Sunday, December 12, 2010

Christina Pirello Kind of Saturday

By the way it was tough to get a picture of Christina during class because she was always talking and/or waving her hands in true Italian fashion. However since I do the exact same thing I completely understood. LOL I was just happy to get one good pic to share with you.

I have been a fan of Christina Pirello since I went vegan years ago. She was the first vegan chef I ever saw and I watched religiously when her TV show was on our local PBS channel. She made vegan food seem easy and approachable and I learned a lot watching her. If it hadn’t been for Christina’s show it would have been much harder to figure out what to feed us when we were new vegans.

For the last few years I have been talking about going to Philly to attend one of her cooking demonstrations and never did it. Something else always seemed to come first. As you have probably gathered by now Dan spoils me. When I mentioned the class again a few days ago he said we needed to go and we did. Have I said lately how much I love my hubby? He really is the best.

Our morning started early not at the gym but getting ready to drive to Philly. It was different sort of hectic morning.

Breakfast was a very simple bowl of oatmeal. This time I added mixed frozen berries (blueberries, raspberries and Marion berries – from Costco), cinnamon, powdered ginger, ground flaxseed and sliced almonds. After that we packed up everything I needed: laptop, camera, phone, and book we ran out the door.

We had to leave the house by 7:15 to be in Philly prior to 10am for the cooking demo. Thankfully we got there about 30 minutes early which was perfect to get a front row seat which made taking pictures much easier. ;-)

I took this eerie picture of the sunrise over the Susquehanna as we drove north to Philly. It was very foggy and the sky looked like snow although fortunately that never happened.

The classes are held at the Walnut Hill Restaurant School with the actual classes at 4100 Walnut Street at the intersection of 41st. For anyone driving there outside of the Philly the directions that Robert Pirello sends are excellent. We had no difficulty finding the location or parking.

Christina demonstrated 7 recipes in 3 hours and she made enough for 70 people. While she did have three people helping her with the prep it was still a lot of food to crank through in 3 hours and she made it look effortless.  She has so much energy in person you almost get tired watching her.  I loved that about her. ;-)  I would say she is the picture of vibrancy and health in front of the class.

During the class she was taking health and nutrition questions from the audience. Most of what she said I agree with completely. In fact I wanted to jump up and cheer when the topic of processed soy came up and she said no one should eat anything with soy protein isolate. Go Christina! I knew there was a reason I liked you so much. ;-)

Christina also shared that she is not fond of agave, coconut oil or palm oil. She has the same concerns I have about the potential health risks of coconut and palm oils.  She compared coconut oil to agave and said that when things sound too good to be true they frequently are. I could not agree with her more.

One thing that surprised me was when she said brown rice syrup was safe for diabetics in small amounts since it doesn’t have the same insulin trigger effect as other sugars. By insulin trigger effects I assume she means elevation of blood glucose levels. I need to do a little research on that but I was happy to hear her opinion and will be looking into this. When I have done my research on this topic I will let you know what I found.

The course was full of regulars since she knew many people’s names which was amazing in a room of 70 people. From the questions that were being asked many people in the room were omnivores but she was just as cool and calm about it as could be. I wish I had that much composure LOL.

One interesting thought she shared at the beginning of class which I thought was genius yet so simple was this: each week eliminate one unhealthy thing/habit from your life and replace it with something healthy. This could be going to the gym instead of sleeping in or giving up one bad food. Make enough of these changes and the impact will become cumulative and you will have made serious progress on regaining your health. Now I am a cold turkey person in a lot of ways so I dove in head first on changing to vegan from omni but her idea makes more sense for most people. Also it is how we went from vegan to healthy vegan a little bit at a time.

The dishes Christina demonstrated were as follows:

• Ribolita
• Brown Rice and Vegetable Salad
• Tofu and Root Vegetable Stew
• Arugula and Roast Squash Salad
• Fig and Walnut Tapenade on Daikon Rounds (the daikon was a cracker replacement)
• Asteroids (a chocolate, nut butter, brown rice syrup and brown rice crispy treat)
• Antico Dolce Torte - not pictured below

(pictured above: Ribolitta) 

(pictured from top right around: spinach salad, tofu stew, fig topped daikon, and rice salad) 

(pictured: asteriod - sorry about the bad picture)

While Christina did use oil in her cooking, which you all know I have given up, the food wasn’t at all greasy. I will be doing my own spin on these in the cooking weeks because you know I can’t leave anything alone. True to macrobiotic cooking her food wasn’t highly seasoned which you know will be one of the first changes I make. ;-) However overall the food was quite good and not bland, which I assume has to do with the olive oil and salt. Just to let you know I decided to make Ribolitta today (Sunday) for the meal with my omni parents. I am going to use my omni recipe and make that vegan instead but the idea is still the same.

The tofu Christina used was a local Philadelphia brand called “Fresh Tofu” (yes that is the brand name apparently) which I haven’t seen in Baltimore but now I need to look for at Whole Foods and our local health food store. It was surprisingly firm and wasn’t pressed or frozen. Both Dan and I liked the texture of the tofu she used. We may have to find a way to get that tofu shipped to us at home. Then again I can always take the plunge and try making tofu myself at home since I have nigiri now. (Note: we checked Whole Foods for the tofu Sunday morning and they didn’t carry it – Bummer)

Speaking of freezing tofu I now understand why freezing tofu has the textural impact that it does. I had no idea that tofu is 70% water but that makes complete sense given how it is made. When you freeze it the water crystallizes and much of it is removed from the tofu. Duh right? It seems so obvious now, LOL.

The other little tidbit I picked up was that arrowroot is less processed than cornstarch which I had not realized. This is another one of those things to be filed away for future reference. I am guessing you will be seeing me use more arrowroot in the future.

There was a lengthy discussion about soaking rice prior to cooking it to reduce the phytic acid which over the long term could result in bone loss. I wanted to toss that out in case the idea was new to anyone. I think it is more important for those that follow a macrobiotic diet which has rice as the base of the “food pyramid” so to speak.

As you can probably guess we had a great time. I love being around other health nuts. LOL

Christina is working on a new book titled, “I am mad as hell and I am not going to eat it anymore.” From her comments during class I feel certain it is going to discuss the dramatic and unnatural changes of the US food supply over the last 50 years. I can’t wait to read it. The book sounds right up my alley. LOL

During the course were we provided a small serving of each dish and seconds were available if you were hungry, which we weren’t. You were given a printed copy of the recipes at the beginning of class on which to take notes.

Overall it was a great class and both Dan and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Christina is approachable, funny and very willing to share her knowledge with anyone that has a question. If you liked Christina on TV you will love her in person. As you are listening to her you feel like she is totally at ease in the front of the room and very comfortable being herself. Dan and I were talking about it on the drive home and both think we enjoyed her much more in person than on TV. If any of you get a chance to attend one of her classes I highly recommend them. She has a four month intensive theory of eastern philosophy class that they are going to send me details on by email. I may be taking that come spring.  For the record we paid to attend the classes there is was no incentive for me to write this review nor did they know I was going to do it.

Dinner tonight:

Here is a shocker, guess what we did for dinner tonight? Yep we went out. Since we left the house at 7:15 and didn’t get home until after 5pm there was not cooking at my house today other than the oatmeal at breakfast. I could have made something but Dan wanted to go out and since our precious Aimee was working this evening it seemed like a great plan.

Like usual I started the evening in the kitchen getting a hug from Ian and chatting about what he had on hand beyond the usual. I had to tell Ian about the cooking class in Philly and he wanted to know what Christina made. Isn’t it just like food people to talk about food? LOL

Will heard Ian and I talking about dinner options and asked if we eat Indian food to which I responded “of course”. Ian mentioned wild rice and Will mentioned tomato chutney and I said “go with it and surprise us”. Will make a fabulous rice dish that was anything but your standard beige and boring vegan food. I don’t know about you but bland food is not my thing. This dish was excellent. We could have happily eaten a second serving but decided variety is a good thing.

The dish contained: wild rice, white rice, tomato chutney, garlic, ginger, onion, edamame, chickpeas, carrot, lime, and baby spinach. It had a great flavor that was also complex. I need to make some tomato chutney very soon now because I now know it will be a great add in to leftover rice. I see another variation of “fried” rice in our future. LOL

This dish turned out so well we sent word into the kitchen that if Will wanted to wing something again or if he wasn’t feeling inspired we would make a specific request. For some reason I love have no idea what is coming out of the kitchen other than it is vegan. Eating food that other people conceive of always pushes my boundaries a little, in a good way.

This time we had whole wheat pasta with onion, garlic, ginger, red pepper flakes, soy, a touch of sweet for balance. The pasta also had red bell peppers, scallions, shitake mushrooms and sesame seeds. It was a good contrast to the first curried dish.

We ended our dinner with a plate of soy and truffle marinated mushrooms. These things are so good and I love that mushrooms boost the immune system so they are a win-win in my book. I need to talk to Ian about exactly what is in this dish.

When Ian was heading out for the evening, long before we left, he stopped to say good-bye. Just before leaving he said how nice it was to be seeing us more often. Given Ian’s honesty I know he meant that and in a friend way not in a customer way. For those of you that know Ian I am sure you would agree he is one of the most genuine people around. He is definitely a "what you see is what you get kind of guy" and we love that about him.

Happy thoughts:

Saturday was a fabulous day which means I have lots to be thankful for. Here are my happy thoughts today:

• I thoroughly enjoyed Christina Pirello’s cooking demonstration and am now kicking myself for putting off driving to Philly for so long. For any of you in the Philly area I highly recommend you go to at least one. If we lived closer I would be there every month.

• It was great to spend another day with my hubby even if a lot of it was sitting in the car. We had a wonderful day together.

• Dinner last night (Saturday) was excellent as always. Will did a great job creating two vegan dishes for us. We loved the curried rice dish. I really need to chat to Ian to find out what he uses in the tomato chutney so I can make a version for myself.

• Sunday morning started off in the low 50’s. It is such a treat to me back to “normal” temperature-wise after not breaking out of the 30’s last week. Even the rain this morning couldn’t ruin the weather for me.

• White beans are cooking on the stove now for ribolitta today and the house smells great. There is something so comforting about the smell of beans, garlic and bay leaves.

Signing out:

Time to get a few things done around here before having the parents for a mid-day meal. I will talk to you all again soon. I hope everyone is enjoying their weekend ours has been great so far.


  1. You may have better luck locating the Fresh Tofu brand at your local health food store. I can get it here in DE at the co-op in Newark. It's sold in bulk, so be aware that you won't be looking for the little plastic tubs the way you're probably used to buying tofu.

  2. mirbrewer,

    Thanks for the tofu tip! Christina held up a little shrink wrapped package with a blue and white label in the class so I was looking for that. I am going to try my health food store next.


  3. Great post, Ali! I can tell how much you enjoyed Christina, and I'm so happy that you went. Lots of great info and everything looks delish--the chocolates especially, but I think you knew I would say that. ;)

    LOVE the pic you took of the Susquehanna River--where was that?? LOL--I went to Susquehanna Township High School, and I still can't spell Susquehanna w/o singing it in my head. ;)


  4. LJ,

    I hope I spelled Susquehanna right, now I am paranoid. LOL

    I took that picture from the brigde on 95 heading north while Dan was driving. Personally I am shocked it turned out. ;-)

    You like chocolate, I never knew. LMAO

    It was a fantastic time. Why did I wait so long to go again? Duh. The entire class was full of great information. My post just scratched the surface. I am sure you would love it too. If she is ever having a class while you are visiting your family you should go.

    talk to you later,

  5. I would love to be able to take a class with Christina — I grew up in Philly but live so far away now. Next time we schedule a trip out East, I'll check her schedule. The food she made looks great to me — I love macrobiotic cooking. When I was learning about macrobiotics (This was ages ago. I don't cook macrobiotically now, though many of the principles are still with me.), we were told that kudzu is the first choice for a thickener, then arrowroot. Cornstarch was considered too refined. And I remember the info about rice syrup, too.

    I feel as you do about the coconut/palm oil craze. I just can't get comfortable about the high level of saturated fat. I'm almost afraid to admit it, though. :)

  6. So glad you got to see her this time and enjoyed it too! I'm totally with you on talking with my full body ;-) Those mushrooms are making my mouth water by the way.

  7. Andrea,

    Christina's class was a blast. We both enjoyed it immensely. I hope one of your future trips back east will coincide with her class schedule. I can't imagine you wouldn't enjoy taking a class with her particularly since you are fond of macrobiotic food.

    I tried macrobiotic cooking for a little while about a decade ago but I missed my Italian food, not to mention the high level of herbs and spices that we prefer. However I missed the info on cornstarch somehow until yesterday. *scratches head*

    I am a bit suspect of brown rice syrup personally but I am going to do my homework on that one. Have you seen any hard science on brown rice syrup?

    Coconut and palm oil never felt right to me. But since I don't use oil now it wasn't much of any issue for me. However I agree with you on the saturated fat issue. The medium chain fatty acid benefits are only "theoretical". I would rather wait for the science on that before adding oil into our diet since there is evidence re: the negative impact of oil on endothelial cells.


  8. Heather,

    Philly was a much longer drive than we expected and traffic going north on 95 was a mess early in the morning. But even with that it was great to go. We thought Christina was fabulous. I can definitely see myself going again. Since Dan and I used to go to a cooking class together so it was a bit like old times for us.

    I think all Italians talk with their hands. Dan teases me about that all the time. If you tie my hands I can't speak according to him, LOL.

    Ian's mushrooms are tremendous. I need to talk to him about the details on those so I can make an Alicia version at home. ;-)

    I hope you are having a wonderful weekend,

  9. Um, can I please transport myself in your photographs and dive into those dishes? OMG--they all look so delicious!

  10. Stephanie,

    Saturday was a good food day for us, LOL and all I made was the oatmeal. I have been delinquent in the cooking arena lately. ;-)


  11. I love Christina, she really made cooking healthy look easy and like you, I also used her knowledge to boost me into veganism! I do not have one of her cookbooks, but if you would like to get me one for Christmas that would be! (hint, hint)
    I want know how Ian makes those mushrooms too, they are always soo appealing to me! Hope you have a great day!

  12. Brandi,

    Dan and I were both surprised that Christina is much more gregarious in person if you can imagine. Her energy level is also quite impressive. She is a walking billboard for macrobiotic life is good. ;-)

    You don't have any of her books. You should have told me sooner I would have bought them there and got them signed for you. *shakes head*

    I will try to remember to ask Ian mushroom details the next time we are there. We should be back sometime next week no doubt. Try to remind me if I forget.

    talk to you later,

  13. All the dishes look fantastic and delicious. Of course, I am partial to the Asteroid, hoping it would be sweet!

    Peace :)

  14. What a fun and wonderful day! Glad you did it!

  15. Sounds like fun! Glad you had a good time. I find the macrobiotic emphasis on grains (40-60% of diet) and lack of spice are turn-offs for me. I have actually never had tempeh I am curious lol. I've never had bacon before even as an omni, so I am not sure if I would like it. Let us know what it is like!

    I wanted to share a link to an excellent article about agave:

    I also remember a recent study (maybe search it on PubMed?) about agave and cancer cell growth and how it was worse than sugar in terms of cell proliferation.

    Anyway, hope you have a good week!

  16. Possum,

    I have the same issues with macrobiotic food. On the other hand Christina's cancer did disappear. Who knows right?

    Thanks for letting me know we aren't the only ones that never had tempeh bacon before. I would have sworn it was just us. I was omni most of my life so I have had bacon. I don't really expect this to taste like that, nor do I want it to actually.

    Thanks for the article link I will check it out today. I read an article about agave fueling cancer growth more than sugar. We must read the same stuff. ;-)

    talk to you later,


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