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Ham and Cannellini Bean Soup

If you live in a cold climate, then you probably already eat lots of soup in wintertime. If you haven’t ever made soup, give it a try! It’s one of the simplest meals to make, is very forgiving, and stores well. (See here for my vegetable soup recipe.)

For busy dancers, soup keeps well in the fridge (or freezer) and heats up in an instant. If you have trouble finding energy to prepare dinner on a regular basis, having a big container of soup in your fridge makes it a lot less time-consuming. Pair with a side salad or a piece of chicken for a complete meal, or with a piece of crusty bread for a snack before collapsing into bed.

I am a big fan of bean soups as they deliver protein in a non-animal way – most of us consume a lot of animal protein and not enough beans and legumes.

Soups are also a good platform for whole grains: rice, quinoa, or a more exotic grain like freekah, can all be dumped into a pot of boiling broth to give body and nutrients to your concoction.

I made a version of this recipe in the slow cooker* over the holiday break and froze half of it. It’s thawing for tonight as my answer to yet another rainy, grey, and raw day in NYC. The silky beans take on the smoky flavor of the ham hock and the result is a deeply satisfying, rich bowl of goodness. It’s a meal in itself.

  • Chicken broth (2 quarts)
  • one smoked ham hock
  • 3-4 cans cannellini beans
  • sliced red onion
  • herbs de provence, 2 teaspoons
  • salt and pepper to taste

Sautee the sliced red onion in a little olive oil until soft. Add herbs de provence and stir till fragrant. Pour in chicken broth, beans and finally ham hock. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat, cover, and let simmer for about 30 minutes. Remove the ham hock from the soup and pull off the meat. If you like ham, add the pieces back in to the soup. If not, discard.

Pour into a bowl and eat with a crusty piece of bread or a side salad.

*For the slow cooker version, use a 1-pound bag of dried cannellini beans that you’ve soaked overnight and 2 quarts chicken broth; toss everything in the slow cooker (no need to sautee anything) and put the cover on. Cook 6-8 hours on low heat. 

The Incredible Edible Egg

The Incredible Egg: Nature’s Gift to You

The egg is considered by many to be nature’s most perfect food: contained inside that little shell is a perfect source of protein (all nine essential amino acids) and an explosion of nutrients. And that old myth about the yolks being bad for you? Not true. In fact, the yolk contains almost all of the vitamins and nutrients of the egg; it’s arguably the healthier part of the egg, full of carotenoids, essential fatty acids, iron, and vitamins A, D, E, and K.  Check out the table comparing yolks and whites below.

Separating whites from yolks is another one of those weird food fads that makes no sense. Nature makes this perfect little morsel of nutrition and tastiness and the only fuss we need to make is in learning how to prepare it. (For safety cooking tips, see here.)

Most people think of eggs as a breakfast food: scrambled, fried, “omeletted,” etc., but eggs don’t have to come with bacon and toast. Here are a few ideas of how to add eggs to your diet beyond breakfast.

  • Eggs (fried, scrambled, poached) over sautéed spinach or kale
  • Hard-boiled eggs: chopped in a salad, like a Nicoise
  • Egg salad in a sandwich or on healthy crackers: try making it with olive oil instead of mayo
  • Deviled eggs: try with mustard, vinegar, olive oil, curry powder and chives instead of the usual mayo.
  • Dropped into a soup: if you stir with a fork, it will ribbon through the soup as it cooks
  • Cooked or baked in tomato sauce (a Southern Italian favorite) for dinner
  • Plain hard-boiled eggs are a great snack after dance class: your body will thank you for the protein; you can prepare them the night before and store in the fridge. Easy to make, easy to eat.

 Whites vs. Yolks: Nutrients
Nutrition: Whites vs. Yolks

New Superfood: Nutella!

New Superfood: Nutella!

Is it true that Nutella is a ballet superfood?*

Indeed. This carefully guarded secret was brought to light recently when a stash of recipes was discovered in the Vaganova Ballet Academy’s kitchen archives. It turns out that since the 1960s, the Academy kitchen has served 2 tablespoons of Nutella per day to its students. Like morning medicine, students line up for their spoonful before technique class, and then again before bedtime.

The Russians have closely guarded this secret while crediting the school’s curriculum and training for generations of exquisite dancers. How clever! Who would have ever guessed that a simple chocolate and hazelnut spread could produce such astonishing results as increased multiple turns, tighter battements in petite allegro, and the totally unexpected, guaranteed “perfect fifth” closing to double tours and entrechat six.

Whether slathered on fruits, breads, or eaten off of a really big spoon, Nutella has been found to increase your likelihood of landing a triple tour en l’air and closing those 32 foutees with something fancier than a double. 

How can I eat it? (How can you not?)

  • Melted in hot milk for a wintery treat
  • Spread on crackers
  • As a dip for cut up fruit
  • On warm toast with peanut butter (oh la la!)
  • and the list goes on…it’s endless really.

Now that the cat is out of the bag, all dancers can benefit from this secret weapon. It’s my most fervent recommendation that you drop what you’re doing and hit the closest supermarket, armed with cash and a can-do attitude. (Don’t be shy. Go for it. As much as you can carry!) Fill that pantry full of this powerful, all-natural superfood.

Finally, be sure to get your “Vaganova Academy Recommended” daily allotment of two heaping tablespoons. (That’s bigger than a teaspoon, FYI.) Then, watch your legs lift, your turns whirl, and your jumps soar.

 

 

 

*Too good to be true, alas. Happy April Fool’s Day!

Eat More, Do More

Eat More, Do More

A dancer-friend of mine once told me that she wished someone had imparted this piece of wisdom to her when she was training: rather than eating less (as many dancers seem to do), and feeling that she had to conserve her energy and be careful about not overdoing it, wouldn’t it have made more sense to eat more and do more? Yes! In fact, that is the way to go. The question is, what to eat and do more of?

When most of us think about eating more, we often think this means eating everything. We hear “eat more” and think, “Yes! I AM going to have dessert after lunch…AND dinner! And throw in that bag of chips!”

That’s not what I mean though. What I mean is to eat more whole foods, more REAL foods: more greens and veggies, more whole grains, more fruits, more beans. As athletes, dancers need adequate fuel, and that fuel cannot be substandard in quality. If you were taking a road trip across the country, would you fill your car with the dirtiest, cheapest gas you could find? You could, but you wouldn’t get very far and your car would be in a sad state after a few hours.

It’s a crude metaphor, but the same is true for your dancing body: if you fill it with processed foods, sugar, simple carbs, and/or junk food, you’re not going to much out of it. Most dancers I have worked with tend to eat very little actual food. Instead, they exist on snack foods: pretzels, nuts, rice cakes- nibbles of finger food rather than the real deal. And they usually think that they have good energy and strength; they don’t even know what they’re missing. Once we get them on a diet of whole foods, there are some pretty exciting changes like increased energy and power reserves they never experienced before.

Once you have adequate fuel, you’ll know you can do more- you’ll feel stronger and more energetic. You’ll have the fuel for the cross training which is so critical to improving. (What kind of cross training to do depends on your body, what kind of dancing you’re doing, and previous injuries you’ve sustained. Check out this post from a few weeks ago about fitness and this link to a Dance Spirit article on cross training.)

You’ll also have energy to get through your day. It used to surprise me to hear young dancers talk about how tired they were all of the time- then I realized how little they were eating and it made perfect sense. Of course you slow down when there is no fuel in the system: your body is conserving energy. And with low/no fuel, your dancing suffers. But with a full tank of whole foods that is regularly replenished, your body will be capable of amazing things. How else do we explain marathon runners, mountain climbers, and cyclists? Are we saying that dancers aren’t capable of that level of exertion? I think not. I think most dancers can do a lot more than they think- the trouble is, without adequate fuel, you’ll never know what you’re capable of.

An Apple a Day...

An Apple a Day…

In winter time, I tend to eat a lot of apples: they are one of the only fruits still available at the farmer’s market and are so versatile. Today, I’m giving you three ideas of how to get your apple a day. All are simple, fast, healthy, and delicious.

Sliced apple with nut butter: one of my go-tos, this has been made even easier to prepare thanks to single serving packets of nut butters like these from Justin’s. Mix it up by trying different types like almond or cashew butter. (Try to limit butters with added sugar.) Make it simpler by using an apple slicer/corer like this. If prepping the apples at home, dump slices into a tupperware or ziploc bag, and then toss in a teaspoon of lemon juice to keep apples from turning brown. This is a great energy snack: carbs plus protein.

Sliced apples with lemon and black pepper: I know, it sounds odd, but it is 100% delicious. A friend’s mom served this as a snack before Thanksgiving dinner and it was perfectly refreshing. Prep apples same as above, put into the bag/container with lemon juice and then add freshly ground black pepper. Try it first; judge second.

Homemade applesauce: Don’t worry if you’ve never made this before- it couldn’t be easier. Chop apples into chunks- I like to leave the skin on because it gives the sauce a nice color. I also use different types of apples to increase the flavor. Toss all apples into a pot. Add 2 inches of water. Add ground cinnamon and cloves. Cover with lid and turn heat to medium-low. Cook for between 20 and 45 minutes, checking apples every 10 minutes or so; give them a good stir to rotate the cooked ones to the top. Depending on how mushy or chunky you like your applesauce, you can start smushing it with your spoon or let it stay chunky. Taste and add cinnamon and clove until it’s the way you like it.

No, you do not need to add sugar! (Or butter.) Really, apples are very sweet, especially when cooked down. I have served this to a lot of different people and all of them have remarked on how sweet it is. They never believe me when I tell them there’s no added sugar. This is a great dessert – try having it after dinner to satisfy your sweet tooth.

Warm Soup for Cold Nights

Warm Soup for Cold Nights

On these cold winter nights, a bowl of steaming soup is a great way to warm up and get your nutrients. Soup is easy to cook and it lasts- make a big pot that you can reheat during the week, or freeze in single serving containers for a quick meal later on. (This is especially good for evenings when you are hungry for something healthy, but are too tired to cook.) Add beans for a protein boost, ribbon-cut leafy greens for vitamins, and a Tablespoon of turmeric for anti-inflammatory properties.

Recipe: Minestrone Soup

  • 2 quarts veggie broth
  • 1 can/jar tomato puree (look for BPA free cans or buy in glass)
  • 2 cans cannellini beans
  • 3 carrots, cubed
  • 3 pieces of celery, cubed
  • 1 big onion, chopped
  • 3 zucchinis, cubed
  • 1 bunch of collard greens, cut into ribbons**
  • Grated parmigiano cheese
  • 1 teaspoon each of dried herbs: oregano, basil, tarragon, etc.
  • Optional: tablespoon of basil pesto.

Heat the carrot, onion, and celery over low heat in 1 Tablespoon of olive oil. When tender, add dried herbs (if you like them!): oregano, basil, tarragon are my go-tos. Stir until herbs become fragrant. Then add broth and tomato puree and beans. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 15 mins. Add cubed zucchini and collard greens. Simmer for 10 mins. Salt and pepper to taste. If you like pesto, adding a Tablespoon to this soup will add a rich flavor. Serve with a sprinkling of grated parmigiano cheese on top.

** To cut leafy greens into ribbons, simply place two leaves together, roll like a cigar, and then cut thin strips through the rolled cigar. If ribbons are too long for your taste, cut the big leaves in half lengthwise before you roll them.

Back-On-Track Winter Green Salad

Back-On-Track Winter Green Salad

I am the first to admit that eating a cold green salad in the heart of winter can be a challenge if your body craves warm and hearty foods like mine does. That said, greens are always in order, no matter the season, so it’s time to get creative.

This recipe calls for arugula, a bitter, dry green which pairs well with olive oil and parmigiano cheese. A lot of brands carry arugula in those plastic boxes, already washed. This is one of those “cheats” that I support- anything that gets your meal to you faster without compromising your health!

The recipe also calls for fennel, a bulbous, white, crunchy vegetable that grows in the ground. If you’ve never had fennel before, give it a try; it tastes a bit like licorice, and is crisp and fresh-tasting. In fact, in Italy, a slice of fennel is often served at the end of a meal to refresh your palate before moving on to dessert.

It’s also healthy, delivering 17% of your recommended daily amount of Vitamin C and 10% of your Potassium.

If you like shopping at your local farmer’s market, which I highly recommend, this salad makes use of ingredients you can find in late fall. If you’re a supermarket-goer, you shouldn’t have any trouble finding arugula or fennel year-round.

Ingredients

  • Fresh arugula, one bunch
  • Half of a fennel bulb, sliced into slivers
  • Parmigiano cheese shavings (You can shave your cheese with a mandolin or the wide section on your grater.)

Mix these ingredients, then toss with olive oil, fresh lemon juice, salt and pepper.

The peppery, bitterness of the arugula is nicely offset by the parmigiano cheese, which also adds saltiness. I think the freshness of the fennel is what makes this salad so healthy-tasting. It’s also light, which is great for in between classes or rehearsals, and late at night when you need something but don’t want to fill yourself too much.

Cook Once ... Eat All Week

Cook Once and Eat All Week

This post was originally published on Beyond the Gold– NY International Ballet Competition’s blog. It’s on how you can cook and eat homemade meals all week without spending your life in the kitchen. It’s easier than you might think….!

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I happen to love the phrase, “Cook once, eat twice.” But in my kitchen, it’s cook once, eat four or five times. I love to eat well, but I am not willing to spend a lot of time cooking during the week unless it’s a family event. So, here are some of my tips for cooking/prepping once and eating many times- these are very simple ideas, but I hope they get you thinking!

I usually pick a day when I cook three or four main ingredients and then have them in the fridge as building blocks for the week. My trick is that I cook them in the simplest way possible, usually steaming for veggies and greens and basic prep (without flavoring) for beans and grains. That way, every time I eat, I can add different flavors to create a whole new dish.

For example: Ingredients:

  • Kale: steamed
  • Wild Rice: boiled
  • Cannellini beans: soaked for 24 hours, then boiled until soft.

Meals

Warm or cold

  • Mix kale, wild rice and cannellini beans
  • Toss with tahini, splash of lemon, ground black pepper, salt

Cold

  • Slice up and add cherry tomatoes, avocado, pine nuts (toast them if you like)
  • Add cold kale
  • Toss with olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper

Cold

  • Cannellini beans and wild rice
  • Add feta, cucumber, kalamata olives, tomatoes
  • Toss with olive oil, vinegar, fresh oregano/basil, salt and pepper

Warm

  • Saute cannellini beans and wild rice with sesame oil, salt and pepper
  • As a side, sauté the kale in sesame oil with some sesame seeds

In addition to these simple ideas, you now have a green, a grain and a protein, all ready to be eaten in any other creative way you want.

Some other staples that are great to cook ahead of time and keep on hand as building blocks are:

  • Quinoa (good cold, hot and as a breakfast cereal)
  • Brown Rice
  • Kasha (Buckwheat)
  • Steamed broccoli
  • Roasted red peppers
  • Chard
  • Kale
  • All beans: so good hot or cold and very easy to dress up in different flavors

 

 

 

 

Meal Plan: Simple, Smooth Rice Bowl

Meal Plan: Simple, Smooth Rice Bowl

Brown rice is a great staple to include in your dancing diet for a number of reasons.

  • It’s a whole grain, meaning it has all of its bran layer intact, so it’s full of vital nutrients.
  • Brown rice has more vitamin B than any other grain; it also contains iron, vitamin E, and amino acids, among other nutrients.
  • It’s high in fiber (good for you) and made up of 80% complex carbohydrates, so it burns slower than white rice, giving you longer-lasting energy.

I like to cook up a big pot of brown rice on Sundays and then have it for the week to mix with different veggies, greens, and beans. This is a super simple rice bowl recipe that you can make in 10 minutes or less after the rice is cooked:

  • After chopping and rinsing the broccoli,  steam for 5 minutes in a steamer, or boil in water; drain. Place in bowl.
  • Slice half of an avocado (healthy fats make you feel satisfied and give you sustaining energy)
  • Add 3/4- 1 cup brown rice.
  • Toss with a squirt of lemon juice, a drizzle of olive oil (omega-3 fatty acids), and salt and pepper.

This is a light lunch between classes and rehearsals as well as a tasty, easy-to-throw-together dinner. And of course, once you’ve got the huge pot of rice, you can get creative about ways to spice it up.

To get you started here are some simple recipes to try mixing with your rice.

  • Black beans and sweet corn kernels with chopped fresh tomatoes and avocado;
  • Sautéed kale with sesame seeds and sesame oil;
  • A can of tuna fish, black olives and capers.

The combinations are endless and so easy to do once you have your base. Dig in!

*New Note: as of 2012, brown rice has been found to have higher than normal levels of arsenic in it, thanks to the soil and water in which it has been grown. Read this Consumer Reports article for the full story.

I know, right, another toxic thing to have to worry about! You can still eat brown rice. The report recommends brown basmati from California, India, or Pakistan. “It has about a third less inorganic arsenic than other brown rices.” They recommend no more than 3 servings per week.

So maybe make a slightly smaller pot or consider trying some of the whole grains that are naturally lower in arsenic like quinoa, millet, and white basmati.

Variety is (more than) the Spice of Life

Dancers are probably known more for being creatures of habit than variety. Why wouldn’t we be? Our art form demands it. We do roughly the same exercises in the same order every day, and work on the same things over and over again.

As creatures of habit and repetition, it’s natural that we would carry that thinking into our diets. How many of us eat the same thing for breakfast every day? Why? Because it’s fast, easy, and we can predict our body’s reaction to it.

If this describes you, you’re not alone. When you have a strong, clean diet of whole foods, habit is not necessarily a bad thing. But we can all benefit from adding some variety to our diet and here’s why.

Kiwis and Oranges

Think about kiwis and oranges for a minute: not only do they look and taste differently, but they also have different nutritional make-ups. We think that oranges are high in the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of vitamin C at 139%, but kiwis are even higher at a whopping 273%!

Kiwis are also high in vitamin K (89%) and potassium (16%), while oranges give us thiamin (12%) and calcium (8%). But neither fruit gives us much Vitamin B6 or potassium. For that, you’re better off eating bananas. So, while you might be an orange lover and be getting your daily allotment of fruit from oranges, look at what you’re missing out on by not eating other types of fruit.

The same comparisons can be done for whole grains like brown rice and quinoa, and greens like kale and lettuce. If you get stuck on one, you’re missing out on vital vitamins and minerals that your body needs.

Simple tips to get out of your food rut

When you grocery shop, aim to get at least three kinds of each food group.

  • Proteins: choose from both animal and vegetable sources, like eggs, salmon and black beans. If you’re a vegetarian, try yogurt and tempeh in place of the animal products.
  • Whole grains: try different ones for breakfast (steel cut oats), lunch (quinoa), and dinner (wild rice).
  • Vegetables: go for color! For example, dark leafy greens like spinach, red peppers, and carrots, or beets, sweet potatoes, and broccoli.
  • Fruits: go for different colors and textures: blueberries, oranges and kiwis, or bananas, apples and strawberries.
  • Healthy fats: walnuts, avocados, and olive oil.

Your dancing body needs a wide variety of nutrients, and keeping track of what those are and where to get them can be a big job. But experimenting with the abundant choices of available whole foods is easy and fun, not to mention more exciting for your taste buds.

So the next time you are shopping or eating out, try breaking out of your food rut and trying a few things outside of your comfort zone. If you want to do some research on what nutrients are found in your favorites foods (and the new ones you’re investigating), check out http://nutritiondata.self.com/.