Saturday, December 29, 2012

Merry Christmas, Bagel Face!

Okay, that title sounds awful, I admit, but I couldn't figure out how else to put these two topics together.  It will make sense momentarily.

Generic Christmas Dinner Photo.  Yes, there are some grapes and apples on the table, and those might even be carrots in that bread bowl.  But I also see what might be cocktail weenies in a blanket and some round meatloaf looking thing.  Not too much fresh or raw stuf here.

First of all, and rather obviously, it's Christmas (or "the holidays" for the more pc or less religiously-inclined of us).  Like last month's Thanksgiving, it's my first holiday season since my discovery of better health and a greater sense of self care, and wow, I learned a lot about myself.

I had thought, for years and years, that Thanksgiving was my favorite holiday, because of the food of course, but it seems that Christmas, to perhaps an even greater degree, is also associated with large amounts of unhealthy food in my subconscious and memory as well.  Or, at least, I'm still, at this stage of my journey, a bit overwhelmed by all the food, healthy or otherwise, that's available during the holidays.  I certainly found it even more difficult to deal with the food choices at Christmas this year than I had at Thanksgiving.

Perhaps it's the time frame?  Thanksgiving is one day, then it's over.  Christmas, while of course the holiday is just one day, goes on for at least a few days before and a few days after.  With my family it always has at least.  On top of that, as a teacher, I've got a two-week break from school and from routine.  If summer taught me one thing, it's that I find it much easier to stay on track with food choices and exercise when I've got a regular schedule.  During this winter break, all those extra days off just means more time surrounded by trays of cookies, cakes, pies, chocolates, turkey, ham, sausage!!!!  Yeesh!  (A topic for another post, perhaps, is how I've noticed mybody's tendency in winter to want to get big - go figure!)

However, and hopfully needless to say, I still ate my nutritious fill of salad and other veggies while others ate turkey and ham.  I did though (over)indluge a bit in cookies, seemingly my great weakness.  I drank at least my share of wine as well.  I'm not going to beat myself up over it (not too much at least) - I did go running a few times, which definitely helped me feel a bit better.  Nonetheless, this holiday season has shown me very clearly where my tendencies lie.  Knowledge is power they say, so, more power to me?  Yes, I think so.  I'll be even more prepared to deal with the holidays next year.

Bagel Face



I think this would have been an ever better title for the book I just devoured over the course of two days at my mother-in-law's, Wheat Belly ("Bagel Face" is actually a title of one of the chapters).  My mother-in-law has been incredibly supportive of the food revolution I've got myself involed with, always willing to lend an ear to hear of my latest nutrition discovery (sadly, her tragic flaw is that she also makes the best chocolate chip cookies outisde of Delicious Orchards!  Okay, who are we kidding, it's MY tragic flaw, right?).  We got to her house a few days before Christmas and I saw this book that she'd just gotten and of which she had read a bit.  It was really pretty amazing.
 
My arch-nemesis in the search for moderation, good nutrition and health: the chocolate chip cookie.
This is definitely how many I could eat if I let myself.
 
The book just came out last year and is authored by a "renowned" cardiologist, William Davis.  I quite literally could not put the book down.  The first night I had to pry it out of my own hands because I was so tired and needed to sleep.  Davis makes some fascinating and seemingly well-researched points about wheat.
 
One of the important points he makes early on in the book is how wheat has so radically changed from the grain that was originally grown in the Fertile Crescent (modern-day Mesopotamia - Iraq, etc.) during the Agricultural Revolution around 12,000 years ago.  I think I linked this video in an earlier post, but it's at least as appropriate here.  It about 11 minutes long, but it's really a prety brilliant 11 minutes.


Back to the book.  Davis talks about how the orginial wheat grown 10,000 years ago (Einkorn wheat, I think it's called) went through very few changes for much of its history.  Some changes, yes, as it was adapted to different environments, but nothing very radical, nothing that altered its chemical makeup so much so as to make it detrimental to humans.  But, he argues, over the last 50-80 years, wheat has undergone innumerbale hybridizations and changes, at the hands of scientists, farmers and agriculturalists, that what we consume today in bread, pasta, pretzels and crackers, barely deserves the name "wheat."  And, more importantly, the argument goes, none of these changes that have radically altered the composition of wheat and its associated protein, gluten, have ever been studied or considered in terms of affecting wheat's suitability for human consumption or effects on human health.  In a way Davis is saying we've created our own Frankenstein, and unwittingly brought about obesity and diabetes in the process.
 
With the ever-increasing mechanization of agriculture that's happened over the last 80 years, wheat, like most other crops, has undergone numerous (man-made) changes in order to make it easier, faster and cheaper to grow.  At what price to human health has this come?  That's one of the main questions Davis sets about answering in this book.  The conclusion is not a pretty one.
 
 
He then talks about how modern "wheat" has become so incredibly ubiquitious, finding its way not just into the obvious foods like bread, pasta and crackers, but into a host of other foods we'd never thought contained wheat products.  The one shocking fact about wheat, whether from Wonder Bread or from my own homemade 100% whole wheat bread, is that wheat has a glycemic index even higher than table sugar.  It's mostly for this reason that he targets wheat as the greatest cause of what he calls "visceral fat," that is, the tire around the gut of many Americans today.  (If you don't know about glycemic index, you probably should - it's certainly a useful tool.  Go here for more info.)
 
 My awesomely delicious homemade 100% whole wheat bread - I knew it wasn't really the greatest thing for me, but, wow, I sort of had no idea the extent to which wheat was, in Davis's view, implicated in so many health issues.
The book at times gets a bit scientific for a non-scientist like myself, but only in a few places, and it's still relatively easy to follow the gist of what he's saying, even if you don't know exactly what a "protoprotien A" is or looks like (I made that term up, fyi).
 
The book seems incredibly well-researched, with information pulled from lots of studies spanning the last half-century as well as dozens of pieces of anecdotal evidence from his long career as a preventive cardiologist.  During the book he ties an excess of wheat in the modern American diet to skin conditions like acne, to premature aging, to diabetes, to obesity, to heart disease and even to brain disorders like cerebellar ataxia.  It seems that some of the compounds in wheat are among the few that the body allows to pass through the blodd-brain barrier.  And speaking of the brain, he also discusses the addicative nature of wheat - it apparently helps the brain produce some opiate-like peptides called exorphins that give you the "eat more" signal.  That resonated with me pretty strongly - I recall the those times eating three bagels in a row becuase I just couldn't stop (I'm sure I mentioned that somewhere in my "bio.")
 
So while I can't give a complete book review here, I have to say I think it should be required reading for everyone.  Am I going to totally forgo wheat?  Well, I really don't eat that much of it anymore anyway (except in my mother-in-law's amazing chocolate chip cookies), but I still have the occasional whole wheat wrap.  I'm probably going to just try a wheat-free month to see if I really notice anything.
 

Complaints?  Yes. 

 versus
 
I do have one pretty big criticism of the book, however, and in my opinion, it's a pretty big one. 
 
While reading the first few chapters, I thought the ending of the book, in terms of dietary advice, was going to read something like this: "Wheat, and more specifically gluten are clearly nutritional evils.  In its place you should eat gluten-free or low-gluten grains like millet, buckwheat, oats, teff, quinoa, sorghum or amaranth.  This way, you'll get many of the benefits of eating whole grains (especially fiber) while avoiding gluten.  And when you eat grains, be sure to eat them whole, the less processed the better.  And eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, nuts seeds and beans.  Be moderate with high-fat foods like meats, cheeses and oils."

But no.  Essentially he takes a pretty radical low-carb approach, extolling meats, eggs, cheese, nuts and seeds, while banishing or strictly limiting almost ALL grains, including brown rice and those other whole, gluten free grains.  He even proposes a strict limit on beans and says, I think literally, to place no limit on one's use of oils.  Come on now, at 120 calories per tablespoon, and all of fat, oils are something to use wisely, not in unlimited amounts.

Glycemic Index Versus Nutrition

 
Now of course I'm no doctor (yet, at least), but at this point in my food and nutrition journey, I really take exception to some his advice.  Ultimately I think the book's big weakness is this - he places the concern about glycemic index and blood sugar levels above the issue of actual nutrition.  So in his plan you avoid most fruits because they raise your blood sugar, but you eat cheese because it doesn't.  For my money, though, the rise in blood sugar caused by some fresh fruit is more than offset nutritionally by the massive infusion of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients your body gets.  Compare that with the hunk of cheese, which, while it doesn't do to your blood sugar what the fruit does, also does very little for your body in terms of actual nutrition (or disease prevention for that matter).  Should people who are currently diabetic and prediabetic watch their intake of all foods with a high glcemic index?  Sure.  But, for those of us who already choose our foods wisely, I find his advice wholly inadequate.

I think Dr. Joel Fuhrman, while he'd certainly agree with the first two-thirds of the book, would have much the same to say about the dietary recommendations Davis makes in the final section.  Reading the book also reminded me of raw food expert and proponent David Wolfe, who in the film Food Matters talks about our society's overwhelming (and ultimately debilitating) reliance on corn, soy and wheat.  Very true it seems, and obviously very unhealthy.
 
Here ends Sausage Boy's first ever book review.  Certainly worth reading if you can get it from the library, and there are some good recipes in the back as well.  If you get a chance to read it, let me know what you think.
 
Happy New Year to everyone - be well!
 
sal


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Sweet Potato and Black Bean Chili



Hello readers!

It's been such a long time, I know.  Apparently this is what you do when you wake up at 3:45am and can't get back to sleep - write a blog post.

To explain my absence in the blogosphere - it's sort of twofold.  Firstly, life is seemingly happening at warp speed these days.  The holidays are part of it as is the fact that my student teacher left and I've resumed control of all of my classes - planning, teaching and grading are taking up quite a bit of time.  (By the way, for those you who don't know me personally, I do not teach elementary school, the cartoon above notwithstanding!)
 
Secondly, though, is that I seem to be some sort of perfectionist.  (Not in all things, mind you - I built my house and there are plenty of imperfections there I've been content to live with for 8 years).  I keep wanting to get on a regular blogging schedule like posting twice a week or at least posting every Wednesday or what have you (supposedly that's a "tip to blogging success" and one way to become rich and famous through blogging).  I find, however, that I'm unwilling to post just because there's a schedule and won't write until I feel like I've got something specific and timely I want to share.  And even in those cases, when I know exactly what I want to say, it usually takes me so much time to write, revise and polish that I don't do it because I know I don't have that time to commit.  My mindset is sort of "if it's not perfect why post it at all."  This means weeks go by between posts, and you, my loyal and devoted readers are left hanging, in the cold, desperate to hear of the adventures of Sausage Boy.  It's worse than waiting for the next season of Downton Abby, isn't it?
 
I do know, however, that people out there are hungry for recipes, so I'm going to try and get over this hump of perfectionism and try to publish a bit more frequently, even if it's not groundbeaking culinary literature I'm writing here. 
 

Sweet Potato and Black Bean Chili

 
 
That being said, I've got a fantastic recipe to share.  So completely perfect for this cold weather.  I'm still using sweet potatoes from our favorite orchard, Dickie Brothers.  The potatoes we have from them seem to last forever - the trick seems to be keeping the dirt on them until you're ready to use them.  (Special thanks to Sheila for this recipe, which came courtesy of eatingwell.com)
 
Ingredients:
  • 4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely diced
  • 2 small sweet potatos, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 4 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground chipotle chile (Chipotle peppers are dried, smoked jalapeno peppers. Ground chipotle can be found in the specialty spice section of most supermarkets)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • 2 2/3 cups water
  • 2 15-ounce cans black beans, rinsed (or 4 cups cooked beans)
  • 2 cups canned diced tomatoes
  • 4 teaspoons lime juice
  • 4 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
  •  
    Preparation:
    1. Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat (I used my big stock pot).
    2. Add onion and potato and cook, stirring often, until the onion is slightly softened, about 4 minutes.
    3. Add garlic, chili powder, cumin, chipotle and salt and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
    4. Add water, bring to a simmer, cover, reduce heat to maintain a gentle simmer and cook until the potato is tender, 15 minutes or so, longer if you double the recipe, obviously.
    5. Add beans, tomatoes and lime juice; increase heat to high and return to a simmer, stirring often.
    6. Reduce heat to maintain a simmer and cook until slightly reduced, about 4 minutes.
    7. Remove from the heat, stir in cilantro and serve.
     
    This recipe makes about 4-6 good-sized servings.  Being the family man I am, I almost always make large batches of stuff like this, so I at least doubled this recipe and ate this chili for dinner every night for an entire week the last time I made it a few weeks ago.  It keeps great in the fridge and I'm sure you could also freeze it for later use.
     
     
     
    I've finally gotten into buying dried beans instead of cans.  I started with garbanzo beans for hummus and used dried black beans for this as well.  First of all it's SOOOOO much cheaper.  And, from a health standpoint, no added salt and no BPA from cans, so I'm glad I'm doing it.
     
    As for the spices - I couldn't ever find ground chipotle, so the first time I made it I sauteed a finely chopped jalapeno before anything else and added it with no noticeable increase in the heat level.  The second time I made it, though, I substituted cayenne pepper for the chipotle.  WARNING - they are not the same thing!  The cayenne made it pretty darn spicy, which I loved, but which also explained why I ate it every night for a week - no one else in the family likes spicy, so I was the only one eating it.
     
     
     
    I'm sure you'll all love this - it'll be perfect for a nice cold day over the upcoming holidays, perhaps a nice warming New Years' Day meal?  If you make it and like it, let me know!
     
    Enjoy, be well and have a great holiday!
     
    sal

    Thursday, November 29, 2012

    So All You Eat Is Salad?

    
     
    That's the question I got from a teacher at my daughter's school back in March when I started this whole food shift.  (I said "shift.")  I guess I understood her concern or curiousity.  I had lost a bunch of weight and she naturally thought "diet," i.e., some really restrictive eating plan where all I ate were plain, tasteless plates of semi-limp greens.  The disconnect ultimately comes from the definition of the key word in that question - "salad."  When you hear it, most people think of the rather meager dish that most restaurants serve before a "real" meal or as a side: some iceberg lettuce, maybe some tomato or onion thrown on top and served with a mini-pitcher of high-calorie dressing.  But what is a salad, really?  Or, perhaps more importantly what can a salad be?  I have an answer to that question.

    According to dictionary.com (the trusted soruce for on-the-fly definitions) a "salad" is:

    • a usually cold dish consisting of vegetables, as lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumbers, covered with a dressing and sometimes containing seafood, meat, or eggs.
     
    • any of various dishes consisting of foods, as meat, seafood, eggs, pasta, or fruit, prepared singly or combined, usually cut up, mixed with a dressing, and served cold: chicken salad; potato salad.
     
    • any herb or green vegetable, as lettuce, used for salads or eaten raw.

    Sadly, I do not like cucumbers.  Incredibly healthful, I only juice them - my daughter loves them. 
     
    It's the re-definition of that word for myself that has made all the difference and has made salad a mainstay of my diet and something I look forward to every day.  Certainly salad isn't "all I eat," but, to be fair, it makes up at least a third of my meals.  My salads, however, are a far cry from the pathetic hors-d'oeuvre served in most dining establishments.  I haven't given my redefined salad a name, but "Sal's Super Salad" might work.  Or "Sausage Boy's No Sausage Salad?"  "Simply Salad?"  "Simply Super Salad?"  "Just Salad?"  I kind of like that one.
     
    So what's in one of these things and why exactly do I think they're so amazing?
     

    Sal's "Just Salad"


    • Greens, obivously.  This can be as basic as some romaine lettuce - but I've discovered I really like red and green leaf lettuce as well.  From our local CSA (Iona Farm) we've gotten some really nice field greens, which are amazing.  AND, I also discovered curly endive - a little bitter, but it holds up really well and goes with the sweetness of the other ingredients and the dressing (below).

    • Watercress - another happy discovery!  If you can believe it, it's as nutrient-dense as kale (see watercress.com if you're skeptical).  It's also not techincally a leafy green, it's a crucifer (like brocolli and cauliflower) so it's packed with even more health power!  Really, visit watercress.com, it's pretty amazing,

    • Alfalfa sprouts - apparently just incredible for you, though I have yet to do the research (you can be sure that's coming, though!).

    • Carrots, cut half and thinly sliced

    • Celery, thinly sliced

    • Red Onion, thinly sliced (maybe not so great for the breath, but excellent for heart health)

    • Scallions (like the onion, a nutritional powerhouse)

    • Parsely, fresh chopped (see my previous post on this for its praises)

    • Any other herbs I have on hand (basil when we had it from our CSA, or thyme, which has been yet another tasty discovery)

    • Kiwi fruit, chopped (they've been on sale lately - when they get to be too expensive, I switch over to Oranges).

    • Raw unsalted sunflower seeds and/or raw unsalted pumpkin seeds.  Supposedly eating greens and seeds together enhances your body's ability to utilize their nutrients

    • Cheesy Salad Booster (this stuff is amazing!) and/or Nutritional Yeast - a lot of vegans swear by it, I have yet to utilize it to its full potential - I think it's often used in place of cheese in things).  There have also been plenty of salads I've made without these two ingredients, they do not suffer at all from their absence.

    • Goji berries (a post about these is forthcoming - wowza!)

    • Of course there's probably a dozen other things you could toss in here.  I've put in Great Northern Beans, banana peppers, radishes and tomatoes when our CSA had them, and thinly sliced cabbage when we had it in the fridge.

    It's obviously not your typical salad.  Dr. Joel Fuhrman, who I've now referenced at least a dozen times here, recommends at least one large salad daily.   I'm proud to say that's pretty much what I do.  And sometimes I put everything listed above in it!  There have been days when I've eaten two.  Since it does take a bit of chopping, I usually make this salad at night, leaving it undressed, to bring to work for lunch the next day.
     
    

    Naked Salad?  No Way.

     
    So there you are with this bowl of nature's goodness and health, bright and colorful, just waiting to nourish you, body and soul.  But, what would this amazing salad be without an equally amazing dressing?  I mean really, I'm not actually a rabbit.  I've been making this dressing for 9 months now and have yet to be bored (though I finally did experiment with some vegan ranch recently).


    Orange-Cashew Dressing - this stuff is awesome!

    • 1/2 cup raw cashews
    • 1/2 cup sesame seeds
    • 1/2 cup orange juice
    • 1/4 cup white vinegar or rice vinegar

    1. Put all the ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.
    2. You can play with the consistency (thinner or thicker) by adding more or less of the dry or wet ingredients.
    3. Take a spoon and taste it - you'll want to just eat it right out of the blender it's so good!
    4. This recipe makes enough for 2 or three large salads.  I usually make at least this much (or more) and refrigerate for at least a week - it keeps very well.

    One great thing about this dressing is that it doesn't destroy the greens if you have leftovers.  I think one of the first times I made it I overdid it, made too much and put the leftovers in the fridge.  If you did that to a salad with an oil-based dressing, it would be practically worthless in a few hours, soggy, limp and lifeless.  I took these leftovers out of the fridge the next morning and had the rest of the salad for breakfast.  It had held up perfectly with no wilting and tasted as good as it had the night before.

    So there you have it.  There's really no debate, if you want better health, whole raw foods like the fruits, vegetables and seeds in this salad are a no-brainer.  Go ahead, make one for yourself and tell me you don't like.  Really, I'm practically daring you!

    Eat well and be well!



    Tuesday, November 20, 2012

    Giving Thanks - but NOT for Pumpkin Pie

    

    Hi all -
     
    It's really been a while since I've felt this compelled to write, but wow, wow, wow, do I feel like I've got something to share and say today.  I'll try to keep it as brief as possible, but here's the story.
     
    If you've been following my life closely (as I'm sure you all have), you'll realize that this will be my first holiday season since my "conversion" to healthier and more nutritious food back in February.  And the holiday season has always been big in my family, and big, big, big about FOOD (read the long story here).  Just a little backstory to make sure you all know where I'm coming from here. 
     
    Anyway...
     

    The Pumpkin Pie

     
    Maybe two weeks ago, my mother asked us, my wife and I, if we wouldn't mind making the pumpkin pie for this year's Thanksgiving dinner (held at my parents' house for each one of my 42 years).  They were going to be travelling to see my aunt, and wouldn't be back at their house until sometime late on Wednesday.  My wife agreed - it certainly seemed like the least we could do.
     
    Ironically, I had e-mailed a recipe to my wife maybe a week before that, for this incredible sounding raw and vegan pumpkin swirl cheesecake.  When I found it and sent to her, I suggested we try and make it to bring to the family Thanksgiving.  So, a day or two after we agreed to bring a pumpkin pie, I asked my wife if she thought I could make this pumpkin swirl cheesecake instead.  She thought it was a good idea, but that maybe I should ask my mom first.  I called her and just told her I had a recipe for a pumpkin cheesecake (not mentioning, of course, the raw or vegan aspects of it) and asked if she thought that would be a good substitute.  She thought it sounded good, but decided it would be best to go with the traditional pie.  Oh well.
     
    As something of a side note - it's really my father who would likely have balked at the pumpkin cheesecake taking the place of his beloved pie - how INSANELY ironic, then, that my mother calls at 7:30 this morning to say that they are at the hospital, my father having been admitted to the ER because of some serious gastrointestinal distress.  100% due to his poor diet.  But a raw, vegan pumpkin cheesecake?  Never!
     
    Pumpkin Swirl Cheesecake - Raw and Vegan - Looks amazing, right?
     

    The Pie, Really.

     
    So this is how I ended up, about an hour and a half ago, upstairs in the kitchen, getting started on the said traditional pumpkin pie.  I tell a long story, I apologize.
     
    We'd bought the ingredients a few days ago and were just planning on following the directions on the back of the pumpkin pie mix can. 
     
    I started with the pie crust.  It was Pillsbury's refrigerated Pie Crust, and as I unrolled it and read the ingredients I think I cackled.  Ready?  Enriched flour bleached, Partially hydrogenated lard.  You read that right.  Partially hydrogenated lard.  I certainly wasn't going to be surprised to have found partially hydrogenated soybean oil or cottonseed oil, but partially hydrogenated lard?  Wow.  Also a few preservatives, potassium sorbate and sodium propionate, along with Yellow #5 and Red #40.  Then I looked at the nutrition information.  1 serving (1/8 of one pie crust - a slice of pie crust, essentially) contains 12% of the USRDA for fat, 1/2 of which is saturated fat. 
     
    I put the pie crust into the pie dish and fluted away.
     
    We'd bought the 30 ounce can of Libby's "Easy Pumpkin Pie Mix," whose ingredients inlclude pumpkin, sugar syrup, water and salt.  One serving has 5% of the USRDA for sodium as well as 17 grams of sugar.
     
    And finally I opened the can of Carnation Sweetened Condensed Milk and that's when I actually got pretty grossed out.  I've helped slaughter cows and chickens and pigs, eaten bushels of steamed crabs and raw oysters, eaten and done many things people might consider "gross," but when this thick liquid came oozing out of the top of the can when I opened it, I wanted to throw it into the trash and stop making the whole damn pie.  It's only two ingredients are milk and sugar.  One serving (essentially what will be in one slice of pie) has 12% of the USRDA for fat, ALL of which is saturated fat, as well as containing 25 grams of sugar.
     
    I was standing there, making this pie, just sort of flabbergasted at what a huge pile of toxic crap it was.  The "pumpkin" is pumpkin and sugar, the crust is lard and salt, the "milk" is fat and sugar.  One slice of this pumpkin pie will have just about 25% of a person's USRDA for fat, 75% of which will be saturated fat, as well as having over 40 grams of sugar.  AND THAT'S JUST ONE PIECE OF PIE.  That doesn't include the whipped cream, Cool Whip or ice cream that gets dolloped on top.  It doesn't include any of the other 10,000 calories of fat and sugar that get consumed on this "day of thanks."  And to think that I've been loving that pie and eating seconds and thirds of it (along with all the other garbage) for 42 years!  I was pretty floored at the whole thing.
     
     
     

    Causes.  And Effects.

     
    And we wonder why Americans are fat and dying.  Well, I guess we don't wonder, but now it's just so crystal clear.  And here I am, Juice Boy nee Sausage Boy bringing this pie to my family, none of whom need it, certainly not my parents, my children or nice and nephew - I should have just made the "cheesecake" and told everyone to thank me later.
     
    Of course, it's not like every day is Thanksgiving, and it's not like everyone is walking around eating pie every day.  Well, some of them are, I guess.  That aside, you and I both know that those sorts of ingredients are in plenty of stuff that Americans do eat on a daily basis.  The saturated fat, sugar, processed and refined foods we see on American's Thanksgiving tables are just a distillation of the foods we eat all year long, perhaps just not always in the same meal and on the same day.  But, I'm sure you can just see gallon containers of that sweetened condensed milk being poured into vats to make doughnuts and various other pastries that are quite literally killing us.
     
    I mean, come on people - wake the hell up!!!!!
     

    Giving Thanks

     
    I sort of knew as I was making the pie and the thought came write about it, that I was going to end up on the soapbox here, so let's take a turn toward the positive.
     
    Me and my beautiful family (I'm still a bit chubby here - old picture!)
     
     
    Listen, I have soooo much to be thankful for.  I have never been that much of a thankful person, but it's something I'm really coming into.  I'm thankful for my incredible family, even though my two kids really make me flip my lid sometimes (tough day today).  My wife is truly a divine guide for me.  But something I'm perhaps equally thankful for is this knowledge, this new understanding or appreciation of health and nutrition and the amazing and healthful role real food can play in my life.  It's something that has lately been inspiring and activating me in a way I haven't been inspired and activated for a long while.
     
    And that knowledge, that understanding is why I'm NOT going to be having any of that pumpkin pie on Thursday. 
     
    I hope you all, loyal readers (?!) have a truly wonderful and healthy holiday with your loved ones. 
     
    Eat drink and be merry, just go easy on the pumpkin pie, ok?
     
    Be well -
     
    sal
     
    And one more thing, will someone do me a favor and make that pumpkin swirl cheesecake and tell me how it is? I'm dying to make it. 
     

    Tuesday, November 13, 2012

    "Once More Into the Bog, Dear Friends,

    once more; Or close the wall up with our antioxidants!"  No, that's not a typo.  It's been a bit since I posted, but it's not "Once more into the blog"  (though that would have been clever, too).  We're talking bog here, cranberry bog, to be exact.  True, "cranberries" would have actually fit the meter, but I thought antioxidants sounded better/sillier and didn't give away the fact that this post was about cranberries.  This post is about cranberries, by the way.


    So as you've all no doubt realized, we're smack dab in the middle of fall.  I wrote longingly about the season here.)  With this season come some pretty classic and traditional foods - apples, sweet potatoes, all of those foods and fixings we think of as Thanksgiving gets closer.  Included among them is the beautiful and tart little cranberry.

    Most of us eat cranberries at Thanksgiving paired with lots of sugar, because, let's face it, how many of you have actually just taken a fresh cranberry and popped it your mouth?  Wow.  Hard to not pucker at that.  So whether it's jellied cranberries from the can or whole cranberries with sauce, they're usually still sweetened up quite a bit.  I've stopped getting the dried cranberries for my kids because of all the sugar in them.  In and of themselves, though, these little guys really pack a nutritional punch.

     

    Cranberry Nutrition

     
    Cranberries seem to help lower levels of LDL cholesterol (the "bad" one).  They also contain numerous flavonoids and polyphenols, natural compounds that are quite beneficial to the human body.  They are low in sodium and high in potassium, and eating foods with that particular quality is one way to help maintain healthy blood pressure levels.  Anthocyanins, other natural compounds in cranberries (which give them their vibrant red color), are seemingly responsible for reducing inflammation, implicated in many of the chronic "lifestyle" and diet-induced diseases from which Americans suffer today.

    Cranberries and Me (and hopefully you, too)

     
    Why my sudden fascination with these delightful red berries?  Well, I've been juicing a bunch lately, substituting a meal or two or day, and I've discovered a real winner. 

    We've still been getting apples from our amazing local orchard, Dickie Brothers - they're almost at the end of the season, and the last apples to come off the trees are the Pink Lady apples.  Has anyone else had these?  Incredible.  As sweet and crisp as both Fujis and Honeycrisps, but with this lightness and an almost airiness - just unbelievably delicious.

     For demonstration purposes only - the apples from our orchard do not have stickers on them.

    Anyway, my favorite juicing book, The Juicing Bible, has a recipe I've been wanting to try, and finally, when Food Lion finally began stocking cranberries about two weeks ago, I had to give it a try.


     

    SuperFresh Cranberry Apple Juice


    • 4-5 apples (crisp varieties like Pink Lady, Jonagold, Honeycrisp or Fuji are best)
    • 2-3 cups fresh cranberries
    • 1" piece of ginger
    •  Juice them and serve it super cold.
    • This juice will KNOCK YOUR SOCKS OFF!

    Since I'm something of an extremist, I tend to put even more cranberries and ginger in this juice to really give a lip-puckering tartness (which is still always tempered by the juicy sweetness of those Pink Lady apples)

     
    So, now that they're in season, and will be in the produce for at least another month, go out and get some cranberries - make some juice, or, if you're not the juicing type but are the blending type, throw them in a smoothie.  You won't be disappointed!
     
    Do you have a favorite (and nutritious) recipe with cranberries?  Please share!!!
     
    Be well, all -


    Sunday, October 21, 2012

    Sweet Potato Soup (and an ode to fall)

    Since publishing last week's post (Apples, Nature's Delightful Bounty), I've had a number of requests for the Sweet Potato Soup recipe I briefly mentioned there.  This recipe in prticular and sweet potatoes in general seem appropriate now, as the nights have gotten cool and crisp and the fall colors here in central Virginia have begun to show.  And really, who isn't already making Thanksgiving plans?
     
     

    An Ode to Fall (a serious digression)

     Every year I am absolutely mesmerized by this season.  It surprises and delights me each time it comes around (unlike the end of daylight savings time, which surprises  and annoys me).  I have yet to tire of the brilliant red and fiery orange of the maples, the rich scarlet of the dogwoods (usually the first to show), the crunchy, rust-colored leaves of the poplars and sycamores and the deep yellow-gold of the beeches.  Luminescent, iridescent, phosphorescent, I can't seem to get enough of it, I want to drink it, bathe in it.  And this is what I realized the other day - that the leaves in autumn seem to somehow, contrary to the laws of nature and physics, give off their own light.  I'm really not kidding.  As I drive to work in the barely-sunlit morning or drive home in the not-quite-dark dusk, the leaves glow, they practically shine, and not, mind you, from any reflected sunlight, but rather as if from within.  It's almost eerie but certainly astonishingly beautiful.  It's captivating really (and I do sometimes have to remind myself to keep my eyes on the road), an experience of nature I find completely compelling.
     
     
    There is a particular stretch of road I drive almost daily that to me is the quintessence of fall color.  Route 6, where it straddles the Albemarle and Nelson county line is a state-designated "Scenic Byway" (a designation I'd agree with more if it weren't for the trash that's so often strewn along it).  For me it's about a 5-mile ride along Irish Road (as it's also called) and for much of it, the tall trees overhang it, their ends touching and overlapping the center in many places, no sky visible above.  It's beautiful in spring, of course, as the buds burst forth and the young green leaves begin to show themselves.  In summer too, I love the effect of driving through this long, dark, green tunnel, a worm-hole of dense vegetation.  But in October, it's magical.  It's like drifting, slowly, gently and effortlessly into a soft warm quilt; plush, deep and soothing.  It's an envelopment, a surrender. I can close my eyes and feel it embrace me.

    Obviously my literary skill is not up to the task as adequately describing this.  Believe me, I've written many a lame poem about it in my attempt to somehow capture what I see.  My strategy here is clearly to just throw lots of descriptive words out and hope they stick. 
     
     
    The other thing that struck me about fall this year as I've been watching the leaves turn for the past few days is its sort of yearning or waning quality.  If you think about it and give it its place in the cycle of the seasons (and see it in relation to all the other daily, life and cosmic cycles of which all life is a part), fall is, quite literally the dying time.  I'm not being morbid here.  It's the slow descent, like a late afternoon sunset, from the prime of summer, with all its heat, strength and vitality into the dark, quiet hibernation of winter.  I think that's perhaps why I'm drawn to it - there's a wistful something about it, a nostalgia, an obvious, but gradual, ending that is at once beautiful and sad.  It's kind of likr how my children make me cry sometimes.  No, not because they're being awful, but because they're so precious, guileless and innocent and yet I know how fleeting time is and I know that they will, soon enough, not be exactly what they are now.  I can't imagine there's not a parent who hasn't felt that.  Or maybe it's just me.  Maybe I just have a hard time with transitions.  I do, actually.  And speaking of transitions...
     
     
     
    Back to Potatoes

    Okay, okay, we get it, fall is here and I've got emotional issues, but isn't this a blog about food?  What about these damn sweet potatoes?  A brief word, then.

    As humble as they may seem, making their quiet appearance in fall markets just in time for the Thanksgiving season, sweet potatoes are quite significant from a world-historical perspective (that's my thing now you know).  During the Neolithic Revolution, which began around 12,000 years ago, early humans in 6 or 7 different regions of the world, independently of each other, began for the first time to deliberately cultivate and domesticate wild plants.  It should be obvious to the reader here that this development radically altered the course of human history.  It's the event that marks the transition between the first human era (that of the hunter-gatherer) and the second, the agricultural era.  (We're of course in the third era, the industrial).  If you really want to see perhaps the best 9-minute summary of the Agricultural Revolution, watch this.  This guy is awesome.

     
    Well it turns out that one of the crops grown by these earliest farmers (around 7000 B.C. in Highland New Guinea and 3000 B.C. in Sub-Saharan Africa) was the yam (not quite a sweet potato, but you get the picture - cultivation of the sweet potato proper dates to around 2000 B.C. in Mesoamerica and the Andes).  So the next time you bake, roast or puree one, stop to remind yourself that you're part of a (very) long line of humans that have been nourished by and enjoyed this food.  Comforting, isn't it?
     

    Sweet Potato and Ginger Soup

     
    Finally.  This recipe comes from a great cookbook, The Joy of Ginger, which I'm pretty sure I mentioned back when I wrote about ginger, here.  My wife loves when I make this, and I've made it for quite a few other people, all of whom have raved about it.



    Ingredients:
    • 6 cups cubed sweet potatoes
    • 3 1/2 cups stock (chicken, soy, vegetable)
    • 1 tbsp minced ginger
    • 1/2 cup unsweetened coconut milk
    • 3 tbsp lime juice
    • salt and pepper to taste
    • 1/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted
    • 1/4 cup fresh coriander (cilantro)
    • 1 tsp lime zest
     
    Directions:
    • In a saucepan (or stockpot) combine sweet potatoes, stock and ginger and bring to a boil.  (the liquid should just cover the potatoes - use water if you don't have enough stock)
     
    • Reduce heat and cover.
     
    • Simmer for about 10 minutes or until the potatoes are tender.
     
    • Transfer to a blender or food processor and puree until smooth.  (Be careful!  It's hot!  You may need to do it in batches depending on how much you're making.  BIG TIP - use an immersion blender - I love mine, and this way you can just puree it in the pot.  You still have to be careful, though!)
     
    • Return to the saucepan (if you've used a blender) and whisk in coconut milk, lime juice and salt and pepper
     
    • Cook over low heat until just heated through
     
    • Ladle into individual bowls and garnish with almonds, coriander and lime zest
     
    This soup is hearty and delicious.  It sticks to your ribs and warms you up - mm mm good!!!!  As a matter of fact, I feel a batch coming on this weekend!
     
    Two important notes:
     
    1. I  have NEVER made this recipe exactly as shown above.  First of all, if I make soup I want to have leftovers.  Lots and lots of leftovers.  Heck, when I make this soup, I want to have at least a gallon to freeze for later (it freezes quite well, by the way).  So when I make it, I usually quadruple the recipe (that's 4 times for the mathematically challenged) and make it in my monster Calphalon 14-quart stockpot.  This is the stockpot which, when my wife and I opened it at the brunch the day after our wedding, made me squeal like a little girl.
    2. There's no way that 4 tablespoons, let alone 1 tablespoon, of ginger is enough, at least not for me.  I don't really measure, but when I quadruple the recipe, I'm sure I put in close to a cup, if not more.  And you don't really need to mince it since it all gets pureed.  I've found slicing it is fine.
     
     
    Another great way to enjoy sweet potatoes is to make sweet potato pancakes (not latkes, just regular pancakes with sweet potatoes in them.  But that does remind me that I have a pretty good recipe for sweet potato latkes, too).  Anyway, puree the sweet potatoes (steam them in the microwave for about 10 minutes wrapped in wax paper, then break them up a bit, add some water and throw them in the blender - or better yet, use the immersion blender) and add the puree to your pancake batter (like my delicious fat-free vegan pancakes).  Great way to get kids to eat these super-nutritious tubers, because really, what kid doesn't like pancakes?
     
    Well, happy fall again - eat well and be well!

    Monday, October 15, 2012

    Apples - Fall's Delightful Bounty

    The apple - so symbolic, so fundamental, so delicious!

    Central Virginia, right near the mountains as we are, is apparently a great place to grow apples.  All up and down Route 29 in Nelson and Albemarle counties signs for orchards dot the roadside (as well as signs for wineries, but that's another post entirely - heck, that might really be another blog entirely "Sausage Boy Gets Drunk?")  Up in Charlottesville, right next to Thomas Jefferson's Monticello, is a real popular place called Carter's Mountain.  The apples are good, the view from the top is totally amazing and it doesn't hurt that they sell these pretty delicious and addictive apple cider donuts as well.  For a lot of people in and around Charlottesville, apple picking means Carter's Mountain.  Not for us, however.
     
    About three years ago we discovered an orchard more in our neck of the woods, Dickie Brothers, and it has become one of our favorite places.  The land has been in this family since it was granted to them by King George.  Yeah, really.  King George II, you remember, the egomaniacal tyrant against whom the freedom-loving American colonists rebelled and created their own nation dedicated to the proposition that...oh, you know the story (or at least that version of it).  Anyway, it's this complete out-of-the-way place, incredibly beautiful, tucked in this little holler of a valley right up alongside the Blue Ridge Mountains.  Just gorgeous.  And they grow our favorite apples, Honeycrisp, Jonagold, Fuji and Pink Lady.
     
    My son Felix with what is arguably his favorite food.
     
    Every year for the past three we've gone to Dickie Brothers at least twice, perhaps as many as four times not only to pick our own apples, but to get some of the pre-picked bushel boxes as well. The boxes of the premium apples (first quality) come out to 55 cents per pound and the boxes of the "seconds" (smaller, mis-shapen, slightly blemished apples) cost about 35 cents per pound.   For fresh apples, right off the tree - for nature's unbelievable health and bounty, it's a marvel I don't come home with 5 bushels every time I go.  We eat apples like crazy during this time of year, I know have at least three a day.  I make gallons of applesauce with the seconds, I juice with them and make dried apple rings in our food dehydrator.  Just writing about it now makes me wonder if I'll have time this weekend to go get more, our box upstairs is getting dangerously low.
     

    We all know that apples are good for us, "an apple a day" and all that, right?  Well, I just finished reading a book called The Wisdom and Healing Power of Whole Foods.  It's pretty amazing.  The basic argument is that the best foods (and the ones that can actually heal us of our various food- and lifestyle-induced maladies) are natural and whole foods.  I'm probably preaching to the choir here.  But if you think about it, modern science and modern health care haven't really followed that approach.  Their approach has been "Oh, vitamin C is good for a cold, so just take some vitamin C and you'll get better."  The problem with that approach, and with any that tries to isolate or separate the constituent parts of a whole food is that they never work as well as the whole foods themselves.  Just look at the apple - in one clean, fresh apple there are over 300 different phyto-chemical compounds.  I imagine there are many whose function scientists and nutritionists are still unaware.  But clearly, those compounds work together to make apples incredibly healthful.  Compare that to the nutrition in a bag of potato chips, go ahead.  Yes, if salt and fat were nutritious, America would be a nation of super athletes instead of slowly becoming the laughingstock of the world as our obesity rates continue to skyrocket.  Whole raw foods are clearly what our bodies crave.
     

    Apples' Sweet, Sweet Cousin (well, no relation really)

     
    However, I digress.  Back to our beautiful orchard nestled in the Nelson county countryside.  It turns out that Dickie Brothers has not only the best apples this side of the Pacific Northwest (sorry Carter's Mountain), they also grow sweet potatoes.  My wife actually got me into sweet potatoes years ago, she's always loved them.  I'm now a huge fan, I even used them in a juice during my juice fast, and I make a really mean (I mean a really really mean) sweet potato soup.  I suppose I could write a whole post about the health benefits of sweet potatoes, how they are loaded with betacarotene, have anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and how they contain 438% of the USRDA for Vitamin A, in addition to a slew of other important compounds and vitamins, but you should already know this.  It's one of those foods, with that deep, rich orange-colored flesh that you can look at and know how healthy it is for you.  Or at least you should, colorful foods being generally much more healthful than other foods.  The sweet potato is a pretty far cry from it's cousin the white potato, which is pretty lackluster nutritionally speaking (they're not even in the same family botanically).


     
    So every year we get a big load of their sweet potatoes as well.  Which, finally, leads me to why I wrote this post - this recipe.
     

    Roasted Apples and Sweet Potatoes

     
    Forget the pecans, forget the brown sugar, milk, eggs and marshmallows.  Forget everything else that people throw together (in the form of sweet potato pie or casserole) to ruin a perfectly good and healthy sweet potato.  This recipe is as simple as it gets.
     
     
    • 2 large sweet potatoes, cubed (you could peel them, but why would you?)
    • 3 medium-size apples, cubed (again, see above)
    • 1 ½-2 tablespoons olive oil
    • Celtic sea salt (sea salt will do)
     
     
    1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
    2.   In a large mixing bowl, pour the olive oil over sweet potatoes and apples. Season with sea salt and stir to coat evenly.
     
    3. Pour onto baking pan, spread evenly forming one layer.  
     
    4. Bake for 15 minutes, then stir. Reset timer for 15 minutes and check to see if they are done, they should have some golden brown edges and be fork-tender.
     
    5. Remove from oven and serve or store in refrigerator for later.  
     
    (ps - These store great in the refrigerator and reheat well on the stove-top.  You can can even get them a bit crisper this way - I had last night's leftovers tonight as dinner)
     
    One tip is to use a shallow baking pan to allow the sweet potatoes to get a little crisp - that's how I like them.

     So - go pick some apples and try this out.  Better yet, drive down to Dickie Brothers for yourself.

    Have a great fall everyone!

     
     
     

    Wednesday, October 3, 2012

    A Hill of Beans

    So since I've been back to school, a colleague of mine has been quite eager for more new recipes.  She's embarked a major food transformation of her own and has gone vegan as well.  This recipe is for her!

    I have thrown fresh tomatoes from our CSA into my White Bean Salad - so good!
    I've thrown white beans into my tomato salads as well - just as delicious!
     

    The Humble Bean


    Dr. Joel Fuhrman, who I guess has become something a nutrition hero of mine, holds beans in very high esteem, counting them among the five most important and nutritious foods to eat on a daily basis.  Greens, onions, mushrooms, berries and beans, and seeds (and nuts), GOMBS for short, is part of his shorthand for a healthy diet.  He recommends a cup of beans a day!  I've been eating beans a lot more lately because of  his advice.  I've always loved hummus and certainly didn't need a doctor's advice to convince me to eat more. 

    So what's so special about beans?  Well, it turns out they are pretty serious nutritional powerhouses.  They're low in fat, high in protein, high in fiber, minerals and B vitamins.  They help lower blood pressure, they help diabetics control their blood glucose levels and, wait for it, they prevent and cure constipation.  Well, duh, right?  According to my amazon.com search, there are 38,000 books that reference beans.  Okay, I'm not sure how many of them are cookbooks, but still.  The first one on that search list, Bean By Bean: A Cookbook , is on my wish list (hint, hint, Poppy Santa!). 
     
    Many in the health-conscious, vegan and nutritarian community say that dried beans are best.  There seem to be pretty valid reasons for this, such as no added sugar or sodium and much lower cost.  I have not yet ventured into cooking with dry beans, which means either soaking them overnight in water and/or cooking them before use.  With two kids and a pretty busy life, I've stuck to canned beans for convenience.


    Yes, yes, yes, let's acknowledge the (stinky) elephant in the room - bean--induced gas.  Here's what I've discovered, though (which discovery seems to be borne out by scientific research): if you really chew your food thoroughly, it's a non-issue.  Heck, most Americans eat all of their food way too quickly anyway, I have 20 minutes to eat lunch every day, and chewing every piece of my big salad in that time is quite a challenge.  In snarfing down our meals, we often miss the signals from our stomachs telling us that we're full, so we end up overeating (and getting fat).  Ever hear of "Chewdaism?"  Believe me, I have long been a victim of this and still have a long way to go towards "savoring" my food.  Again, I should listen to my wife, who is always telling me (and our children) to do exactly that.  She's pretty much always right. 
     
    One of my favorite, newly-discovered beans is the Cannelini bean, sometimes called a white kidney bean.  I've also just smashed up some Great Northern Beans, put them in a wrap with sprouts and veggies for a quick lunch.  I have a great recipe for White-Bean Hummus, using Cannelinis, that I discovered a few months back, but then, an even greater use for this bean emerged, hence this post.


    Rae's Sweet and Tangy White Bean Salad


    A few months ago, my mother made this fantastic white bean salad and sent us home with it after a visit. I called her immediately to rave and rave about it after taking a few unbelievably delicious bites..
     

    Ingredients:

    • Two cans of cannelini beans (white kidney beans) - rinsed well
    • 1/2 cup - 1 cup red onion, thinly sliced or chopped (vary quantity according to taste - I've come to love raw red onion!)
    • 1/4 cup capers (I could eat these right out of the bottle!)
    • 1/2 cup chopped parsley (flat or curly)
    • Zest of 1 lemon
    • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
    • 1 tbsp lemon juice
    • 1 tbsp maple syrup (essentially equal parts of the three liquids, more or less to taste)
    • Sea salt (I'm totally digging this Himalayan Pink Salt)
    • Pepper

    Mix all the ingredients well in a large bowl.  It's best served nice and cold, but it's so good I usually eat almost half of it before it even makes it to the fridge.

    This has become one of my absolute new favorite dishes to make.  It's SUPER quick to make, SUPER nutritious and SUPER delicious!

    Here's to beans, a SUPER food!

    Be well -