March 25, 2009

Murray's Sturgeon Shop

Have you been to Murray's Sturgeon Shop? If not, stop whatever you are doing and hightail it to Broadway between 90th and 91st. The lovely older gentleman behind the counter will educate you on the nuances between the different types of smoked salmon - nova, gravlax, etc - and will probably give you a sample too.

I selected a quarter-pound of the nova, walked home, and decided to have another little taste. The next thing I knew, I had eaten the entire package. It was the most buttery and absolutely delectable smoked fish I have ever eaten.

I haven't worked up the courage to try the kippers yet. Or any of the fishes in cream. But the knishes are also supposed to be fabulous.

March 24, 2009

Vegan after lunch

Recently the food writer Mark Bittman advocated a "vegan before dinner" eating plan in an article in the New York Times. I firmly believe that we consume way too many animal foods in our culture nowadays - and that we certainly do not need animal foods with every meal. So his article got me thinking - when would be the ideal time of day to go veg-only?

The vegan before dinner concept is interesting, and offers a strategy to reduce overall caloric intake (since animal foods are in general more calorically dense than plant foods). However, consuming a light, vegan breakfast and lunch also might set many of us up for binge eating - especially of animal proteins such as cheese, meat, etc - at dinnertime and perhaps into the evening. How many times have I come home ravenous after having a vegetarian lunch and started munching on cheese with bread or crackers while making dinner? And a vegan before dinner diet is problematic not only because of the calories consumed.

Our bodies' prime detox time is at night. Particularly between the hours of 11pm and 1am, the liver is hard at work cleansing the blood of toxins and other impurities. Eating a lot of heavy foods, especially animal protein, late in the evening can greatly impair the liver's detox efficiency. Ever experienced a food hangover? This exemplies the effects of one night's impairment in liver detox ability on the body and mind - done chronically, this can severely upset homeostasis and lead to more serious health issues. Eating a light, plant-based meal in the evening puts the least stress on the digestive system and allows the body to concentrate on the detoxification process while sleeping.

Going vegan before dinner might also lead to increased hunger during the day (when we need the most energy for work, exercise, and other activities) and subsequent munching. An eating pattern that makes more sense to me is that which is common in Europe is -- a large midday meal (when the digestive fire, or agni, is strongest, according to Ayurvedic theory) that includes animal protein such as meat, fish, poultry, cheese, etc. Rich foods, and animal foods in particular, are much more efficiently digested when consumed midday than in the evening. Consuming adequate protein and fat at lunchtime, along with plenty of vegetables (which should be consumed in quantity at every meal!) rather than carbohydrates, can also help to stave off the late afternoon slump and the snacks that inevitably follow. Then a light supper can be enjoyed, such as soup and salad, which are easily digested and thus do not disrupt sleep or the body's nighttime detox. And a more coherent and enjoyable morning can follow.

And the vegan-after-lunch plan doesn't have to be done strictly or every day. Consider choosing a couple of days per week to have a main midday meal that includes animal protein, and then a light plant-based dinner. Take note of how your body feels that day and the next morning.

Sample menu plan for a vegan-after-lunch day in winter:
Breakfast: Quinoa porridge with coconut oil, dried apricots and toasted almonds
Lunch: Braised lamb with carrots and celery root, mashed potatoes, and raw sauerkraut; baked apple stuffed with apricot-fig-walnut compote
Dinner: Curried red lentil soup with parsnips; salad of arugula, watercress, and radicchio with avocado, dressed with olive oil and lemon juice