Sunday, January 9, 2011

Barley in the Risotto Style with Butternut Squash, Shitakes, Leeks and Sage

Don’t you love weekend mornings when you can sleep in until your body naturally wakes up? I think those are the best! Yes, we slept until we woke up and I thoroughly enjoyed that.


Once we actually got up and started moving we had our usual green smoothies for breakfast which consisted of: kale, frozen bananas, walnuts, ground flaxseeds, cinnamon, powdered ginger, a little stevia and water to process.

Food Philosophy:

I have gotten a few questions about why green smoothies and why kale for breakfast. The answer is probably more simple that you realize. My general approach to food is to feed us things that will nourish us and provide the building blocks our bodies need to operate most efficiently. Food is something we need to consume to sustain life but most of the time we don’t think about it any further than I am hungry, I need to eat.

If you eat something like a commercially prepared processed meat analog you dip in a sweet sauce like ketchup or barbecue, a baked potato topped with commercially prepared vegan sour crème and wash it down with wine what is the impact on your health? You have consumed macronutrients in the form of protein, fat, carbohydrates and alcohol but what else have you ingested? You have eaten soy protein isolates to elevate your IGF-1, more omega 6 than omega 3 causing inflammation, too much fat in general which will clog your arteries, alcohol which is a toxin that your body needs to eliminate and high fructose corn syrup in the sauce. Let’s not forget about the fact that the soy was probably conventional which means it was roundup ready technology, and there were dyes, preservatives and other chemicals in there that your body also sees as toxins.

When you think about the impact of that meal does it sound like a good idea for your health? Was this fictitious meal I mentioned vegan? Most likely this meal was vegan depending on the specific brands consumed. But was this meal life affirming and healthy? In my opinion this meal was as unhealthy as the standard American diet. Why am I mentioning this? I want to make it very obvious that a vegan diet can be healthy or it can be unhealthy. However you can eat a good tasting healthy vegan diet that isn’t that much work but it will require a little preparation and cooking.

When I make our food I go in the opposite direction. I select items for our meals that are healthy. The green smoothie is a perfect example. I use the frozen banana to make the raw kale more palatable and reduce the need for added sweetener. The kale is kept raw because it is more nutritious when it is raw or lightly cooked. I use kale instead of spinach because it is more nutritious. Cinnamon and ginger are added for flavor but also for their antioxidants. Walnuts are used for fat and creamy texture because they have the best omega 3 to omega 6 ratio of all nuts. I can feel good knowing this smoothie provides a balance of macronutrients (protein, fat and carbs) but also micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). I strongly believe that food should give your body what it needs to be healthy rather than providing toxins your body needs to remove to prevent damage/disease as well as repair the general damage that is done everyday as a function of life.

As you can see I have definite opinions about what we will or will not eat. I think every meal provides you with an opportunity to nourish or poison your body. Since food is something that you ingest 3 or more times a day don’t you want to make the most healthful choice possible? Sometimes when you are out at a restaurant your options are not all that healthy. When I am in that situation I make the best choice possible in that moment. I suppose this is because I have learned to think of food as life and health giving not just as something to make my hunger go away. I hope that makes some sense since it is the basis of how and why I cook what I do.


On the weekends Dan and I typically discuss what I am going to make for our late lunch with my parents. As usual this is always harder that you would it think it should be. Trying to cook healthy vegan food that two unhealthy omnivores will enjoy that is also healthy enough for us is not the easiest task. Saturday we settled on risotto which I made with barley since that is healthier than using risotto rice. I decided to mimic the flavors from the dish I had on New Year’s Eve at Great Sage. Here is what I did:

Barley in the Risotto Style with Butternut Squash, Shitakes, Leeks and Sage
Serves 8


1 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into ½ inch cubes
1 leek
5 cloves garlic
2 cups barley
boiling water necessary to create a creamy texture (about 10 cups)
3 tablespoons nutritional yeast, or to taste (I added it one tablespoon at a time and re-tasted the dish I was going to a buttery background not a cheesy one)
¼ pound fresh mushrooms (I used shitake caps but you could also substitute 1 ounce of dried rehydrated mushrooms)
10 – 12 fresh sage leaves, thinly sliced
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
¼ cup walnuts, finely chopped – for garnish


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with a silpat, parchment paper or easy release aluminum foil. Bake the squash until it is tender. With my oven temperature acting up I don’t want to give you a time on this but it should be done in about 20 minutes.

While the squash is roasting you can cut the leeks and garlic and allow them to stand for 10 minutes and get the water boiling to add to the barley. Once the 10 minutes has elapsed combine the leeks, garlic, barley and two cups of water to a low shallow pan. Allow the barley to cook until most of the water has been absorbed then add another cup of water. I have an 8 ounce ladle which is why I know how much liquid I am adding but you can always just estimate. Continue to add water and stir until the barley is starting to soften. Then add the nutritional yeast, mushrooms, butternut squash and sage and continue to add water, stir and cook until you like the texture. Once you like the texture add freshly ground black pepper to taste.

To serve the risotto top with walnuts and a sprig of small sage leaves for garnish. The sage is optional but it is pretty. For my parents I added a drizzle of unfiltered extra virgin olive oil (maybe a teaspoon) so they wouldn’t think the dish was too clean. Dan and I had ours without oil and loved it.

Nutritional Information:

Amount Per Serving
Calories - 249.64
Calories From Fat (11%) - 27.5

Total Fat - 3.11g
Saturated Fat - 0.37g
Cholesterol - 0mg
Sodium - 18.85mg
Potassium - 417.72mg
Total Carbohydrates - 48.22g
Fiber - 9.49g
Sugar - 2.34g
Protein - 6.77g


This must have been good because my parents cleared their plates without complaint which is most unusual from my mother. ;-) Not a single comment about this needing cheese. Will miracles never cease? LOL

We thought this had good flavor though not assertive. The pops of sage were nice. We also liked the crunch of the chopped walnuts on top. Overall this was a good dish very warming and comforting. This is definitely a nice cold weather dish.

I served this with a small side salad of mixed baby greens, mango, orange, and grapes that I dressed with barley miso and apple cider. I topped the salad with a few sliced almonds for crunch.

Movie Night:

After lunch we watched the movie “Radio”. Talk about a tear jerker. If you aren’t in the mood to cry I don’t suggest this one. The movie was well made; Cuba Gooding Jr. did a superb job playing Radio. The end of the movie is uplifting but getting there was tough. I think what made it worse for me was that it was true story. Also I wasn’t exactly in the mood for a downer given everything else going on. However I would say this movie was a 4 or 5 on a 5 scale. The actors were great and the story well told.

We choose a comedy for our next movie. This time we watched “The Ugly Truth”. It was very much in the style of Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal in my opinion. I am not going to say it was deep, but it was cute. It was exactly what I needed after crying through “Radio”. If you need a chuckle this was worth watching. I am not sure how I managed before we had Netflix. It really is wonderful to be able to watch whatever you want anytime.


For dinner we had a quick bowl of leftovers from the refrigerator which consisted of quinoa, black beans, Indian tomato sauce, parsley and chopped cashews. This is exactly why I like to make my intentional leftovers. Sometimes we are hungry and I don’t exactly feel like cooking. On those occasions I reach for the intentional leftovers. It is nice to know that I can pull together something that is nutritious in less time that ordering Chinese delivery.


Needless to say Dan needed dessert after the movie. By now I know all of you know what he had, strawberry banana soft serve. Can you tell how much he likes it? LOL

Dietary Guidelines We Follow (part 3):

The more I write about things I keep in mind when we eat the more I realize there is to say. When I started this section I thought I could cover it one post. Clearly I was wrong. Other things I keep in mind when preparing our food is as follows:

• No added salt unless I am making Chinese food or need a little miso. While I know salt is bad and even the IOM has reduced the salt recommendation for everyone to 1,500mg per day when I am making Chinese I need a little soy sauce. Reducing our sodium intake was harder than giving up oil for me. ;-) However I am happy to say we are well below 1,500mg if sodium per average now. Also we have both found that the longer we are off added sodium the more our taste buds have adapted to the flavor or food without salt which means we need less soy sauce or miso now than we did in the past.

• We stopped drinking alcohol except special occasions. Anyone that knows us realizes how hard this was. Both Dan and I loved good Italian red wine with Brunello being our favorite. We have a wine a cellar and it was always stocked with the a few case of overflow wine in the basement. Giving up wine was very difficult but once I realized that alcohol is a toxin that you body needs to process and remove it is hard to drink it no matter how much you love the taste. I still cook with wine every now and then but try to use it at the beginning of cooking in a mostly dry pan so that the liquid evaporates and all I am left with in the flavor. Honestly I still miss my Brunello which is why we said yes on Christmas Eve when Allan suggested we have some while we waited for our table.

• When I am added red bell peppers to dishes I try to add them at the end to preserve the vitamin C since that is heat sensitive.

• During the year when the farmers’ market is open we always go and belong to a local organic CSA. I believe that local food is more nutritious because it was more recently harvested. Since fresh produce loses nutrition as a function of time the most recently picked the food the better it has to be in terms of vitamins and minerals. This is the same reason I try to eat seasonally.

• I buy organic produce whenever I can for a number of reasons. One of the important ones is that when possible we eat food skin and all. For many foods the skin and the flesh just below the skin is the most nutritious. When food is organic I feel comfortable eating the skin but with conventional produce I am worried about the pesticide residue that won’t wash off.

I am going to continue this section until I run out of things to write. I have no idea how long that will be but expect at least one more post on this and probably more.

A Little Bit More About Me:

Since I don’t want you to think that I am saint, because I am not, in this post I wanted to share some of the less flattering truths about myself. I am fiercely loyal and when someone is important to me I will fight for them no matter what. What this means is that when anyone treats someone I love poorly I don’t forget it. I have a very long memory and I am not particularly forgiving. This is something that I should work on moderating but I have been this way a long time. I suspect changing this aspect of me will take a lot of hard work.

I also dislike bullies and people in authority who throw their weight around. In my day I have had some seriously awful bosses, some worse than others. Needless to say given my personality I have a tendency to say what I think when these people have behaved poorly and have gotten myself into trouble. I realized long ago that I would never be the CFO of a major corporation because I wasn’t willing to lie, cheat and/or steal to get there.

I also have a problem with people that lie. When people lie I don’t forget it. Are you seeing the pattern? I am a very loving and giving person but if I find out you aren’t a nice person I don’t need to hear anything else. I will be polite if I see you but I won’t be nice. I refuse to be fake or phony. I know lots of people will say something nice because they think they should even if it is disingenuous but I won’t do that. I am that person you never want to ask “does this make my butt look big” unless you want the truth.

I think it is important to know who you are and your pluses and minuses. If you don’t know what your negatives are how are you ever going to change them. Awareness is the first step in the process of change.

I wanted to add something unflattering about myself because I didn’t want anyone to be under the impression that I am perfect since that is very far from the truth. I am human like everyone else and I make mistakes, more than I care to admit actually. Hopefully now I make fewer mistakes than I did in the past. It would be nice to be growing better as I also grow older. ;-)

Dan is wondering why I have decided to add a “character development” section to the blog as he is calling it. I thought it would help you to understand me more so that you could put my words into perspective.  I suppose I feel like it is very easy to say only positive things about yourself but that isn’t who any of us really are.  ;-)  For better or worse I wanted to share a bit more about me to give you a more complete picture.

Happy thought:

I have many things to be thankful for today and those are:

• Our morning run to Wegman’s and Whole Foods was nice. The roads were fairly empty and the stores weren’t mobbed. Also we were able to get everything we needed and be home by 9:30 for a green smoothie.

• Today we spent relaxing and listening to jazz on Pandora. When Dan bought a new fancy TV for the family room I thought it was unnecessary but I love using it to stream Pandora. Now my TV is almost always tuned in to one of the jazz stations. I am a big fan on instrumental jazz and find it to be very relaxing. Yesterday and today we have been listening to the Dave Koz station.

• Typically I drink plain green or white tea but the last couple of weeks I have been seriously enjoying the flavored teas that Dan usually drinks at work. Also the Youthberry tea from Teavana that “the kids” (Aimee and Michael) gave us for Christmas is fantastic. I am really growing to love flavored tea.

• My father liked the Brussels sprout dish I made on Sunday including the quinoa. Score another win for healthy food. ;-) I get very excited when I can make something that my parents enjoy that is also good for them.

• I am also thankful that my knee is feeling good today. I think I have decided to give the gym another go tomorrow morning. With a little luck I will behave myself and have an appropriate knee friendly work out tomorrow morning. Wish me luck moderation is not one of my strengths. ;-)


If am going to get up tomorrow morning at 5am I need to turn in very soon. I hope you had a great weekend and feel energized to start another work week. Talk to you again tomorrow.


  1. I got a Vita-Mix for Christmas and have been delighted to be able to try your green smoothies. I was surprised how unobjectionable (ie, delicious) the kale tasted in a smoothie! So far, my husband prefers a banana-spinach version, but that's better than many alternatives. Thank you for keeping up with the blog and sharing so many neat ideas!

  2. Carolyn,

    Yay for a Vitamix for Christmas. I hope you love yours as much as I love mine!

    I am happy you are enjoying the green smoothies. Hearing things like that makes the blog very worthwhile. :-)


  3. I like your explaination as to why you eat the way you do. It totally makes sense! I loved your quote " every meal provides you with an opportunity to nourish or poison your body. " I posted it on my facebook hope you don't mind :) That is exactly the way we should all view food. So far this year I think I have decided to give up alcohol, which is big for me. I know it's not good for me, but I have reasons why I drink it and I just need to figure out different ways to deal with things like depression.

    Your risotto sounds really good an reminded me of what I made for Thanksgiving which was pumpkin orzo. I love sage too!

    Your movie night part of your post reminded me of something.I wanted to tell you that my new favorite thing to eat while watching movies is pomegranate. Just because it's time consuming to eat and reminds me a little of popcorn in a way.

  4. Thanks also for the info on you section. You and I are pretty similar in a lot of aspects.

    I just read that you had a hard time giving up alcohol too. I'm glad I am not the only one :)

    I had to post two posts because I don't have a great memory and had to go back to your post to read the second half and post more. hah!

  5. Sounds like you're feeling a bit better, Ali. Glad to hear it. I woke up without my alarm clock this morning but slept in only about a half hour longer than usual. It was very nice.
    I recently made a butternut squash risotto which didn't look nearly as pretty as yours does, but it was super tasty. Love those squashes.
    I also really enjoy your dietary tips - I was thinking about sodium intake myself today. Thanks for posting.

  6. Carissa,

    I am glad you liked my thoughts on food. I know that I am in the minority of looking at food as nourishment but I think we would all be better off if we did that. :-)

    Giving up red wine was very tough for me because I love the taste of the stuff. There is nothing better than a glass of vino with dinner. However recognizing that it is a toxin helped me to not want it "as much". I will admit I still miss it though it isn't just you.

    When I am down I find that exercising seems to take my mind off of things. Soaking in a hot bath and reading also seems to help as does cuddling with felines. I hope some of those ideas work for you too.

    Pomegranate is a good idea to eat while watching a movie. Normally we have popcorn but skipped that this weekend and just had hot tea instead.

    If you ever have any specific things you want to know or things you want me to write about let me know. I am happy to oblige when I can.

    I hope you have a terrific Monday,

  7. foodfeud (M),

    I am not certain how much better I am feeling but I was tired of whining about it. ;-) I realize that complaining doesn't make me feel any better and probably makes me feel worse. This morning I had a nice workout at the gym and saw a gorgeous sunrise. Those both seemed to help my mood. With a little luck Monday will be good. I plan to stay very busy so I don't have time for my mind to wander.

    Glad the diet tips are helpful. As I think of more things to write I will continue to include that section in my posts. Sodium is a good one to watch. I always thought our sodium intake was low but when I calculated it I realized it wasn't and I was shocked. Food journals are annoying but they can be eye opening too.

    I hope you have a great Monday,

  8. Sorry to hear about your friend, I know that must be very tough. Big hugs. Keep warm!

  9. Neca,

    Thanks, it has a been a rough few days here so I have been trying to stay busy to keep my mind off of things. I hate cancer! ;-)

    I hope you aren't getting hammered by the snow. It looked like it was heading your way when I checked the weather this morning.

    stay safe,

  10. I am with Dan on the why the character development. I think you shine through exactly who you are in your blog. I am surprised you watched regular movies, I thought you only watched informative
    I am glad you and Dan had a movie night and that your parents actually enjoyed your cooking for once!!

  11. Ali, I've been out of town and just catching up on posts. I'm so sorry about your friend.

    This post was interesting to read -- and I loved your "evil Ali" section (ha! just kidding your bad makes me look really, really bad) ;)

    One person's poison is another's "indulgence." I completely respect the dietary decisions you and Dan have made for yourself and it's clearly working! As for me, I do eat fats and salt and .... my! ;) I try to eat most things in moderation and try to choose the best (in terms of good, better, best) when I make my fat, sodium, etc decisions.

    Very thought-provoking stuff here!

  12. Hi Ali, sorry to hear about your friend. That would have a big pull on me, as well.

    I have just read your last 3 posts and enjoyed seeing the details of why you eat the way you do as well as your "character development" section. Thanks for sharing! I also dislike seeing people in authority act like they are on power trips.

  13. Brandi,

    Well .... you do have the advantage of knowing me better than most people, LOL. ;-)

    I don't have to tell you who wanted to watch movies. You are right I would have been happier to watch informative things. See ... you know me too well like I said. LOL

    My parents are well my parents. At least there is some consistency in the universe.

    talk to you later,

  14. JL,

    Thanks for thinking of our friend. It was shock to have another one of us get cancer. There is far too much cancer in society now. *shakes head*

    I am sure you aren't more "evil" just different. ;-) Your comment was cute, thanks for making me smile.

    I used to believe in moderation. However once you are faced with life or death the idea of moderation becomes a thing of the past. I only wish we had changed sooner so that we could have avoided the cancer crisis. That is why I have the dietary outlook that I do. In my perfect world no one would ever have to deal with cancer.


  15. Jessica,

    I am so tired of people getting cancer. It started about 15 years ago when I lost three friends in their 30's to cancer and it just keeps happening and more often now. *sigh*

    Each new nutrition book or article I read pushes me to make better choices with food. I am still amazed by how far I have come in terms of eating for health rather to indulge myself. In the past eating and pleasure were linked. Now my focus is health and providing my body with the raw materials it needs to repair and build vs things it needs to remove before damage is done. It was definitely a 180 for me.

    I hope you have a good Monday,

  16. I am soooo with you on liars. Just be honest please. And that risotto looks fantastic.

  17. Heather,

    Are you sure we aren't related? LOL


  18. I think that is what annoys me the most about my MIL - the fact that she is a compulsive liar. That is my "big red button"!!!

  19. Neca,

    I am so sorry to hear that but I understand. We had the same problem with Dan's father. It is not only infuriating but very difficult to deal with since you never know what is going on really.


  20. are full of great info! I get so much out of reading your post! I feel like I learn so much from you!

    Ive been wanting to try a butternut risotto, but I guess you could say that I have been a little chicken. Yours looks so good. One of my New Year goals was to branch out more and try more new things. I am going to have to try this! Thanks for all your great tips and advise!

  21. You are always shocked every week when your parents clean their plates and enjoy your food...maybe they are coming around and their taste buds are changing! Even if they don't eat this way all week, that doesn't mean that they don't enjoy your food when they have it :-)

    The dietary guidelines say not to exceed 1,500 mg of sodium for people who have high blood pressure, kidney disease, or diabetes, but for every one else (i.e. the general population) it is 2,300 mg (about 1tsp). Of course we should *all* limit our salt intake because most people get way too much and 2,300 is the max you should get--certainly not something to strive for, lol. You know how I feel about salt :-)


  22. Michelle,

    Glad I could help. :-)

    Risotto is very simple to make. If you roast the squash first it will hold up better in the risotto otherwise it tends to fall apart a little during the cooking and stirring.


  23. Courtney,

    If you were here for dinner you would understand. Typically even if my mother doesn't say anything I know she would prefer something unhealthy. It is all in the body language. LOL

    Please correct me if I am wrong but I thought when I read the most recent draft from the IOM they had changed the recommendation to 1500mg of sodium for everyone. Were you quoting the latest draft or the last set of guidelines that were finalized? I realize the draft could change but that was what I was referring to.

    I agree with you completely that most Americans get too much salt. I know I used to and that surprised me since I don't eat much processed food. Imagining the average diet the sodium levels consumed must be horrific.


  24. "when anyone treats someone I love poorly I don’t forget it"
    i have a hard time with this also, right now especially.

    made barley today:)yours looks great with the carrot in it. and there is a huge pan of veggies on the stove right now, i took a picture it was such a mounain.

  25. oh and i second what VV sais again, your real character shines through.

  26. So sounds like you're pretty normal to me? :)

    I hereby dedicate my limited amount of salt success the past two weeks to you.

  27. I know this post isn't about your beloved mock duck, but I found a can of it in a well stocked Asian market today and I was wondering what to do with it??? The ingredients are: gluten, salt, sugar, soy sauce and corn oil. 1 g. saturated fat (from what?), 465 mg sodium (eeh gads), 102 calories- 27 from fat. It looks kind of scary to me, but I thought I'd give it a try. Any meal preparation suggestions?

  28. sequoiacone,

    I would love to hear how the canned mock duck works out for you and the brand if you like it. The one I had was made of yuba (which is the skin that forms on soy milk that is dried and then layered) not gluten. The one you bought is a seitan. The sat fat must have come from the corn oil. I double checked and corn oil is 13% sat fat.

    I would cut it into meat like bite size pieces and use it in a stir fry of sorts. You could also add it to a mushroom sauce and serve it over a grain. Thinly sliced it would be good in a miso soup. If none of those ideas appeal to you let me know and I will see if I can think of something else quickly.

    Sorry for the delay in replying. Your comment came through at the beginning of my "funk".

    Enjoy the rest of your weekend,


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