Friday, June 15, 2012

The Blender Room

A few years ago, I was finishing my Master's program and had to complete an intensive practicum that summer. I was holed up in a room with five or six other candidates, where we provided intensive remediation to students with reading difficulties in the mornings and wrote, debriefed, wrote, attended meetings, and wrote some more in the afternoons. I was fortunate to be assigned to a room with like-minded women who agreed that food was the only way to get us through the demands of practicum. We took turns bringing lunch throughout those weeks, and for my final turn, I thought smoothies would be the perfect light lunch on a hot, humid Chicago summer day.

So I brought a blender.

The news went viral, the old-fashioned way. Maybe it was the whir of the machine, or that we were walking the halls of the building with glasses (like, actually made of glass) of smoothie, but within a few minutes ALL the other candidates heard that we had a blender in our room and were making smoothies. Our professors heard about it from the others. One or two candidates may have asked if they could have some. The smoothies were legendary. Practically.


L to R: pineapple-orange-banana, sweet potato, blueberry-banana, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink, spinach-kale-banana.

I started making smoothies around the same time I rowed crew in high school, and would come home from practice even hungrier than the average teenager. Ever since, I've been drinking them as an easily-digestible energy boost before or after workouts, and for breakfast or lunch along with some toast. They're ridiculously easy to make, relatively cost-effective, and lend themselves to endless combinations. I even know some meat heads who will drink them. But only at the gym.

I make mine with non-dairy milk of some kind: soy, almond, hemp, rice, etc. I almost always use banana as the base for my smoothie, in part because the potassium goes well with workouts, and in part because it helps thicken the smoothie. I throw in whatever fruit I have: fresh or frozen, berries or citrus, tropical or North American.

Lately, though, I've wanted to try something a little different. A friend happened to be making a vibrant green smoothie as I was standing in her kitchen, and while the ingredient list didn't make it sound very appetizing, it turned out to taste pretty good. She put several handfuls of baby spinach in the blender, along with some frozen pineapple, protein powder, flax seed oil, and coconut water. It was definitely one of the prettiest smoothies I'd seen in a long time, so I made my own version, adding some kale after seeing a recipe for a greens smoothie on I took the advice of some of the commenters on that site who suggested using a 3:1 or 4:1 spinach:kale ratio. I threw in a banana, a little frozen pineapple, and soy milk and now have a new favorite smoothie. The spinach and kale flavors aren't masked, exactly, but they somehow blend really well with the sweet fruit flavors. There are two things to keep in mind if you make this smoothie:

1. My friend makes this smoothie at night and puts it in a Thermos-type container in the fridge. She grabs it on her way out the door, and it becomes her breakfast while she drives to work. This is a brilliant strategy to save time in the morning while still eating a healthy meal. However, the beautiful green smoothie becomes seriously un-beautiful by morning, and the first time I saw her drink it in the car, I asked, "What IS that?"

2. Green things can get stuck in your teeth.

A fellow food blogger has several videos on her site in which she demonstrates recipes, cooking show-style. In one (episode 8), she makes a sweet potato pie smoothie with leftover sweet potato and a few spices. While I could do without the mmmmmmmmmmms and ooooooooooohs, I loved the idea, so made my own. I didn't use her exact quantities, but added dashes of this, that, and the other. I love the taste of the smoothie, but I haven't mastered the texture yet. Or maybe it's the temperature that isn't right: both times I've made it, I've cooked the sweet potato for the purpose of the smoothie, and so it was either warm or room temperature. If it were cold, and the soy milk were cold, it would probably taste more like a smoothie and less like baby food.

Even the Texan likes smoothies. A few hours after his workout, he makes a smoothie to fuel him until dinner. He uses plain or vanilla yogurt as his base, adds frozen berries, juice, a berry-flavored greens powder, and sometimes chia seeds (which, unlike flax, don't need to be ground to obtain maximum benefit from). The powder, he says, takes some getting used to, but also packs a solid nutritional punch, so a little grit is worth it.


Not only did the news of the blender survive that day and become the talk of the hallway that week, it survived the summer. A few weeks into a fall semester class with a different professor, my friend Patti, who was one of my Blender Room mates, was discussing her practicum experience with the professor. As if little else mattered, she announced to the professor, "... and Mia brought a BLENDER!"

The professor's response? "So I heard."

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