Wednesday, December 31, 2008

auld lang syne

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne?
- Robert Burns

Auld lang syne, times gone by.  As the New Year fast approaches many of us think back on the year that has been and, of course, eagerly await the year to be.

For some reason the celebration of New Year's is tied to an expectation of promises for the year ahead.  I will....lose weight, start to exercise, get more organized, anything that we think needs to be fixed.  The problem, as I see it, is that many people try to do this in an absolute fashion.  It's all or nothing for the diet, the gym, the insert-your-choice-here.  My trainer at the gym laughingly tells me that although the gym is starting to get very crowded these days I should be patient because in another 30 days it will empty out again.  People will start the New Year with good intentions and lots of motivation.  But it is hard work and, if they've done no mental preparation other than making a vague promise to themselves, overwhelming.  It doesn't last long.

When I work with clients I encourage them to not work in absolutes.  If you slowly and mindfully make changes, just one or two at a time, they are more likely to stick.  As an example, I have one client who is trying to break a fast food habit.  Instead of never ever ever going to a fast-food restaurant again, we started by having her give up the soda (that was her choice).   Then we began to cut down on the number of times she went out for fast food.  Next it was to downsize the meal (get a Jr. burger and a small fries).  Eventually it will not even be a temptation.  In the past because she would say, "That's it, I'm never eating fast food again" she would not have much success and usually within 30 days found herself standing in line to order and feeling really bad about it.  Feeling bad about it may be modestly motivating in the short term, but I believe it just helps build up that "I don't care" callus and gets in the way of making positive changes.

I don't make grand sweeping resolutions anymore.  I personally see no need to tie all my motivations and changes to one day.  Instead I try to live mindfully; to make thoughtful, achievable choices.  Don't make a huge, possibly overwhelming, promise to yourself later tonight.  Consider a modest goal that, when you reach it, will make you feel good about yourself and encourage you to keep going.  

Some suggestions might be
*adding a gratitude practice to your day - writing down five things a day that you are grateful for
*choosing to leave five minutes early for appointments to reduce stress
*planning to turn off or not answer the phone the first 15 minutes after you arrive home from work to give yourself some decompression time
*deciding that at least one day a week you will set a beautiful table for yourself and your family to eat dinner at
*choosing to eat one more piece of fruit or vegetable a day than you normally do
*drinking one (or one more) glass of water every day if you, like most people, don't drink enough

Think about what you want to achieve, why you want to accomplish that goal and a small step as part of the process to get you there.  With this kind of mental preparation and reasonable expectations you will achieve your goals.

Have a happy, healthy New Year and be well.

photo courtesy of

Monday, December 29, 2008

what are YOU drinking?

"If you think about it, Coke inherently is linked with herbal drinks, in a way, Coca-Cola is an herbal drink."  This statement, made by Zhang Huaying, director of a the Coca-cola Research Center for Chinese Medicine, in Beijing, China, appears on the Atlanta Journal Constitution website.  I was flabbergasted when I read it.  In no way shape or form is Coca-cola an herbal drink.  It is a sweet, over-processed, carbonated, calorically empty beverage.  

The statement was made in conjunction with a press release regarding a new drink based on Chinese herbal medicine that is currently under development.  Everyone at corporate headquarters and this new facility are apparently very excited because they think this is the next greatest thing in beverage development.  They also think it's comparable to when Coca-cola was first developed by combining South American coca leaves with African kola nuts.

Given the latest development with Coca-cola, where they had their hands slapped by the FDA over their Coca-coa Plus product which claims to provide vitamin B3, B6, and B12, and the minerals zinc and magnesium (thank goodness that for once the FDA was paying attention), one wonders where they are hiding their brains.  

I find it truly distressing that so many companies are trying to mislead consumers by "fitifying" (my newly created word) their product.  Because, of course, it is so much better to get people to keep consuming the same garbage but making them feel good about it by adding chemical analogues of nutrition elements such as fiber water (really, let's think about this people), vitamins, minerals, proteins, etc.  [please read that last sentence with it's intended snarkiness]

My suggestion?  Drink things that are actually good for you, water, teas, broths, whole fruit and/or vegetable juices and avoid these nutrition scams.

Be well.

maple syrup

At the grocery store last night I overheard someone talking.  They were looking for Grade B maple syrup and couldn't find it.  They also were wondering what the heck the difference was between Grade A and Grade B.

Having lived in Vermont before and having spent some time in a sugar shack (just tasting mind you, not cooking) I thought I would share a little information about maple syrup.

Maple syrup is made from the sap of the sugar maple tree.  In the spring when weather warms up the sap starts "running", the trees are tapped and the sugar shacks start boiling to create the syrup.  It takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup; the average tree produces about 10 gallons of sap.  Once they start boiling in the sugar shack they don't stop until the sap stops; this can make for some very long days.

There are five grades of maple syrup, Grade A Light Amber is the fancy grade and the one most people use.  Grade A Medium Amber and Grade A Dark Amber are darker, obviously and they have a slightly different taste.  Grade B is even darker and thicker than Grade A Dark Amber and has a more pronounced flavor.  It is more often used for cooking because of the more intense flavor.  The last grade is Grade C, or commercial, which is for flavorings and other commercial uses.

According to Ed, the guy who owned the sugar shack down the way, Vermont maple syrup is better than any other maple syrup because they actually boil it thicker, using more gallons of sap per gallon of finished product, and so it is more flavorful.  

I never learned to drink coffee with maple syrup (which a number of people in Vermont do) but I did get a recipe from my friend Carol for a Maple Oat Pie which is a Vermont specialty.  I've modified the recipe slightly over the years but still call it Carol's Maple Oat Pie and think of her every time I make it (warning, this is not a low calorie food but it sure is good).

Carol's Maple Oat Pie

1 C. sucanat
1 C. butter
3 eggs
1 cup maple syrup
1 cup oatmeal (quick oats)
2 tsp vanilla
1 cup crushed walnuts

preheat oven to 325 degrees F
cream together sucanat and butter
add eggs one at a time
add remaining ingredients

pour mixture into unbaked 9" pie shell. 
Bake 325° for 10 min 
reduce heat to 300 and bake another 45 minutes or until set

photo courtesy of

Saturday, December 27, 2008

outside your food zone

When I was studying to become a Nutrition Educator one of the important lessons we were taught was to be sensitive to the food culture that other people came from.  If you are trying to help them learn to make positive changes you need to do it within the context of the food they are familiar and comfortable with.  I think this is very important as it gives people more of a chance to make successful changes.  

Having said that I also believe that it is fun to step outside our "normal" food patterns and look at what is available in other cultures. We are very fortunate, where we live, to have large numbers of people from other cultures in our community.  This means that there are abundant shopping opportunities for the adventurous eater.

Today I took my oldest daughter on an expedition to an Asian market.  We were in search of a few things that we were familiar and comfortable with but also willing to try other foods.  A casual comment about miso in one of the isles turned into a serendipitous encounter with a very friendly person who introduced us to a new kind of green, a new kind of chive, a different kind of miso and an explanation of the best way to cook the type of seaweed we had chosen.  His accent was not difficult to understand and his enthusiasm for sharing his native cuisine was wonderful; we left the store excited to try the new foods that we had purchased.

After we got home we made a most delicious and satisfying miso soup for dinner.  This recipe is not an exact science, but it worked really well.

Miso Soup
bring a large pot of water to a boil
add some wakame seaweed
turn off heat, cover and let sit 30 minutes
pour a little boiling water over dried shitake mushroom
let sit to rehydrate
prepare a pot of vegetarian soup base
add a generous spoonful of miso paste
cook on medium until hot and starting to thicken
drain and pat dry wakame
snip into small pieces
cut medium firm tofu into blocks
shred one carrot
dice scallions or chives
slice mushrooms
wash and shred greens (we chose watercress)
place "fixings" in your bowl
ladle soup liquid over it

I encourage you to think outside your comfort zone when it comes to food.  Look, listen, learn; who knows what delicious dishes await you.

fifteen minutes

As a Nutrition Educator with a holistic focus to my practice I believe it is important to do more than just pay attention to the food we eat.  We need to nourish our whole being; that includes our brains, our emotions, and our spirits.

I recently learned about Spring Forest Qigong's gift to all of us.  In the hurry and flurry of post-holiday time, as we settle back into our normal routines and recover from any holiday-induced stress, we need to remember to take some time for ourselves.

Master Chunyi Lin has created a free fifteen minute guided meditation that is wonderful.  You deserve to take fifteen quiet minutes for yourself to listen to this amazing gift.

Friday, December 26, 2008

kitchen questions

My friend Helene had a couple of questions for me:

1.  "My cookies require fresh ginger....the last root I bought turned out to be very fibrous.....little strings and after the cookies were made they look like they are full of cat hair. taste delicious...look unappealing....on the Food Channel I noticed them mincing ginger and there were no hairs at can I tell if the ginger I am about to buy will be smooth?"

I too have frequently had a problem with fibrous shredded ginger.  But since all ginger is fibrous the answer lies not in finding one that has no fiber but in finding the right tool to shred your ginger.  I used to use a box grater but it wasn't great.  The best is a rasp-type file.  The story is that a woman who was frustrated by her inefficient lemon zester one day grabbed her husbands' microplane rasp and found that it did an excellent job.  

My local Sur la Table has one very reasonably priced at $10 but I'm sure you can find them at any upscale cookware store.

2.  "Potatoes and squash are on sale this week...I have 3 bags of potatoes, a cold basement, lots of boxes and newspaper....could you discuss cold storage for produce for those of us in NE climate?"

It's much easier to store foods for long harvest in colder climates.  The process is known as cold storage, or root cellaring.  According to my favorite source book Root Cellaring: Natural Cold Storage of Fruits & Vegetables, "Second-crop potatoes are best for storing...they should be cured before storing to give them a chance to heal surface nicks and toughen their skins.  Spread them out in a protected place where the temperature is 60-75 degrees F.  They should not be exposed to rain, sun or wind during curing.  After a one-week to two-week curing period, potatoes are ready for storage...for winter keeping, put your potatoes ina  cold damp spot...[they] keep best at 36-40 degrees F with high humidity, around 90 percent."

Squash also need to be cured (except for acorn squashes) and recommended storage is warmer and drier than for potatoes, an unheated side room or attic can be ideal.

I highly recommend the Root Cellaring book as well as Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long. Both of these books have a lot of excellent information, presented in an easy-to-read-and-understand format. I believe that they are very good resource books for anyone interested in food storage.

If you have any questions about food, nutrition or holistic health just let me know...the answers may appear here on the blog.

photo courtesy of

Thursday, December 25, 2008


Christmas is, as most of us over four feet high know, not just about the presents.  It's about a lot of different things; for many of us that includes family.  And food.  Lots of food.  And where there's food there is dessert.

We were fortunate to have a large family gathering.  My brother and his wife came to Texas where her father lives.  We drove out for the day, spending it with them plus an assortment of her family, cousins, kids and all; it was wonderful.

I didn't want to go empty handed and decided to make a pie.  Looking around my kitchen I decided that banana coconut custard pie was the order of the day.  Since I made this pie at 10:00 pm the night before I confess that I did use a pre-made pie crust.  Well, that and the fact that I am not very good at making pie crusts...I need to work on that.

The pie was delicious and so easy to make.  It turns out that Poppy's (my sister-in-law's father) favorite pie is anything-to-do-with-coconut.  He tried to hide the pie in the refrigerator to keep for later.  I guess I'll be making this again for the next time I see him.

Banana Coconut Custard Pie

8" pie crust, baked
3/4 C. evaporated cane juice crystals
1/3 C. oat flour
1/4 t. salt
2 ripe bananas
1 can coconut milk (I prefer Thai Kitchen brand as they have no preservatives, bleaching or added sugars)
3 egg yolks, beaten
2 T. butter
1 1/2 t. vanilla
1 C. shredded coconut

To make the custard:

mix together sugar, flour and salt in a pan
turn burner to medium heat
shake coconut milk to mix and slowly pour in to dry ingredients
mix well to avoid lumps
stir continuously until mixture start to bubble
remove from burner
slowly add 2-3 T. of hot mixture into egg yolks to combine
(this prevents curdling)
add egg yolks to milk mixture stirring well
put back on heat, bring back to a bubble
remove from heat
add butter and vanilla
put back on heat and cook 2 more minutes
remove from heat and let cool

Once the custard has cooled assemble the pie
slice bananas thinly and arrange on bottom of pie crust
sprinkle with 1/2 C. shredded coconut
pour custard over the top of the bananas and coconut
sprinkle remaining 12/ C. shredded coconut on top of pie

Bake 350 degrees F for 15 minutes
chill for one hour before serving

I hope that your holiday celebration was everything that you wanted it to be and that you too were surrounded by family, friends and good food.

Be well.

Sunday, December 21, 2008


Hanukkah is a wonderful holiday in our family.  We love the traditions associated with it, the story, the songs, lighting the menorah, and, of course, all the latkes you can eat.  The tradition is that you eat fried foods with jelly doughnuts (sufghaniot) and potato pancakes (latkes) being the top choices.

I only make latkes once a year, at Hanukkah.  Each year my husband says, "Oh don't make latkes, they are fried and so fattening, we really shouldn't eat them."  And as we are sitting at the table enjoying them he says, "Oh, I'm so glad you made these, I love them!"  I used to only make regular potato latkes but now I also make sweet potato latkes.  It's hard to decide whether we like the plain or sweet potato ones better.

The recipe is as simple as can be; however it is very important that the latkes be served with applesauce and sour cream.  To serve them without these side condiments would be a shame.

Latkes (this recipe serves 6)

3 pounds of potatoes, scrubbed, peeled and shredded
1 large onion peeled and shredded
1 large egg
1/4 C. flour
salt and pepper to taste

mix ingredients together
heat oil in a pan
drop mixture by very large tablespoons into pan
after 2-3 minutes flip to other side and cook another 2 minutes
remove from pan and drain on paper towels


Friday, December 19, 2008

not so sweet news

Oh boy, here we go.  The FDA has just made what is called a "midnight approval" (meaning a last minute decision before the new administration steps in) certifying Truvia.  What is Truvia?  It is the chemical analog of Stevia, an herb, Stevia Rebaudiana, which grows primarily in South America, is related to the Chrysanthemum and is approximately 300 times sweeter than sugar.   

The FDA has refused to certify Stevia as safe for use in food even though it has been used for centuries by native populations and has no known side effects.  It is really only available in healthfood stores as a dietary supplement.

Enter Cargill and Coca-cola.  They collaborate together, create something called rebaudioside A and go begging to the FDA for approval - AND GET IT!  

I'm very upset about this.  The Center for Science In the Public Interest (CSPI) reveals that studies done at UCLA show a concern among scientists that this creation has not been adequately tested.  Unfortunately with this approval big business will now try to market all sorts of soda, ice creams, candies, etc touting their new "natural" sweetener.  I wrote about this in a paper over a year ago and am saddened to see my suspicions coming to light.

Just as corporations try to promote Splenda as being "just like sugar" they will now promote Truvia as a natural substance.  It's not.  Stevia is just like stevia.  Truvia is a created version that is similar but is not the same.  Don't be fooled and please don't eat it.

As an aside, if you didn't already know, Splenda is indeed made from sugar but the resulting powder has replaced three hydrogen-oxygen groups on the sugar molecule with chlorine.  This makes it a chlorocarbon.  And what do chlorocarbons do?  It is a well-known fact that they cause various types of body damage including organ, genetic and reproductive.  Approval was given based on the fact that the manufacturer claims the chlorines are so tightly bound in the structure that there is no health risk.  They are now doing some long term studies with rats but, again, I don't think it's real food and I don't think you should eat it.

Low processed sugars like sucanat or evaporated cane juice crystals, honey, molasses, maple syrup, are the sweeteners that are best (in moderation).

Be well.
photo courtesy of

Thursday, December 18, 2008

sugar notes

Following up on yesterday's post, I received a number of questions about different types of sugar.  Rather than getting into a discussion of all the different types of sugar out there I recommend that you check this google link for the particular sugar that you are interested in.

I did, however,  want to mention a couple of ideas about substitutions that may be helpful.

Sugar - for most baking I substitute sucanat (SUgar CAne NATural - the lowest process sugar you can get) unless I am making something more delicate like scones or lemon cookies, etc.  The substitution is one for one, ie, if the recipe calls for 1 C. sugar use 1 C. sucanat.

If I cannot use sucanat because the flavor will overwhelm what I am making, I use evaporated cane juice crystals or demerara depending on what I have on hand.  Both are more processed than sucanat but far less processed than white sugar.  They are sometimes also found as raw sugar.  Again the ratio is one for one.

Brown Sugar - I am going to try using turbinado sugar.  I've been using sucanat with a spoonful of molasses mixed in but have recently learned that turbinado is moister and has less calories.

Cinnamon Sugar - I use a 7-1 ratio, 7 T. sucanat to 1 T. cinnamon.

Confectioner's Sugar - I use sucanat or evaporated cane juice crystals whirred in my cuisinart to make it very powdery.  For each C. of powdered sucanat I add 1 T. cornstarch.

Other substitutions that may prove helpful are:

Honey - If you want to use honey instead of sugar in a recipe, use 3/4 C. honey for each C. of sugar called for.  Then reduce the remaining liquid by 1/4 C, add 1/4 t. baking soda (to help neutralize the honey) and reduce the heat by 25 degrees F (honey tends to make things darker when baked, reducing the temperature will help keep it from over-browning).

Maple Syrup - If you want to use maple syrup instead of sugar in a recipe, use 3/4 C. maple syrup for each C. of sugar.  Reduce the remaining liquid by 3 T. and add 1/4 t. baking soda to help neutralize the maple syrup).

Finally the non-caloric sweeteners:

I do not use and do not recommend any of the artificial sweeteners.  These include Nutrasweet, Splenda, Equal and Sweet-n-Low.

While I like Stevia as a sugar alternative I have not worked much at substituting it in family favorite recipes.  The general theory is that 1 C. of sugar can be replaced with 1 t. stevia liquid/1/2 t. stevia concentrate/18 stevia packets. In baking, for every 1 C. of sugar that is replaced with stevia you need to add 1/3 C. "liquid" to replace the missing bulk. Acceptable substitutes would be yogurt, unsweetened applesauce, egg whites (no yolk because that will change the structure of the baked good), fruit puree, unsweetened fruit juice or water. I have found some good stevia recipes here.

photo courtesy of

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

braised carrots

One of our favorite family recipes is braised carrots.  It makes an appearance at all holidays and is a comfort food that we all love, they're delicious anytime.

Everyone knows that carrots are very high in beta-carotene (that's what gives them their lovely orange color).  This is converted to vitamin A in the liver.  The antioxidants in carrots are believed to be very beneficial for cardiovascular health, night vision,  and are thought to help protect the body against certain cancers.   Carrots are also very high in vitamins K and C as well as providing lots of fiber, definitely a good food.

We've been making this recipe for so many years that I'm not sure where the original recipe came from; it's been modified over time and this is our version:  

Braised Carrots

6 large carrots, scrubbed, peeled and cut into 2" chunks
1 large onion, diced
2 T. butter
1/2-3/4 C. water
1 T. vegetarian soup base
1 T. sucanat
generous pinch salt
1 T. freshly minced parsley

sautee the onions in the butter until soft
add the carrots and toss for 1-2 minutes until thoroughly coated
add 1/2 C. water and the soup base
turn heat down to simmer, cover and let sit 10-12 minutes
check to see if more water is needed
let simmer another 5-7 minutes until carrots are done
add sucanat and salt and stir well
sprinkle with parsley and serve

photo courtesy of

how sweet is it?

I just received an email from my friend Helene:

"I recently read that 'Rapadura is just Succanat made by another company. Then there is, Florida Crystals. All three the same thing, they are all processed sugars. The difference between them and regular super-market sugar is that they have not been bleached. All four are identical nutritionally.' what are your thoughts?"

So here goes: 

My research shows that sucanat is far less processed than regular white sugar. White sugar goes through so many filterings and then a bleaching that it has no mineral content left, it is pure disaccharide (a form of sucrose made up of fructose and glucose). Sucanat has the following:

Nutritional Analysis of Sucanat:

approximately one cup

* water......................................2.7g
* calories..................................570g
* carbohydrate...........................135.g
* fat..........................................0g
* sodium...................................0.5mg
* potassium..............................1,125mg
* vitamin A...............................1600IU
* thiamin (B1)...........................0.21mg
* riboflavin (B2).........................0.21mg
* niacin.....................................0.20mg
* calcium...................................165mg
* iron.........................................6.5mg
* vitamin B6...............................0.60mg
* magnesium.............................127mg
* zinc........................................2.3mg
* copper.....................................0.3mg
* pantothenic acid......................1.8mg
* chromium................................40mcg
* phosphorus.............................48mg

Source: USDA Handbook of Nutrient Content of Foods

Any form of sugar provides calories that are easily absorbed by the body. Lots of people are looking for the "perfect" sweetener that is sweet but has no impact on the body -- not possible. White sugar is most easily absorbed by the body and spikes insulin because it is broken down into it's lowest form. But there are forms that are better than others, because they are less processed and retain some of the mineral content which slows down the body's response.

I personally use sucanat and find it to be a good sweetener. I do not, and have not for years, used white sugar or brown sugar (which is just white sugar with a little molasses thrown in). I also use evaporated cane juice crystals, also known as raw sugar, as an option when the rich flavor of sucanat would be too overwhelming for what I am making. I have heard that turbinado sugar is a good substitute for brown sugar because it does hold in some of the moisture unlike demerara or sucanat. Turbinado is also lower in calories with 11 calories per per teaspoon versus 16 calories for white sugar. As far as other sweeteners go I also use honey, maple syrup, molasses and stevia.

So by way of conclusion, I have heard that rapadura and sucanat are the same thing but even if they are they are not the same as white table sugar.  Because they are less processed I do believe that they are a better choice.

Update:  Helene says she's happy to hear this.  She uses sucanat and honey plus occasionally a splash of stevia in her coffee.  

photo courtesy of

Monday, December 15, 2008


Not the movie, the food.  Even though we are slated to have a high of 75 F today it's a great day to make ratatouille.  In part because I have a lot of running around to do and my crock pot makes it very easy to get dinner on the table in spite of that.  The other reason is that eggplants were particularly beautiful at the grocery store yesterday so I bought one.  Glossy, firm, no wrinkles, that's the way to pick a good eggplant.  

Eggplants are related to the nightshade family (along with potatoes, tomatoes, and sweet peppers, so those who are sensitive to nightshades should avoid them) and are actually fruits because their seeds are on the inside.  They have many wonderful health benefits including a fair amount of fiber (if eaten with the skin), lots of potassium and vitamin B1, also known as thiamin.  

To be honest, in our house making ratatouille is an inexact science.  The base ingredients are:

eggplant, onion, tomatoes, sweet peppers, garlic, olive oil, pitted olives, basil, salt, pepper, and parsley

How much of which ingredient depends on what we have available.  I know that's not really helpful so here are the proportions I used today.  


1 medium size eggplant diced
1 medium onion diced
2 zucchini cut into 1/2" rounds
2 peppers (one red one green) chopped medium
2 large tomatoes diced
1 t. dried basil
1 t. dried parsley
salt and pepper

Layer it all in the crockpot
pour a 14.5 ounce can of diced organic tomatoes over the batch
let it cook on low for 7-9 hours until it is done

I plan to serve this ladled over freshly made polenta with a generous shaving of fresh parmesan on top for a delicious, filling meal.


1 C. fresh ground cornmeal
1 t. salt
3 C. water

bring water and salt to a boil
reduce water to a simmer
very slowly add cornmeal (this is important to avoid lumps)
cook approximately 20 minutes until mixture thickens
remove from heat and pour into a pie plate (for triangles) or a cake pan (for squares)
let polenta set for 10-15 minutes
cut and serve

Enjoy and be well.

crockpot photo courtesy of


According to an article I recently read at the baobab is the next superfruit.  I imagine this means it should be hitting the shores of the USA any day now.

Apparently the fruit has extraordinarily high levels of vitamin C, nearly six times that of an orange.    It is also reported to be high in calcium, potassium, both soluable and insoluable fibers.  The fruit is also anti-inflammatory and antipyretic (fever reducing).  These are indeed wonderful benefits.  Additionally many parts of the tree are usable, the seeds, fruit, fibers, leaves.  These are sometimes used in cosmetics, folk-medicine and will no doubt find their way into every imaginable product.

While I am always happy to find foods that have great nutritional benefit I confess to being underwhelmed at the thought of another "super" food.  From açaí  to goji berries to mangosteen and more, every new discovery brings a touted superfood at an enormous price and a massive marketing campaign to try to convince us to buy a product, any product, that has this newest discovery in it (sometimes in the most minimal quantities).

I feel it is important to stay on top of these things but to also be aware of what is available around you. Before you rush off and buy the latest baobab concoction, think more about what you eat on a regular basis.  Improving daily nutrition is better for long-term health than jumping on the latest-and-greatest bandwagon.   Spending your food dollars for overall health, such as fresh, local, organic food is better than spending a large sum for a small quantity of any food, no matter how super it purports to be.

If you're curious, by all means try it, I certain plan to; then remember to eat well from the abundance that surrounds you.

Be well.

photo courtesy of

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

unexpectedly serene

My aunt was here visiting us, and we loved having her here.  She used to live in the Houston area 35 years ago, so one day we wandered down to Houston to visit a couple of places.  On the itinerary was The Rothko Chapel.  The chapel was built as an interfaith chapel, and Mark Rothko was commissioned to create the artworks. 

My first response when we entered the chapel was "huh?"  Fourteen enormous canvases of black or purple which appear to be solid.  Very strange.   But when you take the time to sit and contemplate them, shadings of light and dark appear.  The whole experience is very spiritual.
We all need to take the time to find serenity and calmness within ourselves and in those quiet moments of our life that present themselves.  Part of living a healthy life is taking that time for meditation.  It is serendipitous to find a space that so fully imbued with the energies that lead to that sort of contemplation.

I fully intend to go back and encourage you, if you are ever in the Houston area, to visit the chapel.

Be well.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

picking produce

I was having a conversation about picking produce with my Aunt today.  We talked about how difficult it is sometimes to get a good fruit or vegetable if you don't know what you are looking for.

Right now citrus is readily available and very inexpensive near me.  We're consuming a lot of it, including making lemonade or limeade.

One way to tell if you are getting a good, juicy piece of citrus is to look at the skin.  The smoother and less dimpled it is the juicier the fruit.  You also want to look for unblemished fruit although discolorations in skin color are not necessarily blemishes.  Oranges or lemons with green patches on the skin can still be ripe.  You also want a firm fruit, not squishy (although be kind to other purchasers and don't squeeze too hard).

For grapefruits you want a thin-skinned fruit.  Thicker skins will feel spongier and will yield less fruit.

For a delicious and easy dessert try the following:

broiled grapefruit
preheat your oven to broil
wash grapefruits and cut in half
put in a baking pan (I usually get four into an 8 x 8 pan)
sprinkle with sucanat
add a pinch of cinnamon if desired
broil for 3-5 minutes until sugar is melting into fruit

And for the most delicious lemon/limeade try this:

juice of 4 limes (or 5 lemons)
mix with 1 C. evaporated cane juice crystals
stir well until crystals are dissolved
add 6 C. water

This juice is wonderful, you know you've got a hit on your hands when your high school aged child and her friends ask for it rather than other beverage choices.

photo courtesy of

Monday, December 8, 2008

national chocolate brownie day

I'm not sure who decides when "National Chocolate Brownie Day" is or why we need one but I'm certainly not going to complain because I love brownies.

The best ever chocolate brownie recipe is the one from King Arthur Flour. It's so good that there's nothing more to say than go to their website and check it out. 

photo courtesy of

Saturday, December 6, 2008

letter to obama

As a Nutrition Educator, I, of course, watch food news very carefully.  Along with many others I am waiting to hear who President-elect Obama will select for Secretary of Agriculture.  A position that is critical to the health and nutrition of our country.

While I am certainly not so eloquent nor so well-known as Michael Pollan, I do feel our new President needs to know how all of his citizens feel about this and other important issues.  I have written a letter, sent via the website, and I encourage you to do the same.

My letter was short but states exactly how I feel:

"Dear President-elect Obama,

As a Nutrition Educator, I work very hard to help people make the choice for healthy eating. I am a firm believer that what we eat affects our health. I urge you to very carefully consider whom you choose for Secretary of Agriculture. PLEASE do not allow someone who believes in chemicals such as rBHG or GMO foods to make choices that affect our nation's health. America is currently engaged in the largest food experiment ever promoted. The American public does not have choice, they are not told which foods are modified. Recent research shows that this will lead to even more poor health and possible fertility failure for this country as well as insurmountable health care costs as we try to deal with this situation.

I urge you to choose someone who has the vision to support a healthy American population instead of continuing to line the pockets of corporations who only care about their bottom line profits.


Mira G. Dessy "

If you haven't heard about Michael Pollan's wonderful letter (written before the election) you can see it  here.

knowing the numbers

"Consumers have the right to choose whether to eat genetically modified foods or not."
     Rockefeller Foundation Statement (cited in Kilman, 1999)

I agree with the thinking behind the above statement.  We should have the right to choose.  Unfortunately we do not because we don't know what foods are modified.  Some foods are pretty good guesses.  If it has corn, soy, or canola in it there is a better than average chance that it is genetically modified.  Because our food products are not labeled the only way to avoid genetically modified organisms (GMO) is to buy organic.  While that can get to be a very expensive proposition there is more and more evidence supporting the case for eating non-GMO foods, including these articles:

Latest GMO Research: Decreased Fertility, Immunological Alterations and Allergies

Monsanto tried to block Austrian research

Government Accountability Office finds unauthorized release of GM foods

Even fruits and vegetables are being genetically modified and that is one area where you can see what you are choosing to eat.  The Price Look Up (PLU) stickers have numbers on them which indicate the following:

most product numbers are 4 digits indicating that the produce was conventionally grown
5 digits starting with a 9 means it is organic
5 digits starting with an 8 means it is GMO

According to the International Federation for Product Standards there is a PLU for everything although not everything is labeled, nor it is required to be labeled.  This most likely explains why I have yet to see a 5 digit code starting with an 8.  

Dole has gone so far as to implement a program in which they put a three digit code on their organic bananas which you can look up on the Dole website and see which farm the bananas were grown on and read a little about the farm.

Within the confines of our budget I make the best choices I can for my family and encourage you to do the same.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

people power

As a Nutrition Educator I do more than talk to people about food. We talk about choices, changes, finding ways to reduce stress in our lives, adding exercise, meditation and a lot of different things. Stress is a big one. We all face it every day. How we react to it can have a huge impact on our health, so finding ways to reduce our stress can be a very good thing to do.

I don't know about you but one of my least favorite activities is to spend what feels like hours on the phone in Voice Mail Hades trying to get to a real person. By the time I get to that person if there is a problem of any sort I'm already at a boiling point. Not a good way to get things resolved and certainly not healthy for me or the person on the other end of the phone.

I have found one great tip to help circumvent some of this; Get Human is a wonderful online resource to find the prompts and/or voice responses you need to get through to a real human being as quickly as possible. The website is broken down into categories such as finance, government, insurance.  

So the next time you are facing a potential foray into voice mail take two deep breaths, check out GetHuman and calmly make that call.

photo courtesy of

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

baking substitutions

I love to bake; I've been doing it for over 20 years and have made a wide assortment of baked goods for family, friends, fundraisers and more.  

Over the years as I began to learn more about the health benefits of fresh ground flour I made changes in how I baked.  Then I started grains&more and things have never been the same since.

When I began to teach whole grain baking classes I also began to create recipes of my own.  One of the challenges that I ran into was that some of the people who took my classes weren't ready to switch to fresh ground flour but they wanted to still enjoy some of the recipes I created.  This is a quick overview of a few substitutions you can make to my recipes. Although the flavors may change slightly the recipes should still work just fine.

fresh ground wheat - I highly recommend King Arthur Flour's Whole Wheat as a substitute.  While some of the nutrition has oxidized out all the fiber is there.  Hodgson Mills also makes a great product and is a good substitute if you cannot find King Arthur however the Hodgson Mill product tends to be a little coarser than King Arthur and you'll need to run it through a blender or food processor to make it finer

ezekiel flour - whole wheat flour is a reasonable substitution here, see above

spelt flour - again, whole wheat flour is a reasonable substitution, see above

oat flour - I grind oat groats to make this but you can grind rolled oats in your blender or food processor

brown rice flour - Bob's Red Mill makes an excellent brown rice flour or you can try grinding this in your food processor

corn flour - this tends to be finer and richer than corn meal plus, of course, it is the whole grain.  Bob's Red Mill has a good corn flour.  If you prefer to use cornmeal (which I don't really recommend) you need to grind it in your blender or food processor to make it finer and preserve the texture of the baked goods

flax meal - there is no substitution for this, the purchased flax meal is usually de-germed for shelf stability.  Simply buy flax seeds and an inexpensive coffee grinder to make your own

sucanat - if you cannot find this product on your store shelves use organic evaporated cane juice crystals.  I DO NOT recommend white sugar at all. Sucanat has a very rich flavor due to the molasses and minerals still present.  In some recipes (such as pumpkin muffins) you want that rich flavor so I would add a tablespoon of molasses with the cane juice crystals

coconut oil - in spite of the fact that so many people think this is not good for you it is an excellent choice as a baking fat. However a good substitute is organic unsalted butter.  NOTE:  when using coconut oil only use virgin, cold pressed coconut oil

buttermilk or kefir - a quick substitute is to put 1 T. of fresh lemon juice into 1 C. whole milk and let it sit for at least 5 minutes to sour

photo courtesy of


Mmmmmmm....nothing like a nice hot breakfast to start your day.    This morning we had a touch of frost on the lawn (unusual for Texas) which definitely calls for a hot breakfast. I had some buttermilk in the fridge and decided pancakes were the order of the day.  Drizzled with maple syrup, an egg on the side, a clementine with it, this is one of my favorite breakfasts.

It's important to get a good start to the day.  Some whole grain fiber, a little fat, a bit of protein, it keeps you going and helps keep your blood sugar stable all morning.

These pancakes are very fluffy, a combination of the oat flour and the buttermilk.  By letting the batter rest for a few minutes the whole grains soften a bit and soak up some of that buttermilk to help make the pancakes fluffy and delicious.

I'll put up another post about substitutions for those who don't grind their own flour.  And if you're questioning the use of coconut oil I'm here to tell you it's one of the healthiest oils you can use.  A medium chain fatty acid full of good things like lauric acid and caprylic acid.  Give it a try, you won't be disappointed.

Buttermilk Oat Pancakes

1/2 C. oat flour
1/2 C. brown rice flour
1 egg
1 1/2 T. melted coconut oil
1/2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
1 t. vanilla
1 T. sucanat

mix the dry ingredients together
beat the egg
add beaten egg and other liquid ingredients to the dry mixture
let mixture sit for 5 minutes
cook in pan lightly greased with coconut oil