Monday, December 14, 2009

Finals survival guide!

Temperatures have dropped, a special buzz fills the air, eager anticipation is everywhere. This could only mean one thing! No, not the holiday season (believe me, Christmas cheer is a very distant feeling at this time). Rather, for the next few days, my world revolves solely around final exams.

Compared to the vast majority of my classmates, who are now spending more time at the library than at home, I am relatively calm about finals. However, this isn't really saying much. With tests in subjects ranging from microeconomics to paranoia and conspiracies in American history (yes, it really is as interesting as it sounds!), my mind is constantly jumping from one topic to another.

With so much resting on the filling in of a few little bubbles on multiple choice tests, it is easy to become overwhelmed. That is why, this year, I am allowing myself a little space to step back and enjoy a few "indulgences." Here is a little glimpse into what keeps me sane throughout finals:

All around campus, coffee is at an extreme premium. If my economics class has taught me anything, it is that coffee shops could probably get away with charging double at this time: With a skyrocketing demand, some students would be willing to sell their mother's for a cup o' Joe.
Coffee has magical powers in helping me concentrate!

In my attempts to avoid the exotic breed of sleep-deprived, coffee-seeking college students, I have found a haven in "The Scone Lady" coffee shop. Located conveniently close to my house, this shop is populated more by cheery groups of old friends, stealing some time to catch up over a cup of tea, than by frantic students. I am always able to stake out the same space, plug in my computer, and do some serious studying while enjoying a calming cup of coffee (and eavesdropping on the occasional church group gossip!).

My gym: Note the Food Network on the TV!

True fact: a little caffeine buzz can increase performance in a workout by up to 25%... and this isn't only scientific baloney! Some of my best runs have come after a cup of coffee. So then, after a relaxing and productive morning at The Scone Lady, I am ready for a workout. I'm not usually to eager to face the blustery winter weather, but I have the great option of a gym to keep me moving. I get the satisfaction of treading a few miles, while catching up on the latest episodes on the Food Network; I know, kind of crazy, but for some reason, Paula Deen is good motivation!

Wearing my apron gives me a strange sense of invincibility!

Still needing a little relief from hitting the books, and feeling inspired by the Food Network, I often seek out any excuse to put on my apron! This week, in preparation for a month at home, I've been trying to use up the last of of my food reserves. The result: "Monster Cookies!" This delicious (and nutritious!) little goobers start off with an easy batter of oats, whole wheat flour, a single egg, honey, and some sugar. I then add my own personal touch with crasins, crumbled pretzels, walnuts, banana chips, cinnamon chips, shredded coconut, some flax seeds, and a little cinnamon. To take it one step further, I added a little Cayenne pepper to some of the dough (this turned out to be a spicy/delicious success!). Let me know if you want the complete recipe.A warm cup of tea is the next best thing to a nighttime lullaby!

After a long day of studying, there is no better way to calm down and unwind than enjoying a cup of tea. My only connection to the rumored "holidays", I love trying out new seasonal blends, like "sugar cookie sleigh ride," as well as my stand-bys of "cinnamon apple spice" and "orange spice" tea.

So that's basically it. My guide to sanity during finals. It may not be too much, but it is enough to sustain me for a few days of craziness!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Jump start the day!

I am a morning person. I love waking up, enjoying a well-prepared breakfast, and doing something productive all before I "need to" start my day. That way, at the end of the night I am must less rushed and am able to unwind...

However, even with the best of intentions and maximized productivity, there are just some days (or weeks) where the work never seems to stop piling up. Enter the concept of semester finals.

In my attempts to prepare for an all-too-quickly approaching battery of exams, I have been even more dedicated to my "up and at 'em" mentality. There is no time to waste when finals threaten!

For the most part, I am temporarily able to concede my nighttime routine of relaxation in front of the TV or a few chapters from a school unrelated book. I know that a break awaits me as soon as I survive the tests. However, the one thing I am unwilling to compromise on is getting in my exercise. This is the single time of the day where I make myself put away all books, flashcards, and study guide. I know that, no matter how busy or overwhelmed I may feel, if I simply allow myself a some time running on the treadmill or unwinding in yoga, I will be more productive in the long run-- not to mention more pleasant to those around me!

With my days often turning into non-stop sequences of events, I have found that the most reliable time to work out is usually first thing in the morning. That way, throughout the rest of my crazy day, I am able to have a little bit of the sense of calm I derive only from working out.

The only problem with workouts first thing in the morning is the dilemma of what to eat. There is a delicate balance between needing to have something in the stomach, but not going overboard. To find the pre-workout breakfast right for me, I've gone through a series of trial-and-error (tip: just say "no" to a bowl of milk and cereal). My go-to is half a banana. However, this isn't always available, in which case, I turn to my reliable second choice: A segment of a Kashi Go Lean! energy bar. Even just a quarter of the bar is enough to boost my energy and carry me through a workout, without the uncomfortable feelings of being weighed down.

Just a quarter of a "Kashi: Go Lean! Chewy" bar is enough to carry me through a moderate workout.

However, while the energy bar is enough to sustain me throughout a workout, I am always ready for a more satiating breakfast post-workout. Still a bit crunched for time (albeit it feeling relatively calm, thanks to the workout!), I usually seek out an easy-to-assemble option. This is where my pumpkin pancakes, frozen with brilliant foresight, come into play. I dress them up with some thawed blueberries, pumpkin seeds, and just a little sugar-free syrup... good to go!

Pre-made, frozen, and then toasted pumpkin pancakes are just the boost I need during the chaos of finals!
With blueberries and pumpkin seeds... now that sounds like a 4.0 GPA to me!

With a start like that, how could I not dominate finals?!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

First snow!

How is it that whenever it snows-- no matter what the temperature may be-- it just doesn't seem quite so intolerable outside?

My love for snow extends beyond the childlike joy I get by tromping through fresh layers; really, there is no comparison for the wonderland of a snow-covered landscape!

Of all the categories of snow, the best of all is the first snow of the season. For this one magical moment, I am still blissfully forgetful of the downside of the cold stuff: the slushy roads, the poor traffic, the sidewalks I will be made to shovel out...

Snow can make a person do crazy things... like waking up for sunrise yoga!

This morning I was less than enthusiastic about rousing myself for "sunrise yoga." In fact, I had myself thoroughly convinced by the time I feel asleep last night that I was going to be rebellious and skip out on the class. However, when my alarm went off not-yet-bright and early, I had a mysterious energy to get out of bed.

Still dreary eyed, I stumbled towards the window and looked out into the darkness. Quickly I realized it wasn't quite as black as usual; there was a certain reflectivity that could only be caused by... SNOW!

Suddenly jolted to awareness, I dressed in my yoga clothes, pulled on my boots, and made remarkable haste in getting out the door. The crisp morning air didn't phase me, as I took my sweet time in walking to my car. Ignoring the unfortunate side-effect of having to clean off my windshield, I just couldn't shake the sense of bliss I felt from the snow.

Despite the fact that just hours before I had been committed to not attending the class, yoga was truly enjoying; that I was giddy inside seemed to only contribute to an inner-calm!

Naturally, after class I had the perfect excuse to get a hot cup of coffee. The only thing that pairs better with snow than sledding is a nice beverage to warm the body up!

My good start to the day was only contributed to by the new kind of Kashi cereal I had waiting at home! I enjoyed my first bowl of "Honey Sunshine" cereal and some slightly thawed blueberries while cozily wrapped in a blanket and casually reading my "Major British Writers of the 19th and 20th Centuries" homework (which just so happened to be a humorous excerpt from a Monty Python skit!)

Just as the temperature were edging towards the freezing point and the sun was fully exposed, it was time for me to head out for my first class. Having started a morning with so much already accomplished is the best feeling!

Well, that, and the aforementioned sight of the first snow, naturally!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Restructuring: Feedback requested!

Dear devoted follower-

When I first began my escapade into personal blogging, I was relatively green to blogging in general. I was eagerly bookmarking every single blog that caught my eye in any way. While I still do this, my tastes have become a bit more refined. In this process I have come to realize what I like and dislike about blogging styles.

I feel like, to some extent, this blog has been too much a strange hybrid of random recipes and an extension of my health and nutrition column. I have pressured myself to fit into a vision of what I thought a blog "should be": professional, informational, and somewhat authoritative.

Now, though, I realize that isn't really my style. In reflecting, the entries I have most enjoyed writing have been the ones that come to me organically; spur of the moment thoughts and observations, rather than carefully researched reports.

Actually, I feel like I can most effectively address the topics of health and nutrition by commenting on events from my life. This means the struggles, the triumphs, the experiences, and the lessons learned. So, where to go from here...

The blog will be more of a personal look into my daily life: good workouts I have, foods I eat, new recipes I discover, and the lessons I learn along the way!

Basically, I am a college student, who, despite a limited budget and somewhat limited resources, is still trying to make the best of navigating a healthful lifestyle!

All I ask from you is for feedback! I'll probably be playing around with structures for a bit, so I am open to suggestions and eager for reactions!

My goal is simply that, regardless of who you may be, you can still learn a thing or two from my endeavors! If so, then, mission accomplished!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Surviving the feast: Healthy for the holidays!

Slushy snow. Freezing winds. Bundling up in multiple layers of clothes. Looks like another Kansas fall. Despite the misery of walking to class in bone-numbing temperatures, these pains do come with a silver lining: The holiday season has arrived!

With great food often the centerpiece of celebration, the biggest challenge during the holiday season is finding a balance between indulgence and health. A few simple guidelines make this easy to do.

1) Snack smart. Planning for small meals throughout the day will help ward off temptations to taste-test and will control serving sizes when actual dinner rolls around. Kick snack power up a notch by choosing “dense” foods, such as fruits and vegetables over lighter options such as chips. This way, a smaller amount of calories will be consumed, while more effectively satiating an appetite.

2) Plan in exercise. The holidays are a time to catch up with family. So why not invite Cousin Timmy or Aunt Susan on a pre-feast power walk? Better yet, get some much-needed time away from the constant family gossip and strange distant relatives by blocking out some time for a run. Just load up the iPod with holiday music and hit the pavement.

3) Savor the food. For me, there is nothing like spending hours in the kitchen, diligently preparing a feast, to stir up a big appetite. When time comes to sit down to the dinner table, my general inclination is to dive straight in and enjoy the fruits of my labor. This becomes a problem when, only five minutes in, I am already making a third run though the buffet line.

Instead, I’ve learned the best strategy is to slow down and enjoy each bite. That way my stomach has time to process whether it is full or not and I can fully experience the food.

4) Go for small desserts. Somehow, no matter how stuffed I am, the very mention of dessert gives my stomach a second wind. I eagerly load up my plate with thick slices of pie and mounds of whipped cream. A few bites in and I already realize my eyes were bigger than my stomach. Again, time has taught me that instead of taking big portions of dessert, it is best to get small samples. That way, I get to enjoy more variety, while cutting back on post-binge regrets.

5) When in doubt, bring a healthy option. One of the best ways to ensure healthy eating at holiday time is to offer to bring a nutritious side dish. Some good options include veggies with dip, fruit and yogurt sauce or pita with hummus.

The moral of the story: No holiday feast is complete without a small sample of Grandma’s butter and heavy cream laden mashed potatoes. So go ahead, indulge. Just remember, it’s all about careful selection, thorough enjoyment and knowing that leftovers often taste better than the first time around.

As seen in the University Daily Kansan.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Quick "Orchard" Mix: A college student's breakfast fix!

It's amazing how a good breakfast really can make the entire day. I find it nearly impossible to be stressed out, pessimistic, or just plain grumpy if I manage to start off the day with something delectable!

Coming up with something tasty isn't too hard to do; I'm not very discerning when it comes to breakfast foods. I'm a devoted member of the pancake fan club. I love coming up with new oatmeal additions and toppings. I've even, after years of resistance, recently become slightly obsessed with eggs...

When it comes to breakfast the options are really unlimited. The only problem with breakfast just seems to be its unfortunate timing. Whose idea was it really to make the best meal of the day so early in the day? As a frequently sleep deprived college student it is often tempting to opt for sleep over a hearty breakfast.

95% of the time I am able to wake up with enough time set aside to prepare and adequately enjoy a good breakfast. But, for those other 5% of days, I need an easy breakfast solution that is still satisfying.

Now, I am quite certain I've come up with the perfect solution: My easy "Orchard" Breakfast. It is a ideal combination of fruit, protein, and carbohydrates... sure to give me enough energy to tackle whatever my day has in store!

One of the best parts about this "recipe" is that it is quite adaptable. I just throw in whatever frozen fruit sounds appetizing. Sometimes I add flax seeds, other times I simply stick to peanut butter. No matter what exact combination I go with, the basic formula never fails.

Easy "Orchard" Recipe...
because breakfast is the most important meal of the day!

OK, so it doesn't look too pretty... but, man, is it tasty!

  • 1/8 cup old-fashioned oatmeal
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/4 tbsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup frozen fruit (strawberries, blueberries, or mixed!)
  • 1 diced apple
  • Protein: 1/2 tbsp peanut butter (I prefer chunky) or 1 tsp. flax seeds... or both!
  • Mix together oatmeal, milk, cinnamon, and frozen fruit in a bowl. Microwave for approximately three minutes.
  • Stir together cooked oatmeal/fruit with apples and microwave for another minute.
  • Add in protein, mix again, enjoy... and head out for a great day!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Pumpkin Spice Muffins: perfection in four ingredients.

The vast majority of recipes that I bookmark are for sweets. I have a very strong natural attraction to anything frosted, sugar-coated, or fudge-dipped. I diligently label, organize, and set away each new recipe I stumble upon, dreaming all the while of how my new find will taste...

However, I am the victim of a great dilemma: Indulge in every sweet/treat recipe (which would, necessarily, call for a lot of taste testing) or keep my self-proclaimed title of health food junkie? Depending on the recipe at hand, this is seriously a question that has kept me up at night...

My solution is quite simple. I just take advantage of every opportunity to provide desserts for my friends. A party? I'll bring the cupcakes! A hard test coming up? Here, snack on some homemade cookies! Parents coming to town? Impress them with this pie! So the trend continues...

Really, I believe my system of bake-and-give is best for everyone: I get to indulge my desire to test new recipes, sneak in a small sample, and then give the rest away to eager and grateful college students... this is seriously a good way to make some loyal friends!

Despite a great collection of recipes just calling out to be tested, my most recent endeavor into baking was actually for my tried-and-true Pumpkin Spice Muffins. For weeks, I had festered away the necessary ingredients, ready to jump on any excuse to bake. Just as the final leave of autumn dropped from the tree branches, an opportunity appeared: new neighbors!

Without hesitation, I immediately gathered the ingredients. In no time, the muffins were ready. Fresh from the oven to the door of my latest friends (again, homemade treats are the best way to make new buddies!), with maybe a leftover muffin or two for me!

The best part about this recipe, even more than the spicy-sweet aroma that fills the kitchen or the delightful surprise of the cinnamon chips, is how simple it is to create. Just mix together four kitchen-staple ingredients and perfection is on a platter in no time!

Pumpkin Spice Muffins...
four ingredients, four stars.

  • 1 box spice cake mix
  • 1 can pure pumpkin
  • 1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
  • 3/4 cup cinnamon chips
  • Preheat the oven according to cake box directions.
  • In large bowl, stir together all ingredients.
  • Fill greased muffin tin 3/4 full with batter.
  • Bake according to box directions.
  • Done! How easy was that?

My muffins wanted a little fresh air!
Note: they were sitting safely on a plate!

For a little explanation, I usually avoid recipes using boxed mixes. I prefer "getting my hands dirty" and baking from scratch. That way, I know exactly what is going into my creation, and I have better control over the ingredients I use. However, for the sake of this recipe, I usually concede my stigma against boxed ingredients a little.With only four ingredients-- and no additional eggs, butter, cream, or oil-- these muffins withhold a certain degree of purity.

I've learned that sometimes it is alright to make life a little easier. So, grab that boxed cake mix and enjoy a little simplicity with all the benefits of taste. Back to baking from scratch next time...

Monday, November 16, 2009

Struggles to resist exercise.

I am one of "those people" who really and truly enjoys working out.

It is the one part of the day when I can put all books aside and clear my mind. No matter how crunched for time I feel, even with devoting an hour or so to exercise I am still able to accomplish everything on my to-do list. It is as if I am able to see everything more clearly, simply by breaking a sweat. Thoughts that were once jumbled and complicated come into clear focus. Then, when I sit back down to work on a column or homework assignment, words that once seemed beyond articulation quickly fall into place.

I know that a good workout has the ability to solve many of life's greatest problems... The only problem is that my body doesn't always see it that way. Sometimes, despite how much I yearn to head out for a jog or have a Pilates session, my body just refuses to allow it. Frequently I push through the pain, and while I may feel better in the moment, the aches just reemerge the next day, only exacerbating the original problem! The cycle never seems to end until I am finally, finally able to convince myself to take a day (meaning a minimum of 24-hours/two nights of sleep) off of working out.

I usually end up wringing my hands together, gazing longingly at my yoga mat, or even reaching towards my running shoes... but I make it. The world still turns. The sun still rises.

The next day, feeling a remarkable (and largely unfamiliar) sense of restfulness and renewal, I feel capable of working out. I almost always find that my endurance is increased, my energy is up, and my spirits are high. In that moment I realize the importance of taking a break from exercise every now and then.

Yet, this epiphany always seems to slip my mind just as quickly as it appeared. Soon I am back to the old cycle of refusing to take a day off...

My question: do you ever experience the struggle to rationalize taking a break from working out? Do you have a designated day of rest or just take a break when your body needs it?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Family and friends: the makings of a delicious weekend!

The best part about birthdays, aside from the celebration, is how much they serve to remind me how blessed my life truly is. I was fortunate enough to spend a great weekend filled with friends, family (who came in from out of town!), and a lot of laughter. Each of those aspects alone would have been enough to make me a happy girl, but, to top it all off, I got to partake in some really fine dining! Now, that is the mark of a truly extraordinary birth"day" (weekend)!

One of the most rewarding parts of my weekend, was the occasion for me to see how far I have truly come this year in my relationship with food. Unlike years past, just because it was my birthday-weekend didn't mean that I used that as an excuse to splurge every time I sat down to a meal. Instead, I stuck with a well-balanced, nutritious diet. I certainly allowed room for indulgence, but I chose my treats more carefully, and consequentially, enjoyed them more completely!

I argue that having a birthday on a Saturday is good reason to celebrate the entire weekend. So, naturally, that is exactly what I did... until, whoops, back to reality on Sunday. Supposedly, professors don't agree with my theory of weekend-long celebrations.

Friday Night
Dempsey's Irish Pub and Gourmet Burger Stand.

Friday night I met some friends downtown for a casual dinner at one of my favorite restaurants, Dempsey's. The atmosphere is a perfect blend of laid-back and energetic. We were able to play some pool, throw some darts, watch our team go onto another basketball victory, and enjoy some of the best food in town. The Pub is operated by the same people who own a high-end gourmet restaurant in town. They opened Dempsey's up to offer what is still gourmet food at moderate prices and in a relaxed environment... and I'm grateful for it!

Romesco Burger Salad:
A veggie-lentil burger patty topped with roasted red pepper sauce, feta cheese, slivered almonds, and green beans.
Served atop a bed of romaine and micro-greens with pickled onions and cauliflower.
Dressed with a citrus vinaigrette.

I've been to Dempsey's before, but, despite the amazing menu, I simply cannot bring myself to order anything else! This burger salad is pure perfection! I almost completely satisfied with my meal... though I'll admit to stealing a few sweet potato fries and truffle fries from friends. Hey, I just needed to approve!

After dinner, the group headed over to one of my friend's houses to hang out for a while. A few hours later, people were beginning to feel hungry again. Since I was yet to indulge in dessert (and by that time it was technically my birthday), I considered it acceptable to go out for a treat... and, in the moment, nothing sounded better than pancakes! Without having to do much convincing, everyone agreed to go over to the local IHOP; somehow, pancakes places after midnight become so much better!
Whole-Wheat Create-a-Face Pancake:
bananas, strawberries, yogurt, whipped cream, and sugar-free syrup.
This is before I added the yogurt "hair"!

Though a slightly boisterous bunch (everyone in IHOP was informed it was my birthday), we quickly made friends with the waitress. She agreed to allow me to break the rules a bit by ordering a whole-wheat create-a-face-pancake. Definitely a great way to kick off a new year of life!

In preparation for a big day ahead, I turned in shortly after IHOP. Birthday morning, I woke up and went on one of the best runs of my life. I've actually had to overcome a lot of obstacles with running, and it's been a long time since I've felt confident enough to call myself a "runner." However, the weather was perfect, my music selection was upbeat, and I had enough determination not to allow myself to cop out early... I ended up running my fastest 5K in years, and felt great doing it. Honestly, it was the highlight of my entire weekend.

That afternoon my family got in from out of town to go to the big rivalry football game. Eating throughout the day was a little more sporadic than I usually prefer, but, distracted by catching up with family, it didn't really bother me. After a close game, but unfortunately loss, my family cleaned up and went downtown for dinner. Again having the luxury of getting to chose where to eat, I opted for bit more formal restaurant called Genovese.

The food was, as always, absolutely amazing. However, the portions are mostly family style, and everyone dug in before I thought to take any pictures. I ended up splitting a butter-leaf salad with artichoke hearts and vinaigrette with my mom. Despite some great meal options, I couldn't resist ordering a side of roasted butter nut squash. It wasn't exactly stepping outside my comfort zone, but it was absolutely delicious. Fortunately, I was able to steal a few bites of my sister's spinach fettuccine with peas and light cream sauce and my mom's spinach and cheese ravioli.

My parents not-too-deceptively schemed with the waiter to bring me a dessert topped with a candle. I wasn't about to argue; what is a birthday without a chance to blow out a candle, anyway?

Raspberry Torte with Pistachio Crumb Topping... post-birthday candle.

My family follow suite and ordered a few more desserts to split amongst the table. I gladly shared my dessert for exchange of a bite of my mom's creme brulee and dad's vanilla gelato.

So ended a great night, and even better weekend. And, it was all without post-meal splurging regrets!

Maybe getting older really does mean getting wiser...

Friday, November 13, 2009

Birthday weekend: a new approach.

No big deal or anything (only minimal sarcasm, I promise!), but tomorrow is my birthday. That means a weekend full of family, friends, and food... lot's of really good food.

I do enjoy having any excuse to partake in fine, and my birthday definitely serves that purpose. However, with the holiday season just kicking into high-gear, mid-November always seems a little preemptive to begin splurging on food.

Birthday Dinner Last Year
Splitting the "Chocolate Bag" for dessert last year seems modest enough...
This just doesn't show the huge meal I had consumed!
I felt full, but pushed myself to keep eating, simply because it was a "special occasion"...

This past year has meant many changes for me. Biggest of all I would consider to be the evolution of my relationship with food. Before, I often found myself rationalizing continuing to eat, even after the point I at which I was satisfied or full. Eating, especially when sharing was involved, was more like feeding time at the zoo, where I rushed to shovel in as much as possible. I neither appreciated the food nor felt good about myself when all was said and done...

Now, I make the deliberate effort to savor each bite and enjoy the true experience of eating, beyond just taste. Reaching this point has been a process, but I find the experience of dining to be so much more enjoyable when I make the effort to be tuned into my stomach.

With this new mentality, I am confident that I will enjoy all the birthday opportunities for good eating... just in a little less frenzied and frantic manner.

My question is: Do you ever know that you are full, but keep eating for the sake of eating/the food/a special occasion/etc...?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Breaking up is hard to do...

Frozen yogurt and I used to have a nightly standing date. Without fail at 9 PM, good day or bad day, rain or shine, summer or winter, I would sit down with a small cup of vanilla frozen yogurt with a small bit of extra chunky peanut butter.

This nightly treat was something I could depend on, something I enjoyed, and initially something I looked forward to. However, eventually something kind of curious happened: my nightly rendezvous with fro-yo seemed to become more of a chore than a treat... I continued to turn to frozen yogurt for my nightly treat, but when the spoon was down, I often found myself lingering by the fridge, thinking about what I really wanted to eat.

Then, one day, as I opened the freezer door and reached for the frozen yogurt, I had a revelation: I didn't want frozen yogurt! In fact, in that moment, nothing-- absolutely nothing-- sounded better than a bowl of cereal. Slowly I backed away from the fridge and approached the cabinet. Was I willing to break with the one dependable relationship in my life? Was it worth it for me to betray my dear friend vanilla frozen yogurt for the unknown?

Still operating off the buzz of my revelation, I reached for a cereal box, poured a bowl, added some milk, and sat down to dig in. Perfect! Satisfying! Delicious!

After my slow, savored, and passionate encounter with cereal and cold milk, I walked confident by the fridge. I knew nothing would top the satisfaction I just felt.

That day I learned an important lesson: listening to my actual cravings is more rewarding than the most decadent of treats.
OK, goofy old picture... but, what can I say? Sometimes I just want green beans!

I now know that a "treat" is what ever I make it to be. I still turn to frozen yogurt on occasion. However, there are other days where I want nothing more than carrots and hummus. Or a slice of bread and peanut butter. Or even a bowl of veggies.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Fighting Food Fads

“Eat cookies! Lose weight!” proclaimed an advertisement in a magazine I was recently flipping through. In spite of myself, I hesitated. I didn’t care about losing weight, but the eating cookies part? That sounded pretty good…

No denying it, I have a weak spot for cookies. I sometimes wish I could eat them for every meal. So then, a diet explicitly encouraging me to do just that was quite alluring. I soon snapped out of my fantasy and reminded myself that there is a reason cookie gluttony should remain distinct from reality: the only healthy and sustainable diets are those composed of a variety of real, healthy foods.

The “Cookie Diet” is not the first of its kind. For generations diets have risen to popularity, each claiming to have a magic fix for weight-woes.

My mom told me about her attempt at the “Scarsdale Diet” during college. The diet consisted of eating grapefruit, lean meat, vegetables and two slices of toast a day for two weeks of fast weight loss.

Because of the extreme calorie restriction, the diet seemed to work and my mom quickly shed pounds.

However, after returning to a normal, and nutritionally healthier, way of eating she soon gained back the weight. After this experience, my mom realized something many others fail to grasp: Fad diets don’t work.

Scientists have worked for decades to come up with vitamin and mineral replacements. They have isolated individual nutrients from healthy foods, believing they can replicate the natural benefits. However, there has been a baffling lack of success. Only now are many scientists admitting there are truly no substitutes for whole foods.

This revelation explains the major problem with fad diets: Dieters’ bodies crave natural nutrients. No amount of pills or vitamins will ever be able to replace the benefits of the real foods that dieters are often deprived of.

While the greatest consequence of most diets is disappointment and weight regain, some of the more extreme fad diets may actually have health risks. The only fortunate thing about fad diets is that most of the negative side effects don’t have time to set in, as dieters quit the programs before serious damage is done.

There are healthy and effective ways to approach weight-loss. Eating well is about combining a lot of common sense and a little nutritional education. This doesn’t have to be difficult. It simply comes down to energizing and rewarding the body through well-balanced meals rather than denying it essential nutrients.

Any diet that severely restricts or eliminates food groups is cause for concern. The best way to ensure long-term weight loss is to pursue a diet that fits naturally with a healthy lifestyle.

A good rule of thumb in detecting fad diets is to consider what it permits eating on special occasions. I find it hard to imagine anyone saying on Thanksgiving, “No, I’ll pass on the turkey. I’ve got a package of cookies waiting for me … ”

A Brief History of Modern Fad Diets
• “Vinegar Diet”, circa 1820s: Popularized by British poet Lord Byron, dieters would supposedly shed pounds by drenching food in vinegar.
• “The Great Masticator Diet”, circa 1903: Participants chewed food 32 times before spitting it out. John Harvey Kellogg, inventor of corn flakes, was a devoted follower.
• “The Cigarette Diet”, circa 1925: Spin-off from a Lucky Strikes marketing campaign, dieters reached for a cigarette whenever they craved a sweet.
• “Cabbage Soup Diet”, circa 1950s: Dieters ate unlimited amounts of cabbage soup and a few low-calorie “treats” for one-week of rapid weight loss. Program found a new generation of followers through the Internet in the 1990s.
• “Sleeping Beauty Diet”, circa 1974: Dieters would be heavily sedated for a few days of sleep, supposedly waking up a few pounds lighter. Reportedly followed by Elvis.
• “The Atkins’ Diet”, circa 1994: Encouraged eating high-protein foods, but essentially eliminated all carbohydrates.
• “Maple Syrup Diet”, circa 2006: Acclaimed by the singer Beyonce, this diet calls for drinking a mixture of syrup, lemon juice, and spices for a quick detoxification.

As seen in the University Daily Kansan.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Farm Fresh Radishes

There is nothing I love more than spending a morning walking around a farmers market: talking with vendors, learning about the produce, and experiencing the passion for food that seems to be otherwise lost somewhere between the field and superstore shelves... the atmosphere of farmers markets has a magical way of making everything taste better.

I frequent farmers markets all throughout the summer. I love to see the progression of produce from springtime asparagus to fresh summer fruits. However, only recently have I realized that the bounty of farmers markets does not end at Labor Day!

Fall is actually my preferred season for farmers markets. Many people are don't realize that many markets continue well into the fall. While I love to share the word about good food, in this case I am somewhat greedy... it just means fewer crowds! Without as many people to battle for the best produce, I am sure to get great selection. Even better, the farmers are able to devote more attention to each customer and often love to chat about the growing process. Let me tell you, I know a whole heck of a lot about the trials and tribulations of raising squash!

Small crowds, crisp air, and choice selection... makings of a great weekend morning.

This past week, blessed with moderate temperatures and sunshine, I headed down to the second-to-last market of the season. I didn't know what I would find, but I figured I would just let the ingredients lead the way!

Looping around the market, I quickly picked up some freshly canned apple butter and local honey, but continued to search for some eye-catching fresh produce. As expected, there was some great squash, but I still had some at home that I needed to get though. I engaged some strong will-power and pulled myself away from the butternut squash to examine my other options.

I came upon some radishes at a stand.

"Hmm..." I thought. "Radishes? What am I supposed to do with those?"

And with that thought I was sold. I love being led by the ingredient, and it is so easy with great resources like food blog search. So, without knowing exactly what I would come up with, but confident it would be good, I got a bunch of radishes.

At home, all it took was a quick search to led me to an easy sauteed radish recipe from Kalyn's Kitchen. OK, not exactly pushing the limits, but I love to let the simple and pure flavors of an ingredient shine, especially when it is something relatively new to me.

Sauteed Radishes with Vinegar and Herbs...
letting simple ingredients shine

  • 1 bunch red radishes, ends chopped off and halved/quartered (depending on size)
  • 1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tsp. balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tbsp. parsley
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Heat olive oil in medium pan. Add radishes and vinegar. Saute, stirring often, until radishes start to brown and blister, approximately 5-7 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
  • Toss with parsley and serve.
Note: Any light colored vinegar can be substituted for Balsamic vinegar. Cilantro or chives can be used in place of parsley. Explore you palate!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Mashed Butternut Squash Goodness

A short ode to butternut squash:

Formidable opponent-
You scare me not

Thick rind I battle
with grace

For yet I know
when knives are lain

Sweet deliciousness
I shall taste

So, clearly there is good reason that I am not a poet. However, there is just something about butternut squash that inspires me to lyric.

There are many reasons this specific squash has captured my heart (the least of which being that my favorite color is orange!) The top two:
-Taste: While similar to that of a sweet potato, I find butternut squash to be even more versatile. It pairs exceptionally well with both savory and sweet condiments, making it possible to fit my discerning taste buds. I know that simply by having a butternut squash on hand (and with a pretty good shelf life this is easy to do) I can whip up a fulfilling meal in no time.
-Nutrition: Foods with vibrant colors are most likely to be nutrient packed... and butternut squash is no exception! Each bite of the sweet squash is loaded with fiber, vitamins, potassium, and anti-oxidants. What's more, each cup of diced squash comes in at 0 grams of fat and only 63 calories! Compare that to sweet potatoes' 114 calories and significantly larger carbohydrate and sugar count!

Unfortunately, as was alluded to in my amateur poem, there is one slight downside to butternut squash: It can be a little tricky to prepare. But, no fear! With a few simple tricks, anyone can tackle the daunting rind and discover the joy that lies within!
-If you are really intimidated by hacking into the squash, you can start by nuking it for a minute or two, just to soften it up.
-The best way to tackle the squash is by chopping off the top and bottom, so that it can stand up vertically.

-With a sharp, thick knife, slowly work down the middle of the squash, dividing it in two. Good news! The hard part is done!
-Now, simply use a spoon to scoop out the seeds.
-Depending on how the squash is to be prepared it can be chopped into hunks or left in full halves. See, not so bad, and definitely worth it!

I have been absolutely obsessed with finding new ways to prepare butternut squash this season. As mentioned, it works extremely well with both sweet (brown sugar and butter) or savory (roasted red peppers, garlic, etc) accompaniments. Plus, the options in preparing the squash are nearly endless. It makes a great soup, simple oven-fires, roasted side-dish...

However, I kept finding myself coming back to one recipe: Roasted butternut squash with pears, onions, dried cranberries, and blue cheese. The first time I made this dish, I think I ate the whole entire squash by myself! Not to say it wasn't entirely filling, but I just couldn't help but go back for seconds, thirds, fourths, etc! It is truly my ideal comfort food, combining the warm, sweet, richness of the squash with the bite of mustard, and the tang of dried cranberries.

I would seriously make the dish every night. However, with two roommates, oven space is often at a premium, and sometimes I have to adapt. That is where my recipe creation comes in. First of all, while I love cutting into the individual bites of the roasted squash, when I am really craving comfort food, there is nothing better than mash
ed goodness. I decided to see how this dish would lend itself to mashed form... and the results certainly did not disappoint!

Savory Mashed Butternut Squash...
what dreams are made of

  • 1 medium butternut squash
  • 1/2 of one yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries
  • 1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 milk
  • 2 tbsp. Dijon mustard
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Butter is optional (I found it was fine without)
  • Cut squash in half and scoop out seeds (see directions above)
  • Place squash halves in microwave and cover with wax paper. Heat on high for 8 minutes. Allow to cool for 2-3 minutes, then heat on high for another 9 minutes, or until tender. Allow to cool enough to handle.
  • In the meantime, heat the oil in a small skillet. Caramelize the onions until translucent. Season with salt and pepper.
  • When squash is done cooking, scoop out the inside and place in a medium-sized mixing bowl. Mash with a fork. Add mustard, milk, and optional butter and continue mashing until desired consistency. Add onions and dried cranberries, mixing together. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
My final advice: sit down with a bowl (preferably large!) of mashed squash by a toasty fire and reflect on everything good in life... Sometimes something as simple as food can make everything better.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Saying "Thank You" with Apple Cake!

It seemed only appropriate that I return the generosity of my friend who introduced me to Japanese eggplant... I mean, that is what my momma would want me to do. In the name of good manners, I was willing to bite the bullet and come up with something do offer in exchange. Of course, that thought logically led me to think of a baked good. What better way to repay kindness than with some sugar (and that goes double for homemade goods deprived college students!)

Okay, it only happens to be a minor detail that I was actually LOOKING for an excuse to whip up this apple cake. I loved the recipe from the moment I saw it: Fresh apples. A hint of orange. Some chopped walnuts... Channeling Ina Garten, "What could be bad about that?"

What may be the very best part about the recipe-- I soon discovered-- was that it portions perfectly into three mini-loaf pans. What does this mean? If you guessed one to share, one to enjoy now and another to enjoy later then you are a winner (and are getting to know me all too well)!

I got the original recipe from "Food Republik", but as with any recipe, I took it on as a bit of a challenge, tweaking the original to fit my personal preferences. That is where walnuts and a little bit of maple syrup enter the picture. So then, feel free to adjust it to will or whim. I'm thinking next time I would love to incorporate some caramel or even some dried cranberries. Fortunately apples lend themselves wonderfully to a variety of flavors, so the possibilities are as endless as apples are available!

The primary adjustment I made, and with great success, was substituting the oil that is called for with applesauce. This is quite possibly one of the greatest tricks my mom ever taught me in the kitchen, and so simple to follow: an equal amount of applesauce can be substituted when a recipe calls for oil. I personally have never noticed a difference in taste, and actually prefer the lightness and underlying "appleness" that the applesauce contributes. This exchange lends itself best to cakes, breads, and brownies than cookies, although it can be done.

Onward to the apple cake! Oh, the lingering smell of cinnamon that fills the kitchen is enough to try this recipe... and that is before even getting to the taste. Let me just summarize by saying I wrote this recipe down as:

The Best Cinnamon Apple Cake...
and "best" is a serious matter


For apples...
  • 3 apples (I used Granny Smith)
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 2 tbsp. sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. maple syrup
For batter...
  • 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
  • 3/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 tbsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 cup applesauce
  • scant 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup fresh orange juice
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Peel apples, cut into chunks, mix with cinnamon, sugar, and syrup.
  • In separate bowl, combine flours, baking powder, and salt.
  • In another bowl, mix applesauce, orange juice, sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon. Add wet ingredients to dry, add eggs and stir together.
  • Pour half of batter into single greased loaf pan (or divide half of batter evenly among three mini-loaf pans, as I did). Top with half of apples, add rest of batter, spreading over top of apples. Finally, top with remaining apples, arranging evenly.
  • Bake 1.25 to 1.5 hours, until toothpick comes out clean.
    NOTE: If apples are browning too quickly, tent with foil.
There it is: a simple, satisfying, and slightly healthifyed apple cake. Great when topped with a scoop of ice cream; even better when shared with a friend!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Roasted Veggie Thin Crust Pizza

As a die-hard Kansas fan, I can cite many reasons for disliking the state of Missouri (centralizing on some college in the town of Columbia...). So then, actually liking a product from within Missouri borders is fairly big news.

A friend of mine was nice enough to bring me some fresh produce from the St. Louis farmers market this past week. I got some delicious red bell peppers, an avocado, and-- best of all-- Japanese eggplant. My friend had been talking to me for weeks about the wonders of Japanese eggplant. He raved about how the flavor is so much more tender than that of traditional eggplants. I found myself hesitating as I passed by the Japanese eggplant selection at the local grocery; there is always a little fear in the unfamiliar.

However, when my friend so graciously gave me the Japanese eggplant, there was no way I was going to let the opportunity slide. Enter: roasted Japanese eggplant and onion thin crust pizza!

Notes of significance: I love crisping up whole wheat tortillas to use for flat crust pizza. Just before the first frost, I (sadly) stripped my basil plant and made an extra large batch of pesto to keep me through the winter. I froze the pesto in an ice cube tray, so I have convenient 1 tbsp. sized portions whenever I want!

Roasted Japanese Eggplant Pizza...
individually portioned, because you won't want to share.

  • 1 whole-wheat tortilla
  • 1 Japanese eggplants
  • 1/2 medium yellow onion
  • 1/2 cup baby spinach
  • 1/8 cup feta cheese
  • 1 tbsp. pesto
  • thyme, basil, salt and pepper for seasoning.
  • 1-2 tbsp. Extra virgin olive oil
  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Slice eggplant in 1/4 in thick slices. Cut onion into large chunks. Coat the eggplant and onions in olive oil. Season to taste and spread out on roasting pan.
  • Roast for approximately 30 minutes, flipping once.
  • While vegetables are roasting, thinly coat the tortilla with olive oil. When vegetables are done in the oven, bake tortilla (still at 400 degrees) for approximately four minutes on each side, or until lightly brown and crispy. Watch closely for bubbles forming in tortilla. Pop any bubbles, so as to keep the tortilla flat.
  • When tortilla is crisped, coat in pesto, cover with a layer of baby spinach, and arrange roasted vegetables. Top with feta cheese. Bake in oven for approximately five minutes.
  • Cut and enjoy... all to yourself!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Whole Wheat Bread for Dummies

Growing up, my dad was known for his frugality in shopping for food. The classic example, brought up much to my dad's dismay at every family gathering, was when my dad bought 10 boxes of sugar cookies at the store for $1.00.

"How could I pass up such a deal?" He argued. Well, we soon enough found out... Basically, a little bit of mold goes a long way in ruining an appetite.

Sorry, on second thought, that probably isn't the best dinner table conversation. So I digress. The story just leads another classic example of trying to save money: our adventure with a bread machine.

This time, it seemed that my dad was on to something. My sister and I loved nothing more than the smell of freshly baked bread. We would eagerly anticipate smearing the warm slices with butter and covering in honey... mmm... the memories.

Unfortunately, it wasn't until I lived on my own that, in the bread world, a bread machine is basically considered cheating. Never one to cheat (okay, other than Candy Land), I devoted myself to taking on the intimidating homemade bread obstacle.

My adventures began with this simple to bake, but highly satisfying, orange-scented whole wheat bread. I adapted the recipe from Chef in You.

Much to my delight, the bread turned out even better than I imagined. I loved the unexpectedness of the orange scent and the nuttiness of whole wheat. It is just subtly sweet and entirely filling! Perfect for toast in the morning.

Orange Scented Whole Wheat Bread...
no cheating necessary!

  • 2 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 tbsp. flax seeds
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 2 tbsp. brown sugar
  • 1/2 envelope rapid-rise yeast
  • Grated rind and juice of whole orange (medium sized)
  • Stir flour in large bowl. Mix in salt and flax seeds, and then rub in the butter.
  • Add sugar, yeast, and orange rind. Combine orange juice with lukewarm water until there is 7/8 cup of mixture. Add juice to flour mixture and mix into soft ball.
  • Knead on gently floured surface until smooth.
  • Place in loaf pan, cover with towel, place in warm place and allow to rise until doubled in size.
  • Bake in preheated 425 degree oven 20-30 minutes or until lightly browned.
  • Turn out to cool, and enjoy!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Spiced and Simple Black Bean Burgers

Okay, there is no denying it: I have been neglecting my blog lately. Funny as it is, this isn't because of any inactivity in the kitchen. In fact, I have been cooking up as big a storm as ever... I'm having so much fun exploring all the new flavors of fall! However, I have been less than inspired to actually take pictures.

So then, this is my avowed recommitment to regularly updating my blog. I invite you to check back regularly; I hate to disappoint, so with more people to "let down" I'll be more disciplined to write! (:

One of my "go-to" dishes is a black bean burger. The patties are so easy to put together, and I almost always have the necessary ingredients on hand... If not, it is indication I REALLY need to make a visit to the store!

I often find the patties to be satisfying on their own with a side of vegetables. However, they can just as quickly be dressed up with a nice, toasted whole wheat bun, some lettuce, tomatoes, onions, etc.

Another benefit to homemade black bean burgers is that I can control the spiciness. Some days I just need the perk of an extra splash of hot sauce; other days I am content with a more subtle flavor.

Spice it UP! Black Bean Burger...
a delicious alternative to turning up the thermostat!

  • 1 15- to 16-oz. can of black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/3 cup chopped red onion
  • 1/4 cup shredded carrots
  • 1/2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup bread crumbs
  • 2 tbsp. salsa
  • 1 tsp. cumin
  • 1/2 tsp. hot pepper sauce
  • Using fork, mash beans in a medium bowl.
  • Lightly saute onion and carrots in olive oil over high heat until just softened.
  • Mix the onions, carrots, bread crumbs, 2 tbsp. salsa, cumin, and hot pepper sauce with the mashed beans. Season with salt and pepper.
  • Using moistened hands, shape mix into four equal patties. Either cook in greased pan or under broiler on greased pan until lightly browned.
As mentioned, one of the great things about this recipe (besides how simple it is!) is that the spice can always be adjusted to individual taste. Likewise, feel free to use vegetables that are on hand. I often love to add in mushrooms for an extra "meatiness."

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Semi-Homemade Coconut Cupcakes.

Sandra Lee would be so proud. Normally, I prefer bake from scratch. This allows me to have complete control over what I put in and, consequentially, have some degree of confidence that there are "healthy" aspects. In this case, however, I had a box of white cake mix that was just begging to be used and the grocery store was having a sale on whipped cream. Plus, I was hosting a party and have found that college-students are eager to taste test and quick to compliment. I mean, a girl can only have so much will...

So then, setting aside my general hesitation to "semi-homebake", I half created/ half followed box directions and ended up with some delicious coconut cupcakes! I was still able to slip in "healthier" ingredients, like unsweetened coconut and sugar-free pudding without sacrificing any taste... my favorite thing to do!

Always reliable, my friends devoured the cupcakes in no time. Even the folks who claimed to dislike coconut set aside their hesitation and loved the sweet and subtle treat!

Going Coco-Nuts! Cupcakes...
Semi-homemade. Fully delicious.

  • 1 box white cake mix, and necessary components (eggs, oil, etc.)
  • 2 tsp. coconut flavoring
  • 1 cup shredded coconut (I used unsweetened)
  • 1 16 oz. package of non-fat whipped cream
  • 1 package sugar-free vanilla instant pudding mix
  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar
  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Spread out shredded coconut evenly over foil-covered baking sheet. Toast in oven, watching closely, approximately 3-4 minutes or until lightly browned.
  • Reset oven and prepare cake mix according to directions (I opted to use an additional egg white and increase liquids in lieu of whole eggs). Once cake mix is well combined, add 2 tsp. coconut flavoring and 2/3 cup toasted shredded coconut. Mix.
  • Using a greased or lined cupcake tin, fill molds about 2/3 of the way. Bake according to box directions.
  • While cupcakes are in the over, prepare frosting by combining whipped cream, contents of pudding package, and powdered sugar.
  • Remove cupcakes from oven and allow to thoroughly cool. Frost cupcakes with whipped cream mixture and top with remaining 1/3 cup toasted coconut. Enjoy!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Guacamole Inspired Egg Pizza!

Sometimes I get a small seed of a recipe idea into my head. There, for days, weeks, or even months it slowly grows, absorbing new flavors I experience, techniques I learn, and concepts I am intrigued by. After a while, the idea that began so modestly blooms into a glorious recipe I am ready to tackle!

Okay, so this is glamorizing the process a bit... for every time that my ideas come through there are a good two or three that are passed directly onto the trash. Most often this is a result of over-complicated ideas that build too much upon too much until the real goodness is lost somewhere between the refrigerator and plate. I mean, just ask Jack about that ol' beanstalk for a lesson in not letting things grow too much!

Fortunately, I am proud to say that my latest venture was of the "successful" bred. I've lately been obsessed with the vibrant flavors of lime. I think the fresh, citrus-y taste pairs so well with things ranging from sweet potatoes to the traditional guacamole. So then, I decided to combine the classic pairings of lime, tomatoes, onions, and cumin with my other current fixations of scrambled eggs and thin-crust pizza.

Okay, before I lose you, allow me to explain: The concept is fairly simple. Just take a tortilla, some classic scrambled eggs, and some vamped up ingredients... and what do you get?

Avocado-Free Scrambled Guacamole Pizza

  • 1 whole wheat tortilla
  • 1 tsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 egg whites
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 tsp. lime juice, plus lime to garnish
  • 1/4 cup diced tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup diced red onion
  • 1/4 tsp. cumin
  • 2 tbsp. Colby Jack cheese
  • Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Brush olive oil on both sides of tortilla. Place on foil-covered baking sheet in oven. Bake 3-4 minutes on both sides until lightly browned. Be cautious of air-bubbles, which may have to be popped with knife.
  • In meantime, beat 3 egg whites and 1 yolk together with cumin and a dash of water. In small greased skillet scramble the eggs on low-heat until just before desired consistency. Add tomatoes, onion, and lime juice. Finish scrambling eggs until desired consistency is reached (may be extra liquid from tomato and lime juice).
  • Remove baked tortilla from oven. Spread scrambled eggs over top of tortilla, reserving liquid. Top with cheese and bake in oven another 5 minutes.
  • Remove from oven, allow to cool slightly on wire rack, and enjoy!
I enjoyed the vibrant flavors in this light pizza! Made a great dinner, but would work equally well as a breakfast or brunch. Feel free to play around with the vegetables and leave suggestions!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Personal health means smart choices.

Amidst all of the controversy surrounding health care reform, it is time to step back and examine the real problems plaguing America. A few issues immediately come to mind: obesity, smoking and extreme stress. Yet despite these all being easy targets, the link behind everything from diabetes to heart disease is not so simple.

The difficult issue we face today is even more American than fried chicken and apple pie: It is the great tradition that we, as a society, have of seeking a scapegoat for our problems.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 75 percent of health care dollars are spent on treatment of “preventable chronic diseases.” Based on these numbers, something is undeniably wrong with the condition of America. It is as if the connection between increasing medical bills and personal responsibility was lost somewhere between plowing the family farm and pulling up to the drive-thru window at McDonalds.

True, insurance businesses may be guilty of profiting from medical costs. Government expenditures in health care may be inefficient. The grandmothers of our country may even be conspiring to make us fat with that extra cup of butter in our biscuits. But, at the end of the day, it is the individual who is the real culprit of poor health.

Just think — the money demanded by insurance companies would be far less if we put down the fries before our arteries needed unclogging. The money spent by the government in providing insurance could be more widely disbursed if those covered didn’t have such high demands. The grandmothers might even decide to reduce the butter if they knew we didn’t like it so darn much.

Michael Pollan, author of “In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto,” recently wrote a column in the New York Times pointing out the link between rising health care costs and the cheap, fast and unheathly foods in demand (and frequently subsidized). He added that, regardless of government action, there would be a problem with health care in America as long as there is a problem with American health.

Pollan’s point is crucial. He made the significant link between diet, which the individual has complete control over, and overall well-being. Nonetheless, in centering his argument on nutrition, Pollan was guilty of finger pointing. While better eating practices may be (or are) essential to improving health, this focus skirts the deeper issue that refusal to take personal responsibility comes with consequences.

From democracy to helping a friend in need, America has some great traditions. However, the time has come to let go our national practice of seeking others to blame. So squeeze in that extra hour of sleep. Exchange car keys for walking shoes every now and then. And for goodness’ sake, put down that seventh slice of pizza.

As published in the University Daily Kansan.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Tomato-Basil Sandwich is Love.

I'm never really sure how to feel about Sunday nights. On one hand, I am anxious for the upcoming week and think about all I'll have to do. Yet, at the same time I am still consumed by the weekend mentality of laziness. It is this strange little contradiction that always leaves me a little unsure on how to approach dinner: Go all out to celebrate the weekend and motivate myself for the week to come? Or keep it simple and preserve my energy?

This Sunday I found one simple solution to this little dilemma: A pesto panini! I got the ease and simplicity I was looking for, while simultaneously getting bold and delicious flavors.

To me, the only thing bad about pesto is that I always leave my little basil plant looking slightly pathetic. However, I am willing to make this concession in order to gain the great flavors and versiltile uses of petso.

One of the very greatest things about pesto is how easy it is to freeze in individual portions and pull whenever inspiration strikes. Just divide a fresh batch into an empty ice cube tray and allow to freeze. It will keep for weeks!

Pesto, Mozzarella and Summer Tomato Panini

  • 1 tbsp. fresh, store bought, or thawed pesto
  • 1 slice mozzarella cheese (fresh is better, but I used prepacked)
  • 2 thick tomato slices
  • 2 fresh basil leaves
  • 1 sliced ciabatta roll
  • 1 tsp. extra virgin olive oil


  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Spread 1 tsp. olive oil over the insides of both ciabatta roll halves. Place on cooking sheet and toast in oven 4-5 minutes, until top is lightly browned.
  • Spread pesto on toasted ciabatta rolls. Layer 1 thick tomato slice, basil leaves, mozzarella slice, and second tomato slice, and top with other ciabatta half.
  • If available, use panini or sandwich press on sandwich . Otherwise, use skillet on medium heat. Place a second heavy skillet on top of sandwich to press down until mozzarella has begun to melt.
  • Enjoy!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

When inspiration fails...

Everyday I face the same task of opening the refrigerator, inspecting the ingredients, and, hopefully, having inspiration strike. This routine is hit or miss: sometimes I immediately jump into action and whip up a new, exciting, and delectable concoction. Other times I stand with the door open for minutes on end, staring blankly into the fridge and allowing countless dollars of energy to seep out.

On the days where coming up with something to cook seems a greater task than solving a Rubik’s Cube while blindfolded I wonder how it would be possible to avoid food slumps. My first choice is turning to the familiar faces of the Food Network to comfort me with their sweet promises of a new culinary masterpiece.

After a few minutes of Giada, Bobby, or Ina I’ve found inspiration. I jump up from the couch and race towards the fridge, imagining that suddenly I will see a feast where I had previously seen famine.

Yet, alas, the trusty television failed to provide me with the necessary ingredients. I consider driving to the store, finding the demanded food items, shelling out the cash, and then heading home to prepare… However, by this time, I know the comforts of the couch and tell myself I’d be better off with a bowl of cereal.

As a turn towards the cabinet I feel a sense of defeat. Suddenly, a second wave of energy: No, I don’t need to offerings of the grocery store to feed my hunger! I can, and will, make something from the selection I have at home!

Still a little bitter with television I go to my second option of online recipe searches, where I am confident I will find some meal to match even my skimpy selection. From this point I think of what I want my creation to be centered around. While this still requires a push of mental energy, it is much less daunting than creating an entire meal on my own.

I scan the multitude of recipes for something that fits my discerning hunger pains. As I click through the pages up pops a recipe under some foreign name. I am intrigued, so I follow the link and find a strange, yet appetizing, combination of ingredient—all of which I have in my kitchen!
From that point I jump to action. I grab the once seemingly unrelated items; I do some whipping, a little sauteing, and a bit of rolling. I throw it all in the oven, walk away for a while, then return to the sweet aroma of unfamiliar cuisine. In frenzied anticipation I dish out a serving and dig in—only to find a taste my dog would refuse.

Oh well, maybe tomorrow I will restock my kitchen, stumble upon inspiration, and regain my self-proclaimed title of good cook, but, for now, cereal is calling my name.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

More to eating healthy than diets, quick fixes

Diet. At one time the word alone was enough to make even the most health-conscious of people cringe. And now? Every magazine is filled with the latest tips. Every morning news show proclaims the best methods. Everyone behind the checkout counter thinks they have the best advice. It is as if, suddenly, there is no “I” in “diet.”

So, what exactly is the problem? Couldn’t it be assumed that the increase in dialogue would lead to more healthful eating habits and, consequentially, bodies?

Au contraire!

Instead of creating a more healthful America, mass dieting has spawned a nation of androids, blindly — or rather, tastelessly — consuming foods based on current fads. It is as if this nationalization of feeding has resulted in widespread distancing from the very best parts of eating: the aromas, the colors, the textures and finally the tastes. And the worst consequence of all, more so than the bizarre willingness to consume cardboard if suddenly deemed healthful, is that Americans are surrendering their abilities to truly enjoy food.

Yet, unlike the latest diet plans that many people are so eager to embrace, there is no quick fix to overcoming contention with culinary mediocrity. Instead, it is necessary to rework the ways in which we associate with food.

First, we have to learn to talk about food not as the inevitable and eternal enemy, but rather as a close friend with whom we share positive experiences and fond memories.

Reworking my own relationship relationship

with food has been a challenge, but the greatest reward of becoming aware of what I really am craving is the deep joy and pleasure I feel in indulgence. I now know that I love a cool ice cream cone on a hot summer day, a steaming cup of aromatic coffee in the early hours of a winter morning and a slice of whole wheat bread topped with peanut butter after an intense workout.

Though I may not be sticking to any strict diet, I have found that acknowledging my hunger allows me to feel easily and completely satisfied. Often a bite of chocolate that I slowly savor fills me up more than a hastily devoured — and later regretted — slice of rich cake.

True, there are some key principles that are important to stick close to. No matter how much they may be craved, a body can only get by for so long on Twinkies or hamburgers.

But beyond a few smart guidelines, eating is more about personal reflection than prescribed diets. This approach may take a bit more time and effort than simply consuming based on fads. However, the results of a healthy, empowered body and truly satisfied appetite are well worth it.

As published in the University Daily Kansan.