Monthly Archives: February, 2013

I Have to Share My Awesome Dinner

Toast

Tapenade Toasts with Roasted Vegetables from Ladies Home Journal

Somehow (and to be honest, I have absolutely no idea why) I am receiving Ladies Home Journal.  In the March issue there is a spread on soups and toasty sandwich recipes.  I came across this recipe, and I use that term loosely, for Tapenade Toasts with Roasted Vegetables.  Since I have been trying to incorporate more veggies into my life, and because this was the perfect excuse to eat bread, I wanted to give it a try.

It. was. AWESOME!!!!!!

Here is the link to the LHJ recipe, and here is what they said to do:

Heat oven to 425 degrees F. Toss 1 sliced zucchini, 1 small sliced onion, 1 sliced bell pepper, and 1/2 pint grape tomatoes with 1 tbsp olive oil and 1/2 tsp kosher salt. Roast, turning once, until vegetables are soft and golden, about 30 min. Spread 4 slices toasted ciabatta with prepared olive tapenade and top with roasted vegetables. Serves 4.

I changed things up a little bit to fit my needs and use up the vegetables that I had in my house.  (Like swapping Roma tomatoes for the grape tomatoes, and adding mushrooms.  Stuff like that.)  Oh, I also left out the salt on the veg because I knew the olives would be salty enough.  I whipped up a simple olive tapenade in the food processor with green and black olives, garlic, lemon juice, and parsley.  Feel free to use your favorite jar version.  It was so good, seriously.  You must try it.  The saltiness of the olive tapenade pairs perfectly with the sweetness of the roasted vegetables.  I added some cheese on top of the bread, which is not necessary, but I am a cheese addict.  We had Satori Raspberry Bellavitano because it was on special at Earth Fare.  I’d never heard of that cheese before, but it was very tasty and worked perfectly with this combination of flavors.

I wish that I had taken a picture of my plate, but I was too hungry and it was too good.  🙂  You should definitely try Tapenade Toasts with Roasted Vegetables for yourself.  I am absolutely going to do it again soon.

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Real Food Challenge Week 4: Meat

cows-farm-lg

I am back to report on how we did with week four’s meat challenge.  But first, just as a reminder or for those of you who are new to this blog, refer back to this post that explains what these Real Food Challenges are all about, and gives you links to the 100 Days of Real Food website.  That’s where I’m getting these challenges.

Okay, this week’s challenge was Week 4: All meat consumed this week will be locally raised (within 100-miles of your hometown). Meat consumption will also be limited to 3 – 4 servings this week, and when it is eaten meat will not be presented as the “focal point” of the meal. Instead meat will be treated as a side item or simply used to help flavor a dish.

They went further to explain that for this challenge, they define meat as beef, turkey, chicken, pork, lamb, venison, duck, etc.  (Basically land animals.)  There is no restriction on seafood or other animal products (like eggs and cheese) this week.  The point of this pledge is two-fold.  First, the focus on locally raised meat is because it is better for the environment.  When it comes to industrialized meat, not only does the travel aspect take a toll on our environment, but the resources used to raise, feed, and slaughter the animals do as well.  Also, the closer you get to the source of your food, the more you are able to be sure that you know what you are eating.  If you buy from local farmers, you can ask them personally about what they feed their animals and make sure that they do not use antibiotics or hormones.  The second part of this challenge was about reducing overall meat consumption.  I’m going to quote from the 100DoRF website: According to Mark Bittman in his book Food Matters, “60 billion animals are raised each year for food – 10 animals for every human on earth.” He also goes on to say that this rate of industrialized meat production is causing “enormous damage to the earth, including the significant acceleration of global warming.” Secondly, consuming meat at the alarming rate that it is being produced is not good for our health. Bittman says that our current rate of meat consumption has “stimulated a fundamental change in our diets that has contributed to our being overweight, even obese, and more susceptible to diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and perhaps even cancer.”

So, now that we have covered the whys and wherefores, let’s see how Tim and I did.  I think that week 4 was a smashing success.  I don’t know why we were so nervous about it.  We started the week with a well thought-out menu, and stuck to it.  There were many vegetarian dishes (like salads, veggie pizza, and veggie burgers), as well as a couple seafood dishes (like lemon-caper salmon or shrimp stir-fry).  As for locally raised meat, we bought some ground turkey and some pork shank.  We used the turkey in spaghetti sauce and had the pork with a huge heap load of veggies and a few roasted red potatoes.  Tim and I talked about our experience and we both agreed that we both felt satisfied and we did not miss our usual meaty dishes.

So, what have we learned?  We’ve decided that we will definitely be reducing our meat consumption from now on.  Neither of us are willing to give up meat entirely at this point, but we want to severely decrease the amount of meat we are consuming.  However, we aren’t really sold on the locally raised aspect of the challenge.  We are both in agreement that we do not want to ever buy conventional meat again* but I personally find the 100% local movement to be a bit elitist.  Local meats are insanely expensive; at least they are in my area.  I am not willing to buy sirloin for $19 per lb, or chicken breast for $11 per lb.  It’s just not happening.  I am willing to pay extra for certified organic meat that I know wasn’t on a feedlot and pumped full of hormones and whatnot, but I do have budgetary restrictions.  The system is broken and it is very difficult for people on a budget to afford to eat healthy.  You may have noticed the asterisk (*) earlier in this paragraph.  The one exception that Tim and I are still debating is chicken.  Conventionally raised chicken kind of grosses me out at this point, but we have yet to find affordable chicken that was not conventionally raised.  Believe me, I am looking, and will pounce on any specials I come across, but I’m not sure what we are going to do about or normal chicken choices.  We usually eat a lot of chicken, so even if we cut down, price is still a major factor in out decision making process.

So to recap, we will definitely choose to eat less meat from here on out and incorporate more vegetarian and vegan dishes.  Though not necessarily local, the meat that we do eat will be organically raised.  The only possible exception will be chicken, but that point is still up for debate in my household.  Oh, and we have already switched to almond milk instead of cow’s milk.  In general I am feeling better about our food choices.  I know that we still have adjustments to make, but we are headed in the right direction.  All of these baby steps will hopefully add up to some big changes toward a healthier lifestyle.

Moving on to this week’s challenge.  Week 5 is easy peasy because we don’t have to take anything away. Week 5: Try two new whole foods – Try a minimum of two new whole foods that you’ve never had before.  This challenge is both simple and exciting, and I am happy to have a challenge that doesn’t stress me out.  I am expecting another successful report next week.

Is Meat Really Killing Me?

MadCows

Over the last couple of months I’ve been doing a lot of research into nutrition and healthy diets, and after all of that I can honestly say that I’m not sure what to eat.  There are the basics, of course.  Significantly reduce sugar and processed food.  Eat more fruits and vegetables.  When eating meat, make sure it’s certified organic.  Okay, I can understand all of that.  What’s really confusing me is whether or not I should be eating meat at all.  And what about dairy?  People are very passionate these days about about their dietary choices, and will defend them with religious fervor.  Vegans, Vegetarians, and Meat Eaters alike will argue their stances with facts and figures from the scientific and health communities.  The problem is that all of these facts and figures contradict each other and seem to be scientifically backed up and debunked in equal measure.  So how is someone who does not have a degree in nutrition supposed to figure out what to eat?

Let me back up a little and explain why I am even trying to figure this out to begin with.  I’ve been heavy my entire life.  Even when I was in school and playing sports, I was still overweight.  I come from a fat family where everyone in it has weight issues.  They also have health issues because of that weight.  My father died of a heart attack (not his first) at the age of 49.  He was also diabetic and gave himself insulin shots.  My mother has faired a bit better, but at just shy of 65, she has high blood pressure, is also diabetic, and is now on insulin.  My sister, who just turned 45, has Plantar Faciitis so badly that she can only walk a short distance before needing to get off her feet.  She has to wear special shoes and inserts to help with the pain.  This is just the stuff I know about.  All of these health issues are completely preventable, and only get worse by remaining overweight.  Now that I am getting older, I’m realizing that I need to really take my health seriously.  I don’t want to be sick, and I don’t want to die of a completely preventable disease.  Hence, all of the research and the attempt to figure out what I should be eating.

I’ve been shocked and disgusted by the conventional food industry practices.  I am definitely convinced that I need to move to organic meats, and my current food challenge is teaching me that I can actually afford it (for the most part).  Chicken is my main issue.  I am really grossed out by what I’ve learned about conventional chicken, but we are big chicken eaters.  I have a really hard time paying high prices for chicken, especially since we eat so much of it.  But more on that later when I talk about the Real Food Meat Challenge and what I’ve learned.

I’ve been doing research into vegetarianism and veganism, strictly from a health perspective.  I have no moral issue with eating meat, especially if it was humanely raised.  But I’m starting to wonder if I should be eating meat and dairy.  I’ve watched Forks Over Knives, I’ve heard a lot of the studies claiming that a healthy diet cuts out animal products all together.  I have to say that it is a very enticing idea to think that heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and all sorts of things can be prevented and in some cases reversed by eating a plant based diet.  I’ve heard all of the personal experiences through blogs and forums of how cutting out dairy cleared up acne, asthma, IBS, and a variety of other issues.  I’ve read the articles on how casein is highly addictive and is sending me to an early grave.  When I was in high school, my vegetarian friend would often say that meat is murder.  Now it seems like meat is actually the murderer.  Or is it?

My little cow cartoon (which if you can’t tell is carrying a scythe and says “I kill you now”) may seem a little ridiculous, but that’s how I feel meat and dairy is being portrayed today.  It’s so all or nothing.  Either meat is what we, as omnivores, were made to eat and not eating it will make you deficient in necessary vitamins and nutrients, or it’s going to kill you dead, and probably tomorrow.  For all the happy vegans quoting the China Study, there are just as many happy meat eaters pointing you to the articles debunking the China Study and claiming that the science behind a plant-based diet is outdated and erroneous.  And, then there is the fact that most “meat will kill you” studies are based on conventional meat that is pumped full of antibiotics, hormones, and has other issues because of the feed lot environment.

Really, when it comes down to it, I am so sick of thinking about food.  All I want is to lose some weight and not eat food that’s going to kill me.  Is that too much to ask?  I’ve discussed it at length with Tim, and we have decided to cut down on meat and dairy for now, but not cut it out completely.  And to keep looking into the subject.  Tim fully believes that humans are meant to eat meat, but he does admit that he kind of likes some of the science and logic behind going plant based.  We both want to get healthy, but it seems more difficult than it should be to discover what healthy actually is.

What do you believe when it comes to meat and dairy?  Are you possibly a vegan or  a vegetarian?  What has decided the issue for you?  I’d love to hear other perspectives on the subject, both pro meat and pro plant, as I try to decide what is the best plan for me.

RFC Week 3: No Fast Food, and Snow!

no-fast-food

Week three of our Real Food Challenges is over, and I am happy to say that we rocked it.  Just a  quick reminder, Tim and I are participating in 14 weeks of real food challenges that have been outlined at 100daysofrealfood.com.  Our challenge this week was as follows:  Week 3: No fast food (as detailed below) or any foods that have been deep-fried in oil.  Fast food has been defined (for this challenge) by:

  • Restaurants with drive-thru windows
  • Convenience stores that also typically sell gas
  • Places where you watch them assemble your food through a glass wall
  • Restaurants that are situated in a “food court” setting
  • School lunches (most schools do not have a fully functioning kitchen and simply heat precooked meals)
  • Airplane food

I said in my last post that I was going to make an exception for Valentine’s Day, and since we ended up having Mexican food, that was a good thing to say in advance.  I’m pretty sure those tortilla chips are deep fried.  To make up for it, Tim and I continued the challenge through the weekend.  (If you remember, we are only committing to the challenges M-F because our weekend schedules are pretty wacky and we never know what we are doing food-wise.)  I figured that the biggest threat to our success for this past week would be pure laziness.  Poor planning that leaves us starving and not wanting to cook or clean up after a meal are the main reasons that we go out to eat in the first place.  Fast food is just so damn convenient.  The whole point of this challenge was to teach that convenience is not a good enough excuse to eat crap at McDonald’s.  The goal was to make planning  meals ahead and making sure to have healthy snacks on hand a habit so that you don’t even need to consider fast food.  We did a really good job of sticking to the menu that we made.  I was really proud of us.  This challenge taught me that we really do not need to eat out nearly as much as we do.  The only day that gave us any issue was last night, actually.  Sunday nights are the biggest temptations for me to eat poorly.  I have that “start anew on Monday” mentality, which is a blanket excuse to indulge on Sunday because I will re-commit to heathy eating tomorrow.  It’s a flimsy excuse, and one I need to stop using.  We had our dinner all planned out, but we both had a craving for cheese fries which would have led to burgers and who knows what.  There was some whining and complaining (on both of our parts) but  we decided to stick to the plan and cook at home.  I’m really glad that we did.

The other reason Sunday was a big temptation was because we knew that we wouldn’t be able to go out during week four either.  We’ve been a bit nervous looking ahead to this challenge, actually.  Week 4: Meat- All meat consumed this week will be locally raised (within 100-miles of your hometown). Meat consumption will also be limited to 3 – 4 servings this week, and when it is eaten meat will not be presented as the “focal point” of the meal. Instead meat will be treated as a side item or simply used to help flavor a dish.  They go on to basically define “meat” as land-based animals, so there is no restriction seafood.  Also, there is no restriction on animal products like eggs, milk, cheese, etc.

This challenge is a tough one for us, Tim especially.  For many years his family raised animals for food, so he is a big meat eater.  He has already told me that he would never consider giving up meat entirely.  It will be tough to cut back and treat meat as a side item and not the main point of the meal.  Also, this challenge makes us both nervous because locally raised meat is really expensive.  We had a very interesting conversation with a local butcher on Saturday about how, right now, local farmers in our area are price gouging because of the high demand for locally raised, grass-fed beef.  It was a very interesting conversation.  We did manage to pick up the meat that we need for the week, but it did take more figuring than it otherwise would.  We will be eating a fraction of the meat that we normally eat.  It will be an interesting week.  Just for clarification, Tim is only participating in this challenge for dinner M-F.  He gets lunch provided for him at work.  I will be following as best I can for all of my meals.  I’m not too worried about dinner, but I have to be a lot more creative with my lunches than I am used to.  I usually have chicken in soups or salad or something like that at lunchtime  We did not get any local chicken at the market, so I have to divert from my usual fare.

Snow outside my window

Snow outside my window

One great thing about this challenge is that we visited the 7th Street Public Market for the first time.  We had so much fun!  In addition to stopping at the butcher shop, we picked up some blackberry balsamic vinegar and some lovely loose leaf tea.  I also stopped at a raw vegan juice bar and got a lot of questions about juicing answered while tasting several of their juices.  It was a great time.  We arrived home about ten minutes before the snow started to fall.  This picture, taken from my balcony, was about thirty minutes after we got home. I love winter, and was so happy to see the snow, but I was also happy that I was not caught out in it.  It got very cold very fast.  I must still be a California girl at heart, because the few minutes that I stepped outside to take some pictures froze me to the bone.  The snow is really beautiful, though.

Anyway, I am nervous and excited about this week’s meat challenge.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

Real Food Challenge Week 2: Beverages

soda

Well, week two is over and it’s time for me to report on how I did.  For those who are just joining me and don’t know what these Real Food challenges are, refer back to  this post where I outline what I’m doing and why.

Week 2:  Beverages will be limited to coffee, tea, water, and milk (only naturally sweetened with a little honey or 100% pure maple syrup). One cup of juice will be allowed throughout the week, and wine (preferably red) will be allowed in moderation (an average of one drink per day).  The point of this challenge is to minimize the amount of sugar and sweeteners we consume.  All sweeteners are high in calories and low in nutrition, and the low-cal artificial sweeteners are just chemically created imitations invented in a lab somewhere.  The restriction to honey and/or 100% pure maple syrup is for two reasons.  They are both (mostly) made in nature and slightly higher in nutrients than other sweeteners like refined white sugar.  The other reason is that it is hard to find highly processed foods or beverages that have been sweetened with honey or maple syrup, and if you sweeten items yourself chances are you will put in a lot less than the factory.

This was a tough week, y’all.  I pretty much knew that it was going to be going in.  I grew up in a Diet Coke drinking household.  We drank buckets of it.  I hardly ever drank water, but the Diet Coke was a never ending flow.  My drinking habits have morphed over the years, but I have always been a Diet Coke drinker and probably always will be.  These days I drink a ton of water, but I like to have something else with my lunch and dinner.  Most often I grab Diet Coke, but I also enjoy Sobe Lifewater, Vitamin Water, or iced tea.  This challenge cut my choices down by quite a bit.  We made a big pitcher of peach black tea Sunday night, and hoped  for the best.

Tim was hit by an immediate stumbling block Monday morning when he forgot his milk at home and had to go without coffee at work.  He doesn’t like black coffee, but the only creamer at his work has added sugars (even the half and half) so he had to go without.  He was sure to remember to bring the small bottle of whole milk we bought with him the next day so that he could get his coffee fix.  Otherwise, Tim seemed pretty content, or at least he didn’t seem to struggle the way that I did.  I was okay with my iced tea on Monday and Tuesday, but by Wednesday night I was demanding soda.  Tim convinced me to have wine with dinner, which allowed me to hold out until Thursday night when I went to Starbucks with my sister and caved by drinking a spiced vanilla latte.  I was fed up with the challenge by that point and drank my soda on Friday.  Tim seemed to take on the attitude that If I was failing or cheating, that meant that he could too.

Though this challenge wasn’t an epic failure, it certainly wasn’t a success.  I feel that I failed on week two.  I was surprised by how much I missed my soda, especially considering that I don’t think I drink that much of it.  I know that I am probably killing myself with the aspartame, but this challenge proved to me that I am not willing to give it up quite yet.  I have decided to try to cut back.  Instead of having two a day, I’m going to try to incorporate more of the other beverages I mentioned, especially the plain iced tea.  I do actually really like iced tea, but we rarely have room in the refrigerator to accommodate a large pitcher.  I think this challenge proved that I need to make room so that I have a healthy alternative to water and soda easily available to me.

So, on to the next challenge.  Due to scheduling issues, I wasn’t able to get to the market for week three’s meat challenge, so I am switching week three and four.  So, the new challenge is Week 3: No fast food (as detailed below) or any foods that have been deep-fried in oil.  Fast food has been defined (for this challenge) by:

  • Restaurants with drive-thru windows
  • Convenience stores that also typically sell gas
  • Places where you watch them assemble your food through a glass wall
  • Restaurants that are situated in a “food court” setting
  • School lunches (most schools do not have a fully functioning kitchen and simply heat precooked meals)
  • Airplane food

I am thinking that week three will present a difficult challenge for us, but not an impossible one.  We have been trying to cut out fast food, and have had moderate success, but there are always those days when we are both tired or not feeling well and don’t want to cook, or when it it’s really late and we still haven’t eaten.  I hope that this week’s challenge combined with next week when we will also have to be fast food/takeout free will break our habit once and for all.  Valentine’s Day is this week, and I am going to say right now that I am allowing a break in the fried-food part of this challenge for out V-Day meal.  It may not be an issue, but just in case we are served something fried with our dinner, I am allowing the holiday indulgence.  Otherwise, I am looking forward to seeing how well we do resisting temptation.  Mostly, I think our biggest issue with this challenge will be one of laziness.  Wish me luck.

Real Food Challenge Week 1: Veggies

Flatbread Veggie Pizza

Flatbread Veggie Pizza

I am back to report on how my first week of Real Food Challenges went.  Just a reminder of what my first challenge was, Week 1: Eat a minimum of two different fruits or vegetables (preferably organic) with every breakfast, lunch, and dinner meal.  The whole point of this particular challenge is for you to displace something else that you would normally eat (like chips or fries or even crackers) with some colorful produce.

You may remember that I was confident going in to this challenge.  We already eat fruit or vegetables with pretty much every meal, so how hard would it be to add one more, right?  Well, the answer was that while it was tough during the planning process, it really wasn’t that hard to execute.  It was difficult to train my brain that vegetables are just as filling as my beloved wild rice blend or red potatoes.  When I looked at the meal plan I made for the week, I was skeptical.  Tim, my meat and potatoes man who used to shun veggies completely, was even more doubtful than I was that we would feel full without our starchy sides.  It didn’t take long, however, to realize that the mountain of peas and broccoli on our plates were a meal in itself.  We also found that finishing a meal with an apple or some berries was the perfect palate cleanser, and really cut down on my sugar cravings.  I didn’t feel the need for dessert when I finished my meal with fruit.  We also did some experimenting, which is why I pictured our first attempt at veggie pizza at the top of this post.  I’ve been meaning to try a veggie pizza ever since we started meatless Mondays, but hadn’t gotten around to it.  We followed the basic “recipe” that I outlined in this post, but topped our pizzas with roasted broccoli, mushrooms and yellow bell pepper.  They were awesome!

In general we did really well during week 1.  The only exception was when we had takeout.  An unexpected trip to the ER (and the subsequent exhaustion) made it difficult to want to cook at home.  We had a fast food lunch and a Chinese takeout dinner this week, which didn’t follow the rules, but these things happen.  My new motto is to not let the pursuit of perfection get in the way of the good.  What I mean by that is to not let the fear of failure keep me from attempting something that could be really good for me. I may not get it perfectly right, but even the attempt is a good and positive change.  So despite my slips, I still count week 1 a success.  I am definitely more willing to replace a starchy side with another vegetable, though not at every meal.  And I really do like finishing my meal with fruit.  I am determined to do so at least twice a week from now on.

Week 2:  Beverages will be limited to coffee, tea, water, and milk (only naturally sweetened with a little honey or 100% pure maple syrup). One cup of juice will be allowed throughout the week, and wine (preferably red) will be allowed in moderation (an average of one drink per day).

*sigh*  I am not looking forward to this week.  Though I have no problem drinking water, and actually drink quite a lot of it, I like to drink other things as well.  I usually drink two diet sodas a day, one with lunch and one with dinner.  I also like to enjoy Sobe Lifewater, or Vitaminwater.  I rarely drink coffee these days, and I never drink milk.  I absolutely understand the point of this challenge, but it is not going to be a fun week without any soda.  Luckily I really enjoy my tea without any added sweeteners.  I’ll be drinking a ton of tea this week.