The blog

Life And Blog Update: Eating Clean In A New Dirty City

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Hello from Vancouver! You may have noticed that Eating Clean in the Dirty City has been abnormally quiet the past two weeks. I’ve mentioned leaving New York and moving back to Hong Kong several times on the blog and guess what. That time has finally come! I left NYC earlier this month and am currently in Canada doing a little travelling before heading back to Hong Kong this week.

I apologize for the lack of new posts–productivity and vacation just don’t mix for me. But I’m excited to dive right back into blogging when I get to Hong Kong with new and exciting content for you guys. Living on the other side of the world will bring all kinds of new challenges when it comes to clean eating. And hopefully it will encourage me to finally learn how to cook Chinese food!

In the meantime, please follow me on Twitter and Pinterest.

If you’re currently using Google Reader, don’t forget that it’s shutting down on July 1. Bookmark Eating Clean in the Dirty City or remember to add its RSS feed to your new RSS reader so you don’t miss anything!

The English Bay Inukshuk

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Health and Nutrition

DietBet: Lose Weight and Win Money

Although a lot of us could stand to unplug more often, I’m a big fan of technology. It already helps us with work, productivity, keeping in touch, and getting places. So why shouldn’t we use it to help us in all other areas of life, including weight loss? Today I’m going to tell you a bit about DietBet–a nifty little online tool to help you drop a few pounds.

I heard about DietBet through The Nutrition Diva. I missed out on the first DietBet game she organized, but joined in on the second, which just ended this past weekend. I don’t have much weight to lose and not many strong reasons to lose it, so why not put money on the line to motivate myself? Basically, DietBet is a social weight loss game where players bet a certain amount of money (or put it up for charity) and compete with each other. It’s a four week game where participants’ goal is to lose 4% of their body weight. Those who meet their goal are winners and they split the pot. Those who don’t make their goal lose the money they bet. To make sure you don’t cheat, the administrators ask you to take before and after shots: a full body photo of yourself on the scale, as well as a close-up of the weight on the scale next to the key work they give you written down on a note card. Don’t worry! No one has to see these photos aside from the administrators.

So what happened in the end? My motivation was low the first week because 4% felt like a deceivingly low amount of weight to lose. Don’t be fooled. Then I went on vacation to New Orleans and let’s be real. You can’t be on a diet in New Orleans. When I came back I got serious. I started tracking my calories and working out more often. I started losing weight consistently but then when you get down to the last pound you have to be careful of water retention and weight fluctuation, especially if you’re a woman. For a minute there, I thought I was going to lose my money! Thankfully I made my goal and was one of the winners.

DietBet might not work for everyone and it could potentially be more stressful than useful, depending on your personality type. You have to decide whether or not it’s suitable for you. But overall, I would recommend it as a good motivator to shed a few pounds at a healthy pace, and the bonuses are that it’s fun and you can win money! Who doesn’t love money? My advice would be to start strong from the beginning (unlike me) and aim to lose more than 4% just to make sure you reach your goal and weight fluctuation doesn’t come to bite you in the ass.

Join a game on DietBet’s website, or download the DietBet app here.

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Book Review

Book Review: Yes, Chef by Marcus Samuelsson

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I actually had a totally different book to review on the blog this month, so my decision to review Yes, Chef instead came as a bit of a surprise. The title was featured on the front page of  my library’s extremely limited eBook collection, so I checked it out on a whim. I thought it might be a fun read on my flights back and forth to New Orleans earlier this month, but I had other books in case I didn’t care for it. I’m not really into celebrity chefs and the restaurant scene so I wasn’t expecting too much. But there I was, the girl with a short attention span, reading Marcus Samelsson’s Yes, Chef (my Amazon Associates link) for most of my flight to New Orleans and pretty much the entire flight back.

For those who have never heard of him, Samuelsson is an Ethiopian-born, Swedish-raised chef who is known for work at New York City restaurant Aquavit, his current restaurant Red Rooster, being named “Best Chef: New York City” by the James Beard Foundation in 2003, as well as many other accomplishments. If none of that means anything to you, it’s OK. I feel you. I don’t really follow this scene either. And I probably only know of Samuelsson because I live in NYC. But none of that takes away from Yes, Chef.

I’m into food and cooking (duh), so naturally it was most fascinating to read about what goes on behind the kitchen doors of a restaurant and how someone who cooks for a living finds inspiration. But what really made this memoir engaging wasn’t the fact that Samuelsson is a famous, award-winning chef. It’s his story. He’s had a really interesting life with roots in different parts of the world, which is something I can relate to and why I also loved Luisa Weiss’ My Berlin Kitchen. He was born in Ethiopia and, along with his sister, adopted by a Swedish family as a child. Even though it sounded like this wasn’t a completely rare occurrence in Sweden in the 70s, growing up black in Sweden unsurprisingly still had its challenges. But the story never just ends there. Your identity changes as you grow up and move to different places, and that includes your racial identity. It’s definitely something I’ve found in my own life and while I’m of a different race, I found comfort and familiarity in Samuelsson’s journey of his identity unfolding as his career took him to other parts or Europe, New York City, and back to where he was born–Ethiopia.

I wanted to recommend this book because I don’t want others to dismiss it the way I almost did. This is a great read–one person’s story about cooking, identity, culture, tasting, career, growth, love, and family.

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Links and Life

Links and Life: May 2013

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May has been a lovely month. Sure, the weather has been insane giving us a hot summer day one week and then freezing winter rain the following week, but I’ve been embracing it all as this is my last month in New York City. I wrapped up my last week at work, went to New Orleans and Pennsylvania, and then took my first real staycation. Time slips by ever so quickly, but I’ve tried my best to slow down, take it as it comes, do creative work, cook nourishing food, and enjoy my last days with this city and all the people in it that I love. But it’s not goodbye, New York. It’s see-you-later.

May Links

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Breakfast

I Finally Tried Bulletproof Coffee

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You’re probably not as much of a nerd as I am to follow all these biohackers on the internet, but you may still have heard of “Bulletproof coffee”. Dave Asprey, or the “Bulletproof Executive”, swears by Bulletproof coffee, and so do many of his followers. From the way some people talk about it, Bulletproof coffee has been made out to be the magical elixir that will give you laser-sharp focus, boundless energy, and satiety until lunch time. I was curious about it for the longest time, but it was only when I heard that someone I personally know drinks it (my friend Jeanette), I decided to finally see what all the fuss is about. Disclosure: this is my personal, honest opinion, and it’s just based on a four-day experiment with sample size = 1.

What is Bulletproof coffee? Basically, it’s hot coffee blended with grass-fed butter and MCT oil. Using Dave Asprey’s Upgraded Coffee beans is recommended as they are supposedly free of the toxic molds that cheap coffee has. These molds are tied to cancer, heart disease, and hormone irregularities, and take away from the health and performance benefits that coffee is supposed to have.

I bought the Upgraded Coffee and performed a little experiment. I usually have my coffee black so that’s what I did the first day. The beans don’t really smell like anything and the coffee didn’t taste like much either, which was disappointing. But I had an amazingly productive day. The next day I cold-brewed the coffee and had another pretty productive day. The next two days I prepared it the Bulletproof way with a tablespoon of grass-fed butter and since I didn’t have any MCT oil, I used a tablespoon of refined coconut oil, which I’m sure is a far less superior choice but I use it in my green smoothies and feel fine. I blended it up and the result was a beautiful, frothy, buttery cup of joe. It tasted pretty awesome. As you may have gathered from my blog, I’m a fan of real, grass-fed butter and believe it’s a source of healthy fat. I’m also not shocked at the idea of butter in coffee because I’ve had salty, buttered tea in Tibetan restaurants before and loved how they tasted. But in terms of performance? I wasn’t nearly as energetic.

This isn’t to say I think Dave Asprey is a liar. I will definitely try to purchase some MCT oil and prepare the Bulletproof coffee the way he intended, in the name of experimentation. I don’t think putting butter and coconut oil in my coffee gave me less focus or less energy, I just think the benefits may not be as overwhelmingly obvious as people make it out to be. Why was I more productive the first two days and lower energy the last two days? Could have been the coffee. But more likely, I was well-rested and ready to dive into work in the former, whereas I was extremely sore from bootcamp and the weather was dreary during the latter. Maybe buttery Upgraded Coffee improves performance, but not enough to make up for those circumstances.

Will I keep trying Bulletproof coffee? Sure! The performance benefits might be slightly exaggerated but I thought it tasted good and I like getting healthy fats into my diet. Should it replace breakfast everyday? Probably not. It’s not super nutritionally dense or a balanced meal. As for the Upgraded Coffee beans–that’s a very personal choice. I’m a huge coffee snob. I get expensive, high-quality beans, often organic, that smell and taste a lot better that Upgraded Coffee. If you don’t care for the taste of coffee and are just doing it for performance…or your only other option is Folgers, yeah, buy Upgraded Coffee. I do trust Dave Asprey when he says it is one of the cleaner coffees out there. And in his defense, it’s not as expensive as people make it out to be. I spend the same if not more on my beans–cheap brands are not at the real price that coffee should be, much like the way feedlot meat is not the price real meat should be. If you’re a coffee snob like me, stick to the good stuff. And blend some grass-fed butter and MCT or coconut oil in if you feel like it. I don’t know if it will make you a machine, but it tastes pretty darn good.

upgraded coffee

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Lunch and Dinner

Turning The Muffuletta Sandwich Into A Salad

Muffuletta Salad

One of my favorite things I ate in New Orleans was the original Muffuletta sandwich. There wasn’t anything complicated about the sandwich, but the mixture of Italian cured meats, cheeses, and olives was just so good. Now, I’m not a sandwich person. I crave them once in a while, but I find it to be too much bread to be an everyday thing. How could I enjoy the flavors of the Muffuletta at home without sacrificing nutrition too much? I swapped out the bread and pickled vegetables for fresh vegetables and greens. Yup, I turned the Muffuletta into a salad.

This salad is one big delicious mess. Cured meat isn’t as good for you as fresh meat, but this salad is a more balanced way to enjoy the charcuterie and cheeses we love so much. Just remember to get the best quality cheeses and meat you can, organic if possible. Make the Muffuletta Salad. You know you want to.

Muffuletta Salad
Makes 2 servings

3 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
10 pimento-stuffed olives, sliced in halves
1/4 shallot, minced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
Pinch of dried oregano
Pinch of dried thyme
Pinch of crushed red pepper
2 large handfuls of baby romaine lettuce
1 small red bell pepper, sliced
2 tomatoes, sliced into wedges
1 ounce fresh mozzarella, sliced
1 ounce mild provolone cheese, sliced
1 ounce prosciutto, sliced
1 ounce salami, sliced

In a medium bowl, pour the red wine vinegar into the olive oil as you whisk vigorously to make a vinaigrette. Take one tablespoon of the vinaigrette and toss with the pimento-stuffed olives, shallot, garlic, oregano, thyme, and crushed red pepper in another small bowl.

Add the romaine lettuce, bell pepper, and tomato to the fist bowl and toss with the remaining vinaigrette. Split the salad into two dishes, and arrange the cured meats and cheese on the two servings. Top each with the remaining vinaigrette and and olives mixture.

Muffuletta Sandwich in Salad Form

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Dessert

No Spring Fruit Yet? Make Vanilla Panna Cotta

Vanilla Panna Cotta and Chess

Spring has been slow to arrive in NYC. The weather has been getting better, despite the fact that I was wearing a leather jacket just two days ago. But just as of a few weeks ago I still didn’t find any fun spring fruit at the farmers market. I’ve seen some since, but what if you live in a place that still doesn’t have spring produce? Or you wake up late like me and it’s all gone by the time you get to the market? I decided to make vanilla panna cotta. It’s such an easy yet elegant dessert–light and refreshing, yet rich and creamy.

Vanilla Panna Cotta
Makes 4 servings

3/4 cup milk
1 teaspoons gelatin
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and seeds scraped out
8 tablespoons sugar
3/4 cup heavy cream

Pour milk into a small saucepan and sprinkle the gelatin over it. Let it sit for a couple minutes until it looks like the gelatin has absorbed some liquid. Add the vanilla beans as well as the empty pod. Stir in the sugar and heat the milk over very low heat for about 1 minute. When both the sugar and gelatin dissolve, turn off the heat and whisk in the cream. Discard the vanilla pod and pour into 4 small ramekins or dishes. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until set, at least a few hours.

vanilla panna cotta

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Travel

Eating Dirty in New Orleans

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Knowing I’d be leaving the US soon, I’ve been making a conscious effort to travel domestically the past year or so. In the past 14 months I managed to see Miami, LA, Vegas, and San Francisco, while still squeezing in a couple of my beloved international trips. But as a last hurrah before I move back to Hong Kong, we decided to have a short girls trip to a place I’ve been meaning to see for a while–New Orleans!

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The food is pretty heavy there so it was definitely a case of eating dirty in a dirty city. By the last day I felt like a balloon. My stomach is so relieved to be back home–it’s been green smoothies and salads ever since! Some stuff I liked, others not so much, but it’s a city worth visiting and trying its local cuisine. Granted, we stayed in the French Quarter for the most part so I can’t judge the city as a whole. That would be like someone only visiting Times Square only and judging NYC’s entire food scene! Nonetheless, I thought I’d share some food we enjoyed over there.

Acme Oyster House

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I don’t actually eat oysters. They’re great for you (get that zinc!) but after having a violent reaction the last two times I ate raw oysters, I’m fully traumatized and haven’t touched them since. The reason why I’m mentioning Acme Oyster House is because my travel companions ate there 3 out of the 4 days we were in New Orleans! They said the raw oysters were sweet and fresh, while the char-grilled oysters were cheesy and delicious–all for a really great price too. I have to say, I was pretty jealous. They were huge and looked amazing. It was the first time in a long time I really wanted to eat oysters! If you’re like me and don’t do oysters, the boiled crawfish is good. The rest of the menu is kinda meh.

Hand Grenades from Tropical Isle

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This was a surprise to us. The Hand Grenade is one of those cheesy drinks you walk around with in a tall green plastic cup from Tropical Isle. We made a point to try the three famous New Orleans cocktails: the Sazerac, the Hurricane, and the Hand Grenade. The Sazerac was pretty nice, the Hurricane was just awful, but we surprisingly liked the Hand Grenade the most. Maybe at one time it was made from real ingredients, but now it just tastes like chemicals. Despite being super touristy and fake, it was tasty in a nasty way and was really strong without making you hurt the way Pat O’Brien’s Hurricanes do. It got the job done!

(This is my friend Lynda, by the way. Check out her food blog!)

801 Royal

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While a lot of places seemed to do a half-ass job with the Cajun and Creole classics, everything was really solid at 801 Royal. I had the gumbo and it was slammin’. Also, I might have had the best Bloody Mary there ever. Topped with string beans instead of celery, it was practically a meal in itself! Warning: don’t do Bloody Mary + gumbo if you don’t tolerate heat well. They were both delicious but I was literally breaking out in sweat. The service was great too which was a plus.

Southern Candymakers

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Even if you don’t intend to buy anything, just walk into Southern Candymakers and enjoy the smell of the store. It smells so awesome that all I wanted to do was lick the air. They’ve got different flavors of pralines and are liberal with the samples. Don’t like nuts? There’s chocolate too.

Commander’s Palace

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I got nervous when I saw the four dollar signs rating on Yelp for Commander’s Palace. But when we got there I was relieved to see that this fancy restaurant has awesome lunch deals. The space is gorgeous–the restaurant is in a restored mansion of a former plantation. While fairly formal, it’s not stuffy at all and the service was great. Everything I had was wonderful here–the bread, Commander’s Turtle Soup, Cajun Cochon de Lait, and the Creole Bread Pudding Soufflé, which they gave us the recipe for! A very affordable luxury.

Central Grocery

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Last but not least, the original Muffuletta at Central Grocery was one of my favorite meals. I’m not a huge sandwich person and didn’t really care for the Po’ Boys, but I loved the Muffuleta! Central Grocery sells imported Italian products but doesn’t serve any other food aside from Muffuletta sandwiches and a few sides. The sandwich has all kinds of delicious things: different Italian cured meets, cheese, olives, and pickled vegetables. Bring a friend if you don’t have a huge appetite, ’cause that thing is huge!

Update: I almost forgot to share this with you! 30 seconds of awesomeness I filmed on the trip. Enjoy.

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Recipe Face-Off!

Recipe Face-Off: Corn Muffins

Corn Muffin Face-Off

Even back when sugar-crusted, store-bought muffins were something I ate regularly (when I cared about neither my waistline or a balanced meal), I would never go for the corn muffin. Chocolate chip? Yes. Blueberry? Definitely. But for some irrational reason the corn muffin always looked so nasty to me, so I never tried it. It wasn’t until recently when my boyfriend said he loved corn muffins that I came around. At first I was like what, why? And then I realized if I like cornbread there’s no reason why I wouldn’t like them in muffin form. It’s so weird how we just fear things we’ve never tried before.

I still have never bought a corn muffin, but I have been making good use of my Bob’s Red Mill Organic Medium Grind Cornmeal and making them myself. I like the medium grind for the slightly crunchy texture it gives my cornbread and corn muffins. I had been using Ina Garten’s corn muffin recipe (you know how I love Ina) until recently, when I came across Running to the Kitchen’s Strawberry Corn Muffins. Gina’s muffins don’t have wheat, table sugar, or dairy. I was really curious about them, so it was face-off time. I left out the strawberries to make the two recipes comparable. (Note: I called Gina’s muffins “paleo”, but they’re technically not paleo. “Wheat/sugar/dairy-free” just didn’t sound as catchy.)

Ina Garten’s Corn Muffins

Regular Corn Muffin

I don’t know if Ina has a giant muffin tin or what, but I got way more than 12 muffins out of this recipe! Other than that, these are wonderful. Sweet, crumbly, really high in calories…basically, everything a corn muffin should be.

Running to the Kitchen’s Corn Muffins

Paleo Corn Muffin

The last time I baked something wheat, sugar, and dairy-free, the result was tasty but barely resembled the original baked good it was based on. So I was really pleasantly surprised when I pulled these out of the oven and they looked a lot like the corn muffin we know and love, with crumbs and all. I was concerned about whether or not the coconut oil and almond meal would give the muffins a weird taste but, nope. They tasted like corn muffins but earthier with just a touch of sweetness.

Final Verdict

Running to the Kitchen’s corn muffins win, I can’t believe it! This is our first Recipe Face-Off where “the real thing” didn’t win. Running to the Kitchen’s muffins are much lower in calories and way cleaner with almond meal, almond milk, honey, coconut oil instead of wheat, dairy, and table sugar. The texture wasn’t compromised by the alternative ingredients either. But most importantly, I actually preferred the taste. I loved the earthiness of it and that it was much less sweet. These are actually muffins I can eat for breakfast! Sorry, Ina. I love you but I’m switching recipes.

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Lunch and Dinner

I’m Obsessed With A Sardine Salad. No, Really.

Sardine salad with feta and avocado

The word “sardine” by itself is enough to put most people off. Pair “sardine” with “salad” and I know half of you are about to X out of this post. Wait! Give me a chance to tell you why you might want to start eating this surprisingly delicious salad. Hear me out.

I love sardines but I never quite know what to prepare them with. I actually got the inspiration for this salad from a fitness book. I’m a big fan on the Ben Greenfield Fitness Podcast, and one day decided to buy his book Get-Fit Guy’s Guide to Achieving Your Ideal Body (my Amazon affiliate link). While his podcasts and blog are AMAZING and he’s just a fountain of knowledge, I didn’t get too much out of this particular book. For one thing, I could never quite decide which body type I have, which is kind of a pre-requisite to achieving your ideal body. But the bigger problem is I looked at the workout plans and decided I would completely disregard them and keep doing what I’m doing. So, yeah. I did get one important thing out of this book: my new favorite salad. He talks about making a salad with greens, veggies, sardines, avocado, and feta. And that’s what I did.

Sardines are like the win-win-win fish for me. They’re low in mercury, high in omega-3 fatty acids (as well as iron, calcium, and potassium), inexpensive, and sustainably-fished. Though fresh sardines taste better, canned sardines are good too. They’re really easy to find and not too high in sodium for a canned food. I suggest opting for sardines with bones rather than the skinless boneless type. The bones are soft enough to eat and you get more calcium that way. Aside from the sardines, this salad has so many nutrients and healthy fats, it’s almost obnoxious. But believe it or not, it tastes kinda awesome! All the ingredients come together really well creating a refreshing Mediterranean-flavored salad. OK, not sure if avocado is Mediterranean but, hey. You can never get enough avocado. The best part of this salad is that it’s stupid easy to make and takes like five minutes. It’s my new fast food.

Mediterranean sardine salad

Mediterranean Sardine Salad With Avocado
Makes 1 serving

1 can of sardines packed in olive oil (preferably including bones)
1/2 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 large handful spinach
1 tomato, sliced into 8 wedges
1/4 small red onion, thinly sliced
1 oz feta cheese, crumbled
1/2 ripe avocado, cut into cubed and scooped out of its skin
Squeeze of lemon juice (optional)

Open the can of sardines and pour one tablespoon of the olive oil in the can into a bowl. Slowly add the balsamic vinegar as you whisk furiously with a fork until you have an emulsified vinaigrette. Add the spinach, tomato, and red onion to the bowl and toss until the vinaigrette is evenly distributed. Roughly cut the sardines into big chunks in the can. Top your salad with the half the sardines (or all of them if you’re hungry), feta, avocado cubes, and a squeeze of lemon juice. Prepare to feel awesome.

Sardine Salad

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