so long, sugar (and caffeine): Part 2

Since sugar also gives you the lift-then-crash effect similar to caffeine, naturally, I have been interested in getting off of sugar as well.  One thing I’ve noticed about going off of coffee is how it helps one to cut back on sugar almost automatically.  Coffee + donut = deliciousness.  Coffee + water = not quite as exciting.  For instance, there was a box of donuts and cinnamon rolls from a local bakery in the Hospitality Room.  I had half of a cinnamon roll, but without coffee to balance the sweetness, it just wasn’t as enjoyable – I threw out the other half.  So it follows that once you give up coffee, you may just begin giving up sweet things as well.

Here is something that has been helping me:  I have found that it really helps to get online (nerdy as this sounds) and look up the nutritional info of whatever treat is sounding good to you at the moment.  Once you realize what’s in it, it doesn’t have as much of an appeal.   And I guess I’m not alone in taking notice – I have come across a slideshow that I find helpful and amusing when it comes to resisting caffeine and sugar: http://www.thedailybeast.com/galleries/2010/11/08/40-unhealthiest-coffees.html

(Two of my previous favorites are in there: Panera Bread’s cafe mocha, as well as their pumpkin spice latte!  Yikes.)

Last night, the graduate students all gathered at a local coffee shop for coffee drinks and pie, provided by the graduate program.  Ryan and I split one piece of pie between the two of us instead of getting individual pieces, and we each had a Swiss-water-decaffeinated iced coffee with cream, no sugar.  So we’re definitely not quitting altogether, as you can see.  Just trying for moderation.

Here’s something interesting:  I found a video online that gives a nice visual presentation of your sugar consumption using sugar cubes, each of which is worth about 4 grams of sugar.  So if you are drinking one of the coffee drinks from the slideshow above – let’s say, you are having a large coffee coolata from Dunkin Donuts – you are essentially consuming almost 22 sugar cubes all at once, which is a whole lot more than the daily recommended intake of sugar.

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so long, sugar (and caffeine): Part 1

It’s been a while.  Having a baby will do that to you.  For me, having little Griffin definitely put everything else on hold for quite a while – he’ll turn one year old next month!  But I’d like to ease back into this recipe blog a bit, and something Ryan and I watched last night gave me the impetus I needed to do it.

We watched this video on YouTube last night, after putting Griffin to bed.  By the end of it, we made a pact to throw away all of the sugary treats in the kitchen (including the peanut M&M’s I just got for him for Father’s Day yesterday) and make a pretty big diet and lifestyle change that will have us swimming upstream when it comes to the food culture in our country.

We are going to attempt to get off of sugar.

To back the bus up a bit…I was already going through Week Two of my new Life Without Caffeine when we watched this In the past, I have been a coffee and Coke addict.  How I loved coffee and Coke.  I probably always will.  But I know that these are both bad for me.  Caffeine, after the initial lift, makes me shaky and anxious, and gives me heart palpitations.  It has been linked to fibrocystic breast disease.  And Coke has caffeine, plus a heap of sugar, phosphoric acid (which leaches calcium from your bones) and caramel color (which is a carcinogen).  So even though I love both of these drinks, I’ve committed to getting off of them in the interest of better health.

So far, it’s been ten days since my last caffeinated drink (which was a tall Starbucks Caramel Macchiato, for the curious). 

The first few days were hard.    A few things were happening simultaneously: I decided to go off of caffeine, we moved into temporary digs at Ryan’s graduate program for two weeks, and Griffin’s two front teeth started coming in. The equation would look something like this:

teething baby + unfamiliar environment +caffeine withdrawal =      not.      good.

It’s been harder than usual to get Griffin down for naps and bedtime.  Twice, I’ve had to take him for walks or drives well before 6a.m. so that Ryan could get some sleep before his 8:00 class.  Doing these drives and walks without a quick stop for a coffee just takes all the fun out of it.  I feel like if I’m up at the crack of dawn with a baby who refuses to sleep, I deserve to give myself a little treat.  And here in the dorms for Ryan’s graduate program, I wouldn’t even need to purchase my fixes.  The Hospitality Room downstairs is fully stocked, with glossy white bags of Starbucks coffee grounds and shiny red Coke cans, all lined up and free for the taking.

I’ve resisted.  It is hard.  I may have lifted the lid of the coffee maker once or seven times to smell the grounds in the basket.

However, as the withdrawal has worn off, the resisting has gotten …easier.  After the first few days of withdrawal, which included headaches, fatigue and even some tears, I find that my energy levels are pretty good.  I’m on a more even keel, which is what I truly appreciate about being off of caffeine.  I don’t feel as anxious (that one is big for me).  I am ten days off of caffeine, and this at a time when coffee and Coke are so very available and free right downstairs, during a two-week stay in an area that has way more accessible coffee shops than my little podunk town.  And deep down, it feels good.  I miss the taste; I think my brain still misses the fix; but so far, I like the way I feel.  We’ll see how it goes.  We will probably not ever end up eliminating caffeine and sugar completely.  There will always be the occasional coffee drink with friends or piece of pie at a family dinner.  And we’re not going to go on a campaign to get everybody we know to quit caffeine and sugar.  But even if we get our personal caffeine and sugar intake down to the occasional treat, we’ll be living a lot healthier than we were previously.  The recommended daily intake of sugar is about 40 grams and we’re going to try to stick to that for starters.

We’ll see how it goes…

FRESH the movie

Houghton College has a wonderful new community resource center, going by the name of “Our Common Ground” that opened not long ago.  On Friday night Ryan and I went with another couple to one of the center’s events, a film screening of the documentary by Ana Sofia Joanes, “FRESH.”

Growing Power Mural, photo credit: Specialty Studios/Ripple Effect

About twenty-odd people showed up for the screening, ranging in age from college students to a few senior citizens.  One young couple drove all the way from Hornell, NY because they had seen our film screening date on the FRESH website’s list of events.

FRESH was really enjoyable. I’ve seen many food documentaries, and this one seems to be very encouraging when it comes to showing how we can make a difference and bring farming and food consumption into a sustainable future.  I especially liked the parts where they interviewed Joel Salatin and showed him working on his farm and sharing a meal with his family on a summer evening, and the parts where they interviewed Will Allen and showed all the wonderful work he is doing to educate his local community about growing good food.

FRESH gave me a really strong desire to raise my son on a farm like Joel Salatin’s.  Although I can’t make that happen by the time he is born in August, I can do my part to grow my own tomatoes, shop farmer’s markets on Saturday mornings this summer, and buy a Community Supported Agriculture share (CSA) from a local farm that will have us picking up boxes of fresh, organic vegetables throughout the summer. All of those things will help not only the farmers who grow the food to receive the pay they deserve, but the environment (think fresh corn from the roadside stand down the road instead of corn packaged in plastic at the supermarket that’s been trucked in  from who-knows-where) and our health.

Check out this list of other things you can do to live FRESH. I hope you get a chance to see a screening!

Vegetarian Taco Salad

This is easy to like. Such a colorful, lovely dinner.  A lot of the prep work can be completed ahead of time, and then the dish comes together pretty quickly.  Another recipe adaptation from this website.

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh corn kernels or frozen, thawed
  • 4 large tomatoes
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked long-grain brown rice
  • 1 15-ounce can black, kidney or pinto beans, rinsed
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano, divided
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1/3 cup prepared salsa
  • 2 cups shredded iceberg or romaine lettuce
  • 1 cup shredded pepper Jack cheese
  • 2 1/2 cups coarsely crumbled tortilla chips
  • Lime wedges for garnish

Directions

  1. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add onion and corn; cook, stirring, until the onion begins to brown, about 5 minutes. Coarsely chop 1 tomato. Add it to the pan along with rice, beans, chili powder, 1 teaspoon oregano and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring frequently, until the tomato cooks down, about 5 minutes. Let cool slightly.
  2. Coarsely chop the remaining 3 tomatoes. Combine with cilantro, salsa and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon oregano in a medium bowl.
  3. Toss lettuce in a large bowl with the bean mixture, half the fresh salsa and 2/3 cup cheese. Serve sprinkled with tortilla chips and the remaining cheese, passing lime wedges and the remaining fresh salsa at the table.

I made my own version of this using canned corn, only two tomatoes and cheddar cheese instead of monterey jack.  Instead of iceberg lettuce, I used a mixture of organic baby spinach and red leaf lettuce.  I also left out the cilantro.  On purpose. I’m one of those unfortunates to whom cilantro tastes like soap or old socks.  There are actually a lot of us out there – check out this article from the New York Times on the cilantro-hating phenomenon.  See?  It’s not my fault!  But I know that my cilantro-hating is as tragic to a cilantro-loving person as a person’s dislike for chocolate would be to me.

This meal has got a lot of goodness: whole grains, veggies, protein, fresh greens.  I plan to make it several times throughout the summer, especially once fresh corn becomes available at our favorite farm stand, and our patio tomatoes are producing.  Next time I will spice it up a bit, perhaps adding a bit of Rotel diced tomatoes and chiles into the mix, and topping it off with chopped avocado pieces.  I have a feeling that any leftovers would be really good the next day wrapped up in a tortilla.

Sweet Potato and Red Pepper Pasta

This was a new dish that we tried last night.  It is pretty tasty and has quite a kick to it, with the garlic and red pepper flakes.  This vegetable-packed dish gives you something like 140% of your daily value of vitamin C, and 120% of your daily value of vitamin A, 21% of potassium, and 15% of iron.  Sweet potatoes actually pack more vitamins into them than carrots, and according to foodreference.com, they are all-around amazing for you.

I found this recipe at this website.  Not having everything on hand that they called for (read: fresh tarragon, parsley and goat cheese), I improvised a bit.  I recommend reading recipe reviews when you are looking at recipes online.  It’s because I read the reviews that I knew to add the red pepper flakes and double the amount of garlic called for, to boost the flavor of this dish.

Ingredients

  • 8 ounces whole-wheat angel hair pasta
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 8 cloves garlic, minced (doubled from 4 to boost flavor)
  • 3 cups shredded, peeled sweet potato, (about 1 medium)
  • 1 large red bell pepper, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup diced plum tomatoes (I used grape tomatoes)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon
  • 1 tablespoon white-wine vinegar, or lemon juice (I used white wine vinegar)
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup crumbled goat cheese (I used a combination of feta and shredded Parmesan cheeses)

Directions (My changes are in boldface type)

  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook pasta until just tender, 4 to 5 minutes or according to package directions.
  2. Meanwhile, place 1 tablespoon oil and garlic in a large skillet. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the garlic is sizzling and fragrant, 2 to 5 minutes. Add sweet potato, bell pepper, tomatoes and water and cook, stirring occasionally, until the bell pepper is tender-crisp, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from the heat; cover and keep warm.  Stir in red pepper flakes.
  3. Drain the pasta, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking water. Return the pasta to the pot. Add the vegetable mixture, the remaining 1 tablespoon oil, parsley, tarragon, vinegar (or lemon juice), salt and cheese; toss to combine. Add the reserved pasta water, 2 tablespoons at a time, to achieve the desired consistency.  At this point I added the vegetable mixture to the pasta, and then added the vinegar, salt and cheeses.

This dish turned out quite nicely, despite the lack of goat cheese and fresh herbs.  I will definitely make it again, and I think I will incorporate some changes.  Shredding the sweet potato was admittedly tedious.  Next time I will try slicing both the sweet potato and the red pepper into long strips, and then roasting them in a 400F oven along with the garlic, and then perhaps blending the roasted garlic with the olive oil and lemon juice in the food processor, and then combining that with the vegetables to toss with the pasta and cheese.  I’ll probably double the amount of tomatoes, and I will still replace the goat cheese with feta (personal preference) and include the herbs next time.

Biscotti Toscani

Last night we had friends over for dinner.  Studies show that eating in the company of others is actually an important part of healthy eating – it’s better for you to eat with others than to eat alone.

We had garlic bread, fettuccine alfredo using this sauce, and a spring greens salad with homemade Italian dressing.  When having people over, we do meals like this because although they’re vegetarian, they’re pretty appealing to everyone.  You don’t really want to invite someone over and feed them tofu chunks the first time.

Since we had an Italian theme going, I decided to try a biscotti recipe I’d found on allrecipes.com for Biscotti Toscani.  To my surprise, I discovered that making biscotti is simple and satisfying.

These turned out looking like ones you’d buy at a coffee shop.  Covered with a thick, hardened chocolate spread, and crispy until you dunk them in some coffee, they taste amazing.

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • 2 teaspoons orange zest (I used the zest from one medium orange)
  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup toasted almond pieces (I didn’t toast the almond pieces this time.  Next time!)

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Grease and flour a large baking sheet.
  2. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, vanilla, almond extract, and zest. Combine flour, baking powder, nutmeg, and salt. Stir into the creamed mixture until just blended. Mix in almonds. Divide dough into two pieces. Form into long flat loaves about 1/2 inch tall and 12 inches long. Place the loaves 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheet.  The dough will be crumbly.  This part is easier if you wet your hands before handling the dough, spreading the crumbs into logs on the baking sheet and adding more/pressing together and flattening it out as you go.
  3. Bake in preheated oven for 25 minutes, or until a light golden brown. Cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes.  Meanwhile, enjoy the amazing smells filling your kitchen!
  4. With a serrated knife, cut diagonally into slices about 1/2 inch thick. Lay the slices flat on the baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes, turning over once. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.  I used a sharp straight-edged knife instead of a serrated knife, because it seemed to cut through the partially-baked dough more easily.  Also, I ended up turning them every 5 minutes for another good 20-35 minutes or so, until they developed the golden color and hardness I desired.
  5. Place chocolate chips into a small, microwave-safe bowl. Melt chocolate in the microwave, stirring every 20 to 30 seconds until smooth. Use a spatula (I used a butter knife) to spread chocolate onto one side of each cookie. Let stand at room temperature until set. Store biscotti at room temperature in an airtight container.

We all enjoyed these Italian cookies, and I sent our guests home with a little paper bag of extra biscotti at the end of the evening.  I hope they enjoyed them with their morning coffee today!  It’s never too early in the day for chocolate.

Next recipe to come: Hippie Tabouleh Salad! Sweet Potato and Red Pepper Pasta!

Baked Oatmeal

Think of this like a soft and chewy granola bar.  Or like eating a big oatmeal cookie for breakfast.  Ultimate comfort food, yet can be surprisingly nutrient-laden with its protein, fruit, flax seed, oats, and soy.  It’s also kind of a fail-proof, easily-tweaked recipe.  Switch out the raisins or cranberries for bananas, dried pineapples, apples, blueberries, whatever suits you.  Add walnuts or chopped pecans instead of almonds.  Adjust the amount of sugar.  Use applesauce instead of the egg.  Serve warm in bowls with the milk of your choice poured over the top, or with a dollop of fresh cream.

1 1/2 cups rolled oats

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 tsp. salt

1 tsp. baking powder

1/2 cup soy milk (I used Silk Vanilla)

1/2 tsp. vanilla extract (use 1 tsp. if not using vanilla soymilk)

1 egg

1/4 c. butter, melted

1/3 c. slivered almonds

1/2 c. raisins or dried cranberries

2 tsp. ground flaxseed

Preheat oven to 350F.  In a large bowl, mix together the rolled oats, brown sugar, cinnamon, baking powder and salt.  Whisk in the egg, melted butter, soy milk, and vanilla.  Add the raisins, slivered almonds and flax seed, and mix well.  Spread in a 1 1/2 qt. baking dish.  Bake in a preheated oven for about 30 minutes.  Makes four large or six small servings.