9/14/11

I'm Drinking Leaves!

Most of us eat leaves, although we think of them as lettuce or spinach, or perhaps as basil or parsley. Many Southerners eat vegetables I never heard of as a child in New England, like collards, kale, chard. But the typical modern diet - even for vegetarians and raw foodies - does not include a lot of "greens." Their bitterness is not real appealing, and our jaws, teeth, and digestive juices have changed so drastically from our prehistoric ancestors' that we are not even capable of extracting most of the nutrients from the greens we eat. I felt like I took a big step when I "learned" to love spinach, then did the same with kale when I discovered it was packed with lutein, so good for the health of our eyes. Now I've taken a mammoth leap forward and I'm eating a huge variety and large amounts of greens - actually, I'm drinking them!

I first learned of Green Smoothies several months ago, when my friend Gloria mentioned her new interest in making them. Blending fruits with spinach didn't sound too good, but I was intrigued. I googled it, and quickly realized I didn't have a blender with the power to chop up the leaves properly. I kept seeing mention of the Vitamix machine, a very powerful blender which can pulverize ingredients, break cell walls and create extra smooth consistencies - but with a huge price tag! I decided any blender which cost more than I paid a few years ago for my kitchen stove was not for me. So I continued using my food processor for our afternoon all-fruit smoothies.

Then I happened to watch a very interesting movie (which I highly recommend) called "Fat, Sick, & Nearly Dead" with my husband. For the first 10 minutes, Rick was not real taken with the message of juicing vegetables for improving health, weight loss, and "rebouting" your system, but I wanted to continue watching so he agreed. Fast forward to the end, and Rick was the one saying "I want to try this." I already owned a well-used Braun juicer, the centrifuge type which sends the juice out one slot and the pulp/skin/seeds out the other slot. Years ago I was making so much carrot juice that Rick's feet turned orange! My juicer is a basic, less powerful juicer than the one used in the movie to juice various combinations of vegetables and fruit, which also disposed of the pulp. Then I remembered the Vitamix, and started researching the pluses and minuses of it versus a juicer, particularly because the Vitamix doesn't remove the pulp, it pulverizes it to make it edible. Lots more fiber (which most of us need), and much added nutrition. I could tell from the recipes that making smoothies in a high speed blender required a smaller volume of raw ingredients than juicing in a juicer requires. Juicing one cup of carrot juice takes a lot of carrots. And a juicer can't extract from non-juicy fruits like bananas, while those are good smoothie ingredients. Green smoothie blenders break down whole foods to the cellular level and beyond, making the huge amount of nutrients readily available for your body. Juicers have their advantages for some, but talking with friends who own Vitamix machines convinced me that this was the best way for me to make veggie/fruit smoothies - as well as lots of other foods.

Introducing my newest, most favorite, kitchen appliance - the Vitamix 5200, a high speed blender, reaching speeds of up to 240 miles per hour. The Vitamix brand has been around for decades, and owners rave about them. I discovered I had two friends who had Vitamix machines "somewhere" in storage units, unreachable for various reasons, so those were not options for me to purchase. I watched used ones go for nearly the cost of new on eBay, so I decided to return to the Vitamix web site. Then I saw a link to "Factory Reconditioned" models. Still pricey ($349), but less than a perfect model, and included full warranty of a new machine. I had bought a reduced-price "blemished" Excalibar dehydrator from its manufacturer two years ago, and had to search for anything wrong, but saved money. I justified the purchase of the Vitamix by reminding myself of the $300+ monthly cost of our Blue Cross catastrophic health insurance (with a $7000 deductible) and figured I'd rather have something tangible and valuable for that same amount of money, so I dove it and made my purchase, with a dealer's voucher which saved the $25 shipping charge. I have not regretted it once.

Since it arrived about two months ago, my Vitamix has been used at least once daily except for maybe two days. I love it! It is easy to use, easy to clean, comes with a big recipe book and CD, and has recipes online. For someone like me, who makes meals from scratch, Vitamix smoothies are a very easy, filling, satisfying, healthy, and fast meal… with no dishes. Rick and I are increasing the amount of living, raw, whole food in our diets, thus upping our intake of vitamins, minerals, enzymes, phytonutrients, omega 3s, and loads of other nutrients. I was surprised to learn that greens are a source of protein also. We are consuming a great deal of fruits and veggies, in place of meals. Smoothies from fruits and vegetables are ideal for anyone who gardens, like me, for both fresh and frozen ingredients. I had chopped and frozen spinach and kale last spring when they were growing in abundance, and now I can break up frozen pieces, adding concentrated amounts to smoothies. This is holding me until I can harvest cool-weather greens in my garden again this fall and winter, which I've already begun to plant in abundance.

I just finished reading two books given to me by my friend Judi, written by Victoria Boutenko, the pioneer and inventor of Green Smoothies and author of the Green Smoothies Blog. If you are interested in learning more, I highly recommend her book Green Smoothie Revolution. I have absorbed loads of info from the author's extensive research and experimentation, on why greens are so nutritious and beneficial to our health, and have become even more convinced that buying the Vitamix is a lifestyle changing event for me. The book includes testimonials from those who have lost lots of weight, nourished and healed their bodies, and reversed signs of aging... things most everyone I know would like to do!

Rick and I did a 4-day smoothie fast when I began using the new Vitamix, and since then we have been substituting a smoothie for one meal per day. In addition to the green leaves, I sometimes add other vegetables, always mixed with fruit. I've found that frozen banana chunks (which have always been the mainstay in my fruit smoothies) really helps sweeten smoothies made with vegetables, to the point where you barely taste the vegetable ingredients. In addition to the bananas, I use one or more other fresh (preferably seasonal, which has been easy this summer) or frozen fruit, like berries, cherries, peaches, apples, pears, grapes, and plums, as well as citrus (lemon, orange, lime), fresh pineapple (shell cut away, but the core is easily chopped). I've recently been gathering wild passion fruit from my meadow and adding its pulpy seeds to smoothies. I do about a 40/60 mix of vegetables to fruit, using stronger flavored fruit (like blueberries) with stronger flavored veggies (like beet greens). It is important to vary the greens you use, rather than always using spinach, for example. For greens I've used spinach, kale, beet greens, romaine lettuce, parsley, and the green leaves of my sweet potato vines. For other veggies, I've added summer squash or zucchini; cucumbers, carrots, celery, yellow snap beans, tomatoes, and cooked sweet potatoes or winter squash or beets. (Note: Victoria Boutenko, the "inventor" of green smoothies mentioned above, recommends only non-starchy vegetables with greens.) I sometimes add fresh herbs, such as basil, fennel, mint, parsley, and lemon grass, and I will continue experimenting with others from my herb garden. If I find my combination a little bitter, usually just a few drops of diluted stevia are enough for me, but you can add agave or honey. I have grown stevia in the past, and plan to do so again - then I can just use the green leaves from it. The Vitamix easily grinds nutritious nuts, seeds, and soft grains, so I might add whole flax seeds, chia seeds, shelled hemp seeds, sunflower seeds, or raw rolled oats. Added flavorings I've used include cinnamon, fresh ginger root, dried coconut, carob powder, unsweetened cocoa powder, Roma (a roasted barley/chicory powder which tastes like coffee), spices like cloves and cardamon, vanilla and other extracts, and zest from organic citrus fruit. An avocado makes the smoothie very creamy, without altering the flavor, and tofu would also work. The blender needs some liquid to work properly, and I've used water, lemon juice, fruit juice, soy milk, homemade kefir, aloe juice, and also almond milk which I made in the Vitamix from raw nuts. I've read that dairy products will interfere with digestion of the greens, so I don't use milk or yogurt in the green smoothies. You can add lecithin or protein powders also. Rick prefers frozen smoothies, and the Vitamix has no trouble grinding ice cubes in with the smoothie ingredients… some frozen smoothies we've eaten with a spoon.

When I grow sprouts again this winter, I'll add those to smoothies. Harvesting wild foods from my land has fascinated me, and I continually try to educate myself with field guides and online references. I look forward to harvesting wild plants for my smoothies next spring, like dandelion, trillium leaves, chickweed, watercress, lambsquarters, purslane, wood sorrel, wild mustards, grape leaves, and daisy leaves. Many wildflowers which grow here are also edible, such as daylilies, violets, red bud, yucca, chicory, dandelions, and clover. If you know someone who's land is overrun with kudzu, they have an excellent source of edilble greens! Even now, in September, I am picking tender young leaves on the ends of the branches of sassafras and muscadine as I walk my trails, and adding these to my smoothies. Boutenko says wild green are more nutritious than cultivated vegetables. The possibilities for different combinations are endless, as you can see, and I am enjoying experimenting and creating different tastes and textures. Caution, many wild plants are very poisonous to eat, so be sure you know what you are using if you harvest them.



Beyond smoothies, I've been using my new Vitamix for many other dishes. I made delicious fresh marinara sauce so fast, since the organic tomatoes from my garden went into the blender whole (no peeling or seeding). A combo of my recipe and one in the Vitamix book produced the smoothest hummus ever, using whole toasted sesame seeds instead of tahini, and a peeled whole lemon vs. juice. Chocolate mousse is my favorite Vitamix indulgence so far, with curious ingredients including avocados and a touch of balsamic vinegar. I've also made salsa, dips, salad dressings, wonderful applesauce, and batter for my favorite gingerbread (it came out the best ever). The Vitamix can be purchased with a dry blender for grinding grains, but I have both a manual and electric flour mill so I didn't get that container option. But I ground dehydrated red hot chili peppers into a powder in seconds in my Vitamix, since the peppers are brittle not hard. Now you understand how I've put the Vitamix to so much use. The Vitamix can also make vegetables soups; running the motor for 3-5 minutes heats the contents, so the soup goes right from the blender to the serving bowl. I am anxious to try soups when the weather cools, as well as other recipes I've earmarked such as black bean brownies.

I promise not to fill this blog with green smoothie information and Vitamix recipes - there are others doing this much better than I can, plus I have loads to write about with gardening and food you chew! However, I highly recommend green smoothies, even to my friends who are long-time vegetarians. And if you have your own favorite green smoothies or Vitamix recipes, please share in my comments box.

I hope I've intrigued you enough to make you want to try a green smoothie yourself - or ask me for a taste test when you visit - and I'll be happy to share what I am learning with you.