Archive | January, 2011

P & Q…and laughter!

31 Jan

This is a term that my children have come to know well.  P & Q means peace and quiet.  It is something that if I don’t take for myself, it ain’t happinin!   When my children were young, I used to set 30 minutes on the microwave timer after announcing that mommy was taking some P & Q.  I would usually sit on the couch and read the paper.  My children would wander into the kitchen, look at the timer, and silently retreat until my 30 minutes were up.  Then chaos would once again take its rightful place in my home when the timer went off.  But thats okay, I had recharged a bit.  My children are older, but I still need that time.   And I still take it.

I had a great weekend, and part of that is attributed to the fact that I had some P & Q.  Sure I could have been doing laundry, grocery shopping, scrubbing the hardwood floors, and a million other things, but I resisted the urge and took a little time for myself.  My week is crammed with obligations.  Work, university classes, and children add up!  Then there is my home.  Running a household takes skill, time, and balance.  It is the ultimate management challenge!   And there is always something to do.  When one task is finished, another one is right around the corner.  Sometimes it is just time to take a break.  That is when we must heed the wise words of humorist and author Erma Bombeck who stated:  “Housework can kill you if done right”. Amen sister!

P & Q is one thing, and laughter is another must in any household.  Sometimes it takes laughing at ourselves to change a moment from bad to good.   And of course I can easily admit that I am my own biggest fan.  I laugh at myself all the time.  I love having music on in the house, and enjoy singing along.  I am dreadfully off key and tone deaf.  Sometimes when I get the words all wrong too.  But sing I must, and that usually produces some laughter from either myself or my children.

Then there are times when I argue with myself in my own head.  This seems to happen in the checkout lane when I am weighing the pro’s and con’s of buying that candy bar to eat it on the way home from the store.  I start an argument with myself.  In my head.  With nonverbal running commentary.  Now being that I am a hand talker, a shoulder shrugger, and a head bobber when speaking,  even when talking to myself, I must look ridiculous in that checkout lane.  When I realize that I am having a conversation in my head with full use of my hand and body gestures, I laugh at myself.   And my children laugh at me too.  Thank is just fine with me, because laughter is beneficial to balance and wellness.

So forget the housework for a while.  Take some P & Q.  Then think happy thoughts.  Laugh.  Its good for the soul!

Fantastic Fajitas!

27 Jan

Friday is for fajitas!  Not really.  My fajitas are so easy, they can be made any night of the week!  Fajitas are easy, nutritious and delicious, and there are a couple of shortcuts to cut your time in the kitchen.  So pour a glass of wine, get the family working on a jigsaw puzzle, and get to it.

Fajitas are made with onions and bell peppers.  Bell peppers are amazingly nutritious.  Nutrition experts encourage variety in our diet.  That includes variety in colors.  Thats right…the color in food is beneficial.  The pigment in foods do not have “nutritive” value, but they are valuable to our body in other ways.  Bell peppers have loads of reasons to eat them.  Fajitas are a great way to get the benefits of this great food!

Those of us that were raised in or currently live in a part of the country that gets regular snow is familiar with rust on vehicles from the salt on the roads.  There is also rust by the ocean because of the salt.  Rust is damaging.  It  corrodes  metal.  That happens in our bodies too.  There are elements that cause “corrosion” like rust, on and in our bodies.  The good news is that certain foods that contain antioxidants can help reduce this damage.

Antioxidants in food reduce the damage of elements that cause corrosion on and in the body.  It is important to eat foods that contain antioxidants to reduce damage to our body.  Antioxidants have been linked to disease prevention and boosts the immune system.  Bell peppers contain antioxidants and have loads of vitamins including more vitamin C than oranges!  So get some bell peppers and start cooking!

It is easy to make nutritious fajitas because there are shortcuts.  Frozen vegetables are a good option to use for making easy fajitas.  Many grocers have frozen bell peppers that come in bags and are already cut.  I buy a brand of multicolored peppers that contain no additives.  I season a flank steak with salt, pepper, and cumin.  Then I toss it on the grill.  When it is done, I cover it, bring it back into the kitchen, and let it rest for a good 10 minutes.  While that rests, I slice a couple of onions.  I get my big black cast iron skillet out, put a little oil in it, and start caramelizing my onions.  Then I toss the frozen peppers in to start cooking.  I thinly slice the flank steak and toss it in the pan just to heat through.  I add a packet of fajita seasoning mix to really make it easy.  I finish by squeezing a lime over the fajitas.

Fajitas are made with peppers, onions, and a protein.  I use flank steak, but chicken and tofu also work well.  So does seafood.  Cook it up and toss it onto tortillas.  Balance the meal with some brown rice mixed with salsa and chopped tomatoes.  This is a dish that allows creativity.  Go for it and have fun.  Start enjoying the benefits and immune boosting power of the antioxidants!


Sugar High

24 Jan

3 Kinds of Sugar

We have all said it.  Walking into any children’s post birthday extravaganza elicits a comment from a parent that goes something like this: “Nothing like a sugar high!” when noticing that the pint sized party guests bouncing off the walls.  Why do we say this so casually?  Some experts put the refined sugar consumption of the average American at a whopping 150 pounds a year!  Can we really afford to be casual about sugar consumption when numbers like that are out there?  I think not.

Being “high” or “buzzed” is never referred to in a positive light, and usually refers to illegal drugs or over consumption.  But when referring to refined sugar, talking about a sugar high or sugar buzz seems to be part of the vernacular these days that seems very unthreatening.  But then consider the obesity rate in this country is hovering at 60%, suddenly sugar over consumption, which contributes to obesity, seems a little more dangerous.  As parents and consumers, however, we sometimes treat the refined sugar in our diet casually.  It might even be accurate to say that we ignore it.  Maybe we need to pay a little more attention to it.

Sugar is hidden in our food in places that we don’t think to look.  Refined sugar, many experts contend, is chemically not needed by our body or something that our ancestors had in their diet.  (Natural sugar is important in moderation, but refined and processed is not).  Our ancestors got their sugar naturally from things like fruit and honey.  Refined sugar, once processed and “discovered”, was first considered a luxury, certainly not a necessity.  Our society has taken this luxury to new heights so that it is no longer considered a luxury.  It has turned into a dangerous hidden additive in our processed food.  How do we figure out where the sugar is?  Well, its time to start looking at the food labeling.  Recognize sugar by its many names.

Some names for processed sugar:

  • Brown sugar
  • powdered or confectioners sugar
  • white sugar
  • High fructose corn syrup or HFCS
  • Turbinado sugar
  • corn syrup
  • refined sugar
  • honey
  • syrup

In labeling, if an ingredient ends in “ose” it is a sugar.  Ingredients are listed on processed foods in order of weight.  So if your first three ingredients listed are, for example, HFCS, fructose, and sugar, that means that by weight, there are 3 forms of refined sugar in that product that may outweigh the other ingredients listed.  Thats a lot of sugar hidden in that food.

Sugar can be listed in grams on the labeling.  You can easily convert grams to teaspoons of sugar by knowing that approximately 5 grams of sugar is equal to 1 teaspoon of sugar.  Now lets look at some food nutritional labeling.

Cereal bar: 11 grams sugar/serving size: 1 bar.  This is equal to more than 2 t. of sugar.

Reduced fat granola bar: 7 grams sugar/serving size: 1 bar. This is 1 1/2 t. of sugar.

Snack crackers: 1 gram sugar/serving size: 10 crackers.  5 servings would equal 1 teaspoon of sugar.

Vanilla wafer cookies: 11 grams sugar/serving size: 8 cookies. This is over 2 teaspoons of sugar.

Cola: 39 grams sugar/serving size: 12 ounce can. 8 teaspoons of sugar per can.

Raisin Bran: 19 grams sugar/serving size: 1 cup.  A cereal bowl can easily hold a 2 cup serving.  This amounts to nearly 4 teaspoons of sugar.  Add milk with 11 grams of sugar per 1 cup (8 ounces), and that is 60 grams of sugar in a 2 cup serving of a “healthy” breakfast.  That is over 12 teaspoons of sugar.

Shocking, isn’t it?  It adds up quickly, all of this hidden sugar!  Considering that a recommended daily sugar intake is 40g for every 2000 calories consumed, it is very easy to hit this limit quickly, especially with “hidden” sugar.  Eating that bowl of raisin bran first thing in the morning exceeds this recommendation. Who would have thought that you could exceed your sugar intake before 8 a.m. with a bowl of breakfast cereal!

Wellness is a delicate balance.  It takes effort to balance food properly and get the right amount of daily nutrients with our intake.  A little education and awareness can arm us with the tools that we need to achieve good nutrition.  It is well worth it!  Small simple changes can make a big difference in improving daily nutrition.  Take a baby step and start looking at sugar.  Awareness is a critical first step toward making a positive change.  Go ahead!  You can do it!

Jump in!

21 Jan

Fish, to taste right, must swim three times – in water, in butter and in wine. —–Polish proverb

Love that!  But then again, I love fish (and wine…and butter!).  Fish can be a mystery to cook.  My mother, as I have mentioned before, is an amazing cook.  She loves having shrimp cocktail, grilled tuna, and baked tilapia when she is visiting my family.   I was stunned a couple of years ago when I casually asked advice about cooking some sort of fish.  “I have never cooked fish before” she said.  That left me speechless.  I guess my childhood really was just meat and potatoes!  Yummy and delicious, but no fish in my mom’s kitchen.

I ate fish when I was growing up.  When I was a kid, we would go to the Friday Night Fish Fry at our local VFW hall, a favorite night out for the whole family.  There was also our local steak and burger joint, which had fabulous fish and chips.  So I guess I mean to say I had fried fish growing up…and always out.  So how did I develop not only an interest in eating fish, but also preparing it?  I guess I tipped my toe in the pond..then I jumped in!

Fish is healthy to eat.  Especially a fish like salmon, rich in omega-3 fatty acids.  Being a person that feels passionate about wellness, I wanted to prepare a variety of foods in my home.  After all, variety is so important to wellness.  I began not only going to cooking classes, but asking questions, reading cookbooks, and watching cooking shows about fish.  And I cooked!  Here a a couple of tips that I learned (the hard way).

White fish, such as tilapia, can be baked or grilled.  Tilapia often goes on sale at my local grocer, so I can make it for the whole family without blowing my budget.  Tilapia, like other white fish, has a delicate taste.  It does not need a lot of seasoning.  I usually use similar seasonings whether grilling or baking this fish.  I sprinkle the fish with salt, pepper, lemon juice, bread crumbs (I like panko), and a drizzle of melted butter or olive oil.  That is it.  Simple and easy.  It can go on the grill or into a 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes.

Tuna steak can be marinated.  I usually make a marinade using 1 cup of olive oil, juice and zest from 1 lemon, freshly minced garlic clove, 1-2 T. basil, salt, and a bit of apple cider vinegar and wine.  Adjust to taste and let the tuna marinate for about 20 minutes. No longer because the fish will start “cooking” (think Ceviche). Toss it on the grill for about 3-4 minutes per side.  Delish!

I have had salmon poached in saki, and that is amazing.  I have poached fish in many liquids, but saki is my all time favorite.  Poaching fish can add lots of flavor to fish.  Pick your liquid.  Fish can be poached in wine or broth.  And cook time is pretty quick, usually about 20 minutes.  The salmon does not have to be totally immersed in the liquid, but it should cover most of the fish.  The poaching liquid can be seasoned as you please.  I have used salt, pepper, and a variety of seasonings, including parsley, rosemary, and dill, to season the poaching liquid.  Put the fish in the pot, add your liquid, bring to a simmer for about 20 minutes, and enjoy!

And then there is the “faux” fish dinner.  Tuna casserole.  There are millions of recipes for that.  Find one that sounds tasty and go for it.  Search the internet.  Pick up an old church cookbook.  You can find a great recipe that suits you.  My kids, believe it or not, love tuna noodle casserole.  Some people cringe at this, but we just eat this up at my house.  I had to try a couple of recipes before I hit on a winner, so keep trying till you find one that your family loves.

My mother has started cooking fish.  I am so proud of her for going out of her comfort zone (she is fabulous, funny, and in her 70’s).  She even tried sushi.  She did not like it, but like I said, she is a sport and went for it.  She rocks!

Go for it.  Reach for variety of fish and get meat out of some of your meals as the main protein.  And let the fish swim 3 times…or just use one of my recipes and enjoy!

Meatball Madness!

20 Jan

Okay, so I cheated tonight! Dinner was a breeze, and I don’t feel even the tiniest bit guilty. There. I said it. I made meatball sandwiches loaded with cheese. I made the sauce from scratch, tossed in frozen meatballs and heated that through. Frozen Trader Joe’s potato wedges went into the oven. I took out hogie rolls and sliced up some mozzarella cheese. Opened up a can of pears. Made the sandwiches, put sliced cheese on them, and tossed them under the broiler. I didn’t even have to call my children for dinner. They followed their nose. Yum!

I am a foodie. A foodie is often described as a person that talks about what to have/make for the next meal while eating a prior meal. That would be me. I don’t stop at that though. I look at plates, platters and bowls with visions of food on them, who I will be sharing that food with, and the occasion that it should be served. I can talk about food until my children’s or friend’s eyes roll back into their head. I am that passionate about it, and sometimes I forget that others are not. I have gotten better though, and can now catch myself before I bore everyone silly with my food talk!

Some people break out in a cold sweat at the thought of what to make for a meal, especially of guests will be present. Not me! That is when I am in my glory. My ideal day would begin with a trip to the Farmers Market to shop for fresh food and chat with the locals. Then it would be off to the grocery to complete the food shopping. Finally, I would arrive at home to begin planning my dishes and preparing my food. Ina Garten has the ideal life! She cooks and hangs out with friends in her garden, on the beach, and in her glorious house. Now that’s living!

Now back to my cheater dinner. Some of my dinners are from scratch, healthy, and very well balanced. In fact, most of my dinners would fall into that category. And some nights its meatball subs, fries, and canned pears. Wellness is all about balance. And moderation. Its good for mental well being to spend a little less time preparing food some days, even for foodies. Sometimes playing a game of Sorry with my children wins out over spending time cooking dinner. So toss something frozen in for dinner, sit down at the table, play a game, and balance food and fun!

Grilling Greatness!

18 Jan

I have been living without a grill.  Only for a couple of months, but that has been enough time to make me miss it!  I just had to go out this past weekend and get a new one.  I love to grill.  But many folks think that grilling is a guy thing. A testosterone infused event.  I beg to differ!

Girls can grill.  I have no problem rolling my gas grill out of the screen porch to my grilling perch.  Starting the grill.  Managing the temperature.  Oiling the grates.  Then tossing all sorts of goodies on the grill.

Everyone has their own grilling philosophies.  My brother tells me that grilling in a flannel shirt is essential.  My friend said that I have to drink a beer while grilling.  And then the technique advice comes rolling in at full force.  Dry rubs, wet marinades.  Turn the meat only once.  Start meat cold.  Start meat at room temperature.  Its all good, but I think everyone likes to develop their own techniques.

Dry rubs are good for certain types of meats.  My children are fans of the beer can chicken.  For those of you that have not yet become fans, try it!  Turn half the grill on.  Close the lid and let that grill heat up.  Take a whole chicken and rub it with some good olive oil.  Then pat it down with your favorite seasonings.  Inside and out.  Go under the skin too!  And don’t forget to salt and pepper it.  Stand that bird up, slip it onto an open beer can, wrap the tips of the legs that rest on the grill in tin foil, and get it on the grill standing up nice and proud!  Put the chicken on the opposite side of the fire, and let it cook.  Indirect heat is the key here.  Let it cook for about an hour or so.  Take it off the grill, slip it off the beer can, and eat!  Yum!

My favorite dry rub is one that I  make myself.  You can adjust the seasonings to taste, but I start with combining approximately:

  • 1 T. Oregano
  • 1 T. Basil
  • 1 T.  Parsley
  • 1 T. Rosemary
  • 1/2 T. Thyme
  • Salt and pepper

This is so savory on chicken.  Start with these dried spices, and then add your own touch.  I usually cook 2 chickens at a time so there are plenty of leftovers.  Grilling is not just for the guys to enjoy.  So go grab your favorite flannel shirt, a beer, and get grilling girl!



17 Jan

Failure.  It is a scary word with negative implications.  Failure can be defined as:  “An event that does not accomplish its intended purpose”.  Well now that does not seem too awful, does it?  Progress can certainly be made even when not accomplishing an intended purpose.  Sometimes a new purpose can emerge.  The word failure is more daunting than its definition.

I have failed.  Many times.  We all have.  But failing does not make you a failure. If you haven’t failed, you haven’t taken any risks.  So take risks, because if you are taking risks, you are succeeding.  Failure has come in big ways and small ways in my life.  But I try not to let it stop me from trying again, and again, and again.

There have been times when I have had a simple failure, like a recipe has flopped.  I have lost good ingredients, time, and been disappointed by making bad food.  I get mad at myself even for something like a small failure.  Then I come around the bend and put things into perspective.  If a recipe flops, it would only happen once.  The next time I try that recipe, or another recipe, the lessons I learned by having that recipe flop will help me succeed the next time.  So how is that a failure?  Learning something is always a success.  The experience of making a recipe well as well as having one go wrong both make me a better cook and increase my understanding of the culinary arts.  Either way victory is mine!

I have also failed big.  When I was first out of college, I had a great job.  I had a good position with a national company.  I got a little too caught up in office politics.  I listened to the wrong people in the office.  I, at times, did not let good business acumen dictate my behavior.  It did not end well.  I got fired.  But I have only been fired once!  That “failure” was a huge life lesson for me.  One I have never forgotten!  That experience not only helped drive my behavior and business ethics in a positive way, I have had more patience and understanding when I see coworkers getting caught in that web that I once found myself in.  It can be easy to get caught up in office drama.  But now I know when to back away and stay out of that hornets nest!

Failure, whether real or perceived,  can produce many reactions.  Fear, doubt, and depression to name a few.  We need to shake free of that, because failing can lead to success.  In other words, failure can, and should, drive us toward feeling empowerment, a step forward.  It may not be immediate though.  Sometimes success takes time to grow out of a mistake or failure.  So failure can also produce the opportunity to learn patience.  Wow!  Fantastic things can come from “failure”!  So lets not fear it.  Take it for what it is.  It is an opportunity.  Success.  Confidence.  So go take the risk!  You can’t fail!

Pass the gravy!

13 Jan

I grew up in the Midwest.  Winter was a time for comfort food.  Pancakes dripping with maple syrup for breakfast, hot sandwiches loaded with melted cheese for lunch, and huge roasts for dinner.  My  mom was, and still is, the stereotypical “50’s” cook.  Meat and potatoes all the way!  A typical winter supper consisted of a roast, mashed potatoes, and corn on a plate swimming in gravy!  Lets face it, gravy made the meal.  Making good gravy was a skill best learned from granny, and a great source of pride when it was smooth and creamy.  It is a skill that I myself have mastered under the guidance of my mother.  I take great pride in my gravy.  Good gravy is quite heavenly.  To quote one of my favorite humorists:

“I come from a family where gravy is considered a beverage”. –Erma Bombeck

That is the family that I come from too.  When gravy was on the supper table, and it often was in the winter, there was a stack of white bread on a plate next to it.  Gravy was ladled on the meat and potatoes, and when that was gone, we would sop up our leftover gravy with white bread.  Gravy Bread was a lone food group that was dearly loved in my childhood home, in no small part because of my moms outstanding gravy.  Rich, beefy, and salty.  Perfectly juxtaposed to the sweet white bread. Not exactly a health food though!

I still love roasts and gravy, but that is not a staple in my household these days.  I like to make pork chops with apple gravy as a good comfort food.  Try it!  Here is my secret recipe:

Pork Chops and Apple Gravy

  • 4 pork chops-lightly salt and pepper them before browning.
  • 1 T. margarine
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 1/4 c. chopped yellow onion
  • 2 T apple juice
  • 1 cup plain apple sauce
  • 1/2 c. light sour cream
  • 2 t. flour
  • 2 t. dijon mustard

Heat the olive oil and margarine.  Brown pork chops.  Remove chops to a plate and tent with foil.  Keep the pan on medium heat and add apple juice and chopped onion. Let onion cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring once or twice.  Sprinkle the flour into the pan and add the apple sauce.  Heat for 2 minutes and add dijon mustard.  Stir and let simmer for 2-3 minutes. Add the sour cream and stir until well incorporated.  Put the pork chops back in, cover and simmer over low heat until chops are done, about 15-20 minutes.

This is a very forgiving recipe, and can easily be adjusted to taste.  Add more apple sauce or sour cream if you like, and maybe even some chopped garlic with the onion.  Have fun with this.

I usually serve this with brown rice, and make baked apples as a side dish.  It can also be served over bread or noodles.  Truth be told, if I was serving it to my parents, I would have a stack of white bread on the table!  Have fun with it and serve it with your own flair.  My children request this by name in the wintertime.  It is a comfort food, warm and delicious.  Pass the gravy!

Live, Love, Laugh…especially laugh!

11 Jan

We should never approach our day without a good laugh.  Laughing is an absolute must in my household!  It feels good and it lightens the load.  There are so many ways to bring laughter into the household.  There is the old stand by from my youth, my book entitled  “101 Pickle Jokes”.  But with three teenagers in the house, that doesn’t always work anymore, even when I use my best phony voices and nonsensical accents.  Sometimes I am forced to resort to show tunes and my superior dance skills.  For some reason, singing show tunes usually seems to work.  When I sing “There Ain’t Nothin like a Dame” from South Pacific in my Tony the Tiger voice while dancing up and down the hallway, I always get a reaction.  At times, I even get a chorus line going.  Sometimes though, even if its some eye rolling, the children are laughing inside…aren’t they?  Thinking of my singing brings me to an appropriate quote:

The worst feature of a new baby is its mother’s singing.” –-Kin Hubbard

True for me.  I cannot hold a tune.  Being the product of a mother that sang professionally, I should be able to really belt out a tune.  But genes are a funny thing.  I couldn’t hold a tune even if it was in the palm of my hand!  The upside of this is that I seem to be the only one that doesn’t realize it.  To me, to my ear, I am on key.  Come to think of it, maybe its not me that is tone deaf…maybe it is the rest of my family!  Well, it may be the worst feature of a new baby, but my singing will always produce laughter in my household.

Any whoo, it is very important to have humor in the home for optimum health benefits.  Wellness means a well rounded life style.  Humor is a component of that, and one that we must never let pass!  Studies have shown, time and time again, how important laughter is to well being.  In fact, its healing!  So go ahead, tell a joke, sing some show tunes, and dance to music, even if it is self made (my boys think that the most hilarious form of music comes from their back sides while watching football…but I digress).  Laughter is a must for all families and for wellness.  And please remember the most important thing of all is to laugh at ourselves!  There is nothing wrong with being your own best audience.  If we can’t laugh at ourselves, if we can’t be silly, if we can’t get a good giggle going, then we are not at optimum health.  So go for it!  Laugh!  It feels so good!  It’s contagious, so start something!

Portion (out of!!) control

11 Jan

Now that you are in the kitchen with your family, talk about nutrition.  These discussions need to be done with a little strategy.  Children cannot be barraged with information.  It will sound like lecturing, and the “off” button will be activated in your child’s ears.  Think of your conversations being constructed with bullet points.  Brief.  Light.  Just the highlights.  Discussions such as these can be easily conducted while working on getting a meal to the table.

Here is a starting point.  Portion size discussion is a must.  This country has been “super sized” into expecting huge portions that are not designed for optimum health.  When discussing portion sizes, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  • 1 ounce of meat (protein) is about the size of your thumb.  4 ounces is an appropriate serving.
  • 1 egg or 2 tablespoons of peanut butter is about an ounce.
  • One serving of bread is usually 1 slice.
  • Fruit juice can generally count as 1 fruit serving a day. In other words, 2 glasses of fruit juice isn’t 2 fruit servings.  High quality fruit juice is usually worth the extra expense.
  • A vegetable serving is 4 ounces.  That equals a half cup.

Are these serving sizes surprisingly small?  This briefly illustrates how out of control portion sizes have become.  The expectation has changed in the general public to a “bigger is better” mentality with food.  Portion size is included on the packaging of most food, but consumers fail to use this tool.  Start looking on food packaging for this information and share it with your children.  It is a great habit to get your children into, and a good way to have discussions about portion control.

Nutrition information on packaging also includes the Food Pyramid, which can be a good tool to use as a guideline.  Portion control is important, as is variety and physical activity.  It is important, though, to start with one small step, one small change.  Controlling portion sizes is a great first step!