Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Learning from the holiday season

Last evening at my final Christmas party of the season the topic of conversation among us five women naturally turned to New Year’s Resolutions. Of course, food and health are always at the top of the list. Someone wants to lose weight. Someone wants to exercise more. Everyone wants to incorporate more healthy habits into their lifestyles. The timing of the conversation was good for me as I had been reading two magazines that afternoon about holistic health as I looked forward to today’s seasonal acupuncture treatment.

For the first time in years, my health took a strong winter downturn last week when the doctor told me I had the flu. Since I began getting seasonal acupuncture treatments I felt that had helped me ward it off. This year for some reason that I’ll have to ask the acupuncturist about, he didn’t want to do the winter treatment as early as usual. Thus, I got the flu. At least that’s how it stacks up in my mind whether the lack of a treatment can be blamed or not.

Not having an appetite around the holidays helped me adjust my own perspective on eating. I returned to three lessons I learned years ago that I hope I will more strongly ingrain into my eating habits in the new year.

First, eat only when hungry. For me that generally means eating small portions at meals and not taking seconds. Although I often taste something so delicious that I immediately want another helping, I find that if I allow my food to settle long enough for my stomach to send my brain the signal that I’m full (approximately 20 minutes) then I will no longer want that second helping. So I’m going into the new year trying to make that an eating habit that I will not lose at the first temptation.

Second, the holiday season also reminded me of the kinds of foods my body most craves—whole foods that are not weighed down with heavy sauces, cheeses, dressings, etc. Don’t get me wrong, I love a cheesy casserole now and then. There are sauces and dressings that truly enhance the taste of foods that I also enjoy. But at least in my family, the holidays seems to be a time for casseroles in which the vegetables play a secondary role to the cream of something soup, crackers and cheese. Now that the potlucks are nearly over, I’ll be returning to those naked vegetable dishes that let their natural colors and flavors set the tone. I can taste those roasted vegetables already!

Third, the holidays wouldn’t be such a special food time without the loads of candies and cookies that everyone associates with the season. Each family has a specialty, something dear that grandma always made or that Mom has perfected through the years. We still have three tins of those delights on our dining room table, along with a pie made from real pumpkin in the refrigerator. I’ve been generally avoiding most of it (notice I only said most, not all!) because as I’ve been recovering my health I’m reminded of how refined sugar can deplete the immune system. I would rather be healthy for the New Year instead of having my sweet tooth pacified.

As I look to 2011, my food challenges are to eat only when hungry, cherish naked vegetables and keep sweets in their place, which isn’t in my desk drawer. What are your food challenges for 2011?

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Vegetables in winter provide inspiration for pasta variations

The world outside my door has been white all week with a glistening armor of ice protecting its purity. Here and there the ice breaks up as we walk on it, pound it with shovels, throw down de-icer, but the icicles still hang from the garage roof and I continue to walk cautiously when I go out.

My previously green garden is so glaringly white that it’s hard to imagine how it looked just two months ago. But when I pick up the jars of re-hydrated vegetables on my kitchen counter some of that memory returns. I wanted a quick supper to prepare last night so I turned to a long-time favorite—pasta with a mock Alfredo sauce. It’s a 15-minute recipe made with cream cheese, butter and Parmesan (yes, full of fat although you can do as I did and use a lower-fat cream cheese like Neufchatel. I can use this dish to please myself and my husband even when we might have two different cravings.

Last night was no different. I wanted vegetables and found two of them in my jars of dried vegetables. I re-hydrated beets and tomatoes to toss in with the pasta and picked out a bag of locally-grown spinach from the refrigerator for a green addition. I tossed that all together with whole-wheat linguine then added the Alfredo sauce. It looked quite appetizing, but I wasn’t finished.

I knew I needed a little more protein but didn’t want meat so I toasted walnuts to top my dish. My husband, however, is a seafood lover so I unthawed shrimp to add to his, thus giving us each a variation to make us happy.

Pasta is an easy way to please just about anyone in the family. You can even set it up as a pasta bar if you like, allowing each person to choose what they’ll throw into their mix. Re-hydrated or unthawed and warmed vegetables plus whatever might be in season can provide several variations that you can offer with chicken, meatballs or seafood. It’s fun and it tastes good, especially when you need a reminder of those good vegetables you put so much time and energy into growing and preserving this year.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Soup season brings forward an old favorite

Who doesn’t like vegetable soup? It’s so filled with flavors and textures that there should be something in it that appeals to everyone. And this is certainly the season to make it.

For the past month I’ve been making one pot of soup a week. It’s a great meal to store in the refrigerator and eat on all week. Pair it with your favorite bread (I made Parmesan Skillet Flatbread to go with ours) and you have a warming, healthy meal.

Even though I’ve published this vegetable soup recipe before, I thought it was worth bringing to the forefront again for new readers as well as those of you who have been around for awhile but forgot this was in your repertoire.

If you have a favorite soup recipe for these cold days, please post it as a comment so we can all enjoy it.

A few nutrition specifics:
Garlic contains allicin, which is a powerful anti-bacterial agent, that are released only when you crush or slice it, so always be sure to take that extra step. Studies have also shown that garlic consumption has reduced the risk of various cancers.
Kombu is seaweed that is dried, sold in sheets and used in many Asian dishes. It includes a lot of trace minerals and is high in potassium, iodine, calcium and vitamins A and C.
Quinoa is a high-energy protein that can ease digestion. It has more calcium than milk and is rich in minerals.

½ cup quinoa
2 cups water
dash of salt
Combine and cook until quinoa is soft, about 15 minutes. You can also substitute another grain of your choice.
3 celeries
2 carrots
1 onion
2 TBSP olive oil
Chop into bite size pieces. Warm about olive oil in the soup pot. Add chopped veggies and saut̩ 5 Р7 minutes, until onions are nearly translucent.
½ cup chicken broth
1 pint tomato juice
2 cups water
1 small piece of dried kombu
Two cloves of garlic
Add liquids and kombu to pot. Smash and peel the garlic and throw them into the pot. Bring to boil then simmer lightly, covered, 10 minutes or so.
1 ½ cups frozen green beans
1 ½ cups frozen corn
2 cups frozen broccoli
1 ½ cups frozen greens
1 quart jar of tomatoes
If any of the vegetables are frozen together in a glob, put them in the microwave for a minute or two to separate. If any of them are not chopped, chop into bite-size pieces. Add vegetables to the pot. You can substitute whatever vegetables you have in the freezer or that you prefer. Depending on how much broth you like (I prefer a more stew-like consistency with less broth), you might find that you need to add more liquid.
1 tsp black pepper
2 tbsp Italian seasonings – such as basil, parley, oregano
Season the pot and simmer, covered, until all vegetables are done. You can substitute your favorite seasonings. You might also need to add salt, depending on how much was in the liquids and tomatoes you used. The kombu does add some salt, so wait until that has been in the pot 30 minutes or so until tasting.
When vegetables are finished, remove the garlic cloves and kombu then add your grain. If the grain isn’t soft, continue cooking until it is. Enjoy!