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?

 

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!

Life can be a Piece of Cake!

December 10, 2011


With Husband gone for a week to the States, I’ve had ample opportunity to occupy the kitchen in his absence. Thanks to Robert Rose, the Canadian publisher of, can we  say, Capital A-mazing recipe books, I have once again astounded myself.

I am a culinary warrior now, thanks to Camilla V. Saulsbury’s Piece of Cake!  One-Bowl, No-Fuss, From-Scratch Cakes.  But before you shriek and hug your hips, she’s got healthy recipes in there too.

I opted for the hedonist Hot Fudge Brownie Cake first. My daughter had mentioned something in her all-too-quick-adolescent-speech-cadence that she needed brownies for English class. She bat her eyes at me and said: “So. I volunteered you.”

The very same day Piece of Cake! arrived in my mailbox and I knew we were destined to become fast friends. In a jiffy, I whipped out six brownie muffin creations that would have made Jesus genuflect. I’m not trying to be blasphemous here, people. But the amazing part was it was so easy I couldn’t believe what got created with my very own hands.

My daughter promptly criticized it, challenging that she could do better.

Okay, Missy. I whipped out the recipe book again today, and she tried her hand at the Chocolate Wacky Cake. Believe it or not, it’s under “Health-Conscious”. I think it’s because it calls for non-Dutch process cocoa powder. You know, the real kind. Daughter quickly handed the scepter spatula back to me when she realized she’d actually have to follow instructions to make the thing work. We team-tagged it thereafter and I must say, hers did turn out better.

There is room at the top, indeed.

Oh how I love this recipe book! It makes me feel smart. And, unlike many recipe books that I’ve received in the past, it actually uses both the English and metric systems. For an American expat as myself, I am grateful for that small gesture. It makes baking so much easier.

Another great aspect of the book is the great background information such as why baking soda is four times stronger than baking power and how baking is really a science (that pulled Daughter in. Like Husband, she’s into it), which was why we had to make three separate holes in the dry ingredient mix when adding the vinegar, vanilla extract and oil.

As I nudged today’s cake out of its mini-pans (I still need to get the size pans that the book often calls for), I felt my self-confidence bloom to the level of  kitchen goddess.

Thanks, Camilla. I owe you one for making baking a true piece of cake!

As we enter yet another holiday this week, remember that everyone has expectations; but that doesn’t mean you have to fulfil them! Enjoy the slow everywhere you go. You’ll get there faster. Trust me. You will!

Please share this wisdom with others. How will you say ‘no’ today?

My husband’s cooking is legendary. So whenever I get the chance to try out a new cookbook, I know he’ll start to pour over it before I can even crack the cover.

Last night he topped himself with a Chicken in Thai Green Curry that nearly made me weep. It was that good. Thanks to Wandee Young and Byron Ayanoglu’s Simply Thai Cooking cookbook, I will be able to repeat my husband’s laudable culinary finesse. Although I have a hard time following directions, this cookbook is so easy even I can do it!

If you’re looking for a different kind of Thanksgiving feast this week, consider delving into Moroccan cooking with Pat Crocker’s 150 Best Tagine Recipes. The cover alone will make your mouth water, not to mention the spice descriptions and helpful photos.

Take your Thanksgiving to the next level with one or two ‘exotic’ nontraditional dishes. Remember: diversity is the spice of life. If spice is what you need, you’ll get it with these two cookbooks!

What’s your favorite Thanksgiving dish?

For those of you who have followed this blog for a while, you may recall my post on Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, a book that recounts the author’s year-long foray into the Slow Food movement with helpful recipes and daunting tales of raising heritage turkeys, making her own pasta and eating only food born, raised and slaughtered within a 50-mile radius of her house.

It promptly made me want to plant my own veggies, raise my own chickens and never, ever buy another loaf of bread again.

I lasted about a week, then reverted to most of my former buying habits: organic, store-bought with an occasional jaunt to the farmer’s market if I happened to be in the area.

Feeling like a complete failure, I was certain I could never measure up to the Kingsolver clan and was about to abandon all hope of ever feeding my children something that didn’t come from a box when Jennifer Reese came along.

Jennifer is my culinary hero.

Her cookbook, Make the Bread, Buy the Butter, made me laugh so hard I nearly fell out of bed the first night I picked it up.  A cookbook that is funny? Let’s just say Jennifer is Barbara Kingsolver meets Erma Bombeck. She is seriously funny. Or funnily serious about food and what you can do to make your lives a little easier…and tastier!

For a delicious week, I savored every page as she unhooked me from my own First World guilt about Industrial Food and the harmful things we’re doing to the planet.

The book arose out of Jennifer’s own desperation. A victim of the 2008 recession, she suddenly found herself a formerly employed book critic for Entertainment Weekly. Watching the apple tree cast off its final fruit onto her Northern California lawn, Jennifer wondered if making apple sauce and living off the suburban land could save her. She set out to experiment with homemade food, starting her own silent from-scratch revolution.

But she is no proselytizer like some of her foodie contemporaries. Her side-splitting humor and distinct honesty about what is easier to make and what is easier to buy is extremely empowering and liberating.  For Jennifer, food is not political. Food is food.

Her expression about buying ducks, then selling them because of their gang-ish, bullying treatment of the other suburban-yard foul, reveals a truly authentic voice. Just listen to her description of the turkey farm where she bought what she called a Frankenbird with a bad boob job whom she didn’t have the heart to kill for her Thanksgiving meal:

“[The] farm was strewn with rusted car parts, overturned boxes of trash, empty,2-liter soda bottles, crushed cans, and downed trees, and through this WALL-E wasteland wandered dozens of chickens, cats, dogs, and three bloated, broad-breasted white turkeys – the standard factory-breed…the turkey may well have ingested STP,  Mountain Dew, and crystal meth, but I remained confident that she was never polluted by an antibiotic. We loved her instantly…”

She tried it. It failed. Onward!

Unlike Martha Stewart’s exotic list of ingredients for virtually every recipe she provides, Jennifer’s book is chock full of easy-to-make items whose components are in everyone’s kitchen. Flour, eggs, milk, salt, sugar. She brings food back to the basics. I will say, however, that some of the appliances may not be of your average variety. I, for one, don’t have, or plan on having, an ice cream maker. I did go out and buy a food processor/blender hybrid for the Nutella recipe. Yes! You can make Nutella from scratch. I still have to refine the amount of cocoa my kids can handle, but my daughter, the Nutella connoisseur, highly approved of the healthier version. No transfats. No aromas. Just plain and simple ingredients that came from the Earth.

Make the Bread, Buy the Butter is a doable look at how we can embrace slow food with humor, grace and a pinch of kosher salt. I bet even Barbara Kingsolver would approve.

I love “leaving Corporate America” stories. Perhaps it’s because I did and I can really relate to those who say “Sayanara!” to the stressful spirit spiral.

Julie Pech hopped out of Corporate America to write in a book in a field in which, according to her, she had “zero experience”. She had been in the corporate apparel industry for 18 years, but at the same time she had always loved health and nutrition and chocolate. Doesn’t seem like it goes together? Read on!

When several studies touting the “health benefits of chocolate” were released, she decided to take a leap of faith and write about it. Her book The Chocolate Therapist: A User’s Guide to the Extraordinary Health Benefits of Chocolate was released in 2005 as a self-published title, but last year it was picked up by Wiley Publishing. She rewrote it, thereby doubling its length. It was release late last year.
After taking that leap of faith, Julie has started speaking up to twenty times per month about the health benefits of chocolate. She also teacheschocolate & wine and chocolate & tea pairing classes, hosts corporate and charity events and even travels internationally as a guest lecturer speaking about chocolate.

An entrepreneur at heart, she ended up buying a chocolate shop where they make all-natural chocolate with nuts, berries, spices and organic flavoring oils to support the concepts in her book.

“It’s been a very interesting journey!” she says.

Now, I wonder if she could get Johnny Depp to star in the sequel to Chocolat? Knowing Julie, she just might!

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My fork sliced the pork tenderloin so poetically on Saturday I almost wept.

pigIn honor of spring, we selected a few recipes that had been buried in the back of our long-forgotten cookbook: pork tenderloin in mango sauce. I dashed (slowly) to the local butcher shop located directly on a pig farm. The food tasted better for one simple reason: it was fresh and stress-less. We weren’t eating the stress hormones induced by mile-long commutes to the slaughterhouse. The animals were treated well, had plenty of fresh air and exercise.

It’s simple. Slow food, grown locally, is joyful. After a meal of home-grown goodness, you feel less stressed, too.

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