Thank you, Thank You Sam I Am

Thank you, thank you Sam I am, because if it weren’t for my willingness to try zucchini again, I would never have been able to eat this for dinner last night. It is zuchinni manicotti from Laughing Seed* in Asheville, NC. It was unbelievable, fantastic, otherworldly. Really, really good. And the funny thing is that the “noodle” in this manicotti, as you may have guessed from the picture is simply very thinly sliced raw zuchinni. I do not like raw zucchini, Sam I am. I will not eat it in a boat. I will not eat it with a goat. I will not eat it and I’m not bashful; I will not eat eat it while I’m in Asheville…. Unless it’s this…. Holy Moly.

It was filled with what I believe was some sort of cashew cream and grated zucchini with pesto. Chunky marinara as a sauce, and drizzled basil infused olive oil. Olives on the plate and a basil garnish, as you can see. It was all raw and while not cold, not heated. I will not eat a cold squash dish; I will not eat it with a catfish. I will not eat it in the mountains; I will not eat it in the fountain… until this dish, which I fully intend to attempt to reproduce at home and will eat in a fountain to amuse you…

In the past, as you may have guessed, I have not been a fan of zucchini, and more recently while having conceded to eating cooked zucchini, I have specifically been an anti-fan of raw zucchini in any form. The interesting lesson for me over the years is that from time to time, one dish that can transform how we feel about a food that we have “always hated.”  I will try it Sam I am.  If you will leave me be, I will try it.  This has happened twice for me with the unlikely zucchini.

My relationship with zucchini began in a more modest preparation than the spectacular raw zucchini manicotti – a baby step that was a bit of a squash revelation for me. If you are not a zucchini fan, you may want to give it a go; if you are, try a new way. As I recall,l I read about this preparation in Cook’s Illustrated and it turned me on to zucchini – and helped me identify what I didn’t like about the veggie as usually cooked. It was the mush. I don’t like sliced sautéed squash because it gets too mushy. So here, we are, another way…

Grate Green Zucchini
I usually prepare at least three average sized zucchini at a time in this way to serve as a side dish. Wash the zukes, cut the ends off. Using the large side of a box grater, grate the little devils almost to the core. Do NOT grate the middle part with the seeds; this is where all the liquid is. Put grated zucchini into a fine strainer or sieve. Add a quarter teaspoon of salt and let sit for at least 15 minutes. Occasionally stir and press down to encourage the liquid to leave.  Give the zucchini one final (and thorough) press from the top. Remove to a towel and squeeze out as much remaining liquid as possible. Warm small amount of olive oil in pan on lower medium heat. Add zucchini to pan and sauté, stirring gently until the green from the skin becomes more vibrant and the flesh is slightly softer. Add salt and pepper to taste. I also like a little lemon with mine. We like ours as a simple side, but it also good mixed into any number of dishes, and added to sandwiches, tortillas, you know how we roll over here. Before you know it, you may be adding sautéed zukes to all kinds of things… and one day, you may even find yourself slicing some paper thin to wrap around some basil cream… Delish!

*For those of you interested in the restaurant, or in vegetarian and vegan cuisine specifically, we also ordered a fantastic seitan curry and the boy had a seitan and hempseed burger. My picky one was delighted to sample the pita pizza. We all enjoyed the dinner immensely, ate at a table outside in the 78 degree sunshine and relished our last evening in North Carolina.

Giving Hidden Sugar the Boot

More Sugar Than A Twinkie

We all know, when we look at that darling chocolate bunny with his sweet little food coloring eyes, that we are staring at the face of sugar. We probably don’t always realize just how much sugar is in many of the other foods that we eat. Hidden sugar is something that deserves a great deal of conversation because SO many of the processed foods available in American supermarkets are chock full of sugar. Big Sis gave you a list of the names of sugar so that you can start to look for it on labels. The nice folks at Huffington Post have put together a short list of foods that have more sugar than a Twinkie. That’s right a Twinkie, the centerpiece of the Twinkie defense, a junk food diet that interacted with depression in such a negative way that the accused was driven to double murder. In case you are too young to remember this, the accused was found to be incapable of premeditation because of his psychological condition, which had something to do with Twinkies…. No, I am not making this up.

Regardless of how you feel about the Twinkie defense, I think we can all agree that Twinkies are clearly on the high end of the sugar scale. The foods in the Huffington Post list have MORE. And they are (in no particular order): single serving yogurt cups, tomato sauce, granola bars, fat-free salad dressing, muffins, canned fruit, pre-packaged smoothies or smoothie mixes, and…. if you don’t guess it I’m going to be mad…. boxed cereal!!! Now, it is important to point out there are likely examples within all of these food categories that have less sugar than a Twinkie; the point here is that one might not expect to find that much sugar in these foods and yet many brands DO have an extraordinary amount of sugar in them. Check that label, and as the article points out, be sure to look at the serving size. If you use a quarter cup of tomato sauce on your pasta, I say you’re missing out on some tomato goodness. How much sugar would be in YOUR serving rather than the one the manufacturer analyzed?  One solution to this particular hidden sugar problem is to read labels carefully and choose brands accordingly. The other solution is to make some swaps.

We’ve already covered cereal (mix it, raw oatmeal, Crock Pot oatmeal, cold overnight oats). You also know that you don’t need smoothie mixes because you can make your own flippin smoothies, thank you very much; and Big Sis gave you a superb dressing recipe. But WAIT you say, that is not FAT FREE dressing, and the one in the article is FAT FREE. OK, we’ll have a discussion about diet food at some point, but in the interest of giving you a swap that will fit that particular constraint AND drop your sugar, I’m going to give you another dressing recipe. Here it is:

FAT FREE SALAD DRESSING

  • Rice Vinegar
  • Soy Sauce

Yep, that’s it. No, it doesn’t matter what brand. Yes, you can use Bragg’s Aminos instead of soy sauce (and I would encourage that). Procedure? Bring the bottles to the table and shake a little of each on the salad. Done. Fat free dressing for less than a penny. No sugar. No, well, hardly anything really. NONE of the 8 skillion ingredients in most dressings. So if you haven’t taken a step yet, please, this is a baby step that does a lot. AND it saves you money – all the cheapskates say “Holla.” “HOLLA!” Pardon, there’s an active audience in my head.

Alright, so of the eight more sugary than a Twinkie foods that Huffington Post identifies, we’ve got three covered; I’ll give you one more today so we can call it half done. Deal? For our final trick today, we’re going to get you off candy yogurt. There are a couple of ways to do this. You can, as I mentioned in the beginning of the article, do a lot of label checking and simply find the one with the lowest sugar content. If you’re already there, or you are committed to a particular kind of yogurt, you’re going to want to choose Plan B – the mix it plan. Sound familiar? It’s exactly the same thing you can do to wean yourself or your children off of sweet cereal. So get the kind you or your kids like, and if you usually get yogurt cups because of a mobility situation, get yourself some kind of container that will seal in yogurt. There are plastic re-useable deals with screw on lids OR save a few condiment jars and use those.  Mix that stuff. If you can, stop buying the mini containers of yogurt. Buy big ones; tell them it’s cheaper (which it IS) and slowly increase the ratio of plain yogurt to sweetened yogurt poo. Find a comfortable mix or take it all the way and eat it plain with a little fruit. Delish.

There 50% of that nasty sugar list done.  Baby Steps all over the place.  Wahoo!!

Breakfast in Bed

Rolled Oats

“How do you feel about oatmeal, buddy?”

“I feel yes about oatmeal.”

“You mean you want some right now?”

“No, I mean oatmeal is yes.  Especially with a little syrup.  And it’s warm and makes my stuffy nose clear up.”

So there you have it folks, the word from the experts on oatmeal is YES.

For the last day of the pre-Easter season, I want to return to Sugar Busting that breakfast bowl.  Have you re-visited oatmeal yet?  REALLY?  In my last oatmeal-related post, I pointed out to you that oatmeal is WAY cheaper than boxed breakfast cereal, that it packs much more of a nutritional wallop, and that it is WAY lower in sugar than most options.  What I failed to point out explicitly is that a serving size for oatmeal is also much smaller because of the whole expandy thing when cooked with liquid.  So when the serving size on the carton says 1/2c, that is actually a reasonable quantity for a person.  Boxed cereals often say 1/2 to 3/4c, which as Big Sis pointed out the other day, is not enough cereal for most reasonably hungry people; I’m pretty sure that’s not even enough for my 5 year olds.  So all of the nutrition and price differences are actually that much bigger.  One serving of oatmeal is a true serving, with less than one gram of sugar.  One serving of Frosted Flakes, on the other hand, is only 3/4c, and has 11 grams of sugar; so if you eat more than 3/4c, like say 1.5c, that’s 22g of sugar.  That’s just 1g shy of a Nestle Crunch Caramel bar. How’s that for a nourishing breakfast?

Not sure you eat that much cereal? I wasn’t either until several years ago when my husband and I were both following a Weight Watchers program. Nothing gets you honest about quantity faster than measuring every flipping bit. I’m not going suggest that you do that, because frankly, it’s annoying, but just for the sake of reality, you may want to measure that morning cereal just ONCE to see how much you are really eating. Then take a look at that label and see how it pans out for you. If it’s more than 5 grams of sugar (a serving of oatmeal with one teaspoon of brown sugar), then perhaps the time has come for an oatmeal revelation.

My Low-Tech Crock Pot

Here I am making the case for oatmeal again, and this is when you say: “It takes too long,” which is where we left off last time. I pointed out that it takes between 5 and 12 minutes to cook oatmeal. To which you say: “You don’t understand what it’s like around here in the morning.” And I say: “But wait, there’s another answer… how’d you like to wake up to breakfast that’s already made?” Five minutes of nighttime prep and you can be in low-sugar oatmeal heaven in the morning. How, you say? Our old 1970’s friend, the Crock Pot. Oh yes, the Crock Pot.

For hot overnight oatmeal, I prefer to use steel cut oats as they hold up to the long low heat better, in my opinion. Steel cut tend to be slightly more expensive than rolled oats, but if you DON’T get the ones in the fancy can (which is lovely, I agree), the price difference is less. I can buy them in bulk for the same price as rolled oats, so if you have a store with a bulk section, this might be a good option for you as well. There are also plenty of folks who used rolled oats in crock pots and recipes online abound. For either type, basically you mix it all up the night before and give it 7-8 hours to cook and voila, it’s hot and delicious, waiting for you. You can’t get much easier or faster than that, friends.

SIMPLE OVERNIGHT STEEL CUT OATS

  • oil for pot
  • 2 cups steel cut oats
  • 8 cups liquid – I mixed mine half water, half almond milk
  • cinnamon or nutmeg to taste

VERY lightly oil the bowl of the Crock Pot.  Add ingredients.  Stir.  Cook for 7-8 hours on low.  When you open the lid, it may not look like yummy oatmeal, but this is a result of the long low cook.  Give it a stir, and voila, there’s your hot oatmeal, ready to go.  Serve with preferred oatmeal toppings.  Here’s where you say: “THAT’S IT?!”  And I say, “Yes, that’s it.”  Many people like to cook apples, dried fruit, nuts, whatever, in with their oatmeal.  We tend to like the texture that these items add when put in individual bowls in the morning.  This also allows for more individual choice (pretty much a necessity with two five year olds). Delish.

Fancy Crock Pot Feature for $4.

A Note On Crock Pots: There are a variety of Crock Pots and slow cookers on the market and you can spend very little or a whole lot. There are also LOTS of people who have Crock Pots in the back of their cabinets that they don’t use. Ask around, see what you can dig up. But wait, you say, the new ones have timer functions and all sorts of other cool features. To which I say, yes, they do and you will pay for it. Unless you’re planning on doing a WHOLE lot of Crock Pot cooking (which I do), I’d like to suggest that you consider my ridiculously simple solution: the cheapest Crock Pot you can find with one of these  little numbers.  Four dollar wall timer.  Worked like a charm.  So if you have an old Crock Pot, your Aunt Martha has an old Crock Pot, or if you’re lucky like me and attended a White Elephant holiday party with a bunch of younger folks who couldn’t imagine the utility of a Crock Pot, slap that timer on there and you have breakfast in bed (because you could actually cook it in your room, you know) ready to go.  Hot Diggity!

Reducing Sugar One Teaspoon at a Time

All of this health information and all of this negative focus on sugar may leave you feeling a little overwhelmed… or maybe throwing your hands up and saying, “What can I do?  Bad and nasty sugar is everywhere!!!” (And I like it!!)  Well, I like it too, but I used to be so inundated with it that nothing tasted sweet to me unless it was ridiculously sweet.  You may find that cutting the sugar out a bit at a time will not be missed as much as you think.

Here are some suggestions for cutting the pernicious sugar in your life.  (I will be employing the thesaurus function as I describe sugar in this post – just a warming.)  As Little Sis suggested in Lessons From the Cereal Aisle, you can work on a single item at a time (like cereal).  Set a goal for how much destructive sugar you are comfortable having in your bowl.  One teaspoon?  Two teaspoons?  One teaspoon is about 4.5 grams of nasty sugar and two teaspoons is about 9 grams, so if you are comfortable with 9 grams of insidious sugar in your cereal, make sure all of the cereal in the house is less than 9 grams for the amount you would have in your bowl.  (Often serving sizes are very small in the nutrition information)  I can’t say that I’ve ever been satisfied by 1/2 cup of cereal in the morning!

You can do this with other items as well.  Find flavored or fruited yogurt that has less harmful sugar than other brands.  This is very difficult, although Greek yogurt tends to have less.  We used to buy a brand called Cascade that had 16 grams of appalling sugar (still almost 4 teaspoons!) which was the lowest I could find at the time.  Try the mixing approach that Little Sis suggested for cereal.  Mix half plain and half flavored or fruited yogurt to cut the dreadful sugar in half.  Even better, buy plain and fresh fruit, dried fruit and/or nuts, cinnamon or vanilla.  Cinnamon is naturally sweet and can also be used on cereal to reduce the need for ghastly sugar as a sweetener.  And if you need to add some terrible sugar to make it palatable, I bet you can get away with less than the 5 – 8 teaspoons found in most 6oz. containers of yogurt.

Look at the beverages you are drinking.  This is a huge place to reduce your horrific sugar intake.  Please stop drinking soda, vitamin water and other sweetened beverages.  Really.  There is 10 and more teaspoons per can of soda.  I know, it’s easier said than done… here are some things to try:

  1. Cut back.  Just reduce by one a day for a set period of time.  Then reduce by another.  If you’re only drinking one sweetened beverage a day (and personally I think this includes juice as well), then cut it in half.  Something of a waste of money, but hey if you replace the other half with water at least you’re not spending more!
  2. Mix it.  Especially juice is easy to water down a little – or soda water down which gives some nice bubbly as well.  Can’t say I’ve tried watering down soda, but if you want to make a smaller serving seem bigger, serve it over LOTS of ice.
  3. Find something new.  Water is your best choice, but if you find some herbal tea that you like, you can make a big batch, refrigerate it and drink that instead.  It will have some flavor.  If you have to add a teaspoon per 8 or 12 ounce serving you are still cutting back.

Find substitutions for the cruel sugary things in your life.  Here is a recipe we are using to replace granola and energy bars which can also be loaded with spiteful sugar.

LEMON KISSED CASHEW HEMP BARS (Raw, vegan, gluten and soy free)
Makes 12 bars (6 for a more generous snack)

  • 1 cup cashews
  • 1 cup pitted dates
  • 1/3 cup hemp seeds (I used pumpkin seeds as I didn’t have any)
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp lemon zest

Place the cashews in a food processor and process till ground up.  Add the dates and hemp seeds and pulse repeatedly.  Then, add the lemon and lemon zest and leave the motor on until the whole thing has formed a big, uniform, sticky ball.  Take a large sheet of saran wrap and place it over the bottom of a small baking dish. Press the mixture down into it, till it’s even in thickness.  Cover with another sheet of saran, and freeze for at least 30 minutes.  Unwrap the “dough,” lay the rectangle flat on a cutting surface, and cut into 12 bars.  Wrap up individually and store in the fridge or freezer till ready to eat. I’m not sure how long they’ll keep, but I suspect up to two weeks is perfectly fine, and longer if you freeze them.
I got this recipe from a great site called choosing raw : http://www.choosingraw.com/sweet-snacking-lemon-kissed-cashew-hemp-bars/

A few other places to reduce the amount of icky sugar in your diet:

  1. Reduce the amount you put in coffee.
  2. Substitute cinnamon sugar that is mostly cinnamon and used sparingly for jelly or jam.
  3. Eat a piece of fruit instead of drinking a glass of juice.
  4. Check labels and buy brands with less wounding sugar or make your own.

If you try to change your whole diet in a week you will more than likely go back to your old ways, or miss them terribly.  I have found that I do not miss my old diet because I feel better – so give yourself some time to make and FEEL changes.  You might even see changes in the mirror and on the scale.  For more info on changing your diet one teaspoon or one change at a time see Baby Steps & Baby Steps Add up to Big Healthy Steps.

Real Breakfast You DO Have Time For

Our week of Sugar Busting continues and we’re going to stay in that breakfast bowl, because honestly, there is a lot to do there.  Cold cereal is a wonder of the modern world.  It is fast.  It is easy.  And it is nutritious… well, okay, so that’s not always true.  In fact, in many cases cold cereal delivers a high sugar/low nutrition bang for a relatively large buck.  You may feel that you don’t have time for anything else, and I imagine that there many reasons that could lead you to feel that cold cereal or pre-packaged breakfast bars are the only realistic option.  I’d like to suggest that for 10 minutes of preparation, you could have a much healthier breakfast waiting for you in the morning.  C’mon, you know what I’m going to say, right?

OATMEAL

  • $3.99/42 oz = .10¢ per ounce
  • Less than one gram sugar
  • 4g dietary fiber
  • 5g protein

FROSTED FLAKES

  • $3.99/13 oz = .31¢ per ounce
  • 11 grams sugar
  • 1g dietary fiber
  • 1g protein

CHEERIOS

  • $3.69/14 oz = .26¢ per ounce
  • 1 gram sugar
  • 3 grams dietary fiber
  • 3 grams protein

Yes, of course, you were right, because what else could it be besides our old friend oatmeal.  Ok, so I’m not re-inventing the wheel here by suggesting that a little oatmeal might do you some good, but I think where food is concerned, so much of what we choose to do is driven by habit.  So I’m going to suggest that those of you who want to make affordable, healthy, real food, low-sugar breakfasts, give oatmeal another looky-loo.  Maybe you’re ready for an oatmeal habit.  No, not the packets that have all kinds of other bits besides oatmeal and cost a whole lot more, the plain old oatmeal in the cardboard container that you can turn into a drum when it’s empty (we try to keep things exciting around here).

There are MANY ways to prepare oatmeal, which is part of what is so great about it.  If you want to just give it a go for the first time since you were a kid, you should know that microwave preparation of a bowl of oatmeal takes approximately 5 minutes, including measuring.  Stovetop takes about 12.  I’m going to assume you can read the back of that cardboard box, but thought I would highlight how little time it actually takes.  My current favorite combination: 1/2c oatmeal cooked in 1c almond milk topped with a couple of chopped dates and walnuts.  Delish.  Not ready for unsweetened oatmeal yet?  Go ahead, give yourself a pinch of brown sugar.  If you stay under a teaspoon, you’re still under 5 total grams of sugar and you get the other goodies to go with it.  Cut back that sugar over time and let your taste buds learn how sweet a handful of raisins can be. Baby steps in the right direction have it all over standing completely still.

Still think it takes too long?  I’ve got some oatmeal shortcuts on the way.  And if you’re lucky, I’ll let you see the picture of the asparagus I picked from my patch.  YUM!!

Traveling Beverages

Image

Is it some kind of foul and evil experiment involving old jars, a Coleman cooler and evil chemicals?  Are Little Sis and I analyzing the contents of Coca Cola?  Naaah!  That’s already been done!

It’s much tamer than that.  And although I am guessing that it is not high etiquette to use one’s blog in a self aggrandizing or self congratulatory way….. I’m going to do it anyway!  Actually, I’m sure you’ll forgive or even laugh at me because it’s such a small accomplishment that it’s hardly worth any praise.  However, it is one of those tasks that has been on my ‘to-do’ list for a long time.

I am not a caffeine-drinker, but when we travel I need a little help to keep eyes on the road and wheels within the lane markers.  My drink of choice at this point is some iced tea.  It does not cause my heart to speed up or skip a few beats as does caffeinated coffee, but gives enough boost to keep us safe in the car.

Convenience store at the gas station, here we come.  Just don’t check out the labels on your average bottle or can of iced tea.  It’s a little scary.  (And of course I hope you do check the labels!)  Even Arizona tea with the wonderful Asian symbols and natural sounding flavors like green tea with ginseng and honey has high fructose corn syrup in it.  In fact HFCS is the second ingredient in that flavor, honey is the third and it also lists ‘natural flavors’ as an ingredient.  I promise not to dwell too long on this, but McDonald’s sweet tea does not even achieve a first or second place listing for tea.  The first ingredient is water, the second sugar and the third is tea.  There are 45 grams of sugar in a medium (21fl oz) McDonald’s sweet tea.  Suffice it to say, that the teas available to me as I travel all have sugar in various guises.  And lots of it.  So I’ve been saving bottles, both from the tea I’ve chosen over a nasty high speed collision, and anything else that is conducive to drinking and storing, with the intention of making my own iced tea and taking it on the road!

I finally did it!  As you can see in the picture above it was indeed a motley collection of bottles / jars (minus the one we drank on the first leg of the journey) filled with home brewed black tea and 1 tablespoon of sugar in what turned out to be about a half gallon of tea.  In comparison to McDonald’s sweet tea that’s 4.5 grams of sugar in 21 oz. rather than 45.  Mind you this tea was not sweet to speak of, but it tasted great, did the job and removed the repugnant necessity of giving my money to companies that make crappy products albeit in the name of highway safety.

So yeah for me!  Self congratulation done and there is plenty of tea left for the return trip as well.  Next hurdle…. the free breakfast in the hotel that has waffles that come from a pourable carton and Fruit Loops.   Ahhhhhhhh!

The Habit-Driven Holiday

So I attended the twins’ pre-K Easter party today.  Mercy.  I actually really enjoy rooms full of pre-schoolers because I’m weird like that.  I do have to admit, however, that my enjoyment becomes somewhat strained when we give them all a plate full of “treats” to eat and then set them loose on the world.  The volume increase alone can be staggering.  In my attempts to reinforce my kids’ good eating habits I usually feel like a Scrooge at all holiday affairs.  Don’t get me wrong, I let them partake, but do a fair amount of talking beforehand and whatever meal they have before an event like this is exceptionally nutritious and my expectations for their participation in consuming that meal are very high.  While the table of offerings at their parties have, thankfully, decreased a bit since the parties at the beginning of the year, it is still chock full of nibbles that my kids don’t usually get (including candy) and each of these parties includes some kind of take-away that also includes candy. …  See, you’re even thinking I sound a little mean.  And maybe I am, but I just don’t think a 5 year old needs to consume the sugary equivalent of a King Sized Snickers bar (and even I can appreciate the wonder of a King Sized Snickers bar) as an afternoon snack to celebrate Easter.

So in my concern about these dietary issues, I’ve assumed that I am alone, that the other parents think this is fine and dandy, and that I am the only one who thinks this whole equation doesn’t add up.  But today I listened.  Each of the parents that came to help was coaching children to take some of the healthy choices, pushing grapes and carrots and popcorn, eagerly offering water over juice boxes, placing limits on the time and amount of take away candy consumption that would occur.  Sighing and shaking their heads as they watched the escalation begin.  So I left wondering why, if we all think this is a bit much (as we seem to), we continue to do it this way?  These kids are 4 and 5 year olds; wouldn’t now be the easiest time to train them NOT to expect all of the junk?  Wouldn’t now be the time to develop family and community traditions that don’t require us to walk around harping after our children and thinking we didn’t pull it off anyway at the end of the day?  Let me be clear; I am not suggesting that we stop having parties.  And you should know from my earlier posts that I am also not suggesting that we ban chocolate.  I just want to explore the scale.  So many of our daily dietary choices are based on habits, and often on habits that are not particularly healthful.  Do we continue to binge and to teach our children to do the same out of habit?  And do we then grimace at the amount of noise and the tears that follow 40 minutes later when they crash?

Lest you all think that you should send my children Easter treats in the mail, I should tell you that next weekend, they will get Easter baskets and that those baskets will have some candy.  A chocolate bunny, some mini chocolate bars, and some lovely white Jordan almonds.  No high fructose corn syrup (which wasn’t THAT hard to do) and none of the food colorings that are on the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s “Food Additives to Avoid” list (this was harder).  Their baskets will also have a small toy (thank you Legos).  As for eggs we will, at some point, be dying eggs…  I have yet to decide HOW we will be dying them as all of the “kits” also include “Avoid” colors.  I am sure, however, that I will be able to convince my children that any method we choose for coloring eggs is fun.  What 5 year old doesn’t want to do a messy art project as a family?

Should you do what I do?  That’s not what I’m saying.  Is all candy bad?  I have NO idea (except about chocolate, which is good, plain and simple).  I do know that for ME responsible parenting means trying to bring as many days as possible into some kind of alignment with my fundamental beliefs.  I fundamentally believe that the additives in much of our food are cumulatively harmful; I actively stress the importance of teaching our children to eat better than we do.  Celebrating a holiday does not mean giving up who I am, and who I want us to be.  Separating our harmful habits from our cherished traditions may well help us to enjoy our holidays and celebrations even more, as ourselves, and as who we want to be.

So that’s my plan for the upcoming holiday. What’s yours? Is it what you want it to be? Are you celebrating by habit or by design? And, more selfishly, if you do something cool and food safe with eggs, do tell. Yes, there are millions of things out there on the web… Which are your favorites?

The Pollen Count is WHAT?! Why Don’t I Feel It?

I have always had atrocious seasonal allergies.  I was that kid – you know the one with the constantly drippy nose, who carried tissues while other kids carried personal treasures, and who more often than not in the Spring was likely to be a little spacey because at that time Benadryl was the best answer to swollen eyes and gooey noses.  “Most people grow out of it…” they said.  And so I waited.  And waited.  And waited.  I’m 42 now.  While I’ve not outgrown all of my childhood foibles, many have indeed gone by the wayside.  Not my allergies.  Last year was one of my worst.  I loaded up on prescriptions and struggled through the Spring, feeling a bit punished for my love of gardening and super fresh, super local (backyard grown) food.  I used my Neti pot, I used steroid nasal spray, I did everything I could to remain coherent AND breathe.

Over the last year my family and I have made a series of dietary changes.  We’ve been paying a lot of attention and have made every effort to eliminate as many processed foods as we can, and recently we’ve DRAMATICALLY decreased the amount of meat and dairy that we consume.  We still eat it, but mostly on the weekends, and try to keep the portion MUCH smaller.  More of a flavoring than an entree.  So here we are, feeling better than we have in a LONG time and tree pollen season is upon us.  I’ve noticed and had a few days that made me think about medicating… but I haven’t.  Mostly I feel pretty good.  I’ve been out in the garden; I’ve been doing yard work.  Yes, I feel that pollen, but this is a whole different world.  Everyone around me is complaining about their symptoms and trading tips on symptomatic relief.  I am breathing through not one, but TWO clear nostrils and waiting for the other shoe to drop.

So what’s going on here?  Is it the strange weather?  Is it still too early and in a few days I will regret ever commenting on my relative comfort?  Possibly.  But the fact is that I feel better than I have ever felt.  In my life.  Ever.  There are doctors out there who will tell you that dietary change can influence your allergies…  No, really.  It’s true; the food you eat MAY actually have something to do with how your body functions.  I’ll be darned.  I’ll give you one link, but all you need to do is Google “diet and seasonal allergies” and you’ll get a quick roundup of the suggestions as to how and why these two may go hand in hand.  My personal experience is suggesting that there is something in either processed food or animal products that taxed my system in such a way that the additional load brought on by Spring pollen was just too much to bear.  I suppose I could do an elimination diet, testing one of these items at a time to see exactly which one, or which ones, are causing the trouble….  but I feel great.  So why would I do that?  I’ll just keep on keeping on and we’ll see what the rest of Spring looks like.  Maybe I’ll avoid being groggy at all.  Wouldn’t that be a nice change?

So here’s the part where I’m supposed to tell you to eat what I eat so your problems will go away.  I’m not going to do that.  Our diet has been an evolution.  A long process of incremental change that has landed us here.  You may not find the idea of really cutting meat and dairy interesting, and I can understand that.  But maybe, just maybe, you’ll wonder what would happen if you made some changes.  What would happen if the next meal you made didn’t include food that could sit on a shelf for a year without changing?  I’m serious, what would that look like?  If you have made changes, and you’ve noticed a difference, I want to hear about it.   And for the first time with pollen counts this high, I’ll probably remember what you say when you respond.

Farewell Pink Slime

In case you haven’t heard somewhere on the blogosphere, or in the news, or at your grocery store, there has been quite an uproar about something called pink slime.  Pink slime is a meat product that was previously used in just about every ground beef product you can think of.  You can find out more about what pink slime is here.  The short version is that pink slime contains meat trimmings that used to be used for pet food and (oh yum) ammonia.  The USDA contends that pink slime is safe; personally, I’m pretty sure that I don’t really want to eat ammonia. The film Food, Inc., Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, and Diane Sawyer have all taken on pink slime; the public responded to the information and now food purveyors are responding as well.  Today Washington D.C. supermarket chain Giant joins a list of many other stores that have decided not to carry products that contain pink slime.

For me, this whole brouhaha shines a light on a couple of extremely important lessons.  Lesson 1:  You can’t assume that you know what’s in that package you’re buying.  What could have seemed more simple than buying a package of ground beef?  As with all other purchasing decisions – buyer beware.  Food manufacturers are trying to make a profit just like every other corporation.  While it would certainly not be in their best interest to make you ill, it is in their best interest to increase that profit margin.  Increasing profit margins may well mean including ingredients that you would not choose to use.  Lesson 2: food consumers are a powerful bunch.  In the past several months, huge companies such as McDonald’s and Wal-Mart have changed their positions on pink slime in response to consumer outrage and demand.  School systems are changing their lunch food purchases.  Democracy is not just about who we vote for, but what we demand of all of our systems.  Democracy may well mean calling your school board about a school lunch; democracy may well mean educating yourself on USDA rules, asking questions about their decisions.  Making the market work for you may well mean refusing to buy food from establishments that cut corners to the detriment of your family’s health.  This is about more than ground beef.  Regardless of how you feel about pink slime, remember that there is power in each item you pick up at the store, that the limits on what stores offer us have EVERYTHING to do with what we are willing to accept.

Frozen Dairy Dessert, Really Breyer’s?

Okay, so apparently I am behind the 8 ball on this one as I’ve googled the subject and found lots of angry posts about Breyer’s addition of tara gum to their ‘all natural ice cream.’  I’ve been happily buying Breyer’s vanilla, chocolate and coffee ice cream for about 5 years after concluding that I can make my own healthier versions of the nasty loaded ice creams like super-chewy-brownie-fudge-oreo-sugar-chemical-soup-with-caramel by starting with a natural ice cream and adding nuts, home-made cookies or brownies or fruit.  Lately, my husband has been purchasing Breyer’s butter pecan and cherry vanilla.  What’s so un-natural about that?  Add a little cherries and vanilla right?  Add a little butter and pecans, right?  Indeed.  It would seem that adding more things requires the removal of some cream and the addition of a number of other chemicals.  These actions demotes these Breyer’s ice creams to ‘frozen dairy desserts.’  I’m scooping out some of what I thought was ice cream for my son last night and I notice the vanilla says ice cream on the carton and the butter pecan says ‘frozen dairy dessert.’  After yelling like a crazed health whack, reading the ingredient list, then yelling some more and finally reassuring my son that, “Yes, you can still eat this bowl of whatever-it-is that’s sitting in front of you,”  I resolved to do a little research today.  Here’s what I found and what Breyer’s is hiding from you!!!

The Breyers website has nutrition and ingredient information from April of 2010 when all of the flavors in the natural line (we won’t even talk about their version of super-chewy-brownie-fudge-oreo-sugar-chemical-soup-with-caramel now) were still called ice cream.  Very convenient.  The ingredients listed for the 2010 butter pecan ice cream on the Breyer’s website are: Milk, Cream, Sugar, Butter Pecans (Pecans, Butter, Cottonseed Oil, Salt), Whey, Natural Flavor, Natural Tara Gum, Salt.  10 ingredients if you don’t count salt twice, and I would argue that the natural flavor is suspicious… which natural flavor would that be?  This is a far cry from the Breyer’s ice cream which only had recognizable, could be found in your own kitchen, ingredients.  But wait!  It gets worse!  The ingredients on MY carton of 2012 Breyer’s Frozen Dairy Dessert are: milk, sugar, corn syrup, butter pecans (pecans, cottonseed oil, butter (cream, salt), salt), cream, whey, mono and diglycerides, salt, carob bean gum, guar gum, natural flavors, carrageenan, lactose enzyme, annato (for color), vitamin A palmitate, tara gum.  20 INGREDIENTS.  Did I mention CORN SYRUP.  I AM MOST UNHAPPY WITH YOU BREYERS!!

Upon further investigation I find that some of the 2010 flavors, like coffee, include caramel color which is REALLY bad – CSPI list of ‘food additives to avoid.

Shame on you Breyers.  And shame on me for not being more vigilant about reading labels before buying.  Apparently you can no longer assume that a company that built it’s reputation on all-natural ingredients continues in that vein.  We are going to purchase a Cuisinart ice cream maker and make ice cream from organic milk and other ingredients that are in my kitchen.  We can then add the following toppings for added zing…

crushed natural graham crackers (be sure to read the label) & slivered almonds
strawberries and banana or pineapple
crumbled homemade cookies or brownies
natural or homemade granola
a drizzle of maple syrup and walnuts
shredded coconut  – also a yummy addition if you toast it lightly in the oven or toaster oven

And yes, we will finish the ice cream and ‘frozen dairy dessert’ in the freezer.  I am a ‘health whack’ AND a cheapskate, so the former self will have to be satisfied with an alternate plan for the future in this case.  Enjoy the most natural ice cream you can find or afford, but don’t forget to read your labels because you never know what they are sneaking into the food these days!  Tell us what you add to your ice cream?