It takes a village to raise a child and since I have no village (that is, extended family within three hundred miles) per se, there are certain things I’ve had to do to get creative. In the early days when we first arrived to Germany where I spent the first ten weeks without a car, friends or furniture with two children ages 3 and 1, I spent every moment I could leading or participating in a toddler’s playgroup above the firehouse. It was my saving grace because the kids got to play with toys for a few hours. And I got to see, well, people.

Then they went to preschool, then school and now high school. And in the interim I have gotten creative about delegating certain family care chores because that village is still needed, especially now.

After months of delibration, consideration and desperation, I finally hired a cleaning lady. And although she has yet to clean a single thing, I like her already. During her interview, she was unphased by my teen’s, shall we say, behavior? She gave me a hug and said, “I know. Mine’s five and it’s the same.”

As I showed her about the house, we engaged in some small talk. Suddenly we looked at each other and said, “You look awfully familiar.” It turns out she waitresses at a local place where I went for the first time recently. Who know that the extension of my village was so near?

So you see, dear friends, sometimes help is closer than you think. Reach out and touch someone today. It takes a village to raise a child.

It takes a village to live.

The Energy of Slow Food

June 15, 2012

When you live life with an open heart of compassion and love, the most amazing thing happens. You start to resonate with people on a level you may not have thought possible.

Take my recent visit to the butcher shop as an example. As I watched the sales lady slice the ham, I was enthralled by her loving hands. You could simply tell she respected her work and the products she delivered. Slow food at its best! It made not only for a great shopping experience, but for a great ham sandwich afterward!

Food is energy, like anything else. If you have seen the movie Like Water for Chocolate based on a Mexican novel by Laura Esquivel about a young woman who passes her love (and other emotions) on through her cooking, then you will know how much food can affect a person.  It’s not only the quality, but also the intention that is passed on through it.

For a fun Friday treat, enjoy watching one of the best clips of the movie. It puts mindful eating into a whole new light. Yum.

It was an investment. It really was. Husband and I braved one of trickiest times at Aldi – the lawn furniture sale that went live at 8 a.m. this morning.

For you non-German readers, you may not know what that means. It involves manuveuring large aluminum chairs, tables and chaise lounges in impossibly small spaces with more customers than products. Think Tickle-Me-Elmo at Walmart on Christmas Eve.

We’d been pushing off the purchase of lawn furniture for years. Going on our fourth summer in our now-not-so-new house, we arose at the crack of dawn, sent the children off to the school bus stop, and drove, grim-lipped and in silence, to the nearest Aldi.

The result? My foot got run over by several shopping carts, my thumb got smashed at the check-out line (only once), and we got every piece we were looking for.

Here’s the visual. And yes, both of those carts are mine. Along with the very, very large and unwieldy table-in-a-box stacked behind everything else.

Pretty comical, right? This store takes the artificial scarcity approach. They literally sell out of their seasonal items every Monday and Thursday. And I wouldn’t have done it, except Husband looks so cute in his apron.

And we needed somewhere to sit. In relaxation. Until the next seasonal sale with items we’ve put off buying until we have no alternative.

Healthy eating is a big part of the Slow Movement. You are what you eat, and how you do it, too.

Smart cooking doesn’t come naturally to all of us so that’s why I breathed a sigh of relief when Camilla V. Saulsbury’s 5 Steps to Healthy Cooking: 500 Recipes for Lifelong Wellness arrived in my mailbox (You remember her, don’t you? I blogged about her fabu Piece of Cake cookbook that has been my baker’s secret ever since!). I tore open the envelope and started reading right away.

The neat thing about her recipe book is how it’s organized. Unlike many cookbooks that ignore breakfast altogether, she actually starts there. As we all know, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. So why do most cookbooks avoid it?

The truth is Camilla takes a holistic approach. So while you might be perusing the cookbook for some in-law impressing meals, you’re actually getting health tips along the way too. Did you know that mushrooms contain potassium, a mineral that can actually lower your blood pressure and reduce your risk of a stroke? Or that cherries (much like blueberries) contain antioxidants to help prevent many diseases related to aging? Who knew?

Instead of having to get that information elsewhere, it’s right there while you make your shopping list.

Every recipe includes a nutrients section so you know how many calories, amounts of fat, protein, etc. you’re ingesting. Along with the enticing recipe names (I mean who can resist the sound of “Southeast Asian Roast Beef Wraps” or “Whole-Grain Blueberry Maple Muffins”?), she sprinkles in a few great images too.

The cheery front cover gives you the sense that you can do this. You really can. There is nothing intimidating or condescending about her book. If anything, it offers just the right array of amazing meals to make your mother-in-law wonder “Just how does s/he do it?”

With mindful shopping, cooking and a touch of Camilla’s grace! But that’ll be our little secret, okay?

Now, what’s on your meal plan today?

According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, 8 out of the 10 million Americans who are estimated to have osteoporosis are women. Almost 34 million more people are estimated to have low bone density, increasing their risk of osteoporosis and broken bones.  National Nutrition Month is a nutrition education and information campaign sponsored annually by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

As I mentioned earlier this month, National Nutrition Month focuses on the importance of developing healthy eating and physical activity habits, including meeting daily calcium requirements and performing various exercises to build strong bones, which is imperative in the fight against osteoporosis.

Nutritionist Heather Bauer, RD, CDN, author of the newly released book Bread is the Devil (from my publisher, St. Martin’s Press), offers tips for people who are trying to change their eating routines to drop the pounds in celebration of National Nutrition Month this March.

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, carbs in moderation are all good. Even if bread is not your personal devil, Bauer’s book offers advice on how to build sensible, healthy meals, high in protein with complex carbs and how avoid other food demons – from ice cream and chips to sweet treats.

While taking a mindful view of our eating habits, it’s also important, especially for women, not to skimp on calcium. On average, women  fall short on calcium by at least 20%, getting only 500-700 mg per day – that’s significantly less than the recommended amount—putting them at risk of osteoporosis.

To decrease your chance of osteoporosis, Heather Bauer suggests:

  1.  Think of your bones as living, breathing tissue.  They can be built up and broken down with certain determining factors. These factors include daily intake of at least 1,000mg of calcium supplemented with Vitamin D for optimal absorption and weight-bearing exercise.
  2.  Get your dose of calcium in whole foods such as broccoli or soy milk. (I’m told Adora Calcium Supplement discs are made from rich, all-natural premium chocolate – whatever floats your boat, but I’m thinking broccoli is the better, if not more fun, option).
  3. By the time we hit our 30s, we stop naturally building bone mass and start losing it. Counteract this with anything that forces your body to defy gravity.  Activities include dancing, jogging, tennis, even stair climbing.  Make sure to avoid escalators and elevators!
  4.  Lifting weights at the gym gives you muscle tone, right? Well, calcium acts in the same way to keep your blood vessels toned. Calcium rich foods like milk, cheese, sardines, figs, and dark leafy greens like spinach can be tough to eat a lot of, so consider a calcium supplement if you’re not meeting the recommended daily value.

Even a slow or vigorous walk can have positive effects on your bones. Have you been outside today? Natural sunlight increases your Vitamin D, a necessary component for calcium absorption.

 

The other day I had a conversation about nutrition with a henchman. No, I wasn’t at the gallows. I was on a film set for a period film about an 18th century swindler. But that’s neither here nor there. What was interesting was this burly guy, with black makeup around his eyes (think: Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow) was telling me he doesn’t eat any carbs. At all.

Now I have had my own run-in with the carbs-no carbs conversation and have come to the conclusion that a touch of carbs, like a touch of red wine, is a good thing. It’s all about variety and filling your plate with things from outside in their most original form possible.

Processed foods can kill you. The Emmy Award-winning show The Doctors recently aired an episode with Dr. Jim Sears who showed a twelve-year-old hamburger in his nutrition classes. It has no mold on it whatsoever. Why? Because of all the chemicals that it was originally sprayed with ~not for the purpose of his classes, but for the purpose of consumption!

Here’s the visual.

The thing is as old as my kid. Ewwwww!

Would you eat a burger made out of “pink slime”—the name given to the mechanically separated meat that’s treated with ammonia hydroxide to kill bacteria like E-coli?  McDonald’s, Taco Bell and Burger King, once purveyors of pink slime, say they have discontinued their use of this meat, made from discarded beef (i.e. everything else from the cow that had been deemed inedible), but who still does? Schools serve it up daily in kids’ lunches.

If mold won’t eat it, why would you? See for yourself on this segment of The Doctors.

So now that I’ve thoroughly grossed you out, let’s talk about how to be proactive.

Education yourself. Read the labels. Teach your kids to do the same.

Buy organic where you can. That might mean eating less meat due to cost, but as I like to say, less is often more.

The average American eats 80+ pounds of chicken annually.

Tips to Buying Natural and Organic Poultry
• To save money, purchase the whole chicken. Boneless, skinless chicken breasts are the most expensive by the pound.
• Check the “sell by” dates, and plan to shop the day before, when your butcher marks down the poultry and meat.
• Consider buying direct from a farmer’s market.
• Check the sodium levels on fresh and frozen chicken packaging.
• A truly natural chicken breast has 50 to 75 mg of sodium. If there’s more than that, the bird has been “plumped”.

Fill at least half your plate with vegetables. That includes salad. Make your meat be the garnish, not the centerpiece.

How else can you get your plate in shape? Please share your ideas!

Get Your Plate in Shape

March 1, 2012

Did you know that March is National Nutrition Month? The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association) is encouraging everyone to include healthy foods from all food groups through this year’s theme: “Get Your Plate in Shape.”

“Vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean proteins and low-fat dairy products contain the nutrients we need to maintain healthy lifestyles,” says registered dietitian and Academy Spokesperson Andrea Giancoli. “Make sure your eating plan includes foods from all the food groups and in appropriate portions. USDA’s MyPlate is a great tool to guide and help us be mindful of the foods that make up our balanced eating plan.”

Giancoli offers the following recommendations to “Get Your Plate in Shape”:

Make half your plate fruits and vegetables.

  • Eat a variety of vegetables, especially dark-green, red and orange varieties, as well as beans and peas.
  • When buying canned vegetables, choose “reduced sodium” or “no salt added” whenever possible. Rinsing whole varieties like beans, corn and peas can also reduce sodium levels.
  • Dried and frozen fruits and those canned in water or their own juice are good options when fresh varieties are not available.
  • Make sure every meal and snack has at least one fruit or vegetable or both.

Make at least half your grains whole.

  • Choose brown rice, barley and oats and other whole grains for your sides and ingredients.
  • Switch to 100-percent whole-grain breads, cereals and crackers.
  • Check the ingredients list on food packages to find foods that are made with whole grains.

Switch to fat-free or low-fat milk.

  • Fat-free and low-fat milk have the same amount of calcium and other essential nutrients as whole milk, but less fat and fewer calories.
  • If you are lactose intolerant, try lactose-free milk or a calcium-fortified soy beverage.

Vary your protein choices.

  • Eat a variety of foods each week from the protein food group like seafood, nuts and beans, as well as lean meat, poultry and eggs.
  • Eat more plant-based proteins such as nuts, beans, whole grains and whole soy foods like tofu and edamame.
  • At least twice a week, make fish and seafood the protein on your plate.
  • Keep meat and poultry portions lean and limit to three ounces per meal.

Cut back on sodium and empty calories from solid fats and added sugars.

  • Drink water instead of sugary drinks like regular sodas, fruit-flavored drinks and sweetened teas and coffees. Choose 100-percent fruit juice.
  • Compare sodium in foods and choose those with the least amount listed on the Nutrition Facts Panel.
  • Season foods with spices or herbs instead of salt.
  • Select lean cuts of meat or poultry and fat-free or low-fat dairy products.
  • Use heart-healthy oils like olive, canola and sunflower oil in place of butter or shortening when cooking.

Giancoli offers a slow food recommendation by suggesting we cook more often at home, where you are in control of what is in your food. “And don’t forget that exercise and healthful eating are crucial to maintaining a healthy lifestyle,” Giancoli says. “Choose activities you enjoy like going for a walk with your family, joining a sports team, dancing or playing with your children. If you don’t have a full 30 minutes, carve out 10 minutes three times a day. Every bit adds up and health benefits increase the more active you are.”

As part of National Nutrition Month, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ National Nutrition Month website includes helpful tips, recipes, fun games, promotional tools and nutrition education resources, all designed to spread the message of good nutrition around the “Get Your Plate in Shape” theme.

Superbowl Eats the Slow Way

February 1, 2012

When I heard about Tosca Reno’s new book, Just the Rules for Eating Clean, I got curious. Given the Super Bowl is coming up on February 5, 2012, I thought it would be a good thing to provide some of her recipes as a healthier option to the empty, salt-ridden snacks we tend to fall prey to. She offers several rules for “eating clean”, a term I had never heard before. But it makes sense. We often pollute our bodies with things they can’t handle well. The result is sluggishness and an overall sense of puff.

Here are some of the rules she outlines for the best Super Bowl party ever:

Super Bowl Party Rule #8 – Color Up: Super Bowl junk is often a sea of fatty beige foods. Colorful foods are filled with more nutrients and flavor than bland, monotonous, processed foods. Opt for a rainbow of colors on your plate, which offers numerous health benefits.

Rule #12 – Smaller Portions, Smaller Pants (remember my Why We’re So Fat post? Portion size means everything!): A festive atmosphere can often create an eating frenzy, which leaves you feeling blah. It’s okay to enjoy an array of foods, just eat smaller portions. Remember one serving of lean protein is the size of your palm; one serving of complex carbohydrates from whole grain is the size of your cupped hand; and one serving of complex carbs from fruit and vegetables is two hands cupped together.

My power of slow favorite is this one:

Rule #13 – Fletcherize and Swallow: Do you ever fill your plate, only for the food to disappear moments later? Gobbling food is a common disorder in our fast-paced society. Remind yourself to sloooooooow down: eating is not a race. Eating slowly will not only allow you to enjoy your food, but will help you determine when you’re full and help aid in digestion.

Rule #23 – Good Carbs, Bad Carbs: Carbs can be confusing, and are often given a bad rap! Stay away from ‘bad’ grocery store, processed carbs and stick to ‘good’ carbs like fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grain.

Consider Baba Ghanoush (click the title for your copy of the recipe). Doesn’t this look savory?

Photo Courtesy of Donna Griffith

Or how about BBQ Chicken Pizza? You thought I was going all holistic, holy-than-thou on you, didn’t you? Well, you can still have food fun and eat well. Look at this image. I’m getting hungry as I type.

Photo Courtesy of Donna Griffith

A Super Bowl Party wouldn’t be complete without Vegetarian Chili — warming, filling and de-light-ful!

Photo Courtesy of Donna Griffith

If none of these convinces you, Tosca has generously provided many more eat clean recipes on her Web site. Eating clean is not a diet. It’s a way of life.

What recipes would you like to share?

 

Why We’re So Fat

January 30, 2012

Fat. Now there’s an ugly word. The truth is one in three Americans is considered obese by the Centers for Disease Control. 17% of all U.S. children are too. It’s an astounding number. How has it come to this?

According to FastCompany, our brains aren’t prepared to handle the all-you-can-eat variety of food intake. Based on the primordial need to stuff our faces while we can, we often do. Our brains, apparently, are designed to prepare for rough winters and starvation. So we gorge ourselves, thinking it’s normal.

It’s not. We just don’t realize when to stop because our brains say it’s somehow okay.

Portion control is a term I learned while working on a campaign for Yum Yum Dishes, a fabulous company that creates ceramic dishes to provide acceptable food portions for weight control. We are not only what we eat; but how we eat it too.

So if you’re tempted to belly up to the next buffet and scarf a bit more than you should, think again. Eat a little less than you normally do and see how it feels. Eat slowly. Enjoy your food. If you do, you might notice that less is actually more. Let’s bring down that national statistic with a little more mindfulness.

Courtesy of FastCoExist.com

Slow food is the ultimate comfort. I’m not just talking about the comfort it brings when all you want to do is pull the cover over your head and secretly eat homemade brownies, but the kind of comfort that reminds you when you first tried the flavor that you’re enjoying now.

At this time of year, I get, shall we say, cranky. I miss my US family, the days are shorter on light than Lady Gaga’s long on design ideas, and it seems I’m the one to “do Christmas” while everyone else enjoys the fruit (and cookies) of my labor.

So when my mama and I were Skyping (and laughing a lot ~we were both at work respectively, but we faked it for an hour!), she shared her famous choco-macaroon recipe that I’ve known since a child. Filled with a new sense of purpose, I put down the headphones and went straight to work.

I tried, people. Really I did. But substituting shredded coconut with coconut chips was a. bad. idea. Or using diet condensed milk instead of Carnation’s.

And let’s not even talk about the English versus the metric system or the fact that the homemade vanilla extract I made (thanks Make the Bread, Buy the Butter) won’t be ready until March 2012.

Notice the vodka bottle. I hate vodka, but the recipe for making said vanilla extract that will be ready next spring calls for it. I swear I felt like a bum buying it at the grocery store, but I smothered it with the vanilla beans at checkout and slipped it into my purse before anyone could see it.

Do you want to see what choco-macaroon cookie fail really looks like? Alright, but don’t say I didn’t warn you. Sensitive viewers may need to look away while scrolling to the next picture.

Coconut carnage here…

…and here.

Look at the hope! Those neatly positioned ingredients and the patient hand (not pictured) that scraped those coconut carcasses from the parchment paper!

Alas, there will be no choco-macaroons for Christmas this year.

You think I would have known it was coming. A week prior I had attempted to make cinnamon stars that turned into stockings really quickly. My husband, who is not the demanding or quick-to-respond type, was the source of that inspiration. When asked which type of Christmas cookie he wanted, “Cinnamon stars!” shot out of his mouth like a bat out of hell. I’d never heard the man answer me so quickly! Later I found out why. His mother revealed to me that she refused to bake them.

Forty years of pent up cookie yearning. “These are great, hon,” he smiled as he chewed, then swallowed them like a wad of bubble gum.

Whoever said love goes solely through the stomach? Maybe it’s the intention that counts.

What’s your favorite holiday cookie recipe? Share it and I may just try it. Maybe I won’t fail with yours!

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