Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Better-Than-Most Restaurants' Moo Shu Vegetables

Whenever I go to a Chinese restaurant, depending on my mood and the season, I will either order Moo Goo Gai Pan or Moo Shu Vegetables.  I have never attempted Moo Goo Gai Pan, but last night, for the first time, I made Moo Shu Vegetables.  And they were outstanding!  The recipe came from the September issue of Vegetarian Times and I felt compelled to share it with you.  Not only because I truly enjoyed it, but because my husband did as well.  Allow me to explain.  When he walked in from work and found out what we were having for dinner, he actually scowled.   "I'm sorry", he said, "I've just never liked it."   My son, having heard my husband's hearty endorsement for our upcoming supper didn't look too pleased either.  So with not-too-mild trepidation, I spooned the filling into small flour tortillas, put a Tablespoon of  Hoisin Sauce down the center of each one and rolled them up.  And waited...

We each took a bite at the same time and were all pleasantly surprised.  My husband loved them and my son said they were amazing - better than at the Chinese restaurants.  And I had to agree.  I think it was the combination of vegetables.  Restaurant versions tend to be little more than slivered cabbage with sliced green onions.  This recipe called for a generous amount of thinly sliced shitake mushrooms, fresh ginger, sliced snow peas, and carrots.  The delightful sauce was not as runny as it tends to be in most restaurants either.  It was comprised of a perfect blend of soy sauce, sesame oil (which I cut down to 1 teaspoon since it can be overpowering), rice wine vinegar, honey, and vegetable broth thickened with a little cornstarch.  To keep the dish Vegan, the 3 scrambled eggs it calls for can be replaced with a soft-tofu scramble. 

The recipe can be found at vegetariantimes.com.  And the actual name of it is "Vegetable Moo Shu Wraps".   To quote a favorite T.V. commercial, "Try it, you'll like it!". 

I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving.  Until next time, happy and healthy eating!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgivng Done "Lite"

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving.  The day when we often eat more in one meal than we do in a week!  Between the gravy, stuffing, yams, and desserts, the calories (and fat) can really add up.  When I changed my diet about 10 years ago, this one day a year presented quite a challenge for me.  You see, Thanksgiving dinner is a meal that is always celebrated at our house.  And I don't like to feed others what I would not eat myself.  Keeping in mind that Thanksgiving dinner is a special meal with items our family has come to expect,  I am pretty pleased with what I have come up with and would like to share some of my "secrets to a lightened-up Thanksgiving" with you. 

First of all, there is the turkey.  I buy a natural, fresh one each year and cook it as recommended (without the addition of any shortening or oil).  I eat only the breast meat with no skin.  For gravy, I use just a couple Tablespoons of the pan drippings, to which I add a couple Tablespoons of flour.  I add fat-free, low-sodium chicken broth and season it with salt and white pepper.  I also stuff my bird and use the same recipe I have used for years - it's a family favorite.  But instead of a pound of pork sausage, I use a pound of lean, mild Italian turkey sausage (and after I brown it, I discard all fat, removing the meat with a slotted spoon and letting it drain on a plate covered with a double layer of Bounty towels).  I do not saute my onion and celery in the recommended cube of butter that the recipe calls for, but use just a couple Tablespoons of lite butter or Brummel & Brown margarine instead.  The other ingredients (in case you would like to make it) are 2 peeled and diced apples, 8 to 10 cups of bread cubes, and a teaspoon each of marjoram, sage and salt, and 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper.  You can moisten it with half a cup of chicken broth if you'd like before stuffing the turkey with it. 

I make my mother's recipe for Candied Yams and have to admit that it is the best ever.  I parboil the yams just until a fork pierces them about half an inch through.  When they are cool, I peel and slice them into rounds that are about 2/3 of an inch thick and line a large Pyrex pan with them.  Then I pour orange juice over them, and sprinkle them generously with brown sugar.  Up to here, the recipe is identical to my mom's.  But instead of dabbing each yam slice with butter, I dab them with a little Brummel and Brown margarine.  Then I lightly salt them and sprinkle them with cinnamon.  They need to cook (covered at first) for over an hour to become soft and tender and for the sauce to thicken into a luscious glaze.

I make mashed potatoes with skim milk and lite butter, a homemade Maple Oat Bread, and some kind of vegetable side dish.  Usually it is a Green Bean dish of some sort.  Cranberry sauce (often homemade with fresh cranberries, orange juice, maple, and cinnamon) tops the meal off. 

For dessert, I usually make a lightened version of Pumpkin Pie or a Pumpkin Trifle, but this year I made a Sweet Potato pie with lite coconut milk, cinnamon, and ground ginger, some bar cookies (lightened versions of life-long favorites called "Surfer Squares") and French Vanilla Ice Cream.  

Appetizers vary from year to year with this year's feature being a low-fat and delicious Salmon Mousse.  (Recipe gladly shared upon request). 

The lovely centerpiece for my buffet counter (pictured above and courtesy of a very good friend) is made of a large hollowed-out acorn squash filled with assorted flowers and seasonal trimmings.  I love it and may try to do something similar for Christmas.

I pray that you and yours are warm, safe and healthy.  Happy Thanksgiving to you all!  

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Milk Alternatives - Soy, Rice, Almond, Hemp???

Most of you are probably too young to remember when the milkman used to deliver cold, fresh milk in glass bottles to people's front door.  Those were the days before 1%, 2%, and skim milk became popular and when most towns had their own local dairy.  Now, we approach the milk sections of our supermarket and are faced with a bevy of choices.  Besides those varieties that come from a cow, we have soy milk, rice milk, hemp milk, and, my new personal favorite, almond milk.  And to complicate matters even more, most of these milks come in plain, vanilla, chocolate and/or carob flavors. 
For various reasons, more and more people are veering away from dairy, in particular cows' milk,  and the alternatives can leave you frustrated or confused.  One thing I have found is that if it comes in a carton in the dairy section, it tends to taste more like milk than if it comes in a carton off of a shelf.  When my older son's milk and soy allergies were at their peak, we were told to give him rice milk, specifically Plain Fortified Rice Dream.  It only came in cartons on grocery shelves and was definitely an acquired taste.  It had an almost sweet, plastic-like rice flavor and sometimes competed with the tastes of cold cereals.  It was thinner than milk and was very white in color.  My son was o.k with it, but I could never develop a taste for it.  During fasting periods, I just opted to give up milk altogether, since I did not care much for soy milk that came off of those same shelves in the same rectangular cartons.

Then I discovered Silk Soy Milk in the refrigerated section and thought it was wonderful.   It added a little bit of a very pleasant, slightly sweet taste to cold cereals.  And it worked beautifully in any hot cereal, such as oatmeal, or cream of wheat.  I preferred Plain Lite Soy Milk, both because it has fewer calories than even skim milk (70 compared to 90), and because it tasted the most like milk to me.  I didn't care too much for it as a beverage to have with a meal, but for a few years, it was my "milk" of choice.  Until, that is, I read about the calcium content of Almond Milk and decided to give it a try. 

Most milks (cows', and fortified soy and rice) contain 30% or less of the daily minimum requirement of calcium.  Almond milk contains a whopping 45% per cup!  And with only 60 calories, it beats all other milks (with Rice Dream having 120 calories per cup and 1% cows' milk 110). 

As for its taste, in my opinion, it can't be beat in cold cereal, where it goes perfectly with all the ones my family enjoys - from the Kashi Go Lean cereals to Chocolate-flavored Frosted Mini Wheats.  And when I want a cold glass of milk to accompany a meal, Almond Milk is my first choice.  It has a delightful, slightly nutty, but not sweet, taste.  I wish I could say that it is my all-around milk of choice, but alas!  I find that it falls short in how it cooks up with oatmeal or other hot cereals.   For my hot cereals, I still prefer Lite Soy Milk.  It cooks up creamier, giving those cereals the perfect texture and a taste I really enjoy (an exception is Carrot Cake Oatmeal - see 2 posts below for recipe)..  

As for how these milk alternatives work in baked goods,  both Soy and Almond milks work great (substituting them for the milk in bread, cake, and other such recipes cup for cup), but Rice Milk does not work well at all in this capacity.   

I hope I have helped those of you who are stymied about which milk alternative you should try.  I have not yet tried Hemp Milk but would love to know if any of you have and what you think of it.  My husband uses a Hemp-based protein powder and it is actually GREEN!  Please tell me that the milk is not....

Until next time, happy and healthy eating!  

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Language of God

We are at an interesting junction in the overall scheme of things.  The economy is very bad - several countries are going under much like banks and other "businesses" have been doing domestically.  There have been a seemingly disproportionate amount of earthquakes, hurricanes, and other such natural disasters as of late.  And we seem to be reading more and more news stories of people dying relatively young - from cancer, freak accidents, and suicide. In the midst of all this chaos, there is a tendency to blame God.  And blaming God often turns to a complete disbelief in His existence.  Try talking to a person who angrily rejects God and he or she will undoubtedly tell you that if there was a God, then why is there so much evil and overall bad things happening in this world?  If you try to answer with the fact that we have free will and have made a mess of things, they will tell you that they do not believe in free will.  Moreover, they assert that it is illogical to believe in a higher intelligence.  They have reduced us to nothing more than a series of biological processes and events.  To them, science is truth, and God and science can not mix.  It's been a while since I have had a chance to post anything here.  Since I last touched base with you all, I have been reminded that if you want to keep excess weight off, you have to count calories - there's just no way around it.  We had snow last month - the first time I have seen snow in Northern Virginia as early as October. And I discovered that Breadfruit, a supposedly bland but extremely plentiful plant,  is the food of the future.  I considered posting about one of these topics.  But, instead, I am going to do something I have not done before - I am going to recommend a book. 

The book, The Language of God, by Francis S. Collins, is the most brilliant attempt I have seen to reconcile God with Science.    Collins is a one-time-atheist who is also a renowned scientist, known for his work with the Human Genome Project.   He was among the first to unravel our DNA, a process which led him to understand what he calls "the language of God".  "We have caught the first glimpse of our own instruction book", he said concerning it, "previously known only to God."  Collins unites Darwin's theory of evolution with the story of creation in the book of Genesis as only a scientist can do.  He sees the Big Bang as the moment when God set the universe in motion, ultimately leading to the emergence of life, which culminated in the appearance of intelligent beings that are able to participate in and comprehend the creative process itself.   He gives strong scientific evidence for the existence of a higher, creative intelligence.   And he very articulately explains why we humans inherently possess a longing for something greater than ourselves. 

In response to the claim that a belief in God is merely "wishful thinking", Collins discusses the Moral Code that humankind inherently adheres to, the "God-shaped vacuum' we all seem to have, and culminates with the fact that just because we wish for it doesn't mean it is not true - that "creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists".  

Collins' thoughtful and thought-provoking scientific arguments for the existence of a higher intelligence include the fact that scientists are unable to explain or interpret the very earliest events in the explosion we know as The Big Bang, as well as explaining how developments in quantum mechanics have now turned scientific determinism on its ear.   His discussion of the Cambrian explosion is compelling (including reducing all of creation to a 24-hour day and realizing that, in that context, if the earth was created at 12:01 a.m., life would have appeared at 3:30 a.m., with the Cambrian explosion at 9:00 p.m., and the extinction of dinosaurs at 11:40 p.m.   Human beings appeared on the scene with just seconds left in the day...)  The question he raises is why and how was there a sudden explosion of complicated life forms so late (9:00 p.m.) in our world's existence?  What "caused" that sudden explosion of life?   His discussion of the ramifications of unraveling our DNA, of course, is the crux of his book and I would do it a severe injustice if I tried to summarize it in anything you could read in a matter of minutes. 

Why am I writing a post on this topic?  The same reason why I have not posted anything in so long.  My heart has been heavy and I have felt weighed down trying to explain and defend why I believe what I do.   I challenge anyone who denies the existence of God on scientific grounds (or knows and loves someone who does) to read this book. 


Thursday, October 20, 2011

Carrot Cake Oatmeal? Try it, You'll Like It!

Those of you who know me well know that I usually recommend including a bowl of oatmeal as part of your breakfast, and that my favorite cake is carrot cake.  So imagine my delight when a good friend sent me a recipe for "Carrot Cake Oatmeal" (pictured here).  I was hesitant in making it at first - afraid it would be disappointing, as pumpkin oatmeal turned out to be last year.  But, made as recommended, it was surprisingly good!  I had it for breakfast 3 times this week and will continue to make it as the mood arises.  The recipe I was given was completely Vegan and goes as follows:
1 cup Almond milk (I used Almond Breeze, which I highly recommend, since it contains 25% of the daily minimum requirement of calcium, among other things), 1/2 t. lemon juice, 2 T. Coconut Cream (the recipe says to skim it off the top of canned coconut milk.  I actually found coconut curd and used a Tablespoon of that), 1/2 to 1 t. cinnamon, 1/4 t. ground ginger, 1/8  t. ground nutmeg, pinch of salt, 1 cup finely grated carrot, 1/2 cup regular oats, 1 t. vanilla, and 2 T. maple syrup.    In a small saucepan, heat almond milk, lemon juice and coconut cream on medium heat.  Stir in spices and salt until spices dissolve.  Stir in grated carrot and oats; cook for 8 minutes until oats are soft.  Remove from heat; stir in vanilla and maple syrup.  Drizzle with 1/2 t. maple syrup mixed with coconut cream, and (optionally) top with a few chopped walnuts, golden raisins, and a sprinkle of cinnamon.. 

It sounds like a lot of work, but it isn't at all.  I grate the carrot the night before and just squeeze a little lemon into it while it is on the stove.  The rest is really easy.  If, like me, you are a carrot cake fan, try this recipe and let me know what you think of it.  

I hope you are all doing well.  This fall has been so busy for me - something I had not expected with one of my two boys in college.  I hope to write more in here soon.   But until then, happy and healthy eating!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Our Last Week Of Farm Deliveries - Was It Worth It?

Today was our last week of receiving produce from our CSA.  On the left, you can see what was in our bag - a big, beautiful spaghetti squash, beets, apples (which have been delicious!), green leaf lettuce, green beans, and mesclun greens.  I don't have a clue what to do with mesclun greens, but I will learn this week by checking my favorite recipe web sites.  Our season began the first week of June and ran for 20 weeks.  It's funny because we started and ended with greens - something I had not expected.  But don't get me wrong.  I am not complaining.  I have learned to love greens which, until this past season, were nowhere on my radar screen.  The first couple of weeks, we received primarily greens, with the addition of fresh garlic (the best I have ever had), spring onions, asparagus and lettuce.  As you can see from the photo, we now receive a bounty of yummy fruits and vegetables with our "fall" greens. 

Throughout the season, there have been ups and downs with the produce we have gotten.  The cherries and strawberries were small and bitter.  The Asian pears tasted more like potatoes than fruit (although they yielded a delicious pear cake).  And speaking of potatoes, due to the heavy rains, we only got them once and, although they were very tasty, there weren't many of them.  But, when you join a farm, you are part owner, so to speak, and if there is a rough season for some of the produce, you share in whatever the output may be.  It's what I expected. 

In spite of the few disappointments mentioned above, however, overall I was very pleased with what we received.  As I said before, all the greens were incredible.  I have occasionally purchased greens from the market and, for lack of a better word, they always had a "smell" to them.  Plus, they always made me sick - stomach upset, pain - symptoms that had once led me to believe I was possibly allergic to raw spinach, Kale, and lettuce.  With the greens we got from the farm, I never once got sick.  I felt perfectly fine, in fact, with all the food I ate, whether it was peaches, apples, beets, eggplant, squash, or greens.  Which leads me to believe that I am "bothered" by whatever they spray on fruit and vegetables to either get them to market or to keep them looking good enough to sell at a market.  Not necessarily the pesticides they may use, but preservatives, anti-fungals, and other things that were not used on the produce we got from our farm.  Sadly, even some "organic" produce from a conventional market bothers me.  Maybe it's what they wash it with to make it presentable.  I mean, the stuff from our farm was often covered in dirt - nice pure earth that I enjoyed washing off to get to the treasure that lay beneath.  It was like I had grown it and picked it myself!

Will I join the CSA next year?  I would really like to.  My husband thinks that at $500, it was expensive.  But over 20 weeks, that comes out to just $25 a week.  I could easily spend more than that on produce at the grocery store.  Yes, I had to still buy carrots, onions, peppers, and potatoes from the store since they did not grow them on our farm (normally they do grow lots of potatoes, but the crops were largely ruined this year).  But, as a rule, I planned my meals around what I knew was coming from our CSA.  On Monday, we received an e-mail telling us what we would be getting each Thursday.   And during peach and apple season which covered more than half of the time we received the produce, I ate at least a fruit a day - sometimes 2 or 3.  They were so good!

Many of you have asked me about our CSA and if I would recommend joining one.  The answer is definitely yes. 

It's been a while since I have written in here.  Lots going on with my boys!  I hope you are enjoying this fall season.   Until next time, happy and healthy eating!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Unfinished Business

I don't believe in the Easter Bunny, the Boogey Man, or the Tooth Fairy, but, crazy as it sounds, I do believe in ghosts.  It's not a far stretch from believing in the soul - the part of us that continues on after we have shed this body that keeps us captive here on earth.  If you are a Christian, then I know you have heard of the "Holy Ghost" - the "Spirit" part of the Trinity - the part that exists around and in us and that guides us through our trials and tribulations.  I do not believe that heaven is literally above us or that hell is somewhere down below either.  I believe that, somehow, the "afterlife" exists on the same plane as the one we occupy.  If our eyes could see into the spiritual realm, I think we'd be shocked by what is around us.  With bodies, we are limited by space and time, as well as by what we can hear, taste, see, smell, and touch.  Without them, the possibilities are endless.  Recently scientists discovered that with the neutrino, it is possible to go faster than the speed of light.  It turned Einstein's theory of relativity on its proverbial ear!  Translation?  Theoretically, time-travel may be possible.   I also believe that, with all the possibilities that will be available to us, for most of us, the realm we will be in after our bodies die is so wonderful, that we will have no reason, no desire, to hang around "here" anymore.  But for some, that is just not the case.  For some, there is what can best be described as unfinished business.  In the photo above and to the left is a window on one of the at least 3 buildings on the William & Mary campus that is rumored to house a ghost.  Below is another one:
I took these photos during what was called a "Lantern" (or late-night) tour of the campus.  It's strange but I was not trying to find ghosts on the tour, however at these 2 locations (both of which are purported to be haunted) there were shadows or light in the windows, as you can see in my photographs.  Coincidence?   I'm not so sure...

When I was 17, my grandmother died and, for several days afterward, she came into my and my mother's rooms in the middle of the night and brushed a comforting hand across our cheek.  Even though we were startled at being awakened by her touch, it did not frighten us per se.  It was just something she had to do.   She had died completely conscious and aware, but unable to speak due to a tracheotomy, therefore unable to tell us one last time how much she loved us, or to say good-bye.  At least that's how I have tried to make sense of it. 

In a beautiful book called God's Child Andrew, a mother and father write about the death of their 6 year old son, Andrew, who had wanted nothing more than to be an Altar Boy.  And on one icy Sunday, on the way to church of all things, there was an accident and little Andrew was killed.  The family's grief was so strong that Andrew appeared to his mother, father, and grandmother, encouraging all of them to stop mourning, that he was happy and at peace.  I had the pleasure of meeting with and talking to this incredible couple (the father actually became a priest because of what he had experienced!) and it was such a blessing.  I will forever be grateful for the experience. 

So, yes, I do believe in ghosts, but that is not exactly what this post is about.  I have been unable to sleep lately because I left unfinished business down in Williamsburg.  And like a ghost that can not find peace, the soul within me will not rest until I go back down there and take care of things.  When we were there last weekend, my son was sick and feverish.  He had an infection but had not been taking his antibiotics properly.  Everything in me told me not to go home - but we had to.  My husband had a job to get back to and my other son had to go to school.  I felt I should have stayed and it has bothered me all week.  He is not feeling much better, so now, I am going back - by myself - to make sure my son is all right.  And, if not, to help him get the care he needs.  I look at the many pictures I took of our visit last weekend, but the ones that I can not stop looking at are the windows with the shadows behind them.  Like kindred spirits reaching out to each other across a transparent divide, I know my place.  Right now at least, it is to be back with them on that 300+ year old campus filled with opportunities, incredible young men and women, and the spirits of those who, for whatever reason, have been destined (or have chosen to) stay behind... 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Update on Our Farm

It's been a while since I have posted anything about our CSA and I have been receiving several inquiries lately.  Mainly, "Is it worth it to join one?", and, "Will you do it again next year?  Personally, I have enjoyed it.  Nothing I have eaten has "bothered me" and a lot of store-bought produce does, especially greens.  I think there has been more Kale and Chard than my husband was hoping for, and the Asian pears taste like raw potatoes, but besides that, it has been great. 

As for the greens, I have learned to really enjoy them, especially using recipes I find online.  Kale is a bit chewy, but the flavor is nice and it is so good for you.  As for the "tasteless" Chinese pears, I baked them into a cake (see photo above).  I found the recipe online and reduced the 3/4 cups oil it called for to 1/4 cup, adding 1/2 cup applesauce as a substitute for the remaining oil.  I also used eggbeaters for the 3 eggs it called for and cut the pecans down from 1 cup to 1/2 cup.   And it turned out great - passed the "younger son" taste-test with flying colors.

One thing you need to realize if you join a farm (or CSA as they are called) is that they can only grow what is in season for your region.  And here, in Northern Virginia, it has been a lot of greens, peaches, corn, beets, Japanese eggplant, green beans, apples, and Chinese pears (so far).  This week, we will receive our first installment of squash - acorn squash, to be exact.  I imagine that over the next month or two, we will be receiving different types of squash, as well as cooking pumpkins, and potatoes.  And that will be fine with me! 

Will we do it next year?  For my husband, I may try our local Farmer's Market instead.  He wants me to try going there once a week and actually choosing what we want, as opposed to getting a box filled with what our farm is growing that week, divided out to each "member" as the crops allow.  But I have a feeling we will be back the following year.  I have really enjoyed our farm and all the new foods it has introduced to our diet.

Fall officially begins this week.  Can you believe it?   I hope you all had a wonderful summer!  Until next time, happy and healthy eating! 

Friday, September 16, 2011

Bottled Water: Friend or Foe?

The day we moved my son into his college dorm, it was miserably hot, so we bought him and his roommate a case of bottled water.  Later that weekend, my son texted us to say that the water was ruined -  his roommate had stuck it all in their freezer and it was now poisoned.   Yesterday, a friend sent me an e-mail warning me and some other undisclosed recipients not to drink bottled water that has been left in a hot car - that Sheryl Crow's oncologist told her the dioxin that leaches from such bottles caused her breast cancer!   

Well, as both a connoisseur of bottled water and a two-time breast cancer survivor, I felt it was time to do some research in an attempt to set the record straight.  You see, I can only drink bottled water with any regularity.  When I drink too often from those lovely taps that allow things like that supposedly harmless orangey-pink-tinted bacteria to get through, I get mouth sores the size of a dime.  To most people this bacteria is supposedly harmless, but it isn't to me.  When my system is really run down, I even have to rinse my mouth with bottled water after brushing my teeth.   And, yes, I always leave a bottle of water in my car.  I sometimes get thirsty when I drive.  Funny thing is that when I was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer 10 years ago, we were drinking only filtered tap water...Needless to say, I was a skeptic when it came to all this sudden hype about bottled water and was, frankly, angry at the audacity of some of the claims.

In January of 2008,  a representative from Johns Hopkins refuted the supposed claim that freezing water bottles leaches dioxin into the water.  He called it what it was - an Email Hoax.  And as for bottles of water getting hot in your automobile and then becoming poisonous?  Unless, the bottles are made of inflexible (hard), "unclear" plastic, there is no danger of anything happening to the water.  The chemical that can potentially leach from plastic into water is Bisphenol A (or BPA). And disposable bottles do not contain the chemical.  "Plastic bottles of the type used for commercially marketed water are regulated by the FDA as 'food contact substances' and are held to the same standards as food additives."  (About.com, April 2007)  Yes, I know that the FDA is not perfect and has let several unsavory items slip through the cracks, but poison in our water bottles is not one of them. 

This is a very touchy subject for me, since after 4 of my 5 immediate family members contracted some form of cancer in a 5-year period, a study was conducted in the area in which I grew up and an unusually high number of cancer outbreaks (with a cancer death in virtually every family on our block alone) demonstrated that I grew up in a cancer hot-bed.  The culprit was something I was alerted to way back in 1981, after beginning a campaign to rid our area of the smelly, oily, brown sludge that stained our sinks and bathtubs.  This was in my college apartment, 30 miles from where I grew up, but it opened a can of worms.  We found that the culprit's business practices covered an extremely wide area.  And it seemed that I had moved from the proverbial frying pan into the flame!  Where I grew up, we were upwind from a series of oil refineries that occasionally made our air unfit to breathe.  Schools were closed due to "bad air" that made it literally painful to inhale.  Moreover, for as long as I could remember we "had" to have bottled water delivered to our house because the stuff that came out of our pipes tasted so bad.  

Our tap water is something I wish more of us did care about.  Why should we put up with pinkish orange bacteria?  And how do we know it is really harmless?  The alternative is equally daunting.  Large quantities of free chlorine are sometimes run through our water supplies when they are found to contain dangerously high levels of the more dangerous bacterias.  Has it ever hurt your eyes when you let the hot water run for too long?  Like when you are doing a huge batch of pots and pans?  Or taking a long, hot shower on a cold, cold morning?  This is far scarier to me than leaving my water bottle in my car.

Dioxin, one of the most deadly chemicals known to man, was what Agent Orange was made of.  And we know what that was used for.  It was an exfolliant that stripped trees bare of all life so our soldiers in Viet Nam could navigate through dense terrain.  Sadly, it also stripped people it came in contact with of things like hair and skin, not to mention the long-term affects of having been doused with it.  Dioxin is formally called Polychlorinated Dibenzodioxin and can occur naturally when fire comes into contact with chlorine.  Hmmmm....I wonder why very hot, chlorinated water might make our eyes burn   Diseases linked to dioxin exposure include an unsightly skin condition called chloracne, problems with one's tooth enamel, nervous system disorders, thyroid conditions, diabetes, and damage to one's immune system (leading, I would imagine, to a susceptibility to various cancers).  It was manufactured to do such things as bleach paper white and came to the forefront during the Love Canal tragedy which made headlines in the late 70's. 

I am not saying that bottled water is pure and clean.  I'm not sure that completely pure water exists anywhere anymore.  But if you get an Email telling you that the water you've been drinking in your car can kill you, delete it and do not give it another thought.  And if you should accidentally (or intentionally) freeze your bottled water, there is no need to throw it out.  Remember, we are made of about 80% water and need to drink several glasses a day.  And be wise when you give your body anything it needs....Until next time, happy and healthy eating (and drinking!).

Friday, September 9, 2011

Reflections On A Recent Chat With My Son

The other day, I am ashamed to admit that I had a pity-party.  On September 12, 2001, as we all were reeling over the tragedy of 9/11, I had the first of many surgeries that marked the beginning of my struggle with cancer.   I heard myself sharing that with my friends and whining about how I wish I had never undergone chemotherapy, since it has left me with a permanently impaired immune system and memory, and painful growths all over my liver.  And to those friends, I offer my apologies.  Because my very wise 16-year old son helped me put things in perspective - again.  He reminded me of the tremendous good that came from my having gone through what I did 9+ years ago.  He understands that I would never put my body through an ordeal like that again, but  reminded me of the wonderful gift God gave me during that time - a gift that will last a lifetime and beyond.

In August of 1981, I reached the point in my life where I knew beyond a doubt that God was real and that, because He came in the flesh and reconciled mankind to Himself, I would never die - not in any way that matters.   I would eventually shed this body that gets sick and breaks down with time, but I would still "be".  It was a wonderful revelation and it sustained me throughout my life.  But when I was undergoing grueling cancer treatments 20 years later, I feared I would not survive, and what had been a warm-and-fuzzy relationship with my God, suddenly took a dramatic turn.

Many women do just fine through chemotherapy treatments, feeling some nausea and becoming fatigued, but none the worse for the wear.  I was not one of those women.  After my first treatment, I was so hyped up that my heart raced, I could not sleep for days and my eyes occasionally rolled back into my head.  This was due, I discovered, to the steroids I was given to help stave off a possible allergic reaction.  We could not eliminate them altogether, but we cut the dose in half.  I've been told that there are high performers on chemo and low performers (people who handle the drugs just fine and those who don't).  I was an extremely low performer.  After the third of 6 treatments, we could not control the vomiting.  For days on end, I was unbelievably nauseous - have never felt anything like it since, even with stomach flu.  My white blood cells plummeted to almost nothing and made me susceptible to pneumonia and various other infections (things I still struggle with now), and when my red blood cells fell as well, it became difficult to breathe.  Long story short, I was sure I was going to die - that my body would not survive the battering it was taking.  And I took to prayer like I never had before.

Before those days, when I prayed for comfort, I got it.  God's presence would envelope me like a warm blanket and I knew all would be well.  But when I prayed during the 6 months I underwent chemotherapy treatments, God dealt with me much differently.  There was no more soothing milk, so to speak - it was time for solid food and hard truth.  God showed me that physically dying would not be the worst thing that could happen to a soul.  And he revealed areas in my life that had spun out of control, leaving me spiritually broken and crippled.  I have shared some of this with you before so I won't belabor the point, but suffice it to say that my diet was such a mess that, my lack of control over what I was eating, led to lack of control in most other areas of my life, as well.  The book of the Bible God led me to read?  Revelations.  I learned that, like everything else in God's Word, there was not one meaning to that difficult, highly symbolic book.  At one time or another, each person goes through his or her own personal "revelation" - a reckoning, a test of fire, a final battle here on earth.  I learned a lot and, through the years, I have shared that knowledge with my son, who has one of the deepest relationships with God I have seen.  

The other night, after I had my pity-party, my son and I shared a dinner together and I confessed what I had done and how I felt that day and he pulled me up short.  He told me that it was because of what I had been through and how God had dealt with me through it (including healing me of liver cancer - see post dated 3/19/11 ), that he had the faith he did.  He knew I would die someday (we all die), but was thankful that God was keeping me here as long as he was.  Oh my!  I was stunned - happily, of course, but stunned nonetheless.  And we proceeded to have "one of our talks"....

As a result, I have remembered to take one day at a time (thankful for each and every one of them), to be mindful of my limitations (but never lose sight of the fact that my "good days" are often very good), and grateful for the things God has taught me, especially that, although this life is indeed a precious gift, it is but a mere flicker in the scheme of things.

This post may seem to have nothing to do with food, except that it was in learning to control my diet that I also learned to control many of the other passions that kept me captive, as well as to be able to draw closer to the Source of all I see, smell, hear, taste, desire, and love.  I have a long way to go - that goes without saying - but I am grateful for the journey, on most days, that is.... : )   


Monday, August 29, 2011

Are Cooking Magazines Obsolete?

Joining a CSA has been a lot of fun, but I have to confess that I used to be stymied when it came to what I could prepare with such things as Collard Greens, Swiss Chard, Beets, and scads of tomatoes and peaches.  Enter websites such as allrecipes.com and Foodnetwork.com.  I know there are other recipe-laden websites, but in my opinion, these 2 rock!  You can find recipes for virtually any ingredient out there.  And what I love the most about the sites is that the recipes are given 1 to 5 stars, with helpful comments as to why the recipes were ranked the way they were.  I have made it a rule to only make 5 Star recipes with no less than 20 people rating them.  Using these simple rules, I have made the most incredible Swiss Chard, Beets, and Peach recipes.  I also found an outstanding recipe for lamb burgers - one that a young guest who had never tried lamb before truly enjoyed.  This week I will make a pork tenderloin with cabbage!  Yes, you guessed it - we are getting cabbage from our farm on Thursday. 

So, in the scheme of things, what does this mean?  Well...I have been subscribing to 3 cooking magazines for at least 9 years now and may actually let the subscriptions lapse.  Why?  For one thing, having hundreds of magazines with little bookmarks in them makes it difficult to keep track of individual recipes.  I have listings of which issues have what, but sifting through stacks of what used to be orderly piles of magazines gets frustrating!  I simply do not have the shelf space to properly file and organize them. 

I guess what I am saying is that, along with an e-mail address, a Facebook page, and a Blog, I will now more than likely be using my computer to determine much of what my family eats each week.  Why not?  I've already learned how to navigate around Amazon.com to buy things that I can't find in stores - just ordered A Diary From Dixie, by Mary Chestnut.  And this coming from a girl who used to think that computers meant Big Brother could be watching us! 

I know I am not unique in doing this - with the recipes I mean.  Some of the recipes I have found online have had hundreds of people make and rate them.  One had over a thousand!   Of course, That means finding a new way to categorize and organize those...But hey!  I suppose I can just do that online....

Friday, August 26, 2011

"WhoNu?" Cookie Review

There's a new cookie in town!  And it has as much fiber as a bowl of oatmeal, as much calcium and Vitamin D as an 8 oz. glass of milk, and as much Vitamin C as a cup of blueberries.  The cookies are called "WhoNu?: Nutrition Rich Cookies" and come in at least 3 flavors (that I could find): chocolate chip, chocolate cream filled, and vanilla cream-filled. 

I was introduced to them by a good friend of mine and there were several of us to sample them the evening she brought them out.  We all agreed that the chocolate chip variety had a nice texture - soft and chewy like it says on the box.  And I liked the taste - enough to go out and buy my own box.  My son and his friends, however, felt that they did not have enough taste - not sure what that means, but I'm guessing they weren't buttery enough?  Maybe not sweet enough?  For me, they were just fine.  My sons liked the chocolate cream cookies better - said they almost tasted like an Oreo cookie.  We haven't tried the vanilla creams yet. 

Besides the fiber, calcium, and Vitamins D and C, these cookies contain respectable amounts of Vitamins A, B12, E, and Iron, and about 10% of many other essential Vitamins and Minerals.  Basically, they contain the equivalent nutritional component of a fortified breakfast cereal, which, for a serving of cookies, is not bad.  A serving, by the way, is 3 cookies.  And for the chocolate chip variety (my personal favorite), it contains 150 calories and 5 grams of fat. 

For a number of years now, I just have not eaten many cookies.  Period.  Not unless I made them myself, which meant they were date walnut bars, or unless they were made by My Vegan Baker (see Blog post on her delicious and nutritious products).  It's nice to know that there is a product out there that I can pick up if I am away at a baseball tournament or visiting my older son at William & Mary.  Or if I am shopping and get that urge for something quick and sweet.

Well, it looks like a hurricane is coming our way!  I have stocked up on water, food, paper products, and well, a couple of boxes of WhoNu? cookies.  Really.....

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

We're Finally Home!

Last weekend we moved my oldest son into his college dorm and became familiar with his school, the administrators, and some of the students at William & Mary.  And this momentous event marked the end of our summer travels.  Between baseball tournaments, anniversary celebrations, and family vacations, we have not been home much.  Consequently, I have not had many opportunities to cook this summer.  Until, that is, this week.  This week the last thing I have wanted to do is eat out.  I am tired of restaurant food, whether it is a small deli or an elegant French restaurant.  I don't like having limited control over what I eat.  I ordered a red clam sauce that ended up being flooded with  olive oil.  Even the "vegetable of the day" was all too often bathed in butter.  Egg white omelettes were fried in some kind of fat, probably bacon grease.  And serving sizes were way too large.  Did I gain weight this summer?  Oh yeah.  But like a yo-yo, I would come home from each "trip", no matter how short, with a few extra pounds, meaning I had to really watch it the few days I was home to take them off again.  My weight went up and down, up and down all summer long. 

Well, now we are home for the next, God willing, 30 days, and I plan to get back on track.  And I need your help in doing it.  Here's my problem.  I have about 8 ears of corn from our CSA that I have not been able to cook yet and I want to make something (or some "things") wonderful with them before they are past their prime.  I have an edemame succotash recipe that sounds good, but that leaves me with about 4 more ears of corn.  I am open to suggestions and would especially appreciate foods that can be frozen or that will last in the refrigerator for more than a couple of days.  I also have a glut of tomatoes.  I have made a pasta sauce with the ones that just had to be used or die, but would greatly appreciate suggestions for what to do with the rest of them.   Especially since this week's box will contain more corn and tomatoes!

The past few days I have made some awesome recipes using produce from our CSA, including stewed Greek Green Beans which I served with veggie-laden Chicken Souvlakia; and a "Makeover Loaded Baked Potato Salad" from the August/September 2011 issue of Healthy Cooking magazine (see photo below and magazine link in right column).  I served it with Greek-style turkey burgers.

To shake things up (Yes, I'm making a tacky reference to the quake we had here today), I used the peaches we got from our farm to make a Blueberry Peach Cobbler from Cooking Light magazine.  And my weight?  It is remaining stable.  Why?  Because, even with the cobbler and the potato salad, I am controlling what and how much I eat.  Tomorrow, I plan to use my farm's eggplant to make Eggplant Parmesan from the January 2006 issue of Vegetarian Times.  Of course, I will make it with the home-made pasta sauce I made with all those tomatoes last night.  Yup, it's good to be home! 

Monday, August 15, 2011

Beach Week - Not Just For High School Graduates!

We just got back from spending a week in Duck, North Carolina.   Good-bye reality.  Hello Summer dreamin'.  O.K.  So, the first few days were hot - close to 100 degrees.  But, once the weather cooled off, it was amazing.  The last 2 days were so beautiful that we stayed on the beach from just after lunch until the sun went down.  Think cool breezes, kites flying, dogs frolicking in the surf, and, yes, food - lots of food.  Especially after walking along the beach for an hour or two, (or three? - it sure felt like it!). 

We ate out a few times.  Once at a Japanese steakhouse.  And then at the Blue Point.  If you ever go to the Outer Banks in North Carolina, you have to eat at the Blue Point.  Dinner reservations must be made a month in advance, but the food is A-1, first class, amazing.  Pictured below is a Vegan dinner that the chef invented for us when we were there.

It may not look like much, but every single item was mouth-watering - from the perfectly seasoned zucchini toss to the melon with tomato jam and basil.  I truly believe he invented this meal the night we were there and if he were to feature it on the Iron Chef, he would win for the Veggie Battle.  Not familiar with the show?  It's still on.  Check it out.  It is hilarious. 
When we cooked for ourselves, we weren't quite as creative as the Blue Point chef, but we did pretty well, if I say so myself.  I don't know about the other 7 folks staying at our house, but I only gained 3 pounds the entire week.  That's with 3 meals, snacks, dessert, and a fair amount of Virginia and New York wines.  Just a few days of "watching it", with the addition of some nice long walks through our neighborhood trails and they'll be gone....Yup, I love our trips to the Outer Banks.  But now, as reality sinks its teeth into my unwilling neck, and as I prepare to send my oldest son off to college while I watch my baby get his license and drive his way into independence,  I can dream and cook and share it all with you.  So until next time, happy and healthy eating!!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Are All Bed & Breakfast Inns This Wonderful?

Last weekend my husband and I celebrated our 20th anniversary by spending it in a Bed & Breakfast near one of Virginia's Wine Countries.  I have to confess that it was the first time I had ever been to a Bed & Breakfast anywhere and the experience was wonderful.

The couple who owned Tanglewood, the renovated turn-of-the century mansion were, unbenownst to me, both renowned journalists who now write non-fiction books, one of which I am currently reading.  Their Bed & Breakfast is located on top of a small hill and tucked within some trees, giving it just the right amount of charm and privacy.  The rooms are all tastefully decorated and each has a private bath.  The common areas are filled with original works of art that the couple has collected and are comfortable and inviting.  And the breakfasts at this "Bed and Breakfast"?   Well, they were amazing!

The photo above is of our first morning's feast.  After being served a cappuccino and some tea, we were treated to one of the best banana breads I have ever had.  And I love a good banana bread!  That's it in the bottom right corner.  We were then served a bowl of fresh fruit - my husband's was honeydew melon and blueberries with a light home-made syrup and mine, blueberries and cream.  After that, we were presented with the 4-course main meal, which consisted of  an egg and cheddar souffle, home fries, bacon, and baked tomatoes with oregano and mozzarella.   All of it, of course, was home-made and all of it was outstanding.  I tried to replicate the baked tomatoes with mozzarella and mine fell short of what we had at Tanglewood. I don't know if it was the home-grown tomatoes or the quality of the cheese they used, but, to me, that was the most delicious part of what was a perfectly cooked breakfast.  

The breakfast and decor were only part of what made our stay at Tanglewood an unforgettable experience.  The couple who owns and runs the place are perfect hosts who made us feel like family.  It was quite warm last weekend and they kept a well-stocked refrigerator in the parlor complete with bottled water, beer, sodas, and white wine.  They made reservations for us at a fabulous French restaurant, and were helpful with other recommendations, local directions, etc.  Which leads to my question:  Are all Bed and Breakfasts this wonderful?  If so, I have discovered the way I want to "see America".  

Pictured above is a photo of the baked tomatoes I enjoyed so much - I could have made a meal out of them and the banana bread alone.   Below is a picture of the beautiful stained-glass windows that cover the wall leading up to the second floor where the bedrooms are.
Tanglewood is located in Front Royal, Virginia.  If you are looking for a special place to celebrate a milestone in your life, I highly recommend it.  Heck, I recommend it to anyone who wants to spend a nice weekend being pampered by a truly special couple in a truly special place.  Until next time, happy and healthy eating!!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Still Life With Resveratrol, Fiber, Protein, and Antioxidants or "These are a Few of My Favorite Things"

I get tired of reading articles on all the foods we should avoid.   Last week I actually read one on celery, cucumbers, and iceberg lettuce - the problem with them being that, although they are decidedly low in calories, they are not particularly high in nutrients.  Before that, I read an article on the 13 most unhealthy "health-foods".  Included on the list were rice cakes, sushi, restaurant salads, dried fruit, and granola. 

As for the vegetables we should "avoid", I have a real problem with that.  The three the article targeted, although they are admittedly not vitamin-packed, are rich in fiber, among other things.  And for the fiber they contain alone, if you like them, I would leave them in your diet.  We tend to be seriously lacking in fiber in our diets.  As for the rice cakes, dried fruit, and granola, I have one word for you - "moderation", especially with the dried fruit and granola.  Watch the serving sizes because the calories and sugar do add up.  As for restaurant salads, read my post titled "I Was Good and Ordered a Salad".  I happen to agree with this one!

If you want to play it safe when you are craving a snack, check out the photo above.  O.K., so I would not recommend wine for an afternoon snack, but an occasional glass with your supper (provided you do not have mitigating health issues) can be a real plus.  The resveratrol in it has now been linked to actual weight loss, since it aids in metabolism, acting in your system much like a long walk or a jog.  Summer is the best time to shed extra pounds with the vast array of fruits available.  Our CSA has been providing us with yummy peaches and plums.  This is also a great time for blackberries, apricots, and melons.  A (non-fat) yogurt a day provides you with at least 20% of the daily recommended allowance of calcium, not to mention protein.  The same is true for a "serving" of a low-fat cheese.  Couple that with a handful of TLC crackers and you've got a healthy snack to carry you through until dinner. 

Remember, when it comes to weight loss and weight management, it is all about calories.  It is not about avoiding food groups or completely eliminating your favorite things.  Eat a balanced diet because it is what your body needs and what it craves.  But it doesn't have to be boring, bland, or tedious.   My wish for you all is healthy and "happy" eating.....

P.S.  The wine in this photo was outstanding.  It is from a Virginia winery called Barboursville and is their 2009 Merlot.  I highly recommend it!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Don't Let Summer Go By Without Trying These!

It's been a while since I've been able to write you all.  Summers seem to be busier than the school year these days!  I hope you all have been enjoying this season of sunshine and fresh fruit.  Speaking of fruit (how's that for a lead-in?), pictured on the left are what my youngest son said is "the best fruit he has ever had".  They are Virginia's crop of Organic Donut Peaches.  And last week our box from the farm was full of them!  Up until this past week, the fruit from our farm has left something to be desired.  The strawberries were small and almost mushy, the apples were Granny Smith's, thus tart and not for snacking, the blueberries were unimpressive, and the cherries...Well, we all got a good laugh out of the cherries.  2 weeks ago, we received a bag of conventional peaches and they were not bad, although they yielded a better pie than they did a snack food.  So when I saw about 20 of these little guys in our box last week, my first thought was, "O.K.  Another peach pie".   And then I ate one.   Oh my!   Not since California have I had fruit so sweet and juicy.  And, as I said before, my younger son just can't stop eating them. 

One thing I love about summer is the fruit it yields.  If it is a good season, there is an endless variety of Organic berries, peaches, nectarines, plums, apricots, and watermelon.  In the summer, who needs to snack on processed foods?  It's the perfect time to jump-start a healthy diet. 

I have to mention that all of the vegetables we have received from our farm have been outstanding.  From the Kale and Swiss Chard to the Summer Squash, Beans, Beets, and Corn, it has all been a delightful addition to our weekly menu.  Will I join a CSA next year?  So far, it is looking like a definite "Yes".

I do have to run - obligations beckon!   But I had to let you all know about those Donut Peaches.  If you get a chance to try some, I hope they are as good as ours have been.  For those of you who live Abroad, I recall Europe having the most delicious fruit this time of year.  Enjoy!!

Until next time, happy and healthy eating!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Luscious Summer Fruit Pie

I promised a friend of mine that I would give her the recipe for my summer fruit pies.  Today I made one with fresh peaches from our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture or "Farm")and it was wonderful.  It made me remember my promise and I decided to share this very easy recipe with you all. 

Peach, Blueberry, Blackberry, or Strawberry Pie

Prepared low-fat graham cracker crust (I use Keebler or Wholly Wholesome brand, which is found at Whole Foods Market or the Organic sections of some supermarkets)
1 quart blueberries, OR strawberries, OR blackberries, OR 6 large peaches (I used 10 small ones today)
1 cup sugar (3/4 cup if you use peaches or sweet berries)
3 Tablespoons cornstarch (4 if you use peaches)
1/4 cup water
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon margarine
Wash and sort berries.  If you use peaches, wash and slice them into 8 slices each.  Measure about 1 and 1/2 cups of berries or 1/2 of the peaches into a saucepan and mash them slightly.  Add cornstarch, salt, and water.  Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and cook until thickened, about 3 minutes.  Add margarine.  Cool slightly.  Pour the uncooked berries into the pie shell (or line the bottom of it evenly with peach slices).  Then spread the cooked fruit on top.  Refrigerate 3-4 hours before serving.  Serves 6-8

This is a delicious way to get a serving or two of fruit.  And it is surprisingly easy to make.  When we go to the beach each summer with our good friends, I buy lots of fruit from a local fruit stand and make a couple of these pies each day.  They are something we all look forward to.  I hope you enjoy them!

Until next time, happy and healthy eating! 

Friday, July 15, 2011

A Confession

Diets don't work.  Not the Atkins diet, Jenny Craig, or even Weight Watchers.  Unless you change the way you eat and ENJOY IT, any weight you lose while on "a structured diet" will come right back once the structure is removed and you return to your old eating habits.   It's inevitable.  

For me, taking inventory of everything I ate - counting every calorie (and realizing my daily input was well over 3,000) and counting fat grams (discovering that almost 50% of my calories were from fat) opened my eyes to where I needed to make changes.  I needed to cut calories - dramatically - and eat more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains; and omit deep fried foods (a recognized addiction for me) altogether.  I love the meals I cook from my favorite cooking magazines and do not feel deprived in any way.  In fact, I cringe when I remember all the grease I used to dump into my body.  But I do allow myself one naughty pleasure: Starbucks....

Anyone who has been to Starbucks with me for breakfast knows that I order the same thing every time I go - a grande non-fat chai tea latte, and, depending on the season, either a pumpkin scone or a slice of the very berry or cinnamon reduced-fat coffee cake.  When I know I am going to have a particularly low-fat lunch and dinner, I might even order a cinnamon scone.  Yes, I am aware of the fat content of Starbucks' scones and "reduced-fat" coffee cakes, but I do not believe in deprivation and, frankly, they are yummy!    They are not deep fried, so I am not succumbing to my old addiction.  But they are a nice treat to have on occasion and, especially after reaching and maintaining our goal, we all deserve a nice treat now and then.

There....It's out.  Now you know my dirty, little secret.   Why, you may ask, am I confessing it to you?  Well, it's because I realize that it's precisely because I allow myself my chai and scones every now and then that I have been able to keep the weight I lost off.    My forays into Starbucks keep me from getting into a rut and/or being frustrated.  I hope something in my confession resonates with you - I felt I had to get it out there.  Until next time, "happy" and healthy eating....  


Monday, July 11, 2011

The Times They Are A-Changin'

When I was young, the Courtyard Marriot was about as fancy a hotel as I could imagine.  Don't get me wrong.  Courtyard Marriots are very nice.  But last weekend my son and I stayed in a hotel that looked like it could be a space colony on Mars.  And this was with a 16-year old travel baseball team!  The photo on the left is an interior shot of the rooms which surround a courtyard complete with fountains, exotic bird cages, and quaint little bridges that take you from one "landmark" to another.  When I asked that we not be placed in a room on the first floor, I was told, in a tone reminiscent of the girl in PeeWee Herman's Big Adventure who laughingly says "There's no basement in the Alamo!" that  "There are no rooms on the first floor".  Our room-for-two was a beautiful suite complete with a separate living room and wet bar  (See below)

O.K.  So the picture doesn't do it any justice, but you get the idea.   Our last night in the room we ordered room service - had to!  The dining area was just too nice to ignore.  Yes, it was buffalo wings with celery and Ranch dressing and a couple of apples for dessert, but hey!  It felt elegant.  Everything nowadays seems to be moving in the direction of "feeling elegant". 

Automobiles are so comfortable and the sound-systems so good, that, traveling long-distances is still commonplace despite the almost $4.00/ gallon gasoline!  Kids would rather play video games on a gorgeous day than hang around outdoors.  Vitamin D deficiency has actually become a problem in our country!  (The sun is the best source of it, you know...)   And most communication is done through e-mails and texting.   ("Hello out there!"   See what I mean...)   And as for our food...  (You knew I was getting to that, didn't you?).  Between hydroponics, waxy glazes, and a myriad of pesticides and fungicides,  produce in most markets is picture-perfect.  The taste often leaves something to be desired, but hey!  Who cares when it is so pretty? 

Because of the growth of fish farms (which are the water-cousins of most cattle and chicken operations), salmon is always available and relatively cheap.   Never mind that, like most conventional cattle and chickem farms, the environment bears little resemblance to what a salmon should be living in.  Not to mention the consequences of overcrowding... 

And have you noticed that nothing "conventional and/or processed" seems to "spoil" anymore?  I have a loaf of bread sitting on my counter that I bought before school ended and it is still soft and mold-free.  I plan to keep it there all summer long and see if it will ever go bad!  I guess Wonder Bread had that same endearing quality, but it wasn't real bread and we knew it!   My never-dying loaf of bread is a high-priced,  whole grain variety. 

Yup.  The times they are a-changin'.  But let's hope that, as they do, we are still able to recognize what is right or wrong, smart or foolish, and good for us or harmful.  The growth of the Organics industry is encouraging, as is the increasing prevalence of CSA's and Farmer's Markets.  I really can't complain about the increase in creature comforts - in amazing new "family" hotels, or cars you could practically live in.  But I hope we don't forget the simple things - the great outdoors, home-grown food, and a call or a touch from a friend...

Well, it's been a while - thus the rather long and contemplative post.  Summers are way too busy around my house - a good thing, I guess.  Until next time, happy and healthy eating, playing, and living!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011


The biggest complaint I hear about eating healthy is that the food is boring.   And I guess that, when I first changed the way I ate, I felt the same way, too.  What I have learned, however, is that when the grease, excess salt, and ooey-gooey cream is removed, you are finally able to discover what foods really taste like.  I can't think of a vegetable that I don't like.  Even Kale, Collard greens, Brussels Sprouts, and Beets can be delicious when they are fresh and are cooked right.  Brown rice has an almost nutty taste and texture.   Salmon is amazing broiled with a variety of glazes and rubs.  Most ethnic cuisines are outstanding when they are lightened up, including Indian, Chinese, Thai, Greek, Italian, Lebanese, and Mexican. 

The photo above is of a family favorite - Spinach Calzone with hot pasta sauce on the side.  Like everything I cook, it is both low in calories and fat, but high in taste and is easy to make.  Use your favorite refrigerated pizza crust, divide it into 4 squares, and fill each one with thawed frozen spinach, mixed with sauteed onions and low-fat feta cheese, and bake until golden brown.  If you have been following this Blog, you will notice that I do not deprive myself of dessert.  On special occasions, I'll make a favorite banana bread, chocolate cake, lemon crumb cake, bread pudding, souffle, angel food cake, or panna cotta - all of them low in fat and calories.  I used to get frustrated ordering out, but now have learned to navigate just about any menu, ending up with what I know are "the best" items on the menu. 

Healthy eating - done right - should not be boring.  In fact, I look forward to each issue of Cooking Light, Healthy Cooking, Eating Well, and Vegetarian Times, knowing that they will provide me and my family with new taste sensations covering a wide variety of ingredients and cuisines.  I highly recommend that you buy a copy of these magazines, try some of the recipes, and then subscribe to the one or ones you like the best.   You will not be disappointed.

Until next time, happy and healthy eating!


Sunday, July 3, 2011

What Do I Do With Beets?

Pictured on the left is the latest installment from our farm, namely beets and cabbage.  I really like both of them - a lot! - when other people cook them.  Beets scare me because they stain everything, or so they say.  I do know that some women at our church have used them to die Easter eggs red.  An article I read warned that, when you work with beets, you should wear gloves.  I will , but I have a white porcelain sink.  Will they stain it?  And my light brown and cream-toned counter top?  Help!  I was planning to peel and cut them into 1" squares, place them in a glass bowl with olive oil, thyme, and kosher salt, and then roast them.  Any advice?  When I made my Chocolate Beet Cake in March (which was outstanding by the way - recipe is in a link below), I used jarred (not canned!) beets, so all the "dirty" work had been done for me.

As for the cabbage, I found a nice recipe that utilizes beer and Kielbasa, which I think my "men" will enjoy.  But those beets.....Yikes!   I can just see them ruining my whole kitchen.  Looking forward to hearing from some of you.  Hope you are enjoying your 4th of July weekend.

Until next time, happy and healthy eating!

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Can You Eat Healthy While on Vacation?

Every year for the past 10 years we have gone to Duck, North Carolina for our summer vacation.  We rent a house where we cook about half our meals, and eat the other meals "out".  And never in those 10 years have I put on any weight - honestly!  What's my secret?  Well, there are several actually.

First of all, and most important of all, I take long walks along the shore every day.  I take my ipod with me and select songs with a nice steady beat and just go and go and go...

On the nights I cook, I bring recipes from home, making it easy to stick to a low-fat, relatively low calorie diet.  When we do go out, I make sure to order any sauces "on the side", including salad dressings.  Because salad dressings can be surprisingly high in both fat and calories, I am careful to order either a Balsamic Vinaigrette or whatever the restaurant's "low-fat" dressing might be.  If the main dish comes with anything fried or ooey-gooey creamy, I replace it with either rice or vegetables.   You can always replace items on any menu at any restaurant.  Even at sandwich shops or deli's, you can omit the sauces and the cheese and skip the fries.  I do not put butter on baked or sweet potatoes or on the restaurant's bread.  But I always do have a piece of bread - it's one of my weaknesses.  : )

I'm on vacation, so when we eat out, I do have an occasional dessert, usually a fruit cobbler or something like it with no ice cream.  I have an outstanding recipe for a very easy fresh fruit pie and make a couple of them when we eat at the beach house.  We stop at a local fruit stand on the way to the house and I like to buy fresh blueberries and peaches for these pies.  I use low-fat ready-made graham cracker crusts and mash half the fruit in a saucepan, add a little water, cornstarch, raw sugar to taste, and make a "glaze".  Then I line the pie crust with slices of the peaches or a layer of the berries and pour the glaze on top.  Then it goes in the refrigerator until it sets. 

For breakfast I eat oatmeal, Go Lean Crunch with Soy milk, or a bagel with fat free cream cheese and a piece of fruit.  Lunch at the house is often a salad - I make a nice one with boiled fingerling potatoes, dried fruit, fresh baby greens, and a homemade vinaigrette.  I don't have time to make this salad too often when I'm home - too busy...

I always look forward to our "beach week".  It's incredibly relaxing.  There are no demands, no set schedule to follow, and nowhere we "have" to be.  Part of what I really enjoy there is the food - I must confess.  We have a favorite restaurant we go to every year, then we try a couple of "new" ones, which have included a Brewery, a Japanese steakhouse, and a nice Mexican restaurant in Nags Head.  And keeping it healthy is really not too tough at all. 

Hope you find this helpful.   Happy summer to you all!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

College Prep Course: Eating 101

So they receive their diploma and go off to college.  How can you make sure they are eating enough, eating right, and keeping it healthy?  When they were in your house, you made sure that they started their day with some kind of breakfast, that they ate their vegetables, and went easy on the sodas, chips, and fast foods.  But now they are on their own.  They can eat whatever they want, whenever they want.  Scary....

To be honest, if you did not start them eating healthy when they were young (like my Vegan friend has done and like I hope I have done), there may be little you can do to assure that your College student will be eating right.  My advice?  Before you have that last talk about the birds and the bees, drinking, and drugs ("don't do them"), have a little chat with your son or daughter about the importance of eating well.

First, make sure they start the day with breakfast, even if they are in a hurry and have missed the cafeteria spread.  Have them keep a box of breakfast bars on hand - just in case.  Without breakfast, energy levels will drop and concentration will be challenging, especially with back-to-back pre-lunch classes. 

Go easy on (or better yet, avoid) fried foods at lunch and dinner and only eat dessert after having had a healthy meal first.  Don't ever replace meals with sweets.  I see some kids do that now.  It's a habit that should be broken.  Also, try to avoid soft drinks, especially caffeinated ones, especially late in the day.  They will be at the age where caffeine could begin to affect their sleep if they have it too late. 

When they need that pick-me-up in the middle of the day, encourage fruit, carrot sticks, yogurt, and/or whole grain crackers and cheese.  All of these now come in handy snack-size packages.

Make sure they vary their diets.  Chik Fil A is a yummy lunch and most campuses have them, but it shouldn't be eaten every day (or every other day, or even every other, other day - even if they replace the fries with the carrot slaw or the soup). 

Good news is all of them will be physically active - college campuses are often huge, with classes spread in all directions.  And without a car, walking is not just a form of exercise, but a necessity.  So they will need to eat a lot.  No meal-skipping...

Realistically, your college student will eat whatever tastes good to them and is readily available.  But a quick course in Eating 101 couldn't hurt.   : )

Good luck to all the rising Freshmen out there!   And, to you all, happy, healthy eating...   

Sunday, June 26, 2011

What Do You "Keep On Hand"?

When we were in Richmond last weekend, we toured the Museum of the Confederacy and the Jefferson Davis mansion.   Neither place was particularly crowded so we could take our time as we stepped back through history, relishing every artifact, photograph, and beautifully ornate furnishing.  Between Charleston, South Carolina and Richmond, Virginia, I've been inspired to read up on the Civil War, reliving its tragedies, and admiring the heroism of some of our truly great Generals.  But the inspiration for today's post did not come from the historic grounds on which I walked or the books that helped me understand what I had seen.  They came from the cute little guy in the photo above. 

My father, son, and I watched him as his head completely disappeared into a hole he had obviously dug long ago, in which he stored treats to be found and savored at a later date.   We watched as he finished one acorn and then sniffed around for where he had buried another.  Some of them had rotted, so he threw them across the lawn with his tiny "hands".  But he found enough to satisfy himself, finally sending him on his way content and full.   And I realized that there was wisdom to be gleaned from what I was watching.

There are certain items that it is wise to always keep on hand.  Start with your favorite spices. Mine take up 3 small shelves in my kitchen and include Turmeric, Indian Curry Powder, Coriander, Mango Powder, Saffron, as well as all the common ones like Garlic Powder, Oregano, Paprika, and Chili Powder.  

A container of Basmati Rice, a box of Brown Rice (quick-cooking has all the nutrients of the longer-cooking variety), a box of spaghetti, some cans or cartons of broth, tomato sauce and paste, diced tomatoes, a jar or two of your favorite pasta sauce, and a variety of canned beans is a nice start for the pantry.  Across the kitchen, in a separate cupboard, I keep my flours, olive oil, baking soda and powder, vinegars, honey, agave nectar, and sugar. 

For the freezer, always make sure you have a variety of frozen vegetables, as well as some "foods" that you might enjoy in a pinch.  I try to always keep Trader Joe's Spanakopita and a few packages of their frozen Steel Cut Oats on hand. 

I guess the "rule" should be - make sure that you have what you need to make a meal or two (or three) in an emergency or if you know you won't be hitting the market for a while.  Life gets crazy sometimes and we just can't find the time.  But like the little brown squirrel above, it is wise to always have certain staples around - just in case....