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!