Sunday, August 5, 2012

Inspiration for the weekend: Quiche, mental health, and amazing Olympians

one of the images posted on I.A.M.
I'm staying with my family this weekend, and my mom is making a quiche for dinner. I haven't had a quiche since I lived with one of my college roommates, who would make a version of this delicious potato-crust quiche!

This badass college student fought his insurance company, via Twitter, to pay for his cancer treatments, and he won.

I came across this project called Internal Acceptance Movement (I.A.M.), put together by a 20-year-old who struggled (and still struggles) with an eating disorder. She posts inspirational quotes, images, and stories for people who are struggling with their body image, depression, or other mental unhappiness.

The U.S. Women's Gymnastic Team member McKayla Maroney causes a judge's jaw to drop. You go girl.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Whose responsibility is it to pay our exorbitant medical bills?

I don't know enough about the Affordable Care Act to swear by it. I'm not sure if it is without a doubt the best possible plan that anyone could have come up with. I'm sure there are lots of flaws (although they weren't put there purposely by President Obama). Despite its imperfections, though, I believe that it's better than nothing. We had to do something. From my own personal experience, the health insurance world is a nightmare to navigate. I have had multiple bills in the hundreds of dollars that weren't covered for some obscure reason, or because my employer didn't offer health insurance and therefore I was paying out of pocket. And my bills were just for routine medical or dental checkups. I have been very fortunate not to have any debilitating illnesses or major accidents. If I had, I know that I would be in enormous debt right now, either to credit card companies or to my family. Neither of which is a desirable option.

But it's accounts like this one that really get me upset about the health care system. In this moving article, a college professor ends up tens of thousands of dollars in debt because her partner comes down with advanced-stage Lyme disease. Her health insurance hasn't kicked in yet, so they have to pay out of pocket for several weeks, and no one is able to diagnose her properly. The partner is in extreme pain and misery, and all she can do is watch helplessly. Eventually, thousands of dollars later, they get an accurate diagnosis, and it turns out to be a diagnosis that isn't covered by health insurance! They end up having to start a website to plead for help from their friends and family. Fortunately, they raise a lot of money, and are able to pay their bills.

But it's just ridiculous that people need to go to such lengths as designing a website to beg for help to pay simple medical bills. Imagine if they had been a family with less know-how, who didn't have such a network of support that helped them navigate web design and mounting bills. Imagine being an English language learner, who is trying to understand stacks of paperwork that involve "deductibles," "claims," and other confusing requirements. Imagine being a single mother who can't pay her child's medical bills because her employer either can't or won't insure her. There are endless scenarios where people's lives are ruined, temporarily or permanently, because of our unsupportive, confusing health care system.

While I don't think the Affordable Health Care Act is perfect, I do think it's a good start. We had to start somewhere, so stories like this don't go on. As this article said, "It is not our community's responsibility to pay our exorbitant medical bills, to prevent our lives from being annihilated by the cost of illness. It is our government's responsibility."

Image source: NYTimes

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Inspiration for the weekend

Why food waste matters, and how to prevent it in your kitchen.

Zucchini fritters recipe. Add some feta and they're so delicious!

Apparently, other countries are catching up to the U.S. when it comes to obesity and sedentary lifestyles. This tool call "Where are you on the global fat scale?" compares your BMI to people across the world. Pretty interesting.

It's finally tomato season! Here's a summer side salad recipe that I found in a random cookbook I was looking through at the store:
  • 1 cups fresh pineapple chunks
  • 2 cups cherry tomatoes, cut in half
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1 T red wine vinegar
  • 2 T fresh mint, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup scallions, finely chopped
  • 1 t salt (or more if desired)
  • pinch black pepper
Stir and enjoy! 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Recipe of the week: Lemon Grain Salad with Asparagus, Almonds & Goat Cheese

So there is a slight theme to all of my meals lately. Take one type of grain, add multiple types of vegetables, olive oil, lemon juice, and cheese. Stir, and enjoy. I just don't feel like cooking complicated meals when it's been this hot. So here is another good one I found while browsing recipes in one of those stands at the co-op near my house. While the asparagus is out of season now, you could replace it with something else (sauteed zucchini maybe?).

Lemon Grain Salad with Asparagus, Almonds & Goat Cheese
  • 16 oz. grain (the original recipe called for farro, but I didn't know what farro was, so I used pearl couscous - you could also use orzo or another small pasta or grain)
  • 1 lb asparagus, ends snapped off and sliced into 2 in. pieces
  • 1/4 c olive oil
  • 1 cup almonds, sliced and toasted
  • 4 oz. goat cheese, crumbled
  • 2 lemons, juiced and zested (aka grated)
  • 1 T neutral oil (like grapeseed, walnut, or Canola)
  • salt and pepper to taste
Cook the grain according to directions. Drain well, place in a large bowl, and set aside.

In a large pan, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium heat. Add the asparagus in a single layer, and cook until crisp-tender, about 3 minutes. Drain and add to the bowl of grains.

Add the almonds, goat cheese, and lemon zest to the grain and asparagus. In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice with the rest of the olive oil and the neutral oil. Add salt and pepper to taste (I was generous with them both). Pour over the grain salad and toss.

Recipe adapted from The Kitchn

Friday, July 13, 2012

Inspiration for the weekend

Here are some things I came across this week that stuck with me...

How to simplify your life a bit.

More and more farms are being built on rooftops.

Reuse Tuesdays: Ideas for projects from recycle materials.

The meal I make basically once a week.

Why knowing the names of plants is less important than making time to play in the forest...

Reading helps us grow.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Why killing time isn't a sin

The author of Zen Habits, one of the blogs I read about simple living, has a pretty awesome policy that anyone can share or reprint his blog entries if they so choose. He calls it an "uncopyrighted" policy. So when I saw his post this morning about killing time, I decided to repost it since it really resonated with me. I realized that I am definitely the type of person that views killing time as a bad thing. I'm always thinking about how I can be more productive. If I'm watching a movie, I'll try to answer emails at the same time. If I'm in the car, I'll try to listen to podcasts so I can learn more. If I have an unexpected day off work, I think about all the things I can complete that day. Those tendencies aren't necessarily bad, but they can border on unhealthy when I realize that I can't relax when I have down time. Thus, as part of my quest to live a healthier life, I'm going to think more about making time to just relax. It's one of the healthiest things you can do for yourself.

Why Killing Time Isn't a Sin

Post written by Leo Babauta.
I recently read a travel tip from someone who reminds himself that “killing time is a sin”, and so makes the most use of every bit of downtime, even on an airplane: “read a good book, learn a new language with Rosetta Stone, write to my friends around the world who haven’t heard from me in too long”.
I have no objections to reading books, learning languages, or writing to friends. It’s the idea that downtime must be put to efficient use that I disagree with. While I used to agree with it completely, these days I take a completely different approach.
Life is for living, not productivity.

Make the Most of Every Minute

There is a tendency among productive people to try to make the best use of every single minute, from the minute they awake. I know because not too long ago I was one of these folks.
Got time on the train or plane? If you’re not doing work, maybe you can be enriching yourself by learning something.
Got time before a meeting starts? Organize your to-do list, send off some emails, write some notes on a project you’re working on.
Driving? Why not make some phone calls or tell Siri to add a bunch of stuff to your calendar? Why not listen to a self-help audiobook?
Watching TV with the family? You can also be answering emails, doing situps, stretching.
Having lunch with a friend? Maybe you can talk business to make it a productive meeting.
This is the mindset that we’re supposed to have. Every minute counts, because time’s a-wasting. The clock is ticking. The sands of the hourglass are spilling.
I used to feel this way, but now I see things a bit differently.

Is This What Life Is To Be?

It might seem smart and productive to not let a single minute go to waste (they’re precious, after all), but let’s take a step back to look at the big picture.
Is this what our lives are to be? A non-stop stream of productive tasks? A life-long work day? A computer program optimized for productivity and efficiency? A cog in a machine?
What about joy? What about the sensory pleasure of lying in the grass with the sun shining on our closed eyes? What about the beauty of a nap while on the train? How about reading a novel for the sheer exhilaration of it, not to better yourself? What about spending time with someone for the love of being with someone, of making a genuine human connection that is unencumbered by productive purpose, unburdened by goals.
What about freedom? Freedom from being tied to a job, from having to improve yourself every single minute, from the dreariness of neverending work?

An Alternative

Killing time isn’t a sin — it’s a misnomer. We’ve framed the question entirely wrong. It’s not a matter of “killing” time, but of enjoying it.
If we ask ourselves instead, “How can I best enjoy this moment?”, then the entire proposition is reframed.
Now we might spend this moment working if that work brings us joy. But we might also spend it relaxing, doing nothing, feeling the breeze on the nape of our neck, losing ourselves in conversation with a cherished friend, snuggling under the covers with a lover.
This is life. A life of joy, of wonderfulness.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Breakfast solution: overnight oatmeal

I eat oatmeal every morning. It's become a habit for me, because it's cheap, easy to make, and healthy. I don't have to think about breakfast in the morning, and it keeps me full until lunch. Making it from scratch every morning takes a bit of time (about fifteen minutes, after boiling the water and waiting for the oats to be done, plus mixing together toppings). What's worse, though, is that it's so HOT. With the weather the way it is this summer, I hate making boiling hot oatmeal and sweating (in my non air-conditioned house) while eating it on a hot day. Well, I finally found a solution! I am so pumped about this one. As I told my friend who showed me how to do it, I think it'll change my life. Or at least my morning breakfast routine.

Overnight Oatmeal

The night before, put 1/3 cup yogurt, 1/3 cup water, and 1/3 oats in a jar. Mix together, and let it sit overnight. In the morning, pull out the jar and voila! Your oatmeal is made. The oats will absorb the liquid overnight, becoming soft and ready to eat. Then add any toppings combinations you'd like - fresh fruit, flax seed, nuts, raisins. It's so good, and so easy. No cooking necessary, and if you use a mason jar, you can screw the top on and throw it in your bag to eat at work. Hooray!

This idea came from the blog Kath Eats Real Food. The author is apparently even more obsessed with oatmeal than I am. She has endless toppings ideas, and also notes that you can use any type of liquid in the overnight oats recipe - water, milk, yogurt, whatever. Here are a few of her overnight oats ideas: Tribute to Oatmeal.

Image credit

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Recipe of the week: Israeli couscous and chickpea salad

Now that it's getting hot, I'm pretty much eating only simple, grain-vegetable-and-bean recipes. Here's one I'm obsessed with lately, from the NYTimes Well blog. I make a double batch of it and then eat it for lunch for the rest of the week!

Israeli Couscous and Chickpea Salad
  • 1 cup Israeli couscous (also called pearl couscous)
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1/2 cup cilantro, finely chopped
  • 2 T chives, chopped
  • 3 oz. feta, crumbled
  • 2 T pine nuts, lightly toasted
  • 1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 1 red pepper, diced
  • 2 T lemon juice
  • 1 t ground cumin
  • salt to taste
  • 1/4 cup plain yogurt
  • 1/2 t chili powder
Heat one tablespoon olive oil over medium-heat. Pour in the couscous and stir until the couscous begins to brown and smell toasty, usually four to five minutes. Add two cups of water and salt, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 15 minutes, or until couscous is soft but not mushy.

Put the couscous in a big bowl and add the cilantro, chives, feta, pine nuts, chickpeas, and red pepper. Stir. Mix together lemon juice, cumin, a little salt, yogurt, and chili powder. Pour the sauce on top of the couscous mixture. Enjoy!

Image source

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Nourish: Food curriculum for upper elementary and middle school teachers

A friend of mine showed me a new food curriculum called Nourish. It looks fantastic. It's geared towards upper elementary and middle schoolers, so I won't be able to use it this fall (I'm teaching kindergarten). But it has some really great ideas for teaching about where food comes from, eating in season, food advertising, and other important food literacy concepts. It also has a bunch of graphics called Food Tools that are perfect for teaching about food systems. Here's one graphic I love and might actually print out to put in my classroom...

The curriculum also has a half-hour video that goes with it. Seems pretty awesome!

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Being active in nature makes kids healthier

By now you've probably figured out how much I love infographics. But this one is the best I've seen in a while! It's called Children and Nature: Being active in nature makes kids healthier. As a teacher who works at an environmental education center (for one more week!), the facts in here are great. I printed a copy and laminated it, to put up in my new classroom!

The two most stunning facts:
  • Kids spend more than 7 hours a day with various electronic media.
  • Children have lost 50% of unstructured outdoor activity over recent decades. 
But fortunately:
  • Children living within 2/3 mile of a park with a playground can be 5 times more likely to have a healthy weight.
  • Children who spend more time outdoors are less likely to be overweight by 27-41%.
The link to the printable pdf is here.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

From Scratch: Homemade pizza

Until a few years ago, I didn't make any food from scratch. The most complex meal I made was adding cooked broccoli to macaroni and cheese made from a box. But eventually, I learned skills for making meals from scratch, gradually adding more and more whole foods into my diet, and eliminating most processed foods. Processed foods are pretty ubiquitous though, and it takes a lot of time and effort to eliminate them. (I don't think I'll ever have time to eliminate them completely...but it's a noble goal.) I've decided to start a little series on the blog called From Scratch. Each month I'll choose a food that I often buy premade, and attempt to make it from scratch!

This first recipe comes from a close friend of mine, who recently taught me to make pizza from scratch. It takes more time than frozen pizza, but the result is so much more delicious. Below is a recipe for homemade pizza crust and sauce. I also included some good topping combinations to put on top of your from-scratch pizza!

From Scratch Pizza Crust

Note: The key to perfect homemade pizza is a really hot oven (500+ degrees) and a nice big pizza stone. This recipe also calls for a pizza peel, which is the large wooden flat thing that chefs in fancy kitchens use to slide the pizza in the oven. Having one of these makes it easier, but it's not essential to make pizza crust. This dough recipe is adapted from Simply Recipes, but you can really use any dough recipe you like.
  •  1 1/2 cups warm water
  • 1 package active dry yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)
  • 3 1/2 cups bread flour (or all-purpose flour if necessary)
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 2 t salt
  • 1 t sugar
Put warm water in large bowl. Sprinkle yeast on top and let sit for five minutes while it dissolves. If yeast isn't dissolved after five minutes, give it a stir. Add flour, olive oil, salt, and sugar. Stir to mix, then knead until it turns into a dough ball. Coat a large bowl lightly with olive oil. Place dough ball in bowl, and roll it around so it gets coated with olive oil. Put plastic wrap over bowl, and let rise in fridge overnight. This helps improve the flavor. If you don't have enough time, let it sit for at least 90 minutes.

When you are ready to make the pizza, take the dough out about fifteen minutes before and let sit on the counter at room temperature. Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Shape dough into a ball, coat lightly with flour, and let rise on floured counter. Use a rolling pin to roll out the dough into a flat, thin circle. (The thickness of the crust is up to you. Make it as thick or thin as you like!) If it doesn't stretch well, let it sit for a while longer.

Sprinkle a generous amount of cornmeal on the pizza peel. Then fold the pizza dough and place on the peel. Add the toppings on the pizza, and slide the entire pizza off the peel onto a pizza stone. Cook until the crust looks browned and the cheese is sufficiently melted, somewhere around ten minutes.

Dustin's From Scratch Pizza Sauce
  •  1 12 oz. jar whole tomatoes, drained
  • 2 large cloves garlic, diced
  • 2 generous tablespoons tomato paste
  • a few pinches of salt, pepper, and oregano (or more to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil, or 2 teaspoons fresh basil, chopped
  • Lots of black pepper
  • Tiny pinch of brown sugar
Add one tablespoon olive oil on medium-high heat. Saute garlic until fragrant. Add tomatoes and cook until soft. Add tomato paste and taste to make sure it tastes thick and tomato-y. If not, add more tomato paste. Then sprinkle on salt, pepper, oregano, basil, and pepper. Add a tiny pinch of brown sugar and stir. Let sit until ready to spread on pizza.

Good pizza topping combinations
  • Portobello mushrooms, spinach, goat cheese (with pizza sauce as a base)
  • Roasted eggplant, spinach, feta, sun-dried tomatoes, plum tomatoes, caramelized onions, shredded mozzarella (with pesto as a base)
  • Tomatoes, fresh basil, fresh mozzarella (with olive oil as a base)
  • Onions, mushrooms, sliced tomatoes, shredded mozzarella (with pizza sauce as a base)
  • Artichoke hearts, garlic, spinach, red onion, black or kalamata olives, feta (with olive oil as a base)

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Eating healthy takes organization

I came to a realization the other day, while talking to a friend about eating good food cooked from scratch, and the realization was this: eating healthy takes a lot of organization. It really does. It takes a lot of effort, planning, and time. There are a million reasons why it's hard for people to eat healthy, but I think this is a big one. Thus, I have thought more about how I organize the way I eat. I'm certainly not a perfect eater, but these are some of the steps I try to take each week in order to make sure my diet stays healthy:

1. Make a grocery list. 
This one is huge. I used to go to the grocery store and just sort of buy whatever was on sale or looked appetizing at the time. Then when I got home, I would have no idea how to combine the ingredients to something tasty, so I would end up eating frozen pizza or the same three dishes every week (macaroni and cheese, peanut butter and banana sandwiches, and chicken pot pies). Looking up recipes ahead of time, and writing down all the ingredients I'll need, really changed all that, because now I have everything required to make better meals. Also, I keep my list on the fridge and add things to it whenever stock things start to run low (aka when we only have one jar of oats left, I write it on the list right away).

2. Store recipes somewhere so it's easy to pick out good ones.
I like to find recipes online and store them on my Pinterest. I also print the best ones out and put them in a binder that I can flip through when I'm making a list. Other people put sticky notes in their cookbooks on the pages with good recipes. Then look through these recipes when deciding what you'll want to eat that week. I usually pick out four recipes at the beginning of the week, and write the ingredients on the list.

3. Only buy what's on the list.
The other benefit of a list is that you can save money if you only buy what's on the list. That way, you'll only buy the food you need, and none of it will go bad in the fridge when it doesn't get used. Food waste is a huge money waste. A friend of mine sent me this article on how to prevent food waste. It talks about how to "tie your meals together" in order to prevent food waste. (For example, if the store only sells ground beef in one-pound packages, find two recipes that use a half-pound of ground beef.)

4. Make time for cooking. If you aren't going to have time, make sure you have leftovers or a premade meal ready.
I love cooking from scratch, but it does take a lot of time. I usually budget an hour to make the food and some more time to eat it and clean up, as well. Sometimes the recipes aren't that complex, but I still make sure I can set aside an hour to make the food. There are some nights, though (usually Tuesday nights for me) that I can't cook because I have too much else going on. Those are nights when I try to find a reasonably healthy "instant" meal to eat. Here are some awesome ideas for ten-minute meals. I also eat pasta with pesto and cherry tomatoes at least twice a month.

5. Throw away (or compost) food that is old.
Then your fridge or cabinet won't overwhelm you. You'll be able to see what you have, and what you need to buy at the store.

I'm sure there are many more ideas that help make eating healthy easier. If you have any ideas, leave them in the comments!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Recipe of the week: Red lentil dal

This isn't a low-fat meal, but it's delicious, pretty healthy, and cheap to make. I like to eat it with naan or over rice. Basmati rice is perfect and cooks in only 15 minutes! If you keep your cabinet stocked with these ingredients, this is a good meal to make when you've run out of ideas or don't have a lot of time.

Red Lentil Dal
  • 2 T butter
  • 1 T black mustard seeds
  • 3 T ginger, chopped very finely
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  •  2 cups red lentils
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • water
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
  • hot chiles, diced (optional)
Melt butter in pan and add black mustard seeds. When mustard seeds begin to pop, add chopped ginger and garlic. Saute until fragrant (only a few minutes). Add lentils, stir and cook until translucent (usually about two minutes). Add coconut milk, then add two or three cans of water (fill up the empty can of coconut milk with water). Add the salt and turmeric. Cook until soft. It usually takes around 20 minutes but could be longer. Stir and taste the lentils periodically to see if they are soft. If the mixture starts to stick to the bottom of the pan, add small amounts of water. Top with cilantro and chiles (optional), and enjoy!

Image credit: Cheryl's Nourishing Spoonfuls

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Quote of the moment

We don't need a law against McDonald's or a law against slaughterhouse abuse -- we ask for too much salvation by legislation. All we need to do is empower individuals with the right philosophy and the right information to opt out en masse.
- Joel Salatin (farmer, author, Polyface Farms)

 Source: Earth Eats

Monday, April 23, 2012

2012 Bike Challenge

Shortly after writing my recent post on biking in the U.S., I got an email from a friend who works for the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin about this year's Wisconsin Bike Challenge. The challenge asks you to form a team with your coworkers, or participate as an individual, and log the miles that you ride your bike from May 1 to August 31. You can log the miles online or on your smart phone. It's a really easy way to motivate yourself (and/or your colleagues) and to keep track of how well you do. I'm always more likely to do something if I know I am going to write it down and look at the results. My personal goal? To bike to work at least two days per week this spring. The place where I currently work is four miles away, so that should mean I log 16 miles per week! And the Bike Challenge also has prizes for participants - even more motivation.

The Bike Challenge was started by the Wisconsin group, but it's a national challenge now! So, no matter what state you live in, set a goal for yourself of biking to work, the grocery store, or anywhere that you normally drive to, and click here to sign up for the Bike Challenge!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Food waste in America...yikes

Found this article about food waste on Eat Drink Better. I don't have a compost pile at my apartment anymore because we don't have a yard to put it in, but I keep meaning to start a worm bin again. This infographic might be the inspiration I need to put it together. The most shocking statistic is probably that each American produces 254 pounds of food waste a year. Yikes. Click on the image to see a larger version. For info on how to start your own worm compost bin, click here.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Biking and walking in the U.S.: 2012 benchmarking report

A friend of mine just passed this fascinating document along to me. It's a report done annually on walking and biking in the U.S. I was shocked (but I guess not surprised) by some of these statistics. Click here to see the full report, or here to read quick facts from the report summary. I've always been somewhat conscious of how often I choose to drive somewhere that is within walking or biking distance. But now I'm going to try even harder to get places by my own two feet. I'm just glad I live somewhere that is reasonably bike-friendly. Some places are impossible to get around. (That's a whole other issue that we need to work out in this country.) Anyway, here are some interesting stats from the report:
  • 40% of trips in the U.S. are shorter than two miles, yet we use our cars for 87% of these trips.
  • 27% of trips in the U.S. are shorter than one mile, yet we use our cars for 62% of these trips.
  • Only 1% of trips are by bicycle. Only 10.5% are by foot.
  • Biking and walking levels fell by 66% between 1960 & 2009, while obesity levels increased by 156%. [connection??]
  • The number of children who biked or walked to school fell by 75% between 1966 & 2009, while the percentage of obese children rose by 276%
This report also ranks all 50 states, as well as 51 major cities, based on how often their residents walk or bike to work. My current state (Michigan) ranks pretty low at #34, whereas Alaska surprisingly ranks #1!

So, if that isn't enough inspiration to consider walking or biking to work (or at least one place that you normally drive to), check out this infographic for some more reasons.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

What's inside a school lunch burger (and a lot of processed veggie burgers)?

Here's an interesting this video from NPR about the unnecessarily long list of ingredients in a school lunch burger. The food scientist in the video argues that children who don't have three balanced meals a day need the extra ingredients in the burger. But I don't think anyone needs thiamine mononitrate, disodium inosinate, and pyridoxine hydrochloride added to their food. Most or all nutrients our bodies need can be found by eating whole, unprocessed foods.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Teaching your kids how to live a healthy life

This post is written by Ashley Smith, a totally inspirational mother of two that has been a friend of mine since middle school! Their family raises chickens, grows their own food, and has a farm share, all things they do to help their children live healthy lives.

I never pictured myself living out in the country, raising farm animals, or growing my own food. I grew up in the suburbs in a bubble, and didn’t picture life differently until I had my own kids. I have two daughters, ages one and two.  It’s important to me that my kids have experiences that help them appreciate what they have and an understanding of how this world works together. 

Don’t get me wrong: we go to the grocery store like anyone else. We treat ourselves to our favorite foods and have lazy days, but my girls know plunking down in front of the TV with a bag of chips is an occasional thing, not our everyday routine. Most of our free time is spent exploring outside, going for walks in the woods, tending to our animals, or simply strolling through the garden. I could argue there’s nothing my oldest daughter loves more than running through rows of corn!

The girls and I participate in a farm share, which is a great experience. Much of our produce from June-October comes from a farm five miles away if it’s not straight out of our garden. Every week we go pick up our box of all kinds of fruits and veggies and I have to hold back eager children who can’t wait to tear into it.  If you don’t have the time or the space to grow your own, this is a great way to get fresh quality (usually organic) produce for a good price!
  Just last year we took on the adventure of raising our own chickens for eggs. I have to say, it has been more fun than I imagined! Even at two years old, my daughter asks every day to go feed “her” chickens. She loves collecting the eggs and putting them in her basket. Our chickens are free range, with a hen house at night for predator protection, so they are frequently chased around the yard for hugs. This spring we even raised baby chicks, and now have a total of nine hens and two roosters (oops! The boys were supposed to be girls but we love them anyway). 

We are currently getting our garden ready for this season, planting seeds and looking for worms. There’s nothing like picking a handful of fresh strawberries out of your own backyard for an afternoon snack. There are sure to be many more adventures for us in the future, and I hope that I can raise happy, healthy, well rounded children in the process.


Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Quote of the moment

I heard a definition once: Happiness is health and a short memory! 
I wish I'd invented it, because it is very true.

- Audrey Hepburn

Monday, March 26, 2012

Using Pinterest to store recipes

So, I am on again/off again about Pinterest. Sometimes I think it is an awesome way to store links that I want to visit again. Other times, I think it is a time-sucking distraction that makes me feel way too overwhelmed to cook or craft anything. But where I find it most useful is in storing recipes. I have two Pinterest boards, one called "recipes (to try)" and one called "recipes (delicious)." Whenever I see a recipe online, I don't have to worry about whether or not I want to add it to the long list of recipes in my bookmarks folder, or print it out. I just pin it on my "recipes (to try)" board in Pinterest. If I end up liking the recipe, I can move it over to the "recipes (delicious)" board.

Then, when I'm making my grocery list, I can go back to either of these boards and be inspired to cook these meals. It's so much less overwhelming than trying to search All Recipes for something I might like...The best part is that the board shows pictures of the meals, making me much more likely to choose one of them.

Another idea I've been meaning to try is to make a board called "recipes (for the week)," and use that board to store the recipes that I've chosen just for that week. When I get home from work, I wouldn't have to remember which meals I've bought ingredients for. I could even plan ahead, and choose a bunch of meals for the entire month! But that sounds a little too organized, even for me...

Sunday, March 18, 2012

How I convince myself to go running

So, I love running. But I usually don't love running until I'm all done running for the day. Sometimes it can be really, really hard to make myself get out the door. I thought I would share a few things I do when I feel like any excuse will prevent me from going for a run...
  1. Picturing how I feel when I return from a run. The feeling of exhaustion and accomplishment that I know I'll have when I come back is sometimes enough to get me moving.
  2. Saving up good podcasts for my run. You could do this with podcasts, music, or books on tape. Pick something that you love to listen to, and only let yourself listen to it while you work out. It'll make exercise something you look forward to.
  3. Making a checklist. I use one of the calendars from this website to write down how much I want to run during the upcoming week. After I complete the run for that day, I check it off. It's a little thing, but the satisfaction of having a full week of checks helps motivate me.
  4. Picking two days of the week where I don't worry about exercise. Yes, I know, I should get 30 minutes of exercise every day. But my job is active enough that I don't have to sit down constantly. So I give myself two days a week where I don't worry about going for a run.
It also really helps to be working towards something like a half marathon or 10K. But I don't like to always worry about a training schedule. Instead, I just want to run for the sake of running. Some days this works, but other days I need a little more motivation.

Monday, March 12, 2012

How many types of tomatoes existed 100 years ago?

Something I didn't think about for most of my life was what type of tomato I was eating. I didn't know there were different varieties. I just thought a tomato was a tomato. I could tell the difference between a big tomato and a grape tomato, but that's about it. But as I started reading and learning more about healthy eating, I realized that there are tons of tomato varieties I had never seen before. Now, when I go to the farmers market or a healthy eating conference, I always hear people gushing about the particular type of heirloom tomato that they love the most. There are, in fact, 79 different types of tomato seeds that can be found in the National Seed Storage Laboratory. Different tomatoes have different flavors, shapes, and textures, and some types are better for cooking certain dishes than others. The image at the right shows some of these types.

But tomatoes aren't the only food with this much variety. There are also 28 types of cabbage, 36 types of lettuce, and 16 types of cucumbers. There are 25 types of peas, and 17 different beet varieties. Needless to say, I had no idea, and neither do most people, because grocery stores often carry just one or two varieties of these fruits and vegetables. Consumers are used to getting the same type of food everywhere they go, so a grocery store in California is expected to carry the exact same type of tomato as a store in Kansas. We are used to perfectly red tomatoes, gorgeous orange carrots, and big purple beets. But striped tomatoes, purple carrots, and orange beets exist too.

Unfortunately, these varieties are disappearing quickly. As this National Geographic image shows below, we used to have way more variety. A hundred years ago, we had almost 500 varieties of lettuce, 400 types of tomatoes, and 338 types of muskmelon. Now our seed variety has dwindled drastically.

This lack of vegetable variety doesn't just mean less colorful grocery shelves. It means that farmers have learned to grow just one type of lettuce, corn, or tomato on their farm fields. They have acres and acres of the same food, which increases the likelihood that the crop will be wiped out by a disease or insect. This practice of growing only one type of crop, called "monocropping" or "monoculture," is bad for the soil as well. But it's what farmers do, because it's what we demand at grocery stores.

Increasing the variety of seeds we grow in the U.S. is important. Different varieties of food offer different tastes and different nutrients. It's also fun to figure out how to cook with new types of foods. There are ways we can help increase the variety of seeds that farmers grow. I have been wanting to get a CSA share for years, so it will force me to try out different types of fruits and vegetables. Shop at farmers markets if possible, and buy new types of fruits and vegetables there. At the grocery store, look for more unusual varieties of the foods you usually buy. The more people demand a variety of fruits and vegetables, the more likely these varieties will stick around for the next one hundred years.

Image source: Readyplanted

Monday, March 5, 2012

Homemade granola

This granola recipe is quick to make, and so delicious. It's a filling and healthy snack as well. The recipe comes from a family of very inspirational friends that we lived near when we lived in the Hudson Valley. They lead a creative, healthy and sustainable lifestyle that I am slowly working towards each day. So thanks Emma, Eric, Mathilde and Alice for your inspiration, and for the granola recipe! Here it is:

Emma's Granola
  • 2 cups old fashioned rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup wheat germ (can be raw)
  • 2 T dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 t salt
  • 1 cup extra ingredients, such as pecans, sunflower seeds, walnuts, almonds, etc
  • 1 cup raisins or other dried fruit
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 3 T flavorless oil, such as Canola
  • 1 T water
  • A few pinches of flavoring, such as cinnamon, vanilla, and any other spice or flavoring that you like

Mix the first five ingredients in a large bowl. Bring maple syrup, oil, and water to a simmer in a small saucepan. Add flavoring. Pour maple syrup mixture over the oat mixture and coat all oats with liquids.

Place in a large pan. Ideally the granola is in a layer less than 1 inch thick. Bake for 30 minutes at 275F, then add raisins or other dried fruit on top. Bake for 15 more minutes. If you like clumpy granola, don't stir it while it bakes.

Let cool and keep in an airtight container, up to two weeks. As Emma said, it never lasts that long in our house! It's very easy to make a double or triple batch.

Image via Free People

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Guest post: Food for thought

An amazing friend of mine recently had a baby boy, who is one year old now (and incredibly adorable). She also recently started a blog called Real House Mom where she writes about the challenges and joys of being a parent. I asked for her permission to republish her latest post, which discusses how and why to make baby food from scratch. So here it is!

I remember getting stressed about how I would transition Bentley to solid foods.  There are so many things to consider: What foods do I start with?  How much should I give him?  Which brand do I trust?

It’s amazing how these things just worked themselves out without me needing to calculate much of anything.  Bentley, like most babies (I’m assuming), was eager to eat solids and easily slipped into a routine of when and how much he ate.  A factor that I firmly believed made things easier was that I pureed his food myself.

It sounds like a laborious task, and yes, chopping sweet potatoes or squash can be extremely tedious, but the benefits are worth it.  First of all, there are no additives to preserve the food.  Also, the food you make on your own is not cooked in mass quantities like store bought food, so there is a significantly stronger taste.

You might be thinking, “But I work full-time, there is no way I’d have time for this.”  Well, with that kind of attitude, you most certainly won’t have time.  But think about the benefits for your child and maybe sacrificing a night or two a week won’t seem so bad.  In fact, I know working moms who have done just that and still manage to stay sane.  So, you can do it.  If you want to.

You might also be thinking, “Ugh…I hate cooking.”  I had that exact feeling.  I still don’t like to cook.  But making food for Bentley was more like a project than a chore.  I also felt a great sense of pride and accomplished when I was done…and it was an even better feeling if he liked the food!

I normally made two batches of food over the course of two nights per week.  Different foods require different amounts of time, but usually the entire process was 90 minutes (this includes peeling & chopping, which can take a long time for a novice like me). Here is a breakdown of the cooking process:
  • Wash, peel (if needed), & chop food
  • Steam/boil food (a steamer is best, but I boiled my food)
  • Transfer food to a blender & puree (some people use a heavy duty machine…I have a blender)
  • Pour pureed mix into ice cube tray, freeze overnight
  • Dump cubes in a freezer safe ziplock bag, keep frozen until use
See???  It’s not that bad.  As your child gets older and becomes a pro eater, the recipes can get more complicated, but they also get more fun (and tasty).  Making your child’s food is truly a labor of love.

As a result of this process, I am very passionate about skipping the “Graduate” foods altogether. Nick and I have not made a single baby food purchase (besides rice cereal), and we don’t think Bentley is missing out.  The baby food industry would probably hate me for saying this, but your child does not need that stuff…he/she can eat whatever you’re eating as long as it’s not a choking or allergy hazard.

If making food isn’t for you (and I understand not everyone wants to do this), please make sure you read the nutrition labels.  I was disgusted when I compared “Banana Yogurt Bites” (made for babies) to dried banana chips (made for kids/adults).  The yogurt bites listed “sugar” before “banana puree” whereas the chips had one ingredient: bananas.

And remember, you are what you eat.  Your child is depending on YOU to make him the best he can be.

Image via mush: homemade baby food, which seems like a pretty cool blog as well

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Why does a salad cost more than a Big Mac?

This image was published a while ago, but I recently saw it recirculating around Facebook so I thought I would post it. Why a salad (and fresh fruits and vegetables in general) costs more than a Big Mac is because the federal farm bill arranges it that way. Federal subsidies give money to farmers who produce certain crops. As of right now, "specialty crops," which include fruits and vegetables, receive less than 1% of the subsidies. The rest, as you can see, goes to meat, dairy, corn, and soy, which end up in our school lunches, grocery stores, and fast food restaurants, for cheap:

Now, there are lots of issues going on with the farm bill. A large percentage of the corn it subsidizes goes to producing biofuels, which means less food for hungry people. The richest 5% of farmers receive the majority of subsidy payments, and 3 in 5 farmers receive nothing. Very little money goes to subsidizing organic farmers. And on and on. But the issue I most find upsetting is the lack of support for farmers that produce fruits and vegetables. This is what we need more of in our diet, and the farm bill doesn't make it easier for farmers to produce these crops.

For more information on the farm bill, see here, here, and here. And if you're so inclined, contact your representative to tell them to support more funding for the growing of fruits and vegetables. We need these healthy foods to be more ubiquitous and more affordable.

p.s. Most of the information I wrote here I learned last weekend at a conference called Everybody Eats: Cultivating Food Democracy. I went to a talk hosted by Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow's assistant. Senator Stabenow is the chairperson of the Senate agriculture committee and seems to be doing some good things to fight for funding for specialty crops. Who knows what Congress will end up doing though...

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Local highlight: food and garden education at the Allen Neighborhood Center

one of the greenhouse's customers
Lately I have been volunteering at an awesome place called the Allen Neighborhood Center on the east side of Lansing. They do a lot of amazing things to bring food access to this part of the city, including holding one of Lansing's few farmers markets, offering cooking and gardening workshops, and helping neighborhood residents get health care and food assistance. They also have a beautiful greenhouse in a nearby park, where staff and volunteers work to grow vegetables for a CSA.

CSAs are a great idea in general, because they offer fresh fruits and vegetables all spring and summer. But it's often hard for families to purchase one, since they require paying several hundred dollars at the beginning of the growing season. Allen Neighborhood Center's CSA attempts to eliminate that financial barrier, by offering several payment options, including monthly payments throughout the growing season, a reduction in price by volunteering in the greenhouse, and use of your Bridge card (aka food stamps).

And! My favorite part is the youth education that goes along with the growing of vegetables. The  center offers a free program twice a week after school, right in the greenhouse, called KidsTime. Neighborhood kids in grades K-5 can come, free of charge, to learn about healthy eating, exercise, and the food system. I've been going on Tuesdays to help out, and it's usually the highlight of my day. Last week their fabulous lead educator led the kids in a great activity - they split into groups to create their own smoothie recipe, then opened a "business" making and selling their unique smoothies to each other (using Monopoly money as currency). Afterwards, they reflected on why smoothies are a healthy snack, as well as the challenges of running a food business.

In past weeks kids have played vegetable Twister, made worm compost bins, and learned how to read nutrition labels. These activities are very similar to the ones I used to teach with Seven Generations Ahead, as well as in a class I taught in New York called "You Are What You Eat." As I've said before, food education is a vital part of getting kids to eat (and love) healthy food. These are the kinds of programs that need to be a regular part of classrooms across the country, not just in optional after-school classes. But until that's a reality, we need to continue to support wonderful initiatives like Allen Neighborhood Center's KidsTime. For more information on how to support them, see their website.

Photo source: Allen Neighborhood Center

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Recipe of the week: Vegetable pad thai

We just got a subscription to Everyday Food, the tiny little magazine full of recipes that we always looked through while waiting to check out groceries. We've only gotten one issue so far, but it's packed with recipes and all of them look good. Here's one we tried that I really loved.

Vegetable Pad Thai
  • 8 oz. dried, wide, and flat rice noodles
  • 2 T dark-brown sugar
  • 2 T fresh lime juice
  • 3 T soy sauce
  • 2 t vegetable oil
  • 3 scallions, white and green parts separated and thinly sliced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2 large eggs (optional), lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro
  • 1/4 chopped roasted, salted peanuts
Soak noodles according to package instructions. Drain. In a small bowl, whisk together brown sugar, lime juice, and soy sauce.

In a large nonstick skillet, heat oil over medium high. Add scallion whites and garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, for 30 seconds. Add eggs (if using) and cook, scraping skillet with a rubber spatula, until eggs are almost set, about 30 seconds. Transfer egg mixture to a plate. Add noodles and soy sauce mixture to skillet. Cook, tossing constantly, until noodles are soft and coated with sauce, about one minute. Add egg mixture and toss to coat, breaking up eggs gently.

Serve noodles topped with scallion greens, cilantro, and peanuts.

Recipe source: Martha Stewart
Image source

Sunday, February 5, 2012

A simple way for people to know what's healthy

With a dizzying array of food products available at the grocery store, it can be hard to know what's healthy and what isn't. Some foods are labeled "natural," but may not be any healthier than an "unnatural" food. Some foods that are labeled "low-fat" may actually be really high in sugar. There are good fats and bad fats, different daily values for different people... It's confusing, and even though packaged foods have nutrition labels, people aren't motivated to turn the package around and examine the label. How many of us have the time to interpret nutrition labels on every product they're buying? I don't. They're long and confusing.

The food industry doesn't want things any simpler though. If labels were simpler, it would be pretty obvious that frequently buying a huge bag of "all natural" sour cream and onion chips is a bad idea. Or that a giant bottle of "throw-back" soda "made with real sugar" isn't actually good for you. If labels were easier to understand, the food companies would lose money on unhealthy products, which is their worst nightmare. Last year, the Institute of Medicine was really pushing food companies to put simple labels on the front of packages. Here's what the food industry decided to go with:

While that label looks pretty, it's really just as confusing as the nutrition label on the side of the box. All those numbers and categories don't tell you whether or not the food is good for you. I really don't think they are going to discourage busy adults from buying things that are bad for them. And kids? Even with nutrition education, there is no way these labels will help them learn what to eat.

But there is an alternative! Check out this really interesting study posted on Feedback Solutions for Obesity. Researchers labeled foods in a hospital cafeteria with one of three labels. A big green dot for healthy foods, a yellow dot for somewhat healthy foods, and a red dot for foods that are bad for you. Like this:

And it turned out to be so simple that it worked! Sales of the red dot foods went down, especially with unhealthy beverages. Sales of green dot foods (the healthiest ones) went up. They also did another study where they made the green dot foods more prominent on the shelf. That helped more, decreasing sales of red dot foods even further.

I am a huge fan of this labeling method. The simple dots mean that people will immediately know which foods are healthiest for them. The red dots catch your attention and make you think twice about buying that product. No, there is nothing wrong with buying a red dot food sometimes. You won't get penalized, no alarms will go off, if you buy a red dot food. But theoretically it could make you think twice about how often you buy those red dot foods.

Unfortunately, the biggest barrier to using this dot system will be getting people to agree on what qualifies as a green dot food and what has to be labeled a red dot food. I can definitely picture Pepsi throwing a fit when their soda is labeled with a red dot. But at some point they'll have to come to terms with the fact that they put a lot of money into foods that are bad for us.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Training for a half marathon

So, I've decided to train for a half marathon! I've run two before, one in 2009 and one in 2010. I wanted to  make it an annual event, but unfortunately I didn't get ready in time to run one in 2011. But I plan to do one this spring! There's one in my area scheduled for Earth Day in April. I don't have a time goal (I am way too slow of a runner for that). My goal is just to finish the race. Having the half marathon as a goal is a perfect way for me to make sure I keep up with running (or exercise of any kind).

not really how I look when I run
I wanted to share my training schedule, since I've used it before and found it easy to follow even with a busy work/life schedule. It only asks you to run three times a week, two half-hour runs during the week and one long run on the weekend. If you don't have time to do a long run on a weekend (or if it's too snowy outside -- like it was for me this weekend), just move it to Monday or Tuesday. 

When I first started training in 2009, I was a terrible, slow runner and really didn't think I could ever run 13 a row...But the training schedule (from Jeff Galloway) I used was just enough to ease me into running longer and longer distances. For those that haven't done much running at all, Jeff Galloway has a conditioning program to try for eight weeks before beginning half marathon training.

I'm currently in week six of the half marathon training schedule, which means that the reasonable-distance runs are out of the way (the longest one I have done so far is 6.5 miles). The next few weeks bring much longer ones. This is where really interesting podcasts come in handy... Anyway, without further ado, here is the schedule. Notice that it should be started 17 weeks before the race. For more information, see Jeff Galloway's site.

Half Marathon Training Schedule for Runners and Walkers
Tuesday TT
30 min run
25 min run
easy walk
3 miles
30 min run
30 min run
easy walk
4 miles
30 min run
30 min run
easy walk
5 miles
30 min run
30 min run
easy walk
2.5 miles
30 min run
30 min run
easy walk
6.5 miles
30 min run
30 min run
easy walk
3 miles with MM
30 min run
30 min run
easy walk
8 miles
30 min run
30 min run
easy walk
3 miles with MM
30 min run
30 min run
easy walk
9.5 miles
30 min run
30 min run
easy walk
4 miles
30 min run
30 min run
easy walk
11 miles
30 min run
30 min run
easy walk
4 miles with MM
30 min run
30 min run
easy walk
12.5 miles
30 min run
30 min run
easy walk
4 miles with MM
30 min run
30 min run
easy walk
14 miles
30 min run
30 min run
easy walk
5 miles
30 min run
30 min run
easy walk
Half Marathon Race
30 min run
30 min run
easy walk
5 miles
30 min run
30 min run
easy walk
6-8 miles
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