Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Tip Nine: Try Something New

We have been on Spring Break, which is laughable. Spring my eye. It's Almost Spring, a condition akin to unbearable. Bones are still cold, though days are not so much. It is supposed to snow tomorrow. One more dreary day, you think, and I'll lose it.


This week, do something different. Try a new cuisine, a new ingredient, go a different way home from work. Stop at that exotic shop you've been wanting to check out, but always find an excuse not to. If your brain says "I've got to get home, to feed the kids, to go to the grocery" -- well, take them with you.

Let them eat sushi.

For the next few weeks, I'll be offering up a few out-of-the-ordinary tidbits, like this raw veggie Pad Thai that really gives a taste of spring. I had this in London, at Daylesford Organic in Notting Hill, a temple for real foodies if ever there was (more on the British Farm-to-Fork movement in future). They would not share the recipe so I've devised this one, and I think it's pretty good. I did, however, make it a night when my husband was away, lest it bombed, but now I am glad, for I ate most of the bowl.

Please let me know what you discover.

Vegetable Pad Thai
Inspired by Daylesford Organic

2 zucchini
3 carrots, peeled

1 knob ginger
1 tablespoon tamari
1 tablespoon chili garlic
1 teaspoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon tahini
juice of half lime

To assemble
1 bunch green onions, sliced
1/2 cup fresh chopped cilantro
1/4 cup fresh chopped mint
1 Tablespoon sesame seeds
optional: red pepper, roasted cashews

Using a carrot peeler or a grater or a mandoline, make the zucchini into "noodles."

In a small chopper, mince ginger, add rest of ingredients and whiz. Pour over "noodles," add minced herbs and sesame seeds. Refrigerate until ready to serve; a few hours will meld the flavors and wilt the "noodles" so they are more noodly, but you can only do what you can do.

Garnish with cashews and slivered red pepper, plus additional cilantro and sesame seeds, if you wish, to serve.


Thursday, March 10, 2011

Tip Eight: Eat Your Fat

The news on fat is confusing. We're supposed to cut down on "unhealthy" fats, but "healthy" fats are ok.

In the "fat is good" category we hear that fat is necessary as a source of energy, crucial in the absorption of vitamins and body and brain development. (National Institutes of Health) In the "fat is bad" category, we hear that fat can make you fat, and saturated fat in particular can increase cancer and provoke heart disease. There has been stunningly little actual scientific backup to this, and in fact, historically, reducing fat in the American diet via prior Dietary Guidelines has correlated with Americans becoming fatter and more unhealthy. Studies such as the long-running Framingham Heart Study find no correlation between dietary fat and heart disease, similarly between dietary cholesterol and higher cholesterol.

To further complicate the matter, all fat is not created equal (except in calories -- a tablespoon of fat equals about 100 calories, be it butter or olive oil). Saturated fat, from meat and dairy products, solidifies when cold and is tainted with artery-clogging charges: the new US Dietary Guidelines recommend limiting intake to 7 percent of daily fat allowance. A 2010 Harvard study shows that by 19 percent, one of the few.replacing saturated fat with mono- or polyunsaturated fat  decreased risk of coronary heart disease. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, from olive oil, avocados, nuts, seeds such as flaxseed and fatty fishes, are liquid even at low temperatures. 

The really bad boy of fat is the Trans Fat, man-manipulated partially hydrogenated fatty acids that are estimated to be 70 percent of the fats that America eats -- mostly in fast food. Studies in the New England Journal of Medicine, among others, show trans fat consumption to increase risk of coronary heart disease; a recent Spanish study linked increased trans fat consumption (the average Spaniard partakes of .04 percent trans fats in a daily diet, the average in America is 2.5 percent) to depression. Trans fats do occur sparingly in red meat and dairy, but don't seem to be harmful like the engineered variety.

The bottom line: eat fat. Not too much. Make it from natural sources. But not too little; reducing fat intake can lead to lethargy, dull skin and weight gain.

Everyone has their own threshold -- you alone can gauge yours. I eat cashews by the handful, and add toasted walnuts and pine nuts to salads and wilted greens. I fry eggs in a little butter or coconut oil (1/2 teaspoon), add avocados to salads and smoothies, try to make fish twice a week. While I don't use olive oil to saute (I'll get into smoke points and healthy cooking with oils in the future) -- I do use it to thicken salad dressings, and coat vegetables to be braised or roasted at low temps. I love to add flax seed oil to cilantro and walnuts for a dressing. We eat full fat local dairy products, but not to excess. Find your balance.

Just make sure it's real food.

Roasted Cashews

1/2 lb. raw cashews
spray can of grapeseed oil
sea salt
rosemary or other dried herb, optional

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Spray a baking sheet with oil, spread cashews out and mist again with the grapeseed oil. Roast at 350 degrees for 12 minutes. Cashews will be golden brown, darker where they lay on the baking sheet. Pull from oven and sprinkle with sea salt and herb, if desired. Toss on baking sheet and allow to cool before eating to regain their crunch.

Healthy Addiction? My jar of cashews, mostly gone...


Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Tip Seven: Go Green with Cleaners

It doesn't do any good to buy superlative organic produce, or grow your own, if you're going to bring them into the kitchen and dose them with toxins from your cleaning supplies. Which of course you would not do on purpose, but can occur when food and utensils and countertops are co-existing in a kitchen.

When we eat food dosed with toxins, you know what happens.

You are what you eat.

And it's not just our food, but our air that can be contaminated by household cleaners. EPA studies show we spend 90 percent of our time indoors, yet concentrations of many volatile organic compounds are up to ten times higher indoors than out -- and even low levels of toxins in common household products can contribute to health conditions from allergies and asthma to birth defects and learning disorders.

Green cleaning solutions are easy and -- unlike many sustainable practices -- much, much cheaper than the conventional products. Baking soda, which is alkaline, is a cheap and versatile cleaner, as is vinegar, an acid that can dissolve dirt and gummy buildup to be wiped away.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

- a friend in New Zealand advises using hot water, half cup vinegar and dash of commercial detergent for bubbles to clean the floors. She recommends the book Just Add Vinegar for more green clean solutions, which is not available here, but I did find Vinegar, 400 Uses You Never Thought Of, by Vicki Lansky, who also penned Baking Soda, 500 Uses You Never Thought Of.

- stick your sponge in a pan of boiling water or run it through a dishwasing cycle every now and again. This zaps germs, so you're not just smearing them back on your food.

- clean your countertops with a 1:3 solution of vinegar and water; for buildup try sprinkling a little baking soda first to remove grit. Try adding 20-30 drops of an antibacterial essential oil, such as lemon, peppermint or eucalyptus, to cut the vinegar tang. Also does windows, though my Latino friend says they use newspapers to shine glass, backed up by a 1:1 solution of vinegar and water for tough grime.

- pour baking soda down a clogged drain, followed by boiling water, to clear.

- sprinkle baking soda on carpet and vacuum up to deodorize.

- make a thick paste of baking soda and water and spread in the bottom of the oven. Keep damp with a spray bottle of water, let sit over night. The next day, scrape up the baking soda crust and the oven grime comes with it.

-take your shoes off when you come into your home. Stop the dirt, germs, chemicals and grime before they are carried around your house. [PS -- this one is FREE!]

-soak vegetables and fruits in water then scrub with a vegetable brush to remove any chemicals used in packaging or transport. [Also FREE!]

If you're not into do-it-yourself cleaners, there are a lot of products claiming to be environmentally friendly on the shelves now. My friends and I love Mrs. Meyer's countertop spray -- and there's a fragrance for every mood. Method is a brand that is easy to find, though it is not as subtly scented,

The EPA has a program called Design for the Environment which is working to remove chemicals of concern, succeeding in reducing hundreds of millions of pounds of chemicals of concern each year. Their label, below, certifies a reviewed product.