more veggies please…in season this April!

For maximum nutrition, we’re better off eating closer to the source and relying on Mother Nature for seasonal produce to keep us in balance
~Terry Walter, “Clean Food”

There are thousands of different approaches to eating out there, eating seasonally is just one of them. I like seasonal eating for many reasons, including how it allows me to connect with my community better…through farmer’s markets/farm stands, and I to support the local economy 🙂 I think that everyone should simply find which approach works best for you and parallels how you view yourself, food, the environment, and sustainability. That being said, knowledge is power, so here is a list of veggies and fruits that are in season this April. Enjoy!

Vegetables: zucchini, rhubarb,artichokes,asparagus,spring peas,broccoli,lettuce, arugula, dandelion greens, fava beans, fiddlehead
fern, leeks (end of season), morel mushrooms

Fruits: pineapples,mangoes, limes, oranges

“The seasons are what a symphony ought to be: four perfect movements in harmony with each other” – Arthur Rubenstein


Bison … a tasty alternative to cow *smiles*

I love bison. I think it is one of those under-appreciated meats. Most people have only heard of bison used to make an alternative-to-beef-burger (in my opinion they are only okay). I think there is more to bison than burger. Bison has more flavor and protein and less fat than beef. Bison is also extremely nutrient dense, with good amounts of iron, zinc and the antioxidant selenium. Below I have a nutrition comparison between not only bison and beef but pork, chicken, duck, venison and halibut.

As I have said before I get my meat from Whole Foods and their bison has no antibiotics,no added growth hormones, no animal byproducts in feed, and the buffalo are raised on pasture or range for at least 2/3 of the animal’s life. Even outside of Whole Foods, buffalo are generally treated and fed better than cows. This week I made my veggie heavy version of Bison Bolognese (I will post the recipe tomorrow). It was a easy, satisfying meal with more focus on the veggies with a good amount of meat spread throughout the dish. Yummy!

Recently, I have been decreasing my meat consumption, but increasing the quality of my meat (It is amazing how tastier it is as well!! 🙂 ) This change has been sparked by many things but Michael Pollan’s Rule 27 from “Food Rules” sums it up well:

“Rule 27: Eat animals that have themselves eaten well…

The diet of the animals we eat strongly influences the nutritional quality, and healtfulness of the food we get form them, whether it is meat or milk or eggs. This should be self-evident, yet it is a truth routinely overlooked b the industrial food chain in its quest to produce vast quantities of cheap animal protein. That quest has changed the diet of most of out food animals in ways that have often damaged their their and healthfulness. We feed animals a high energy diet of grain to make them grow quickly,even in the case of ruminants that have evolved to eat grass. But even food animals that can tolerate grain are much healthier when they have access to green plants – so, it turns out, are their meat and eggs. The good from these animals will contain much healthier types of fat (more omega-3s, less omega-6s) as well as appreciably higher levels of vitamins and antioxidants. (For the same reasons, meat form wild animals is particularly nutritious) It’s worth looking for pastured animal foods in the market – and paying the premium prices they typically command if you can”

If you are on a strict budget like myself (medical school does not leave a lot of room for extravagant expenditures), you can try to stick with the motto: quality over quantity. This goes against so much of how our society functions anymore, but I don’t think that having more is necessarily better. I will pay more for better quality which forces me to eat less of certain things but increases the overall quality of the food I put in my body. Eating healthier now can potentially save you money down the road, by saving you from a lot of future medical bills incurred from eating unhealthy foods (and living unhealthy lifestyles). Our choices today will affect the future of our tomorrow.

I bought a vegan cookbook…and didn’t even know it *smiles*

Sometimes the best way to get over the middle of the week is to do something outside your everyday routine. My friends and I try to do a weekly dinner night round-robin style (different host and cook each week) usually around mid-week. The company and the food is always great and breaks up the monotony This past Wednesday night, it was my turn to host! I thought I would try my hand out at the my roommate’s German style Gruenkol and Sausage recipe and something from my new cookbook: Terry Walter’s “Clean Food: A Seasonal Guide to Eating Close to the Source”. This cookbook is not in your face anything, but is great in its approach and simplicity. I didn’t even realize it was vegan until my friend Emily teased me about meat recipes…

Emily: Have you seen any meat recipes in this book?

Me: What do you mean?

Emily: I think the cookbook is vegan…

Me: No, it couldn’t be! *grabs books and flips to index* Let me check for chicken. *searches…searches…searches again* Dang. There is no chicken, beef, lamb, pork, or any other meat in here. How did I buy this and not even realize it was vegan?!? You know I like balance of both meat and green!

Emily: *laughter* and the carnivore falls *continues laughter*

Me: *sigh* It’s an awesome cookbook…

I own over 50 cookbooks, but it hasn’t been until the last 6 months that I have consistently used one. I bought them for the pretty pictures that made my mouth water instead of looking at what kind of recipes the cookbook offered…more importantly I didn’t look at the philosophy behind the collection of recipes. The result: shelves full of pretty cookbooks that collect a lot of dust. This changed for me with Mark Bittman’s “The Food Matters Cookbook”. A recommendation by a friend that really started my journey towards reevaluating how I look at food, what I cook, and subsequently what I put in my body. Bittman’s book had a great philosophy behind it and fantastic recipes (I have cooked more than a dozen already…and some more than once!) One thing it doesn’t have is food pictures. Same idea with Walter’s “Clean Food”. Great introduction and philosophy to how we approach food and recipes reflect that. “Clean Foods” organizes itself by seasons, which is something that I have really started to enjoy. Seasonal cooking plays directly into sustainable eating. Our society is a global one that continues to grow wider every day. This makes it easy to get imported ham from Spain, olive oil from Italy, figs from Turkey, etc etc. But, these options aren’t always the most sustainable. By purchasing in season and local foods, you can  decrease the environmental effects of shipping foods thousands of miles and into your kitchen. This also allows you to support the local economy (farmer’s markets are great!) Seasonal food is the freshest you can buy and thus tends to be more nutritious…and tastier! Buying seasonal produce also provides an exciting opportunity to try new foods and to experiment with seasonal recipes…and cookbooks :-).

New cookbooks always come with their staple pantry ingredients that keep popping up throughout. This cookbook was no different and had a few items I had never bought before or cooked with before. So I did some research and wanted to share my spoils of three ingredients heavily featured in “Clean Food”: mirin, grape seed oil, and cashew butter.

  • Mirin is a sweet Japanese condiment with up to 14% alcohol. This sweet cooking wine is made from glutinous wine. Mirin can soften the strong smells of fish and seafood. It is one of the main ingredients of teriyaki sauce.
  • Cashew butter is more often than not unprocessed food in contrast to the ever popular peanut butter (often mixed with salt, hydrogenated vegetable oils, sweeteners, and dextrose).  Furthermore unlike sweetened peanut butter, cashew butter rarely contains any added sugar. Cashew butter has a rich creamy flavor, that is perfect as a spread or an addition to soups, dips, and sauces. Cashew butter is also easy to make yourself (here is an example recipe).
  • Grape seed oil (technically a fruit oil not a vegetable oil) has a moderately high smoke point at about 216 °C (421 °F). This makes this oil ideal for high temperature cooking and also be used for stir-frying, sauteing or deep frying. Because of their insolubility in lipids, the cold-pressed grape seed oil contains negligible amounts of the antioxidants and other biologically active compounds associated with the increased health benefits of grape seeds. However, grape seed oil has a clean, neutral taste that allows the food to stand out not the oil.

Here is a preview of the dish I made from “Clean Food” on Wednesday. I will post the recipe in the next few days. Sweet Potato, Corn, and Kale Chowder:

Chocolate makes the world go round…or at least mine :-)

It is amazing how a little bit of chocolate = a lot of happiness. This is all linked to the release of chemicals in our brain that relay “happiness”, but science aside…I love chocolate. Interestingly enough an article in the Archives of Internal Medicine was just recently published that showed an association between regular intake of chocolate and a  lower Body Mass Index (BMI). It was the frequency not the quantity of chocolate that the researchers from the University of California, San Diego found to be tied with BMI status. Previous studies have found that certain kinds of chocolate improve factors related to metabolism, including blood pressure, cholesterol levels and insulin sensitivity; this may be due to the fact that chocolate is rich in antioxidant phyonutrients like catechins and flavinoids. Yet, people trying to lose weight tended to avoid chocolate because of its high calorie count, and the fact it is a…*gasp* sweet. While chocolate will not help one lose weight, it goes back to the fact that we shouldn’t single out one thing (like fat or desserts) and label all as bad. Good, quality food has a  lot of nutrients that our bodies want and need. I thank my lucky stars every day that chocolate is one of them (dark being more beneficial than milk – the addition of milk to chocolate may block the ability of the body to absorb the antioxidants present in chocolate)!! Also, overtly process chocolate is not as beneficial to your health, because like most processed foods…the more something is processed the less nutritious it becomes.

My lovely roommate gave me some chocolate yesterday imported from Germany (hand imported by her husband and his recent trip back to his homeland *smiles*) and it is almost gone. Moderation is key, but sometimes the chocolate cravings win out. Random note: chocolate cravings may be linked to magnesium levels which is why it is hypothesized that chocolate cravings and PMS are linked (a time when a woman’s magnesium levels are generally lower!) Love when science and my body work together *laughs*


Cook your own junk food!

As much as I love apples and oranges and grapes and….kale…haha I love me some junk food. We all do. Most junk food has been processed just right to appeal to all of our base senses and taste bud joys. One doesn’t have to give up junk food to eat healthier, but rather take another approach. Cook it yourself!!! Which brings us to Rule 39 from Michael Pollan’s “Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual”:

“Rule 39: Eat all the junk food you want as long as you cook it yourself…

“There is nothing wrong with eating sweets, fried foods, pastries, even drinking a soda every now and then, but food manufacturers have made eating these formerly expensive and hard-to-make treats so cheap and easy that we’re eating them every day. The french fry did not become America’s most popular vegetable until industry took over the jobs of the washing, peeling, cutting, and frying the potatoes – and cleaning up the mess. If you made all the french fries you ate, you would eat them much less often, if only because they’re so much work. The same holds true for fried chicken, chips, cakes, pies, and ice cream. Enjoy these treats as often as you’re willing to prepare them – chances are good it won’t be every day”

While this is a great guideline , it is something that I know I will not follow all the time with everything. For instance, there are certain things that I don’t make all that well or at least not as well as I want it to be for the sacrificed calories *smiles*. Fried chicken is one of those items. While I am not going to eat that every day, if I have a craving for fried chicken, I really want those calories to be worth it (and thus I want it made by someone who does it more often than the once a year I do it). So I treat fried chicken like a special occasion food (special occasion for my waist and my wallet) and try to get it at a restaurant. The restaurant part is key for more…I make sure it is NOT a fast food stop but rather a place one sits down and enjoys ones food. Eating slower and savoring is a big part of changing how we see and feel about food and hunger. Fast food joints drops it down to the junk food category and not the special occasion category. We all have our definitions and our lines…those are mine. Last week I made a whole slew of delicious pizza with fresh bought pizza dough (pesto inspired due to the all the warm spring weather). I also bought potatoes to make my own chips (my Achilles heal of snack foods). I will update on how those turn out (any suggestions are much appreciated!).

Aside from the fried variety of junk food. I think it is a great rule for sweets in particular. I have challenged myself to not buy any dessert but to only eat it if I make it or a friend makes it – the problem being sometimes snacking on the dessert ingredients before they make it into the dessert…darn those vegan chocolate chip chunks! I bought ingredients to make chocholate marshmallow fudge, baked apple streusel, and chocolate chip oatmeal cookies. I am attempting to make all of these vegan as well. I will be posting my attempts (and recipes) at these over the next few days! But overall Rule 39  is a good guideline to have…if only for the simple fact that it decreases our consumption of things that SHOULD be eaten sparingly. Cooking allows you total control when making your own junk food as well. You control the amount of fat, sugar, salt, etc that goes into it. You can make your junk food as healthy as you want (or as not healthy during those more indulgent times we try to keep to a minimum). Take back control of what your taste buds want…cook your own junk food!

Thought I would post some Junk Food Stats (from 2010) I found to round out the topic:

  • The average American eats about 24.5 pounds of candy per year, with 11.6 pounds being chocolate candy
  • There are 3,961 confectionery and nut stores in the U.S.
  • More than 90% of households in the U.S. consume ice cream
  • Children aged 6 to 11 are more likely to eat cookies than apples (or any other type of fruit)
  • 12- to 17-year-olds are as likely to eat potato chips as salad
  • On average 82 percent of people eat no cruciferous vegetables in a given day
  • On average 41 percent of people eat no fruits at all in a given day
  • Each day, 1 in 4 Americans visits a fast food restaurant
  •  The U.S. has 12,804 McDonald’s restaurants and McDonald’s feeds more than 46 million people a day. (That’s more than the entire population of Spain.)
  • French fries are the most eaten “vegetable” in America
  • There’s one soda vending machine for every 97 Americans
  • In 1972, we spent $3 billion a year on fast food — today we spend more than $110 billion.
  • Sodas alone contribute 7.1 percent of total calories eaten
  • Salty snacks and fruit-flavored drinks add another five percent
  • Children and youth aged 11 to 18 years visit fast food outlets an average of twice a week
  • Household income spent on away-from-home foods rose from 25 percent of total food spending in 1970 to nearly one-half in 1999
  • By 14 years of age, 32 percent of adolescent girls and 52 percent of boys in the United States are consuming three or more eight-ounce servings of sweetened soft drinks daily

Deceptive foods in my journey towards eating healthier

It is amazing how much your environment influences you. I have been hopping around different cities, being surrounded by such different groups of people/cultures/mind sets, and it really shapes my own habits and lifestyle choices. Being in Washington, DC right now with my good friend Emily has drastically changed my lifestyle choices (for the better I believe). My friend is on her own journey to healthier living (unlike mine which includes weight loss – she is a stick!) she has adopted many new changes in her life, like cutting out a large majority of meat products, increasing her own consumption of seasonal fruits/veggies (see my earlier post for March seasonal veggies), and making a lot of her own food. Through this journey she has really researched and increased her knowledge about food and its affect on health. I know that I will always love meat but moderation and selectivity is a good thing. Her influence has been huge on my life as well, especially on my reading list. I wanted to share a tidbit from the current book I am reading Michael Pollan’s “Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual”. While I do not agree with all of his rules…they are great bits of food for thought:

“Rule 9: Avoid food products with the wordoid “lite” or the terms “low-fat” or “nonfat” in their names…

The forty-year-old campaign to create low- and non-fat versions of traditional foods has been a failure: We’ve gotten fat on low-fat products. Why? Because removing the fat from foods doesn’t necessarily make them nonfattening. Carbohydrates can also make you fat, and many low- and nonfat foods boost the sugars to make up for the loss of flavor. Also, by demonizing one nutrient – fat- we inevitably give a free pass to another, supposedly “good” nutrient – carbohydrates in this case – and then proceed to eat too much of that instead. Since the low-fat campaign began in the late 1970s, Americans actually have been eating more than 500 additional calories per day, most of them in the form of refined carbohydrates like sugar. The result: The average males is 17 lbs heavier and the average female is 19 lbs heavier than in the late 1970s. You’re better off eating the real thing in moderation than binging on the “lite” food products packed with sugars and salt”

Processed foods

This last weekend I visited my best friend Amanda in Fredricksberg, VA in order to see her new digs (first time she has moved away from home!) and have a girls weekend. Somehow this turned into a weekend of binge eating processed foods (a case of Dr. Pepper, cheese balls (the whole entire bucket), fruit gushers, ice cream sandwiches, Milano cookies, Reece’s peanut butter cereal, etc) and watching hours upon hours of TV on Netflix and Hulu (by the way if you haven’t seen it the NBC series “Life” is fantastic – it only had two seasons but was great!). As one could imagine I felt like a train hit me by the end of the weekend, and I took a vow to get back to tracking on Weight Watchers and to the healthier eating habits I have had the last couple of months. The week has been a challenge, because now all my body and mind wants are cheese balls, but successful so far. A tidbit from that book I keep quoting Michael Pollan’s “Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual” has helped the process along:

Rule 13: Eat only foods that will eventually rot…

What does it mean for a food to “go bad”? It usually means that the fungi and bacteria and insects and rodents with whom we compete for nutrients and calories have gotten t it before we did. Food processing began as a way to extend the shelf life of a food by protecting it form these competitors. This is often accomplished by making the food less appealing to them, by removing nutrients from it that attract competitors, or by removing other nutrients likely to turn rancid, like omega-3 fatty acids. The more processed a food is, the longer the shelf life, and the less nutritious it typically is. Real food is alive – and therefore it should eventually die. (There are a few exceptions to this rule: For example, honey has a shelf life measured in centuries.) Note: most immortal food-like substances in the supermarket are found the middle aisles.”

Rule 19: if it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don’t…”

While  I will never completely give up processed food-like substances, again the key is moderation. This week I am trying to detox my system from the hell I put it through this weekend. But in general, I try to avoid processed foods. Another benefit besides health to this rule is it forces me to cook more (which is a GOOD thing!), thus making me more accountable for the food that gets put into my body!