution
  • The Agricultural Revolution.
  • The Unification of Humankind.
  • The Industrial Revolution.

Throughout these parts, the author narrates the historical developments. It also expresses his opinion on how these developments impacted society for the good or the bad. Finally, the book ends with the author’s prediction on the outlook for future centuries.

Overall I strongly recommend this read for those curious about human nature and want to gain additional perspective about our current reality. If you read it, let me know in the comment section below what you think.

A Beginner’s Guide to Hiking

I still remember my first hike. It was one of those things that seemed esoteric to me. I put on my old jeans and gym socks and running shoes. I wore a cotton t-shirt and a trucker cap of the Oklahoma Sooners I bought on a work trip. I was the perfect newbie.

In this guide, I will walk you through my learning path to hiking and share some of the pitfalls I encountered to prepare you when you decide to take the step. I will also try to share some of the things I believe are unnecessary.

Not long ago, I watched a wilderness survival class from Jessie Krebs in MasterClass. It helped me organize things I’ve been doing intuitively. According to Jessie, there are five categories of needs that we must cover in what we bring with us, so we’re ready for the experience:

  • Signaling
  • Clothing & Shelter
  • Hygiene, First Aid & Self-Care
  • Food & Drink
  • Navigation

The Backpack

Before addressing the basic needs, I let’s talk about your backpack. In my experience, 22 liters backpack gives more than enough space to carry everything you will need. However, one mistake I made is buying a pack that doesn’t have any structure to it. The one I got was a self-packable marmot pack, a huge mistake. My recommendation is to select one that delivers comfort and support even after walking for long hours. There’s no easier way to ruin your hike (well, maybe uncomfortable shoes) than getting back pain after the first few miles. In addition, many hiking backpacks come with a special compartment for a water bladder. You may also choose one that has easy but secure access to water bottles.

Now that you have your pack sorted out let’s move on to what’s inside of it.

Signaling

What happens if you’re in a remote area with no phone coverage and suddenly you lose your trail and can’t get back? What if you twist your ankle trying to find your way? However unlikely this is, you always need to have a way to make yourself visible in the distance. For a day hike, I would think of bright-colored clothes and maybe a whistle. A headlamp would be handy too.

Clothing and Shelter

Your feet are the most crucial thing you ought to care for while hiking. Good hiking shoes or boots will give you comfort, traction, and sturdiness; to minimize the chances of injury. You should buy the best shoes you can afford, appropriately sized, and considering features like durability and waterproofness. Merino-wool hiking socks are expensive, but they dry out quickly while keeping their thermal properties when wet. They also help to protect against blisters.

Hikers walking the trail around the Annapurnas, it shows how much and quickly the conditions could change while hiking.

In the wilderness, things can change very suddenly. I still remember one time I was hiking in lake Tahoe wearing a t-shirt, and by the time I got to my car, it had dumped two feet of snow. So always remember to check the weather before going out and pack layers. Bring clothing items that will dry quickly (not jeans or cotton items), and think of the three-layer model: one base layer like a synthetic workout t-shirt or merino wool base; one isolation layer like a synthetic or natural down jacket; and one shell, like a rain jacket. Bringing an emergency blanket might be a good idea too. I also would pack spare socks for those times I need to cross a creek. Hiking miles on wet socks almost guarantees large blisters.

Finally, sunglasses and a hat that covers you from the sun should make it into your pack.

Hygiene, First-Aid, and Self-Care

There is one item you need to buy in the hopes of never having to use it: A first-aid kit. Many outdoor stores sell great kits for different needs. Ensure it has all the tools to quickly disinfect wounds, treat blisters, and other emergency needs. I also like to bring hand sanitizer and a bio-degradable wilderness soap that you can use to wash yourself or your clothing. Finally, never forget to bring sunscreen.

In the theme of self-care, I would also fit hiking poles. I think of them as self-care because they will help immensely protect your knees from strenuous efforts while giving you much-needed stability.

Food and Drink

Hiking is always a great excuse to have treats you wouldn’t typically have, like jelly beans or gummy bears. Always bear in mind that hiking is an endurance activity and carbohydrates are essential to keep you energized. Slaty treats like pita chips and hummus are fantastic for this activity. Other great options include dried fruit, nuts, chocolate, bars (look for ones packed with carbs), or sandwiches.

When it comes to water, always bring more than what you think you’ll need. For example, a ten-miler would require at least two liters of water. One time, when I was new to hiking, I carried only 750ml to a 20-miler; thank goodness the group leader had taken a water filter, or I would have had terrible dehydration. This story brings me to another recommendation, always carry an emergency filtration system or water tablets. You never know when you might need to drink water from creeks, lakes, or even puddles.

Thinking of vessels to carry your water, you might want to bring one or more bottles and a water bladder for convenience.

Navigation

Last but not least, you want to ensure you can find your way back to your trailhead. Again, following the theme of getting lost, you never know when you will find yourself alone and lost. So, never rely on someone else navigating. Always know where you are. I use a few apps on my phone like “maps.me” and “All Trails.” But whenever possible, bring a physical map. An external battery pack is also always handy.

Final Thoughts

The items I mentioned are the bare minimum that you should be thinking of carrying. But, then, there are other specific needs to the individual hike you’re planning, like snow or rain gear. I hope this guide helped you get started in this beautiful activity and brings safety to your adventures. If you have questions, please post them in the section below, and I will be happy to answer. Happy trails!

Almond Oatmeal with Blueberries and Yuzu

Not long ago, I baked an Almond Cake. While tasting the batter, I had an “Aha” moment. I realized what was missing in my oatmeal! The insight was simple: I’ve been relying too much on vanilla extract for flavoring. There is an entire array of flavor extracts out there. I tested one in my recipe today, and it turned out delicious.

The Yuzu marmalade is not easy to find. If you’re lucky, you might find it in Asian stores. However, if you can’t, I recommend Seville Orange or any other citric marmalade.

This recipe is very healthy and filling in on its own and should help you power through your morning. If you want a more substantial portion, simply double down on the oats and almond milk. Enjoy!

Almond Oatmeal with Blueberries and Yuzu


Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup Almond milk (Unsweetened)
  • 1/4 cup Rolled oats
  • 1/2 tbsp Chia seeds
  • 1 tbsp Almond butter
  • 1/2 tsp Lemon zest
  • 1/4 tsp Sea salt
  • 1 tsp Coconut sugar (or raw cane sugar.)
  • 1/8 tsp Almond Extract (I used just 1 drop.)
  • 1/4 cup Blueberries
  • 1 tbsp Yuzu marmalade

Directions

  1. In a small saucepan, bring the almond milk to a simmer over medium heat.
  2. Stir in the oats and chia seeds and turn the heat to low. Simmer for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the oats are cooked and the remaining liquid has thickened.
  3. Off the heat, stir in the almond butter, lemon zest, sea salt, and almond extract. Keep stirring until combined.
  4. Let the oatmeal cool for 4 minutes and place it in a serving bowl.
  5. Garnish it with the blueberries and Yuzu Marmalade. Enjoy!