Thursday, July 31, 2008

Blueberry Ibuprofen

So I get headaches occasionally. I dehydrate easily, so my first instinct is to grab some water (I usually drink about 50oz during the day at work). When that doesn't work, I take some Aleve or Advil/Motrin. Next step is to drink some caffeine (I'm terribly susceptible to caffeine headaches if I don't drink it). I also tried taking a nap at lunchtime. Nothing worked on my headache yesterday, and I could feel the nausea starting to arriving, letting me know that my pesky little headache was turning into a full-fledged, tummy-rolling, head-pounding nastiness.

I took one Motrin in addition to the Aleve. And I ate a half pint of blueberries. And voila, bye bye headache! Which was excellent given that my kickball league playoffs were last night (sadly, we didn't quite make the final game, though we put in a good showing).

The logical answer to this is that the Aleve just took a while, or somehow one tiny little Motrin did the trick.

But the headache seemed to recede as soon as I started eating those blueberries. We've been told that blueberries have antioxidant power, but maybe I've found another application! I even had someone else tell me fruit helps them too. So I think that I should patent and market blueberry ibuprofen and see where it takes me!

Have you had an experiences where something had (or seemed to at least) an unexpected effect?

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Running up the stairs - where'd my wind go?!

I just love the Subway system here in Boston. For the most part, I mean that seriously and not facetiously. But when I have to teach class and it's on the fritz, that's a whole other matter entirely. Let me tell you my tale (check back for yummy food stuff tomorrow, Wednesday's my resident exercise post day).

I would normally try to duck out of work on Tuesdays around 4:45 because I have to walk across the park, catch the subway (T), take it to the end, then walk for 10-15 minutes to get to the gym where I teach Spinning (cycling) at 6:15. If I leave at 5 and everything goes peachy, I usually get to the gym around 6 (or just before) and then change and set up the bikes (the spinning studio doubles as a yoga studio, so all the bikes are out in the hall when I get there. Thankfully there are only about 7 to set up).

But as you've probably gathered, everything didn't quite go as planned.

I walked across the park (check), got on the T (check), made it to the 2nd stop from the end of the line (which is where I'd get off to teach at the other gym where I work, too bad this didn't happen on monday). The train sits at the stop with the doors open. I waited for about five minutes (it seemed like longer), chatting with a couple women on the train. I knew that as soon as I got off the train, it was going to pull away from the station. They came over the loudspeaker (or in this case, softspeaker) to tell us what sounded like police action at the next stop (they were apparently searching for something, but I can't find out what through a google search). Finally, I get off the train, because at this point it's 5:50 and the bus takes at least 15-20 minutes (it actually didn't leave).

Here comes the fun exercise part - the train station where I got off has this immensely huge escalator/stairway to get outside (kind of like the ones in DC if you've ever been there). Normally I'd just stand on the escalator and happily read my book. But this time I ran to the top. And damn was I out of breath! I called the gym when I got outside to tell them I'd be late and ask them to set up the bikes for me, and they could barely understand me (I tell myself there was wind blowing across the mic too, but I think that it's probably really because I was out of breath). And I ask myself - how is it that I teach anywhere from 1-4 step classes a week and I can't run up one big (huge) set of stairs? I know step goes up and down rather than up up up up up up up, but still. Shouldn't doing step aerobics train me for climbing stairs? Geez.

I didn't see the bus, so I started walking towards the gym, figuring I'd catch the bus when it came. And it came when I was just about halfway there. I got on and traffic was at a standstill. So I got off because I figured I could walk faster than that. And I ended up getting to the stop at the gym at exactly the same time as the bus did. So I could've taken the bus, but at least by walking I felt like I was getting somewhere.

Turns out two of the people in my class were stuck on the train too, so they got there the same time I did. It all worked out in the end (and I was nice and warmed up for class to boot).

But I ask you, where'd my wind go?

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Debunking the Bunk - Eggs

So there are foods out there that we were raised "knowing" were bad for you. Based on the nutrition research of the day, some foods at one point in time were thought to have a decidedly negative effect on your health. Among them: eggs, olive oil, coconut, chocolate, cupcakes (ok, that last one was wishful thinking). And now we start to hear more recent research about potentially positive effects of these very same foods. Whether that will be born out by time remains to be seen. However, some of these foods just aren't the evils they were made out to be.

First up: Eggs.

I grew up in the era of the Bad Egg. The Bad Egg was a super injection of bad cholesterol that put plaque layers directly onto your arteries. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200. Prior to the discovery of cholesterol, eggs were considered "the perfect food, the centerpiece of solid breakfasts, the hearty garnishes atop salads and side dishes" (Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy). After the discovery of cholesterol, eggs became a poor choice for nutrition, and correspondingly, the sales fell.

New studies, however, tell a different tale (this information again cited from above linked book).
Here's what these new studies state:

1. Eggs are low in saturated fat
2. They contain protein, polyunsaturated fat, folic acid, and vitamins B and D
3. Their effect on heart disease can't be predicted based on their cholesterol content

There are two types of people: Responders (R) and Nonresponders (NR). Rs reflect the amount of cholesterol they eat in the amount of cholesterol in their bloodstream. NRs can eat cholesterol with only very small changes in the cholesterol in their bloodstream. And eating eggs has very little effect on LDL (bad cholesterol). No research has shown that eating more eggs translates into a higher chance of heart disease (unless you have diabetes).

For a much less scientific, but much more fun to read, test of the effect of eggs on health (of two Aussie men), go here.

This doesn't mean eat all the eggs you ever wanted, especially if they're doused in butter and cheese and fat. But eggs aren't the evil that I always thought them to be, and I won't feel quite so guilty about having some deviled eggs or some scrambled eggs on the rare occasion when I actually feel like having it.

Just for the sake of balance, I plugged "eggs" and "health" into google, to see whether there were any opposing viewpoints in the first page of hits. And all the top results came back with eggs being nutritious and good for you. So, as with anything, eat them in moderation, use common sense, but don't worry about all those Bad Eggs everyone always warned you about (unless you crack them and they're green and shriveled, then they might be bad in a very different way...)

Feta Garlic-Scape Scramble Eggs
3 eggs, whisked
5-10 garlic scapes (can be found in June-July at farmer's markets)
goat cheese feta (as much as desired)
roasted baby red potatoes (optional)

I basically made scrambled eggs with what I had leftover in my fridge when I got home from the gym one night. If you're short on time, you might not want to include the potatoes, as they generally take forever and an age to roast. They do add some tasty (if high-glycemic) carbs to the eggs, but if you wanted to go more the whole grain route, you could omit the potatoes and put your eggs on top of some multi-grain toast instead.

Potatoes (easy): chop up potatoes in bite sized pieces and lay out on a roasting pan. Sprinkle with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast until soft.

Potatoes (complicated): chop up potatoes in bite sized pieces and lay out on a roasting pan. Sprinkle with a mixture of lemon juice, olive oil, chopped parsley, mustard, salt, and pepper. Roast until soft. (I only call this complicated because it requires a cutting board and a little bowl for mixing)

Scrambled eggs preparation: chop up the garlic scapes into bit sized pieces. Saute in a pan with olive/grapeseed oil until fragrant, but not until limp. While these are cooking, wash eggs, then crack and whisk yolks into whites. Add eggs to scapes and cook until softly scrambled. Add potatoes and feta and cook until eggs are firm. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and serve.

One note about garlic scapes: later in the season (or if they're sitting in your fridge for a while, since they do keep a long time), the scapes can become pretty fibrous. You only want to use the end from the thin tip to the bump (I don't know how else to describe this, but there's a bump about halfway up). The thick end is a lot tougher and stringier to chew.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Recipes in the absence of cooking

So I'm currently in the process of cleaning out my freezer in preparation for the August-September cooking blitz. I have one of those big, stand-alone freezers (the smallest I could get, but it's still about the same size as my fridge). And I'm trying to be as much a locavore as possible - this translates into massive amounts of cooking and freezing tomatoes, corn, apples and so on in the late summer early fall so that I still have tasty, local veggies to eat in January. Now, tomatoes aren't quite as good when frozen as the water in them freezes and separates from the tomato flesh, but I still think it's better than the tasteless tomatoes at the big box grocery store in January. And let me tell you, defrosted fresh corn cooked in butter and salt and pepper is absolutely fantastic in February!

Last September, my freezer was stuffed solid with clam-stuffed tomatoes, apple sauce, elderberry-apple crumble, corn, stuffed peppers, tomato sauce, pesto sauce, vodka tomato sauce, chili, and probably some other things I'm not remembering. Now, I'm down to my last container of tomato sauce, some ricotta spinach quiche (not quite as good defrosted, probably won't do that again), salmon burgers (I've learned I don't like adobo chilis), some frozen cranberries, frozen girl scout cookies, and frozen meat and shrimp. What I have in there is looking pretty forlorn, waiting for me to fill it up again.

I love emptying out the freezer, makes me feel a sense of accomplishment on a par with defrosting it, which I did a couple weeks ago. Just as much as I love filling it up and then working on the puzzle of how to fit everything in there. Having my own frozen dinners makes life so much easier when I have a weekend like this last one, where I was out of town and had no time to cook. But given how little is actually in there, it also makes it harder to just grab food and go for my lunches. Or rather, I'm left with the food I've been avoiding for months (like those pesky salmon burgers).

On arriving home last night, it was starting to rain, so I really didn't feel like going grocery shopping. So I was happily jumping with joy when I found that I did, in fact, have a red pepper in the fridge and the bread in the cupboard hadn't molded yet. So I defrosted some pork and cooked it in my current favorite pork method: dusted with salt, pepper, powdered ginger, and red pepper flakes. Then I toasted the bread and spread it with orange cardamom goat cheese and sliced up the red pepper. Mmm mmm!

For the rest of the week: ratatouille currently defrosting, and there's always those salmon burgers, and some quiche.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Friday rant - Stop your whining and do something

Let me preface this post by saying that this is a rant about a specific group of people. It's about people who are overweight because they eat too much unhealthy food (and they know it). I'm not talking about people who are overweight for medical reasons, or because they have conditions which prohibit them from exercising. I'm not talking about people who are overweight and do exercise and eat healthy all the time (I'm considered overweight myself in all those BMI charts, though the whole BMI chart concept will be a rant for another day). I'm talking about people who eat sugar with a side of fat and grease and then say that they eat that way just because they're hungry all the time.

"I live for food." I heard this from one of my co-workers the other day. Our conversation kicked off because I mentioned I was famished because I forgot to put the protein powder in my morning fruit shake, and he was curious about why protein powder would make that much difference. He mentioned that he's always hungry so he ends up overeating all the time. Now, this is the co-worker who eats carrot cake cookies for breakfast, washed down with a big bottle of Mountain Dew. And I suggested eating some healthy snacks every few hours so that he wouldn't be so hungry at meals and therefore overeat. The thing is, I live for food too. People at work have joked with me that I'm in the kitchen more than I'm at my desk (for my morning/afternoon snacks, lunch, then all the water refills in between).

And I think the big problem here stems from a lack of nutrition education. Our discussion continued because he was asking me questions about my eating habits. So I mentioned that protein and whole grains tend to stave off hunger for me, and he hadn't known that. He did know that his diet wasn't healthy (that'd be a big dollop of denial to overlook the breakfast cookies), but he didn't understand the link between eating sugar/refined carbs and having energy spikes, then the sugar drop and ensuing hunger.

For me personally, (I love sugar) sugary foods give me wings to bounce on the ceilings (I love sugar), then give me baby wings to pull down my eyelids and rumble my belly (I still love sugar). If I don't eat snacks during the day, I'm famished by the time a meal rolls around and I end up eating WAAAAAY too much. I still eat good sized meals, but I make sure to have snacks in between so I don't overdo it (too much). My snacks are normally multi-grain toast with nutella or peanut butter, or I'll have some walnuts and dried fruit. Occasionally I have cookies (and I usually end up feeling hungry when I do)

Now, if you don't know the nutritional effect of the food you're eating, and that it's going to leave you hungry in an hour, then I suppose complaining is in order when you're hungry all the time. Especially if you're eating a lot, you'd figure you'd be less hungry, right? So I suppose this all comes down to lack of education about nutrition. Because people can know they're not eating healthy food, but if they're always hungry and they don't know how to make tasty healthy options, then they're not going to know how to change for the better.

And the way I eat may not be the right way for you. You might feel better eating vegetarian/ vegan, or Atkins, or following the Primal Blueprint. But the common denominator is that the right way for you to eat is a way where you don't feel excessively hungry, don't consume more calories than you expend (thank god for exercise), and that you don't overburden your system with too many saturated fats (which can be bad for the heart, among other things).

How do we get more educational about nutrition out there? Because I've heard so many people whining about their weight but then doing nothing about it (or going on a super-restrictive diet for a week or two), but many of them don't really know how to change their habits for life. Do we need more education in school? I feel like there's already sooo much emphasis on weight in our society now that this could backfire if not done properly, and make some kids obsess over their weight even more than they do now. Do we leave it up to the parents (and hope that they know about nutrition)?

I guess I've just been taking it little by little. I'm constantly in the process of figuring out the best way of doing things for me. If someone asks me about it, I'll offer up my thoughts on the matter, but I'm not going to comment if someone is eating cookies for breakfast (it's not my place to judge - yes, this may seem inconsistent given this blog post, but I'm just using that example as a springboard for the bigger discussion).

I just feel like we've gotten so far away from our food roots, that all of our food is so processed and full of chemicals, that many people now just don't know what's what in the world of nutrition. How do we start to change this?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Every food blog must have an antioxidant post

The antioxidant craze does seem a bit bandwagon-ish to me. Every other day there's a new antioxidant trotted out. Every hear of goji berries? They're the new pomegranate, which was the new blueberry. But I can't argue that these are good foods, and they do good things for the body, whether it's what all the health researchers trot out (cancer prevention, lower blood pressure, slow the effects of aging), or whether these foods are just plain out healthy and if I'm eating them, I'm less likely to be eating something full of sugar and fat.

So here's my list:

1. Berries - blueberries, blackberries, goji berries, strawberries, raspberries (I just inhaled a pint from the farmer's market). This time of year you can just eat them whole because they're so sweet picked off the bush. You could also roll them into yogurt, squirt them with honey, add them to cereal, or best of all, make something like cobbler which can be frozen and trotted out in December when fruit is decidedly less fresh.

2. Spinach/kale - I was slow to come around to this one, but it really is awesome for you. You may feel a bit like popeye when eating it cooked (I do), but it's very tasty wilted down with chicken broth and garlic (or just oil and garlic). Or if you have Jamaican spinach, there's a good recipe here. Speaking of garlic...

3. Garlic - garlic has long been thought to have healthy properties, and is one of the major ingredients in Mediterranean cooking, which is gaining ground as a very healthy eating plan. Added benefit of vampires leaving you alone.

4. Tea - the one of this list that I consume most often. I love tea. I just read a post about poaching salmon in tea. I'll have to try that (though I suppose it would help if I knew what it meant to poach something).

5. Whole grains - my other favorite on the list. I eat multi-grain toast twice a day (well, ok, workday). I try to have a whole grain with every meal (for me, that's usually multi-grain bread or quinoa) because they fill me up better than other kinds of carbs.

6. Nuts - a great source of polunsaturated fats (to help raise good cholesterol). I often put peanut butter on the aforesaid multi-grain toast and I keep plain walnuts and almonds in my cabinet for snacks.

7. Coffee - this one has recently attained antioxidant status, and is still thought to be a great evil by many people (much as people used to think that olive oil was bad for you). A University of Scranton study puts coffee as the highest in antioxidants of everything that Americans eat. It's not going to encourage me to drink more coffee, but I won't feel like it's so bad in the few instances when I do.

8. Dark chocolate - yup, the darker the better. I've had up to 80%, and it's pretty bitter, but it apparently lowers blood pressure, among other things (I certainly feel better whenever I eat it!). Milk, however, interferes with its antioxidants, so milk chocolate doesn't have the same benefits.

9. Herbs - these fly completely under the radar. I never would've included them on my antioxidant list, but then I googled and it was listed and since I love herbs, they're going on my list! A Norwegan study listed the levels of antioxidants in herbs and oregano and sage are coming out on top for fresh herbs, and clove and allspice for dried herbs.

10. Brussels Sprouts - I hated these as a kid. Now I get them whenever they're available locally. They're a huge source of Vitamin C. And very tasty when roasted with a little olive oil and salt and pepper.

The One Hundred Pushups Program

I've decided that because exercise is so important to a healthy life (and without exercise I certainly wouldn't be able to eat as much as I do, or have as many of those "sugar in moderation" snacks), I'm going to post now and then on various exercise topics.

I teach step aerobics, weight lifting, Spinning, gliding, cardio kickboxing, and boot camp. I used to teach several weight lifting classes a week. Now, I just teach boot camp. I love boot camp, it's awesome and fun and energizing. But for the weight lifting part, I spent the entire time walking around and helping people with form. So I don't get a resistance workout of my own. I've been slacking on my own muscles.

Then I come across the 100 Pushups Program. First, they have you get down and pound out as many perfect pushups as you honestly can (by honestly, I mean no cheating by keeping your butt up in the air or only coming halfway to the floor). I do have to admit that I didn't come all the way to the floor, maybe 3/4, but I did 20. I may try again tomorrow to see how many I can do honestly coming all the way to the floor (damn that's hard on my toes, with all that blood pumping in my face and ears).

The great thing about this is that it's only three times a week. As it's not a good idea to work the same muscle group two days in a row (when you work a muscle, it makes small tears in the muscle, then the rest period allows those tears to heal and the muscle to grow). So three days a week is very manageable. For me, I think that Monday/Thursday/Saturday sounds feasible.

Here's what week 1 is going to look like for me:
Day 1 - 60 second rests between sets, sets: 10/10/8/6/as many as possible/AMAP-at least 7
Day 2 - 90 sec rest, sets: 12/12/10/10/AMAP-at least 10
Day 3 - 120 sec rest, sets: 15/13/10/10/AMAP-at least 15

Week 2:
Day 1 - 60 sec rest, sets: 12/12/9/7/AMAP-at least 10
Day 2 - 90 sec rest, sets: 16/13/11/11/AMAP-at least 15
Day 3 - 120 sec rest, sets: 15/15/12/12/AMAP-at least 15

Let's start with that. If I'm still able to move after that (or bend my wrists, because those 20 I just did definitely hit my wrists. Maybe I'll do them on my fists), then I'll see about week 3.

Does anyone want to try this with me?

Tuesday Recipe - Jamaican spinach

I went to my local farmer's market last week and was admiring some odd-looking leafy greens. I asked what they were and it turns out that they're Jamaican spinach. Of course, having never gone to Jamaica, I had no idea how to cook these, but luckily enough, one of the vendors at the stand was from Jamaica. Here's his recipe.


Jamaican Spinach
1 big bunch of Jamaican spinach (the ones at my market come with three leafy branches)
1 medium-large tomato
1 medium onion
grapeseed/olive oil
3-4t garlic

Chop up the onion (handy tip: put the onion in the freezer for a couple minutes so it won't sting your eyes as badly) and put in a large pot with a dash of oil. While onions are cooking, roughly dice the tomato and add to the pot, then cook until onions are translucent.

Wash spinach leaves and rough chop in large pieces. The Jamaican said that the spines are quite tasty, so I didn't concern myself with removing all of the spines like I do with kale, but I also didn't include all the spines as he suggested. I kept it mostly leafy (but if you want to include the spines, go for it!). Add the spinach to the pot, sprinkle with more oil and add the garlic. Stir occasionally until the spinach is wilted down.

Be sure not to overcook the spinach. I haven't overcooked spinach yet, but I did overcook kale, and it turned into a nasty version of charred-flavor nori paper (seaweed used on sushi). Ugh.

For me, this makes about two (large) servings. Depends on your portion size.

I so wish this farmer's market would stick around all year long...

Monday, July 21, 2008

Food on the run - Notes from the City Chase

Ok, so I must admit, there wasn't all that much interesting food during the City Chase, but since this is a food blog, and I want to talk about the City Chase, I'm going to play it up!

I had no idea what to expect from the City Chase. The only information they give on the website it "The Amazing Race meets Fear Factor." So I'm picturing bungee jumping and eating bugs. Basically, there are physical tasks, intellectual tasks, and humorous tasks. People would ask me what that meant ("uh...who knows? kayaking down the Charles River in a chicken costume while answering trivia questions?"). Plus, this was an all day event, so the night before I'm on the phone with my teammate K saying stuff like "I've got two powerbars, nuts, apricots, water, should I bring more food? Will that be enough?" And she had to point out the painfully obvious - in downtown Boston there are, indeed, quite a few places to buy food. We're not in the middle of the desert here. But then, anything I go to, food is one of the top considerations...

So we get there at 8:30, caffeinate ourselves, and wait for the race to start. They had us do some perfunctory stretching (and then stand there cooling down to totally defeat the purpose. But I guess it's all in the fun of things), then they handed us our first challenge - a scavenger hunt. We had to get 9 out of 10 items on a list. I won't list all of them, but the most problematic being that we had to find an animal. Ensue discussion about whether insects are animals (and do we REALLY want to carry insects around?). We were lucky enough to mooch off of someone who found someone with a dog, and the dogwalker was our height. So she helped both teams.

Then we get to the Boston trivia, which wasn't too hard, but we didn't read both sides of our sheet and didn't realize we didn't have to answer it all before the next ChasePoint, so we wasted a bunch of time sitting around answering questions. Then we headed to MIT for a math test - and damn was that a hard test! I did ok on the logic questions, but there were few of those. I ended up outright guessing on three, and making educated guesses on several others. And actually managed to pass, I have no idea how (passing was 8/10).

Then miracles of miracles (given the humid 95 temps all day long) we got to jump in the pool and fish a hockey puck off the bottom.

Cue lunch time. Walking around on Saturday in the city it's amazing how many food places actually aren't open that time of day, and of the ones that are, how long it does take to get food. Roast beef sandwich doused in mustard, eaten on the run through Cambridge. Not a great sandwich (when are they ever from ABP?), but given how hungry running around makes me, it was definitely passable. I definitely had ice cream envy from K's lunch though, and had serious ice cream cravings all day long until I finally got some that evening (black raspberry with white chocolate chunks and blueberry pieces, North Station).

From there, we head across Cambridge to a health center, and from the description, we're picturing aerobics or weight lifting (so we're psyched because we're going to rock it). What do we get? Cheerleading. Ack! We had to come up with a cheer including a jump, kick, and lift, and put on sweaty cheerleading costumes. Um. Hm. We did it, but I would definitely say it was less humorous than awkward.

All of the above took us four hours. FOUR hours! And the race was due to close in another two hours. So we had 5 out of 10 stations done. So we look at the paper to plan it out, and head to the Hard Rock for the photo hunt. When we get there, we find a list of things we have to take pictures/videos of:
1. a pyramid of five people (only one can be on the team) - on the brick no less
2. a picture of one of us on the back of a passersby
3. doing the can can with passersby
4. eating food with someone not on your team (like eating a hot dog from both ends)

Um, no. We took a pass on that one. It was really hot and we were tired of trying to convince wary passersby to do strange things with us, so we moved on.

Took dance lessons (salsa) and circus lessons (K juggled, I balanced on a plank on top of a cylinder). Went to a gym and had to choose a candy bar, then burn off the number of calories in that bar (thankfully as a group effort rather than individually). And even better, was that once we were done, they gave us a candy bar for our efforts (to cancel out the calories we'd just burned) - and man was that one of the THE best candy bars I've ever had. Yes, I've always liked Snickers. But it could've been pretty much anything. After running around all day in the heat, there's just something about a sugar spike that's seriously awesomely awesome.

At this point we had about 40 minutes until the course closed. We weren't going to go to the next station (bowling), but as we passed it on the way to the check-in, we figured we'd take a look. Then we didn't feel like changing our shoes. Thankfully - because it ended up being strip bowling! No, that's no a typo, really, it was strip bowling! Any time you didn't get a strike, you had to take off a piece of clothing (in the picture reel at the bar afterwards, they caught a snap of a guy in his tightie whities).

After checking in at the end, they had a buffet for us (yummy spicy chicken wings, unspiced/unsauced chicken satay, egg rolls, and fried mac&cheese), two free wine/beer tickets, and a coupon for a centro something or other (I think it was vodka, orange juice, and 7up). We also ordered a spinach and goat cheese quesadilla, which looked really promising until we realized they put BBQ sauce inside it...

Definitely going to run the race again next year! Hopefully it won't be so hot. But even if it is, we'll have a better idea of what's going on and we'll kick some butt (or at least, finish the course...)

Friday, July 18, 2008

Friday rant - Fried Cockroaches

Ok, so I've never actually heard of people really eating fried cockroaches, but it got your attention, didn't it? ;)

This post is actually a rant about people who are unwilling to try new things. Fried cockroaches are an extreme example, but given the choice between a fried cockroach or eating a raw egg, I think I might actually go with the fried cockroach. I think it would just taste fried. Given the roach wasn't crawling around in garbage and all that. Ok, I'll stop talking about bugs now.

What mystifies me is people (especially those who live in big cities) who haven't even heard of some pretty mainstream ethnic foods. Take couscous, for example. This is basically pasta, just in a different form. And I had a conversation with a co-worker yesterday who honestly had no idea what it was. But that's just about exposure. If they haven't heard of it, that doesn't mean they're unwilling to try it, necessarily.

What I have trouble understanding are the people who automatically reject the idea of a food before they've even tried it (and I'm not talking fried cockroaches here). Sushi I can kind of understand, just because the idea of raw fish is disturbing to some people. I still think they should try it before they say something like "I don't like sushi" or "I couldn't possible eat raw fish" because the thing is, it doesn't taste like it's raw meat. If they try it and don't like it, then I'm totally cool with that. But don't tell me you don't like something if you've never tried it.

Case in point, I was at a big family gathering about four years ago. My father and I were trying to decide what kind of food to order for everyone, and I suggested Chinese food (I'm talking greasy mainstream Chinese food here). So that's what we got. And my uncle (who's from Florida near Disney) came up to me after dinner and asked me if it had been my idea to order Chinese food. I said it was, at which point he said he'd never had it before (he was 52 years old!) and had quite liked it. I must admit I was flabbergasted. We're not talking something really out there and exotic. I would understand if he hadn't tried Ethiopian food, or Brazilian, Egyptian, Russian, even Japanese. But Chinese is one of the most common kinds of take-out foods there is in this country. He then said he'd driven by Chinese places near home and kind of turned up his nose at them. Perfect example of someone who'd completely judged food without even trying it. I just don't understand.

I know that I grew up in a city with a lot of international food options. My parents regularly took me out for sushi when I was young (though I stuck with just rice and nori rolls, since I didn't like the taste of fish until I was older), and I've been lucky enough to be exposed to a fair amount of foreign travel (and therefore foreign foods) to expand my horizons. But I just don't understand why people just assume they won't like a food just because it's different than the food they regularly eat. Is it just my liberal mindset that I'm willing try (almost) anything?

Is there anything in particular you just wouldn't be willing to try, even once? What's the wackiest thing you've ever eaten?

On my list (some not so wacky, but people still look at me strangely when I say I've eaten them): horse meat, elk, rabbit, ostrich (slim jim style), flowers, mexican-spice dried worms, chocolate covered ants

(As a note: I totally made up fried cockroaches out of thin air. But it turns out that people do really eat them in Southeast Asia. Now, whenever I get to Southeast Asia on vacation, I'm going to have to try them, so I don't turn into a big hypocrite....)

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Take Omega3, Stay out of Prison

So much has been made of Omega 3 fatty acids as of late. The experts seem to be unanimous about the fact that there are good for us (they are unsaturated fats, and most raise HDL (good cholesterol), and lower LDL (bad cholesterol). The most commonly cited sources of Omega3 is fish, and this is where things get murky.

So fish is good for me, check.

Wait, what about all the fish that has mercury in it?

Hm. Well, let's see, there are some fish that are higher in mercury, and some which are lower. Bluefin tuna's usually bad (I'm relying on memory here, just to underline how confusing all this is). Salmon, too I think. But then, was it farm-raised salmon, or wild salmon? One of them wasn't so bad. Or was it just wild Pacific salmon that's good and Atlantic salmon that's bad (or vice versa)?

Ok, it's the big fish that have the highest concentration of mercury, since they've been around longer and have built up higher levels. But blast it, how do I know how big a fish is? I'm a city girl, and haven't caught a fish in my life (though believe me, I tried when I was in Alaska). I trust they don't look like the filets I buy in the grocery store...

I recently heard a program on NPR about this whole issue. It was an interview with the author of the book Bottomfeeder, which basically discusses how to eat fish sustainably. I haven't read it yet, but perhaps when I do it will help enlighten me.

Back to Omega3s. Other sources - flaxseed oil (check, I add two teaspoons to my breakfast shake), kiwifruit (really? Who knew?!), black raspberry (I don't suppose ice cream counts?), lingonberry (heard of it, not sure how to obtain it or what to do with it once I do...), walnuts (woohoo!), and eggs from grass/insect-fed chickens. I also have one GNC Omega3 soft chew every day (kind of like a healthy Starburst). I'm not a big fan of how aritificial they are, but given that I hardly ever eat fish (it won't keep long for leftovers), I eat them anyway. It's like candy, only without the same bad effects.

Interestingly, I came across an article a while ago showing a link between low Omega 3 intake and aggressive behavior. It was a study done of British and American prisoners, and showed that if they were given Omega3 supplements, their aggressive behavior actually decreased. Perhaps we should required every to eat fish a couple times a week? Give tax breaks on flax seed oil (that stuff's damn expensive!)? Encourage people to grow their own kiwi vines? It's interesting to see a study which comes up with such strong evidence of a diet deficiency affecting mood so greatly (I would like to one of Charlotte's posts here about mood vis-a-vis food, but I can't find it! Charlotte, if you know what I'm talking about, please feel free to put it in the comments...)

Do you eat Omega3s? Do you notice that they have an effect on your mood? Do you think it's just the latest craze?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Flower Power

Sauntering around my local farmer's market yesterday at lunch, I came across a big tray of mesclun lettuce with nasturtium (edible tulip) flowers. I'd seen them before and had kind of looked askance at them. They're definitely pretty, with the bright yellow and orange offset against the dark green leaves. But flowers? I know that people eat them, but I'd never had the chance (or desire to) before. But I was on a farmer's market high, having just bought scrumptious raspberries, Jamaican spinach, heirloom tomatoes, apricots, chocolate cookies, and multi-grain rolls. So I figured, why the hell not?

So I brought the flower salad back to the office and set up a nice plate with the mesclun, nasturtium, a sliced up apricot, parmesan and oil and white balsamic. As I'm heating up the rest of my lunch (eggplant parm), one of my coworkers came by and was entirely flabbergasted that I would eat flowers. He truly didn't believe I would, and demanded that I eat one to prove it. So I did. And my eyes popped. Oh. My. God. Those flowers were really that good. They were peppery but not too much so, and slightly sweet (the apricots helped the sweet side along too). I nearly inhaled that salad, and then I wanted more. I'm normally really picky about salads, but this salad I could eat at every meal. The excellent news is that the flowers will grow until the fall. I wonder if they'll grow in the shade of the walkway outside my door?

They were also selling squash flowers that you can stuff with parmesan and bread crumbs, and I'm seriously tempted, though they're not cheap ($.50 per flower, and they're pretty small).

Seriously, everyone I talked to yesterday heard about those flowers. If you see them at your local farmer's market, you definitely should try them!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

"Drinking beer doesn't make you fat, it makes you lean"

I started drinking beer pretty late. I've heard all the old battle stories about beer and parties and tipping pools off stilts in college (true story, frat related, didn't actually witness it). If you've got any funny stories, please feel free to share!

People don't believe me when I tell them I didn't drink in college. Not because I had any moral issues with it, I just didn't like the taste of alcohol, and hadn't discovered alcohol that actually tasted good. Fast forward a couple years, my late 20s, and finally I discover mixed drinks and wine. I just started drinking beer this past fall, and all because of kickball.

I played three full seasons of kickball never drinking beer. Believe me, I tried. But I found I needed to wash the beer down with french fries, and our bar doesn't really have the healthiest fries... But then, I was missing out on the flip cup matches! And let me tell you, kickball is all about flip cup (we're more of a drinking league that happens to play kickball). I've played flip cup with water before (though my brilliant brain never considered that possibility until AFTER I'd already started drinking beer). I've seen people play flipcup with vodka drinks too (I don't know how they were still standing after the number of rounds we usually play...

Then all of a sudden, last fall, it's like a switch was flipped and I could drink beer. Not good beer. In fact, mostly just the light beer most people call water (Bud/Miller/Coors Light). Plus, I drink beer VERY slowly, so I end up drinking less, though it does go flat by the time I get to the bottom of the bottle (why is it that beer goes flat faster than soda?).

I tried a blueberry beer this weekend and it was pretty tasty. Blackberry wheat is also pretty good too. And I can pretend it's healthy for me. Or is it?

It turns out that there may, in fact, be some health benefits associated with beer. Who knew?! Just like wine, drinking beer (in moderation, dagnabit) has been shown to raise good cholesterol, raise folate levels (preventing cardiovascular disease), help prevent blood clots and prevent osteoporosis. That's the boring stuff. How about the fact that it promotes bonding ("I love you, man! You're my bestest friend in the whole big entire world!") and it's cheaper than mixed drinks (more beer's the better, right?). And apparently some researcher actually got funding to test whether beer after exercise is better than water. Apparently it is! Who knew?!

The negatives (there are negatives? Well, damnit!) - getting arrested after dancing topless on the bar. Getting the digits of some random guy/girl who looked really hot through beer goggles and turns out to be as attractive and charming as the road kill you saw last week. Having to pee every ten minutes, but the line to the bathroom is 8 minutes long, leaving you two minutes to talk to friends or chat up the hottie at the bar. (Oh, you were hoping for real negatives? Liver disease, weight gain, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome for pregnant women, among others)

Anytime you get a whole slew of people in one place with a bunch of alcohol, something interesting is bound to happen. I witnessed my first ever bar brawl at the last kickball party. Involving a beer bottle broken over the head of someone, the culprit sprinting through the crowd (picture not-so-slow-motion cups of beer flying in the air and cascading down dresses and hair and faces), and the dude hit by the beer bottle lying on the floor for a good deal of time.

Then there are the people who just go overboard.

Got any good beer stories?

Monday, July 14, 2008

Bastille Day Special Post

I nearly forgot that today is Bastille Day, specifically when the Bastille was stormed on 14 July, 1789, but in general just to celebrate independence from the French monarchy (temporarily, at least, until Napoleon crowned himself emperor in 1804, and the French political system has floated between autocracy, monarchy, democracy, socialism, fascism (under the Nazis), and whatever else I'm not remembering. Not my point in today's post. Let's get to the food!

There doesn't seem to be a traditional food for Bastille Day (at least, not that I can find, maybe some of you know something?) like there is the king cake for Epiphany (where there are little king and queen figurines baked into the cake and if you find one you're supposed to kiss the person who got the other. I once got two of them, so I guess I should've kissed myself?). So I'm just going to discuss foods that have "French" in the title, just for the hell of it.

French Fries - in fact, these were invented in Belgium (though definitive evidence hasn't been presented). In France they're called pommes frites (or just frites for short), which is literally "fried potatoes."

French Bread - yes, this is in fact French (baguette). One site I visited claimed the French took and adapted the Viennese method of using steam in making bread (which is what causes the air bubbles inside). Another of my favorites kinds of French bread is Fougasse, which is a fisherman's bread from southern France (though the version I had didn't have spices on it).

French Toast - Nobody really knows exactly where this originated, since it's been around since Medieval times. There's a story that it used to be called German Toast and then the name changed during WW2 because of anti-German sentiment. But they have records back to the 1800s with French Toast mentions. In France and Belgium, it's called "lost bread" (pain perdu) because it was usually made with stale bread as a way to soften it enough to be edible.

French Vanilla
- actually, not a type of vanilla at all. In fact refers to a preparation with a strong vanilla aroma and containing vanilla grains. It originates from the French custom of making ice cream custard base with vanilla seed pods, cream and egg yolks.

French Dressing - US French dressing is entirely different than what the French normally use on their salads. US French dressing has sugar and ketchup in it (also called Catalina). Possibly apocryphal, but this may be an invention of the wife of Lucius French, a founder of Hazleton, IN. The dressing used in France is more of a vinaigrette, which has no standard form but often contains olive oil, vinegar/lemon juice, salt, pepper, mustard, garlic and sugar.

Monday Recipe - Pasta with Leek White Wine Sauce

I cooked this last night and I think it turned out really well. I was going to add some chicken to give it some protein, but then forgot, but you could easily cut the chicken into small chunks, cook in salt and pepper, and add it to the leeks. I found that I was hungry fairly quickly after eating this, since it didn't have any protein.

I've just started getting into leeks - I made some cauliflower leek soup recently that turned out really well (as long as I remembered not to put too much liquid in it - that batch came out like milky cauliflower). So I thought I'd try this one. Leeks are very tasty - not quite as strident as onions, but a nice bold flavor nonetheless. It's not exactly leek season (that's more springtime), so I'm wondering how much better they'll be if I cook them next spring!

Some of the health benefits of leeks (like onions and scallions, since they're related) - raising good cholesterol and lowering bad cholesterol, protection against ovarian cancer, and stabilizing blood sugar levels.


Pasta with Leek White Wine Sauce
4 medium leeks (about 2 lbs)
Cooking oil (I use grapeseed oil, but olive or canola oil works perfectly fine too)
~1/2C white wine
2-3T chopped parsley
1/2C grated parmesan (give or take)
1 lb pasta (when I made this recipe, I only actually used about 1/2-3/4lb of pasta, but it depends on what ratio you like of pasta to sauce)
Salt and pepper

Cut off the tough green tops of the leeks and peel away the outside layer. Clean the stalks, making sure there's no dirt in between the layers. Cut in half lengthwise and then slice again into thin strips. Put oil and leeks in a pan and saute until soft (if the leeks start to brown, turn the heat down). This may take 5-10 minutes. While this cooks, set a pot of water to boil for the pasta.

Add wine and continue to cook until wine cooks down a bit. Add parsley, salt and pepper. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired. Serve over pasta and sprinkle with parmesan.


Friday, July 11, 2008

Friday rant - Diet Schmiet

If you haven't jumped on at least one diet bandwagon in your life (especially if you're a woman), then you're definitely a rare species. I grew up straddling one household where tv dinners and Big Stuff Oreos (whatever happened to those?) were the norm and another household where anything with fat was totally anathema. Later, it turned into one house with four square meals and the other with no fat but pasta every night for dinner. So I wouldn't necessarily say I had a cohesive eating style growing up. In fact, I had rather a split personality with food, enhanced by afternoon rendez-vous with pepperidge farms cookies.

When I got the college, I had no idea how to cook. I started with things like rice pilaf (and let me tell you, a dinner of only rice pilaf and then working out the next day is just an invitation for crashing) and frozen stir frys (stir fries?). I went through Atkins, which can be greatly effective (my father lost a ton of weight with it) but isn't necessarily manageable long term.

My current thinking? I hate diets. Not that anyone likes them. I mean, how could you like a diet, which is inherently a system which tells you what you can't eat? I think all in all, it's a fairly losing proposition in the long run. Yes, people lose a bunch of weight, but more often then not, it packs right back on, and then some. And it's because so many of these diets seem to focus on the quick fix, and don't teach you how to eat for life. Seriously, can you imagine eating cabbage soup every day for the rest of your life? The primal diet seems at first to be more manageable, since there are a range of foods you can eat - it's mostly meat and veggies, with carbs and dairy being no-nos. Atkins too has had a lot of popular press with its no-carb diet. Then there are all the different organizations where you have to buy the food directly from them (frozen-dinner style), and they don't teach you how to make it yourself. But the defining feature of the diets is that there are foods (often many many foods) which you aren't supposed to eat, and when people do, it's with a sense that they're failing their diet, which can sometime derail their whole diet for the day ("hey, as long as I'm eating badly today, I might's well add on another pint of ice cream or three more cookies and call this day a wash, right?"). I'd rather focus on the positive.

Then I read The New Glucose Revolution. It discusses the glycemic impact of certain foods (what the food does to your blood sugar, and therefore how long you feel full and how much nutrition you get). It's kind of like a loose South Beach Diet without the crazy restrictive level 1. And it doesn't say you can't have certain foods. Now, as much as I'd like to eat cake and cookies and ice cream all the time, that's not what it says either. Basically, the rule of thumb is "everything in moderation." We have a culture of going to excess in this country (entrees at restaurants could give you the same number of calories as your entire normal day), with huge plates of food and eating until the plate is clean, rather than listening to the signals our stomachs are giving us. I'm just as guilty of that as the next person. But basically, eating low glycemic index foods (cutting back on (but not totally cutting out) refined carbs like white bread and rice, and eating foods low in saturated fat. And unlike the old low-fat diets, adding important healthy fats like nuts, olive oil and avocados.

Basically, I eat about 80% of my meals from food I've cooked, and I normally stick to protein, lots of veggies, and whole or multi-grain carbs (quinoa, semolina pasta, multi-grain bread, couscous), with a touch of dairy in there. Then when I go out to eat, I don't worry about what I get so much - I enjoy it, even if it happens to be fried or creamy or whatever. Because when I tell myself that I can't have a cookie, when I do I end up eating three. But if I just have the cookie in the first place, I'll have one (or two, or yes three, but whatever, I exercise). I also don't like all the chemicals they put in food, so I stay away from canned stuff like soup, or tv dinners (which fill me up for maybe an hour), or other preprepared foods. I'll just cook a lot on Sundays, put a bunch of stuff in my freezer for home cooked frozen dinners, and it all works out.

But the thing is, what many people completely forget, is that there is no Holy Grail of dieting. Maybe you don't have time to cook at all, or you can't even boil water, or you're on a restricted budget, or you don't have all the freezer space I do. Maybe you're a vegetarian or vegan or have celiac disease. Then the way I eat isn't right for you. And that's ok. Just because it works for me doesn't mean it'll work for you. And that's what I feel that people forget. They see some cool new diet, decide to try it, don't get results, and give up on the whole idea of dieting. Try approach "dieting" like dating. You go out with someone a couple times, but you're not likely to meet your life partner the first time out, right? So you date around, then eventually find the right fit for you. Because "dieting" has a short-term connotation, since so many diets are unsustainable. Think about finding a diet that's an entire way of life. So make small changes (drink water instead of soda, sorbet instead of ice cream, etc) rather than upending your whole system of habits, and you're more likely to stick with it in the long run.

And don't forget about exercise. Not my focus of this post, but just as important (if not more so).

What's your "diet," and does it work for you? What's the craziest diet you tried?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Tea - the other morning drink

I'm a tea drinker. I'll drink coffee on occasion, if I have a headache and need caffeine to get rid of it, or if tea isn't available. But tea is my caffeine addiction of choice (and given how sensitive to caffeine I am, it does in fact become an addiction. Blast those no-caffeine headaches!). I've even gone so far as to buy an individual teapot with a mesh insert-thingie to steep loose-leaf tea at work. Tealuxe is the brand currently overflowing the food drawer at work, with flavors ranging from Tra Que Chai (far and away my fave) to peach rooibos (strange after flavor) to pumpkin chai (fine, but probably won't order it again). I've also found quite a few flavors of Stash teas that I quite like (I haven't found any other brand to match their mint tea, especially with a sore throat).

One of my co-workers broke out the smokey chai today, and gave me a whiff of it. And I'm not kidding, it smelled like smoke. Imagine the smokiest smoked turkey you've ever had, and take away the turkey flavor. That's what I'm talking about. Not sure the appeal in that, but to each their own, I say.

I also add milk and sugar to my tea. I'd like to be able to say I could drink tea "black" because it's so much more healthy that way. Maybe it's my English heritage that I've got to muddle it up with milk (if I were to get really crazy I'd get a milk steamer since it's soooo much better that way, but seeing as they give us those free little individual packages of milk at work, I'll just stick with that...). I've researched Splenda online about health risks, but I think it's just one of those things that's still pretty new so who knows. I may switch to Stevia, which is a natural product made from plants. Anyone tried it? Is it as tasty as sugar?

Interesting factoid about tea: when I was in France, I asked for "decaffeinated" tea. They looked at me like I had three heads, then told me that tea does not ever have caffeine. At this point, I'm thinking "wtf?" Well, apparently, tea and coffee have separate words for caffeine in France - caffeine is only in coffee (this is where I had the "duh" moment, because of the prefix of the word), whereas tea has theine (accent aigu on the first "e" - tay-een). For decaf tea, you want to ask for a tisane (herbal tea).

I heard a story on npr last year where they were discussing tea grown in China (this was even before all the other health scares about tainted drugs and about the same time as the tainted dog food). The story discussed the short cuts taken by some of the tea drying factories - the tea leaves were grown organically, but then hung to dry with car exhaust fumes spewed over them to speed the process (and they can still claim it's grown organically). The hard part of it is that when you look at a box of tea, it tells you where it was packaged, but not where it was grown. That's what I like so much about Tealuxe, they tell you what country all their tea comes from.

And while it looks like coffee isn't the big evil it's been made out to be for so many years, tea has all those antioxidants and anti-cancer properties. So go find a flavor you like, try not to ingest chemicals from car fumes if you can help it (though I suppose I get a good dose of that every day, given the big city I live in...), and please share your favorites (so I can try them out, of course!).

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Kale - that's a vegetable, right?

The other day, I was reading a post on Charlotte's blog about eating veggies and one of the comments mentioned kale cooked in garlic. At that point, the amount of kale I've eaten in my entire life could be summed up to a big fat plate of nothing. I had the basic idea that it was a leafy green, but it was always one of those strange veggies that just didn't sound very tasty. I'm all for healthy foods, but this one always seemed to be one of those uber-healthy foods on a par with ezekiel bread, which I have also never tried, but have heard is rather similar to cardboard in taste.

But I couldn't get the idea of kale out of my head, since I'm always up for trying new foods.

So I head to my local farmer's market at noon and pick up a bundle of kale and some baby red potatoes. Then I realize I have NO idea how to cook kale. So I poll my boss on recipes. He blinked and said he'd never considered eating kale in the summer, and explained how if kale is left above 40 degrees for more than 45 minutes, the sugars start turning into starches, making the taste much less sweet. So November kale is tastier apparently. Not giving me much hope for the tastiness of my experiment. But I still hold out hope.

So I haul my kale and potatoes to the gym, and then on home. I pulled all the leaves off the stems, stuck them in a pot with some grapeseed oil and some dabs of garlic and let it wilt down to about one serving.

And man, was it tasty! Kind of like spinach, but not quite. A bit chewier, more of a hearty vegetable. And I didn't even notice the starchiness because of the crazy amounts of garlic I added in. If you want something a little bit fancier, with more flavors than just kale and garlic, try this spicy paprika kale recipe.

So now that I've discovered that kale is really tasty, what are the cool health benefits of it? It's on that ever expanding bandwagon of cancer-prevention veggies (it hasn't made it on any antioxidant lists I've seen, so it doesn't have that same sexy superfood status that blueberries, pomegranate, or goji berries do, but it's just as chock full of antioxidants). For a list of the diseases it prevents (so I don't get bogged down in all that scientific jazz), follow the yellow brick link above. One thing to note is that it's got a huge amount of fiber (one serving is about 10% of your daily value).

Have you tried kale? Any interesting recipes? I'm thinking this is going to replace cooked spinach, so I'm going to need to switch it up now and then. What other foods had you never tried and discovered recently?