Monday, July 28, 2008

Make believe...

Tell me something...

Does adding vitamins, artificial sweetener (oh, sorry, it's derived from "natural" sugar) and natural flavors and colors to water make a product healthy?

Well, as the woman at a store demonstration told my 5 year old: "It's healthier than soda."

I turned around and politely said, "not necessarily." And then went on my way.

I wanted to say that a nice cold glass of water accompanied by a cup of fruit and vegetables was healthier than soda, but I just wasn't in the diplomatic mindset at the time. So I walked away, because I know the woman was just trying to do her job. I was proud of my son, though because he seemed to listen to my explanation and take my word for it, rather than from a stranger.

And we do drink soda, just not very often.

I'd just rather eat something as junk every now and then rather than pretend something is healthy.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Blog meets world...

This past weekend, I had the privilege of meeting Donna, one of my blogging friends. We both have a friend in common, and when I moved to Ohio, this same friend told us we should meet.

So we finally did. And we had a great time.

Some people have a way of talking about things that demonstrate how down to earth they really are. Donna is one of those bloggers, so I had no reservations in getting to know her. Reading her blog also made me feel like I had a jump start in getting to know her. Our entire family had a great time and my kids were really well behaved (but they made up for that this week *grin*).

And I can't leave the food out of a nutrition blog! I had fogotten how simple and tasty kabobs can be, and I actually made couscous, something I hadn't prepared before. I was surprised at how simple it is and it cooks very quickly, so it beats cooking rice for 20 minutes in the microwave, especially on a hot day.

Anyway, I figured I'd record how I made the couscous so that I can make it again:

A's Couscous

2 cans vegetable broth
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp ground ginger
3/4 cups raisins
1 can garbanzo beans (chickpeas), drained and rinsed
1 10oz package plain couscous (approximately 1 1/2 cups)

Bring broth, cumin and ginger to a light boil, remove from heat and stir in raisins, garbanzo beans and couscous. Let sit for 5 minutes, then toss with a fork.

I dont' know if our host family cared for it, but my picky son loved it (could it be the raisins?). He ended up eating leftovers and has asked me to make it again.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Just beet it!

I don't believe it's necessary to get into the details about the nutritional benefits of beets. After all, the "eat it because it's good for you" is what eventually sabotaged its "superpower" status. Eat it because it's good: to the palate and for the body.

I remember growing up liking beets. For the first 13 years of my life, I only recall eating the canned/pickled type (but I like sour tastes). It was when we moved back to Brazil that I was introduced to the other facets of beets. I remember eating them raw, shredded with a bit of olive oil, salt and vinegar. The texture is similar to that of a carrot. Actually, one of the places I often ate lunch would serve a plate of shredded carrots and beets. Also, beets were used in juices. Although they may add tons of sugar, fresh juice is a normal part of Brazilian life (as I know it). So it was common to see beets paired with oranges and carrots. And then there's ice cream... ha ha, just kidding ;-)

Interestingly enough, a discussion about beets has independently started taking place on a dietitian's listserv. Monika blogged about having never eaten it and then when she reluctantly tried it, she was surprised it was actually good. Others mentioned eating them raw and shredded like I do, putting them in smoothies, pureeing it and adding it to chocolate cake (hmm, we have a birthday coming up...) So I am glad I am not alone. Even if it is in a self-selected group of dietitians. I guess I should ask them what to do with the beet greens. [update: I added beet greens info in the comments section] Also, one of the women at the City Fresh pickup makes beet pancakes, much like potato or zucchini pancakes.

Oh, I better warn you that beets stain quite a bit. I remembered to put on an apron to keep from staining my favorite shirt, but I forgot about my hands. After washing thoroughly (not scrubbing too hard, though), I significantly reduced the stain by rubbing baking soda onto my hands and nail beds. I rinsed it off and probably 10 minutes later my hands had no trace of beet stains! Great, because I really didn't want to be seen in public with those red hands... especially when I was going out on a date with my husband.

Anyway, here is what I did with the beet root:

I peeled them, shredded them, segmented an orange, drizzled some olive oil and red wine vinegar and added a bit of salt. I liked it but there was one problem: My olive oil is rancid (and we bought a week ago). So even though my mother in law and I liked it (my oldest son ate it too and he asked for more, but didn't finish it), I just didn't want to blow my only shot at getting my husband to try beets (a quick disclaimer: he's not a picky eater. His beet memories are that bad) . So given I don't have any more oranges, I will add pineapple and use canola oil instead. If that doesn't work, I'll just have to accept the fact that I'm going to outlive him ;-)

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

City Fresh

About two weeks ago, I stumbled across an initiative in our area called City Fresh. It is a style of community supported agriculture (CSA), in which we pay for a share of produce in advance, then we pick up our food share at a designated place and time. There are so many advantages to a CSA. Here are just a few: it keeps small, local, growers in business, reduces (if not eliminates) the need for pesticides, reduces fuel transportation costs, the cost is pre-arranged (no surprises), it's fresh and convenient. Usually, the disadvantage is that most CSAs require a payment up front for the whole season (say, $400-500), an amount which is not usually available to limited-income families. Also, a family may not need to get produce every week (in my case, I have a garden, but I only have herbs and cherry tomatoes available right now), and shares usually fill up pretty quickly. The difference about City Fresh is that there is a weekly commitment (signed up a week in advance) there are multiple pick up sites, and limited-income families (including seniors) pay half price for the share. They even accept the Ohio Direction card (aka food stamps). So last week, I checked it out and signed up for a full share. A full share is enough produce to feed a family of 4 for a week. It cost me $20(that's the full price). Here is what I got:

zucchini, yellow squash, radishes, green onions, beets, potatoes, cabbage, sweet onions, green beans, mixed cooking greens, romaine lettuce, baby leeks, and 1pt maple syrup.

I enjoy being part of a system that makes quality food available to people of all incomes, and doesn't take you too far away from home to buy it. My biggest challenge in providing nutrition counsel is my awareness that sometimes these very foods are not available in low-income areas, let alone affordable. And, being community-based, some volunteers and participants are people I have met through other activities.

I am really excited about the maple syrup. I haven't bought some in a while so when I had to choose between mulberries or maple syrup, it was a no-brainer (not to mention there is a mulberry tree right at the pick up site).

Best of all, it has forced me to plan my meals and snacks around vegetables, not meat (or another protein source). I have wanted to make this change for quite some time, but just haven't done it. As much as you may hear me talk about eating more fruit and (especially) vegetables, I often find myself planning meals around the entree, and the vegetables become an afterthought, if not forgotten. I get easily distracted and often times when I think dinner is served, I realize I haven't prepared the vegetables or salad. My well-intentioned salad greens often get spoiled before I get around to using them.

I love having foods that I don't normally buy. I rarely buy beets, cabbage, radishes, cooking greens (such as kale) or leeks. It's not that I don't like these foods. It's either not on my radar, a little pricey, or (in the case of beets) hard to find a decent-looking sample. I am sure my husband is secretly dreading eating the beets this week, but I promise it won't resemble anything he was forced to eat growing up. So far, this is what I am thinking of using some of this stuff for (I hope to update with recipes at some point):

  • Feijoada (brazilian black bean stew), with mixed cooking greens and rice.
  • Beet and orange salad
  • Grilled italian sausage with sweet onions
  • Grilled chicken, with potatoes, and green beans
  • Pasta salad with grilled chicken, grilled squash, leeks and cherry tomatoes (from my own garden)
  • Romaine salad with radishes and cherry tomatoes

I still need some ideas for the cabbage and the beet greens. I may make something and put it in the freezer. Any suggestions?