Friday, October 29, 2010

Veggies in the fridge...

...are often made into a joke.  You know, the one about the drawer full of healthy green stuff that rots slowly while the owner eats chips and salsa or crackers and cheese?

I admit to having lost my share of produce to slime, mold, and dessication over the years, and it still happens, but not nearly as often.  What has helped me limit food waste more than anything else is an hour of veggie prep about once weekly.  It's not usually planned, although it could be.  It has become a habit now for days when there's an easy dinner planned - leftovers or a frittata or some other low-labor meal.  In turn, spending this hour prepping vegetables results in quicker dinners for days.

Here's what I did in today's veggie prep time, which took about 90 minutes:
- made parsley-walnut pesto and froze it in small containers.
- cleaned radishes for eating raw.
- steamed bok choy, kale, and tatsoi, separately but serially in the same pot, for freezing. Winter's coming soon and supermarket greens are very disappointing compared to local ones!
- roasted a winter squash (I wash, pierce with a knife, and roast whole, because I value my fingers more than I value cookbook directions to cut and peel first.  It works fabulously!).

On other days I might:
- clean carrots and celery and cut into sticks for lunches.
- lightly steam green beans, broccoli, or cauliflower, also good in lunch.
- wash lettuce or spinach for salads.
- chop other veggies such as onions, bell peppers, jicama, kohlrabi, cabbage for raw eating.
- boil or roast potatoes, or roast other root vegetables.

 What do we do with all those veggies in the fridge?  Prepped veggies are infinitely more useful than those waiting in that crisper drawer.  They're ready for a snack or dinner at any moment.  Yes, some can be purchased that way... but they're simply not as fresh.

Here's a few ways we use those vegetables:
- In salads. From carrot sticks to finely diced carrots in seconds.  Cooked veggies are great on salads, too - steamed kale, boiled potatoes, roasted beets or squash are good whether hot or cold.
- In stir-fries. 
- With dip.  I make a modified version of this ranch dressing - it's far simpler not to drain the yogurt and to use buttermilk powder, and I find that cutting this recipe in half produces an ample quantity.
- On sandwiches.
- In soups, stews, chilis.
- On tacos or burritos (we always use diced cabbage, red if available, for these, instead of lettuce.  Also good: sauteed onions and peppers; finely-chopped raw carrots or summer squash; cooked greens; roasted root vegetables).

If you relax and pay attention to the task at hand, you can even allow the vegetable prep time to double as some daily mindfulness!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Black Bean - Butternut Squash Chili with Chipotle Squash Seeds

1 lb. dried black beans, soaked overnight
1 t. cumin seed
2 T. dried red bell pepper
3 bay leaves
1 medium or large butternut squash
1/2 onion, finely chopped
2 small or 1 large green bell peppers, diced into 3/4 inch cubes
15 oz. crushed tomatoes
1 c. frozen corn or more to taste
2 t. powdered cumin
2 t. oregano
salt and pepper to taste
splash of balsamic vinegar and/or honey to adjust flavors as needed
fresh cilantro, washed and cleaned
powdered chipotle pepper
cheddar cheese if desired

Drain the black beans in the morning and put into a 5-quart crockpot on high.  Cover with water; add cumin seed, dried bell pepper, and bay leaves.  Check after a couple of hours to see if more water is needed.    If you're going to leave them all day, reduce heat to low.

About 2 hours before dinner, or a day ahead of time if you want to have the squash prepped, wash the squash and poke a couple of holes in it.  Roast at 400F on a baking sheet for about an hour.   Remove from oven, slice off the top and bottom, split down the middle lengthwise, and allow to cool enough to handle.

Take the seeds out of the squash and set aside.  Peel the squash and cut into cubes.  Place squash cubes back on the baking sheet, add a little olive oil, and toss.  Return to oven for about 15 minutes.   Put the bell pepper pieces on another baking sheet and roast for about 5-10 minutes - you'll know when they're done.  Don't let them get too blistered.

Add the squash and the bell pepper to the chili.  Add remaining ingredients at this time, except for the vinegar/honey.

While the chili is cooking, clean the squash seeds.  Put on a baking sheet and bake in the oven to drive off the moisture.  If the oven is still at 400, this will only take about 5 minutes and the seeds will burn quickly.  Adjust oven temp as needed for any other cooking that's happening, such as cornbread to go with the chili.  Remove seeds from the oven, stir around, add a little olive oil, chipotle pepper powder, and salt.  Return to oven until lightly toasted, then remove and let cool.

Taste the chili and adjust seasonings as needed.  Serve the chili with fresh cilantro, the chipotle squash seeds, and, if desired, grated cheddar cheese.

Friday, September 10, 2010


Read what sugar does to your brain in this article at New Scientist.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Organic Strawberries Win!

A study performed on organic vs conventional California strawberries found that
"organic strawberries (compared to non-organic strawberries):
  • Had a longer shelf life (took longer to rot)
  • Had a greater quantity of dry matter
  • Had higher antioxidant activity
  • Had higher levels of Vitamin C (ascorbic acid)
  • Had higher concentrations of health-protecting compounds (phenolic compounds)
  • Had lower concentrations of phosphorus
  • Had lower concentrations of potassium"
 Presumably the lower levels of phosphorus and potassium are due to the lack of chemical fertilizer, which generally contains nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (N-P-K).    Hey, no methyl bromide residue, either!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Salmonella in eggs

Current suspect in the enormous (550 million eggs!) egg recall: the "meat and bone meal" added to chicken feed.
Last I heard, chickens don't eat meat.

If that's not enough to turn you off battery-produced eggs, read about how the "farms" violated regulations.  (Read: factories)

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

DCA: A Promising Treatment for Cancer

DCA Research Team publishes results of Clinical Trials

"In 2007 the U of A[lberta] team...  published evidence that DCA reverses cancer growth in non-human models and test tubes. The team showed then that DCA achieves these antitumor effects by altering the metabolism of cancer. By altering the way cancer handles its nutrient fuels, specifically the sugars, DCA was able to take away cancer's most important strength, the resistance to death. Since then, several independent groups across the world have confirmed the Alberta team's findings." (emphasis mine)

This new press release discusses results with human tumors. 

The abstract for the journal article in Science Translational Medicine is also available.  The abstract states that "The dose-limiting toxicity was a dose-dependent, reversible peripheral neuropathy, and there was no hematologic, hepatic, renal, or cardiac toxicity."

So, early indications are that the therapeutic dose has no serious side effects in cancer patients. This is very exciting news because DCA seems to have tremendous results on particular cancers, and would be a non-patented treatment, at much lower cost than other cancer treatments.   Because of this, however, sources of funding for the research are more limited - no drug companies are rushing to bring it to market, as they probably would had it been discovered in their own labs. 

Further information is available in this Wikipedia article.  One point to note is this:
"When faced with the high costs of getting Food and Drug Administration approval, estimated by Tufts University to exceed one billion dollars, the chance of getting DCA approved for the treatment of cancer in the United States is extremely low."

A promising treatment for deadly cancers that is free of side effects, but has no corporate sponsorship, possibly will only be available to Americans in off-label use because it doesn't have a bank account.  What does this say about our medical system? 

For more information about how cancers develop and grow, and how diet and exercise can affect this, I recommend the book Anticancer by David Servan-Schreiber, M.D. Ph.D., a two-time cancer surviver and medical researcher.  

For a quick guide to wellness that you can start implementing today, read Servan-Schreiber's Anticancer Rules.

Diet, Inflammation, and Disease

A large study has linked a diet of 3 burgers weekly to a higher incidence of asthma, and a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and/or fish to a reduced risk.  While they do note that 3 burgers/week probably indicates a person has other unhealthy habits (and are there fries going along with those burgers?), this immediately reminds me of the anti-inflammatory diet and the link between inflammation and many diseases - asthma, heart disease, cancer, arthritis...

We consume a large amount of food each day and it makes sense to begin there to reduce health issues.  Following are some links to information about an anti-inflammatory diet.
Reducing inflammation - the natural approach
Anti-inflammatory diet tips
Anti-inflammatory diet summary including a brief discussion of omega-6 and omega-3 fats and how the balance between them has shifted in the American diet over the past century


If you have a school-aged child, you've probably received notices about lice having been found on someone in the school.  This article in today's NY Times gives details of a pesticide-free alternative using Cetaphil lotion and a hair dryer, and also discusses pesticide resistance in lice and the lice life cycle.

Kids & Vegetables

An easy way to encourage children to eat more vegetables, reported by Penn State researchers: give them the veggies first.

When the children received 30 grams (about 1 ounce) of carrots at the start of the meal, their vegetable intake rose by nearly 50 percent compared to having no carrots as a first course. But when the first course was increased to 60 grams (about 2 ounces) of carrots, average vegetable consumption nearly tripled to about 63 grams -- or a third of the recommended vegetable intake for preschool children.
 Here's the abstract for the article in the Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

In our house, we find that a plate of prepared, raw vegetables, such as bell peppers, carrots, celery, zucchini, cucumber, and sugar snap peas, vanishes very quickly either as a snack or as part of a meal. 

Pesticides and ADHD Strongly Linked

Recent studies  have estimated that 8.6% of American children have ADHD, which has exploded with a 400% increase in the past twenty years. 

A study released this week examined data for over 1000 children, looking at urine metabolite levels from organophosphate pesticides.  The complete Pediatrics article is available for free; it was also widely reported in the media. 

Some background from this article and other sources as indicated:

Malathion    Chlorpyrifos
Corn 33.7 17.8 % of samples
Blueberries (frozen) 27.8 5.6
Celery 19.3 3.2
Kale 19 1.6
Strawberries 24.6 0.9
Peaches 0 17.2
Broccoli 0.4 8.1

Children are at greater risk from pesticide exposure because:
  • They put many things in their mouths, they are closer to the ground, and they spend lots of time exploring the outdoors (reference)
  • They are growing quickly and take in more pesticides per unit weight than adults (reference)
  • Their bodies are not the same as adult bodies.  In particular, their bodies may offer less protection from pesticide exposure due to differences in enzymatic and immune activity (ibid).
  • Many of children's favorite foods appear in the EWG's "dirty dozen" of pesticide residues, including apples, strawberries, and potatoes.  Many children have limited diets and so eat more of their favorites than an adult might.   
Now - back to the ADHD / organophosphate study.  The authors state that prenatal and postnatal organophosphate exposures have been linked to developmental and behavioral problems problems, including delayed mental development, poorer short-term memory and motor skills, and longer reaction times.

After analyzing the data for various metabolites and looking for confounding factors, they determined that:
  • 93.8% of the children had at least one of the 6 metabolites at a detectable level
  • Metabolite levels were higher in 2003-4 than in 2000
  • Children with a particular metabolite, dimethyl triophosphate, above median values, had twice the odds of having been diagnosed with ADHD; other metabolites also are associated with up to a 72% increased risk of ADHD

They conclude that "[d]evelopmental exposure to organophosphates might have persistent effects on multiple neural systems that may underlie ADHD behaviors, such as inattention and cognitive deficits, similar to the effects of developmental nicotine exposure."

The good news is that organophosphates cannot be used on organic produce.   According to this study, "organophosphates are eliminated from the body after 3 to 6 days," so moving to more organic foods could have a nearly immediate effect.

Lead in Single-Serving Juices

Several brands of single-serving juices and canned fruit products were found to contain lead levels above the limits established for children by the FDA.  Read more.

The Environmental Law Foundation conducted testing of many products in an independent laboratory.  A list of all products that exceeded the CA Proposition 65 lead limit is available here.  Note that it includes both organic and conventional products.

Think healthy, and think green.  Eliminate single-serving anything to reduce packaging, and read about the benefits of eating fruit rather than drinking juice. 

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Vinegar for Mosquito Bites

My grandmother always used vinegar for itchy mosquito bites, and since moving to Minnesota we've had many occasions to try it.  It stops the itching and is effective for at least a few hours.  Any type of vinegar seems to work.

Natural mosquito repellents

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Looking at Weeds in a New Way

I have dandelions in my yard.  Not just one here and there that can be easily removed by digging.  No - I have lots of them.  There are some places where they grow better than grass.  That's how it is.

I also have this:

My neighbors have no dandelions or any other broad-leafed plant mixed with their turfgrass, but that's because they coat their lawns with toxic chemicals.  It's their choice, and I have to hope that none of it filters into my yard.   It's a pretty polarized debate, weeds vs chemicals.  I stand firm against poisons and neurotoxins.

My dad has taken his side, too.  "Aren't you doing to do something about those dandelions?" he asked me on his spring visit.  Just to be sure that I got his point, he snarled, "They're the eyesore of the neighborhood!"  (I think that the unmaintained house with peeling paint and the trash can by the front door probably qualifies for that.)

I actually like the look of my meadow-like yard, full of flowers (yes, some of them yellow dandelion flowers) and bees and other life.   The dandelion flowers buzz with bees and the seeds provide food for finches and sparrows.  The creeping charlie yields to footsteps with a minty aroma and hosts bees all summer long.  It's also drought-tolerant, stays lower than grass between mowings, and doesn't seem to be a source of allergies, as most grasses are.  White clover is the ultimate ground cover, and I am seeding more of it in my yard.  Yes, that's right: I bought clover seeds.  Violets, among my favorite spring flowers, are spreading in the shady areas.

Dandelions have long tap roots and this is the root of why we have them here in the U.S.  They were brought by early European settlers as a food plant.  Gardeners will easily understand the value of a perennial, impossibly hardy, food-producing plant!  The tap root makes them highly nutritious, as the plant is able to pull nutrients from deep in the soil.  I regard them as good fertilizers for the lawn, when the leaves are chopped by the lawnmower and left to compost on the yard.  Clover interspersed with turf grass will also fertilize the ground: as a legume, it has the capability to fix nitrogen from the air.  To read more about clover lawns (clover + turf grass), look here.

Why are these useful plants demonized and poisoned?  It can't be because they are invasive.  No, that applies foremost to turf grass, which I can't seem to get rid of in my vegetable or flower gardens.  Its roots snake along inches below the surface and it can grow through an amazing amount of stuff: my vegetable garden paths are lined with newspaper, then cotton rags, then landscape fabric, then 2-3 inches of mulch.  Unbelievably, the grass is growing through all of that.

Turf grass requires endless mowing.  People fertilize and herbicide it regularly.  It's not drought-tolerant and results in millions of gallons of potable water dumping every year for the sake of a green lawn (if you're watering your lawn, reconsider!  It just means that it requires mowing more often!).

So the next time you see a weed in your lawn, consider whether it might actually be a more useful plant than the grass it is displacing.   What are its good characteristics?  Anything can be a weed in the wrong place, and  some plants - such as hayfever-inducing ragweed - always are.

Eventually, I hope that we will have minimal turf grass in our yard, but it'll be a long and difficult journey.  I hope to replace it with little bluestem and other prairie grasses in the dry areas, and mostly clover in the more lush areas.  Vegetable and fruit plants have taken up some space, and we plan to build a chicken coop this summer.  Meanwhile, I'm left with the dandelion seed heads that are a reminder of all that work to come.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Stress and your Heart

The BBC reported today that "Women under 50 'face work stress risk.'

In particular,
"After accounting for risk factors such as smoking and diabetes, the researchers found that those who described pressure at work as "much too high" were 35% more likely to have developed heart disease than those who were comfortable with the pressure.
But when they broke the results down by age, they found it was only the women aged 50 and under who were affected significantly."

The full text of the medical journal article is available (free) here

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Gardening Links

Have you planted your garden yet?  The season is about a month ahead of a typical year here in Minnesota - I'm already cutting asparagus!  Here are some of the gardening references I've found to be useful for both food-producing plants and landscaping. 

Gardening calendar: gardening activities by season

Vegetable planting dates from the University of Minnesota Extension
Planting the vegetable garden - soil preparation and spring planting dates
Planting Vegetables in Midsummer for Fall Harvest

Growing fruits
More gardening articles about particular vegetables, fruits, and herbs

Gardening information sheets with information on specific plants, pollinators, and more.

Small Plot and Intensive Gardening from Perdue University, with tips about how to maximize food production from a small space.   The University of Arizona also has reference information about intensive gardening.  Although your climate might vary greatly, Arizona has a short growing season due to the extreme midsummer heat, so there are some similarities.

Extending the growing season - learn about cold frames and row covers.

Companion planting references here and here.

Preparing vegetables for freezing
Preparing fruits for freezing

Canning (more)
National Center for Food Preservation with more information including drying, pickling, etc. 

Soil testing and amending soils

Dividing perennials

Best plants for tough sites (including deer-resistant plants)

Monday, May 3, 2010

School Lunch, Real Food, and Politics

School lunch has been discussed more this year than any other in my memory, given the activity in Congress for increasing funding and updating standards as well as Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution. The NY Times reported that "the new standards will require more fruits, vegetables and whole grains and, for the first time, limit the amount of calories in each meal." I'm glad there is energy toward improving school lunches, but my personal opinion is that the changes that are described here are not the ones that are most urgent.

When I look at the menus & published nutritional analysis for the local elementary school, I see some meals that are ok and some that are really loaded with sodium and sugar (the fat content is largely under control, and there minimal to no trans-fats), and far too many things that are filled with flour. Many of the meals are a total carb rush that would leave most adults in a stupor, not prepared for an afternoon of work (example: one day I witnessed a meal of French toast sticks with artificially-flavored (HFCS) syrup, a white-flour dinner roll, and fruit... sugar overload). In my opinion, the first step should be reducing sugars and sodium, if our district's meals are typical. Yes to water with lunch. But no to just skim milk! It has more sugars (lactose) than 2%. Better to cut milk entirely and recognize it as the food that it is, not a beverage.

Most of our school's meals include "whole grains" - in the breading that is on the (frozen and reheated, but baked, not fried) meat-based products. Whole grains as flour aren't the same as whole grains. When our school serves rice, it's white rice, and when they serve rolls, they are extremely bleached - so when they say that meals include whole grains, it's a very minor inclusion. I think that massive reform is needed, not just changes to the existing program. Start from the ground and build a new program - based on real nutrition knowledge, and not run by the USDA or based on its guidelines. The Mediterranean diet is widely touted for promoting health - but it is absent from our cafeteria.

I've been in a couple of meetings with the nutritionists for our school district. They have to walk a pretty fine line. They have a budget they have to meet (and schools everywhere are in the red these days, so there's not an extra penny to be had), they have to meet USDA guidelines (which may or may not actually promote health, depending on your point of view), none of our schools have actual cooking kitchens, so they have to buy prepped stuff for warming, and they claim the kids won't eat anything that isn't familiar to them.

[I see the greatest flexibility on the last point. Most hungry kids will eat. I don't think the schools are going to even try foods that are likely to be totally unfamiliar, such as artichokes or risotto (yes, the kids are missing out, aren't they!). I am not suggesting they serve the kids steamed beet greens over quinoa. I am suggesting that they get creative. Surely these kids have seen foods other than hamburgers and pizza in their lifetimes.]

Anyway, in our district at least, the nutritionists are in a bit of a corner, and rather than admitting this, they tend to get defensive. It's a difficult topic for discussion. They feel they've made vast improvements in the past decade; while this may be true, there are many people (myself included, obviously) who feel that there is still a broad chasm between what we have and what would be a healthy lunch.

School lunches cost almost $2.50/day. I can pack my daughter's lunch for about $0.60/day, which includes organic fruit.

Why shouldn't school lunch just be lunch? For schools that can't cook, sandwiches on *real* whole grain bread with low sugar and some sliced fruits and vegetables would be familiar foods to everyone, and would cost a lot less than the processed things they are currently serving - various forms of chicken nuggets, ground beef, pizza, pancakes, and hot dogs. I know that part of the motivation for school lunch is that some kids don't get a complete meal, but seriously now - chicken nuggets are no more a meal than a sandwich is.

OK, ranting about school lunches aside - I am glad that ABC is airing "Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution," and I hope that it wakes up parents across the country.

I hope that it helps people realize that what they eat has a huge impact on their health, and their kids' health. I hope it spurs some dietary change - but I don't know that it will. I think that anything on TV is still somewhat abstract for most viewers. Will they connect that boy's pre-diabetic condition with the food they eat next time they go to a fast food place? Or with the sweetened yogurt in their fridge? Or the white bread toast or bagel they had for breakfast? I don't know.

What's the best way to teach people to cook, and eat, vegetables? For people who grew up eating fast food or canned foods combined in casseroles, a head of cauliflower or an eggplant might be a daunting object.

Learning to cook takes time. I grew up watching my mom cook, so by the time I hit college I was probably better off than many kids in that regard - but during the many years that I worked full time, my cooking abilities were really limited compared to now, when I can concoct a meal from whatever's in the fridge with little notice and no recipes. And now that I really can cook, it takes me a lot less time than it used to when I needed to follow recipes.

I eat lunch with my daughter at school from time to time. I always pack my lunch. One day one of her classmates asked me if I liked chicken nuggets. I said no. Cheeseburger? No. Hamburger? No. At this point she was clearly having problems thinking of what we must eat, if we didn't eat any of those things. Unfortunately, I think that may be the situation of many families and children.

I think that encouraging people to eat raw, prepped veggies or salad might be a way to start, because of the time factor - but they do cost more in that form. Frozen vegetables are healthy and a time-saver - and often cost less than fresh, too, especially if you consider they are already trimmed and 100% usable (e.g. frozen cauliflower is just the florets, and no huge stem to dispose of). Could restaurants or community education programs offer free cooking classes? If so, when is the best time for working parents or low-income families? What ideas do you have for helping our next generation to be healthy?

Friday, April 23, 2010

Health News and a Whole Foods Diet

A couple of studies in the news provide more evidence for a whole-foods based diet.

Read about how your body responds to different forms of sugar - fructose vs sucrose vs glucose - in this article by Time. The original scientific article is available here.

Scientific American reports that there is"More Evidence that Refined Carbohydrates, not Fats, Threaten the Heart." Slate Magazine provides a thorough summary of recent evidence. If you'd like to really delve into the history of dietary recommendations and the evidence - or lack thereof - check out Gary Taubes' book Good Calories, Bad Calories.

How do these studies translate to the kitchen? Let's look at the sweeteners that are commonly available, and how they break down. It is difficult to locate consistent numbers for this data, so I've summarized what I was able to find here, with sources. If you're not familiar with the glycemic index, it is a rating of how foods affect blood sugar levels, with glucose as the standard at 100.

Fructose Glucose Sucrose Maltose Glycemic Index Notes

Evap Cane Juice

55 3
Turbinado Sugar

65 3
Honey 50 44

62 varies by type
Fructose 100 0


100 3
Maple Syrup 1 4 95
54 3
Brown Rice Syrup
45-50 25 1,2,3
Molasses 23 21 53
55 3
Barley Malt Syrup 2 16 6 76 42 1,3,5
HF Corn Syrup-55 55 45

87 2
Corn Syrup 0 20-98

Agave Nectar 50-90 50-40

15-30 3

100 105 Wikipedia:Sucrose






Agave nectar is often touted as a healthy alternative sweetener - but given the results of the study cited above regarding fructose, I don't plan to experiment with it. Brown rice syrup is another favorite of some whole foods cooks - but it is half maltose, which has a very high glycemic index. I have a jar of barley malt syrup in the fridge for bread, and I won't purchase that again, given its high maltose content. Given that no sweeteners are actually healthy, it looks like my current strategy of just limiting sugar is probably best.

Now, let's look at the other highly refined food in our diet: flours vs grains. "Whole grain" everything is available now, but often it's made from whole grain flour, not actual whole grains. Is there a difference? It seems logical to consider that grinding grains into tiny pieces (flour) would make the body digest it faster. Dr. Andrew Weil says:

Grains in their natural form have a low glycemic index, while processed carbohydrates, including those made with flour or puffed grains, have a high GI. The reason is that it takes longer for digestive enzymes to reach the starch inside whole grains or grains cracked into large pieces, slowing down the conversion of starch to sugar... when grains are pulverized into flour, whether whole or not, their surface area expands dramatically, providing a huge, starchy surface area on which the enzymes can work. Consequently, the conversion to sugar happens very quickly.

Here's some data on glycemic index measurements for actual whole grains, and for breads made with flour:
Item Glycemic index
Wheat berries 40-59
Whole grain rye 34-48
Brown rice 55-79
White rice 58-83
Barley 25-36
Oatmeal 48-58
Steel-cut oats 42
Millet 71

Whole wheat flour bread 71
Whole rye flour bread 68-88
White bread 73
Wheat bread with 50% cracked wheat 58
Rye bread with 80% kernels 41

Observations on this data:
  • The glycemic index of brown rice is nearly the same as white rice. White rice is missing the nutrients, but the fact that my daughter and husband won't eat brown rice isn't as bad as I had thought, since we don't eat rice that often anyway.
  • Using actual whole grains in bread has a big impact on the glycemic index; simply subbing whole grain flour for refined flour makes little difference in how it affects blood sugar.
One thing I've never understood is why pasta seems to measure so low on the GI scale... any thoughts out there? It's basically flour mixed with water, then dehydrated, then rehydrated by cooking. Perhaps the starch that comes out in the cooking water makes a difference.

Since my experimental gluten-free month, I've been limiting things made with flour, and that seems like a sound strategy according to these press releases and the GI data. My next baking experiment will be adding more real whole grains to our bread.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Tortilla Soup

I buy free range chickens in the fall at our farmers' market and freeze them for winter. They are tremendously different from supermarket chickens. I find that they have a lot less fat and a lot more flavor. Generally one chicken gives us at least 5 meals. I roast the chicken the first day, in a covered pan with potatoes and vegetables. The carcass goes into the slow cooker overnight with water to make stock. I strain the stock in the morning, put it back into the slow cooker, and add vegetables during the day to make soup. Here's the latest soup we made.

About 2 quarts chicken stock, preferably homemade with chicken pieces
1 onion, sliced fine
3 large carrots, diced
2 small crookneck squash, in small pieces
6 cloves garlic
dried chipotle pepper (either a whole pepper or about 1 tsp crushed pepper)
1 tsp cumin seed
1 tsp oregano
2 tsp vegetable broth seasoning (I use Seitenbacher)
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained, or 1/2 c dried black beans, cooked

Using some of the chicken fat from the degreased stock, or some olive oil, saute the onion, carrots, squash, and whole garlic cloves. Add cumin seed, crushed chipotle pepper (if whole is being used, just add it to the stock), and other seasonings. Add to stock. Add black beans. Cook about 30 minutes, or about 4 hours on low in slow cooker.

Serve with toppings of choice, such as:
  • fresh cilantro
  • grated cheese
  • corn tortilla crisps (brush corn tortillas with oil, slice into strips and then in half, and bake for about 10 minutes at 425F, until slightly golden)
  • pumpkin seed kernels
  • diced avocado
  • lime juice or lime wedges

Gluten-Free Month

I am trying an experimental gluten-free month to see if it has any impact. Since day 2, I've felt unusually uncongested.

I was really disappointed when I started to look at GF cookbooks. Most cooking isn't a problem, but baking, of course, relies entirely on wheat. Barley flour has gluten in it, so that's out. Ditto for rye. Most GF recipes use a combination of a grain flour and grain starches (such as cornstarch), which have very high glycemic indices. There are some recipes that use alternatives such as chickpea flour or almond flour.

I thought I did a fairly good job of balancing my diet before, but it is really surprising how often I would reach for something that contains wheat. There are many foods that I like to eat on something - and that something usually was a form of bread. Hummus, avocado, almond or peanut butter...

Thus far, I've tried 3 GF recipes. 2 were successful: some simple chickpea flour crackers, and some GF corn muffins. The pizza base recipe that I tried (cornmeal and millet flour) was an abysmal failure.

Overall, my assessment is that eating GF is not easy, but neither is it extremely difficult. Certainly dining out would be more difficult than eating at home. I find that taking all the wheat out of my meals means I eat a lot more vegetables - and, significantly - a LOT less sugar, because sugar tends to be in many things made with wheat.

If you have any favorite GF recipes, I'd love to try them!

What's the most difficult dietary change you've made?

Friday, February 19, 2010

Making Life Simpler

Life can be complicated. Schedules are crazy - while I know that neither of my parents ever kept a calendar, I can't function without mine - and I try to limit activities so that we all have some down time. So when I find an action that makes my life easier, I make it a habit!

Here are ten things I've done that simplify my life:
  1. cooking oatmeal overnight in the slow cooker, so that busy school mornings don't also involve cooking. I have to use a timer to turn it on around 3am - all night cooking results in a crusty mess.

  2. using small, ~8"x10" plastic cutting boards that can go in the dishwasher. We eat a lot of produce, and I prefer not to wash dishes every time I cut something. I have multiple cutting boards and several paring knives for this purpose.

  3. minimizing cleaning solutions. I use vinegar and a dish detergent solution for kitchen and bathroom cleaning, baking soda for scouring. Easy, nearly free, and they take up a lot less space than all the stuff that the chemical manufacturers want to convince people are necessities.

  4. handling paper once only - then filing, shredding, or recycling it - and minimizing incoming paper with e-bills and electronic bill payment.

  5. the pantry and freezer. No need to run to the store in advance of a snowstorm or anything else - we can easily eat for two weeks without any grocery runs.

  6. buying gifts ahead - when I see them at good prices. I hate going to the store to look for "a gift for (insert name)." So I don't do it. When I see something that is appropriate, I buy it - even if the occasion is nearly a year away.

  7. masking tape in the kitchen. It's the all-purpose tape: adhesive, label material, etc.

  8. I don't dust on a regular basis. Seriously, what's the point? I sneeze less when I leave it alone, and it doesn't grow to infinite thickness. When it bothers me, I remove it with a damp rag. I think that happens about twice yearly.

  9. reusable cloth bags for all shopping and gifts within our household. I do truly find it easier - not to mention easier on my conscience - to take my bags to the store than to have 20 flimsy plastic bags of heavy groceries to juggle and then recycle.

  10. thinking of the store as a storage facility. I don't need to buy Item X now, because it is always available at the store should I need it - and the store has far more storage space than our house. Ditto for the library: I don't need to have this (book, CD, etc) in my house permanently, because the library will shelve it for me.
What tricks do you have to make your days easier?

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Buckwheat Crepes with Various Fillings

Buckwheat flour is readily available at most natural foods stores. These can easily be made gluten- and dairy-free. We eat these for supper, but in smaller quantities, they could also be a snack or an appetizer, or even a dessert.

This is modified from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.

For about 14 crepes:
1 c buckwheat flour
1/4 c all-purpose flour or other flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tbsp sugar
2 to 4 eggs
About 1 1/2 c milk + water - at least 1/2 c milk (nondairy subs are fine)
1 tbsp canola oil

Whisk ingredients together to make a thin, pourable batter (adjust consistency as needed). Let rest in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.

Heat the oven to the lowest temperature and put an oven-proof plate in it to keep the crepes warm.

Heat a 10" skillet over medium heat, then add a small amount of butter or canola oil. Swirl to coat the pan and then immediately ladle in about 1/4 c batter. Swirl the pan to make a thin pancake. When it is dry on top, flip and cook the bottom briefly. Stack on the plate in the oven until all the crepes are cooked.

To eat: spread entire surface with filling and roll up.

Filling options:
1. Spinach with or without cheese. Heat frozen, chopped spinach in a small pot, uncovered to evaporate excess moisture. Season as desired. Spread on crepe and top with grated or crumbled cheese of your choice (pepper Jack, goat, feta, swiss, etc), or sunflower seeds.

2. Spreadable cheese.

3. The pea-and-potato combination that is used in Indian samosas (recipes readily available online).

4. Other vegetables, chopped as needed, and steamed, with or without cheese, cubed, baked tofu, sauteed mushrooms, etc.

5. Cooked beans (with or without cream cheese), lentils, or leftover dahl.

6. Caramelized onions with or without vegetables as above.

7. Spinach with curry spices and cashew cream.

1. Cooked fruit/vegetables such as apples (e.g. homemade applesauce), cranberries and sweet potatoes, gingered sweet potatoes with or without pineapple, etc. Add nuts and/or cinnamon if desired.

2. Jam or cooked dried fruit, with or without nuts or cinnamon.

3. Cream cheese or tofu "cream" with any of the above, or cinnamon/sugar.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Black Bean Enchiladas

Modified from Vegetarian Classics by Jeanne Lemlin

8 servings

2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 small onions, diced
2 bell peppers, diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
other vegetables as available: corn, zucchini or yellow squash, spinach
1/2 pound dried black beans, sorted, rinsed, soaked, and cooked
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp oregano

2 c salsa
1 c milk or 1 c tomato sauce, depending on the type of sauce you prefer
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp oregano

16 corn tortillas
Neufchatel cheese, optional but very good
Cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese, grated, optional

Heat sauce ingredients. In separate pan, saute the vegetables in the olive oil. When tender, stir in the black beans and spices.

When ready to prepare enchiladas, microwave about 6 tortillas at a time between 2 plates to soften them for rolling.

Ladle a small amount of sauce into the bottom of a baking dish. Spread about 1 tsp neufchatel cheese down the center of a tortilla, add the filling, roll, and place in baking dish. When dish is full, add more sauce on top of enchiladas, and top with a small amount of grated cheese, if desired. Additional enchiladas can be placed in another layer or in a different baking dish.

This can be prepared early in the day and refrigerated until dinner. When ready to cook, bake, covered, at 350F, for about 30-45 minutes, until steaming and cheese has melted.