Archive | May, 2010

Does your kitchen have “LL”?

27 May
One time when my parents were here for a visit, my dad said, "Uh, Tam…you know it's time to clean the crisper drawer when you have LL." I said, "What's LL?" He replied, with a grin on his face, "Liquid Lettuce." He then held up a bag from the back of the bottom crisper drawer. It originally contained pre-cut romaine lettuce. It had liquified. Gross.
I'm sure I'm not the only one who doesn't dig to the bottom of the refrigerator crisper drawer regularly, only to discover a few weeks later a forgotten box of mushrooms or bag of fresh parsley. Am I?

I do have to say, though, that ever since that incident, I've tried to stay on top of it a little better. I do occasionally discover something slightly past its prime, but you won't find LL in my fridge anymore.
The best part of regularly investigating your produce supply is that you can pull together amazing salads while your veggies are still fresh. Last night's dinner salad included all kinds of things that needed to be eaten before they perished! My hubby even commented, "this salad is delicious." In fact, it would be beautiful as a summer picnic salad. It had green leaf lettuce, baby spinach leaves, shredded carrots, green onions, celery (for my blood pressure!), sliced strawberries and toasted pecans from the pantry. I drizzled mine with a balsamic vinaigrette. Jason and the kids had poppy seed dressing.
I served it alongside grilled sesame tilapia for Jason and the kids, grilled Gardein filets for me, and baked potatoes. If you haven't tried the Gardein "chicken" breast filets yet, they are worth a try. Not only are they made from healthy organic ingredients, they're the most chicken-like chicken substitute I've had so far. The look and texture is exactly like chicken. The taste is very good, although I've discovered that marinating them makes them really good. The first time I cooked them, I pulled them out of the package, tossed them on the grill, and then brushed them with BBQ sauce in the same way I cooked real chicken for everyone else. They were not as good as I'd hoped. Yesterday, I pulled them out of the package and put them in a plastic container and smothered them in the sesame sauce I was using for the tilapia. They were in the marinade sauce for a few hours. Then I continued to brush them with sauce while grilling. When I pulled them off the grill, I gave them one last drizzle of sauce. They were fantastic.
So the next time you're digging through the fridge, start mixing and matching and see what you can create. Most likely, you'll be pleasantly surprised!
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Steal this for your weekend barbecue.

26 May

With Memorial Day right around the corner, it’s time to think summer food! And this tasty little salad is a nice addition to any summer barbecue.

The base of the salad is celery, which has been linked to controlling high blood pressure. Not only does celery contain potassium, but it also contains phthalide (3nb). Phthalide is a compound that reduces the production of stress hormones, thus relaxing blood vessels and allowing blood to flow easier. One study showed that consuming 4 stalks of celery a day for a week could return high blood pressure (160/100) to a normal range (ending reading was 118/82)!

Last December, before I went vegan, I tried to eat 4 stalks of celery every day. I’ll admit, it’s not easy. I love celery but I need to dip it in something and, after a while, it starts to get boring. Although I didn’t see the drastic results shown in the study mentioned above, I do think it was helping. And this salad is a good way to enjoy celery!

This originated as a magazine recipe, but I’ve veganized it and made it my own. If you aren’t vegan, feel free to use regular mayo in the dressing.

 

 

SUMMER CELERY SALAD
makes 8 servings (1/2 cup each)

2-1/4 cups sliced celery
1 cup frozen green peas, thawed
1 cup dried cherries or cranberries
1/2 cup minced fresh parsley
1/4 cup chopped pecans, toasted
2 tablespoons red onion, minced
1/2 cup Vegenaise
1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
2 teaspoons fresh lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon salt substitute
1/4 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper

In a large bowl, toss together celery, peas, dried fruit, parsley, pecans and onion. In a small bowl, whisk together Vegenaise, orange juice, lemon zest, salt substitute and pepper. Drizzle over salad and toss to coat. Taste and adjust seasonings. Add more Vegenaise if needed. Chill before serving. Enjoy!

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Today’s sack lunches frighten me!

23 May

On Friday, I had the pleasure of spending the day with my little guy on his kindergarten field trip to the Imagination Station, located in downtown Toledo. What a cool place to learn "scientific" stuff while having a great time together. I don't think he stopped smiling the whole time. I didn't either, until we sat down for lunch. It's great to learn science and how chemicals work together — but not when we're talking about a child's meal.

Each child was asked to bring a sack lunch with them and we all dined together in the main gathering area for school field trips. I can't remember the last time I saw that much "garbage" in one room. Pudding cups, Jell-o cups, candy, soda, prepackaged "foods," fruit drinks, cookies, fruit roll-ups and Lunchables. 

LUNCHABLES! No offense to any of my friends who may use these out of convenience, but seriously? Do parents really believe these are healthy? Are they fooled by the marketing of the big companies, who use words like "wholesome" to refer to a package full of chemicals? Do they not take the time to read the ingredients of the junk they are putting in their kids' bodies? Or are parents today just too busy to take 10 minutes to pack a nutritious lunch?
The little girl sitting across from me emptied her lunch bag and I almost cried. A chocolate-covered "granola" bar, chocolate pudding cup, orange Jell-o cup, four Saltine crackers and a Capri Sun fruit drink. Every single item in her lunch contained sugar or high fructose corn syrup, even the crackers. She basically ate sugar for lunch.
And people wonder why today's kids can't sit still or concentrate in school.
I don't know a single parent who doesn't want the best for their child. I don't know a single parent who doesn't want their child to be smart, healthy and strong. So I can't understand the reasoning behind feeding a child junk food every single day. 
Let me mention just a few statistics on the health of American kids right now.
~ Childhood obesity rates have more than tripled since 1980. 
~ 30% of kids today eat fast food every single day of their lives.
~ The majority of salt consumed by kids comes in the form of packaged, processed foods and fast foods.
~ Kids who eat a high-sodium diet can end up with childhood hypertension!
~ Hypertension can lead to kidney failure, stroke, heart attack and more.
~ Experts recommend that kids consume no more than 2,000 milligrams of sodium a day.
~ The average Lunchables has about 800 mg of sodium, with some well over 1,000 mg!
I understand that parents today lead busy lives. I'm one of them. But I can't imagine not taking a few minutes in the morning to pack a lunch. Honestly, I can pack two kids lunches in less than 10 minutes. Buy the right packaged foods and it's a breeze. Start with a 100% juice box or bottled water. Toss in a Kashi granola bar, a Ziploc bag of Sun Chips or pretzels, a piece of fruit (apple, banana, orange or handful of grapes), and a sandwich. Simply Jif + All Fruit jelly + whole wheat bread = a perfect sandwich full of nutrition. The other thing they like is Hormel Natural Choice lunchmeat + a cheddar cheese slice (NOT the kind individually wrapped in plastic!) + mayo and lettuce on a whole wheat hamburger bun = sub sandwich.
Here are some other smart lunchbox options:
yogurt (not the kind in a crush cup or squeeze tube that's packed with high fructose corn syrup and food dyes)
all-natural applesauce cup
mandarin oranges packed in juice in individual cups
cheese sticks / string cheese
bagel with cream cheese
whole wheat crackers with a little tub of peanut butter
whole wheat crackers with sliced cheese
homemade trail mix – pretzels, dry cereal, raisins, peanuts and chocolate chips in a Ziploc
fruit "roll-ups" made with 100% fruit (in the health food section of your grocery store)
I'll admit I don't pack every single day. Madison and Brady buy the hot school lunch once, sometimes twice, a week. It's usually on tomato soup and grilled cheese day, macaroni and cheese day, or pizza day. These meals are full of sodium and fake cheese, but they always choose fresh fruit if offered, they generally eat the vegetable offered, and they get a container of milk. I'm okay with this because I know that the other 5 or 6 days of the week, they're eating real food that is good for their bodies.
Children don't always know how to eat right so it's up to parents to show them that making smart food choices is important. And it can be fun! If you decide that you absolutely don't have the time to pack for them, take a Sunday afternoon to teach them how to do it themselves. All you have to do is shop smart. By buying healthier versions of the things they like, you're giving them everything they need to pack their own nutritious lunch. And you're giving them the tools to grow into smart, healthy adults.

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Five thumbs up!

18 May

I'm on a mission to find the ultimate veggie burger before summer grilling season is here in full swing. I like all kinds of veggie burgers, but I want one I can put on the grill and I want it to give me the same satisfaction as a big, juicy burger. The packaged veggie burgers in the grocery store are over-processed and loaded with sodium…and definitely unappealing in looks and texture!

Last night I made Pecan & Mushroom Burgers from Eating Well magazine. Though they were not grillable (I tried) and they do not mimic the taste of a beef burger, these were outstanding! Very moist, flavorful and really good for the blood pressure. Each burger has 241 mg of potassium and just 282 mg of sodium. 
We put them on kaiser rolls and piled them with all the traditional burger toppings. The kids raved about them. Seriously — how awesome is it when your 5 year old says, "Mom, I LOVE this cheeseburger…especially with the lettuce on it!" Makes me happy.
I served them with (vegan) buttered noodles and fresh strawberries and raspberries on the side. The meal got 5 thumbs up and I dined with smiling faces. 
By the way, the actual recipe calls for one egg, which makes them vegetarian but not vegan. I debated trying to make them with egg replacer, but decided that one egg in a recipe that makes 8 burgers was not worth making a big deal out of. Especially since I used an egg from the dozen we bought at the local farm where the chickens live happy lives.
No, these aren't the ultimate replacement for a beef burger on the grill. But they make for a delicious vegetarian meal. I'm sure this is one we'll make again. You can find the recipe here: http://www.eatingwell.com/recipes/pecan_mushroom_burgers.html
Enjoy!
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Girl Scout camp meals a success…sort of…

16 May

A few weeks ago, I spent a day at Cub Scout camp with Brady. The food was quite a challenge for me as a vegan. And, there was no fresh fruit available at any of the meals. I struggled through the meals and came home hungry.

Yesterday, I spent a jam-packed day at Girl Scout camp with Madison. Though the food wasn't ideal for a vegan, I had a much better experience coming up with something than at the Cub Scout camp. And this time, I went prepared! I packed a small bag of peanuts, a bag of Triscuits, two apples, and two slices of vegan cheese in my backpack. I just wanted to make sure I had protein and a snack in case there was absolutely nothing I could eat.
Lunch was pizza — big, fat, thick-crusted, pizza oozing with cheese. Obviously, I skipped that. They also had butter and cheese covered breadsticks with pizza sauce to dip in. Next on the buffet was a "salad bar" (and I use that term lightly). Iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, Bac-Os (see note below), shredded cheese and croutons. Dessert was a lemon bar cookie. I skipped the pizza and breadsticks, but piled my tray-plate with a huge heap of lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and croutons. As an afterthought, I decided to grab a container of the pizza sauce to dip my Triscuits in. I picked up a few packets of Italian dressing and headed back to the table.
I sprinkled the top of my salad with some of the peanuts I had brought from home and got out my bag of Triscuits to dunk in the pizza sauce. For dessert, I spread a little container of jelly onto two of the Triscuits and ate those with one of the apples from home. Not my ideal lunch, but — all in all, it was a satisfying meal and no animals were harmed in the process.
Dinner was just a little better — broiled chicken, mashed potatoes swimming in butter, steamed vegetables not swimming in butter (yay!), another "salad bar," dinner rolls, and some type of cake for dessert. The salad bar was the same as the lunch one except they also added sliced mushrooms, which I was so happy for! I made another big salad, and took a generous pile of steamed veggies, a roll and French dressing. 
They offered fresh fruit at both meals, but nothing was very ripe. I selected a pear to have with dinner, but it was too hard so I brought it home. I wish I had remembered the vegan cheese slices I packed. They would have been really good on the salad. I totally forgot about them until I unpacked my backpack at home.
The only drink offered at Cub Scout camp was a fruit punch drink or water. At Girl Scout camp, they had the full Coke product machines along with lemonade, iced tea, four kinds of 100% juice, milk, chocolate milk, chocolate soymilk, coffee and hot tea.
Even though I was better prepared this time, I have to say that the Girl Scouts outdid the Boy Scouts.
Note: Believe it or not, Bac-Os are vegan. They contain no animal products of any kind. They are basically soy sauce and tofu. One might think this was good news…until one reads the ingredient list. Defatted soy flour, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, water, salt, sugar, artificial and natural flavor, red 40 and other color added, soy sauce (water, wheat, soybeans, salt), hydrolyzed vegetable protein (corn, soy wheat). 

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It’s a good day for a cup of hot cocoa.

13 May
I'm getting closer to normal blood pressure, but I can't seem to get there. I'm doing everything I'm supposed to be doing, following all the recommendations I've been given, except for the "lose weight" part. Research shows that losing just 5 to 10 percent of your current weight can bring blood pressure down. Losing 5 to 10 percent of my weight shouldn't be that hard. 

I've been vegan for 4 months now. I haven't eaten a single bite of meat, milk, cheese, or eggs in 4 months. I haven't lost a single pound. I weigh the same as I did in January. Oy.

So I've been giving some thought to the "why" of this situation. 
I've been living quite happily on veggies, fruits, beans and grains. I'm making really healthy food choices. But, I haven't been paying attention to what I've been eating — from a calorie standpoint. And we all know that the only way to lose weight is to eat less calories than you burn. 
A few months after my second child was born in 2001, Jason and I decided to follow the Weight Watchers program. We both had weight to lose. We didn't go to meetings or anything, but we had a copy of the Points book and we followed it religiously, writing down everything we ate. And we walked. We packed the kids up in the double stroller and walked at least a half hour a day.
We both lost 30 pounds in 6 months (I weighed 10 pounds less than at my wedding!) and we kept it off until baby #3. 
I still have my WW Points guide book, so I decided last week to track what I was eating for a week just to see where I was at. I scrounged up a small notebook and started writing down what I ate. Though I wasn't eating much over my Points limit, I was eating more than I should for weight loss. It was usually the bedtime snack that was pushing me over on the Points.
Four days ago, I started eating within my Points range. Hopefully, I'll see a lower number on the scale when I weigh in on Saturday morning. I'm eating even more veggies at dinner so I'm not hungry in the evening. Usually, I just have a nice cup of hot cocoa before bed. It's vegan, homemade, and only 1 Point per cup (about 40 calories). It's the perfect ending to the day.
Or, it's a great start to a rainy, dreary day like today!
HOT COCOA
makes 1 serving
1 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk
5-6 drops liquid stevia (slightly less than 1/8 teaspoon)
1 slightly heaped tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
Heat almond milk in small pan over medium heat, or in the microwave. Stir in stevia and cocoa powder. Whisk rapidly until frothy and well blended. Enjoy!

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I’m freaking out.

11 May

Totally freaking out. Me. The one who reads every food label and doesn't buy anything I'm not sure of is freaking out because I didn't do my research on a new product.

I have been using stevia extract forever. Like 10 years or something. Love it. If you don't know what stevia is, it's a plant native to South America. The extract of its leaves is about 300 times sweeter than sugar. It has zero calories, zero carbs and a zero glycemic index rating. Not only is this good for those trying to lose weight without artificial sweeteners, research shows that stevia may be beneficial in treating high blood pressure. I've researched it well.
I use stevia extract primarily to sweeten drinks, sometimes oatmeal and occasionally in a salad dressing. The only thing I haven't liked it in is coffee. For some reason, when stirred into coffee, it turns really bitter. 
And then PureVia and Truvia hit the market. I was so excited to see that someone finally realized how wonderful stevia is as a natural, no-calorie sweetener. I tried both brands and discovered that Truvia doesn't turn bitter in coffee. I celebrated. I've been using it in my coffee, oatmeal and recipes since about the first of this year. 
Today, Whole Foods posted an article on their website talking about the benefits of stevia. (Whole Foods does not sell any items in their stores that contain artificial sweeteners such as Splenda/sucralose and NutraSweet/aspartame.) I read the article and the reader comments below the article. 
Someone posted that Truvia is not really stevia. The "rebiana" ingredient is a trade name for some chemically-extracted portion of the stevia plant. It does not come from nature. AND — this commenter said that the main ingredient, erythritol, is made from genetically-modified corn from agri-business giant, Cargill. I started freaking out.
Then I started searching and reading online. They were right! Erythritol comes from corn and thirty percent of Cargill's corn is GMO. I read over and over again about the side effects people had experienced with Truvia. Things like weight gain, headaches, grogginess and worse. And it contains nothing that would be a benefit to those with hypertension.
I'm disappointed. And I'm angry that I've been using Truvia for months and I have only myself to blame. I should have known better. 
I'm still a huge supporter of natural stevia extract. I will continue to use it as I have been and will switch back to regular sugar in my coffee. If you're looking for a natural, calorie-free sweetener not made with chemicals, pure stevia extract is the one to try. You only need a drop. It's available online, in health food stores and in the natural foods section of grocery stores. 
And the moral of the story? Know where your food is coming from and don't buy anything with ingredients that you haven't fully checked out. 
Yep. Still freaking out.

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