Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Tools of the Trade...the Mandoline

If there’s one thing I just cannot master it’s cutting things wafer thin. Another problem I have is slicing things evenly so all the pieces are exactly the same size. I just can’t do it. One tool that helps me do both very easily is the mandoline. Sometimes also called a V-slicer, the mandoline makes it possible to quickly, uniformly, and safely slice and julienne vegetables and fruits. The advertisement for the one I have says “it also shreds cabbage and neatly dices potatoes, tomatoes, and onions”. For safety, a holder firmly grips food with stainless-steel prongs so fingers are protected from the surgical steel blades, and the inserts accompanying the device lock in position. The inserts act as a guide for slicing against the V-frame's knife that reverses to create slices either 1/4-inch or 1/16-inch thick and two julienne inserts for creating 1/8-inch or 3/8-inch strips. For storage, the V-frame, all three inserts, and the safety holder fit into a caddy that can stand upright on the counter, lie flat in a drawer, or hang on the wall.

A stainless steel model

I love to use my mandoline to make cucumber salad. I slice them wafer thin and dress them with rice vinegar, a little bit of oil, salt and white pepper and maybe a little dill. Sometimes instead of oil I’ll use plain yogurt. Both versions are great for a picnic or to enjoy on a hot summer day. Since temperatures are on the rise (it is the beginning of summer after all), it’s a great time to get out this helpful tool and make this refreshing salad.

Why get one, you ask? You may already have a food processor with attachments that can do the same thing. Well, you can’t slice onions, which are near impossible to get whole into a food processor, when you want to make rings. I’ve also never used the food processor to julienne anything. I think the V-slicer works great for that as well. Potatoes and sweet potatoes, sliced to make fries, are a snap with the mandoline, too.

The Boerner v-slicer
Fortunately, there are mandolins and V-slicers available in all sorts of price ranges, from the less expensive rugged plastic ones, such as the one I have by Boerner (which you can find for around $30), to the spiffier stainless steel models available at over $150. Choose whichever your budget allows, but it’s a great tool to have when your slicing capabilities are limited (like mine).

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Breakfast Revisited

Walk into any supermarket and you are greeted with an aisle full of colorful boxes in the cereal section. I call it Carb Alley. It’s unbelievable the selection we have to choose from. It’s clear that we love cereal and that we eat enough of it to keep the grocery shelves brimming with choices.

If you’re like most people, you were raised eating breakfast cereal every day. Hey, some of them are pretty tasty. But you know where I’m headed with this, right?
These colors don't normally appear in nature
Most breakfast cereals are full of garbage (see above). There isn’t even the slightest bit of nutrition in some of them – it’s amazing they can be called food. Even if you are eating some commercially- prepared thing that says it’s got “whole grains”, don’t fool yourself. It’s the grown-up version of the same crap the kids are eating - it just doesn't have all those pretty colors. So what’s my problem with cereal? It’s that it's trained us to eat sweets for breakfast. And, to be fair, it’s not just cereal. Unfortunately, other typical breakfast foods are equally sweet: pancakes, waffles, danishes, muffins. The problem is all that sugar. The only cereal that has very little sugar in it is All-Bran and you can just forget it - I think it rivals tree bark in taste.

I'm guilty of eating cereal too often, too, just so you know, and I'm on a mission to change my evil ways. My last blood count showed an elevated fasting blood glucose level that puts me in the prediabetic range and I'm none too happy about that. Obviously, my sweet tooth is catching up with me.

And when I read statistics that warn an estimated 48 million people will have diabetes by the year 2050, I am determined not to be one of them! What are we doing? We are on a path of destruction if we don’t change the way we eat. And it’s a no-brainer that sugar (in all its forms: evaporated cane sugar, corn syrup, and especially high-fructose corn syrup) is to blame. We simply have to eat less of it and breakfast is the place to start.

It has been said that breakfast is “the most important meal of the day” but many of us don’t really live it. A good start to our day would be to eat food that provides nourishment, sustained energy, and satiety. Instead, most of us get a sugar rush with our pastries and cereals as we run out of the house in the morning and then wonder why we “crash” later in the day. Then we need more sugar later on to perk us back up. It's a vicious cycle.

So, what to eat, if not cereal? We can look to a variety of cuisines around the world for ideas. Many countries eat protein and vegetables for breakfast. This isn't a bad idea actually, considering that these 2 food types would provide exactly what we need: nourishment, sustained energy throughout the day, and satiety.

So in trying to design myself a better breakfast, I realized that I love "scrambles", these unstructured concoctions of veggies and such, bound together with egg or even tofu, sometimes flavored with a little bit of bacon or sausage. Here's one I make fairly regularly. If you’re pressed for time in the morning, you could make it the night before, which I do during the week. I cut up extra vegetables in the evening at dinner and set those aside for later when I toss them together with onions and spices and saute them. Sometimes I make it with eggs instead of tofu; sometimes I omit the meat and make it vegetarian. Either way, it’s delish and so versatile. You can literally add whatever veggies you want, whatever spices or herbs you want, whatever protein you's totally customizable.

Christina's Scramble

1 onion, chopped
A small handful of sliced cooked sausage (of any kind) or bacon (optional)
Assorted veggies: zucchini, tomato,
mushrooms, fresh baby spinach leaves,
diced red bell pepper......
2 eggs, beaten with 1 Tbsp. of milk or half and half (or diced, medium firm cubes of tofu)
Salt and pepper

Begin by sauteeing the onion in a little olive oil or butter, unless you are making bacon. Then crisp up your bacon first, removing some of the drippings but leaving just a little in so your onion doesn't stick.

Saute until onions are soft. Add spices, stirring into the onion/meat mixture, and cook until fragrant. Add your veggies, saute 5-6 minutes or until crisp-tender. Pour your beaten eggs over the top, stirring while they cook. Season with salt and pepper.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Slow Food

A friend recently commented that if we were really in tune with our bodies, we would feed them what they needed and not need “dietary guidelines”. I thought about this and realized that this really implies a larger problem going on today: that we have lost connection to ourselves. We look so much to the outside world for “expert” advice and guidance, we have maybe even lost the ability to listen to ourselves.

There is no doubt that we live in a fast-paced time. Life is hectic, people always complain they are so “busy”, and friendships, eating well, and carving out time for relaxation have fallen by the wayside. We seem to be living “mindlessly”. But living a mindful life today takes a concerted effort, when the fast life is all around us – fast food, fast cars, fast conversations (snippets on Facebook and Twitter, for example). We may be living great lives but we aren’t ‘there’ for them. We don’t take the time to linger over food, over friends, over our hobbies (if we even have any). We are not savoring life and I think many people are starving for a real connection to it.
The solution to “fast” then must be “slow”. Slow down and connect with life. If we don’t listen to our bodies and to that little voice in our head that is telling us to slow down we may succumb to the myriad of health conditions that are a result of leading fast, stressful lives: cardiovascular and other systemic diseases and even accelerated aging. The psychological costs are equally large with anxiety, depression, eating disorders and other emotional illnesses associated with unmanaged stress.

There is a movement called “Slow Food” that was started in the late 1980’s by Carlo Petrini in Italy. It began as an outcry against fast food which was encroaching on the Italian food scene. A McDonald’s was slated to open near the Spanish Steps in Rome (some of my followers will remember we saw those same Steps together on our whirlwind Italy Tour in 2002). The Slow Food Movement was designed to remind us to enjoy regionally home-cooked food, and to savor it and use it as a way to connect with others. Fast food is the antithesis to this concept.

The objectives of the Slow Food Movement include:

• Educating consumers about the risks of fast food

• Educating citizens about the drawbacks of commercial agribusiness and factory farms

• Educating citizens about the risks of monoculture and reliance on too few genomes or varieties

• Preserving and promoting local and traditional food products, along with their lore and preparation

• Developing various political programs to preserve local farms

• Lobbying for the inclusion of organic farming concerns within agricultural policy

• Lobbying against government funding of genetic engineering

• Lobbying against the use of pesticides

• Teaching gardening skills to students

But I think regardless of whether or not we want to get involved with the political aspects of food, the concept of the Slow Food Movement is sound. Slowing down and enjoying our food, taking the time to prepare it ourselves, and gathering family and friends around us to enjoy it with us is probably something all of us could use more of. This has become so evident to me that so many people do not do this because where I work, nearly everyone nukes their food in the micro and then takes it back to their desks to eat it. I find this practice so depressing and really the epitome of mindless eating.

I encourage all of us to slow down. What’s the rush anyway? Work, and all the other non-essential stuff can wait a little longer until we finish our meal. Isn’t the most important thing in life to enjoy it while it’s here?

June 17:
Ironically, I was just perusing a new site I've been checking out a lot lately  and discovered someone else has been thinking about this sort of thing. Check out this link.

Thursday, June 9, 2011


I can't believe it! My blog is a year old today.

I really appreciate the support you've given me over the past year. Your comments and emails have meant so much, knowing you are reading and hopefully getting something out of my posts. Please keep them coming. It helps me know that you are "out there"! Thank you.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Sneaking Around

Maybe you’re like me and you have someone at home that is what I call “veggie averse”: not too fond of anything green or living. To get this person to eat fruit and veggies is like pulling teeth and you’re at your wits end. But you don’t want to give up on them because they NEED to eat their fruits and veggies and you are bound and determined to make this happen. But how?

I think the trick is to sneak it in. I mean, what they won’t know, won’t hurt them, right? They’re happy they’re not being food policed to death, and you’re happy because you basically won (though they don’t know it). It’s a win-win.

Though it’s not going to be as overt as eating a big green, fresh salad, little bits of fruit and veggies mixed in here and there can add up and will certainly be an improvement to what they’re doing now – which is next to nothing.

Here are some ideas:

In salad dressings, add tangerine or orange juice instead of vinegar for a citrusy splash of flavor

In a blender, add fresh avocado to a little olive oil and lemon juice for a creamy salad dressing

Add orange juice to marinades for pork, chicken or seafood

Chicken with apricots - yum!
 Add fruit, fresh or dried, to sauces, such as pork with prunes or apples, or apricots with chicken (see photo, left)

Serve fresh fruit salsas atop chicken or seafood after grilling

Add cranberry sauce to a little mayo for a nice spread on turkey sandwiches

Add veggie broth instead of water when cooking rice

Pile more veggies like lettuce, tomatoes and sprouts on sandwiches, using less meat and cheese

Add more veggies than meat to soups, stews and chilis

Add thick veggie purees to sandwiches as spreads or as a dip for crackers (esp. good is butternut squash and crème fraiche together!)

Add fruit juice and fresh fruit to morning smoothies

In soups, replace part of the water the recipe calls for with low sodium tomato juice.

The trick is to be creative and imaginative. Think of new and innovative ways to sneak more fruit and veggies in to your cooking. They’ll never know the difference!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

MyPlate replaces MyPyramid

New icon
 It’s here! The new Dietary Guidelines published earlier this year by the US Department of Agriculture has a new icon, unveiled today. The new icon replaces the old Food Pyramid that we have seen for the past 19 years. In its place is MyPlate, a supposedly easier-to-understand icon to help guide Americans to healthier eating.

Red is fruit, green: veggies, orange: grains, purple: protein, and blue is dairy.
The main concepts are:

1. One’s plate should consist primarily of fruits and vegetables, lean protein and whole grains

2. Grains, which were the base of the previous food pyramid, are less prominent. Instead of making up the entire base of the former pyramid, the plate shows a much smaller amount. In the previous pyramid, grains constituted a whopping 9-11 servings per day. They said it, and we listened. Americans consume an enormous amount of "grain" products: cookies, chips, crackers, pasta, and bread. In relation to the fruits and veggies section, it was clear that they thought we should eat more grains than produce!

During a time of unparalleled obesity and illness (diabetes, cancer, etc.) in this country, it comes not a moment too soon. The hope is that people will shift their focus from grains (i.e., the refined grains they thought they could eat by the boatload, and did!) to healthier fruits and vegetables which have a greater impact on one’s health. And though grains are still on the list, they are promoting whole grains to be emphasized instead of processed, refined grains. Thank goodness.

It was at a press conference this morning that the USDA Secretary, US Surgeon General and First Lady, Michelle Obama, unveiled the design.

CNN reported that “Obama has led a national campaign for healthier diets and more physical exercise, called Let's Move, which aims to reduce childhood obesity in the United States within a generation.” I applaud her for her efforts. This is an important mission she’s on and I think it’s great that she uses her influence to make such positive changes in the lives of our children.

More information on the MyPlate program can be found here:

Though I applaud these efforts, I find it interesting that they still won’t come out and say directly, eat less meat, sodas, and junk food. As I was thinking this, I checked out an interesting blog written by Marion Nestle, a professor in the department of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University, called Food Politics. I found that she and I had a similar reaction. In response to the announcement this morning she writes. “…They talk about foods (fruits, vegetables, seafood, beans, nuts) when they say “eat more.” But they switch to nutrient euphemisms (sodium, solid fats and added sugars) when they mean “eat less.”

They say, for example: “limit the consumption of foods that contain refined grains, especially refined grain foods that contain solid fats, added sugars, and sodium.” This requires translation: eat less meat, cake, cookies, sodas, juice drinks, and salty snacks.

That’s politics, for you.

Let’s give them credit for “drink water instead of sugary drinks.” That comes close. But I listened in on the press conference and conference call and several people pushed federal officials about why they didn’t come out and say “eat less meat.” The answers waffled.”

No surprise there. Obviously, they don’t want to piss off the meat industry and the soda makers. Too many lobbyists will call and complain, I guess, or worse, contribute less money to their upcoming campaign.

Food for thought.

You’ll find it all over the internet today, but here it is from the "horse' mouth" as they say:

And from CNN:

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