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 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 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 reaction. 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.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Making my liver happy, day 1

Australian Orange
Originally uploaded by challiyan
Today is the first day of my 11-day liver detox program. I have to say, I did not have high hopes after what happened yesterday. What happened yesterday was that I didn't have any coffee. I knew this was one of the "rules" of the detox program, and so I decided to start a day early to make the weaning process a little easier.

Well, by 7 pm the headache I'd had all day long was turning into a migraine, and so I gave in and brewed myself a huge cup of coffee. The headache was gone in about 20 minutes.

At first, I took this as a sign that maybe I shouldn't bother with this whole program. I mean, who wants to feel that crappy? But then I reasoned that this should give me even more incentive to forge ahead since I clearly have some bad eating/drinking habits I need to get rid of.

So today is a new day, and so far it's going along swimmingly. Aside from hopefully detoxifying my liver, I am finding some extra benefits to this 11-day experiment. For one, it's forcing me to eat nutritious foods I actually like, but am usually too lazy to an orange. I know it's pathetic, but the main reason I never eat oranges is that I don't like the hassle of peeling them. Why get your fingers all sticky and wet peeling an orange when there are so many fruits you can just bite right into?

But since an orange was on the list of foods to eat, I took the plunge. 10 seconds later, I was finally able to take a bite...and I realized that oranges are actually quite delicious.

My other achievement of the day was concocting a liver-loving chicken salad, which contained three of the "must eat" foods (lean protein, onions, and celery) and none of the bad stuff. Here's what I used:

Chopped, cooked chicken
Brown rice
Mayonnaise (the natural, full-fat kind)
Diced celery
Diced onion
Slivered almonds
A dab of mustard
Salt & pepper

Mix equal parts of chicken & rice, and add enough mayo to coat everything without making it too mayonnaise-y. Then add as much of the other stuff as you want.

I admit, the taste of brown rice takes a little getting used to. I still can't quite manage to eat it on its own, but it works quite nicely in this chicken salad. You could also include some dried cranberries in this salad if you want...I eliminated them this time because I could only find sweetened ones at the store, and sugar is a no-no in the liver detox plan.

Tonight I'm planning on making something delicious out of an artichoke and some kale...we'll see what happens.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Liver detox, here I come!

Wine glass
Originally uploaded by Feliz Navidad
Last night, after enjoying some wine, pasta, and a caprese salad with my husband, I plopped on the couch and began reading my Experience Life magazine (which is free with a Lifetime Fitness membership). I was intrigued by an article about an 11-day liver detox program, which promises to unclog one's liver from its burden of toxins, promote weight loss, and boost energy.

At first, I thought what I always think when I read or hear about any detoxification programs that involve eating lots of green stuff - hell no. But then I thought about those pesky 5 pounds I've been wanting to lose for the last year. And I thought about how crappy I feel every day between 3:00 and 5:00 pm when I have zero energy and the girls are up from their naps and raring to go. And finally, I thought about my poor liver, which has weathered a steady stream of wine and coffee for the better part of 12 years.

So I decided to do it. The appealing, yet difficult aspect of this program is that it tells you what to eat, as well as what not to eat. Unlike other programs that just tell you to cut out wheat, sugar, processed foods, carbs, etc., this one has categories of foods (mostly fruits and vegetables) that must be eaten every day. After an hour at Sprouts Market, my head was spinning, but I felt good as I watched my bags of produce glide down the checkout conveyor belt with nary a box or can in sight.

Day 1 of my detox program starts tomorrow. It would've started today except for the fact that hubby wants to go out to dinner before he heads out of town, and the idea of sitting at a nice restaurant with a big glass of water & a plate of kale in front of me is not appealing.

I will be updating with my progress, and my attempts to make something delicious out of the bags of green stuff that are currently residing in my fridge.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The dish that inspired the blog

raw corn chips
Originally uploaded by Christaface
For quite a while now, I've been reading about the wonder grain quinoa (pronounced keen-wah). It is a fantastic source of protein, calcium, vitamins, amino acids, etc. - it's just really damn good for you. It's also inexpensive and easy to make. So it seems like a no brainer - we should all be eating quinoa all the time! The catch is, like many healthy foods, it's not something that most of us will want to gulp down by the spoonful. It tastes kind of bland and the texture takes some getting used to.

Most recipes I found for quinoa involved mixing it with some veggies, herbs and olive oil. I'm sure it could be tasty that way, but tasty enough that my girls will eat it? Delicious enough that my husband and I will take more than two dutiful bites? Doubtful. Quinoa is also sometimes baked into breads & muffins, which sounds good, except it's rare that I have time to actually bake breads and muffins.

So I set out to find a way to serve quinoa that would be fairly easy and truly taste good. Taking inspiration from my daughter's favorite frozen burrito (Amy's Organic Non-Dairy Burritos), I mixed cooked quinoa with some mild salsa and some refried beans. Then I put a spoonful onto a Tostito (the "Scoops" work best) and topped it with a slice of avocado to add a little flair (not to mention some good fats). With baited breath, I put my creation onto a Dora plate and watched my daughter take a bite. She loved it!

As I doled out another serving, I realized this dish encompasses my main philosophy about food. It's important to eat real food - food that hasn't been smashed, pulverized, centrifuged, salted, preserved, and colored into something virtually unrecognizable from its original form. But (for me, at least) it's equally important that food be delicious...especially if you want your kids to eat it. My husband and I can gulp down bland veggies once in a while in the name of good nutrition and/or weight loss, but I simply cannot force my toddlers to chow down on healthy foods that don't taste good - no matter how much bribery is involved.

So, my approach is to combine something healthy with something that tastes really, really good. Maybe someday I will have adapted my palate to the point where a spoonful of plain quinoa served over a bed of spinach leaves tastes delectable. But until then...I'll take little grease & salt with my quinoa, please.