Thursday, 29 January 2009

Care and feeding of sick SOs

Between getting everything packed up (finally) and the SO's bout with some bug (vibrio, salmonella, rotovirus--hey, it's anyone's guess. I vote vibrio, but only because it sounds cool), I'm only up to a short one today: what to feed nauseous sickies.

I personally am in the camp that if the nauseous sickie does not want to eat, there is no reason to try and shove things down their throats. I am also not perched over the sickie with IV fluids in hand, waiting for the first signs of dehydration. I'm more of the leading the horse to water type. I provide low calorie Gatorade because that's what my sickie requested, and I left it by his beside. When he wanted it, he drank. I know that when someone you love is sick, the instinct is to DO something, anything. And that's a hard instinct to fight.

But I think it causes you and the sickie more stress than necessary if you get into a battle of wills. Just a thought.

If any of you have ever had food poisoning, you know how miserable it can be. Also, how quickly you bounce back. Now, I don't buy the BRAT diet (bananas, rice, applesauce, toast) for obvious reasons. I do think that bland is best, so my sickie, when he was up to it late last night, had some lean ground turkey mixed with black beans, topped with mild salsa and chopped avocado. When your body has been through a trial, why give it nutritionally devoid carbs when you can give it nutrient packed goodies? I'm happy to say the SO is up and about today (if FAR more suspicious of the meat at the taco joint down the street.)

When I'm sick, I personally love soup (shocker, I know) which is also bland and soothing, but nutritive. I'll bet I recover faster than the saltine eater.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

It's all in our heads...

The adjective convenient, unlike say, horrible or wonderful, generally has a neutral connotation. When I think of things that are convenient, I think of things that are easy to do, that require little stress or effort or energetic output on my part.

Much of our society seems to be structured around making things easier and more convenient. Electricity, cars, indoor plumbing, grocery stores: all designed so it is easier and more convenient to live our lives. True, some things that are designed to make life more convenient have the opposite effect (cell phone customer representatives spring to mind).

Now, I'm certainly not going to bash hot running water or functioning refrigerators. I may believe in Paleo eating, but I'm not going to throw on a loincloth, grab a spear, and take up residence in a field--I don't even like camping with a tent and sleeping bags. And I am certainly not against making food convenient, especially given my love of prechopped frozen spinach :)

What I do have a problem with is the way this mentality of convenience is applied to food, particularly in this country. Convenience seems to mean 'as quickly as possible with no regard to the healthfulness of what is being provided.' I hate the association of food with convenience with a complete disregard for taste beyond an assault of salt, sugar, or both.

I also don't like that convenient means getting your money's worth in giant portions so that manufacturers have to spin their nutrition labels and break down a massive packaged chocolate chip cookie into two servings (because most people stop at half the cookie, right?) to obscure the fact that there are 600 calories in that beast. I hate that convenience food must be food so crammed full of preservatives that cockroaches will be able to munch on the leftovers after a nuclear holocaust. And it's this mentality of food merely being a commodity to be valued at the lowest common denominators of healthfulness and taste that is spreading (check out Living Healthy in the Real World, where there is a fabulous review of a book on this very topic) throughout the globe.

When I was living in France, it was gauche to walk and eat at the same time (I know because I was the recipient of a lot of staring). One did not snack. One took time to prepare proper meals, sit down, and eat them, even if preparing the proper meal was taking the frozen cassoulet you had purchased at Monoprix and heating it in the oven. Taste was important. Portion size was moderated as much by cultural norms as a sense of satiation. It was simply not 'comme il faut' to eat until you groan. I'm not going to pretend the French don't like convenience foods too--but their convenience foods tend to be yogurts and frozen versions of classic dishes and individual portions of grated carrot salad, rather than bags of potato chips. And their portion sizes are still considerably smaller.

Convenience food doesn't have to be the way many American food manufacturers make it now. What if I told you of this fabulous new low calorie product that was individually packaged with organic materials, came chock full of vitamins and nutrients and fiber, and was available NOW in your grocery store?

Interested yet? I'm talking about oranges (and many other fruits). It's all about the spin, baby. In other words, the issue is not that healthy, convenient food is not available to us--it's that we don't view healthy food as convenient. And when someone is tired and stressed and feeling economically stretched, even the perception that healthy=extra effort may be enough to turn people towards sub optimal choices. American food manufacturers help create and sustain that perception because it is good for their bottom line, at the expense of our waistlines.

I feel like we have made great strides in the recent past--how else can we explain the popularity of "The Omnivore's Dilemma." I worry that the economic downturn will lead, however, to a backward slide (note the fact the Spam and McDonalds are resurgent). I don't know how we decouple convenience and nutritional bankruptcy on a large scale, but there must be a way. I think it will have to be a combination of top down (getting our government to be more proactive) and bottom up (actually getting that frozen spinach in peoples' grocery carts). But like I said, I believe the issue is not that we don't have the resources, it's that we lack the mindset.

Monday, 26 January 2009

Diet and Anger

So I'm sure at least some of the people who stop by my blog read the article in the New York Times that referenced the Paleo diet, among other things

The article implied that following the Paleo diet was part of a 'paleofantasy' us modern humans cling to that doesn't reflect the modern society we live in today and further, is built on a shakey and fragmented understanding of how our ancestors lived. I think the author makes a valid scientific point that correlation is not causality, and there may be more than our modern diets to blame for our modern illnesses. The author also agrees that eating a less processed food based diet would probably be better for us.

The author does make many at least seemingly counter Paleo points. For example, the article argues that evolution does not stop, and cites lactose tolerance among modern humans of European dissent, a genetic mutation borne of the evolutionary environment. If I follow correctly, the implication is that we are also now, thanks to evolution, grain tolerant and legume tolerant and generally well adapted now to survive on carbohydrates. Other bloggers have taken up the points made in the NYT piece with vociferous enthusiasm and somewhat expanded and distorted the author's argument to generally attack the Paleo philosophy. Interestingly, at least to my mind, there is genuine nastiness in the dialogue between some of the Paleo camp and some of Paleofantasy camp, mostly arising from the Paleofantasy end.

I'm pretty much a live and let live type. I don't tell other people how and what they should eat, and I don't bash other people's food choices. I'm actually surprised people care enough to really get into it. But now that I've seen some of the points made, I do feel the urge to respond to some of them, if only for my own edification.

1) We don't know what our ancesters ate: True. We can only make educated guesses. And we can back up these guesses with scientific studies that show the efficacy of different ways of eating. And pretty much all the studies I have read that are halfway decently done tend to support the hypothesis that moderating carbohydrates, upping protein, getting good amounts of healthy fats,and eating whole natural minimally processed foods (not whole grains, which are by definition highly processed) is good for us.

2) It is a fallacious assumption that the point to which we evolved 50K years ago is the ideal: Maybe. But isn't it equally fallacious to assume either that we have evolved significantly from that point and that it WASN'T the ideal? I'll take my chances, as you will take yours, with our different approaches. But I don't see how my view can be categorically knocked out.

3) Sugar, high fructose syrup, heck, grains generally aren't bad for us since we make them/grow them ourselves: I respectfully disagree. They are very dense sources of calories with few or no nutrients, especially compared on a calorie for calorie basis with other foods. Just because we have created them doesn't mean they're good for us. Please note I'm evaluating these foods on their NUTRITIVE value. Animals are adapted to consume that which is optimally nutritive for them. On this basis, grains simply cannot match meat, vegetables, fruits, and naturally occuring fats.

4) Different groups of humans have evolved to eat different things, so what works for an African will not necessarily work for an Inuit: again, respectful and qualified disagreement. Masai eat cows and cow blood, Inuits eat whale meat and blubber. But it's all animal protein and fat. And I believe I just named two of the healthiest ethnic groups on the planet when they stick to their customary diets, which are heavily weighted in favour of animal protein and fat. Of course, you can cite the Chinese or the Japanese with higher carbohydrate intake, and I will concede that it is possible that some ethnic groups are more carb tolerant. But even in those groups the carbohydrates are not heavily processed and/or treated in such a way as to minimize their negative effects (e.g. fermenting soy products).

These are only a few points of rebuttal, and they likely won't change anyone's mind. I know that I eat the way I eat for the simple reason that it makes me feel good. I just don't get the anger associated with what people choose to eat and why. In the end, so long as everyone is happy, does it matter? And when did we all become so intolerant of dietary dissent? I generally find that those who react negatively to my food choices tend to take my choices as a repudiation of their own, which is an inaccurate personalization of my diet. Perhaps those who are unhappy with the way I eat are perhaps instead really expressing an unhappiness with themselves.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Fit as a fiddle

As I'm getting ready to move I'm saying goodbye to people I know in the Northeast. This includes my paternal grandparents. My grandmother is 81 and my grandfather will be 90 in a few months. As I was visiting with them yesterday I was struck by how mobile they are, and how lucid, in spite of their advanced ages.

Both my grandfather and my grandmother were quite phyiscally active into their 70s. My grandfather was a tennis champ in his youth, and in his retirement he was a tennis coach for a small college. My grandmother began figure skating in her thirties, a sport she continued into her late 60s, as well as an avid swimmer.

While neither eschewed grains or ate particularly healthfully, they both maintained normal body weights through the course of their adult lives. My grandfather, a former smoker who quit cold turkey in his 50s, has had quadruple bypass surgery. But he's still kicking around now. And my grandmother actually fell down the stairs in her late 70s and didn't break a bone!

My maternal grandparents were farmers. Both died in their 90s. Again, both had perhaps less than the ideal diet (a fair bit of grain) but both also ate a good amount of protein and veggies, and it was often lean, grassfed beef because they were cattle and wheat farmers. They also didn't have access to most processed foods. And they were both very physically active for most of their adult lives. In fact, had my maternal grandfather not been a smoker himself, and developed bad emphysema, he would have had an excellent quality of life even in his 90s.

I feel like I was and am blessed to get to have my grandparents around. And I feel like there are lessons I can learn from their lives. They didn't go to the gym and run on a treadmill for an hour. They did sports that they enjoyed and found relaxing, and they did them not out of a sense of obligation, but a sense of play. And they were all what we would call today intuitive eaters, eating when they were hungry and stopping when full.

But it also strikes me that they have the benefit of good genes. Both of my grandfathers smoked, and they didn't get lung cancer. My paternal grandfather basically has no heart function left, most of his coronary arteries have been blocked for years, and by all rights he should not be running around the way he does. For the love of Pete, people, DON'T SMOKE. Bad, bad stuff those ciggies.

Also, it seems that those genetic conditions that might predispose someone towards obesity aren't present in my genetic code (not that I am incapable of gaining weight, but I seem to top out in a normal range, even eating totally ad lib). So I may not need to eat as carefully as I do, but I would anyway because of how it makes me feel.

So the conclusion I draw from watching my family is both that I'm lucky and that it pays enormous dividends at the end of life to be attentive to your body earlier on (oh yeah, and that my kids will never be tall-the tallest we got on either side is 5'9"; I'm lucky I'm not a dwarf). And that it's much easier to be attentive when you're doing activities you like. We all have to work with what we have, but we are also all capable of maximizing what we have.

Friday, 23 January 2009


We love restaurants. We tend to eat out at least once a week, it mixes things up and we enjoy trying new places. We a have a few favorites that we visit over and over again. Sometimes it is a certain dish, a favorite drink or the combination.

Sometimes I can eat a starter, main and followed by a delish dessert. Other-times I am happy with a hearty main. Before ordering, we have a bit of debate on what we should have, because I tend to go conventional, while she has more elaborate tastes that I end up becoming very interested in, as they usually taste very, very good.

The trick as someone who is often interested in someone's elses food, is to make sure they order something you will like too. But it is pretty easy with her . . .

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Yes, I write down everything I eat

One of the details of my diet I am most paranoid about discussing is the fact that I record everything I eat in a database. Because I am paranoid about it, I figured the ultimate anti-paranoia thing to do would be to blog about it. So, here goes.

I use a freeware program called the CRON-O-Meter. I know some people use SparkPeople or other programs, and some simply write down what they eat. I use the the CRON-O-Meter because I find it to be particularly convenient and user friendly. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

I first got into journaling food when I began with CRON. Both elements of CRON, restriction and optimal nutrition, are aided significantly by tracking what you eat. First, most people have no idea what or how much they really eat during the day. I've watched people forget not just nibbles here and there, but whole slabs of lasagna they've had for lunch. Also, people generally have no idea how many calories are in things. Especially when it comes to processed food, things usually have far more calories than people expect. Beyond that, I seriously doubt most people know or care whether or not they're getting their RDAs, even if they are relatively educated and careful about food.

The CRON-O-Meter was an absolute revelation for me. One facet in particular which is very effective as a visual aid is the fact that it shows, in pie chart form, the macronutrient distribution of different foods. Imagine my surprise the day I saw that ~75% of the calories in almonds are from fat, not protein. Or that skim milk has more carbs than protein. Beyond that, I was amazed to see what I was consuming, in what proportions. I can tell you that when I first began paying attention to what I ate, the picture was not pretty. I was eating more than I thought calorie wise, a 60% carb diet when I thought I was getting loads of protein, far too little fat, and my RDAs? Totally hit or miss.

Journaling is helpful to me in many respects. 1) It allows me to track my calories, which is comforting for me because I have the hard visual data to counteract water weight swings on the scale (I know for a fact there is NO way I had put on three pounds over night). 2) It allows me to see that I am getting enough protein and fat, and controlling my carbs-I was fat phobic, as I think a lot of women are, for a long time, and seeing that my weight remained steady even as I upped my fat intake was psychologically important for me. 3) It allows me to ensure I am getting all my vitamins and see my deficiencies. 4) It provides me with data over the long term so I can analyze myself: for example, I was able to link food cravings I had to certain nutrient deficiencies.

Now, journaling is like a game to me. For example, if I'm low in C one meal, I figure out how to add it to the next. Unlike some people, I don't find writing down what I eat to be a huge hassle. It takes me about 10 minutes a day, and for that investment the dividends are hugely rewarding. But I know it looks disordered and anal retentive, hence the insecurity. I hid my journaling from my SO when we first started dating. Luckily, he's an engineer, so when I showed him the CRON-O-Meter, he thought it was cool--it was just a tool for analysis to him, not a symbol of anything else.

I think that if you're interested in improving your nutrition and trying to lose weight, one of the best things you can do is track your food for a week and see what happens. I'll bet you'd be surprised how your diet compares to what your perception of your diet is. I'm not saying journaling like I do is necessary or desirable for everyone, but from personal experience, it is a very useful tool in my toolkit.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

A sweet AND a savoury treat

Having had two culinary successes in the last couple of days that the SO has raved about, I feel obliged to share. First, a ridiculously simple, in no way authentic, put-it-on-everything guac:

1 ripe avocado (or more if you're trying to use, say, some of the 10 for $10 you bought in a fit of excitement because avocadoes have been $1.99 a piece lately)
1 small wedge of onion (1/2 oz or 15g), diced finely
1/2 lime (fresh is better, but if all you have is bottled, go for it)
Sriracha to taste
Salt to taste

1. Slice avocado in half. Twist gently to separate halves. Scoop out seedless half with a spoon, gently running the spoon around the edge of the avocado skin. Do the same to the half with the seed. Gently pull the avocado flesh away from the seed. Taste a bit of the avocado now to get a sense of how much salt you want to add.
2. Mash the avocado to the desired level of smoothness with a fork on a cutting board. I like it chunky :)
3. Place the avocado in a bowl. Add the lime juice, onion, Sriracha, and salt. Stir well and arm yourself with a fork to fend off the SO as he comes barging into the kitchen with every intention of eating ALL of your freshly prepared stash.

I actually love to use this mixture, mixed with salsa, as a salad dressing. But I'm weird.

And now, the sweet. Full disclosure: this dessert requires a bit of skill and some artificial sweetener. But sometimes, a girl needs a little fix. So, without further ado, I present broiled figs with sabayon;

6-8 nice plump figs, sliced in half lengthwise
1 tbsp honey
1 tsp butter, melted
3 egg yolks
1 tbsp Marsala wine/spiced rum/another liquor of your choice
1 packet Splenda

1) Turn on oven broiler to low. Place the figs on a baking sheet, cut side up. Mix honey and butter together.
2) Set the bottom half of a double boiler on the stove, filled with water, and boil water. In a bowl, beat the egg yolks together until nice and homogenous. Place the eggs in the top half of the double boiler and with a whisk, begin beating the egg yolks vigorously. The goal of the exercise is to warm the yolks, but NOT to scramble them, so moving them constantly is important. As the yolks get thick and lighter coloured, add the liquor and Splenda. Continue beating until the mixture is pale yellow, at least doubled in volume, and when you raise the whisk, ribbons of egg foam fall from the whisk.
If you don't have a double boiler, you can achieve the same effect by placing the eggs in a glass bowl or metal bowl over a pot of boiling water.
3) Immediately remove the eggs from the heat and pour into a bowl.
4) Slide the figs into the oven and broil until the figs are starting to cook, about 2 minutes. Remove from the oven, brush with butter/honey mixture, and return to oven until honey browns lightly. Remove from oven and divide figs onto two plates. Allow the figs to cool for five minutes, spoon the sabayon over the figs and dig in :)

The sabayon recipe works well on any fruit, raw or cooked. In the summer I have it with fresh berries. It also goes very well with poached pears in the winter.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Spinach (a.k.a. confirming my rep as a culinary nerd)

First, let me just say I am working from home today to watch the inauguration. All I can say is Wow. Today is a great day.

And now, on to the spinach. Spinach has had the benefit of at least one free schill, but let's face it, Popeye is a little out of date. I know this because I made a Popeye reference a few days ago to someone about 10 years younger than me, and they thought I was talking about the fast food chain. Yup, I'm looking for gray hairs in the mirror right now.

Now, I know I've made the case for unpopular veggies before, but few actually face the negative press of spinach. Take steakhouses, for example. Apparently, spinach is so unpalatable it needs to be literally drowned in butter and cream to make it tolerable. And I respectfully submit that canned spinach is the ultimate way for parents to guarantee their children will never want to touch a green veggie again.

But last night I was out with the SO and we had a spinach salad that was, in his words, perfection. Delicate baby spinach with goat cheese, slivered almonds, macintosh apple slices and cranberries with a cranberry beer vinaigrette. The fresh bright flavour and delicate chew of the spinach was a great contrast to the crisp apple, soft cranberries, and creamy cheese. And baby spinach is still tough enough to stand up to a heavier dressing.

In fact, baby spinach is an excellent salad green with an assertive, but not aggressive taste and a beautiful rich green colour. But why stop at fresh? After all, anyone who has tried to cook with fresh spinach knows of it's disconcerting habit of shrinking to 1/20 of its original volume in precisely two seconds flat, leaving one cursing the day she didn't listen to her mother and buy four bags instead of two while she serves her spinach dish in miniscule portions to her ten guests. Ok, maybe that's just me. In any case, frozen spinach is a fabulous alternative that has the advantage of already being (ahem) volume reduced. It is the base of one of my favourite quick soups (full disclosure, I stole this from Mary's CRON Diary blog)--pop about 150g of frozen spinach in a microwave for two minutes until nice and hot. Dump it in a blender with some hot chicken broth and 15g feta. Blend (with the lid off and a towel thrown over the top, unless you really like playing hide and seek with little chunks of spinach for months after) until smooth, and enjoy. I usually have to throw the soup back in the microwave for 30 seconds, taking the total production time to about 7 minutes. But you can also throw it in an omelette or toss it with seasonings and stuff a chicken breast or a pork chop with it.

Did I mention frozen spinach is cheap, tastes good, and keeps forever? And I mean seriously, forever. I discovered a bag in my freezer I haven't touched in a year, tried it yesterday, and yup, still good. Oh yeah, and I heard somewhere it had TONS of nutrients in it? For anyone on a budget, monetary OR caloric, spinach is a great deal. Just try it. Grab a bag. It'll be around $1 and I promise you you won't be disappointed.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Paging Dr. Gupta

You may have heard that Dr. Sanjay Gupta has been discussed as nominee for Surgeon General in the Obama administration. Although there has been a lot of positive feedback regarding this nomination, there has also been a significant amount of criticism about his candidacy.

Despite Dr. Gupta's accomplishments as a practicing neurologist and a White House Fellow in the Clinton Administration, criticism is being made towards his nomination because of his lack of experience in the public health corps. Many believe because he has not worked in the administration, practice and management of public health beyond his WH fellowship, he is not appropriate to lead this part of government.

The Surgeon General is the face of medicine in the United States. With over 50 million Americans uninsured and health care costs increasing yearly, the Obama administration has made universal health care a top priority. My love and I are quite passionate about food, as you can tell by her daily writing, but health in general, is also something we are equally passionate about and we are specifically concerned by the growing issue of obesity within the United States. We believe Dr. Gupta’s experiences as a journalist and ability to explain medicine to the layperson, prepare him to being an influential advocate on issues in nutrition, among others. With that, he has our virtual support.

Saturday, 17 January 2009

A typical shopping list

I live 5 minutes away from a Whole Foods. I know not everyone shares my opinion, but I love Whole Foods. True, there are certain things they don't sell, like my low sugar ketchup, and they don't usually have specials like 10 avocados for $10 (found last night at Shaws-SCORE!). But I generally find the quality of their produce, including their frozen produce, to be higher and I can get grass fed beef and other organic meats for relatively reasonable prices. 

Now, I used to stop by WF every night on my way home. Why plan ahead when I could just grab whatever I was feeling like that night? But as it got colder, and I started working later, stopping by the grocery store every night became a hassle.

So lately I have been experimenting with actually *planning* a week's worth of meals and shopping for them on the weekend. Revolutionary, no :)? And I'm proud to say I've been pretty successful. So here's what the SO and I consume over the course of a week, more or less:

8oz smoked salmon
1 package organic smoked sliced turkey breast
1 package organic sliced ham
1 lb ground beef 
1.5 lb ground turkey 
1 package spicy italian chicken sausage
1 lb frozen salmon fillets
1.25 lbs chicken breast 
1 package Trader Joe's Chili Lime Chicken Burgers (SO GOOD)
1 package bacon
3/4 lb provolone
2 cartons eggs
1 bag of onions
1 package of mushrooms
1 bag frozen asparagus
1 bag frozen brussels sprouts
1 bag frozen spinach
1 bag frozen strawberries
1 bag frozen peach slices
1 spaghetti squash
1 cabbage
2 avocados

Breakfast is eggs and bacon most days, with the cold cuts and cheese  or the smoked salmon subbing in sometimes. Lunch is usually leftovers from dinner. I like to kick off the week by making a big pot of chili on Sunday nights, since it takes a long time but pays great dividends. I really despise frozen broccoli, peppers, onions, and mushrooms because I think the freezing process totally screws up the texture. But for some reason, the above listed veggies don't seem to suffer. 

Actually, looking at the list is interesting-I realize that I would like to incorporate more fatty fish (love those omega 3s), but otherwise I feel pretty good about it. I try to be flexible in order to take advantage of sales. For example, last week chicken breast was on sale, but this week I'd like to add in some pork for my B1. I also find that, particularly with the dearth of fresh produce where I live at this time of year, frozen veggies are the better bet, but I would buy more fresh seasonal veggies if it were warmer. And I find for my sweet tooth, snacking on frozen fruit is a great solution. It slows me down (hello brain freeze) and I really enjoy the texture of frozen fruit. 

We don't get through all of that in a week, necessarily, but it's a pretty good approximation. Sorry, this might be really boring, but I know when I first started eating the way I eat now, I had no idea what to buy for myself, and it's kind of neat to see how far I've come :)

Friday, 16 January 2009

Oy, one of those nights

Every good cook has his or her bad days. The kind of day that ends in smoke alarms blasting, words that consist of four letters in every form (adjective, verb, noun, adverb), and general feelings of frustration. 

To the poor chicken who sacrificed his or her breast to me, only to have me sear it into oblivion, I'm sorry. I did salvage most of your contribution to dinner, gently shaving off the parts that were blackened beyond edibility. Please do not take my carelessness as a sign you died in vain--the SO still gobbled up the rest of you and swears you tasted good. 

Of course, he'd eat almost anything if I stuffed it with cheese, but that's another story :)

Thursday, 15 January 2009

I guess that makes me elitist

I went to see 'The Nanny Diaries' this summer. I love chick flicks, I love ScarJo, and I was in desperate need of air conditioning (oh how I long for those days now). And that movie made me mad.

For the most part the movie was cute, harmless fun. But there is one scene where the lovely Ms. Scarlett, in her role as an Upper East Side mother's nanny, decides to 'liberate' her charge from the horrible restrictions his mother puts on him.

What are these horrible restrictions? His mother wants him to *shudder* eat organic food all the time! No processed food! No sugar! It's practically child torture, no? Scarlett, angel and child advocate, decides to introduce her poor, suffering subject to the glories of, what else, peanut butter and jelly on white bread. Also known as sugar on sugar with some aflatoxins thrown in for good measure.

I realize what the movie was trying to do, which is address how we shouldn't treat children like little adults. How we should let them just be kids. Hey, I totally agree that dressing a child up in a suit on a daily basis is a little ridiculous :) My beef is with the idea that eating healthy organic food should be lumped together with all the other obviously unpleasant constraints the mother puts on her child.

I was thinking about this issue today because I was reading about Jamie Oliver, a British chef who has publically decried the crap available to British school children in their school lunches. He is frequently accused of being an elitist snob because he thinks children should be served fresh, unprocessed food. I doubt Nanny Diaries was going for deep social commentary, but I think that the scene mentioned is telling in indicating a more general American attitude towards food.

It is singularly amazing to me how little some people seem to care about what they consume. I am amazed because we are talking about items that one is literally putting in one's body. And then the media tells us if we care, we must be rich snobs with too much time on our hands? If we want to feed our kids healthy food we're somehow depriving them of a normal childhood?

I don't understand how that happened. When did it become so fundamentally uncool not to eat sugar? Or Cheetoes? Or any of the other processed crap major food companies make tons of money off of? This kind of manipulation makes me angry.

We get the majority of our information from biased sources: big food comapnies who have a vested interest in have us consume their products, and the FDA, a political institution that is subject to lobbying by said large food companies. I highly recommend the movie King Corn, which makes this point far more graphically and eloquently than I ever could.

Worse, the information is transmitted not just in the obvious ways, such as food commercials, but as the Nanny Diaries illustrates, in far more subtle ways as well. This is why I'm in favour of measures of accountability from these entities. Take, for example, making major restaurant chains post their calorie counts. To those who rail agains the nanny state--WAKE UP. The public needs more information about food from more sources. Doesn't it freak you out a little that these chains would be so resistant to doing so? Posting calories is a very small step towards accountability. I'm not advocating take fast food commercials off the air, or ending product placements in movies. It's a free, capitalist country. All I'm saying is, don't we all deserve a little truth with our food? Shouldn't we all start to care just a little bit more?

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Why I don't like the word 'substitute'

When people begin a new way of eating, they often look to 'substitute' for foods they used to eat that may have been less than ideal. For example, a person might 'substitute' a bowl of oatmeal for the danish they used to eat in the morning. The 'substitute' is supposed to be an improvement on the usual item consumed.

Here's why I don't like the term 'substitute.' It somehow implies to me that what you're eating is merely standing in for what you WANT to eat. You are will to accept something other than what you really want for whatever reason (typically because the new food is in some way a better fit with your new style of eating) but by calling it a 'substitute' you are implicitly acknowledging that item's second class status in your mind.

I don't look at cauliflower puree as a 'substitute' for mashed potatoes. I look at it as a delicious, healthy side dish. It irks me a little to see people call them 'mock mashed potatoes' and then hear people bitch and whine about how cauliflower doesn't taste as good, doesn't have the right texture, etc. IT'S CAULIFLOWER. A yummy and highly nutritious vegetable in it's own right. One should accept it for what it is, rather than blaming it for what it can't be.

My theory is that the internal monologue you have about what you're eating influences your psychological satisfaction. If you are always saying to yourself "I want x, but I'll accept y" it is unlikely you will be able to appreciate y for all it's wonderful qualities. Instead, you'll be blaming y for not being x, and wishing you had x the whole time. What if you said 'I am going to try y this time.' No reference to x at all. Then you wouldn't define y in terms of x, but as a freestanding entity. Perhaps you might be better able to discern and appreciate all the wonderful qualities of y you wouldn't notice if you were focused on it's deficiencies vis-a-vis x.

Why does it matter? Because if you always treat your new food choices as lacking in some important way, like how they taste, you will never fully accept and integrate them. You may continue to make yourself eat them, but you will feel deprived and unhappy. But if you make the conscious decision to take the new foods as they come, and give them a fair shot in the taste department, you may in fact find that something you thought you wouldn't care for is actually pretty darn good.

I firmly believe that the way you frame a change in eating psychologically has a huge effect on whether you can make the change effectively. I don't use the word 'substitute' for any of the foods I eat. For example, I don't 'substitute' coconut milk for cow's milk. I use coconut milk instead of cow's milk because I know that coconut milk has significant benefits for me and it tastes really good. I don't 'substitute' spaghetti squash for pasta, I view pasta as a nutritionally deficient in comparison to spaghetti squash.

I know it may seem like a small point, but I think it's an important one. Little syntactical choices have been shown time and time again to reflect the overarching mentality of a person. At the very least, it is something to ponder.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

A typical dinner recipe...

My SO has a few favourites among the things I cook that he frequently requests. Since, vain little creature that I am, I love them too, I have no problem complying.

Here is what I made for dinner last night:
CR/Paleo Chili
5g bacon grease
150g (1/3 lb) carrots, chopped in large dice
150g onion (1/3lb), chopped in large dice
150g celery (1/3lb), chopped in large dice
2 cloves garlic, chopped fine
1 lb (454g) 90/10 ground beef (grass fed if you can get it)
2 28oz (1500 g) cans Fire Roasted Muir Glen tomatoes, or any other brand you favour
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp chili powder
1/2 tsp cumin
1 tsp red chili flakes
1 tsp green jalapeno chili flakes
1 tsp ground pasilla peppers
Salt and pepper to taste

1. In a large stewpot with high sides, over medium heat, saute carrots, celery, and onion in bacon grease until onion is translucent and carrots and celery are softened, 5-7 minutes.
2. Add garlic and saute for one more minute.
3. Lower the heat to low and add beef. Saute until brown, stirring to ensure all the meat is browned evenly.
4. Add in the two cans of tomato and the bay leaves. Turn up the heat to medium, give all the ingredients a good stir, and watch the pot until the mixture boils.
5. Lower the heat to medium/low and cook for two hours. For the first 3/4 of an hour, do not stir the pot. Let the tomato mixture burn on the bottom, it adds a delicious flavour to the chili. After the first 3/4 of a hour, stir occasionally, scrapping the bottom of the pan to incorporate those nice charred bits into the chili. When the mixture seems to be getting dry, add a cup of hot water and keep cooking.
6. After two hours, add the chili powder, cumin, chili flakes, jalapeno flakes, pasilla, and salt and pepper. Give the pot a good stir, and let cook for one more hour, until the mixture is a deep red brown.
7. Serve with any garnish you like. This recipe feeds the SO and I for a couple of days, lunch and dinner. I had it with a side of braised cabbage.

Monday, 12 January 2009

One of my favourite kitchen tools

I am sure this will be the theme of many posts. I collect kitchen gadgets the way rich, poorly endowed men collect loud, gas guzzling phallic substitutes. I am incredibly easy to buy presents for, given that my kitchen preferences are, shall we say, well publicized ;).

One tool I turn to again and again is my meat mallet. I do have a heavy work schedule, and I refuse to compromise on cooking for myself every night, so a practical girl learns a few short cuts. Pounding pieces of protein flat and popping them under a broiler or slapping them in a hot frying pan is a great way to expedite a meal.

Now, everyone knows you can pound out a chicken breast. But one of my favourite tricks is butterflying a whole pork tenderloin, pounding it into a nice wide slab, rubbing the sucker down with seasonings and oil, and giving in a nice quick sear.

Throw a little guacamole on top (because in my world, guacamole goes with everything) and steamed veggies (steam 'em in the microwave while you're cooking the pork, and douse with parmesan) and you have a lovely dinner you can throw together in 15 minutes PLUS leftovers for breakfast/lunch the next day. And it all starts with that nice little mallet.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Squash Fiend

Oh yes, I am a squash fiend. Summer and winter. I am equal opportunity in my consumption. In the winter, I particularly adore spaghetti, butternut, and delicata squash. Now I know they're a bit carb heavy, but they are definitely worth it. They are deliciously sweet and gorgeously coloured, and I don't know about you, but I love having cheery, brightly coloured food during the loooooong grey Northeast winters. 

Winter squash have several appealing features, such as keeping for a LONG time, and being packed with good vitamins. Let's take my personal favourite, butternut: it has A, all the Bs, C, E and K. Now tell me that's not good bang for your caloric buck! Not to mention they make very pretty display pieces--I had a nice fat butternut squash on my coffee table up until it was sacrificed to my stomach last night and this morning.

There are many ways to use the butternut. I will admit off the bat they're a hassle and a half to cut up-they have an awkward shape and they're VERY hard. If you're unfamiliar with the shape of a butternut, it has a long neck culminating in a bulbous end. You can approach the challenge in several ways. 1) Avoidance-just poke a few holes in it and roast it whole in the oven until soft. 2) Full frontal attack-stand that sucker on it's end or lay it on it's side and slice it straight down in half (if you choose this approach, for the love of Pete BE CAREFUL).  3) Divide and conquer-this is my method of choice, where you slice the butternut in two and separate the neck and the bulbous end, each of which you can then deal with separately. 

Once you have defeated the beast, you can prepare it in whichever way you choose. If I'm lazy, I will nuke it in the microwave and then puree it into soup. If I'm feeling slightly more industrious, I'll make butternut squash 'fries,' lopping it up into fry shapes and roasting them in the oven until nice and crispy (425F for 45 min, flipping halfway through). If I'm feeling fancy, I'll cube it in small cubes and saute it in coconut oil and thyme. You can also oven roast the cubes and then toss them with a little butter you have browned in the microwave. As a side note, once I discovered I could brown butter in the micro, it was like a new WORLD had opened to me, but then, I really, really like butter. Anyways, you can also roast the halves until tender, brushed with a little butter and maple syrup (hey, I'm Canadian, I do like my maple on occasion), you can stuff the hollow with whatever you like. 

Now, this may bother some people, but I am lazy when I prepare my winter squash, so I usually eat the skin. I do wash it thoroughly beforehand. You can always peel the squash if you want. I just can't be bothered. In any case, as you can see, the butternut is pretty, versatile, and to my mind, generally worthy of praise :)

Saturday, 10 January 2009

On trying not to be defensive

Ok, so here's the thing: I don't volunteer my eating philosophy. However, if someone asks, I explain what I eat and what I avoid. And if someone asks why, I'll go a little deeper. If that happens, well, it usually doesn't go well.

I have no interest in converting anyone to my way of eating. Food is like religion or sexual preference to me--it's a deeply personal decision, and not one I would want someone else dictating to me. If I explain why I'm not eating something, I do not mean to suggest that it is wrong for someone else to eat it. Yet, people often react as if explaining why I eat the way I do is an implied critique of their eating habits. And more than once, someone has responded defensively.

I have been called a conspiracy theorist, a control freak, eating disordered. And I admit, I have become more defensive because of it. You know the phrase "zeal of the converted?" When I first began CR, and then added Paleo, I was really excited and loved talking about it. But now, 5 years in, I have become more cagey.

I think part of why I like blogging so much, and why I'm so glad I started doing it, is because I have a little corner to myself where I feel at ease talking about this stuff :) It's kind of like my own personal 12 Step to be less self conscious, one post at a time.

On a side note, this is a HEAVENLY recipe for braised cabbage, and a wonderful blog to boot:

Friday, 9 January 2009

Being 'good'

So last night, I was decompressing in front of the TV and a commercial for Applebees came on. The tag line for the dish advertised was 'when you feel like being good AND having steak.' This commercial featured a female diner and the dish was Weight Watchers approved.

Let me say that I have nothing against Applebees, nor Weight Watchers. In fact, for people who CR, or anyone trying to control their calorie consumption, it's great to have a chain that makes a concerted effort to provide healthier options, especially ones that center around a nice lean protein.

My issue was with the spin of the advertising. The message was that I would be a good girl if I chose the low calorie meal, but a bad girl if I chose, say, the burger. Because we all know that 'good' girls are skinny and desirable (because they have self control, discipline, etc) and 'bad' girls are not (self indulgent, lazy, etc). As if women don't get enough pressure anyway to be slender, we now need commercials adding a MORAL spin to our mealtimes? Because, yeah, I LOVE a side of guilt with my meals. Not to mention the implication that steak is typically 'bad.'

What gets me is the incredibly condescending tone of this marketing. Can you imagine a dish being marketed to men with the same theme of 'good' vs 'bad'? I certainly can't. But women are so desparate for praise and approval that if a commercial tells them they'll be 'good' for eating a certain dish (i.e. they'll be slender and feminine, the way our society wants them to be), they'll go and buy it?

Again, don't get me wrong, I am grateful to have healthy alternatives. But just advertise them as that, a healthy alternative, not a moral decision.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

men=meat, women=vegetarians?

I am an unabashed carnivore. I believe in buying humanely sourced meat, but I have no moral compunction about eating animals. I think they're tasty and nourishing, and I wouldly gladly walk across hot coals naked except for a silly hat for a nice plate of bacon. I am not one of those meat eaters, however, that looks down on vegetarians or vegans. I am a live and let live type (pun totally intended).

Interestingly, at least to me, people often assume I'm a vegetarian. Now I know my canines aren't particularly pointy and I don't wear the skins of my latest kill, but why would someone assume I don't eat meat?

I think it starts with the fact that I am a self described healthy eater. And I'm in pretty good shape. And finally, of course, I am a girl. A good amount of people who meet me, possessed of those three facts, immediately ask if I eat meat or not. Now, when I meet a man who eats well and takes care of himself, I don't assume he eschews flesh. I assume he avoids potato chips. And I think most people would agree with me.

I actually don't think these assumptions are out of line. After all, the vast majority of vegan/vegetarian blogs I read are written by women.* And the vast majority of Paleo blogs I read are written by men. Women seem to gravitate towards the vegetal end of the eating spectrum.

And I think we (we as in we women) do so for a combination of reasons. For one, we have been told for years that meat, especially red meat, should be consumed in moderation. In fact, we have been told that protein in general should be consumed in moderation,a nd anyway, there are alternative sources like soy. Vegetables are also 'safe'-they are low calorie and highly nutritive. And of course, it is less cruel to kill a carrot than a cow, at least in theory. Some people just naturally prefer the taste of veggies to meat, and maybe that taste difference is grounded in the XY/XX divergence. Some have argued that the preference goes back to the fact that men hunted and brought down the meat, while women scavenged for the berries etc.

As a side rant, can someone please explain pescetarians to me? I do not understand how you can draw a principled distinction which makes it ok to kill and eat animals that swim, but not ok to do the same to animals that walk on dry land. I am open to hearing the arguments...

But the part I find most interesting is that health=vegetarianism for women, and it does not for men. Personally, I physically feel most healthy when I'm eating a significant amount of animal protein.** Yet, even though I know intellectually, and very much enjoy eating a lot of meat, I still feel a twinge, as if it's still a emotionally little counterintuitive that so much protein could be good for me. Maybe it's those double Xs...

*I love vegetarian and vegan blogs, many of which have novel ideas for preparing veggies, not to mention some damn fine writing :)
**Relative to my size, of course.

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Unpopular vegetables

Some vegetables get all kinds of love. Broccoli, carrots, and peppers, for example, are ubiquitous crudite platter/salad/standard restaurant features. And they're tasty, all of them. But what about the less loved, underappreciated veggies?

Take celery root, for example. Peeled, boiled and pureed in a blender with seasonings and butter, you have a perfectly lovely soup or side dish depending on whether you want to thin the puree with a bit of water/broth or not. Or kale. Lacinato kale, sliced thinly and tossed with lemon olive oil, rice vinegar, and parmesan cheese makes a delicious salad. And turnips. Slice them into 8ths, toss with a little oil of your choice and some pepper and have some scrumptious roasted turnip fries.

I have a soft spot for all these vegetables. The ugly, the mocked, the ignored. Now granted, celery root is knobby and lumpy, lacinato kale looks like it has a skin condition, and turnips are just plain boring. Because of their looks, these poor guys never get the chance to show off how good they can be.

But, much like the sweet ignored nerd you went to high school with who eventually went to Harvard and founded a wildly successful company, they deserve a second chance. You might be surprised at how much they have to offer.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

A Simple Roast Chicken

Growing up, I was far more baker than cook. I enjoyed the precision of baking, the intellectual understanding of chemical interactions between leaveners or gluten, the elegance of the final product when I turned out a perfect souffle or decorated cake. And of course, the smells--warm chocolate, or caramelizing brown sugar, or soft floral vanilla custard.

At first, when I got into CR/Paleo, I would still bake for my friends and family because they had come to expect that from me. My mother loves to tell people how she knew I was having a bad day if she came home and there were fresh brownies on the kitchen counter. I stress baked through undergrad, although by then I had learned to give at least some of my output away rather than stress eat it too ;)

But gradually I came to realize I didn't want to bake that stuff for the people I love. If they choose to seek it out on their own, that's their choice. But they didn't need additional temptation from me. As I ramped down my baking, I ramped up my cooking to fill the void.

Cooking beyond a basic level had always intimidated me. Especially raw meat. Not only was it a bacteria fest, it was slippery and slimey and generally unattractive. Unfortunately, I had no choice-after all, meat is a BIG component of the Paleo way of eating and also a good way of getting many essential nutrients. Not only that, but I couldn't afford to buy prepared foods all the time, nor did I want to because lord knows what it would be prepared with.

So, I took baby steps: boneless, skinless, trimmed chicken. Boneless pork chops. Fillets of sole. Nice, easy cuts to learn with. As I grew more comfortable with my abilities, I began to realize how expensive some of these convenience cuts are. Now, part of the reason they were expensive is because I buy antibiotic free/grass fed/organic. But we all know convenience cuts are more expensive no matter what. And since I have already admitted my cheapness, it should come as no surprise that between my fear of more challenging pieces of meat and my wallet, the wallet won.

Which leads me to the title of my post. Even after I had tackled whole center loin pork roasts, brisket, and whole fish, the roasted chicken stood out as the single cooking goal I had set for myself that I was afraid to attain. Perhaps it was because I have read so many paens to the 'perfect' roast chicken in foodie literature. Or because I have read so many horror stories about people having to choke down overcooked bird breast. Whatever the case, the first time I approached a whole chicken on my own, it was with trepidation.

And in the end, there was no need. All you need for a delicious roast chicken is highish heat and a nice dry bird. I make this recipe exactly as is. And it is perfect every time.

It is also economical. One 4 pound bird can feed both me and the SO for two dinners and a lunch for $6. And you can pour off the schmaltz from the pan to use for cooking later and boil the carcass for stock. But all of that would mean nothing if it wasn't delicious. And there's nothing like a nice piece of cold leftover chicken as a snack any time :)

Monday, 5 January 2009

Imagination and Reality

So I did not journal my food for a week on vacation. It was a conscious decision, and an experiment. I wondered what would happen when I was unaccountable to myself in writing. I also didn't have a scale at my parents' or SO's parents' place, so I had no idea how I was doing.

Of course, because I had not been eating my usual stuff, I felt less than fabulous. I thought I had put on a few pounds, which I'm sure contributed to that feeling. Now, when I say less than fabulous, I don't mean I didn't feel good in a swimsuit on the beach (gotta love FL for that!). I was more talking about a general mind-body feeling.

But I hopped on the scale this morning at home and I was up all of 1.5 lbs (for a two week period), which may also be some salt/carb water retention. I had thought it was more in the 5lb range, personally. Reality (and SO) 1, Imagination 0.

What I learned from this experience, now that I'm back to journalling, is that I am much better at managing my consumption than I give myself credit for. I freely admit I ate more chocolate than I should have, but I was also good at getting my protein and veggies and good fats. That said, I am going to take my carbs a bit lower/lay off the booze for a while to allow my body to bounce back from the Christmas/Hannukah/New Years indulgences.

Sunday, 4 January 2009

Another twist on the social eating matter

So this is our last day at the SO's parents' place. The SO's mother is Panamanian. For her, cooking for us is a big part of how she shows her affection. My family is not like that, in spite of being Jewish, probably because my mom was a single mom for a while and just didn't have time to cook for us, and my stepfather isn't much of a cook anyway. Affection in our family is expressed in the time we spend together. Neither way is better or worse, per se. But the whole love/food dynamic can be a bit stressful for me.

Most of the time, what the SO's mother cooks includes sufficient options for me to get in a nicely Paleo/CR meal without drawing any attention to myself. I have the protein, like pork loin or lobster, and whatever veggies there are. There is usually salad, plus a nice cruciate, and on this visit, there has also been lots of sauerkraut (yum :) )! 

But then there are times like our upcoming farewell lunch. Shake and Bake. Yup. Bread crumb coated chicken. And it's particularly hard when his mom quite kindly points out that she is baking the chicken, and not pan frying it. It's just one of those crappy situations: do I shut up and eat the nasty preservative filled carbs on the chicken? Do I try to scrape them off? Do I just avoid the chicken altogether and risk offending a very nice and thoughtful lady? 

To be honest, in most situations I would just shut up and eat the chicken. It actually bothers the SO when he sees me do this--eat something I would normally never eat just to make sure I didn't make someone else feel uncomfortable. But like I said, normally I would do it anyway, because I really do appreciate the effort the SO's mom puts into cooking for me, and the sentiment behind the food, and also because I feel it is a question of respect.

But it's been two weeks now that I have been away from my kitchen, my usual foods, and I'm really starting to feel it. Not that I think I've gained weight, I just feel sluggish and gross, and when I saw the package of Shake and Bake this morning my first thought was just 'oh please no.' Shake and Bake is both nutritionally devoid and highly caloric. And maybe this sounds melodramatic, but I've hit my people pleasing limit. 

I'm not sure what I'm going to do. In a way, this is a tempest in a teapot and I know it. But on a macro level, would it really be such a big deal to just say no this time?

Update: Should have known--the wonderful SO stepped in without me mentioning it and told his mom to make some plain chicken for me. I'm a lucky girl :)

Friday, 2 January 2009

Mmmmm lobster

I have to say, staying with the SO's parents can be quite nice. Dinner this evening was lobster tails with garlic butter. So good. So full of protein. And so easy to prepare and eat. 

It was interesting to watch the SO's little brother. He refused to eat the lobster, choosing Boca burgers and protein powder instead, while talking about how we were eating 'sea cockroaches.' No that I would say a word about how the phytoestrogens in the Boca burgers are going to give him breasts ;) Or how one of the ingredients in his whey powder is corn syrup solids. 

He also went on and on about how dipping the lobster in butter was bad for us. I found this line of reasoning fairly entertaining, given what he was consuming. Oh well. To each their own. Luckily, my SO and I got to split his lobster tail-waste not, after all, especially on an unappreciative audience :)

Thursday, 1 January 2009

Happy New Year!

I hope everyone has started 2009 well! The SO and I are in Florida hanging with the SO's parents for the next few days. I am honestly starting to get a little homesick. I miss my kitchen and cooking for myself. A lot. I'm hardly suffering, but I am missing my quotidian (I love that word!) diet. 

Last night the SO and I had a romantic dinner out. It was an interesting situation because the restaurant we chose had a 4 course prix fixe, 2 choices per course. The second course was problematic: either risotto, or prawns. Now for most CR'ed or Paleo people, this is not an issue; you pick the prawns. However, prawns make me break out. It's the iodine. So I nicely asked if rather than either of those, could I have each one of the two salad options offered in the first course. And the chef (via the waiter) kind of pitched a fit at me, but in the end agreed. 

And you know what? I didn't feel bad. I was actually kind of annoyed the chef was annoyed. I have worked both the front and back of the house in restaurants, so I try very hard to be a good customer. And I would have completely understood if my request had been refused because the kitchen was running low on a particular dish. But to give me a hassle for a minor alteration to the prix fixe for a relatively expensive dinner didn't strike me as particularly classy. Happily, the food was excellent.

As a side note, it always surprises me how easy it is to get what you want if you're willing to be creative. I could have ordered one of the two second courses and been unhappy. But as I get older I realize that quite often, situations are far less rigid than they appear. You simply have to think a bit outside the box to find a way of getting what you want. I remember how April, a fellow CRON blogger, once talked about stealing kale used to decorate plates of food to snack on. Following her lead, I would go to lunch meetings at work and rather than avoid the sandwiches, I would take two and eat the delicious chicken breast or ham or turkey out of the middle.  A corollary of this way of thinking is the realization that if you really want something, you will find a way to make it happen. And I think that's true of most situations. Anyways...

Today we had a lovely celebratory New Year's supper with the SO's parents. Roasted pork loin with sauerkraut is apparently a traditional German New Year's dish, and the SO's mother did a lovely job with it. And, sweet lady that she is, she also provided steamed cauliflower, steamed scallops, and steamed peas with the meal for me. Like I said, I'm not suffering.

But I also can't wait to get back into my own kitchen :)