Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A chickpea and spinach dish my whole family liked

With the madness of the holidays, the crazy travel/work schedule of my husband, and the general chaos that is my life, I've been eating pretty poorly lately. I've had lots of restaurant food, leftover nuggets, and pretzels & cheese dinners, and it's starting to take a toll on my soul, if not my health.

So the other night I decided to try out a recipe I saw in my Experience Life magazine (it's a magazine I get free with my gym membership, and they always have great healthy recipes in there...it's also available online so anyone can read it).

The recipe was called Lemony Spiced Chickpeas with Spinach, and you can find it here (scroll all the way to the bottom). It's really easy to make...you just saute some garbanzo beans with some onions, add some spices and lemon juice, and then add in some fresh spinach until it wilts. When I saw the combination of cumin and chickpeas I was sold.

I made it for my husband and I after the kids had already eaten, because I was pretty convinced the girls would hate it. But shockingly, my husband loved it and the kids, who hovered near us until we shared with them, were soon begging for more chickpeas like they were gumdrops.

The only flaw to this meal is that it doesn't really stand on its own as a full dinner unless you're aiming to eat really light. But it could easily serve as a great side dish to some chicken, fish, etc. I think the other recipes in the link look great, too. Hopefully I'll get to try them all out soon.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Chipotle: My new favorite restaurant

Over the last few years I've developed a real disdain for kids' menus. Aside from the fact that they rarely offer any healthy options, pretty much every meal has dairy as a main component -- mac & cheese, pizza, and grilled cheese are the obvious ones, but even chicken nuggets often have milk in the breading, and many pasta sauces contain parmesan cheese.

Since my girls aren't big hamburger fans, eating out with them usually means one thing: hot dogs & french fries. It's one of the only restaurant meals Sydney can eat, and one of the only restaurant foods Brynn will eat. (Actually, Brynn loves mac & cheese and pizza but I feel bad ordering it for her when Sydney can't have any).

I know the occasional hot dog & fries combo isn't going to kill anyone, but I've always thought it would be nice to leave a restaurant feeling like I've nourished my kids instead of just filling them up with grease, salt & unnamed animal parts.

Enter Chipotle! We stopped in there the other day after a particularly horrendous trip to the pediatric dentist. I'd been meaning to check it out after reading about their "Food With Integrity" philosophy. A blurb from their site says: "The hallmarks of Food With Integrity include things like unprocessed, seasonal, family-farmed, sustainable, nutritious, naturally raised, added hormone free, organic, and artisanal."

That's pretty darn impressive for a fast food restaurant, and I hope it's a trend that continues!

Anyway, while I was expecting to just order from the regular menu, I was pleasantly surprised to see that they've added a kids menu, at least at the location we went to. For $3, I got Brynn a cheese quesadilla with a side of rice, beans, and tortilla chips, and a little carton of organic milk. The quesadilla was made by just putting some shredded cheese on a tortilla and pressing it in a big panini-style machine - it wasn't the least bit greasy.

For $4 I got Sydney a "build your own" taco kit with two flour tortillas, guacamole, corn salsa, and pinto beans (you can choose either a meat or guacamole as the "main" ingredient), as well as an apple juice. Both of the meals came with a small baggie of tortilla chips too.

It's nice to know we now have a restaurant to go to where a) the food comes quickly, b) both girls can eat foods they enjoy, and c) I don't have to feel the least bit guilty about what they're eating. I give a big thumbs up to Chipotle!!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Spaghetti squash ain't foolin' my kids

If you ask either of my girls what their favorite food is, they will say without hesitation: NOODLES!

Macaroni, rotini, spaghetti, penne, egg noodles...you name it, if it's a noodle, they will devour it. So I was really excited to try out spaghetti squash, which--as its name suggests--is basically a squash version of a noodle. I thought this would be a fantastic way to introduce a new veggie while capitalizing on the girls' favorite food.

"Mom, what's that?" Sydney asked as she watched me spend 5 minutes trying to sever the spaghetti squash with the biggest, sharpest knife we own (those suckers are hard to cut).

"It's a spaghetti squash. It has noodles inside."

"Mom, I don't like squash."

"You've never had this kind of squash before. This kind has noodles in it!! It's super yummy!!!!" I said in the fake-est cheeriest voice ever.

After cooking the squash as directed by the little sticker that was affixed to it when I bought it, I mixed it with some pasta sauce. I put it on my girls' plates, slid it over to them, and then watched their faces turn into a grimace within five seconds of the first bite. Almost in unison, they both shoved their plates toward me and exclaimed "Yuck!"

I tried some myself. While I wouldn't label it as "yuck," it definitely wasn't interchangeable with a noodle. It's crunchier and, well, squash-ier. I'm sure some parmesan cheese would have improved it a little, but I left it off so that Sydney could eat it. If anyone has tips on better ways to enjoy spaghetti squash, I'd love to hear them! I almost think it would have been a better idea not to compare it to a noodle and instead, just call a squash a squash.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

My spaghetti & marinara makeover

During the 6 years my husband and I lived child-free in Los Angeles, we ate out A LOT. I mean A LOT. And chances were, if we weren't eating out, we were ordering in.

I viewed home cooking as a necessary evil in between restaurant visits or deliveries, and consequently my home-cooked meals were pretty uninspired...spaghetti and marinara, a baked potato, salad and pre-packaged marinated chicken breast, or Rice-a-Roni and a chunk of grilled meat. (Now, there were times I actually cooked delicious meals from scratch, but those times were few and far between.)

When life changed (ie: kids entered the picture), and home cooking became a plain old necessity instead of a necessary evil, it was a tough period of adjustment. All those years we spent navigating LA's dynamic restaurant scene had made me into kind of a food snob. I was no longer satisfied by a chunk of grilled chicken and some microwaved peas. If I was going to have to give up my yellowtail-jalapeno sushi rolls and grilled calamari with lemon zest and butter, I would learn to make food at home that satisfied those same cravings. I wanted my meals to have pizzazz.

One way I've been able to add a little gourmet restaurant flair into my life is by making over some of the basic "out of the pantry" meals I've been eating my entire life. One dish that recently received a makeover was our standby spaghetti and marinara.

For us, "pasta night" used to mean nuking Ragu or Classico sauce and pouring it over some cappellini or penne. It was tasty enough, but vaguely depressing. I really, really wanted to be able to make a fresh homemade sauce, but the idea of it terrified me. I thought making your own pasta sauce was a task only to be undertaken by Italians with a secret family recipe that had been handed down four generations.

So I was pleasantly surprised when I caught a segment on a Food Network show featuring Wolfgang Puck's signature pasta sauce. The ingredients weren't scary, and the whole process took about 10 minutes. I didn't get a chance to take down his recipe exactly, but I remembered the basic ideas behind it, so one day I gave it a shot. We haven't gone back to Ragu or Classico since.

I've grouped the ingredients into two categories: "definite" and "maybe." The "definite" ingredients are ones you should definitely use, and the "maybe" ingredients are optional...depending on your taste.

Definite ingredients:

Fresh tomatoes, diced
Good extra virgin olive oil
Some minced garlic
Some decent dry white wine
Grated parmesan cheese

Maybe ingredients:

Fresh chopped basil

Basically you chop up a few tomatoes and cook them in EVOO on medium-low heat until they start to wilt. Add some garlic and cook a little more. Add a little white wine and some salt. Then taste it and add a little more of whatever you think it needs more of. Also add any of the "maybe ingredients" that appeal to you...or all of them. Then when it tastes pretty good, pour it over the cooked pasta of your choice and mix in a few handfuls of parmesan cheese.

This sauce is a little more delicate than your typical jarred sauce, but it's still really flavorful...especially if you're liberal with the salt and parmesan cheese. I didn't include any measurements because I just kind of add things in small amounts until it tastes right. Plus, standing over the sauce, adding a splash of this and a dash of that, makes me feel a little more like a fourth generation Italian with a secret family recipe.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Ways to save money on healthy foods, Part 1

I am a person who loves a great deal. Nothing gets my heart pumping like scoring a quality item for a bargain, and I am constantly scouring websites, blogs, newspapers, and coupon circulars to make sure I get the best price on whatever it is that I need (or want) to buy. Some of my recent successes include $25 worth of cold & flu meds for $2, $140 worth of wine for $50, and a pack of 40 diapers for $3.

I am also a person who goes to Whole Foods and easily blows $100 on two measly bags of groceries such as frozen organic flax waffles, dairy-free pesto, and Kefir probiotic smoothies.

This may seem incongruous to some, but the unfortunate fact is that there are rarely great deals to be had on healthy, natural and/or organic foods. Sure, you might stumble across a sale here and there at your local health food store, but it's nothing like you'd find in the mainstream stores with their coupon doubling, BOGO promotions, and rewards cards. Technically that's a good thing - it shows that the companies and farms producing the good stuff aren't willing to cheapen their products (and thereby cheapen their prices). However, it sure hurts when that $100 tab rings up and you've only got 3 meals worth of food to show for it.

So what's a deal-loving, trying-to-eat-healthy gal to do? Well, I'd love to offer up a secret website or coupon code that can get you a year's worth of organic produce for $10 a month. But unfortunately there's no such thing. What I can offer, though, is what I've learned over the past few years about the best ways to save money on groceries without compromising on quality. Here is tip #1:

Know what things should cost

Grocery stores are fantastic at making things look like a great deal when they are anything but. They are counting on the fact that people will be lured by the big displays, overuse of exclamation points, and words like "savings!" "sale!" and "bargain!" and not pay attention to the fact that they're only saving 15 cents off the regular price. Even the crunchy, natural foods stores are guilty of this.

If you don't know whether a carton of OJ should cost $2 or $5, you're not only susceptible to grocery stores' slick advertising ploys, but you're also less likely to notice a truly great bargain. The other day I saw a huge sign touting "$3.49 Calcium-enriched Orange Juice! Price Reduced!" at my local grocery store. Because I know that I can get this same OJ at a different store for $2.49 every day, I didn't bother buying any there. On the flip side, when I see my favorite OJ selling for $1.99 a carton, I know that it really is a good price, and I stock up.

It is especially helpful to pay attention to produce costs since they can vary so much depending on region and season. In Arizona, an avocado can cost anywhere from 75 cents to $2.50 depending where and when you buy it. Knowing this, I've set a rule that I won't ever spend more than $1.25 on an avocado unless I absolutely have to, and I make sure to stock up when they are at the low end (guacamole...yum!).

To increase your "price awareness," write down a list of 15 or 20 food items you regularly stock in your house...snack foods, bread, fruits, cereals, frozen foods, meats, etc. Now, see if you can name the average price of each item. If you can't, make sure you pay attention to what it costs the next time you go to the store. Once you've done some research to find out the average prices for the foods you buy, do some comparison shopping at your local stores. I've discovered some great deals on certain organic foods at Target and Costco. For instance, my daughter's favorite burritos (Amy's Organic Non-Dairy Burritos) are regularly priced at $2.24 each at SuperTarget, whereas they're about $3.50 a piece at Whole Foods and other grocery stores. Clif Kids Zbars (snack bars that are dairy free) are also way cheaper at Target than at the natural foods stores and mainstream grocery stores.

I also recently found a 6-pack of Amy's Individual Organic Vegetarian Frozen Lasagnas at Costco for around $13. (These are delicious BTW, and are my go-to meal when I'm eating solo). At a cost of around $2.25 each, that's a fantastic deal since they're usually $5 a pop at the grocery store.

Becoming savvy about prices helps you know when to stock up and when to hold off. It also helps you determine when a sale is truly worthwhile and when it's just a gimmick.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

(CLOSED) Giveaway: A free Zhu Zhu pet (Chunk) in time for the holidays

And the winner is...Kathleen (comment 44)! I've attached a pic of the winning number that came up on Random.org, just in case anyone wonders how I came up with it.

Congrats Kathleen! I hope your hamster serves you well.

Thanks so much to everyone who commented - I loved hearing all the interesting, healthy foods everyone's been eating...lots of great ideas and there are some things I definitely want to try.

A few months ago, my good friend Ange tipped me off to the toys that were to become the rage of Christmas 2009: Zhu Zhu Pets. I hadn't yet heard of them, as my daughters are thankfully still too young to care what is under their Christmas tree. (In fact, Sydney's only request is that Santa NOT come into our house this year because she thinks he's scary. So we're writing him a letter to ask that he kindly leave the toys in a bag in the backyard.)

Anyway, after learning about the Zhu Zhu Pets, I snagged a few of the little hamsters at Toys R Us while I was there shopping for a birthday gift. At that time, a mere 6-7 weeks ago, you could actually wander into a Toys R Us at a normal time of day and buy a Zhu Zhu Pet without having to bribe or trample anyone. I know...crazy, right?

As Christmas nears and my daughters still don't give a hoot about whether or not they own a Zhu Zhu pet, I've found myself in a quandry about what to do with the three I possess. Do I give them to the girls anyway, since they are pretty darn cute and they'd probably enjoy playing with them? Do I sell them on ebay or craigslist at a 400% mark-up? Do I donate them to some charity for disadvantaged kids?

I decided that I will give two of them to the girls, and give the third away on my blog. It might not be the world's most charitable act, but hopefully it will mean one less parent having to wait in line at a ridiculous time of night or beat down some poor old lady just to make their kids happy on Christmas morning.

So here's how you can win this little guy:


Post a comment below briefly describing the most delicious nutritious food you've eaten recently. It can be something as simple as a crunchy Fuji apple, or as complex as a side dish of steamed, marinated haricot verts at some fancy-shmancy restaurant.

Be sure to include your email address, or if you're uncomfortable posting your email address, include your first name, last initial, City & State (ie: Alicia M. Salt Lake City, UT) in the comment. I will be either emailing the winner or posting the winner's name (if no email is included) next Saturday, 12/5 at 8:00 am Arizona time (I think it's Mountain?? Not sure because we don't do daylight savings).

Bonus entries:

A) If you subscribe to my blog or become a follower on Google, you can leave an additional entry telling me you've done so.

B) If you post a link to this giveaway on your own blog or website, you can leave an additional comment as well. Please include the link in the comment field.

Next Saturday morning, I will go to Random.org and have a random number chosen to select the winner. And I promise the winner will receive his/her Zhu Zhu pet in time for Christmas!

Friday, November 27, 2009

A brussels sprouts dish I actually ate three helpings of

If you'd asked me yesterday morning how I felt about brussels sprouts, I would have said I absolutely hate them. If you'd asked me at 5:00 pm yesterday how I felt about brussels sprouts, I would have said they are my new favorite vegetable.

About two months ago, I clipped a brussels sprouts recipe out of the local newspaper. It was the only time I'd read a brussels sprouts recipe that looked like it might actually taste good. Each week since then, I've intended to make that recipe, and each week I have failed to do so - either because I didn't have time, didn't have the right ingredients, didn't have time to get the right ingredients, etc.

So I was delighted when I went to my aunt's house for Thanksgiving dinner yesterday, and discovered she had clipped the exact same recipe and actually made it! And then I was even more delighted to discover that it was fantastic! Seriously, I ate three helpings and I probably would have had more, except that I was starting to get embarrassed by my brussels sprouts consumption.

So if anyone is looking for a holiday side dish, or just a regular weeknight side dish, you must try this out! The recipe comes from the Chandler Tribune and was created by Scottsdale, AZ resident Cheryl Korwin.

"Cheryl's Shredded Brussels Sprouts with Lemon"


1 sweet yellow onion, chopped
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 pints fresh Brussels sprouts, shredded by finely slicing with a knife
1 large lemon (juice and zest)
4 tbsp butter
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese
1 cup fresh mushrooms, sliced
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper


Melt butter in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add onion and cook until soft (about 5 minutes). Add garlic and mushrooms, and cook for about 1 minute. Add the shredded Brussels sprouts, reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until sprouts are just tender (about 15 minutes). Add 1 tbsp of lemon zest and 3 tbsp of lemon juice. Also add salt and pepper. Remove from heat and stir in the parmesan cheese.


Sunday, November 22, 2009

Everything's better with bacon

That's Better - Bacon!
Originally uploaded by unprose
Lately my girls have become SO picky. The realistic side of me knew it was coming, but the idealistic side was hoping we would skip that whole "picky toddler" phase due to my diligence in feeding them diverse foods from the time they first started solids. Alas, I have to admit defeat. While the girls used to beg for peas, happily chomp on roasted beets and joyfully scarf down whole grain muffins, suddenly they're those stereotypical kids who love something one week, hate it the next. Brynn even turned down a cookie today with an emphatic "Yuck!"

Although many of my meals have been rejected lately, I enjoyed some success last night in getting my girls to not only eat green beans, but devour them and even ask for seconds! How? By sauteeing them in bacon fat.

I cooked two pieces of bacon in a skillet, pulled them out once they had shed a fair amount of grease, and then added a few handfuls of fresh green beans. I sprinkled on a little bit of salt to taste, but the bacon fat provided a good amount of flavor & saltiness on its own.

So it wasn't the healthiest side dish in the world...but it got my girls excited about eating greens. Now I am looking forward to combining bacon with some other greens - I see a kale & bacon experiment in my near future.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

5 things I wish I would have done with my baby spinach, instead of what I actually did with it

It drives me crazy when I buy food and never get around to using it before it goes bad. I've gotten much better about this than I used to be, but once in a while due to poor meal planning, an overstuffed fridge, or plain old forgetfulness, I end up having to throw away something I never even opened. Tonight, I just emptied a brand new container of pre-washed, organic baby spinach into my garbage disposal because it was turning brown and smelled like socks.

So in order to avoid having my spinach purchase be a total waste , I am listing five things I could have done with it during the 9 days it sat unopened in my fridge. And maybe by doing so, I will help prevent this same thing from happening to another innocent batch of spinach out there:

1) make a delicious baby spinach salad with any number of add-ins...hard-boiled eggs & bacon come to mind, as do pomegranate seeds and gorgonzola cheese

2) blend it with some lemon juice, olive oil, pine nuts, parmesan cheese and a few other ingredients to make a homemade pesto

3) wilt it down and throw it into an omelet

4) chop it up and stir it into pasta sauce

5) layer it with tomatoes and meats and other goodies in a panini sandwich.

Pretty good ideas, huh? If only I had used them...

Saturday, November 14, 2009

What "healthy" means to me

I realize I've used the word "healthy" a lot in my blog posts, yet I haven't really described what I mean when I use it. "Healthy" can mean different things to different people, especially as it pertains to food.

My own interpretation of the word has changed a lot over the years. In my teenage years and early 20's, "healthy" meant fat-free; I considered healthy foods to be plain bagels with jelly, pretzels, Saltine crackers, pasta with marinara, salad with fat-free dressing, and Twizzlers.

When I went to college, I was determined to avoid gaining the "Freshmen 15," and as a preventive measure I stuck to the high carb/low fat diet that was all the rage at the time. I ate virtually no fruits and vegetables, and considered Coca-Cola a health food since it didn't have any fat. And guess what - I gained at least 15 pounds during this period of so-called "healthy" eating.

After I caught on to the scam of the high-carb/low-fat diet craze, I redefined "healthy" to be synonymous with deprivation. Eating healthy meant constant vigilance regarding your diet: banning sauces and salad dressings to "the side;" starving yourself for a day because you overindulged the day before; always turning down dessert. Since healthy eating in those terms didn't really appeal to me, I chose to eat what I wanted and exercise to make up for my bad eating habits. I figured that my margaritas, burritos, and pizza wouldn't catch up to me as long as I was hiking and yoga-ing with regularity. It worked...but those things do tend to work when you're 25 years old.

Now I define healthy foods as whole foods (ie: foods in their natural form, that haven't been processed, dyed, bleached, etc.). I don't worry much about fats unless they're trans fats, and I don't count calories. Basically, if I eat a meal that contains components of at least three food groups, and it doesn't contain preservatives, artificial flavorings, artificial colorings, or chemicals, I feel good about it.

But I also have a life that doesn't always allow for the meals I wish I could eat. In a perfect world, I would have a personal chef who would steam artichokes and broccoli for me, and cook me delicious meals of seasonal, local foods. Since I don't live in a perfect world, I start many days off with good intentions (I think I'll make grilled Tilapia and sauteed asparagus for dinner tonight) and end them with yet another frozen pizza.

Taking care of two little ones and trying to constantly cook fresh, nutritious meals around the clock just doesn't really go hand in hand. Even before I had kids, I found it nearly impossible to find the time and energy to grocery shop and cook the way I wanted to.

Therefore, I've come to view "healthy" as an attitude as much as a diet regimen. To me, healthy means trying your best to eat well, but not beating yourself up if you can't. It means eating a burger and fries from In-N-Out for lunch without feeling guilty, but then eating fruits and veggies later to compensate. It means cooking "from scratch" pancakes for breakfast one morning, and throwing a handful of dry Cheerios in a bowl the next. And it means only eating foods that you enjoy, but trying hard to find ways to enjoy foods you know are really good for you.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Banana Quinoa Bread (it's realllly good, I promise)

In continuing my quest to find ways to eat quinoa and actually enjoy it, I decided to try adding it to my favorite banana bread recipe. I got the idea from my box of Trader Joe's quinoa, which says "truly versatile, it can be used in soups, salads, breads, puddings or as a breakfast cereal."

Usually I make this banana bread recipe exactly as written, except I substitute the butter with a vegan "buttery spread" which is dairy-free. It is seriously the most amazing banana bread in the world. Since it's so heavy on the banana, it is super-moist and also sweet without a ton of sugar.

I wasn't entirely sure how to go about modifying the recipe to add the quinoa, so I basically winged it. But I must say I am very proud of the results. This time I used only 2 cups of banana instead of 2 1/3. Then I added about 1 1/2 cups of cooked quinoa to the banana mixture (I eyeballed it, so my measurements aren't completely accurate). Then I added the flour mixture, but not the whole thing. I just kept stirring it in until the batter was about the same texture as thick oatmeal. I baked it as directed, and it turned out perfect! If I didn't have a husband who hates walnuts, I would have added some chopped walnuts too, which I think would've made it even better.

Now I can eat my banana bread for breakfast or a snack and feel like I'm getting some protein & other nutrients as well. And the best part is the girls love it too - win, win for me! I needed a successful experiment after I spent 15 minutes last night cleaning discarded sweet potato raviolis off the floor (needless to say, it wasn't a hit).

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Just a spoonful of chocolate helps the healthy stuff go down

I hate 3:00 pm. Even if I slept great the night before, ate well, exercised, and showered, I always feel sluggish and crappy at 3:00 pm. What makes it worse is that this is usually the time the girls get up from their naps and are pretty cranky themselves.

This used to be the time of day when I would head for the chocolate. Thanks to our relatives and friends in our hometown of Hershey, PA (many of whom work for the Hershey Company), we were always in constant supply of chocolate. And consequently my coffee table was in constant supply of Hershey Kiss wrappers, carefully rolled into a tight ball to conceal how many had actually been consumed.

Although I've managed to kick the Kiss habit, 3:00 pm is still my worst time of day in terms of cravings. I just can't seem to bring myself to bite into an apple or carrot with the same enthusiasm I might have at 10:00 am or 1:00 pm. So I've decided that instead of conquering the chocolate monster, I will simply try to tame him.

The best solution I came up with is trail mix. My current favorite is a blend of peanuts, almonds, raisins, dried cranberries, and M&Ms. It satisfies my need for sweets, and it also succeeds in keeping me full until dinner time. As an added bonus, nuts contain healthy Omega 3 fats, so it's technically brain food. Sometimes I buy the trail mix ready-made, and sometimes I make my own. I actually prefer making my own since I can experiment with the ingredients. I've found that just about any trail mix tastes delicious with some M&Ms thrown in, so I plan to keep experimenting to see how healthy I can get it while still keeping it crave-able.

I also recently made a chocolatey pancake concoction that was a big hit with the girls. I started with the Hungry Jack Whole Wheat Blends pancake mix, then added some milled flax seed, smashed banana, chopped walnuts, wheat germ, and some mini chocolate chips. (I've discovered that Sydney can tolerate semi-sweet chocolate chips since they only contain milk fat and not the milk protein).

Sydney was so excited that she was able to eat something with chocolate in it, she thought she had died and gone to heaven. I actually ate these pancakes too, and thought they were delicious. Brynn yelled "yuck" and threw it on the floor. But it wasn't because of the healthy stuff - the crazy child doesn't like chocolate!

The nice thing about chocolate is that a little goes a long way. I find my chocolate fix is just as easily satisfied by something that contains a little chocolate than by an entire bar of chocolate. Well, almost. Nothing will ever beat a Snickers bar...but hey, it has peanuts, so at least it's a source of protein.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Carbs: Brown vs White

I grew up on Maier's Italian Bread, a sandwich bread so white and fluffy that you could gently poke it with a finger and leave a permanent dent. I still have fond memories of that bread, toasted and buttered, smeared with crunchy peanut butter and Smuckers strawberry preserves, or topped with delicious smoked turkey and Dijonnaise. I sneered at people in restaurants who ordered their sandwiches on whole wheat bread, figuring they were health nuts or gluttons for punishment, or both.

My husband was actually the one who got me to conquer my hatred of brown bread. He was going through one of his random health kicks (which usually occur about once a year and last about two weeks) when he declared that he would no longer eat his sandwiches on white bread. Begrudgingly I bought a loaf of the brown stuff. We started with the "fake" whole wheat bread - the beige kind that is mostly refined flour with a little bit of the good stuff thrown back in. Then when I learned to look for "whole wheat flour" as the first ingredient, we graduated to the hard stuff. Now I actually prefer the thicker texture and taste of whole grain bread to the fluffiness of the refined white bread. (Except in the case of crusty breads - nothing beats a crusty loaf of bread slathered with butter or dipped in olive oil, and unless I develop a disease that is only cured by banning crusty bread I will continue to eat it for the rest of my life...in moderation, of course.)

Although I made the conversion to whole wheat bread years ago, I've been slow to embrace other whole grain carbohydrates, specifically brown rice & whole wheat pasta. I feed whole grain pasta to my kids all the time, but I rarely make it for myself.

First, I had to ask myself - is it really worth it? If you compare the nutrition information on brown vs. white foods, it's not that much different, especially if you're just looking at fat and calories. But since one of my main concerns is my constantly lagging energy, I do see a valid reason to choose whole grain over refined. Whole grains take longer to digest and contain more fiber; as a result, they keep you fuller longer and help you avoid the "crash" that comes from eating refined carbs. That "crash" is probably my biggest roadblock to healthy eating - when I get that sudden ravenous, shaky feeling, any healthy intentions I had go right out the window and I'm shoving aside my yogurt and busting open the box of Snyder's pretzels.

Another area where the brown stuff wins is in the vitamins and minerals. One might argue - why not just eat the white stuff and take a multi-vitamin? Well, I guess you can. Except some health experts maintain that there's no way to truly know how the body processes and absorbs naturally-occurring vitamins & minerals vs. supplements. I'm not a scientist, but my gut tells me that it's probably better to eat something in its natural form than to eat something that's been stripped of its nutrients by machines and then injected with a weakened form of those same nutrients.

My personal answer to whether or not it's worth it to go for the grains is this: Sometimes. I don't foresee a time in my near future where I'll be ordering my Thai curry with brown rice, or asking for my penne, sausage & vodka sauce to be made with whole grain pasta. But I do feel that it's important that the majority of my carbohydrate intake be whole grain. I've even found some instances where whole grains can be substituted for refined grains without sacrificing flavor at all.

If you're having trouble finding true enjoyment in whole grains, start with the sweet stuff. Whole grain cereals, muffins, and snack bars taste pretty good. You can also make french toast with whole grain bread (my kids' favorite). When it comes to snack foods, Triscuits is a good whole grain option, as are many other crackers.

I've found that whole grain pasta seems to work best in dishes which maximize earthy flavors, such as those containing onions and mushrooms. For example, I made this recipe from Rachel Ray, which worked well. And while I tend to go for the white stuff when I use tomato-based sauces, my kids gobble up whole wheat rotini, marinara and meatballs like it's the best thing ever.

As for the rice, I can't quite bring myself to pair brown rice with curries or other spicy foods. But I've had success with this chicken salad recipe. I have also used brown rice to make stuffed peppers with tasty results. I've been meaning to pair it with swedish meatballs because I think the flavors would complement each other, but I haven't had time to try it out yet.

So the answer to whether to eat brown or white doesn't need to be black or white. I think as long as you make sure a healthy portion of your carbs are brown, there's room to enjoy the white stuff too.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Halloween candy is the devil!

I just dumped all of my daughter's Halloween candy into the garbage. She doesn't care in the least since she can't eat any of it anyway (due to her dairy allergy). I, on the other hand, keep opening the trash can lid and questioning my sanity. Some of my favorites are in there...Peanut M&Ms, Reese's peanut butter cups, Snickers, Raisinets...mmmmmmmmmmmm

I simply lack the willpower to have that candy in the house and not eat some every single day. And I know it wouldn't kill me to eat a mini packet of M&Ms each afternoon, but the problem is that it easily turns into two, and then I toss in a bite-size snickers because, well, it's only a bite, right?

So in keeping with the lessons I learned from my detox program, I am eliminating the tempting junk foods from my kitchen. Now I'm about to go throw a dirty diaper on top of the candy in the trash so that I don't try to dig it out in a few hours. :)

Monday, November 2, 2009

A healthy alternative for cheesecake lovers

I usually cringe whenever I read about healthy alternatives to decadent foods and desserts. It's always something like: "If you're really craving a brownie, try eating a rice cake with a little unsweetened cocoa sprinkled on top!" Sorry, but that's just not going to cut it for me.

Recently, however, I found a yogurt that really did beg for a comparison to cheesecake. No, it doesn't taste exactly like cheesecake, but it definitely has a lot of the same characteristics.

And it's not one of those "desserts masquerading as yogurt" either. You know what I mean...those caramel chocolatey sugar-filled mousse yogurts that have no real nutritional value. In fact, this particular yogurt has 10 grams of protein, 2.5 grams of fat, 130 calories, 17 grams of sugar and all natural ingredients. (If you need something to compare it to, regular Yoplait has 27 grams of sugar, 5 grams of protein, and 170 calories, not to mention artificial flavors and colors.)

I recently began eating greek yogurt just to try something new. I'd heard good things about it, namely its thick, super-creamy texture and high protein content. I've tried a few different varieties over the past few months, but my favorite by far is FAGE Total 2% yogurt.

This yogurt is unique in that it comes with two compartments: the main compartment contains the plain flavored greek yogurt, and the little side compartment contains a fruit topping that you can mix in. It comes in strawberry, peach, honey, and cherry varieties; my personal preference is the cherry because it adds to the cheesecakeyness.

There is a trick to eating this yogurt: the key is rationing the fruit filling so that there's enough to combine with each bite of the yogurt. If you get too filling-happy on the first few bites, you'll end up with a pile of unflavored yogurt at the end, which is kind of a bummer. Oh, and I also recommend using a baby spoon because it helps you get every last bit of the fruit filling out of the small compartment.

This yogurt has become my lunchtime or afternoon treat. My favorite time to eat it is when the girls are napping, so I can sprawl out on the couch and devote my energy to getting the perfect cherry-to-yogurt ratio on each spoonful.

Look for it next time you're in the yogurt section of the grocery store. I can find it in almost all health/natural grocery stores I go to, as well as some mainstream grocery stores. If you are desperately jonesing for the double fudge snickers cheesecake from Cheesecake Factory, this probably isn't going to fulfill your craving, but if you just want a healthy snack that doesn't scream "healthy" then I definitely recommend the Fage.

PS: make sure you check the label - there's a "classic" version that has a lot more fat than the 2% kind (12 grams vs. 2.5). If you're not concerned about fat it's no biggie, but just wanted to give a heads-up to those who are.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Perfect pairing: salmon & potatoes

Omega-3s are all the rage these days. Of course, we all know that today's wonder food might be tomorrow's poison, but in the meantime I am doing my best to up my Omega-3 intake.

Salmon is a fantastic source of Omega-3s, and it's also something I happen to love. I am particularly partial to smoked salmon since it satisfies my "salt tooth" and doesn't require any preparation, except to cut open the package. Another favorite of mine is canned salmon. Like smoked salmon, it's convenient, and it is also affordable and typically wild caught (If you want to read up on wild caught salmon vs. farm raised, I found an informative post here)

One of my fondest salmon memories is of an appetizer I had at Spago (a Wolfgang Puck restaurant) at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas. My husband and I were enjoying a romantic dinner, and we ordered a salmon appetizer to start. I don't remember every detail about the dish, but I remember it was composed of a small, crispy potato pancake topped with a slice of lox and a dollop of a sour cream-based sauce.

I thought about that dish long after I'd eaten it. What was so appealing about it was the blend of those three different, but complementary flavors and textures - the crispiness, saltiness and slight greasiness of the fried potato, that distinct smoked salmon flavor & smoothness, and the creamy tang of the sour cream.

Feeling adventurous one night, I tried to replicate it. It actually came out quite close, although my potato pancake wasn't as crispy as Wolfgang's...probably because I used a skillet instead of a fryer. Since then, I've concocted a few other versions of the salmon and potato theme.

Here are some of my favorites:


Chop some lox and put it in a bowl. Add some chopped green onion, some capers, and a few squirts of lemon juice. Put a spoonful of the mixture on top of a sturdy, decent sized potato chip (I like Ruffles) and top with a small dollop of sour cream.


Fry up some shredded potatoes in a skillet (I like the convenience of the bagged frozen hashbrowns, but you can also shred Russet potatoes). Once they're browned and slightly cooled, put them in a bowl and mix in some drained canned salmon and possibly some chopped onions and/or spinach (I buy the frozen chopped spinach, thaw in the microwave, and squeeze out as much water as I can).

Add as many beaten eggs as you'd like, and some salt and pepper. Pour the concoction into a skillet and cook into an omelet. Or, you can make scrambled eggs and then add the mixture at the end and you'll have a salmon, potato, and spinach egg hash. The key is having the potatoes IN the egg mixture instead of on the side - it's delicious!

Kid friendly:

Use the same ingredients in the post above, but add just enough egg to hold the ingredients together. Form into patties and cook in a skillet. This has become a favorite at our house - I love that it's an "all in one" healthy meal that contains a vegetable, carb, and protein. These also freeze pretty well if you want to make a big batch.

Monday, October 26, 2009

No milk, no problem

One of my goals for this blog is to reach out to other people who are dealing with dairy allergies or intolerances. I don’t want to focus exclusively on it because there are too many foods I love that contain dairy (especially cheese…yum!), but I do hope to eventually become a resource for those who are forced into, or choose, a dairy-free life. I plan to give tips on great dairy-free products, ordering at restaurants, modifying recipes to make favorite foods dairy-free, and talking to kids about why they can’t have cake and ice cream at their friends’ birthday parties.

When my daughter Sydney was six months old, I gave her milk-based formula for the first time. Within minutes, hives started sprouting up around her lips and chin. I thought maybe it was related to the nipple on the sippy cup, possibly a latex allergy. But within 15 minutes, her entire body was covered in hives. She threw up about an hour later, and threw up at least two more times after that. When she was tested by an allergist, it was confirmed that she had an allergy to cow’s milk.

I was instructed to remove all traces of dairy from her diet. This meant that I would not only have to avoid the obvious, like milk, cheese and yogurt, but I would also have to start decoding labels, looking for words like “whey” and “casein” and “curds.” I have to say, all of my label-reading has taught me a LOT. Even after 2.5 years, I am still continually surprised by which foods do or do not contain dairy. Here are just some of the foods that have confounded me.

Oreo cookies are dairy-free.
Many pre-made cake frostings are dairy-free.
Many taco seasonings contain dairy.
Almost everything on the menu at Chik-Fila except the fruit cup & waffle fries contains dairy.
The roasted turkey at Boston Market contains dairy.
Some pre-packaged cinnamon buns are dairy-free.
Some canned chicken noodle soup contains dairy.

I could go on and on…

Unfortunately there is no cure for a milk allergy, except hopefully time. There are varying statistics about when and how many children outgrow their allergies. Here is a recent statistic I found, based on a study of 800 children with milk allergies:

• 19% outgrew it by age 4
• 42% outgrew it by age 8
• 64% outgrew it by age 12
• 79% outgrew it by age 16

When Sydney’s allergy was first diagnosed, I was hoping she’d be part of the group that outgrew her allergy early. Sydney just turned three, and her allergy is still going strong. Just the other day, she accidentally grabbed her sister’s milk-filled sippy cup and took a swig. She immediately spit it out, and then spent the next 10 minutes scratching her tongue. She was even licking the couch at one point to try to get the itchy tongue feeling to stop.

While I still hope she outgrows it relatively soon, it’s become part of life for us. I call her allergy a blessing and a curse: a curse because it’s inconvenient; a blessing because it has forced me to look closer at the foods my kids eat, and also forced me to be creative in the kitchen.

One thing I’ve discovered is that almost any dish that is not primarily reliant upon cheese as its main ingredient can be made into a dairy-free version. So life without dairy is definitely not void of pleasure. If you need reassurance of this, check out the cake I just made for Sydney’s birthday (shameless self-congratulating, I know….but I slaved over that thing for 4 hours, so I need to pat myself on the back a little).

So if you know anyone who has kids with dairy allergies, or is allergic to dairy themselves, please send them my way. I'd love to trade ideas & tips, and would also be happy to guide anyone who is new to this and overwhelmed.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Spice up your salad

I grew up eating the same salad time and time again: iceberg lettuce, chopped carrots, tomatoes, and cucumber, Bacos, and Italian dressing. It was good, just not terribly exciting. Salad was never a meal in and of itself...it was the vegetable side dish, sitting in its little wooden brown bowl in the upper right hand corner of my place setting.

As I got older, I loved trying out new, interesting salads at restaurants, but my "at home" salad got even more boring. Usually it consists of bagged mixed baby greens, balsamic vinaigrette, and yes - still Bacos. (I know Bacos don't even come close to resembling real food, but I figure a tablespoon here and there isn't going to kill me. Nothing beats that salty crunch!)

There's no reason my salads should be so lame, and so I'm making it my goal to break out of my salad rut. One of the salads I love to make is an Italian chopped salad. I based my version on one I used to order all the time at the Pasta Factory, a homey little Italian restaurant by our old apartment in Marina del Rey, CA. After we moved to Phoenix, I craved that salad constantly and so one day I set out to make it. I was quite pleased that it tasted almost exactly like I remembered. Here's what's in it:

Romaine lettuce & hearts, chopped up. Make sure the lettuce is really fresh and crisp. I like to chop it into thin ribbons and then cut the ribbons into 1/2 inch pieces.

Garbanzo beans (I use the canned kind...drained & rinsed)

Shredded mozzarella cheese

Diced tomatoes

Chopped salami (I like to order it from the deli and ask them to slice it thick. Then you can chop it into little cubes.)

Cardini's Italian Dressing (You can use any Italian dressing, but I find Cardini's to be the closest to the dressing I had at the restaurant. I also like that it's emulsified and a little thicker than other Italian dressings, so it coats the lettuce nicely. Oh, and it's dairy free! You should be able to find Cardini dressings in most large grocery stores or health food stores.)

Just mix it all together. You can add as much of each ingredient as you like. I just eyeball it until it looks like there's a good blend of ingredients; ie.: you can easily get a forkful that contains a little bit of everything.

At the restaurant, they always served this alongside a piping hot, crusty loaf of Italian bread and garlic-infused olive oil. In keeping with tradition, I HAVE to eat crusty bread with this salad. I recommend you do the same. :)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Lessons learned from my detox experiment

On Tuesday at approximately 2:00 pm, I threw in the towel on the whole juice fasting thing. I was getting nauseous from the bitter juice, and weak from hunger. And I needed energy, as I was looking at another 5+ hours of taking care of the girls on my own. I felt pretty guilty about it, but then I remembered why I started this whole blog in the first place. The way to make healthy changes in my eating habits is to find healthy dishes and whole foods that are truly pleasurable. So choking down "gross juice" (which is what Sydney started calling it after she saw me grimacing with each sip) in the name of health goes against pretty much everything I believe in.

I expected that when I was finally done with this program, I would immediately jump on the couch and surround myself with loaves of crusty bread, bars of chocolate, and gallons of wine, eager to make up for lost carbohydrates, sugars, and alcohol. But instead, I found myself craving a carrot. That bright orange, crunchy fresh carrot in the fridge was calling my name louder than the bags of pretzels and crackers that had been shoved to the back of the pantry. I don't know whether it was the effects of drinking gross juice all day or what, but that carrot was the tastiest thing I've eaten in a long time. After I ate the carrot, I ate some avocado, with just a little salt sprinkled on top. I found myself savoring each creamy bite and noticing how delicious that plain old avocado tasted all by itself.

So this got me thinking. Although my liver wasn't fully detoxified, I did manage to dump a few bad habits and pick up a few good ones during my 8 days of eating under the program rules. Here's what I learned:

1) Most bad eating habits are actually bad shopping habits.

When my pantry is stocked with a ton of yummy processed snack foods, it makes sense that I'm going to gravitate toward those when I'm running on zero energy and/or time. When those foods aren't there, and instead I have a refrigerator full of fresh fruit, guess what I'm going to eat? I admit, on Day1 when I had to choose an apple over Wheat Thins for my mid-morning snack, I wasn't happy about it. But after a few days, I started to look forward to that apple. By the end of only eight days, the salty snacks I was used to had lost a lot of their appeal. In fact, even though I'm not doing the detox anymore, I am still eating a ton more fruits and veggies than I was before.

If you want to stop eating something, just stop buying it. Likewise, if you want to start eating better, make sure you are always stocked with fresh fruits, veggies & other healthy treats so that you're not resorting to eating junk just because you're out of the good stuff.

2) It's worth it to invest in high quality, in-season fruits and vegetables.

I think part of the reason I took such pleasure in the carrot & avocado I ate the other day was that they were both perfectly ripe and fresh. The carrot was bright orange, moist and crunchy; the avocado was a perfect color and texture - not too mushy, not too firm.

Many times I've opened my fridge with good intentions, but become turned off by the bag of shriveled, white-ish baby carrots I find at the bottom of the veggie drawer. Or the browning bagged lettuce. Or the apple that's too soft or tart or both.

Now I plan to take my time in the produce section to ensure that I'm buying the best of what's available. It might not always be the cheapest choice, but it's better to invest in something I'm actually going to eat than in something I'm going to throw away a week later.

3) Sugar is in a LOT of things, even foods that aren't sweet.

When the plan told me to cut out sugar and artificial sweeteners, I didn't think it would be too hard. I don't have a huge sweet tooth to begin with, so I figured aside from my nightly chocolate and occasional snack bars, I would be OK. Well it turns out that sugar is in almost any processed food you can find, like cereal, crackers, soups, salad dressing, pasta sauce and even mayonnaise.

Sometimes sugar is essential to the flavor of a certain food, but other times it's really not. For instance, when I dipped my banana into unsweetened peanut butter, I didn't notice a difference because of the natural sweetness of the banana. I also found a cereal that was sweetened with pear juice instead of sugar, and it has now become one of my favorite cereals.

I certainly don't think a little sugar here and there will hurt anyone, but I do think that avoiding sugar in my diet is going to help me to lose weight and be healthier overall. I also think it will help me to have more energy, since I won't suffer any sugar crashes like I used to after my afternoon Coke break.

4) Drinking more water is as easy as having a glass nearby at all times.

One of the rules of the program was that I was supposed to drink 1/2 my body weight in ounces of water each day. I already drink a pretty decent amount of water, but this past week I was actually conscious of how much I was drinking. And that little voice in my head saying "remember to drink water" was all it took for me to up my intake. The other thing that helped was making sure it was always available...this meant always having a full bottle in my diaper bag and glasses stashed throughout the house at my most frequented "stations," like the computer desk, the kitchen island, my bedside table, and the side table beside the couch. Whenever I noticed one of these glasses, I drank a few sips. It was as simple as that.

I actually used to hate the taste of water. Throughout my college years and many years beyond, the only beverages that ever passed my lips were coffee, Coke, iced tea, hot tea, and alcohol. The only time I drank water was while exercising, and even then I'd usually only finish 1/3 of the bottle.

Somewhere along the line that changed, although I don't entirely remember why or how. I do remember that for a long time I could only stomach bottled water. Then I made the shift to plain old filtered fridge water. My point in sharing this is that water-haters can be reformed. And it really is worth it to try...when I am drinking a lot of water, I feel more energetic, my skin isn't as dry, and I'm not waking up in the middle of the night feeling parched.

So as a whole, I'm really glad I tried the detox program. It didn't drastically alter my life, but it has kickstarted what I hope is going to be a healthier way of eating that will last indefinitely.

The poor (and busy) man's (or woman's) gourmet lunch

Caprese Salad
Originally uploaded by Kitchen Mouse
Poor lunch - it's the meal that usually gets shafted the most. It's the meal many people eat sitting at their desks, in their cars, or hunched over a kitchen island, trying to shove in as many bites as they can before they're asked to slice more apple or get more turkey for the kids (that last one would be me).

My lunches have traditionally been bland or unhealthy or both: a turkey sandwich with mustard on whole wheat bread (blah); Chik Fila chicken nuggets (man are those good!); or some greek yogurt (a healthy choice but doesn't fill me up for very long). Usually I end up snacking on random bites of random foods for the better part of the afternoon until I'm finally full. This not only gets tiring, but I ultimately end up reaching for some sort of unhealthy snack because I've run out of other options.

Lately I've been trying to put more effort into lunch. It can be a hassle on days we're running from one place to the next, but I feel so much better when I've eaten a meal instead of various handfuls of this and that. One thing I've begun making with some regularity is a caprese salad.

All it consists of is a slice (or two or three) of tomato, topped with a slice of fresh mozzarella (the kind that comes floating in water), topped with a big slice of basil. I drizzle mine with my favorite balsamic vinaigrette. You can also just use olive oil & balsamic vinegar. And sometimes if I am needing some extra greens, I put a bed of baby lettuce underneath in order to make it more substantial.

It's so simple to assemble; it's impossible to mess up; and it can be ready in 30 seconds. It brings a little gourmet, restaurant flair to that under-appreciated mid-day meal.

It's fasting day, and it's really rough.

So today is the 1-day juice fast portion of my liver detox program. I was actually kind of looking forward to this day for the sole reason that I wouldn't have to think about food for 24 hours. It's been tough trying to make sure I am eating all the right things, so drinking juice & water should seem like a welcome relief. Except for two problems...1) I'm hungry, and 2) the juice is disgusting.

The juice is made of 100% unsweetened cranberry juice diluted with water, with some freshly squeezed orange juice, lemon juice, and spices added. I also sweetened it with Stevia, which tastes like minty Robitussin. It didn't smell bad while I was cooking it up - it kind of reminded me of the mulled wine I made one time over the holidays. But this morning when I took my first sip, I almost gagged. If the juice wasn't bad enough on its own, I was instructed to stir 3 tbsp of milled flax seeds into my first cup. So basically it was like drinking a cup of sour mix with some dirt thrown in. The photo is of the actual juice - notice the chunks? Blech.

The flax/juice combo was so disgusting, I had to pour it down the drain after about 5 sips. But I still resolved to complete my 24-hour juice fast. After chugging a glass of water to get the taste out of my mouth, I filled a cup with ice and tried the cranberry concoction plain. It was still disgusting. I reasoned that maybe it would taste better when I was truly, truly hungry and willing to eat or drink anything just to get some calories. Well it's noon, I am officially starving, and the juice still tastes horrible. I think I've only had about 8 oz and I'm supposed to have 72 by day's end.

So this is the conversation I've been having with my liver over the last 5 hours:

Me: Why am I doing this to myself? I am a reasonably healthy person. It's not like I NEED to detox my liver...I'm just trying to be healthier. Surely, there are better ways.

Liver: Really? You can't last ONE freaking day? You're pathetic. You're a quitter.

Me: But I'm not a quitter. I lasted 7 days without bread, rice, crackers, chocolate, coffee or wine (OK, I cheated on the wine 2 or 3 times, but I only had 1/2 a glass!) I've roasted beets, and steamed artichokes, and eaten large carrots like a bunny. You can't call me a quitter.

Liver: First of all, it was at least 3/4 glass and I'm sure it was 3 or 4 times, not 2 or 3. Secondly, that was just the warm-up to the detox. This is game time! Yes, I've enjoyed the benefits of your healthier eating choices, but this is my time to really shine. I'm about to start flushing impurities out of your system. Do you really want to halt that?

Me: (Sigh) No, I don't. But this cranberry juice is so freaking gross!

Liver: Try watering it down a little more. Hang in there, please! I will thank you later.

Me: Fine, I'll try watering it down. I'll give it two more hours. If I'm still this grossed out, I am opening a bag of chips.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Cheap, easy, healthy Indian food...at Target

I love Indian food. I love almost all spicy and/or ethnic foods, but there's something about a rich Indian curry that just fulfills every food craving I have...salty, spicy, tangy, and with the satisfying texture combination of basmati rice, a thick curry sauce, and some veggies & chicken.

I have been disappointed over and over again by the Indian take-out offerings in Phoenix. There was the place we nicknamed "the cat place" because the meat they called chicken resembled anything but. And then there was the place where we had to lift a congealed layer of grease off of the top of the take-out container before we could even begin to make out what was underneath.

I've always wished I could make Indian food at home, but the amount of ingredients in each dish overwhelms me a little bit. And I've tried a few of those jarred simmer sauces...some have been decent, but none have come very close to a truly delicious Indian meal.

Then one day, while strolling down the aisles at Target, I was drawn to a box of Archer Farms Vindaloo, which had a picture of a lovely looking Indian curry on the front. "Complete meal for 2" "Ready in less than 30 minutes!" the box boasted. The box includes a spicy curry sauce, basmati rice, a spicy potato & pea side dish, and mango chutney. The protein isn't included (Thank God...can you imagine chicken in a box?), so you either need to buy that separately or go vegetarian.

Skeptical, I turned the box around, expecting to be horrified by the ingredients. Instead, I saw a moderate list of pronounceable, easily identifiable spices and seasonings with nary a chemical or hydrogenated oil in sight. The ingredients are things like onion, ginger, vinegar, chile powder, nutmeg, pepper, coriander, turmeric, garam masala, fennel, and cardamom...all those delicious ingredients that make up a fabulously flavorful curry without me having to stock my pantry with 20 different spices that I'll only use once in a while.

Still leery that it would actually taste good, I took it home and put it in my pantry, saving it for a night when my husband was out of town and I was lacking in groceries. When that night finally came, I prepared my meal according to the directions, boiling the rice, and nuking the various sauces. I happened to have half a rotisserie chicken in the fridge, so I mixed that in with the curry sauce.

It. Was. Delicious. I swear to you, if you like Indian food, you've got to try the Archer Farms version. Yes, I know it sounds crazy that you can find good Indian food at Target, but it's true. It comes in a few different flavor variations, so you can find one that suits your specific taste and spice preferences. Granted, it will not beat out the dish at your favorite Indian restaurant, or one made by someone who knows how to cook homemade Indian food, but it sure as heck beats paying $30 for gross takeout at the cat restaurant. And it feels good knowing what's in it. It's real food, it's easy, it's cheap, and it truly tastes good.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

No, it's MY banana

I suppose it's a parent's job to put the kids first, whether you intend to or not. I didn't intend to...until I became a parent. I remember being a kid, making fun of my mom's outfit, and hearing: "Well if I didn't spend all of my money on your clothes, maybe I would have some decent clothes of my own." I vowed that I would never sacrifice my own fashion sense for a child who doesn't know whether her t-shirt is from J. Crew or Walmart.

I remember lying on the couch in my child-free days, eating yet another "Lean Pocket & beer" dinner when my husband said, "How are you ever going to feed kids when you can't even feed yourself decently?" I think I said something along the lines of "Well I'm sure Lean Pockets can be pureed."

But now, here I am...dressed in the sweat shorts I bought during my first pregnancy (because they don't say "maternity" on the label, I figure they're still OK to wear now) and ordering my daughters cute little Gap outfits that they'll ruin with spaghetti sauce and mud. And here I am, boiling, baking, sauteeing, chopping, and assembling meal after meal for my girls, and ending up exhausted on the couch with my Lean Pocket & beer dinner yet again.

One of the awakenings that has happened for me during this whole nutrition/detox program process is recognizing that I deserve to eat well too. So today, while holding the last banana in the house, looking at two pleading faces who were begging for it, I put my foot down and said, "No, this is mommy's banana. You will have to eat something else." I felt guilty and empowered at the same time.

Normally, the kids get the best of everything. If there are only a few strawberries left, they get the strawberries for a snack, and I eat the half-stale chips in the back of the pantry. If one of them asks for my sandwich when I am only halfway through, I dutifully fork it over. But this week, since I am limited in what I can eat, and it's not an option to bust out the box of Wheat Thins to quell my hunger, I've been putting my foot down.

I've been focused so much on feeding them well because they are growing, their brains are developing, and I want to instill good eating habits in them from an early age. Because I'm done growing and my body is supposedly better able to handle the crap I put in it, I don't put nearly as much effort into my own food. But the more I think about it, it should be as important that I eat well as that I feed my kids well. I guess I can liken it to the gas mask procedure on an airplane. If I don't take care of myself, I'll have less energy & stamina to take care of my kids.

So my resolution is to try to feed everyone in my family well. And if that means sometimes I have to fight two toddlers for the last nutritious bite, I'll do it.

The bottomless pits

It's 9:30 a.m. This is what my girls have eaten so far:

a cup of orange juice
a bowl of dry cheerios
1/2 a waffle
a handful each of my cereal (cuz God forbid they see me eating and don't want some)
1/2 a hardboiled egg
a handful of almonds (S)
a cup of Rice Milk (S)
a whole milk Kefir smoothie (B)

And I just turned away B, who was at my leg saying "snack" over and over again. Keeping these girls full is exhausting, not to mention expensive! And don't think that because they ate a big breakfast, they won't be hungry for lunch. By 11:00 a.m. they will be ravenous again.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A perfect kid-friendly snack or lunch

my favorite food
Originally uploaded by tomilym
Eggs are my best friends these days. They are:

1) easy to make
2) easy for my 18-month-old to chew
3) easy to mix with other foods
4) a fantastic source of protein and Omega 3s
5) dairy-free!
6) relatively cheap

My daughters usually eat eggs at least every other day, if not more often. Today I came up with a nifty little snack on the fly, which I was quite proud of...because it was healthy and the girls gobbled it up like it was the most fantastic thing they'd ever eaten.

I peeled and halved some hard-boiled eggs I had in the fridge, and then scooped out the yolk (neither of my girls are yolk fans). Then I mixed some canned salmon with some mayo and put it in the little cavity where you'd usually put the filling if you were making deviled eggs.

It can be a pain to make hard-boiled eggs, but I absolutely love having a bowl of them in the fridge. Anytime you're lacking a little protein, you can just chop them up into a salad, eat them plain with a little S&P, or come up with an interesting concoction like the salmon one I made. Eggs rule!

Artichoke = Good; Kale = Bad

Ontario Globe Artichokes
Originally uploaded by Scorchez
Yesterday, I decided to try two new foods which were part of the "must eat" list in my healthy detox program. The first was an artichoke. I've had artichokes plenty of times, but not in their pure form. I've eaten them smothered with all kinds of cheese in some sort of dip; I've also had the oil & salt laden marinated artichoke hearts, which are quite yummy. But this was my first venture into cooking and consuming a plain old artichoke.

Artichokes are really neat looking, but they're also intimidating. When I bought one, I felt instantly cool, but then I swore the cashier was looking me over, like "Does she have any idea what to do with this?"

To overcome the intimidation factor, I turned to my friend Google and found this informative article about how to cook an artichoke. I followed it exactly, including the part about making a dip out of some mayonnaise & balsamic vinegar. (The one thing I would add to this otherwise outstanding "how-to" is to make sure you have a lot of water underneath your steamer basket. I did not, and now I've spent the better part of today trying to clean the charred mess off the bottom of my pot. Oops.)

Anyway, I discovered that an artichoke is actually pretty delicious. I thought the dip would be key, but I almost liked it better without the dip. It felt so good to be truly enjoying something that was good for me in it's plain, unadulterated form.

When dinner rolled around, I was on a health food high--and thinking that my idea of stirring some kale into my pre-packed smoked salmon & white bean soup would be a good one. It wasn't. The soup was delicious...the kale tasted like, well, kale. It's kind of a dense, bitter green which needs to be cooked so that it'll soften and the bitterness will fade. I've never been one for cooked greens, so maybe I'm destined to hate it no matter what, but it definitely wasn't tasty.

I guess one out of two isn't too bad.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Choosy moms choose...hives?

A few weeks ago, my family was enjoying our weekend morning tradition of a bagel breakfast at Einstein's. Since most bagels are dairy-free and relatively mess-free, it's one of the few restaurant experiences I actually enjoy with my daughters.

On this particular occasion, my husband gave each of the girls a dollop of his peanut butter to dip their bagels into. Within a few minutes, little B had hives all over her face.

My immediate thought was "peanut allergy." Although she'd had peanut butter a few times previously without a reaction, I know that sometimes allergies only appear after multiple exposures. So, for weeks we avoided peanut butter.

Then a few days ago, I found a bag of Trader Joe's peanut butter-filled pretzels, which Syd snacks on pretty regularly. And I remembered giving those to B on many occasions - despite the fact that her 8 teeth have to work overtime to chew them. So I gave her one...no reaction. Another...no reaction. Over the course of 30 minutes, she had about 6...and still no reaction.

The next day I tested another peanut-containing product. No reaction. When I told my hubby that it must just be the Einstein's peanut butter she's allergic to, he said he saw the guy scoop the pb out of a Jif container. So I tested a little bit of the Jif we have in our pantry...and sure enough, a few hives sprouted up.

After searching online, I found I'm not the only one who's experienced the "Jif rash." Which begs the question...what the heck is in there? The kind I have is even the "natural" Jif which doesn't contain quite as many gross ingredients as the regular. So I am off to experiment some more with the peanut situation. If Jif's not the culprit, I will be sure to exonerate them. But as for now, this choosy mom is skeptical.