Archive for February, 2010

Pass Me the Granola

I love granola. It’s delicious snack that is very filling. The oats are filled with fiber and the seeds and nuts are good sources of a variety of nutrients. What I don’t like is how expensive it is. One day while paging through a cookbook, I discovered a recipe for granola. I had never really considered making it. I read through the recipe and was amazed at how simple it was. 25 minutes later, I had homemade granola. 20 minutes of that time was baking. It was inexpensive and tasty. I’m sharing the recipe so that anyone can make this yummy and healthy snack. Try it with yogurt, a bowl of fruit, or even just plain.

2 cups oats
1/2 cup coconut
1/2 cup sliced or slivered almonds
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1/2 cup maple syrup or honey
1/3 cup cooking oil

Mix all the ingredients together. Pour onto a greased baking sheet or line a baking sheet with parchment paper or tin foil. Bake in a 325 degree preheated oven for 20 minutes or until granola is golden brown. Remove from baking sheet to cool. When cool, break into pieces.

Advertisements

Hara Hachi Bu

I’ve been reading a book called The Blue Zones by Dan Buettner. He identified 5 regions on the world that have the highest percentage of centenarians and researched what about their cultures and lifestyles may contribute to their longevity. In Okinawa, he discovered that many older Okinawans recite the phrase “Hara Hachi Bu” prior to eating. It is a Confucion inspired phrase that means eat until you are 80% full. Buettner identifies 2 reasons why this can help improve longevity. Since, it takes 20 minutes for the brain to know that you are full, eating only until 80% means that you will never overeat. The second reason is more interesting. He says that undereating “slows down your metabolism in a way that produces less damaging oxidants – agents that rust your body from within.”

Undereating must take tremendous willpower, especially in today’s society where food is so accessible and plentiful. When food is scarce, undereating must be a necessity to help ration what food there is. Also, preparing food from fresh fruits, vegetables and grains means that it isn’t as easy to eat more if it needs to be prepared. Today, pre-packaged food makes overeating more of a commonality than undereating.

I grew up in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, where buffet restaurants were the norm. We were middle class, and I can remember going out to a restaurant called Bonanza every once in a while. It was buffet, and I can’t ever remember leaving there without a belly ache because I overate. How awful I felt. My stomach was full and distended. I had indigestion. It would take a good hour before I started to feel better. No wonder I was overweight as a child. Even now, going to a buffet, I feel as though I need to “get my money’s worth.” Even if my money’s worth is unhealthy and makes me feel bad. For that reason, I avoid buffets. My husband and I very rarely eat out. I’d like to think that it is because I’m such a good cook, but it may also be because we’re frugal and we would just rather be at home. Eating at home helps us not to overeat in several ways. You serve yourself what you think you want to eat rather than have someone else plate it for you. You aren’t paying for that meal, which means there is less obligation to eat what is given to you. You know exactly what ingredients each food items, which means that if there is something that is less healthy, you consciously can choose not to have as much. With restaurant meals, a seemingly healthy dish may have ingredients in it that are very unhealthy. You may feel at liberty to eat as much as you want because it is “healthy”. I’m hopeful that home cooking will keep us healthier and keep our family close as we sit down to family dinners every night.

As for undereating, I’m not sure that I’ll ever get to that point, nor do I really want to do. Food is plentiful here, and we get one life to enjoy it. I will enjoy it in my own way with healthy cooking and homemade meals and treats.

Just another note – as I was using wordpress’s proofreading tool, undereating was identified as not a word – ha!

Spring Cleaning – My Cubicle

I recently moved into a new cubicle at work. When I say recent, I really mean 3 months ago. I packed up my old desk into 2 boxes (down from 4 boxes a couple of years ago). When I got to my new desk, I only needed to unpack 1 of those boxes. The other box has sat unopened on my cubicle floor. Yesterday, I decided to go through it.

Before my riveting and exciting story goes further, let me tell you about my job. I am a software engineer. I have worked for a defense contractor for the past 10 years, designing, implementing and testing software. When I talk about my cubicle, it is (or was) my home away from home. I say was because after I had my baby, I only went back to work 3 days a week, Monday through Wednesday. That’s a great schedule, if you can get it. Anyway, I sit at my desk in front of a computer all day long, typing and reading and typing and thinking and typing. I’m a really good typist. By definition, my job means that I’m working digitally and not with paper. So, how did I accumulate so much paper?

Back to that unopened box. Inside were pages and pages of printed paper from a previous project. After removing everything from its folder and taking out the staples, I’m embarrassed to admit that the stack of paper was 10 inches high. Even worse, the project it was generated from was terminated 3 years ago, which means that every piece of paper in that pile no longer had any value.

The scary thought is that at a company that employs tens of thousands of people, I’m not the only person that has printed that many documents. How can we live in a digital age and still need to print? It isn’t as if any of this paper was required to be maintained as hard copy. The most common response as to why people print at work is probably because it is easier to read. How can we sit in front of a computer all day long only to claim that it is easier to ready printed copies?

I will say that I haven’t printed that much paper for 3 years. In fact, I never print anything for work anymore. I review everything in its digital form. I know that few of my co-workers can claim the same thing, as evidenced by the boxes of paper sitting next to the printer. At least, the printer doesn’t run all day long. I can only hope that someday we’ll live in a world where printers sit dusty and archaic in the corner.

If I could ask Oprah 1 question…

It would be, “Do you recycle?”. It’s hard to believe that there are some people in the US that still do not recycle. In fact, one poll claims that 23% of Americans don’t recycle ( http://www.treehugger.com/files/2007/08/americans_recycle.php ). I guess it has been my naiveté that makes me just assume that everyone recycles.

I know someone who didn’t start recycling until this past year. To provide anonymity, let’s call him Willy Wonka. Willy is in his mid-30’s, owns his own home, and grew up in a household that did recycle. For a long time, Willy touted his reason for not recycling was that he didn’t have a recycling bin. Interestingly, while at his house one day, I found the missing bin underneath his deck. Despite finding the bin, Willy still didn’t start recycling. He is a frequent purchaser of bottled water, bottled beer, and canned soda. I would cringe watching these empty containers repeatedly getting tossed in the garbage. If I drank a soda while at his house, I would take my empty can home with me to be recycled.

What really amazed me was that Willy had a young son. Did he not realize that he was setting a terrible example to his child? It made me ill thinking about all that aluminum, plastic, and paper being shoved into plastic garbage bags just to be tossed into a landfill. To this day, I don’t understand why he didn’t recycle. He has started recycling. I’m not sure what motivated him to do so, but I am much relieved to know that his son will grow up knowing that recycling is just something you do.

Why wouldn’t you recycle? I have heard that some trash companies don’t collect recycling. If that’s your situation, I forgive you. I’m going to guess that most people don’t recycle because there are lazy. It’s more convenient for them to dump all that trash in one location, drag one container down to the curb, and not think about sorting recyclable items. That, I don’t forgive. Laziness is not an excuse when it comes to saving our planet.

So, Oprah, do you recycle? I’m not a regular watcher of Oprah, but I did see an episode when she said that her housekeepers change her sheets every day. I wonder if she has ever thought about how much water it must take every year to make sure her sheets are freshly laundered daily. That got me thinking about Oprah’s carbon footprint. While I have never seen her house, I have to imagine that it is quite large, unnecessarily large for her small family. The energy that must be required to power her home (and her washing machine) must be outrageous. Maybe she uses solar energy or has a wind turbine in her backyard.

The Dirty Dozen – I’m Afraid, Are You?

My sister-in-law recently mentioned the term “The Dirty Dozen” when we were talking about organic foods. This term was new to me, and I immediately googled it. It turns out that buying organic of the top 12 foods with the highest amount of pesticides will reduce your pesticide exposure by 80%. That’s a huge number. Here is the list of foods:

1. Peaches
2. Apples
3. Sweet bell peppers
4. Celery
5. Nectarines
6. Strawberries
7. Cherries
8. Pears
9. Grapes (imported)
10. Spinach
11. Lettuce
12. Potatoes

(Check out more on this here.)

I have trouble buying organic. Why? It’s hard to buy an organic apple that costs almost twice as much as the non-organic apple that’s sitting right next to it and looks exactly the same. It’s too bad those pesticides don’t make that apple look different. It would be easy then, but they seem identical, and yet, they are so different. One is healthy and nutritious and the other is swamped with poisonous chemicals to make it look healthy and delicious. After so many years of eating non-organic produce and still being healthy, it’s difficult to make that switch. Ironically, it’s not a question where my baby is concerned. Everything I buy for him is organic.

I look at the The Dirty Dozen, and I am concerned. I eat apples and lettuce daily. Summertime is filled with strawberries. I have celery sitting in my fridge right now. And, who doesn’t love a fresh, juicy peach? I guess I’m just going to have to peel that band-aid and pay the higher costs, constantly reminding myself of the good that I’m doing for myself in the long run.

Trash, Recyclable, or Hazardous Waste?

So, the chemical cleaners are all in a pile and ready to be removed from my house forever. What do I do with them? The bottles are recyclable, but the liquids remaining inside – that’s a tougher challenge. I don’t want to recycle without emptying them first, but I also don’t want to pour everything down the drain. What to do, what to do…. I’ve decided to add them to the pile of 10-year-old oil-based paint that our house’s previous owners left us. We are planning to dispose of it at the next hazardous waste collection in our community. Does that mean that I’m considering our cleaners hazardous waste? That would mean that over the years, I have been slowly spraying and misting and squirting hazardous material all throughout our home. That makes me feel uncomfortable just thinking about it. Next time, I’m working my arm muscles to scrub our kitchen sink with baking soda, I’ll just remind myself that at least I’m not poisoning myself any more.

Throw Out the 409!

My latest venture has been to eliminate chemical cleaners from my life. I just recently got rid of all of my chemical cleaners with the exception of glass cleaner and Murphy’s wood oil for my floors. More on that in a minute. My 3 new favorite cleaners are baking soda, my all-purpose cleaner – water, vinegar, baking soda, and liquid soap, and carpet cleaner – equal parts vinegar and water. The all-purpose cleaner has been working out well. I use it in my bathrooms for the sink, shower and toilets. I use it in my kitchen on the counter tops, stove, and any other dirty appliance. I use it anywhere that there is cleaning to be done. At first, I had trouble. That liquid soap left a cloudy residue on my surfaces. I have now found the right balance of a very wet sponge to remove the cleaner. The end result are clean counters and no chemical smell or fumes. Mission accomplished.

As the mother of an 8 month old baby and a dog, carpet cleaner is a must in our household. Fortunately, carpet is limited to the stairs, 2nd floor, and an area rug in the family room, but nonetheless, carpet cleaner is still a required cleaning product in my household. My dog does all of his vomiting on the stairs or in the baby’s room, and my baby spits up frequently – enough said. The carpet cleaner has been working out well except for that vinegar smell. It takes forever to dissipate! For example, last night, Gavin rewarded my husband with a nice healthy dose of spit up which landed not just on Steve but also the couch. I cleaned that couch so that you would never know that spit up landed there except for the vinegar smell which was still there this morning. If it’s still there tonight, I’m going to try sprinkling baking soda on it and see if it will absorb the smell. That’s a nice segue to baking soda. It’s not just for cooking. We use trash cans with sealed lids as diaper pails. No Diaper Genies or Diaper Champs for us. We are cheap – didn’t want to buy the insert and conscientious about how much garbage we generate – didn’t want to throw away the insert. Baking soda works wonders for absorbing the odor of poopy diapers in that trash can.

The only cleaner that I truly miss is Comet. How well Comet cleaned my kitchen sink and shower with little effort….but since it is a nasty chemical, in the trash it went. I now use straight baking soda as its replacement. It requires a bit of elbow grease to get my sink clean and white but it is still effective.

As mentioned earlier, I still use glass cleaner and Murphy’s wood oil to clean my floors. They are still on my To Be Eliminated list. I figure that I have until Gavin is crawling to get a natural floor cleaner. I’m skeptical about some of these natural glass cleaners, but, of course, I will keep you posted.