Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Some Thoughts on The China Study

Every 2 years I am required to do 16 hours of continuing education to keep up my accreditation as a Nutritionist.  This year I did my hours on The China Study, by Dr's. Collin and Thomas Campbell.  I read several reviews of the Study first and most of them said that it is impossible to read the Campbells' book and not radically change the way you eat.   In a nutshell, the China Study demonstrates a disturbing link between the consumption of animal products - in particular cow's milk - and diseases such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and even multiple sclerosis.  I was impressed with the way the research was conducted and found it difficult to argue with the doctors' conclusions.  

After having gone through chemotherapy for advanced breast cancer, I asked my oncologist if there was anything I could do in terms of my diet to help prevent a recurrence and he said to avoid beef.  I haven't touched it in almost 11 years.  Along with beef, I cut down my consumption of milk fat, drinking only an occasional cup of skim milk and eating primarily low-fat or fat-free cheeses.  Because my heart was damaged by one of the chemo drugs, my cardiologist advised that I follow a low-fat diet, and I have been trying to keep my daily fat intake to around 15% of total calories consumed, an amount significantly lower than the 30% "recommended daily percentage".  I have not had a French fry or any other deep fried food in years, and have avoided all ooey-gooey desserts.  As for meat, on days that I consume it, I try to limit my intake to lean skinless poultry, and an occasional pork tenderloin.  Since I was raised on lamb, I also allow myself a lamb chop or braised lamb shank every now and then.  So...did reading The China Study result in my radically altering my diet?   Yes and no.

Following the diet recommended by The China Study means giving up all animal products - anything with egg, milk, cheese, fish, or meat.  With allergies to many nuts, and sensitivities to foods such as raw tomatoes, peppers, and salad greens that have not been washed multiple times, this would make an already difficult diet even harder to keep.  So I am starting by making small changes.  I will eat meat less often than I was (from 5 to 2 or 3 days a week) and will limit those meats to lean poultry and, very rarely, lamb.   I try to eat the recommended 35+ grams of fiber per day, and keep my grains whole.  I have also replaced skim milk with Almond Milk once again  (an exception being my "skim" chai latte from Starbucks).  Maybe after I am an empty-nester next year, I will more strictly adhere to the diet recommended in The China Study, with meat and dairy being "special treats".   But I'm still not sure. 

If you read the book, you will note that milk fat is the main culprit in inducing the above-noted diseases, and that those cultures that eat no animal products (or very few of them) tend to be healthier overall.  Dr. Campbell makes no distinction between full fat and fat-free dairy and I tend to believe that the unhealthy components of dairy are found in the milk fat.  Doctor Campbell also failed to mention that the Mediterranean diet - one rich in fish, yogurt, goat's cheese and lamb, as well as many fresh fruits and vegetables -  has also been found to be extremely healthy and linked to long life.  I think the emphasis needs to be in eliminating junk and processed foods from our diets, as well as fried foods and foods high in saturated fats.   A diet that does this and includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains will be one that combines the best of both worlds.    



Sunday, October 14, 2012

Avocado Ring and Apple Crunch - More Recipes from 1946

I have heard of Apple Crisps.  In fact, I have made a few in my day.  But Avocado Jello molds?   They seem to have gone the way of the dodo.  And I know why!   On the left is a photo of a slice of Avocado Ring from my 1946 cookbook.  It was the recipe that sounded the best of the no less than five Avocado Molds in the book.  I served it with pear slices (as suggested) and a slice of homemade toast.  With a bite of pear on each bite, the Avocado Ring was palatable.  Without it, it was rather flat and boring and a complete waste of 2 perfectly beautiful avocados.  The lemon jello flavor was subtle, as was the avocado.  Other ingredients included sour cream (I used low fat) and a touch of mayonnaise (also low-fat as I use in all recipes I make).  Note that there was not a single Guacamole recipe in this cookbook compiled by Southern Californian women.   It appears that, once Guacamole hit the scene, avocado jello molds bit the dust.  No surprise here...
The Apple Crisp (called "Apple Crunch"), which I made last night, was much better.  A quarter cup of Sherry added complexity.  And the texture was perfect - soft, juicy apples covered with a somewhat crunchy topping.  My husband added a scoop of  Butter Pecan ice cream on his, and said it was excellent.  The recipe is below:
I still plan to make the Tuna Casserole I told you about.  Something about chopped eggs, green stuffed olives and no cheese being the "gold standard" for that time period (and region) has completely piqued my curiosity.  After that, I only plan to make the breads, cakes, and pies.  1946 was a year of Pumpkin Chiffon Pies, Chess Pies, and a bevy of fruit-based muffins.  And, of course, I will lighten them up as I do with all full-fat recipes that cross my path.  
I am realizing that 1946 was indeed a pivotal year for American cooking.  But not necessarily in a positive way.  People were experiencing a sense of prosperity after years of scarcity with two unfortunate consequences.  Most of the main-dish recipes use inexpensive cuts of meat which, consequently, are often processed, high in fat, and, well, tough.  Also, too many of the recipes use canned and processed foods.  These years of plenty - beginning in the late 40's, and moving into the 50's and 60's, ushered in the Junk Food Mania that remains such a problem in our nation today.  Sigh...  My 1946 cookbook has been a very eye-opening experiment, especially in light of the reading I am currently doing on the "China Study".   More on that in another post.   Until next time, happy and healthy eating!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Clam and Bacon Appetizers - 1946

 Tonight I initiated my circa 1946 cookbook with, appropriately, some very easy-to-prepare appetizers.  They were so easy to make, in fact,  that my husband finished one while I worked on the other.   Above is the best - by far - of the two.  "Clam Hors D'oeuvres" is a delightful blast from the past.  I spread the mixture of drained, minced clams, an 8-oz. package of cream cheese, and 1 T. mayonnaise on slices of Melba toast and put them under the broiler for about 2 minutes (even though the recipe said to do so for just "a few seconds").   We all agreed that this would make a nice hors d'oeuvre to serve this coming Thanksgiving.  My husband wished he could taste the clams a bit more, so I may add another half can the next time I make them.  But my son and I were pleased with the warm cheesy texture and the subtlety of the clams.  See photo below for a close-up of this yummy, extremely simple-to-make appetizer:
As for the "Broiled Bacon and Olives", I made them because they reminded me of an old favorite of mine - Rumaki.  Rumaki is chicken liver and a slice of water chestnut wrapped in half a slice of bacon and broiled until done.  I don't know what made me think that stuffed green olives wrapped in bacon would taste anything like Rumaki.  We were able to finish them all, but they were SALTY, with the olive taste dominating the bacon.  Too bad.  They were so easy to make!  See photo below in case you think you may want to try them for yourself or if you suffer from a salt-deficiency:
 I broiled them for a total of six minutes, turning them after four.   What I really like about this cookbook is that none of the recipes call for expensive ingredients and most of them are pretty easy to make, as well.  They are truly a reflection of their time and may contain some gems - I hope - for ours.   Stay tuned for the next installment from this delightful and whimsical addition to my culinary repertoire. 

Friday, October 5, 2012

1946 - A Pivotal Year for American Cooking

Until I started researching the year 1946, I did not realize what a "find" the cookbook I bought last weekend was!   Check out the happy housewife on the left.  The year before this cover was made, she was more than likely working because her husband was fighting in WWII.  The war did not end until late 1945.   And women across the country were employed, primarily in the "war effort".   Technically, the Great Depression ended in 1940.   But the effects of it lasted until the end of the war.   This cookbook, then, came out at a time of tremendous flux in our nation - a time, not only of the birth of economic recovery, but also  when our men were returning home from the front and women were returning to the kitchen.    
Before I start preparing and sharing with you recipes from this pivotal year in our country's history, I want to share some facts about 1946 America.  The average household salary was $2,500/year.  Average home prices were less than $10,000.  A gallon of gasoline cost 15 cents a gallon, and you could buy 3 cans of Campbell soup for 25 cents.   Spam, which was invented largely to feed our men overseas, was heavily promoted in late 1945 to 1946 as an inexpensive and versatile meat.  In fact, the back cover of the May 14, 1946 issue of Time magazine featured a Spam Upside Down Pie.  With the introduction of Tupperware in the 1940's jello molds became all the rage.  (The Jell-O Company was established in 1923 but was tremendously expanded in the 1940's through 60's).   Frugality was essential in one's life choices.  Many women were constantly mindful that, just a few years earlier, food was scarce and money, hard to come by.  "The Kitchen Collaborator" - the cookbook I will be introducing you to - is a peek into what middle-class American women were cooking in 1946.

With average gas prices at $4.00 a gallon and 43 million Americans out of work, I see us at a time when a peek back at 1946 cooking could be an eye-opening experience.  I hope you will tune in and enjoy the journey with me!

Monday, October 1, 2012

A Peek at 1940's American Cooking

This past weekend, while visiting my son at the College of William & Mary, I paid a visit to his favorite used book store - Mermaid Books - and found some cookbooks I just had to have.  The Kitchen Collaborator (pictured at left)  was published in 1946, when foods were often cooked in a "moderate" or "slow" oven for an unspecified amount of time, and tuna casseroles became all the rage.   The book was compiled by the American Association of University Women in Long Beach, California (my old haunting grounds!).   Over the next few weeks, I plan to make several of the dishes in it (mainly the appetizers, casseroles,  desserts, and breads since beef and liver, which are no-no's in my diet, figure rather prominently in the "main dish" section) and will share them with you (complete with photos).  I hope you will join me as I take this step back in time to the days of our mothers, grandmothers, or - sigh - even great-grandmothers.  Until the first installment, happy and healthy eating! 

Monday, September 24, 2012

Lessons Learned

So, why does it take getting to my wits end before I wake up and realize some of life's simplest lessons?  Like the fact that worrying gets you nowhere.  I seem to have made an art out of it.  I used to actually pride myself in the fact that I tend to expect the worst and hope for the best.  Which almost sounds logical - in a sad sort of way.  I hoped my son's arm was simply  strained and that he was still on the road to complete recovery.  But I feared he had re-torn it and would need another operation - with 6 weeks of total immobilization of his right arm, and 6 more months of therapy before he could throw a ball or comfortably write an essay.  The thought of it was making me crazy.  The reality of the situation ended up landing where it usually does - somewhere in between. 

We went to the doctor today and he said that, short of re-operating, there is no way to be sure if my son's stitches have come apart.  We have to base what we do on how he feels as time goes by.  The good news is that he actually did feel better today.  The better news is that, at his age, enough healing should have already taken place to prevent a re-tearing.  We will see the doctor again in 2 weeks to make sure he is still improving.   Which leaves us, well...much better off than we were last week.  Tonight I am optimistic.  And happy.  A weekend of fasting was very good medicine.  Coupled with prayer and reading, it left me feeling wonderfully optimistic.   The "good" news was just the icing on the cake.  I highly recommend it and will provide specifics if you wish.  That's what I'm here for! 


Friday, September 21, 2012

Finding Strength in Times of Pain

2012 has been a sucky year.  Starting in January when my younger son first injured his shoulder, and moving on to April when I  realized I had been bitten by a tick and was reacting to the bite, it has been one thing after another.  My son ended up needing shoulder surgery (something we could not figure out until June!), and I was diagnosed with Lyme disease, something that has come back with a vengeance.    In between and since then, there has been what seems like a non-stop barrage of disappointments, bad news, and pain.  But that is not the reason for this post - to whine and complain about how unfair life can be.  Because we all know: Life. Isn't. Fair.  What I want to share with you is how awesome God is - especially when it seems like you have been pushed to your limit and can not take any more.

A few days ago, I got pretty close to hitting rock bottom.  I was ready to throw in the towel and give up.  No, I wasn't suicidal, but I didn't care if I lived or died.  And, worst of all, I was angry at God.  Didn't He promise us that He would never allow us to go through more than we could bear?   My son was hurting - badly - may need another operation on his shoulder, and, to me, that was it.  You can mess with me all you'd like, but mess with one of my kids?... I am convinced that a mother has a connection with her children that is stronger than super-gluing your fingers together, stronger than a paper clip on a 5-pound magnet, stronger than - well - you get the picture.  Since January, I watched my son slowly spiral downward on the injury trail.  And, finally, he was on the mend.  Then this?!  Since stress exacerbates most other ailments, my health took a dive as well.  Pain increased in all my joints and my heart felt like it would burst.   And each day, it has gotten worse and worse.  Until, that is, today.

Today I did what I should have done weeks or months ago.  I cried my heart out to God and then waited...and waited...and listened.   Not only did God soothe and calm me, filling me with that peace that passes understanding that you hear so much about, but He gave me specific instructions.  First of all, He directed me to His Word - I and II Samuel.  I am to read those books this weekend, along with fasting and praying.  And what is even cooler than that is that He directed me to call a friend who often fasts and prays when her son or any loved one is ill to ask her how she fasts and to follow her advice.  I was going to go on an all-liquid diet, but that isn't what she does, nor is it what I will do.  God is so good.  With the way I am feeling, an all-liquid diet would have weakened my immune system further.  I am to give up meat, including fish and eggs, and not eat any pasta or bread until dinner.  During the day, I can eat cottage cheese with fruit and all the veggies I want, including potatoes.  Sounds almost the way we Orthodox Christians eat during Lent and Advent (minus the cottage cheese).   I am really excited about doing this!  

Do I believe the result will be that my son will miraculously be healed and will, therefore, not need another operation?   Not necessarily, although I certainly "hope" that will be the case.  But I do believe that, no matter what happens, my son will be fine.  Better than fine, he will be great.  After all, his faith is often exemplary and he has been an encouragement to me on many occasions.  I even wrote about it in a post entitled "Reflections on a Recent Chat With My Son" (September 9th, 2011).   Also, I need to make it clear that I do not believe that God caused my son's injuries.  I don't believe He causes anything like that to happen to anyone.  Things happen in life, and activities my son engaged in resulted in his shoulder getting bursitis and his labrum tearing. 

I don't know who reads my Blog anymore.  For reasons beyond my understanding, it seems that many of you who do read it, can not comment on anything I say.  The Blog post, "How to Post a Comment on This Blog" has gotten the most hits out of anything else I have written!  So, when I write to you all,  I feel like I am talking to the wind.  I know that not everyone believes in God and that some people who read this post may be offended or think I am nuts for attributing my feelings of peace, and subsequent instructions on maintaining it, to an omniscient being.  So be it.   My hope is that, whatever you believe,  you can find encouragement in the strength I found today.  Although I am a Christian, my friend whose dietary advice I was instructed to take is a wonderful, God-fearing Hindu.   Our God is bigger than "religion", bigger than any one "church", and I love Him for that with all my heart. 

Monday, September 3, 2012

Cucumber Water - Easy, Healthy, and Delicious!

Since my husband and I visited Woodward House in Front Royal for my birthday weekend, 3 items have become staples in my diet: a poached egg over a slice of homemade bread, grated orange-peel infused sugar (that I have with Oolong tea), and cucumber water.   I am ashamed to say that I used to be one of those people who just did not like water.  I tried it filtered and could taste metallic and even chlorine-tinted undertones.  I concluded that Nestle's Pure Life was the best bottled water, but I still had to almost force it down to get the up to 8 glasses I needed each day.  It was, for lack of a better word, boring.  And then, I discovered cucumber water. 
So simple and yet so refreshing, cucumber water is a delicious and healthy alternative to just about any other "water" out there.  The pitcher in the photo above holds about a quart of water.  I do use bottled water - usually Nestle Pure Life - and add to it 1/2 peeled and sliced cucumber.  I cover it with plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator where the flavors become infused.  The finished product, served with or without a slice of cucumber in the glass, has elevated water to a whole new level for me.  The cucumber taste is subtle and very pleasant, making the water taste fresh, crisp, and light.  I believe the cucumber undertones mask any possible unpleasantness inherent in plain water.  But it also elevates it to the level of a "beverage of choice".   I have never really been a huge fan of eating cucumber slices, but in my water, I love them!   And the best part - the "bonus", you could say - is that it is a healthy addition to your diet. 
As soon as the cucumber slices hit the water, they begin to impart, not only their crisp clean taste, but their nutrients into the resulting beverage.  Each glass provides Vitamins C, A, and K, as well as Potassium and trace amounts of Iron and Calcium.  And whether you choose to add a small slice of actual cucumber to your glass or not, the water contains fiber and is a natural diuretic.  Ever since I have been drinking this delightful water, I have had no problem with irregularity or with accumulating water weight.  And let's just say that both used to be issues in my life... How much do I drink?  To be honest, about a pitcher to 2 pitchers a day.  Whenever I want water (as opposed to green or herbal tea), I drink cucumber water. 
As the water level goes down in the pitcher, I just pour another bottle over the cucumber slices and I'm ready to enjoy another glass (or 2 or 3...).   Make sure to use new cucumber slices every 3 days to keep your water fresh.  I hope that, like me, you too will become a fan of cucumber water and that it will help you to drink those 6 to 8 glasses of water a day, giving you some healthy benefits as well.
Until next time, happy and healthy eating (and drinking!) 

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Posting a Comment to this Blog

I have noticed that many of you still are having trouble posting a comment to this blog.

Today, 3/14/13, I posted a comment to a post and it was so simple.  I typed a comment in the comment box, my initials (AG) were automatically in the little box below.  I hit "publish" and it was published.  Maybe this will work for you, too??    Here's hoping!

If it doesn't please feel free to e-mail me at   Good luck!   I so look forward to hearing from you. 

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Aqua Excels for Fine Dining in Duck, North Carolina

Every year for the past 11 years, we have gone to Duck, North Carolina for our summer vacation.  And, every year, we make it a point to go to The Blue Point - a restaurant that would impress even Chef Ramsey from "Kitchen Nightmares".  The food is beautifully presented and the atmosphere is elegant yet tranquil.  It is nestled at the end of a row of quaint shops and most seats offer a view of the Sound.  For 11 years, it has been the place my husband and I have gone to on our "date night".  And this year was no exception.  No restaurant in Duck has ever come close to it in terms of food quality and elegance.   Until, that is, this year.  Just down the road (heading toward Southern Shores from where The Blue Point is) we discovered a new restaurant - Aqua.  Aqua is a combination restaurant and spa, of all things.  We did not pamper ourselves with a spa treatment, but went to the restaurant for dinner twice. 

Aqua is not quite as elegant as The Blue Point, which offers intimate, candle-lit suppers in a deep red-toned dining room.  The walls at Aqua are stark white and you can see everything and everyone around you at all times.  But we sat at a table by the window both times we went there and also enjoyed pretty Sound-side sunsets.  See below:
 Where the two restaurants are surprisingly similar is their cuisine.  At The Blue Point, I had a delightful Parmesan custard with ham and greens as an appetizer, and scallops over a Hoppin' John (rice with field peas) with a corn relish on top for my main dish.  The scallops were perfectly cooked and all the elements of the meal combined beautifully. 

At Aqua, I had the best fish tacos I have ever had as an appetizer and a delightful main dish consisting of organic chicken over a pasta with fresh tomatoes and herbs bathed in a light white wine sauce.  See below:

My husband had beef tenderloin at both restaurants and preferred the one at Aqua.  It was served with a wine reduction that put it just over the top.  At both restaurants we enjoyed a nice Malbec and dessert.  There was nothing we ate that was not delicious at either place.  But the reason we went back to Aqua for a second meal in one week was twofold:  first, we were actually craving those amazing fish tacos.  The fish is lightly fried and is crispy, served alongside a refreshing cole slaw and placed within a soft flour tortilla.  The second reason we preferred Aqua is that it is not nearly as pricey as The Blue Point.   The first night we went, our bill was a good 20% lower than it had been at The Blue Point.  And, the second time, we actually did not spend much at all - having 2 fish tacos each and a couple of glasses of wine for a "lighter" meal.   

If you plan a trip to the Outer Banks, you will undoubtedly enjoy both restaurants.  The Blue Point can't be beat for its ambiance, and the food is always delicious.  And, even though its decor is not as fancy as The Blue Point,  Aqua has the elegance of the Blue Point without the high price tag when it comes to its cuisine.  They each make for a lovely "date-night" meal (although you do see families at both restaurants).  If you go to Aqua, make sure to try the fish tacos - whether you are a fan of fish or not.  And enjoy the sunset!  (Note that reservations for The Blue Point must be made a few weeks in advance if you go during the Summer season.  For Aqua, we were able to make reservations for Thursday night on Tuesday.  I would be wary though.  As people discover Aqua, that will more than likely change).

Until next time, happy and healthy eating! 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Tired of Squash

Last year, the first five or six weeks of farm ownership meant greens - Kale, Swiss Chard, and Collards mainly.  And I loved them all.  With the addition of such things as bacon, golden raisins, and broth, they became a favorite of mine and I really looked forward to cooking them again this year.  Unfortunately, this year there have been very few greens (I think we got Kale once) and tons and tons of squash.  Each and every week we receive zucchini - both green and yellow, and my favorite (not!), patty pan squash (see attached photo).  I have figured out what to do with the zucchini.  I have made bread with them, including such ingredients as chocolate, cinnamon, and walnuts, and they make a nice breakfast side.  Today I made a cake that called for 3 cups of shredded zucchini, along with cocoa, walnuts, and an orange glaze.  And it actually was quite a hit.  But I can not find anything good to do with the patty pan squash.  I have tried stuffing them - they are pretty huge - but have not been satisfied with the results.  I tried a recipe that called for fresh bread crumbs, Parmesan, and bacon, and it was so-so.  Last week I used turkey Italian sausage and mozzarella and was still not impressed.  Any ideas?   I would greatly appreciate it.  I thought the CSA was joking when it said we would be getting 104 days of squash!  I guess they decided to replace their fields of greens with zucchini and patty pans.  Too bad.  I think the squash took over the place!   Squash can do that, you know...

Yes, we have also been receiving fruit each week - from tart cherries to peaches, plums, and apples, and they have been good.  But most of the vegetables have been in the squash family.  Pout.  : (      I used to actually like squash - a lot.  Now, I am sad to say that I am sick of it.  This does not mean that I will not join a CSA again next year, but I may have to try a new one.  Oh well...

Until next time, happy and healthy eating!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Woodward House in Front Royal - Bed, Breakfast and So Much More

Last year after my husband and I came back from our first visit ever to a Bed & Breakfast, I wrote about it, asking you all, "Are all Bed & Breakfasts this good?"   After what we experienced this past weekend, I would have to say that, in Front Royal Virginia, they are!   Woodward House is a refurbished 1910 home that sits atop a small, steep hill off of what once may have been the main drag.  Upon arriving, we were warmly greeted by the owner's twin sister and were told that, because the house was being occupied by a family of 12, we had been upgraded to one of the 2 cottages that sit in the woods above the main house.  Our cottage was, for lack of a better word, adorable.  It was decorated in a country motif and contained a cozy sitting area with a fireplace that was off of a small kitchen and breakfast nook.  Because it was my birthday, the owner had left us a small carrot cake (my favorite cake, by the way!) on the table-for-two, along with a handmade card, some homemade (of course) cookies, and a bottle of wine.  To the left and tucked into its own cozy corner was a comfy four poster bed that was about 4 feet off the ground and was covered with a soft down quilt and a wide selection of pillows.  The bathroom was more than ample in size and had a heart-shaped whirlpool tub for 2 that, with the addition of rose-shaped bath beads, was so relaxing that I felt like I was floating after spending time in it.  After wrapping yourself in one of the "his and hers" bathrobes, you'll find a variety of lotions and scented talcum powder to make you feel just that much more pampered.  The cottage itself would have been reason enough to recommend this charming home away from home.  But the accommodations were just the tip of the iceberg.

Joan and Bob, the owners,  have gone out of their way to make sure your stay at their home is a special and unique experience.  They have set up an open bar area off of the sitting room in the main house where you can help yourself to home-brewed beer, wine, or ice cold water infused with cucumber slices and mint any time the mood should hit you.  After a 102 degree day, I found the cucumber water to be a real treat and plan to make it at home. 

The star attraction at Woodward House house, however, is breakfast.   Joan is an accomplished baker and, after being served a plate of fresh fruit, we were treated to arguably one of the best orange/cinnamon rolls I have ever had.  Cinnabon, step aside!  This perfectly proportioned treat (it was about the size of a baseball) was warm and tender and had just the right amount of glaze.  See photo below:

After the delectable roll, Joan sweetly asks what you would like for breakfast.  She can make you pancakes, waffles (with or without blueberries), french toast, eggs cooked any way you'd like them, homemade breakfast potatoes, and ham.  My husband chose a Western omelet and I had poached eggs atop Joan's homemade cheesy biscuits.  Both dishes were amazingly delicious!   See photo below:

This was our Monday morning breakfast.  On Sundays, Joan makes a sausage gravy that is served over her cheesy biscuits with eggs any way you like them.  Her gravy is another unbelievably delicious addition to her repertoire.  And as if that isn't enough, Joan makes spiced apples and granola that you can have over oatmeal, along with one of her homemade flavored sugars.  I loved the way her orange sugar complimented the Japanese green tea I chose to accompany my meal.   I must have had 3 cups each morning. 

Joan and Bob make you feel at home, not only with their comfortable accommodations, and the  outstanding meals and snacks they prepare for you, but with their wonderfully warm personalities.  I wish I had more time to have gotten to know this lovely couple.  But from the time we spent with them, I know that they are generous, kind, and devoted to making their guests feel comfortable, and special.  You know how you find that place that is "you"?   That makes you feel like you can be yourself while at the same time feeling  special?  Woodward House in Front Royal is that place for me.   And I hope to be able to go there again soon.  In the meantime, thank you so much, Joan and Bob, for making my birthday weekend an unforgettable one!  

Thursday, June 14, 2012

CSA - A Great Start to a New Season!

Last year, when I opened my first box from our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture or "Farm"), I was pleased.  The kale was delicious, as were the spring onions, and green leaf lettuce.  The cherries, on the other hand, were tiny and there weren't many of them.  If I recall, there had been too much precipitation during the previous weeks and a late frost to boot.  This year, when I opened our box, I was dazzled!   We were given peaches and 2 boxes of beautiful cherries (see photo above).  The cherries aren't the kind you eat as a snack.  They're the tart variety and I hear they make a nice pie.  I'll find out tomorrow.  I plan to use a modified version of the Blueberry Pie recipe I posted last year to make my first ever cherry pie.  We also received Swiss chard, which I cooked tonight with golden raisins, yellow onion,and bacon.  The zucchini we got was THE BEST I have had in years - since I lived in California.   I cooked up the smaller ones we got with a bit of lemon, pepper, and butter and they were incredible - not a hint of the bitter taste that the ones I find in our markets tend to have.  Our box also contained some flawless large ones that I plan to stuff the way my mother stuffs peppers and tomatoes - with ground meat (I use turkey), onion, parsley, tomato sauce, and rice; seasoned with salt, pepper, cinnamon, and mint.  The green onions are far superior to those that I buy at the market and I plan to use them to top an Indian dish I will make on Monday. 

If this first box is any indication of what this summer and fall will be like, I know we are going to be blessed with 5 months of the best of God's bounty.  I can not wait!   Last year, I was happy enough to join our CSA again even though our cherries and potato crops had been ruined.  This year, I have a feeling there will be very few, if any, disappointments. 

I seem to recall telling you all that quite often the produce I buy at grocery stores "bothers" me.  I feel queasy or downright sick after eating much of it raw.  Nothing I ate from our CSA did that last year.  These next 5 months, I will enjoy fruit and vegetables in quantities that I am usually not able to.  I wish I could find a way to eat like this all year long!   Oh well....

I hope you are all enjoying the end of what has been a very strange spring for me.  Until next time, happy and healthy eating!!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Ticks, Lyme Disease, and STARI - The Least You Should Know

There's nothing quite as invigorating as a nice long hike in the woods.  The refreshing scent of pine, the cooling sensation of a soft breeze as it sweeps over your shoulders, and the hint of sunshine that hits your cheeks as it peeks through the trees.  Ahhhhh.  It just screams, "healthy!".   And it is.  Or at least it should be.   Unfortunately, the joys of a nice long walk can be tarnished by almost invisible predators that latch onto unsuspecting hikers, stealing insignificant quantities of blood while, in exchange, potentially transmitting one of several "gifts that keep on giving."   These gifts, in order of concern in the Eastern and Western United States (as well as Minnesota and Wisconsin), are Lyme Disease, STARI, and rarely, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (not covered herein). 

Being the consummate research fanatic that I am, when I was diagnosed with Lyme last week, I took it upon myself to learn all I could about this frustrating and debilitating disease.  Frustrating because it is often undiagnosed - a negative Lyme test does not necessarily mean you do not have Lyme.  And debilitating because, when it is not properly treated in its earliest stage, it can become a life-long ailment, slapping the sufferer with labels such as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia, and actually leading to Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA).  In fact, the disease was discovered in 1975 in Lyme, Connecticut , when an unusually large number of children were being diagnosed with RA. 

Lyme disease is transmitted through the bite of a creature that is so tiny that, even when it is engorged, it is smaller than a peppercorn.  The 2 that I found on my abdomen were so small that I scratched them off (not at all the proper way to remover them!) thinking they were - well -  not anything that was alive.  I thought they could be new moles and the scratch test was my dumb idea of making sure that's what they were.  The blood that smushing them produced (another really dumb thing to do) tipped me off to their true identity.  Too much information?  Sorry, but I am trying to help you and nothing short of brutal honesty will do.  The ticks that transmit Lyme are generally black-legged deer ticks and are smaller than a pin head before they feed.  They can only transmit Lyme after they have had what is called their "blood meal", since they spit saliva into their victim when they do so.  In other words, if you find a tick on you that is not engorged, you are more than likely safe.  If you do find a tick fastened to you or a loved one, the proper way to remove it is by using a pair of tweezers and slowly pulling it off.  Once you remove it, do not handle or smush it like I did, since you can transmit its "poisons" onto your skin by doing so. 

About a week after I was bitten, I was in South Carolina with my son's baseball team and noticed that the area surrounding one of the bites had broken out in a pinpoint-type rash.  It covered a pretty large area, but since there was no bulls-eye, Lyme disease was nowhere on my radar screen.  Lesson #1:  there will not always be a bulls-eye shaped rash with Lyme Disease.  Sometimes there is no rash at all. 

Within 10 days after getting home from South Carolina, I began to get pain in my joints, in particular in the hips and arms, especially the elbows.  My first thought?   Arthritis.  After all, both my parents suffer from it.  And even though neither one of them had any symptoms of the disease until they were in their 70's (or in his 80's for my dad), I still thought that's what it must be.  Until the headaches and stiff neck, and body-wide itching kicked in.  Then I was just confused.  By the time the tell-tale fatigue and light-headedness had begun to rear their ugly head, I was sure I must have contracted some kind of nasty flu.  Especially since, when I wasn't on Tylenol for the pain, I appeared to be running a fever as well.   It was only after the 12th day of this "flu" that the thought of Lyme even entered my mind.

I awoke that day - 2 Saturdays ago - to find something hard and rather large on my back.  Like the fool I had been with anything tick related,  I did not ask for help but reached and pulled the thing off.  Imagine my surprise when I saw that it was yet another tick!  A big brown one this time, with a white spot on its back,  It's little headless body was squirming in my hand as I dropped it into an empty medicine bottle for future analysis.  And it was then that I made the call to my doctor to test me and the tick for Lyme. 

Curiously, it wasn't the big brown fellow that gave me Lyme disease.  That one was a Lone Star Tick and happens to be a carrier of a disease called Southern Tick-Associated Rash Illness (STARI).  Please read carefully the symptoms of STARI - fatigue, headache, fever, and muscle pains.  Sound familiar?   It sounds a lot like Lyme without the neck stiffness and itching.  And guess what?  There is no test for STARI.   Like Lyme, it responds beautifully to a 2-4 week regimen of Doxycycline, but the poor souls who are struck with it are often left to suffer it out.  The good news with STARI is that, unlike Lyme, it does not usually cause any permanent or long-term damage if left untreated. 

Back to Lyme, it is estimated that approximately 50% of people who have it test negative because they either test too early (it needs a good 6 weeks to season in your system) or, well, just because the test does not pick it up.  Comforting, isn't it?  And the other cruel fact about Lyme is that after a while, even if left untreated, all the nasty symptoms will disappear, leaving the unsuspecting victim with a feeling of false security.  Untreated Lyme will normally rear its head again some 6 months later, with muscle pain or swelling in the knees or other large joints, heart problems, such as palpitations, and/or weakness in the muscles of the face.  Still left untreated, a year or so later, the sufferer can develop muscle weakness, numbness and tingling, and/or speech problems.  Not to mention the mental symptoms - mood changes and depression, to name a few.

Why am I telling you this?   Because if you live in tick-ville as I do and suddenly develop the symptoms of Stage 1 Lyme and they last longer than any flu (and NO ONE ELSE in your family gets it), get thee to a doctor.  If the muscle aches and neck stiffness become unbearable and the fatigue so bad that it feels like you are pushing a huge boulder uphill and getting nowhere, AND you have found a tick on you at any time in the recent past, get on a regimen of Doxycycline.  If the test comes out negative, you can stop the treatment if you wish.  What harm can it do?  If symptoms return, get retested.  In fact, because of the prevalence of false-negative test results, get retested frequently.  Lyme is a horrible disease.  (Remember, if the tick was a big brown one with a white spot on its back and you get the symptoms described above, there is no test to confirm STARI, but the Doxycycline will bring you relief).  I am convinced that Lyme is often undiagnosed and that many of the people who have been diagnosed with illnesses such as Fibromylgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome may actually be suffering from it.  I am beginning to believe that those diseases are not actually diseases in and of themselves but symptoms of a bigger disease (such as Lyme).  I also believe that some cases of Rheumatoid Arthritis, especially in young people, were predicated by untreated Lyme disease.   This was the conclusion that the researchers in Lyme, Connecticut came up with in 1975. 

Unfortunately, because we did not have much of a winter this year in many parts of the Eastern United States, there are many more ticks out there than usual.  And it doesn't just take a walk through the woods to get bitten.  You can pick them up watching a game on a ball field, doing yard work, or by taking a walk through a tree-lined neighborhood.   To prevent tick bites when engaging in these activities, wear light-colored clothing (so you can see if any ticks have landed on you) and tuck your shirt into your pants and your pants into your shoes.  I love wearing soft, loose, blousy tops and capri pants when I take my walks.  Well, not anymore!   If I had a bee suit, I would wear it at this point.  I do love my walks, but where I walk and what I wear when I walk will never be the same again.  

I hope all is well with you.  Until next time, walk safely and wisely and watch out for those nasty ticks!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Baseball, Refried Beans, and A Book on the Horizon!

The photo on the left is just one of the reasons I have not posted anything on this Blog for I don't know how long.   Yes, it is baseball season and we just got back from the Varsity team's spring break tournament in South Carolina.  We were in Myrtle Beach and, for the most part, the weather was gorgeous and a great time was had by all.  It didn't hurt that the boys were undefeated...It has also been Lent - 54 days of no meat if you are an Orthodox Christian.  Right now I am boiling another big batch of homemade Refried Beans - delicious and easy, but quite time consuming.  After sorting, rinsing, and soaking the dried beans overnight in hot water, they are rinsed, covered generously with fresh hot water, and cooked slowly for 6 hours the next day, flavored only with chopped onion, garlic and salt.   To make sure they don't stick, they need to be stirred every 10 to 15 minutes.  But they are completely worth the effort.  I keep a good supply of tortillas on hand and voila!  Bean burritos that are ready to eat in 5 minutes.  Bean burritos that can be flavored with chopped avocado, salsa (traditional or verde), and cheese, if you are so inclined. 

I have also been working on a book that I started writing many moons ago.  When I am in the groove, so to speak, I will type for hours on end.  Other days, I just stare at a blank page for a while, type something that is cold and emotionless, highlight the whole thing, and hit "delete".  I have well over a hundred pages of random chapters that I am not sure how to organize.  Do I tell the story chronologically?  Or do I jump around in time?  I almost feel like throwing the whole thing up in the air and then putting the pages back together in whatever order I happen to pick them up.   I may even become brave enough one day soon to actually post my "Preface" on this Blog.  Anyway, that is what I have been up to these days.   Baseball, refried beans, and writing the next great American novel.   I wish...

I hope all is well with you.  Until next time, happy and healthy eating!   And, when you have the time, happy reading, too!  

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Jeremy Lin Got Me Drunk!

Yes, Jeremy Lin did get me drunk.  Let me explain.  The other night my husband and I sat down to watch the new basketball sensation along with the until-then-nowhere-on-my-radar-screen New York Knicks battle the L.A. Lakers.  I had never seen Lin play before, but had watched Youtube videos of him earlier in the day and he had piqued my curiosity.  So my husband and I sat down to watch the game and decided to make it interesting.  I mean, we were home alone, we had a new sports figure to get excited about, and a bottle of Whipped Cream flavored vodka just sitting on the counter.  A dangerous combination...  We decided, in our brilliant state of mind, to take a sip of this sweet luscious libation every time Lin scored a basket.  Just a sip, mind you.  Sounds pretty harmless, right?  Well, 38 points later, I was, ahem, a little unsteady on my feet.   By the 28th point, we were laughing hysterically at the amazing evening this young man was having, as well as at anything else that moved, breathed, or popped into our heads.  Congratulations to yet another fine example of a gentleman/athlete.  We love you, man!  But next time I think I'll stick to water, herbal tea, or lemonade.   You're just way too good for Vodka...

BTW, the nutritional components of Smirnoff Whipping Cream Vodka are 69 calories per ounce.  That's it.  No carbohydrates, fat, protein, or anything else good (or bad) for you.  Do I recommend it as a part of your daily diet?  No!   Like the antics on "America's Funniest Home Videos",  this was a "see, but do not do" event.  

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Newton Fruit Thins - Are They A Healthy Choice?

There's a new cookie in town!  And it comes in 4 flavors:  Blueberry Brown Sugar, Cranberry Citrus Oat, Raspberry Chocolate, and, of course, Fig and Honey.  A serving is 3 cookies and contains 140 calories, 5 grams of fat, 1 to 2 grams of fiber, 2 grams of protein, and 95 milligrams of sodium.  Compared to Nabisco's last attempt to provide a healthy-choice fruit cookie (Mini Newtons), these are quite good!  I tried to get into the Mini's this past summer and did not find them worth the effort.  They were pretty tasteless - the fruit was almost nonexistent - and they simply did not satisfy.  But I digress....
We tried the Blueberry Brown Sugar and the Raspberry Chocolate flavors and gave 3 thumbs up (out of 3) to the Blueberry Brown Sugar ones.  They were nice and crispy and the blueberry flavor came through perfectly.   Would I buy them again?  Yes.  The Raspberry Chocolate ones were rather disappointing.  They tasted like "bad chocolate" with an aftertaste that made it seem like the raspberry was trying to sneak through.  Until I told my husband and son that there was raspberry in them, they didn't even know it was there.  We all gave that flavor a thumbs down.  Cranberry Citrus Oat held no appeal for us.  I don't like Cranberry scones, so I can't imagine I would like a cookie version of them.  And I imagine that the Fig and Honey ones would be o.k., but I will settle for a good fat-free Fig Newton if I get a craving for a figgie cookie.  

If any of you out there have tried the ones we haven't, please let me know what you thought of them.  In the meantime, healthy and happy eating!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

All You Need To Know

Changing your diet is one of the most difficult things you can do.   Do you give up carbs?  Animal products?  Or, as a new study indicates, are potatoes to blame for the increase in obesity in this country?  In truth, the human body is not all that complicated when it comes to weight-loss.  Once you determine how many calories you should eat each day to "maintain your weight", it is a matter of applying simple mathematics to be able to determine how much you need to eat to lose weight.  500 calorie-a-day reduction in caloric intake should result in the loss of a pound a week.  Add regular exercise to your regimen and you may be able to achieve the same results by cutting down less than that.   Last year, I posted several entries that, taken together, provide all you need to know to begin your journey to effectively lose weight.  In order they are:

January 23, 2011 - "How Many Calories Should You Eat Each Day?"
January 25, 2011 - "So, in Order to Lose a Pound a Week, I Have to Eat How Many Calories a Day?"
January 26, 2011 -  "Calculating Your Body Mass Index"
February 4, 2011 -  "Bet You Can't Guess What These Random Items Are For" (on serving sizes - a BIG issue for many of us)
February 20, 2011-  "Keep a Food Diary"

Since our bodies are complicated mechanisms that need specific nutrients to operate effectively, your diet should be balanced and the food you eat, healthy and pure.  Check out additional posts, such as "To Buy Organic or Not to Buy Organic", "I was Good and Ordered a Salad", "Good Fish, Bad Fish", "Fiber - the Next Piece of the Puzzle", "Calcium Demystified", and "Better Off Dead (or Time to Talk About Vegetables). 

If your New Years resolution is to eat healthier, let me help you to achieve that goal.  Your body will thank you.   In the future, I plan to post another "healthy" cookie review, a lot more about vegetarian cooking (Lent is approaching) and critiques of some of the latest diet-related news stories. 
Until next time, though, happy and healthy eating! 

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Show Must Go On!

Tomorrow, after an almost 2 week break, my youngest son goes back to school and my husband returns to work.  Sigh.   Another holiday season is over.  I am leaving the decorations out for another week or two (or three) and the outdoor lights will stay lit until the 6th of January.  But in all other respects, the holiday is over.  I'm not really into making "resolutions".  I don't believe in making promises I can't keep.  But I do have expectations for 2012. 
First of all, I want snow.  Lots of it.  2 years ago we had 38 inches.  A repeat of that performance would be nice.  Snow has a nice way of slowing down the pace of things and letting us catch our breath when things get too hectic. 

I plan to join our CSA again and hope that this year's crops will be at least as impressive as last year's.  Kale, Swiss Chard, and Collards will start off the season and I look forward to them in a way that surprises the heck out of me.  I will try new recipes and share them with you all.   

I hope to see Westfield's baseball team take States.  I hope this will be the best year yet for both my boys, with as few frustrations as possible and with lots of good news.  I wish my husband happy days at work, with much success in spite of the economy. 

And I hope you all have a happy and healthy 2012.