Posts Tagged ‘Food’

What’s a Green Bean?

A funny thing happened at the grocery store this weekend.  Our cashier held up a bag of green beans and asked me what they were.  Really?  She may have only been a teenager, but she really didn’t know what green beans were?  I get it, some of those produce items can be more obscure, and it’s understandable that someone may need to ask for help.  For example, how many of you know what what Jicama looks like?  Or the difference between Collards, Kale or Mustard Greens?  Steve and I walked out both thinking the same thing, even Gavin knows what green beans are.   That’s when I realized that I think that I might be doing something right.

Grocery shopping with kids is not always a great experience, especially when your kids are no longer content to sit in the cart and people-watch.  Gavin is 3 now and Skylar is 17 months.  My usual approach is to put Skylar in the top of the cart and throw Gavin in the back.  As we get near the end of the shopping trip, that area gets smaller and smaller with our purchases and understandably, Gavin wants to get out and walk.  I usually let him.  In anticipation that this will happen, I try to plan shopping trips for times of day where there will be less people at the store.  Gavin is starting to listen pretty well and understands that he needs to stay close to me, but the urge to run down that open aisle is sometimes just too much to resist.  I try and keep him occupied by having him help me pick out food to buy.

He is especially excited to help in the produce section.  We buy a lot of fresh produce, especially in the summer months, and Gavin has developed some strong opinions on what we should put in our carts.  He never seems to like my picks for blueberries or bananas, but I have been successful in steering him in the right direction.   In the last couple of shopping trips, he has actually made requests for certain produce.  This past week, he was very upset that we did not buy any grapes, in the starting-to-cry upset kind of way.  It’s because of him that we got the green beans in the first place.  He thought that I forgot to get them.  He was also very particular about which heads of broccoli to bag.  I’ve been using his assistance in my produce selections purely to keep him occupied and close by me.  It’s hard to pick out the perfect potatoes when you have a 3 year old running towards the carrots, but it dawned on me that I’m offering an education of sorts that I never realized. 

He is learning about all the different types of fruits and veggies that are available.  He loves to ask what certain items are and wonders why we aren’t buying them.  Prior to this phase, we used the produce section to practice naming colors.  We also talk about preferences.  For example, it’s ok that Mommy only likes the red grapes, but it’s great that I’ve tried the other colors too. It’s because of Gavin’s curiosity that we bought a broccoflower a few weeks ago.  I do have to be careful because he likes to sample things before they are bought and washed.  A few weeks ago, I bent towards him to hear what he was saying to me and got a huge whiff of cilantro on his breath.  He was snacking on cilantro leaves!  (He also loves basil and mint.)  Most importantly, buying produce is a regular part of our shopping trip, and he is engaged and aware of these purchases on a weekly basis.  He is learning that fruits and vegetables are a standard and expected part of our diets.  Hopefully, these early lessons will not only teach my kids what the different produce items are but that it is the norm to include them in your weekly shopping trips.  Now, if only I could get Skylar to understand that the ear of corn needs to be cooked before she can eat it, everything would be perfect.


Do You Know Which Cow Your Milk Came From?

Unless you’re a dairy farmer, you probably don’t know. I don’t know either, but I do feel lucky that I can at least check out the cows that provide my milk.  I buy my milk from Merrymead Farm. It’s an adventure when I take the kids with me to buy milk.  You can walk around and check out a giant hog, some rabbits, donkeys, goats, peacocks, chickens and all the cows.  Sometimes the cows are out grazing in the field.  Sometimes they’re in the barn eating.  You can watch them line up to be milked.  You can even watch them during the milking process.   5 feet stands between you and your potential milk source.  If you’re lucky, they might even amble up to the window and moo at you. This scenario is more than enough for me to feel comfortable with how the cows are treated that produce my milk. 

All that aside, the real goal of any dairy farmer is to get his cows to produce as much milk as possible.  That can be accomplished with rBST injections, with painkillers do dull any discomfort, and unnatural diets that increase the amount of physiological issues requiring medication.  All bad methods, and yet common practices in the commercial production of milk.  Remember – rBST, painkillers, antibiotics all end up in your milk.  Research shows that cows will naturally produce more milk when they are happy and content.  I can’t even cite one source because there are so many out there.  I dare you to google it.  Any woman who has ever breastfed probably understands this fact.

Yesterday, I read an interesting and somewhat entertaining article about alternative approaches that some dairy farmers are taking to keep their cows happy, and they are seeing positive results.  Chiropractic sessions to avoid painkillers.  Water beds to take some of the pressure off their joints.  Misting in the barns to cool down the animals.  Even naming the cows can help them produce more milk. 

Cows may not be the smartest animal on the planet, but they too feel pain and discomfort.  They respond positively to human interaction and good treatment.  While I’m not suggesting that we all run out and find a dairy farm that gives its cows daily massages, but it can’t hurt to know what kind dairy farm is producing your milk.  A little education might change your mind about where to invest your milk money.

Making Italian Bread

It’s been a while since I posted any cooking ventures, so I thought that I would share a recipe for homemade Italian bread.  Bread making is easy as long as you follow the directions.   In most of my bread-making, I use All-Purpose flour and/or wheat flour.  For this recipe, I use bread flour.  Bread flour has a higher protein content than other flours, which is useful in bread-making because it creates longer and strong chains of gluten.  High gluten content helps to make bread that is airy and light.  Bread flour is bad for baking because it can make baked goods that are chewy and dense.  

Italian Bread

1 cup of hot water (between 100-110 degrees)
1 tablespoon of yeast (or 1 package of yeast)
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar
3 cups bread flour
1 tbsp butter, melted

Add the yeast to the hot water and let it sit for 5 minutes until foamy. Most hot water heaters are set to 120 degrees, so just letting your faucet heat up is sufficient for getting the correct temperature of water. Water that is too hot will kill the yeast. Too cool water will not trigger any yeast growth. Mix together remaining ingredients (except butter) and add yeast mixture when it is ready.

Once mixed turn on to a floured surface and begin kneading. Knead dough for about 10 minutes. The kneading process is what builds the gluten strands. If you cheat and knead for less time, your bread will be dense.

Once you’re finished kneading, you should have a ball of smooth dough. Put into an oiled bowl and cover with a damp cloth. Let the dough rise in a warm place for about 45 minutes or until doubled in size.

After it has doubled, punch down the dough and turn it on to a floured surface. Cover the dough ball with the bowl and let it rest of 15 minutes. Then shape the dough ball into a 12″ baguette shape. Cover with a damp cloth and let it rise in a warm place for 45 minutes.

After it has doubled in size again, melt 1 tbsp of butter and brush it on top of the loaf. Bake it for 20-25 minutes at 375 degrees until bread seems hollow when tapped.

My bread could have used a little more flour to hold its shape. When it rose the last time, it seemed to spread out rather than get higher.  Regardless, it was still light and flavorful and enjoyed by everyone in my family.  Bread making is interesting because the same recipe can turn out differently from one attempt to the next.  The most important thing to remember is to knead, knead, and knead your dough.  The first couple of times of kneading for 10 minutes can seem like forever, but it is crucial to make light and airy breads. Enjoy!

Is High Fructose Corn Syrup Bad for You?

The answer is yes and no.  

I’ve been hearing the past couple of years that we should avoid High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) because our bodies process it differently from natural sugar.   I started wondering if this is really true.  Do our bodies use HFCS differently from any other sweetener?  The answer from reputable research organizations is a resounding no.  When you examine the chemical properties of HFCS, you’ll understand how this claim is impossible. 

HFCS is a combination of glucose and fructose.  Glucose is the form sugar takes when it is being passed around in our blood to be used as energy.   A blood sugar reading is essentially the amount of glucose in your blood.    Our bodies do handle fructose differently than glucose.  When fructose enters our body it goes to our liver where it is converted into glucose if energy is needed or released into the bloodstream as is.  The real problem is that fructose does not stimulate insulin production like glucose.  Insulin controls the hormone leptin.  Increased leptin levels leads to a feeling of satiety or fullness and tells our brain to stop eating.  You can see where this is leading.  If we consume food and drinks with high levels of fructose, our bodies aren’t registering that we are full, which leads to overeating and, consequently, weight gain. 

But wait.  Remember that glucose is also in HFCS, and glucose does increase insulin levels which will help to tell us we’re full.  It’s also important to know that fructose is half the sugar in sucrose, or table sugar, and it is the sugar that we consume when we eat fruit.  Fructose is a natural forming sugar that we will consume no matter what we eat.  The claims that HFCS is bad for you because our bodies digest it differently started from research studies that DID prove that we have a higher potential to gain weight consuming fructose over other sugars, but you need to remember that HFCS isn’t just fructose.  HFCS with equal amounts of glucose and fructose will have the same effect on your body as sucrose (or table sugar). So, why is HFCS still getting a bad rap?

BECAUSE IT IS IN EVERYTHING!  HFCS is not only found in sugary drinks like soda and juices, but you can find it in bread,  cereal, condiments, energy bars, granola bars, yogurt, spaghetti sauce, etc.  I could go on and on and on, but the takeaway is that HFCS is processed foods, even foods that you wouldn’t think of, it is still there.   The real problem is not HCFS, but the excessive consumption of HCFS.   Try and stay away from as much processed food as you can to avoid excessive sugar intake in general.  It’s impossible to avoid HFCS or sugar completely, but its harmful effects are the same as regular old sugar, so the advice is the same.  Everything in moderation. 


*picture source

All I Want is Fish for Dinner

We’ve all heard about avoiding certain types of seafood because they contain high levels mercury, but there are several other reasons to avoid certain seafood as well. This information makes seafood buying complicated and consuming, especially since most of the products that we shouldn’t eat is what is sold in the typical grocery store.  Here is an interesting link to describe what fish we should avoid in detail. I’m highlighting my favorites.



Imported Shrimp – Imported shrimp are typically farmed shrimp where their growing environment is very dirty. They contain antibiotics to fight diseases and parasites, chemicals that were used to clean their pens, and even mouse and rat hair. Yuck. Eat domestic shrimp instead.
Atlantic Flatfish (includes flounder, sole, and halibut – one of my favorites!) – Avoid these fishes because they are so extremely over-harvested that some only have 1% of the population needed to support sustainable long-term fishing. A good substitute is Pacific Halibut.
Atlantic Salmon – Wild caught numbers are too low! Fish farms are crowded making them ideal conditions for diseases which require antibiotics to keep the fish healthy. Opt for Wild Alaskan Salmon.
Orange Roughy – Very high in mercury but more importantly, it can take 20-40 years for these fish to reproduce! This fact makes it impossible to sustainably harvest even though some Orange Roughy is sold with that label. Even Red Lobster  won’t sell it.
Chilean Sea Bass – This fish which almost always seems to be a special at your favorite restaurants has the same fate as the Orange Roughy. It reproduces late in life and most of what is sold in the US has been illegally caught. Greenpeace has reported that if people don’t stop consuming this fish, it could be commercially extinct in 5 years.

What can you do to make sure you are consuming healthy, sustainable seafood? Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch has a helpful, printable list that you can take with you grocery shopping to help you make good choices. Shop at Trader Joe’s , Whole Foods or Wegman’s who have all made a commitment to selling fish from sustainable sources. If you’re still unsure, ask where the seafood came from. If you’re grocery store can’t answer that question, why would you want to eat it in the first place?

Any other tips, please share.  This topic is new for me and the guidelines are so extensive that I feel like I’m navigating tricky waters (no pun intended!).

Tempeh Hummus Wraps

I was surveying my fridge yesterday for lunch and wondering what new, healthy combination I could try other than my typical cheese sandwich.  I spied a package of tempeh in the back and Romaine lettuce in the vegetable crisper and an idea popped into my head.  A few weeks ago I was reading Iowa Girl Eats and glossed over a post called Buffalo Chicken BLAT Wraps.  While I would have never have made the recipe because bacon isn’t on a vegetarian’s menu, the Romaine lettuce must have stuck in my mind as an alternative to a wrap, bread, etc.  Voila! I was inspired to make Tempeh Lettuce Sandwiches.

If you have never tried to tempeh, make sure it is on your shopping list right now.  It’s a great protein option for a meal and totally delicious.  I discovered tempeh during my vegan experiment and have been hooked ever since.  This sandwich was a great new way to enjoy it.  The tempeh is  a great protein source to keep you full and satisfied.  The hummus gives a rich and robust flavor.  The red pepper adds a sweet crunch, and the lettuce adds a crisp finish to each bite.


4 oz of tempeh
Olive oil
Salt & pepper
Hummus (Sabra is my favorite brand!)
Red pepper slices
Fresh cilantro
Romaine Lettuce leaves

1.  Saute tempeh in olive oil until browned on both sides.  Season with salt and pepper.\

2.  Spread hummus on lettuce leaf.

3.  Add tempeh and red pepper.  Garnish with cilantro.


Potato Casserole – He Had 2 Helpings!

I frequently try new recipes, and they are all geared towards my food interests.  That means they are all vegetarian.  Lately, I have concluded that Steve is either grateful that I am willing to cook or genuinely likes my new cooking adventures because he always tries everything.  Sometimes he isn’t too crazy about what is sitting on the plate before him, but he still tries it.  Everything is edible, and I don’t think that he has ever refused to eat anything.   Noticing this willingness to try new things,  I’ve been entering dangerous waters and throwing in some foods that I know that he isn’t crazy about.  Last night was a good example.

Steve doesn’t like potatoes.  Besides French fries, he’ll eat roasted potatoes but only if they are cut up really small and roasted so long that their insides taste like French fries.  I don’t like baked potatoes either, but I’m a little more flexible in my potato consumption.  I found a recipe on and decided to make a few modifications and give it a go.  I like making dinners that enable me to do early prep work (chopping when a kid doesn’t need to be held), have a short assembly time, and then it bakes in the oven while I go back to playing with the kids.  Casseroles work really well for me.

I call this Potato Casserole despite listing it as Potato Pizza because I cooked it in a 13×9 baking dish, and the end result was that it looked like a casserole.  This dish is fantastic because it has loads of veggies in it, protein from the tofu and eggs, complex carbs from the potatoes, and dairy from cheese.  I used CalorieKing to get an approximate calorie count and was happy to discover that the entire casserole has approximately 2308 calories, which means that 1/9th or 1 serving is only 256 calories!   For all you locals out there, now is the time to make it because it has zucchini, yellow squash, and tomatoes.  Tis the season for zucchini!

Potato Casserole adapted from Potato Pizza

Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cooking Time: Total 35 minutes

3 potatoes, shredded (used food processor)
1 onion, finely chopped (used food processor)
2 eggs
1/4 cup flour
2 small zucchinis, thinly sliced (used food processor)
2 small yellow squashes, thinly sliced ((used food processor)
1/2 med onion, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves (or ample dash of garlic powder if you don’t have fresh garlic)
7 oz extra firm tofu, crumbled (1/2 a block)
1 jar marinara sauce
2 tomatoes, thinly sliced
1 cup mozzarella, optional (couldn’t really taste the cheese while eating)

1. Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees. Spray a 13×9 dish with cooking spray.

2. Mix the shredded potato, chopped onion, flour, and eggs together. Press into the bottom of the pan and Bake for 20 minutes. Spray top with olive oil (or cooking spray) and broil for 5 minutes.

3. Saute squash, zucchini, sliced onion, garlic, and tofu in 1 tbsp of olive oil until tender.
4. Pour mixture on to top of cooked potato, pour jar of sauce over top, sprinkle cheese over surface and then add the sliced tomatoes. Bake for 10 minutes. Enjoy!

Sorry for the lack of and not so great pictures.  Trying to feed myself, Steve, the baby, and trying to convince my son that yes, he really does like all the food on his plate makes taking pictures low priority!  BTW – he did end up eating everything on his plate.