Wednesday, March 31, 2010

colors and fats

Jen wrote in with a comment and a couple of questions:

"A friend shared a recipe with me for rainbow pancakes. It was pretty horrifying with tons of artificial colors. I am disappointed how my son's class is drawn to the colors when choosing food at the class parties."

I agree, rainbow pancakes would be horrifying (as are rainbow sprinkles, cookies, anything made with artificial colors). We are biologically drawn to eat a colorful range of foods. Unfortunately manufacturers have figured this out and turned it to their advantage. It's not a bad thing to want colorful fruits and veg, what's bad is when that instinct is transformed by modern "science" to include processed foods.

Back in 2007 the BBC published a news article highlighting findings from the University of Southampton, a leading research–led university in Southampton, England, that shows a link between artificial colorants, temper tantrums, allergic reaction, and poor concentration in children. This study supports the findings of Dr. Ben Feingold, a prominent pediatrician and allergist who was Chief of Allergy at the Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in San Francisco. In 1968 Dr. Feingold published a paper "Recognition of Food Additives as a Cause of Symptoms of Allergy." Throughout his career he would continue to publish articles and work in clinical practice encouraging families to remove additives from their diet. The Feingold Association was founded in 1976 and continues to support a diet that eliminates artificial ingredients, flavorings, colorants, and preservatives. Dr. Feingold claimed that 30-50% of his hyperactive patients showed an improvement in behaviors after colorants were removed from their diet.

It is possible to make food colorings from readily available plant sources such as beets for a red tint, spinach for a green tint, carrots for orange, or saffron for yellow, however homemade colors tend to be rather muted. If a purchased product is considered more desirable there are several sources of plant based food dyes such as Seelect, an organic tea company located on the web at, Nature's Flavors, which offers organic food coloring, many of which are kosher, vegan and gluten-free, located at, or India Tree, which sells natural food coloring, natural color sugar and other products through commercial outlets.

"I also have two food questions. I've been hearing buzz words like "good fat" and "bad fat". I actually heard people in the store talking about it while looking at the information on the back of a food package, which I was very pleased to observe but didn't have the courage to ask what's the difference?"

Good fats are fats that your body knows how to use and can efficiently work with. Bad fats are fats that are difficult for your body to process and clog your system. Good fats include things like olive oil, grapeseed oil, and coconut oil. Bad fats are things like margarine, crisco, hydrogenated and trans-fats.

"I think the answer might also relate to another question I have. What is better for you, olive oil or smart balance buttery spread. Olive oil has 14 grams of fat per TBS and the butter spread has only 5 grams per TBS. I would think that the olive oil is better for you since it's the least processed but, I just can't get that "5" out of my head. It's less than half of the fat from the olive oil. I'm thinking this is an example of good fat vs. bad fat but which is better? Does it change your choice if your trying to stay on a low fat diet?"

Olive oil is much better for you. Although it has more fat it is a good fat. Not only that you have to look at fat in context. A fair percentage of our brain is made of fat cells. Fatty acids (from good fats) help make DHA (docosahexanoic acid) which allows the brain to grow and create the cells you need to think. Also the myelin sheathing that surrounds our nervous system is made of fat, helping to keep them healthy so they can transmit nerve impulses.

We need fat to be healthy, without it our bodies cannot absorb and process fat soluble vitamins (A, K, E). Eating good fats also helps to promote saiety or fullness; too little fat and we can get dry scaly skin, dry hair, bruise more easily, take longer to heal wounds, and be less cold tolerant.

If you're interested there is a very good book called "Eat Fat to Lose Fat" by Sally Fallon and Mary Enig. It's a pretty straightforward book and easy to understand.

Thanks for the questions!
Be well.

Friday, March 12, 2010

chocolate granola

Today we have a special treat as my friend Christine shares her chocolate granola recipe. I've always loved granola because it's a quick healthy breakfast, a great snack; it's also quick and easy to make. One of the other great things about granola is how it can be changed around to suit individual tastes. The idea of making it in a crockpot, is a big “wow” because it doesn't get any easier than that.

Christine shared the following thoughts with me, “
A friend had told me a little about using dark chocolate. Apparently, it contains 'good' fats, that our bodies need to digest properly. I began to think about the other good fats I've been trying to feed my family, coconut, olive oil, and nuts, etc. Chocolate granola sounded like a good breakfast food. I knew from prior experience that a little coconut oil at breakfast helped me control my appetite. I found a basic recipe and substituted some things and added a few. It smelled wonderful - kind of like chocolate potporri all day. When all seven of us like something, its a keeper! This one will be a regular breakfast item for our family.”

With the addition of ground flax and coconut oil this recipe provides some great fatty acids (flax seeds have omega-3 while coconut oil has medium-chain fatty acids). These healthy fats help provide saiety, or fullness, which means it helps fill you up. Dark chocolate and cocoa provide antioxidants, especially epicatechin (found also in green tea) which protect against cardiovascular disease.

Here's Christine's recipe, as she says it's a big hit with her family, I'm sure it will be for yours as well.

Chocolate Granola
Mix in crock pot:

7 C. organic old fashioned oats
1/2 C. ground flax
1/4 C. organic brown sugar
1/2 C. shredded coconut
Pinch of sea salt
½ C. raw honey
2 T. maple syrup
¼ C. coconut oil
2 T. cocoa powder

Mix well and heat on low all day, stir once in while.

After slightly browned (4-6 hours on low) stir in:
½ C. 70% chocolate or darker, finely chopped
1 C. chopped almonds & walnuts

Cool completely then store in an airtight container

Chocolate granola photo courtesy of Christine Michael Gibson

Thursday, March 11, 2010

fairground food

Walking around the fairgrounds at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo all my senses are assaulted; the flashing lights, the booming pounding music, the loud chatter of the crowds, and the smells of fairground food. Fried food, smoked food, barbeque, spun sugar, all swell around me creating an almost hypnotic state.

As I look around at the food choices on offer I am amazed at what I see. Batter-dipped cheeseburgers, fried with a generous topping of powdered sugar. Blooming onions, chicken-fried bacon (you know you're in the South when you find chicken-fried anything), 2-lb jumbo smoked turkey legs, cheesecake dipped in chocolate. There was even one stand that was offering gator and pork-a-bob (not sure what that is but not sure I want to know either). The beverage choices were similarly calorie-laden, gallons of sweet tea, frozen drinks, and colas, not to mention all of the alcoholic options available.

It was a day of fun, enjoyment and enthusiasm at the Rodeo. Unfortunately it was readily apparent that for large numbers of people at the rodeo a steady diet of saturated fats, over-sugared, over-salted food is the norm. I think of fairground food as something that, while never the best choice, would be a occasional treat (and I did enjoy that cheesecake although I only ate half of it as the serving was overly generous and extremely rich). It is sad to realize that for many people, although they don't eat fairground food on a regular basis, this style of eating is their daily habit. Rich, fatty, salty, sugary foods that have dulled their palate. That appeal to the childlike habit of comfort foods. As a culture I believe we have come to a point where many of us have lost our taste for whole foods. For healthy, fresh foods that contain the nourishment our body demands.

I'm certainly not trying to be a killjoy and demand that no one ever enjoy these fairground treats. We live in the real world and an occasional indulgence is certainly not unreasonable. What is difficult is when we allow these occasional treats and this unhealthy eating habit to become the norm.

Start now; make it a point to eat whole foods, low processed, fresh and in season. Eat more fruits and vegetables in a rainbow of colors. Reduce the palate-numbing, non-nutritive indulgences to an occasional treat. It's time to educate yourself and your children about healthy choices, everyone will be better off for it. Remember, eat well to be well.

Chicken-fried bacon photo courtesy of Cara Fealy Choate | Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, March 6, 2010

musings on left-overs

Today's blog entry is a guest post written by my Aunt Carol (and yes that's capitolized because I think she's "just capital"). She'd sent these musings to me as an email but I loved it so much I wanted to share her thoughts with all of you. With her permission here they are:

Your article on
sequential eating is an affirmation of the way that I've been cooking all my adult life.

When our children were small I used to save the empty aluminum trays from tv dinners, putting left over entree portions in the main compartments, add some frozen vegetables, half a baked potato, left over pie filling in the dessert compartment, etc. I would serially fill the various compartments when I'd have the appropriate left overs. Then cover each tray with aluminum foil – I did not mark what was inside, who had the time for nice details like that? :-) When Yosef and I went out to dinner, our kids had the treat of choosing a "mystery tray" – a wholesome form of gambling (but pretty safe because they were meals that they already liked anyway) and each one would be getting something different. The baby sitter would heat them up and our kids had exciting meals, telling us the next morning what each one had had (I never heard about trades, though that might have been possible).

I imagine that like you, most of your readers, still having one or more children living at home, prepare meals for families. As an older widow with occasional guests, I often freeze part of the cooked ingredients for a recipe before assembling let's say half of the total recipe, I also freeze individual portions of stews or soups, or what will in future be pot pies or Shephard's pies, so that they'll be ready for the crust or mashed potato topping when I am making those things for other meals.

The dishes that I do not like to freeze and defrost later are quiches (they get soggy and the vegetables get too soft when frozen, defrosted then reheated). I make mine crustless, just rubbing a bit of butter around the bottom of the round flat pan, to grease it, sprinkling on a layer of bread or toast crumbs before adding the sauteed vegetables, grated cheese, and then the custard. I try to plan to first serve this entree when I have guests coming over. However since this is an easy and favorite dish with me, I sometimes grate different kinds of cheese (another good use for left overs) on different portions. I usually cut my quiche into wedges, and may decide that half will be cheddar, and half Swiss, etc. I change the side dishes during the subsequent days--baked potato, reheated grain with spices, or different salads. This makes for a tasty variety and and easy way to use up left overs.

What is even more delightful is that I have a friend to whom I often give a portion or two of something tasty that I have prepared; she does the same with me. This way we both have more variety in our meals. What I give to her often becomes a treat for lunch at home, before she leaves to teach at the university; what she gives to me becomes a delicious, surprise dinner. As you can anticipate--we also share many recipes, enjoying one an other's tastes in food and both being whole grain, organic food enthusiasts. Many people think of inviting friends over for a meal, but sharing dishes to be eaten at home is also a generous, friendly gesture and fits well into the full life of commitments that many of us choose these days. It does not replace sharing sit down meals with guests, it's rather a personal catering with love, service.

I want to explain that it's not a one-on-one direct exchange--I give her A so she gives me B. Rather when, for example I baked muffins (and I'd been explaining to her son the difference between cupcakes which are a new treat to most Israelis – a few enterprising women have even opened successful delivery of home baked cupcakes for special events services- and muffins), I saved and froze a few of my last batch of corn muffins that contain niblets. Then when I baked oat-berry muffins with raisins and maple syrup, I packaged up a few of each, along with a baked apple and some chestnuts and gave them to her when we next met.

A few days later when we again met she brought me a wedge of a delicious cake she'd baked that contained chunks of apple and some grapes in the batter and gave me a jar of her home made granola - which I plan to sprinkle on a sliced banana, top with yoghurt then enjoy for breakfast.

Savoring the cake with a cup of tea, enjoying this breakfast gift, these are, to me, like little hugs.

photo courtesy of Manuel Flury | Wikimedia Commons

Friday, March 5, 2010

homemade rolls

Susan asked, "
I wondered if you might have a resource for homemade wheat rolls (or other dinner-y kind of breads) that could be made up to a certain point and then frozen. So that you could make up a whole bunch when you have time, and then just cook a few at a time when you want them. I've been googling and haven't really come up with anything. We're trying to accommodate the starch eater/cravers in the household while substituting for healthier alternatives. Thank you very much for any ideas."

I don't have any whole grain par-baked bread recipes. Part of the difficulty, as I find it, is that working with whole grains changes the gluten structure, the higher fiber retards the rise. So when I try to par-bake and freeze the rolls they never rise right. Freezing the unbaked dough is tough because the freezing process kills the yeast and the thawing bread never seems to rise correctly, adding extra yeast doesn't work because then you're starting all over again.

My suggestion would be to find a whole grain bread recipe that you like and make rolls, soft bread sticks, even slice the loaf after baking, and freeze the results. You can thaw them for those that want it and then warm it up in the over for that "fresh-baked" aroma and warmth.

photo courtesy of Fir002 | Wikimedia Commons

Monday, March 1, 2010

sequential eating

Although I am a fan of leftovers others in the house are less excited by the repetition of certain dishes. Being a big fan of not wasting food, and a new fan of Jonathan Bloom's blog Wasted Food I try to look for creative ways to repackage, if you will, the offerings at the dinner table.

One way to do this is to take a moment and plan your menu, seeing what can be re-created from what you have already made. I offer here a couple of examples (I should note, by the way, that my favorite method is to turn dinner foods into breakfast foods as it makes food prep in the morning - a typically hectic time - a little easier):

Making Tuscan Stew with polenta for dinner typically means there is leftover polenta. I take that polenta, pan fry it, top it with an over easy egg, top that with some homemade mushroom marinara and it becomes breakfast. Since polenta is made with stoneground, or fresh ground, corn meal, it's a delicious way to add some fiber to your morning and help get you off to a good start. Pan frying the polenta gives a nice change to the texture and provides a tasty base to the egg and sauce.

In case you're wondering, the Tuscan Stew is delicious as leftovers and I typically have it for lunch the next day. There don't tend to be a lot of leftovers when I make this it.

Tonight's dinner was sauteed onions, peppers and mushrooms with oregano and parsley served alongside organic chicken cilantro sausage for the meat eaters and veggie sausage for the vegetarians. The leftover veggies will be turned into an omelette in the morning. All the prep and cooking is done, which will make breakfast cooking a snap. This is a great way to use leftover sauces or cooked vegetables, adding them into omelettes, frittatas, or an egg scramble.

Another favorite is to make extra brown rice which we then turn into brown rice cereal the next morning. Adding a small knob of butter, some almond milk and a little dried fruit makes this a delicious, quick and easy breakfast. It's healthier than a bowl of store-bought cereal and more filling as well.

For dinnertime leftover usage we can get creative by rummaging through the fridge. Soup and/or chili is a great way to incorporate a lot of little-bit leftovers. Adding fresh sauteed onions, a tasty broth or sauce, and making sure the spice combinations go together well (in the case of soup, curry does not pair well with Italian spice, I'm just saying...) you can hide almost anything. Alongside fresh baked bread and a salad, it's a whole new meal.

Last but not least is the pot pie/sheperd's pie trick; you can hide almost anything under that crust. Pot pie is, of course, a pastry style crust and shepherd's, or cottage, pie uses a mashed potato crust. Taking your leftovers, combining them with added vegetables, if needed, under a crust which is then baked in the oven, you've got a new meal that doesn't take a lot of time, saves money (because you're not throwing out ingredients) and keeps everyone from getting bored with the same old leftovers.

Taking a few minutes to plan your meals will save you time and money while still allowing you to provide delicious and nutritious meals for your family.