Thursday, December 31, 2009

Gratitude: A Healthy Emotion

2009 comes to a close in a few short hours and I'm thinking back to my last year and even the last decade. 2010 marks a fresh new decade with opportunity. 10 years ago, on New Year's Eve 1999, I was back in the Bay Area celebrating with my Silicon Valley-minded friends. We all heard about the Y2K claims that the world would shut down because of a glitch in software code. I didn't believe it, but I did wonder "what if?" in the back of my mind. When the lights stayed on and we were still alive, we all cheered. I remember rocking out to Prince singing "I'm going to party like it's 1999!" What a fun moment in time. Now, a decade later, I'm reminded by how much has changed in my life. In the last 10 years, I traveled all around the world, met my husband, and worked hard on my career. I'm grateful that now we're beginning a new chapter in our lives. In June, we decided to move to Indianapolis to simplify our lives to raise our family. The day after I moved, I found out that we were expecting our baby girl. This spring, we will welcome her to our lives and begin to nurture her to become a healthy, strong individual. Our expectations about parenthood are that it will both challenge and reward us in ways not previously possible.

It's with these heavy thoughts in mind, that I realize how eternally grateful I am for my challenges in my life. Let's face it. I've had more than my share of trauma and drama. But, the important part is that here at age 33 and with a partner who supports me more than anyone can, I'm embarking on the next decade with eyes wide open ready to take on more!

I started this blog to share my tips and strategies for healthy living in the real world. One thing that you don't read about in the media about healthy living is how to balance emotional and spiritual well being. Health studies have proven that overweight people are more likely to permanently lose the excess weight when they practice a healthy lifestyle AND attended counseling sessions to heal their mind. Your mental health is healthy for the body! You hear about the mind and body connections all the time. People are stressed out and then, they become sick.

On the final hours of 2009, I'm sitting in my kitchen, cooking soup in my new house that we moved into earlier this week. My husband is here and we're genuinely happy and grateful to share our lives together. I took this photo of our backyard on the first morning we woke up in our new home from the fabulous sun room where we will share many meals with our family and friends.

My wish for you is to have a healthy heart, body, and mind for 2010. Let's keep the journey going...

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Try this Spicy, Healthier Mac and Cheese: Chipotle Mac and Cheese

Ever since this Cooking Light recipe came out in 2004, it's been a favorite in our house ever since! Chipotle Macaroni and Cheese is a healthier version of macaroni and cheese and you can use whole wheat pasta to add more fiber. The smoky chipotle chiles in adobo sauce come in a small can in the Mexican food section of your grocery store. You can freeze the remaining chiles or store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator where they store for months.

This recipe makes 6 servings for an entree portion and you can serve it as a side dish for a dinner party with chicken or pork and stretch it further. I made this for tonight's dinner with steamed green beans. We were happy to have it again since I haven't made it in months. I've made it so many times that I have memorized the recipe. If you have kids you might want to reduce the number of chipotle chilis from 2 to 1.

Chipotle Macaroni and Cheese (serves 6) - photo courtesy Cooking Light

1 (7 1/2-ounce) can chipotle chiles in adobo sauce (ONLY use 1 or 2 chiles)
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup finely chopped onions
1/2 cup chopped green bell peppers
1 clove garlic minced
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 (14 1/2-ounce) can diced tomatoes undrained
4 cupss cooked elbow macaroni 2 cups uncooked
2 cupss shredded cheddar cheese reduced-fat (8 oz)
1 cup 1% cottage cheese
1 cup 2% milk
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 large egg lightly beaten
Cooking spray
3 tablespoons bread crumbs


Preparation:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Remove 1 tsp adobo sauce from can; set aside. Remove 2 chipotle chilies from can; finely chop to measure 1 tbs. Reserve chilies and remaining sauce for another use.
  3. Melt butter in a Dutch Oven over medium-high heat. Add chopped chilies, onion, bell pepper, and garlic; cook 4 minutes or until onion is tender, stirring frequently. Sprinkle with flour; cook 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to medium; add tomatoes. Cook 3 minutes or until thickened. Add reserved 1 tsp adobo sauce, pasta, chedder cheese, cottage cheese, milk, Parmesan, and egg; stir to combine. Spoon pasta mixture into a 2 quart baking dish coated with cooking spray; top with bread crumbs. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes.
Calories: 324; Fat 8.5g; Protein: 34.2g; Carb: 39.6g; Fiber 2g.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

A Must-Read Guide for Women Thinking of Starting a Family in the Future...

Back in 2007, I decided to take my healthy lifestyle up a notch to prep my body for baby. At that point, I didn't know exactly when we were going to start a family, but I thought it would be best to take advantage of the time to get my body in shape to grow a healthy human. By the time you're in your 30's so many of your friends have had babies or in the process of it so you hear all the things they're going through when they're pregnant with nutrition, exercise, and the cycles a woman's body goes through to make room for the growing baby. I know a body takes time to adapt and optimize so I thought why not start now. I was already committed to a healthy lifestyle of nutrition and exercise, but I decided to improve further.

I'm 27 weeks pregnant now and enjoying a very smooth and healthy pregnancy. Health professionals say that pregnant women have higher blood pressure/cholesterol/or blood glucose and swelling. I haven't had any of these conditions. I truly believe that my preparations made all the difference. The recommendations that physicians make to pregnant woman are not too far from a non-pregnant woman, except for the part about alcohol. I really do miss wine right now!

There are 4 physical phases for a woman to consider as you plan to bring a child into this world that effect your body. If your body is strong and healthy, you can help ensure a healthier experience for you and baby!
  • Fertility & Conception - lifestyle planning can help set the stage for pregnancy achievement for you and your partner. I tracked my fertility signs for over a year before pregnancy, which was empowering to know MY body.
  • Pregnancy - 40 weeks to grow a healthy human and your body goes through massive changes over this period to adapt for life's miracle.
  • Labor & Delivery - The more medical interventions (induction, c-section, etc), the harder the labor and longer time for recovery. Physical fitness conditioning preps you for the labor and delivery.
  • Lactation - your baby's most perfect and nutritionally balanced food is produced by you! And the health benefits are massive for you and baby.
So here are the health overhauls and steps that I took to plan for baby years before my pregnancy.
  • Read your labels: eliminate dangerous fake sweeteners like High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS), Aspartame, and Sucralose from your diet. This is really important and harder to do! Everything from salad dressings, condiments (ketchup), cereal, yogurt, bread, are loaded with fake sweeteners. HFCS is particularly dangerous to your metabolism because it encourages over-eating because your body doesn't feel satiated and over time your body becomes less efficient at processing sugar, which can lead to Type 2 Diabetes. After this process my husband is now on-board, too! Perfect timing because I definitely don't want our baby to be exposed to fake food either! I buy organic versions of yogurt, ketchup, cereal and bread to avoid these dangerous sweetners. Instead, I use all natural sweetners that your body can process like pure Stevia Extract (not Truvia), honey, and sugar in moderation. It turns out my nurse told me in the first visit "no pink, yellow, or blue packets, just sugar is ok." I told her no problem, DONE! Remember, your baby is growing in your body and getting all the nutritients that you are good/bad. Do you want your baby to develop his/her own metabolism with food we are not meant to process naturally?
  • Balanced nutrition and smaller meals. I've learned to eat more fresh produce over the years and spreading my meals in smaller portions throughout the day. Your metabolism needs a variety of high-quality foods found in nature (whole foods and complex grains) to maintain a steady stream of energy throughout the day. Physicians recommend that pregnant women eat smaller meals to avoid nausea and indigestion. To be fair, I have had indigestion, but not nausea. I truly believe this is due to my already healthy nutrition habits.
  • Fitness foundation - aerobic endurance and strength training. Labor and birth are one of the most challenging physical experiences a woman can go through in her life. A strong body going into pregnancy helps immensly because physicians do not advise you to START a NEW fitness program during pregnancy. When I met with my OB/GYN for the first time, she asked me what my fitness routine was and I told her about my heart monitor, spin classes, and strength training workouts. This foundation gave her the comfort to allow me to target a 160 bpm heart rate maximum goal rather than the 140 bpm that many women get. This helps tremendously since pregnant women's hearts are taxed more so your heart rate is much higher than pre-pregnancy. This gave me a better buffer for my prenatal fitness routine. Having strong and balanced muscles from strength training help me carry the extra baby weight without worrying about losing my balance or swelling up. Having a fitness routine helps pregnant women maintain a slow and steady weight gain.
  • Vitamins & Fish Oil: Many pregnant women complain that the prenatal vitamins make them sick. I switched to prenatal vitamins from my pre-pregnancy variety (whole foods multi-vitamin from Dr. Mercola), but continued to take my fish oil. Pregnant and lactating women should take 300 mg of DHA found in fish oil capsules for omega-3 fatty acids. It's recommended for the baby's body and brain development and for the woman's general heart health.
  • Final Step: Pre-pregnancy physical and check-up. Back in April, I went to the doctor for an annual physical exam and blood work. They told me that I'm completely healthy and better than optimal in many cases! I had another physical for work a couple months ago and I know that I have an optimal blood glucose, which means I'm not at risk for gestational diabetes. In 2 weeks I'll go for my routine 3rd trimester blood work to screen for gestational diabetes, but I'm confident there won't be any issues due to my previous scores and healthy lifestyle!
  • Finally all this prep work is great, but listening to your body is key to staying healthy in the moment! I haven't gotten extensively sick during my pregnancy. I may feel run down and the start of a cold coming on, but I take the time to rest and sleep, which helps me bounce back faster! I blogged before about not taking the flu shots during my pregnancy. I haven't worried too much about getting seriously sick because I'm proactively listening to my body's signs of exhaustion to ensure a higher immunity.
I'm sure you can tell from reading this that I have thought endlessly about becoming a mother physically and spiritually (that's a whole other topic)! That's why becoming a mother at 33 feels fantastic! I hope you can join me in the smooth journey!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

'Tis the Season for Tea: Yerba Mate

A couple years ago, I discovered Yerba Mate tea. I love brewing tea in the Fall and Winter seasons and it's fun to try different varieties. I stock wide varieties in the pantry in case I have a craving for chamomile, green tea, or mint and it's great for guests to choose their favorites. Then, I spotted Yerba Mate one day and I was intrigued by smoky flavor and the health advantages like antioxidants, improving digestion, aiding mental clarity, and boosting your natural energy. Maybe that energy comes from the natural caffeine, but I do enjoy the flavor!

Yerba Mate is grown in South America and enjoyed by the people of Argentina, Uraguay, Paraguay, Bolivia, and Brazil.

I buy the Guayaki brand pictured on the right because it's a fair-trade product and it supports the native people to grow and harvest the plant.

To brew, I warm the water in a tea kettle on the stove. I use an average size tea pot and place 2 tea bags at the bottom. Pour the hot water in the tea pot with the bags and brew for 3-5 minutes.

Try it with sweetener (sugar, honey, stevia extract) and even a splash of vanilla soymilk or milk. The smoky flavor is very soothing and rich.

You can buy it in the natural foods section of your local store, Trader Joe's, or Whole Foods.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Been Super Busy! My Healthy Tips for a Crazy Schedule

It's been a month since I've had the chance to blog! I didn't mean to be quiet for so long, but Aaron and I have been so insanely busy that I haven't had time. Remember back in June, we decided to move to Indianapolis? We've been busy looking for a house for the past month. We're not just going to buy "any home" either. We're buying "the" house to raise our family and settle into our new city. Aaron is the king of thorough research so by the time we've been actually looking at the homes, he's already scoped out all of our desires and balanced against our budget. Once we were approved for financing, we went out with our realtor. Then last week, we visited my family and friends in the Bay Area for Thanksgiving and one last trip to CA before the baby is born! This picture with my mom and aunt is from my baby shower that my friends hosted while were were out visiting in CA. While the girls were visiting at the shower, Aaron went golfing with the guys.

During our trip, we negotiated with a buyer and now we're under contract to close on our future home on Dec 22! We are so excited because it's a new home in an older neighborhood, not far from downtown. Life has been very hectic because evenings and weekends were devoted to house hunting and traveling.

Here's a few things that I've been doing this past month, even with a crazy schedule....
  • Getting 8-hours sleep is still a top priority to stay healthy, especially with my pregnancy. Sleep helps rejuvenate your body and balance your metabolism.
  • I pack snacks when we're on the go. I cut up apples and put them in my purse in case I get hungry.
  • Homemade trail mix is a easy when you stock your pantry. In a plastic bag, I throw in a handful of nuts (cashews, peanuts, or almonds), some dried fruit (dried cranberries, apricots, or raisins), and honey whole wheat pretzels from Trader Joe's. I put in a single serving and drop it in my bag and go!
  • Stocking the basics: whole wheat bread, sliced low-sodium turkey or ham deli meat, eggs, milk, sliced cheese, fresh fruits and veggies. Instead of takeout when we get home really late from house hunting or traveling, I make all natural tomato soup (box from Trader Joe's) and a grilled cheese and ham sandwich. Or you can always cook eggs and toast for dinner! If you have carrots in the fridge, it's easy to peel and cut them for a quick snack for later in the day.
  • A frozen meal works in a pinch. Trader Joe's has better-than-most frozen meals that I can pack for lunch for me or Aaron in the morning with fruit. There have been many nights lately that I didn't cook the night before and there's no time to make lunch before bed. I select the higher vegetable quantity, lower fat/sodium varieties like spinach lasagna for example.
  • This Monday, I made dried pinto beans in the crockpot (see my recipe from dried black beans). I picked up pre-cooked chicken breast from yes, Trader Joe's, but you can get a rotisserie chicken from any grocery store. I made corn tortilla chicken tacos with tomato, avocado and lettuce (from my produce box) and served the beans on the side. It was a healthy and easy meal that produced a lot of leftovers.
  • Don't skimp on vitamins. I take my prenatal vitamins and fish oil caps daily, but when I'm feeling extra tired or when I'm fight a bug, I use Emergen-C to boost my vitamin C and electrolytes.
These are some strategies that have helped me, if you want to share your tips, please add a comment!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A Daily Fish Oil Omega-3 Pill Can Do Wonders for Heart and Body

Just before my pregnancy, I started taking fish oil supplements to boost my heart healthy omega-3 fatty acid intake because I have read about the benefits. My husband doesn't like to eat fish so I don't cook it often enough. There are so many health benefits for taking fish oil daily for pregnant women, children, and adults.

The advantage of fish oil compared to other foods like walnuts and vegetable oils is that you get both DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EHA (eicosapentaenoic acid) acids with the same source.
Relying on eating fish daily is not ideal, due to the presence of mercury and toxins in especially farm-raised fish.

Health Benefits of Fish Oil for Omega-3 Fatty Acids:
  • Optimal heart health (reduces triglycerides, lowers risk of death from heart disease, and reduces the plaque build-up in arteries)
  • Reduces risk of stroke
  • Lower blood pressure
Check with your doctor on your recommended dosage. In general, pregnant women can target 300 mg of DHA daily. Here's a link to more information for pregnant women from HealthNews Blog.

For pregnant and breast-feeding women, there's benefits for you and your growing baby:
  • Brain development and mental focus
  • Lower risk of allergies
  • Reduced risk of post-partem depression
Ultimately, when you are in good health, you feel better. I feel more energetic and resiliant to fighting on viruses and colds. Taking a daily fish oil supplement is one way that you can make a positive impact on your overall health.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Healthy Hot Artichoke Dip is Perfect for Game Day and Parties

When we're invited to a party where we're asked to bring a dish to share I use it as an opportunity to bring a tasty healthy snack, side dish, dessert, or salad that I feel good about eating. Many parties have food that is packed with fat, preservatives, HFCS, sodium, and who knows what else! The idea is to bring something that is both healthy and flavorful.

The Hot Artichoke Dip is one of those tasty and healthy treats. I served it last year at a jewelry party that I hosted and it was very popular! So today, we're heading to a friend's house to watch a football game and I'm bringing this to share. Traditional artichoke dips are filled with high fat items like cheese, mayo, and whole milk sour cream.

This version uses white beans to thicken the dip and add flavor. The combination of the beans and artichokes make this a high-fiber snack! Using Parmesan cheese, you don't have to use as much as other milder cheeses since it has a deep flavor. The best thing is there is NO chopping! You can make this with the food processor. It's very quick and you can pop it right into the oven when you arrive at the party.

Hot Artichoke Dip
from Cooking Light Dec. 2005
Serve with cut veggies (cucumbers, carrots, celery, cauliflower) and pita chips or crackers.

Ingredients:
  • 1/2 cups reduced fat sour cream
  • 1/3 cup reduced fat mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest, optional (*I do this to boost the lemon flavor)
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon-style mustard (*my addition)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 (14-ounce) cans artichoke hearts, rinsed drained and divided
  • 1 (15 1/2-ounce) can great northern beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 cup grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese, divided
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley, divided
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
Preparation:
  • Preheat oven to 400°.
  • Combine first 4 ingredients in a food processor; add 1 can of artichokes and beans. Process until smooth. Add remaining can of artichokes, 3/4 cup of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, 1 tablespoon parsley, and garlic. Pulse 20 times or until artichokes are coarsely chopped.
  • Spoon mixture into an 8-inch square baking dish coated with cooking spray; sprinkle top with remaining 1/4 cup of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and remaining 1 tablespoon parsley. Bake at 400° for 25 minutes or until bubbly.
Yield: 12 servings (serving size: 1/3 cup)

NUTRITION PER SERVING
CALORIES 98(37% from fat); FAT 4g (sat 2.2g,mono 0.9g,poly 0.1g); PROTEIN 5.8g; CHOLESTEROL 9mg; CALCIUM 108mg; SODIUM 488mg; FIBER 2.4g; IRON 0.5mg; CARBOHYDRATE 10.3g

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Spaghetti Squash "Lasagna" Casserole


Spaghetti squash is a Fall/Winter season squash and the cooked flesh is stringy like a pasta noodle. Many recipes with spaghetti squash morph it into a pasta-like dish with tomato sauce, Italian herbs, and Parmesan cheese. You can even form cooked squash stands into patties and make them into savory pancakes.

The squash is packed with nutrition: folic acid, beta carotene, and heart healthy potassium. And you can eat a lot of the squash because it's a low calorie food (8 ounces of cooked squash is 75 calories). Spaghetti squash has a mild, delicate flavor that is perfect for pairing with strong flavors.

This morning, I was inspired to make my spaghetti squash into my nutritious lunch. I love the combination of the tiny strands with tomato sauce and decided to make a squash lasagna casserole. This healthy meal is very affordable. I buy my part-skim ricotta cheese from Trader Joe's and it's antibiotic free and around $2.99 for 16 oz.

Cooking spaghetti squash:
  • Use a heavy chef knif to cut squash lengthwise. Using a spoon, scrape the loose membranes and seeds. Discard or save seeds for future use.
  • Fill a large casserole dish with 1/2 inch water. Place halves face down in the dish.
  • Bake in the oven at 350 degrees for 1 hr, until the squash is tender.
  • Let cool.
  • Scrape the cooked squash with a fork to release the noodle-like flesh.
Spaghetti Squash Lasagna

Ingredients:
  • 1 medium spaghetti squash, cooked and shredded (see above)
  • 1 tbs olive oil
  • 1/2 chopped onion
  • 1 tbs minced garlic
  • 1 tsp dried Italian spice mix
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 1-14 oz can tomato sauce
  • 8 oz part-skim ricotta cheese
  • 2 tbs panko bread crumbs
  • Chopped parsley or basil for garnish on top
Preparation:
  • In a pre-heated medium skillet, add olive oil, chopped onions, and garlic. Cook for 3 minutes until the onions are tender. Add cooked squash, Italian herbs, and salt/pepper, and stir to coat with olive oil.
  • Spay a casserole dish with cooking oil. Add squash mixture to casserole and spread in an even layer. Sprinkle with bread crumbs. Add tomato sauce.
  • Dollop ricotta cheese evenly
  • Bake in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes.
  • Let stand for 5-10 minutes before serving.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Top Natural Immunity Boosters to Get You Through the Cold and Flu Season

The weather has changed and it's cold and flu season. At the office people are either getting sick or trying to stay healthy with antibacterial cleaners and sprays. The media and healthcare professionals are pushing the seasonal and H1N1 flu shots on the public as a way to lessen the effects of the flu virus. One of my favorite health blogs by Dr. Mercola, a Chicago medical physician and health researcher, strongly recommends to avoid both flu vaccines in his blog post "Flu Vaccine Exposed."

Mercola writes, "According to the CDC, the majority of flu vaccines contain thimerosal. Some contain as much as 25 mcg of mercury per dose. This means that it may contain more than 250 times the Environmental Protection Agency’s safety limit for mercury." He later writes in the story about other toxins found in most flu shots. And the virus strains in the seasonal flu shot are made before the flu season hits so taking the vaccine does not always prevent that you won't get sick. It depends on the virus strains that you are exposed to in the real world.

What are the flu symptoms? Most people suffering from the flu are experiencing: fever, chills, cough, fatigue, diarrhea, runny nose, decreased appetite, and sore throat. Taking acetaminophen or ibprophen can help break your fever and reduce your symptoms.

My friends in major cities such as the San Francisco Bay Area and Chicago have been able to get thimerosal-free flu vaccines, but in Indianapolis, I'm hard pressed to find them. In fact, most people I speak to here have never heard of mercury in the flu shots. They are taking them blindly!

I'm 19 weeks pregnant and during my recent doctor visit, the nurse recommended that I take both flu shots since pregnant women are consider high risk for more severe flu symptoms. I told the nurse that I don't want to expose myself or my baby to mercury and I plan to use natural immunity boosting methods to avoid getting sick or lessen the symptoms. I told her that after limiting my mercury exposure with fish in my diet and ensuring that I'm taking mercury-free fish oil for my DHA supplement that I don't see how I can expose myself to that much mercury. The nurse had nothing to say to that, other than suggesting that I find a mercury-free flu shot.

And this week, Aaron is sick with the flu. It's possible he has the H1N1 flu for all we know, but that's not preventing me from eating dinner with him, kissing him, or being near him. So far What I am doing is boosting my own immunities naturally.

Natural Immunity Boosters:
  • Adequate sleep - 8 hrs
  • Hydrate with pure water
  • Exercise
  • Vitamin D (using supplements or sun exposure) - see my post
  • Whole food nutrition-rich diet - avoid processed foods
  • Washing hands with soap and warm water

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Using Fall's Gem, Acorn Squash, For An Easy Spiced Soup

Autumn is my favorite season. I love the cooler weather and the produce that the season brings: squash, apples, and root veggies. In my produce delivery shipment last week, I received two acorn squash, which immediately inspired me to make soup. My strongest craving during my pregnancy has been soup, so that wasn't a surprise, really!

Acorn squash has a dark green hard skin and tastes best roasted to deepen it's naturally nutty and peppery flavor. Acorn squash is high in fiber, vitamins A, C and potassium. This variety gets overshadowed by the popular butternut squash. Because of its size it's ideal for stuffing with raisins, apples, and turkey sausage and spices.

To cook, try roasting:
  • Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
  • Use a sturdy, heavy knife to cut the squash vertically. With a spoon, scoop out and discard the seeds and membrane. Do not peel the hard skin.
  • Place on a cookie sheet face up and coat with cooking spray and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper.
  • Bake in the oven for 30-35 minutes until fork tender.
  • Let cool for 10-15 minutes. Then with a paring knife, peel the skin gently from the flesh.
Making the quick soup: (roast the squash ahead of time and store for quick weeknight meals)

Ingredients:
  • 1 tbs butter
  • Roasted acorn squash (2 medium)
  • 1/2 yellow onion
  • 1 tbs minced garlic
  • 3 cups chicken broth, divided
  • 1 cup lowfat milk or half and half
  • 1/4 tsp white pepper
  • 1/4 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/4 tsp curry
  • Dash nutmeg
Preparation:
  • Place roasted squash in the food processor (use two medium squash).
  • In a soup pot, melt butter on medium. Add chopped onions and minced garlic and cook until translucent (2 minutes). Add onion and garlic mixture to the food processor.
  • Add 2 cups of chicken broth to the food processor and blend until smooth and creamy.
  • Add squash mixture to the soup pot and return to heat. Add remaining chicken broth, milk, and spices and warm on medium for 10 minutes.
**If the soup is too thick for your liking, add more chicken broth.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Easy Ways to Get "5 A Day" Servings of Fruits and Veggies

This week a CDC study revealed that 14% of adult Americans on average get the recommended servings of fruit and vegetables daily. Worse yet, less than 10% of American teens are eating the recommended servings daily. But the old slogan "5 a Day" may not be enough. The new US food guidelines are 7-13 cups of fresh produce per day.

It's not a surprise that teenagers are worse off nutritionally than adults because based on the result - they have a terrible example!

So why are eating fruits and vegetables important? Fresh fruits and vegetables contain essential vitamins and minerals that your body needs to maintain a optimum health. A balanced diet with an emphasis on fresh produce is beneficial to:

  • Strengthen the immune system
  • Protect against diseases - type 2 diabetes, obesity, and heart disease
  • Maintain stable metabolic functions

I heard about these findings when I was driving to work on the NPR Morning Edition broadcast. Then, I looked around and it hit me as I drove passed the fast food restaurants along the street. It's really not a surprise when Americans are buying fast food, precooked frozen food, convenience food in bags or boxes, and well...not cooking from fresh ingredients! I have to admit cooking has been a challenge for me in the last two months because I live in a tiny rental apartment with a terrible kitchen. We made the move to Indianapolis from Chicago, leaving behind our gorgeous granite counters, gas stove, and spacious workspace kitchen! Our condo is on the market and we're waiting patiently to make the move to our new home in Indy. Being focused on my health, I have found ways to eat fresh produce both raw and cooked.

Tips for getting fruits and veggies in your diet...

  1. Sign up for a produce delivery service or stock up at the local Farmer's Market. Eating seasonal local produce is not only better for the environment, but it's budget-friendly! You can try out new varieties instead of the same old tired choices you make if you go to the grocery store. If you have the produce delivered to your doorstep, there are no excuses for not getting to the store if you're busy. I order from a local company in Indy to get organic, seasonal local produce. I receive a shipment every week filled with fruit and veggies. Since it's already here, I have no excuse to wash, cut, cook, or pack up fresh in my lunches for snacks.
  2. Look on your plate - your meal is incomplete without fruits and vegetables. Making a sandwich? Add lettuce, tomato, cucumbers, or roasted red pepper inside. Add a fruit and veggie as a side dish. Sometimes I saute veggies if I get tired of steamed vegetables for dinner. You can try a mix of onions, peppers, and zucchini for a quick side dish sauteed with minced garlic and olive oil.
  3. Stock up on frozen fruits and veggies. Frozen fruits and veggies are picked at peak season with minimal processing. They are very nutritious and plain versions (not mixed with suaces) are always budget friendly. I always stock broccoli, chopped spinach, and frozen peas on-hand in the freezer for quick side dishes. Check out my quick pesto pasta that I used with frozen peas and trick for my pasta with frozen spinach - no need for defrosting!
  4. A few more tips here on WebMD.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Natural Digestive Aid: Papaya Enzyme Tablets

When I was a kid, my mom gave me chewable papaya enzymes if I ate a big meal to help me with digestion. I never thought a thing about it until 2 weeks ago when I started to get heart burn. Indigestion is common with pregnancy. Many people suffer from heart burn or indigestion, without being pregnant. "Heart burn" gives you a painful burning sensation at the bottom of your throat and it is most likely a symptom of acid reflux.

Instead of popping antacids (Tums) all the time, I wanted to find a natural, holistic solution. I turned to my favorite Whole Foods when Aaron and I were back in Chicago spending time at our condo and visiting friends. The helpful worker in the vitamins and health supplements section showed me a entire shelf of digestive aids and I remembered my mom's wisdom when I spotted this Tropical Papaya Enzyme.

Papayas are native fruits to Mexico and Central America. The enzymes are made from under-ripe papayas. When I was a kid in California, I remember my family eating papaya with a meal. I had no idea why. Now, I know that it helps with digestion.

The bottle suggests taking up to 2 chewable tablets after you eat. I only use them when I eat a heavier meal with meat and lots of spices, for example. It really helps relieve the burning sensation and tones down the uncomfortable effects.

I found these tablets at Whole Foods, but if you don't live near a store, you can also purchase them online at vitamin and health supplement providers.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Quick Meal to Serve a Crowd: Chicken Chili Verde

Sometimes you feel inspiration by one ingredient. That happened to me this weekend. I get a weekly, local organic produce box delivery and this week I received tomatillos, cilantro, peppers. That inspired me to make a green chili and away I went!

I made this for my family and everyone liked it, including my father-in-law, who is a traditional Midwest eater. No leftovers for this chili! From start to finish, this took me about 40 minutes to make.


Chicken Chili Verde (Serves 6)
The honey in this chili helps balance the spices and tartness of the tomatillos.

Ingredients:
  • 1 pound tomatillos
  • 1 green bell peppers, diced
  • 1 sweet Italian pepper (light green)
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1 pound ground chicken
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 3 cups chicken broth, divided
  • 1 (15-ounce) can pinto beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 (15-ounce) can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • Sour cream (for garnish)
  • Chopped cilantro, for garnish
  • 1 avocado, diced for garnish

Preparation:

  • Wash vegetables and take off the husks of the tomatillos. Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil and coat with cooking spray. Preheat the broiler. Arrange the whole tomatotillos and the light green pepper, cut in half skin up, on the cookie sheet. Cook under the broiler for 8 minutes. Let cook on the stove when done.
  • While cooking vegetables in the broiler, dice onion and peppers. Preheat large soup pot on medium heat. Add olive oil to the bottom of the pot. Add onions, peppers, and garlic and saute for 3-4 minutes. Add ground chicken and break apart with a spoon. Add chili powder, cumin, oregano, cayenne pepper, salt and pepper. Cook chicken until it's no longer pink in the middle (about 8 minutes), stirring frequently. Keep warm.
  • In a food processor, add broiled vegetables with a bit of salt and pepper, honey, and 1 cup of chicken broth. Process until pureed. Add to the soup pot.
  • Rinse and drain pinto and garbanzo beans. Add to the soup pot. Add remaining 2 cups of chicken broth and bring chili to a simmer for 15 minutes.
  • While soup is simmering, chop fresh cilantro and dice avocado.
  • Serve with sour cream, cilantro, and avocado. Chips or warmed tortillas are a good compliment.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Reader Tip: Cooking Corn in the Oven

The summer produce season is tapering off, but there is still fresh corn in the markets.

Here's a trick for cooking corn that I've never seen before! Our neighbors at the lake told me how they cook their sweet corn in the summer and I had to share their clever idea!

The Gaylord family, Jack, Susi, and their daughter, Megen have spent their summers on Lake Oliver since before their daughter was born! Susi has been perfecting her method for cooking corn in the oven for so long she can't remember the first time she did it. You can see the corn in this picture was from our other lake neighbor, the Malley's, who shared dozens of ears of corn with our family. The corn was plump, super sweet, and perfectly ripe!!!


Corn Cooked in the Oven by the Gaylord Family
  • Clean the corn by removing the husks and the silks.
  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  • Wrap each ear of corn with a damp paper towel. This helps steam the corn to retain it's moisture.
  • Then, wrap the covered corn with a piece of aluminum foil (see the picture on the right).
  • Place on a cookie sheet seam facing upwards to control drips. Susi places foil on the bottom of the oven in case there are any drips.
  • Bake for 30-40 minutes. Serve immediately.
The corn stays warm until you're ready to eat it since it's wrapped in the foil. And the family uses the paper towel at the end to clean their hands. See the picture on the left from their picnic table.

To save time and money, they also re-use the foil pieces all summer. Isn't that so clever??!!

Here's another reader recipe for cooking fresh corn on the stove top, from my friend Betsy.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Healthy Heart Observations by a Pregnant Woman

For those that don't know, I'm 12-weeks pregnant with my first child. I've been exercising consistently for most of my adult life and now at 32 I'm healthier than ever. My doctor gave me a higher heart rate goal than most because I have an established exercise program going into my pregnancy. The conventional wisdom for prenatal fitness is 140 beats per minute and my doctor gave me a max target of 160 bpm. I was very happy to hear the news. Based on my zone training with my heart monitor, I previously targeted 170 -175 as my max for aerobic endurance. Now, I only have to hold back a little to exercise safely during pregnancy. Using my zones, I was able to manage my asthma symptoms naturally with aerobic endurance training.

Pre-pregnancy, I worked out 5 times per week and 3 of those days were taking spin class. Read my previous post from my former cycle instructor for beginner tips. Now, in my early pregnancy, I work out with less intensity because my heart rate elevates faster than before, but I still try to exercise 4 days per week. So now, I do less running and slow jogging. When my heart rate creeps up to 160, I switch to brisk walking.

Yesterday, I went to a one-hour spin class. With cycling it's easier to control your heart rate than with running. I can ease the cadence (speed) or the intensity on the gears if my heart rate goes above 160. I worked out steadily for 60 minutes feeling fantastic and strong. Pregnant or not, cycling is a foundational form of exercise that you can do at any age or fitness level, without putting undue strain on your joints.

The ONLY way I can manage my heart rate is using my heart monitor. It's great for everyone. It's a perfect workout companion. I only paid $100 for mine. If you use your heart monitor every time you exercise, you can learn more about your body than just going "blind."

When you exercise with a heart monitor, you know for sure whether to pull back or push forward with intensity to exercise safely. I truly believe it's tool that can optimize your workout!

Check out this resource page for more info on heart rate training.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Smoky Corn Chowder: Using Summer's Bounty

We have an abundance of Indiana sweet corn at the moment. Sweet corn is in season and our friends and family are eating some of the corn, but freezing the extra for the coming months ahead. Last weekend we went to the lake house in Northern Indiana and came home with another dozen ears, in addition to the other four we had in our organic produce box! Needless to say, I thought a great way to use the fresh sweet corn is to make corn chowder.

My light Smoky Corn Chowder recipe is a combination of sweet, spicy, creamy, and smoky. I used smoked paprika, bacon, and shredded smoked provolone cheese to garnish. I made 4 servings and you can see I pack up the remaining 2 servings for future meals in resealable containers so it's easy to grab-and-go for future quick meals. I use light milk and chicken broth thickened with a roux to make the soup creamy. I happened to have leftover grilled bell and jalapeno peppers from my fajitas the night before so that added even more smoky flavor.

Serve this up with a fresh green salad, fruit salad, or grilled cheese sandwich.


Smoky Corn Chowder (4 servings)
Make with fresh or frozen corn.
  • 6 ears corn (cut off the cob) or about 3-4 cups corn
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 1 cups green bell peppers, diced
  • 1 teaspoon garlic, crushed
  • 1 tablespoon minced jalapeƱo peppers
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/4 cups flour
  • 3 cups chicken broth, divided
  • 2 1/2 cups low-fat milk, divided
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon style mustard
  • 1 teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper
  • 4 slices bacon (pork or turkey)
  • 4 teaspoons shredded smoked provolone cheese
Preparation:
  • Use a wide-shallow bowl and a sharp knife and cut the corn off the cob; set aside.
  • Preheat a soup pot on medium heat. Dice onion, bell pepper, and mince jalapeno. Add olive oil to the pot, then vegetables and crushed garlic. Saute until tender about 2 minutes. Add fresh corn and saute for 3-4 minutes, mixing frequently.
  • Preheat a small saucepan while you're mixing the corn. Add 2 cups of chicken broth to the corn mixture and bring to a boil. Add more broth, if you need it to just barely cover the corn.
  • Add butter to the pre-heated saucepan. Add flour and stir gently with a whisk for 1 minute until the flour and butter is incorporated. Add 1/2 cup of milk and 1/2 cup of broth and whisk constantly on medium-high heat. The sauce will thicken. Add smoked paprika, prepared dijon mustard, salt and pepper to season. Reduce to low.
  • When the corn comes up to a boil, reduce to simmer and cook for 15-20 minutes until the corn is cooked.
  • Cook 4 slices of bacon between 2 pieces of wax paper for 3-4 minutes in the microwave on HIGH. I use a microwaveable bacon rack. Let bacon cool and set aside on paper towels. Shred smoked cheese.
  • Add the thickened sauce to the corn mixture and stir until completely incorporated. Taste to see if you want to a bit more salt.
  • Serve soup in a shallow bowl and garnish with 1 slice of crumbled bacon and 1 tsp of smoked provolone cheese.

Tonight's project will be cutting the corn off the cob for freezing. When you freeze the corn, use a freezer plastic bag and be sure to mark the date with a permanent marker. See my freezer storing tips from my previous post.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

What's In Season: Sweet Corn

When I was a kid, my father always served corn to the family because he loved it! Most of the time, we ate frozen corn, but in the summer we enjoyed fresh corn on the cob. Now that I live in Indiana, my husband and family buy fresh sweet corn from the Amish kids that bring their wagon down to the lake house community where my in-laws live. The sweet corn is always the best in August and coming from a local garden from the Amish or friends, seems to make it taste that much sweeter!

This weekend, I was cooking lunch with my friend, Betsy. She has an amazing garden that her family enjoys and helps tend all summer. Betsy brought some lettuce and corn from her garden and veggies from her Farmer's Market that we made into a fresh green salad, corn, and edamame lunch feast! She shucked the corn and started to prepare as she does at home and I thought I'd share some of these tips with you.

As I write this post, I just received my weekly organic produce delivery and I got 4 MORE ears of sweet corn so it looks like I will be cooking them in the next few days!

Betsy's tips for cooking fresh corn:
  • Start with cold water, tall enough to cover the corn. Place cleaned ears of corn in the water and bring to a boil in a covered large pot.
  • Add a bit of sugar to the water as it warms.
  • Gently place 2 table knives across the top of the ears of corn to keep the corn submerged in the water.
  • Reduce the water to a high-simmer and cook for about 20 minutes.
  • Drain the corn in a colander.
  • Lightly coat the corn with a bit of butter and sprinkle a small amount of salt.
  • Enjoy right away or cut off the cob and freeze for another time of the year.
Here's a couple of my favorite healthy corn recipes:
  • Roasted Fresh Corn, Poblano, and Cheese Pizza (vegetarian) - I made this a couple summers ago and we really liked it! You can serve it up with light sour cream and a green salad on the side.
  • Sweet Pea Risotto with Corn Broth - I made this earlier this spring when I got fresh peas and I used frozen corn at the time. It's really tasty. You can serve as a side dish or main course. It would be fantastic with fresh peas.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Asian Vegetarian Noodle Bowl Hits the Spot!

Even though it's summer, I seem to be on a soup craze! That's what air conditioning is for, right? My friend told me her father, who was from the South where it's quite muggy, always wanted to eat chili in the summer because he said the heat from the chili made him feel cooler. I don't know if it's true, but it's worth a try.

For tonight's dinner, I was inspired by lots of fresh ginger and Napa cabbage that I got in my produce box. I made a Tofu, Veggie Soba Noodle bowl. I used mushrooms, Napa cabbage, fresh ginger, and chopped cilantro at the end. Soba noodles are Japanese buckwheat noodles are a complex carbohydrate with fiber, ideal for slow-burning energy. Check out this Cooking Light recipe for additional info on Soba noodles and quick summer salad entree idea - Soba Noodle Salad with Citrus Vinaigrette

This quick recipe is really easy because you can take advantage of pre-made soup and sliced mushrooms from the store. Tofu only needs a quick chop and it's ready to use. This hearty, vegetarian meal is packed with nutrition of the fresh ingredients and though it doesn't have meat, your not going to miss it!

Tofu, Veggie Soba Noodle Bowl (about 4-6 servings)

Ingredients:
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 8oz pre-sliced mushrooms (cut smaller, if desired)
  • 8 leaves Napa cabbage, stems sliced separately and leaves reserved
  • 14oz container of extra firm low-fat tofu, drained and chopped
  • 1 tbs olive oil
  • 1 tsp crushed garlic
  • 2 tsp grated fresh ginger
  • 3 cups water
  • 32oz container of prepared miso soup (prefer Whole Foods 365 brand)
  • 8oz Soba noodles (Japanese buckwheat noodles)
  • 1/4 cup fresh chopped cilantro
Preparation:
  • Preheat large stockpot or dutch oven to medium heat. Chop onion and slice Napa cabbage stems. Reserve leaves. I cut on an angle, like a triangle along the line of the stem.
  • Add olive oil to pot and onion and cabbage stems with crushed garlic. Saute for 2 minutes, then add chopped mushrooms. Grate fresh, peeled ginger over the vegetable mixture. The vegetables will be very fragrant, which helps flavor the tofu.
  • Drain and chop tofu into bite-size pieces. Add to the vegetable mixture when the mushrooms have released their moisture, about 4-5 minutes.
  • To the pot, add 3-4 cups water and miso soup. Increase the heat to high to bring to a boil.
  • After water is up to a boiling temperature, add soba noodles and reduce heat to medium-high. After 5 minutes, add sliced cabbage leaves and chopped cilantro.
  • When the noodles are tender, the noodle-soup bowl is ready to serve. Use tongs to serve the noodles in the middle of a large shallow bowl and then the soup ladle to grab broth and veggies.
Optional Seasoning: instead of adding salt, add low-sodium soy sauce or my favorite, Liquid Aminos, which adds soy sauce-like flavor without adding lots of sodium. You can buy it at health food stores and for the best price, Whole Foods.

Nutrition Information (estimates using The Daily Plate): 386 calories, 5g fat, 20g protein, 68g carbs, 8g fiber, 900mg sodium, and 0g cholesterol.

NOTE: This meal may need to be balanced with lower sodium foods throughout the day. Miso soup has a lot of sodium overall. I tried to add water to thin it out per serving.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Chorizo and Eggs Without the Guilt: It's Turkey!

When I was a kid, my mom made chorizo and eggs on special occasions. My mom has always been health conscious and she didn't want me to eat too much fat. The traditional way to eat chorizo and eggs is with potatoes in a small burrito or with frijoles (refried beans) and break off a bit of your warm torilla to scoop up a bit of egg, chorizo, frijoles, and even potatoes in every bite. These days you can find turkey chorizo at specialty grocery stores to cut back on the fat, but you keep the spicy unique flavor of chorizo.

Yesterday, I was shopping at Whole Foods, looking for turkey chorizo in the butcher's cold case, but they didn't have any laid out. When I asked the butcher for it he offered to make it for me. They have the Chorizo-spice mix behind the counter and he mixed seasoning into 1/2 pound of ground turkey thigh meat for me. He only charged me for the ground meat, even with extra service. I was so happy! What a great tip! I didn't know before that you could ask them to mix it for you on-site.

This morning for Sunday breakfast, I made the chorizo, egg, and potato burrito and it tasted really great and authentic, minus the fat from the traditional Mexican (pork) chorizo! Here is the recipe so you can make it for your family.

Turkey Chorizo, Egg, and Potato Breakfast Burrito
Serves 4

Ingredients:
  • 1/2 pound turkey chorizo (ask your butcher to mix it)
  • 3 small golden potatoes
  • 1/2 tbs olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 8 eggs (2 per person)
  • 1/4 cup low-fat shredded Mexican-style cheeses (Cheddar, Monterrey Jack)
  • 2 tbs chopped cilantro
  • 4 flour torillas

Preparation:

  • Preheat medium skillet. Wash and peel potatoes. Cover with wax paper and cook in the microwave for 5 minutes on HIGH.
  • Chop the cilantro and set aside in a small bowl. Serve shredded cheese in another small bowl to start to build your assembly line.
  • While potatoes are cooking, cook turkey chorizo in a skillet coated with cooking spray, over medium-heat. Break apart the meat as you cook it so it cooks in small bits. Set aside in a bowl covered with foil to keep warm.
  • Cut the potatoes in small pieces and season with salt and pepper. In the same pre-heated skillet that you used to cook the turkey chorizo, add 1/2 tbs of olive oil and then the potatoes to warm and season. Cook for 2 minutes and set aside in a bowl covered with foil to keep warm.
  • Warm the tortillas in the oven (on 350 degrees in foil) or you can warm them in the microwave with a wet paper towel on top (for 1 minute).
  • Crack eggs and add into to a mixing bowl and whisk with a fork. Using the same skillet (since it's already warm), spray with cooking spray, if needed and scramble the eggs. After the eggs are cooked through, serve the eggs in another serving dish or let your family serve themselves from the skillet.
  • To the warm tortilla, add the potatoes first to absorb the flavor from the chorizo. Then add chorizo, scrambled eggs, cheese, and cilantro. Fold the tortilla over and warm if needed. Eat immediately!

For best results, let everyone build their own burrito so they can customize the amounts they want of each item. For spice lovers, hot sauce or salsa on top adds even more heat, but the chorizo is already spicy so add with caution! Enjoy!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Frozen Spinach, a Nutritional and Budget Bargain For the Pantry

I've professed my love for pasta many times on this blog! Tonight, while cooking dinner I added frozen spinach to my sauce, something I do regularly, and I thought I should share the tip. Tonight, I made ground turkey and spinach marinara with a spaghetti. It's really simple and you can throw it together in 30 minutes.

Spinach is a highly nutritious food, providing fiber, vitamin C, and folic acid for only 45 calories per cup! Many times kids request marinara pasta, but adding chopped frozen spinach takes the nutritional factor up to a higher level.

Fresh spinach is fantastic for pasta or side dishes, but it can strain a family's budget. Chopped frozen spinach is less than $2.00 for a 16-oz bag where I shop and no cleaning required! I opt for the pesticide-free version at Trader Joe's. The easy thing is that I just put in the sauce frozen and let it work directly into the sauce! This particular brand seems to have less water than others I've tried. Other brands may need to be thawed in the microwave and squeezed dry with a clean dishtowel or sturdy paper towel.

Practical and Delicious Uses for Frozen Chopped Spinach:
  • Egg Frittata or Quiche: use defrosted, drained spinach in eggs for a Florentine-inspired egg frittata or quiche with shredded mozzarella cheese and sun-dried tomatoes. Serve for breakfast, lunch or dinner with roasted potatoes and fruit.
  • Spinach-Parmesan dip from Cooking Light made with yogurt and fresh basil. I served it with fresh cut veggies.
  • Creamy Spinach-Feta dip from Cooking Light I made this earlier this summer and served with pita chips and veggies for a family get together. It was delicious!
  • Ground Turkey and Spinach Marinara: Cook ground turkey with chopped onion and add garlic, dried oregano, basil, crushed red pepper and salt. Add frozen spinach and stir until thawed and then add a can/jar of marinara. I prefer the Trader Joe's all-natural marinara sauce because it's lowfat and lower sodium. Serve over spaghetti or any pasta.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

New Study Warns Use of Ultra-violet (UV) Tanning Bed Use, a Top Cancer Threat

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has given UV tanning beds the highest cancer risk category and calling them "carcinogenic to humans." The IARC, which is part of the World Health Organization, asserted that tanning beds are even more dangerous than previously found in earlier research studies. In fact, tanning beds are in the same group as asbestos, arsenic, and tobacco products.

Even more alarming is that their research found that individuals that began their use of UV tanning beds before age 30 increase their risk of cancer by 75%.

I've always been so mystified to see people using tanning beds to "look better." Wrinkled, leathery skin is what you will end up with when you abuse your skin with UV and over-sun exposure. Abusing tanning beds looks so unhealthy, besides the cancer risk. People don't realize it because in their mind, they think they look great.

My skin tans very easily even with the sunscreen because of my Latina heritage. However, I wear sunscreen every day and try to spend time in the shade to avoid burns and over-exposure.

Check out my "Mid-Summer Survival Tips" post for an audio interview of a dermatologist on protecting your skin against sun damage, including preventing cancer. Read the Reuters article for more details.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

What's In Season Now: Cantaloupe

Serving fresh fruit for a family meal is a great way to add more nutritional values to your diet and if it's there ready to eat, kids and adults alike are more likely to serve it up on their plates. Cantaloupe is a fresh-tasting, sweet melon that is in season all summer so take advantage of the best prices now.

Cantaloupe is a nutritional powerhouse that is low in calories (about 50 calories per cup) and high in potassium (490 mg per cup). Potassium helps you keep your heart healthy and help regulate blood pressure. Cantaloupe is also an excellent source of vitamins A and C!

Cut up the cantaloupe all at once and store in containers in the refrigerator for quickly packing for lunches or snacks.

Tools you need to cut a cantaloupe quickly and safely:

  • Large chef knife
  • Small paring knife
  • Tablespoon (Your table utensil, not measuring spoon)
  • Cutting board
An efficient way to cut a cantaloupe:
  • On a clean cutting board, cut the cantaloupe in half on the vertical line (longway) with the chef knife.
  • Using a tablespoon scoop out the seeds and make sure you empty as much of the liquid from the hole in the middle.
  • Starting with the first half, slice the melon half in 4 vertical strips.
  • Then use the small paring knife to follow along the line of the rind against the flesh. Discard the rind and any green edges. With the paring knife slice cross-wise to form chunks.
  • Repeat with the other half.
  • Store in a container for serving or the refrigerator. Work next to the sink or garbage can to discard quickly and clear your space to keep your board clear.
Cantaloupe Snack Suggestions:
  • Power Energy: Serve 1 cup of cantaloupe with 1/2 cup of low fat cottage cheese.
  • Italian Appetizer: Wrap prosciutto slice around cantaloupe slice (don't cut into chunks for this snack)
  • Accent for Salad: Slice cantaloupe for a spinach or arugula salad paired with Serrano ham or prosciutto and red onion slices. Use a red wine vinegar and olive oil dressing for a balance of the sweet, salty, and spicy flavors.
  • Sweet Treat - Homemade Popsicles: Puree cantaloupe in the blender with a bit of water. Pour mixture into popsicle molds and serve to the family on a hot day.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Quick, Affordable Meal Solution: Adobo Chicken, Mexican Rice, and Steamed Veggies

I made this meal for dinner last night and there was enough for leftovers tonight! The authentic Mexican Rice dish is how my family made it when I was a kid. So, this is the real deal! No box rice-kits in this house! This meal is really easy and it can be on the table in about 30 minutes.

The trick is to cook the chicken under the broiler in the oven, but grilling the chicken works as well. I used chicken thighs because I had them on-hand.

Buying chicken thighs is more affordable than skinless chicken breasts. For example, I buy organic chicken and the price for 1-pound of chicken thighs is about $2.99 per pound versus $4.99 per pound of chicken skinless breast.
This price is an example, but in general, chicken thighs are more affordable. I've said before on the blog that I buy my meat from a small shop in Northern Indiana and they use only local meat so the prices are better than buying them in the city (see my previous post for buying healthy ingredients on a budget).

I served this with steamed green beans, but also try broccoli, asparagus, cauliflower, or if your grilling the chicken, try throwing zucchini squash on the grill at the same time. Grilled squash is so good and you're not washing more dishes! Go for the veggie that looks fresh and in-season that day at the market. In-season produce is more affordable because it usually comes from more local sources and it's more abundant!

Ingredients:
  • 1 pound skinless, boneless chicken thighs
  • 1 tbs Adobo Seasoning (I prefer Penzey's - includes cumin, oregano, Chile, and other Mexican spices). Use a mix of cumin, Chile powder, and oregano to substitute.
  • Olive oil (enough to coat the pan)
  • 1 cup white rice (I prefer Jasmine)
  • 1-14 oz can fire roasted diced tomatoes with chiles
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 tsp minced garlic (go for the jar for quick use)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 pound fresh vegetable such as green beans, broccoli, zucchini
  • 1 tsp butter
  • 1/4 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper
Preparation:
  • Defrost chicken thighs. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and coat with cooking spray for the chicken. Sprinkle chicken thighs on both sides with adobo seasoning.
  • Preheat medium to large saucepan on medium heat. Chop onion.
  • When saucepan is heated, drizzle with olive oil and add onion and minced garlic. Saute for 1-2 minutes and add rice (without adding liquid). Keep the rice moving with a spatula in the saucepan.
  • While rice is cooking, clean the vegetables and add into your steamer basket. I use a saucepan with an steamer basket insert (it looks like a double broiler). Vegetables will be ready in 10-15 minutes. Check with a fork and stir while it is cooking. Cook until fork tender and the vegetables are vibrant and not falling apart to the touch.
  • When the rice is golden after a few minutes, start to add liquid. Open the can of tomatoes. Drain the liquid into a measuring cup and add water until it is 1 cup. Then add an additional 1 cup of water (for 1 cup of rice, you need 2 cups of liquid). Add tomatoes, 1/2 tsp of salt, and stir into the rice and water mixture. Bring water to a boil, and reduce heat to low and cook for additional 15 minutes, until rice is cooked.
  • While rice is cooking, preheat broiler. Place chicken thighs on the oven rack near the top of the oven for best exposure to the broiler. Cook on first side for 10 minutes. Then flip chicken and cook for an additional 5-minutes. Too keep them warm, you can turn broiler off and put the chicken on a lower rack or cover with aluminum foil.
  • Drain vegetables and stir in about 1-2 tsp of butter, salt, and pepper.
Now you're ready to serve up this super affordable and healthy meal. If you work on your timing of the steps, you can improve your efficiency in the kitchen, which saves you TONS of time!!! Let me know what you think!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Mid-Summer Survival Tips

It's already the middle of July and summer is in full swing. Summer is one of the most social times of the year and you might find yourself running around for vacations, parties, BBQs, family reunions, and gardening. Based on my experience with the move from Chicago to Indianapolis, I've been logging many miles going back and forth. This weekend we have a family reunion in Michigan and we'll be on the road 3-hours each way. On Friday night, I'll pack dinner for us that's easy to eat on the road (sandwiches, rollups, with carrots or apple slices).

With road trips, you can plan ahead with healthy snacks so you're not forced to eat fast food as your only option. I pack granola bars, dried apricots, and water. Check out more tips on snacks you can keep in your bag.

All this fun also means that you'll be out be out in the sunshine enjoying the beautiful summer weather. This picture is from Aaron's parent's lake house before they built their year around house. We spend a lot of time at the lake house, especially in the summer. With the move to Indy, we're only 2 1/2 hours from the lake house so it's an easy drive for the weekend.

Exposing your skin in the sun means that you need to do everything possible to protect your skin, the body's largest organ. The sun over time can give you skin damage effects like premature aging and cancer. On one of my long drives between Chicago/Indy, I heard this Fresh Air podcast with the host Terry Gross interviewing a dermatologist, Darrell Rigel. He gave great tips on sun safety and helpful tips on applying sunscreen. You only have one body in this life so protect your skin! I see WAY too many people walking around with deep, unnatural tans and really it's sun damage! I protect my skin with high quality sun screen that I replace annually. A couple of tips:

  • Be practical on sun exposure. The middle of the day (11am -1pm) often is the most intense time of the day. You are more likely to burn in less time during this time of day so that means that you need to reapply sunscreen more often than other times of the day (early morning, late afternoon, for example.
  • Wear hats, sunglasses, cover up! I keep a straw hat at the lake house when I'm out in the sun. Covering your shoulders or thighs were your skin might be more sensitive is a smart move in the most intense part of the day.
Bump up your water intake and stay hydrated! Drinking more water in the summer heat is smart to help you replenish your body. In the summer heat your body sweats to regulate temperature and stay cool, but that means that you need to replenish your body with more water. You also get water from summer fruits and vegetables in addition to water alone.

With all the summer events and parties, don't forget to plan ahead. If you look at your week ahead, you can plan on nights when you can cook for packable meals that you can eat on hurried weeknights. You can get healthy meals whipped up from the grocery store salad bar/deli or one of my favorites is making versatile taco meat that you can make into taco salad, enchiladas, burritos, or quick tacos. In fact, that's what I'm making tonight - ground chicken tacos.

Have any summer survival tips of your own? Please pass them on!

Friday, July 10, 2009

5-Minute Breakfast Recipe: Multigrain Waffles with Ricotta-Walnut-Strawberry Topping

Here is another 5-minute breakfast and I'm convinced the kiddies will like this too because you can eat it with your hands. Years ago, I joined eDiets.com to lose weight, using the eDiets low-fat menu plan. It was great because the website gave me ideas on cooking healthfully. For example, I learned to use chicken broth in with high calorie stir fry sauces to keep the calories in check. A bonus is that chicken broth always adds flavor. This breakfast is one of the eDiets recipes that I still eat today for breakfast.

I've had variations of these waffles with blueberries, sliced kiwi, or if you like banana, that would be good, too. Instead of walnuts, try pepitas or toasted almonds. I like this because the lowfat ricotta is a better nutritional bargain than butter. Ricotta cheese is high in calcium and has protein. Berries are a superfood because they offer antioxidants, fiber, and very low in calories.

Here's how to make this 5-minute breakfast. Serve this up with a cup of milk.

Ingredients:
  • 2 multigrain toaster frozen waffles (I prefer Trader Joe's brand)
  • 1/4 lowfat ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup sliced strawberries
  • 1 tbs toasted walnuts
  • 2 tsp honey
Preparation:
  • Toast the frozen waffles in the toaster. While the waffles are toasting, slice strawberries.
  • When waffles are ready, spread ricotta cheese on the waffle. Sprinkle with fresh strawberries and toasted walnuts. Drizzle with honey. Serve.
It's really easy and very tasty. So try it with your favorite fruit topping, but berries are the best!

Monday, July 6, 2009

No Time for Cooking? Hit the Grocery Store Salad Bar or Deli for a Healthy Alternative to Fatty Fast Food

As I mentioned in my last post on July 2, Aaron and I moved to Indianapolis from Chicago. Last Friday, we loaded up our essential items to move to a temporary apartment until our condo in Chicago sells because our ultimate goal is to buy a single family house with a yard in Indy. We arrived Friday night famished from a long day of packing, loading, and driving 3 hours to our new city. Since everything was still boxed up, I decided to go to the Whole Foods near our new apartment so I could grab a healthy dinner. I took advantage of the salad bar and deli for prepared food that we could eat "picnic" in our new place. Everything I selected was something you could eat cold. I picked out grilled boneless skinless chicken breast from the deli (and on sale for $2.49 each!), spicy green olives from the olive bar, naan bread, roasted beets from the salad bar, and pasta salad and coleslaw from the deli. For the next day, the side dishes were great to have on-hand alongside the burgers that I cooked before the move. Or you could simply serve these ready-made sides with a sandwich in the future.

Our impromptu meal worked really well and I thought of some helpful tips that you might find useful if you're stuck in a jam when you don't have time to cook. First of all, most people in this situation might turn to unhealthy fast food. As your staying committed to a healthy lifestyle, it can be tempting to go for fast food because you don't think about the other alternatives. There are better choices out there!

  • Pick out healthy main dish first: grilled chicken, beef or fish is a great option because you can eat it cold, without reheating. At some grocery stores like Whole Foods, they have microwaves to heat up your food so you can eat it at the store.
  • Look for the sale items (convenience food don't have to break the bank): A great way to stick to your budget when you're buying prepared food is to look for the sales. I saw the grilled chicken was on special and decided to find side dishes that go with that main course. If you find sale items that you like, build your meal around that item.
  • Go for the freshest dishes: By the end of the day, some lettuce or delicate salads may be limp or watery. Pasta or mixed bean salads stand up well even at the end of the day.
  • Ask for samples, if you're not sure how something tastes: Many stores give free samples so you can decide if you will like the dish before you commit to buying it. It's a great way to tell if it is still fresh, too.
  • Salad bar shopping: In my case, I picked out olives because they are a great snack and they keep well in the refrigerator. I also selected beets as a nutritious side dish. You can pick out precut, washed veggies for a simple side salad. The Whole Foods salad bar also has small chucks of cheese and bread so you can grab for a quick picnic easily.
  • Raid the produce section: Fresh fruit is an easy item to grab. When I'm on the road traveling in different cities, I grab apples, oranges, and other fruit that you can eat with without chopping. Or go for the washed and cut fruit that are ready to grab and eat.
  • Stick to your budget: If you have a budget in mind, start with the main dish and build out from there. Whole fruit or precut, washed carrots and dip are a great side dish you can pair with the side dishes. You might spend a bit more money than fatty fast food meals, but think about what those meals do to your body. Stick with the sale items, which there are many especially in the summer, and you'll be okay!
If you have any other no-cook and anti-fast food tips, add your comments to this post.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Moving to Indianapolis, But Not Giving Up My Healthy Lifestyle

The Berkey's are on the move! I've been packing all day. Aaron and I have decided to move to an affordable city to improve our quality of life. Less stress from crazy commutes, more buying power to purchase a family-sized home with a yard, and being close to family were the main factors for choosing Indy. Indianapolis has over 2 million people in the metro area and with that has many cultural events and a brand-new airport so I can take trips back to California to see my family.

I've been in Chicago 7-years and in my condo for over 5-years. We've loved living in Chicago, but we're ready to start the next step in our lives. We're planning to buy a house in the city because we like the urban lifestyle for the cultural events and diversity. Indianapolis is only 2 hours from Aaron's parent's lake house in Northern Indiana so that will help when we have children. The lake house feels like a retreat for us because we visit family and friends, but it's unrealistic for us to move up there because it's very rural (less business, cultural opportunities).

Moving to Indiana still shocks me a bit because I never thought I'd stay in the Midwest as long as I had. But moving to my home state, California, is even more expensive than living in the city of Chicago! Aaron tells me that Indy is a bit "hippy" and liberal so I'm hoping that will satisfy my West Coast nature.

Things are moving with the speed of light! We made this decision only 4 weeks ago and now, we both have new jobs and a temporary apartment. In fact, we both got job offers on the same day! That's a sign that we made the right decision. I'm going to work at a different software company doing product marketing and Aaron started his job doing media sales at Nuvo, an alternative weekly newspaper. Our Chicago condo is on the market and we're hoping the 6-month lease will give us time to sell our condo and buy a new house down in Indy.

Our healthy lifestyle is always a driving factor in our life decisions. When you're making life decisions like where to live or work, think about your health and wellness. Here are some thoughts that might help you.
  • Fitness: We selected our apartment because it's near Monon Trail for hiking, biking, running, or walking our dog, Bena. And it's 10-minutes from my gym, which I will transfer to from my Chicago membership. Look for fitness centers that are near your home because it's easier to incorporate in your daily routine. My new employer has a wellness program and you can earn points to belong to the gym 1-block from the office. Many employees workout at lunch so the corporate culture encourages a healthy lifestyle!
  • Sourcing Local Produce: I have a produce delivery service lined up for the week after we move down there. The weekly delivery will include local organic and artisan-crafted produce and foods. Our apartment is also only a few minutes from Whole Foods. I'm also going to look for Farmer's Markets to get fresh, local produce.
  • Minimize Work Commute: Indy has few traffic jams - another bonus for living there! Our apartment is 20-25 minutes from the new office and when we move to our desired neighborhood, it should be only 15 minutes. At my last company, I lived 30 miles from the office and with Chicago traffic being one of the worst in the country, I chose to take a commuter train. I walked to the train station from my house, rode the train for 45 minutes, and then drove 15 minutes to my office, leaving my car at the train station permanently. The train was great for relaxing, but, if one thing happened to throw off my schedule, I would be stuck out in the suburbs and home 1 hour later! Instead of commute 2 hours and 45 minutes every day, my commute will be 40 minutes total. I'm excited to gain 2 hours of my day again! More time means I can relax more. Less stress is going to be great for my body, too.
Aaron and I are thrilled to explore Indy. We have some friends down there, but we're not going to be too far from our Chicago friends. Indy is only a 2 1/2 hour drive from Chicago. Gotta get back to packing....