Monday, January 31, 2011

Homemade Pasta and Croissants

I haven't blogged all weekend long because I was busy making homemade dough for pasta and croissants. I started the dough for the croissants on Friday. Saturday afternoon I made the dough for the pasta, and I baked off a test batch of croissants Saturday evening. Sunday we had a big family party where I served the homemade pasta and croissants. Here was our Sunday dinner menu:

Course 1 - sauteed cauliflower with red pepper flakes and Pecorino Romano
Course 2 - roasted red pepper and tomato bisque, served with rosemary olive oil bread
Course 3 - mixed greens with balsamic vinegar
Course 4 - shrimp pesto flat pasta
Course 5 - strawberry cream cheese and chocolate croissants
Course 6 - Zoka espresso

The most time consuming task of preparing this meal was making the dough for both the croissants and pasta. Making the croissant dough requires a lot of rest and chilling time over 24 hours but does not require as much hard labor as the pasta dough.

Layers of croissant dough before rolling out

Croissant Dough - After forming the dough in a mixing bowl, I allowed it to rest and chill. Then I took room temperature butter and a little flour and mixed together. I formed a 6X6" square of butter and then chilled it. After chilling both dough and butter, the butter is place on the rolled out dough and the edges of the dough folded over. The dough is rolled out, folded like a letter, rolled out again, folded like a letter again, and then chilled. This is repeated to created the layers of the croissant as seen in the picture. After the dough rests overnight it's rolled out to 1/8" thickness and cut into single servings. I filled the croissants with either 60% dark chocolate or a mixture of strawberry jam and a sweetened cream cheese (cream cheese, sugar, vanilla, and egg). The croissants were rolled or folded up, brushed with egg wash (I forgot this step when making the test batch and you can see the difference.), and baked at 425*F for about 20 minutes.     
Test batch without egg wash
Strawberry Cream Cheese

Thin rectangles of pasta

Pasta Dough - The dough was simple to make and contained a few ingredients, primarily flour and tons of egg yolks. The hardest part was rolling out the dough, which is probably why they invented machines to do this part. I was rolling dough for almost 2 hours to make enough pasta for the 12 people at our dinner party. You must roll out the dough so thinly you can almost see through it. I cut my pasta into large rectangles about 2X4" and then boiled them for 2-3 minutes.

Pesto Sauce

Pesto Sauce - I made pesto sauce in the food processor by adding 6 c. fresh basil leaves, 1.5 c. olive oil, black pepper, 4 cloves of garlic, and 1.5 c. Pecorino Romano cheese. (Note: These measurements have already been tripled so as to make enough for 12 servings of pasta.)

Shrimp pesto pasta and mixed green salad

 I also cooked up some shrimp in the pesto mixture and topped the pasta with the shrimp pesto sauce. I served the pasta with mixed greens and grape tomatoes tossed in olive oil and balsamic vinegar. 

Friday, January 28, 2011

Cheesy Risotto and Lemon Pomegranate Scones

As the week progressed and my refrigerator became barer, it became increasingly difficult to put together dishes for lunch and dinner. However, yesterday I was successful at creating an excellent lunch of mixed greens with cheesy risotto. The cheesy risotto was prepared by first sauteing onions and garlic in a little olive oil and butter. While the onions and garlic were cooking, I added a cup of Italian style rice to the rice cooker. (Yes, you can make a risotto style dish in the rice cooker. The rice cooker is a lifesaver when you have a needy toddler attached to your hip and don't want to risk burning the two of you by stirring rice continuously over a hot stove for an hour.) I then added 3 cups of homemade chicken broth that I keep in the freezer and defrost when needed. Lastly, I stirred in the caramelized onions and garlic along with a cup of freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese. After the rice cooker gave its signature "beep, beep, beep" (i.e. "I'm done!") signal, I plated the risotto, grated a little more cheese on top, and served it with a side of mixed greens drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Later that afternoon while my son was napping, I managed to test out a variation of my scone recipe. This time I added lemon zest and pomegranates to the batter. The taste was amazing (almost all 5 scones were devoured by the time we went to bed), but I'm still working on the texture. Although I used less heavy cream this time, the scones still did not crumble like I had hoped, so next time I will try baking them at a lower temperature. Here is the recipe I have been playing around with for those of you that are interested (they are still better than any scone you can buy). I cut this recipe in half and it still makes 5 small scones.

3 c. flour
1/2 c. sugar
2 T. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
2 c. heavy cream (less if using fruit with high water content)
2 c. fruit, nuts, seeds, etc.

I have been baking them at 350*F for about 30 minutes, but may try reducing the heat and cooking longer to see how that might affect the texture.

Isn't it amazing how so few ingredients can taste so good!!!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

America's Obesity Problem Solved

I was taking a walk around the block this afternoon with my son and dog and peered into a neighbors open garage. Amongst all the rubbish, as clear as day, was a huge, OLD, yet still functioning refrigerator. That's when I had an epiphany and realized I can easily solve our nation's epidemic with obesity. All we need to do is downsize our refrigerators! For God's sake, unless you're feeding a family of 10 or more, I think one refrigerator would suffice. Agree?

Now you might be wondering what evidence do I have that would support this theory, and I'll leave you with a few simple points to ponder:

1) French Women Don't Get Fat
2) The size of a European refrigerator

Enough said! America's Obesity Problem Solved.


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Inspiration from Thailand

For lunch today I made a Thai inspired fish and rice dish. I started by chopping onions, celery, and sweet peppers (I was too lazy to peel the garlic today) and added these vegetables to a hot wok with sesame and olive oil. I sprinkled a little salt to the veggies and let them slow cook on medium low while I prepped the fish.

I rinsed the tilapia in cold water and seasoned with salt, pepper, fresh lemon juice, ground ginger, Thai fish sauce, red pepper flakes, and crushed peanuts.

(I would have preferred to use a lime if I had one. The rest of the lemon slice was added to the cooking veggies.)

I then placed the tilapia over the cooking veggies and let slow cook. Just before the fish was done, I sprinkled chopped fresh cilantro on top. I plated the fish and veggie mixture over brown rice and topped with more red pepper flakes, crushed peanuts, and fresh cilantro.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Sensory Stimulation: Simply Color

Sensory Stimulation: Color and Memories

 If you haven't noticed the color of my blog page is the most beautiful shade of brown. This is the same color of most of my clothing and the primary color of my wedding decor. It is also the color of dark chocolate and a perfectly pulled espresso. I dedicate the color of my page to these wonderful pleasures.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Crackers or Cookies

I found an unopened box of crackers in my kitchen cabinet the other day that I bought a few months ago to set out with cheese if we ever had unexpected guests come over. They are Carr's Whole Wheat Crackers, and although they have slightly over 4 ingredients (I don't have the box anymore, but I believe there are only 6 or 7 ingredients), they are an excellent substitute for cookies. They are twice as thick as a normal cracker and also crumble when you bite into them. They have a touch of sweetness but aren't too sweet. Mason loves them and I'm sure any child wouldn't know the difference between these crackers and cookies, unless of course you feed your child a lot of sugar loaded food.

I know this is a processed food, but I purchased them prior to making my new year's resolution; and I think these are a good option if you want a quick child friendly snack and find yourself in the cookie/cracker isle at the grocery store.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Our Meat Problem is a Corn Problem

 Growing up in Indiana where you could buy an ear of corn for $0.10, you'd think I would've known corn's story. But "The Omnivore's Dilemma" has opened my eyes to our problem with corn. It's so abundant, farmer's sell it for less than it costs to produce but continue to produce more in hopes to achieve an even higher yield so they can afford to make a living farming. Corn farms have led to a monoculture, which has created a problematic ecological shift. Since corn is most often the only crop planted on the soil, the soil must be fertilized (the cheapest way with synthetic fertilizers), which leads to pollution, and during winter months, the barren land is blown away with the wind. In addition, rarely would you see animals on a Midwestern corn farm since the pastures have become fields of corn, not to mention it's much cheaper to raise an animal in a feeding lot.

So what do we do with all this corn? Most of it is used to feed cattle and our other animal friends (It's probably in your pet's food too), which are meant to graze on pastures. In the feeding lot, cattle reside in cramped quarters standing in their own feces and are fed processed corn mixed with liquid fat and other animal remnants. Feeding cattle corn allows them to get fatter faster and be slaughtered sooner. Are you eating this beef? If so, you're also eating the liquid fat and processed corn they once consumed, which is probably not very healthy for our bodies.

All of this is quite disturbing to me, and makes me wonder why we rarely question where our food comes from. If I ever do go back to teaching science, I'm adding "Where does our food come from?" to my lesson plans. Maybe if we educate our children, this "more is better" attitude we'll subside, and we can put our animals back in the rural rather than behind steel doors.

What does this mean for me and my family? Although my husband won't like our reduced meat lifestyle change, maybe he'll understand why this is important to me and support me in my efforts (what choice does he have, right?). Before I continue on about where I'm headed, let me explain when I started making changes. This past Thanksgiving was my first time hosting a holiday party. When I went to the local grocery store to purchase a turkey, I was shocked at how cheap these HUGE birds were. I knew something wasn't right so I did some research and $40 later had a small bird I was very appreciative of for giving his life to us. The following month I hosted a small Christmas dinner and purchased a small standing rib roast (just enough meat to feed the 4 of us) from a local butcher who explained that the beef was from a cattle that lived on REAL ground. What I learned this past holiday season is that eating quality meat that came from a happily raised animal is expensive. But, it's an animal; shouldn't it be somewhat expensive to raise a turkey or a cow (It sure is expensive to raise a dog.)? Meat has become too cheap. My motto is: if it's dirt cheap, it's probably no better than dirt (the kind that's been sprayed with chemical fertilizers and still won't grow a weed).

Where am I headed now?...on a less is more journey, where I appreciate meat for what it truly is and enjoy it on certain occasions when I know it came from a happy animal.

Better the Second Time Around

My refrigerated pizza dough from the middle of last week tastes just as good, if not better, than it did the first time. Tonight I rolled out the dough, brushed it with olive oil, sprinkled it with pepper and freshly grated pecorino romano cheese. I then added a few slices of fresh mozzarella and fresh basil to the top before baking it at 425*F. Pagliacci, watch out! This was the best "cheesy bread", as I like to call it, I've ever had. A slice of this with a side of fresh tomatoes drizzled with olive oil was all I needed to make me feel warm and fuzzy inside.

Today was a culinary dream...after a cappuccino viennese, a "fresh out of the oven" chocolate croissant, and my own cheesy bread, I will fall asleep with a smile on my face tonight.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Substitute for Rice

Previously I wrote a post titled, "Rice and Beans a Billion Ways," and included variations of rice and bean dishes. For most of my rice and bean recipes I use brown rice since it has more texture and fiber than white rice; although if my Filipino husband gets to the rice cooker before me, we end up eating white rice.

Today, however, I prepared a "rice" and bean dish with quinoa, a whole grain that looks similar to couscous and is a very good source of protein and fiber. I sauteed onions, garlic, and sweet peppers in olive oil; then added northern beans, cilantro, and freshly squeezed lemon juice. I mixed in quinoa that had been cooked by boiling in water for 15 minutes (just like rice) and topped with fresh tomatoes, olive oil, salt, and black pepper. It was healthy and delicious and just might have beaten Rachel Ray's 30 Minute Meal.

Tackling Bread Dough

I did it! And it was so easy. I started mixing the ingredients for the dough together at 9am, and after letting it rest twice, it was ready to be rolled out and used to make a pizza. I stretch the dough onto a round pizza sheet and drizzled it with olive oil. I then topped it with freshly sliced mozzarella, halved grape tomatoes, and fresh basil. A sprinkle of salt and black pepper and it was in the oven.

I only used half the dough and am storing the rest in the refrigerator. I plan to use the remaining dough this weekend for another pizza (topped with sauteed broccoli and spinach). If I find the pizza dough to be of poorer quality the second time around, I will either half the recipe next time or bake a loaf of french bread with the remaining pizza dough.

Pizza Prior to Baking

Pizza Ready to Eat

A Slice for Me
Stay tuned...I will be tackling homemade pasta next.

Eating Locally

Last night after reading about how corn has become the American staple crop and can be linked to most foods that are not whole and even some whole foods, such as corn itself and dairy and meat/fish that comes from animals fed primarily corn, I started thinking about the foods I ate that day and where they came from. Although I wish I could pinpoint where everything originated easily, I can happily say only a few items (primarily the dairy I consumed) had a link to corn. Unfortunately, a majority of the food I ate traveled quite a distance to my table. If I'm striving to get back to the basics this year, shouldn't I also strive to eat locally? After all, eating locally will help promote local farming and ensure that I'm eating foods that are in season at the peak of their nutritional value.

If eating locally means obtaining all food close to home, wouldn't I, a Washington resident, be eating different foods than a person who resides in Florida? And if so, would I still be as healthy as a Florida resident? These questions also lead me to another: How much biodiversity is necessary in our diet? Is the biodiversity of my diet sacrificed if I'm eating locally, and if so, would my diet still be healthy...or should I start packing up to Florida?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Budgeting for Healthy Eating

Today I made a trip to Costco with a grocery list and $100 cash in hand. Although I have stuck with my new year's resolution and have not purchased any food product with more than 4 ingredients, I often wonder if healthy eating IS, in fact, more expensive than unhealthy eating? And which grocery stores give you the best quality food for the price you pay? After visiting Costco today, I'm determined to find an answer to these questions, but, first, I will elaborate on my grocery trip experience today.

My Grocery List for Costco on Tuesday, January 18, 2011, looked something like this:

fish or shrimp
spring mix
goat cheese
sharp cheddar cheese
olive oil
gallon Ziploc freezer bags and sandwich bags
laundry detergent
baby wipes

In the end I didn't get fish or shrimp (they didn't look appetizing), cucumbers (I really only wanted one, and I was shopping at Costco where everything comes sized for a family of 10), sandwich bags (I decided to save the environment and will use plastic reusable containers I already have), and baby wipes (I can wait another few weeks for these). Instead, I purchased butternut squash (we haven't had an orange colored food recently and it looked really good), baby peppers (these are more versatile than cucumbers), heavy cream (I got a whipped cream canister for Christmas and Mason loves my homemade whipped cream at "tea time"), butter (I thought I might need it for all the breads, doughs, and pie crusts I'll be attempting to make soon) and pecorino cheese (for the homemade pasta dish I'm going to make this week). All in all, I did fairly well on my $100 budget and only went $6 over. Since I had just returned an item for Mason that day, I had an extra $40 in my pocket, which I was planning to set aside for his use later. But I justified going $6 over budget, even though taking out the heavy cream would have kept me under budget, since Mason will eat a majority of the whipped cream in the next few weeks. Don't worry...the remaining $30 from the return was put aside for a future diaper/wipes purchase for my son.

Although I did well on this Costco run, I always find it hard to stick to my grocery list and budget at Costco. So I will not renew my membership when the time comes at the end of this month. For the month of February (and beyond if I am pleased with the outcome), I may purchase my produce at the West Seattle Sunday Farmers' Market like I've been meaning to do this year, while the rest of my groceries (eggs, milk, grains, etc) may be purchased from QFC or Whole Foods. I'll be doing a quality and cost comparison of the two grocery chains next month to determine where I will likely do most of my grocery shopping. If anyone can suggest a Seattle grocery store that carries primarily local products, I'd love to add it to my quality and cost comparison of grocery stores. When I lived in Albuquerque, NM, I shopped at Sunflower Market, which was a local version of Whole Foods. Most produce came from Arizona and New Mexico, and it was very inexpensive. I'd love to find the same type of store here in Seattle.

Thanks for reading, and happy grocery shopping! I'm looking forward to sharing my grocery store comparison with you.

Monday, January 17, 2011

"What Do You Do?"

I met up with a good college friend who was visiting Seattle on Saturday night at Brouwer's Cafe in Fremont. We sat squished with 5 of her graduate student friends in a booth in the corner on the top floor of the restaurant. She was visiting Boeing with 45 of her classmates and a few professors, and most of them had joined us. That evening I was asked over a dozen times, "What Do You Do?" Since most often the question is referring to your career and how you earn money, I simply replied for ease of conversation, "I'm a gymnastics' coach." However, the fifth time I was asked this question, I stopped the woman I was just introduced to and suggested a question that would better describe who I was (although, maybe she didn't want to "know me" and just wanted to know what my job was for sake of networking). However, giving her the benefit of the doubt and assuming she was a friendly person, I suggested the following question for introductions, "What do you enjoy?" She looked at me as if I was insane and said, "That's such a hard question to answer."

I was in shock, but then realized that when I was a student I would've have had an extremely difficult time answering that question. It mustn't be my age though that makes this question easier to answer since these graduate students were all in there mid to late twenties as I am. So what is it? When did this question become so easy to answer for me or why was it so difficult to answer before? Despite being focused fully on myself as a student, I didn't know the answer to this question. Ironically, now that my focus is completely on my toddler (as those of you with children know that there is very little "ME time" when you have kids), I can answer this question in an instant.

I know this post seems to have nothing to do with the topic of my blog; however, it truly does. Had the woman instead asked me, "What do you enjoy?" I would have answered, "food, my son, educating, exercising, and coaching". Yes, food is listed first on my list of enjoyments. I love everything about food: cooking/baking with it, eating/drinking it, the nutrition of it, and shopping for it. You might think it's crazy to put food above my son, but we parents have to have one pleasure above our children and families, otherwise we wouldn't be a "ME" and we'd always think in terms of "US". In other words, we must put time into ourselves and food is what I like to put my "me time" into. I won't go on to explain the rest of my list since this blog is about food. I just wanted to rant about our skewed way of getting to know someone.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Cooking versus Baking

Although both cooking and baking are experimental, experimenting as a cook is much more forgiving than experimenting as a baker.

Flank Steak Stir Fry with Broccoli and Bok Choy

Yesterday evening I cooked flank steak stir fry with broccoli and bok choy. I started by cutting a large flank steak against the grain into 1" thick strips and marinated the meat for several hours in ground ginger, black pepper, and soy sauce. Then in a large wok I heated canola and sesame oil. When the oil was hot, I added chopped onions and garlic and white sesame seeds. Once the onions were tender, I added the flank steak strips. After several minutes I added a cup of beef stock and cooked the meat until medium rare. I transferred the meat and onions to a bowl but left the liquid in the wok. I then added broccoli and bok choy to the wok and cooked until tender. I transferred the meat and onions back into the wok and served the stir fry with brown rice.

Blueberry Scone

I also experimented with a scone recipe that was given to me by the Painted Horse Coffeehouse in Albuquerque. Since the elevation of Albuquerque is much greater than Seattle (10,000 feet versus sea level) I increased the amount of baking powder in the recipe by 25%. This was the first time I have made these scones, and the recipe is quite simple: flour, salt, baking powder, sugar, heavy cream, and fruit. Although I was pleased by the taste and texture of the outside of the scone, the texture of the inside was soft and muffinlike, rather than having the crumbliness I had hoped for. Next time I will use less heavy cream, depending on the fruit I use. Future scone flavors I will try making: cinnamon raisin, honey lavendar, lemon currant, mixed berry, and chocolate. I can't wait!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Simple Foods at their Best

The other night I prepared a quick dinner for my family with all fresh ingredients (excluding the pasta...that's my next challenge). Our first course consisted of baby portobello mushrooms sauteed in garlic, onions, olive oil, and white wine, and seasoned with salt and pepper.

Our main course was tomato and basil pasta. For this dish I sauteed onions and garlic in olive oil, and then tossed in cooked pasta, fresh grape tomatoes, and fresh basil. Each serving was then topped with a generous amount of freshly grated asiago cheese.

Dinner also consisted of broccoli that had been sauteed in olive oil, a fresh baguette, and white wine.

Fresh ingredients, simply prepared, and amazingly tasty!

My next challenges, however, aren't so simple: homemade pasta and pizza dough. Stay tuned!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Rice and Beans a Billion Ways

There are endless ways to prepare rice and beans. I usually prepare rice and beans when I have leftover rice from a previous meal. I then add whatever beans, fresh vegetables and herbs I have on hand. Here are four variations I have recently prepared:

1) White rice, kidney and white beans, onions, garlic, grape tomatoes; seasoned with salt, pepper, and parsley

2) Brown rice, garbanzo beans, kale; topped with fresh tomatoes and green onions; seasoned with salt, pepper, and lemon

3) White rice, cannellini beans, onions, yellow peppers; topped with fresh tomatoes; seasoned with lemon and fresh mint

4) Brown rice, black beans, onions; seasoned with salt, pepper, paprika, cumin, chili powder; topped with fresh avocado, tomatoes, and homemade tostones

For all of these recipes, prepare your rice and beans ahead of time. If you use canned beans, rinse them thoroughly with water to rid them of salt. Saute onions and garlic in olive oil, then add other vegetables such as bell peppers. Season with salt, pepper, lemon, and/or any other dried spices or herbs. Then add your cooked rice and beans, and season again accordingly. Add any fresh herbs you choose. When plating, top with fresh tomatoes or avocado; feta, goat, or any freshly shredded cheese; serve with lemon or lime wedge, depending on seasonings used.
I'm always looking to cuisines of other cultures (Mexican, Cuban, Greek, Italian, Indian) for ideas on how to flavor my rice and beans. Please feel free to leave me a comment with suggestions.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Art of Eating

Just like there is an art of cooking, there exists an art of eating. What we eat, where we eat, how much we eat, when we eat, for how long we eat, why we eat, and with whom we eat all play a role in each eating experience. If we focus more on each of these aspects, might we get more pleasure out of eating? And if we obtain more pleasure from eating, will we be in better control of our eating? Would we be happier and healthier eaters?

A Reflection of My Eating Experiences on January 8, 2011:

Below I describe each of my eating experiences today. After each description I reflect on my experience by stating a few changes I could have made to make my meal more enjoyable.

Description: From 800 to 830am, Mason, and I sat down at the dining room table. A white, lunch-sized plate with one homemade pancake was cut in half. Eight ounces of soy milk in a short, clear glass, a small shot glass filled with warm maple syrup, and a glass butter dish, which was nearly empty, were placed just out of reach from Mason. I buttered 1/2 the pancake and cut it up into small pieces for Mason and placed it on an appetizer-sized plate in front of him. Both of our sections of pancake received a splash of the warm maple syrup.

Reflection: I could spread a little butter on my portion of the pancake also, and I could eat more slowly by matching each bite my son takes to mine.

Description: Between 1140am and 1200pm, I made chicken sandwiches on 6 inch baguettes with about 2 ounces of fresh roasted chicken breast, mixed greens, sliced tomato, avocado, and a generous amount of fresh cilantro. The sandwiches were eaten off a dinner-sized white china plate and enjoyed by me and George, while Mason picked at a few blueberries.

Reflection: Cutting our sandwiches in 1/2 and placing them on the plate in a way such that they rested diagonally on each other would have been more appealing to the eye. Acknowledging that although Mason was not choosing to eat with us, he was spending time with us at the table.

Description: In the afternoon while Mason was napping and George was out, I enjoyed a cup of fresh blueberries and blackberries in a yellow plastic bowl, eating them one by one with my hand while watching Julia Child on television.

Reflection: I could have put the berries in a glass dish with a sprig of mint and ate them with a small spoon while sitting at the dining room table.

Description: At 300pm I prepared a double cappuccino with homemade whipped cream in an 8 ounce white tea cup, which was placed on a saucer. I sat next to George on the couch sipping my cappuccino.

Reflection: George and I could have enjoyed a short "date" before Mason awoke from his nap by drinking our beverages together at the dining room table while listening to classical music.

Description: From 345 to 410pm I sat by myself at a small table for two in the corner of The French Bakery with a good book. Between paragraphs I nibbled on a chocolate croissant, which was served on a square white dish.

Reflection: I could have savored my croissant while enjoying more of the sights, sounds, and smells of the bakery, and then begun to read after finishing my food.

Description: Between 600 and 630pm, Mason and I warmed up a few leftovers from the previous evening's meal. On a lunch-sized white plate, I served about 4 ounces of salmon, 4 roasted baby potatoes, and 3 large pieces of sauteed broccoli.

Reflection: Waiting for George to come in from cleaning up outside before eating would have made dinner a better experience for all of us. Adding another course to our meal, such as a mixed green salad as an appetizer or a small dessert, would have been an improvement to dinner and probably prevented us from snacking in front of the television later that evening.

After preparing food, I need to think about presenting it in a more appealing way and serving it more slowly, for instance in additional courses. Then I need to be more patient and take more time while eating, thinking about the aroma, flavors, and textures of the foods, while conversing with those around me.

I encourage you to journal a day of your eating experiences and reflect upon each of them.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Your Yogurt Challenge

The next time you're at the supermarket, visit the dairy section and find a yogurt that contains fewer than 4 ingredients. Report back to this post. Thanks for participating in Your Yogurt Challenge!

Looking Healthy vs. Being Healthy

So many new year's resolutions are about losing weight, and many people will diet to reach their goal. Our society has created so many low-fat, low-carb, low-calorie, and detox "diets", like the Atkins diet, the South Beach diet, the Grapefruit diet, or the 3-Day diet. You can even lose weight eating Little Debbie snack cakes for each meal. If your goal is weight loss, by all means, pick your diet. You'll LOOK healthier, but will you BE healthier?

There's a difference between looking and being healthy. Looking fit or losing weight is a superficial way of measuring our health. We can still have a beach body if we're consuming processed foods. We just simply eat fewer calories than we burn. However, our bodies are more likely to fall prey to disease if we're primarily consuming processed foods.

Food is a source of calories, which come from fat, carbohydrates, and protein, aka the macronutrients. These macronutrients are all necessary to our survival, but we need more. Certain foods also contain vitamins, minerals, carotenoids, and many other essential micronutrients we probably have not yet discovered. We can add some of these micronutrients back into processed foods, but they may not provide the same benefits. Since scientists only study one nutrient at a time for the sake of controlling variables, we don't yet understand the effects these nutrients have on each other. For instance, beta-carotene is a carotenoid found in carrots and a precursor to vitamin A, which helps prevent eye problems, but when beta-carotene is taken as a supplement it increases the risk of lung cancer in smokers. In other words, we can supplement our diets with beta-carotene, but it does not have the same effect as eating a REAL carrot that contains beta-carotene. This may be because the other compounds in the carrot have a synergistic effect, and the combination of compounds that make up the carrot are what is truly beneficial to our health. If we're eating REAL foods, we're eating many nutrients that most likely interact with each other to provide the best benefit to our bodies. And if we're eating REAL foods to begin with, there's most likely no need for supplementation. So the answer to our unhealthy lifestyles isn't in a supplement or in refined foods that have been packed with all the nutrients we have discovered. A healthy body is a result of eating REAL foods. If we can look past the beach bodies and focus on what we're consuming rather than getting rid of our saddle bags and muffin tops, we will BE healthy...and happier.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Enough Bad Mouthing the Potato

You can bad mouth french fries, mashed potatoes, and loaded twice baked potatoes, but let's stop bad mouthing the potato. The potato is a REAL food and should never be compared to refined grains like white breads and pastas. Did you know the potato is a natural source of vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals, such as carotenoids and polyphenols? In other words, the potato is a GOOD guy. But for the sake of the potato could we keep the skin on.

Yesterday I finally put the old Thanksgiving Day turkey carcass, which has been in my freezer ever since, to good use. Although it was pretty much picked clean Thanksgiving Day, it still made an excellent turkey soup. Here's my quick, simple recipe:

Turkey Soup

(Note - cooking is not like baking...the recipe doesn't have to be exact. Get creative and add other vegetables or herbs you love. Some of my favorite additions are bok choy and fresh basil. The amounts below would easily feed a family of four.)

1 onion
4 celery stalks
5 carrots
2 potatoes
your favorite fresh herbs
salt and pepper

I wash all my vegetables then put a little olive oil in a big pot. I start chopping the vegetables as they are listed above and add them directly into the pot as I go. When you've got everything in your pot, put your turkey (you could use chicken too) carcass into the pot and cover with water. Bring to a slow boil, then simmer until vegetables are tender. Season with salt and pepper.

If you're feeding hungry boys, cook up some pasta on the side and add to their bowls of soup. Keep any leftover pasta separate from the soup so it doesn't absorb the broth and become mushy.

I told you it was simple, quick and healthy. The amount of sodium alone your avoiding by eating fresh soup rather than canned is HUGE! Unless, of course, you pour a whole cup of salt into your pot of soup. You can even make two pots and freeze the leftovers for a rainy day!

My FAVORITE variation to this recipe is below. Trust me, it's the best!

Chicken tortilla soup

Prepare the soup just as above but omit the potatoes (sorry potatoes, you don't work as well with this one). Add cilantro as your fresh herb and season your soup with red pepper flakes. Serve the soup over rice, and top with shredded cheese, avocado, cilantro, and tortilla strips (these can be made by slicing a flour tortilla into strips and baking until crisp).

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Definition of Moderation

Moderation must be defined in terms of quantity and frequency. If I were to consume a whole rotisserie chicken on the first Sunday of every month, you'd think I was insane. But if I consumed a chicken leg on the 1st of the month, two wings on the 8th, a breast on the 15th, and so on, you'd still think I was crazy for planning out how I eat a chicken over the course of the month, but at least you might agree that I was eating the chicken in moderation. How much (quantity) chicken I consume and how often (frequency) I consume it defines my moderation of chicken intake?

But how do we define these quantities and frequencies for different activities or foods?

1-15 minute shower/day
60 minutes of exercise/5 times each week
8 oz. coffee/each morning
8 oz. of fillet/monthly

Maybe our definition of moderation is a range of quantities and frequencies, and falling below the lower threshold (we're not consuming or doing enough) or surpassing the upper threshold (we're consuming or doing too much) causes harm either physically or mentally.

For instance, either a 1 minute shower each day or a 15 minute shower once a week would fall below the lower threshold, and a 3 hour shower each day or a 15 minute shower 3 times a day would fall above the upper threshold. So what is the range of moderation for showering. Because it might vary by culture or geographic location, I can only suggest a range for what I know. Maybe the range is between a 5 minute shower every other day and a 45 minute shower every day. Anything below or above this range in frequency and duration, in this case, would be unreasonable.

We can do this with everything we consume or do. Texting, drinking beer, playing video games, blogging, eating pastries, going to the bathroom...the list is endless. So regarding my post, "Going to the Dentist", how much espresso can I drink and still remain within a moderate range? Well, for me, drinking less than a single espresso every other day would affect my emotional well-being, while drinking more than a triple espresso each day or two double espressos twice a day would give me the jitters. This seems reasonable, however, there's an internal conflict arising that makes me think I should be satisfied with a single espresso two or three times each week, quite possibly because deep down I know consuming the same thing every day must not be healthy for my body - just like eating the same meal each and every day might deprive you of some other essential nutrients.

Espresso is a pleasurable experience; for me, it's like a piece of dark chocolate, an almond croissant, a scoop of pistachio gelato, or a piece of tiramisu. Maybe true moderation of espresso intake IS two to three times each week. And for my emotional sanity, I can replace the absence of espresso the other four to five days with another pleasurable food or drink experience (like a mixed berry cobbler or a key lime pie martini). I think I could live with this compromise of moderation.