April 24, 2011

Pascal Garbage Plate

Well, all that talk about making our kitchens and bodies healthier this Spring got us hungry for something really bad for us.
And it's still Passover.
And one of us is counting Points©.

So Heath and I contrived this kind-of healthy, unleavened-friendly, low-points happy version of The Garbage Plate.  (For those of you who live anywhere but Rochester, NY, this is my hometown's culinary claim-to-fame--it's reputed that even Diana Ross just has to have herself a Plate when she visits.  And what Ms. Ross wants, she gets.)  There's no pork and no grease, so diehard Plate lovers, you've been warned.

Broil or grill up some turkey burgers.  Mine included dill this time around.  Yep, dill.  I had a ton left over from Seder prep and it still smelled delicious.  Some minced, roasted garlic ain't gonna hurt none neither.

Saute onions and mushrooms, dabs of evoo.

Toppin's: we used what we had in the Passover pantry, which included sauerkraut, spicy relish, Israeli pickles, spicy ketchup (it's got horseradish in it).  Think you can have too many fermented foods on one plate?  Think again.

Our sides: chips (show-offs can make sweet potato chips) and a grape tomato, green onion, and cucumber balsamic salad (with more fresh dill, of course).

It's not going to win you any manly contests, but this was one of those Sunday improvisations we're proud of.  And the kid ate it too, minus the spicy stuff.

April 22, 2011

How Time Goes By

All too often, when I’m out with my daughter, a toddler, and my son, an infant, we get wistful glances from older parents, coupled with a cliché I’ve just started to pay attention to:
It goes so fast.
I only just started understanding that statement, maybe because in the time since my son’s birth, my daughter’s verbal, physical, and intellectual developments have exploded.  At two, she’s telling my husband and me that conference rooms are places where people talk about ideas from their imaginations and she shushes me when her baby doll, who she’s affectionately named Peterkathy (coincidently the name of our neighbors) is sleeping in the middle of the kitchen.  
Tonight, we had dinner with our friends who have a seven- and a five-year-old, and another couple whose boys are in college and high school.  Our infant was screaming while we were trying to feed him pureed squash, so I removed him from the dining room and commenced to nursing him where it was darker and quieter in the house.  I was exasperated with this kid.  He’d napped better this afternoon than usual, but wasn’t eating well and was wide awake past his usual bedtime.  I haven’t found a rhythm with him, even having tried and tried and tried to establish a routine of feeding and napping times, and it seems to me that every night of his waking multiple times--which is each night of his little life, so far--points to that I’ll never really sleep well again, never trust my instincts, and for all this anxiety and exhaustion, miss out on some the best parts of mothering small children because I’m just so damn tired all the time.  (Even our kids’ pediatrician told me that my eyes look totally different these days.)
Our hostess, a dear friend, reminded me that this unpredictable part of infant care goes by in a flash.  She’s right.  I hardly remember having had these troubles with my daughter.  So much happens with a kid in one year.

When I look at my daughter’s seven-month pictures: she’s preverbal, but her personality is apparent.  She’s prone to laughter (like my son is, thankfully), she loves music, she expresses her excitement first through moving her legs around (we called her Happy Feet).  
videoIt was a fleeting moment in her infancy, because then she started crawling, and then talking, and then dancing, and now she mimics the arms of a clock when she hears the first ten seconds of Madonna’s “Hung Up,” wherein we hear the seconds on an analog clock tick-ing tick-ing tick-ing by.

I want these stages to last forever.  I love the way my son’s eyes curl up at me when he’s nursing, like he’s talking to me, and the way he laughs when I tickle him, and how incensed he gets when the toy he wants to play with is just out of reach, and his reaction when he rubs the mushed banana from his curious fingers onto his own cheek.  I love the way my daughter uses her little index fingers to emphasize that she wants vanilla milk, mom, not the regular stuff.  I love the way she announces that she’s ready for pajama time with her yelling Let’s... Get... NAKED! 

The first refrain of Madonna’s song gets stuck in my head most nights after our little girl’s let’s-get-naked, pre-pajama dance marathon: Time goes by... so slowly.  (The pace of the song picks up to a feverous beat--there’s nothing slow about it.)  And I’ve often had those days that just seemed to drone on, when I’m sure I’ve bent over a hundred times to pick something up off the floor, a hundred times to shuffle between the rocking chair and the crib, a hundred times to the changing table, the bath, the stove, the phone, the exersaucer, the highchair. 

And then suddenly, I’m changing the calendar and our boy has grown out of his pajamas again, and it’s time to rearrange his dresser with clothes that fit, and it’s time to find new shoes that don’t pinch, and my daughter’s using adverbs and forming complex sentences.  

I want to hold on to moments, so I take pictures, sometimes audio, sometimes video.  I share some of these on public sites like this blog or the Facebook page or our family website.  On the slowest of days, I look back at these to remind me just how fast it all goes.

April 21, 2011

A Busy Mom's Guide to Daily Food Choices

{A personal challenge lately has been making some headspace to make healthier choices at mealtimes when I'm also making sure to feed my kids right, usually at the same time. This last installment in the A&B Guest Blogger Spring Series regards meal choices for harried, busy moms who might find little time to think beyond grabbing whatever's convenient out of the fridge, and who want to get back to a healthy weight.  Megan Tubman is a licensed nutritionist who owns and runs Fresh Start Nutrition Studio, a service which provides nutrition counseling to women trying to conceive, who are pregnant, or post-pardum.  Thanks, Meg!}
photo: courtesy of The Daily Green

At times it seemed tough to even think about feeding myself properly during the first months with my firstborn, but as a nutritionist (and a logical person) I know that a healthy mum is much more capable than one that is always running on empty. So, in anticipation of the frazzled state that I am sure to be in when baby #2 arrives this summer, I’ve started noting quick and healthy dinner ideas in a binder…in addition to choosing a more entertaining bouncy chair that will hopefully allow a couple more minutes for dinner prep. Planning and setting goals are good first steps towards eating healthfully. Here are some other thoughts on how to make this happen.

In general, I believe that whole foods can be just as easily prepared as the processed foods that are touted as “convenience” foods. Plus, there’s the added benefit of getting more nutrients for your effort, while avoiding lots of unwanted extras – calories, saturated fat, sugar, sodium, preservatives, etc. How can this happen? Start by knowing what you need (MyPyramid.com) to maintain or lose weight and make some general goals for meals and snacks.

Breakfast (whole grain, dairy/dairy alternative, and fruit*) 

Set breakfast supplies out on the kitchen counter before bedtime and have dad entertain the little one/ones for 5 minutes before heading off to work. Just a few minutes will allow you scramble to get your (and his) breakfast prepared and your teeth brushed (another essential for mama's good health that will otherwise not happen till noon).

A brand name cereal is not often the best option for whole grains. A quick look at the ingredient list will likely reveal refined grains listed first (indicating primary ingredient) and a variety of unpronounceables. Instead mix up a cereal of rolled grains (+ some dried fruit and nuts), ideally a combo that you don't typically get in other meals, and keep in a jar on your counter. Rolled oats, barley, spelt and quinoa are a few I've found in the bulk foods section of my grocery that I’ve used to make hot cereal or toasted to use like granola. Add milk/yogurt/dairy alternative and you’re off to a great start nutritionally. That said, on many mornings during my son's first few months of life that I felt like I couldn't manage to mix and heat a bowl of hot cereal. On those days, PB&J (unsweetened pb, 100% fruit spread, 100% whole wheat bread) assembled in my first free moment and eaten many moments later, was a lifesaver...and not such a bad start nutritionally.

Lunch (whole grain, protein, veg)

Leftovers from last night's dinner are probably some of the most well balanced options available, and can prepared as quickly as you can take the rubber lid off of your Pyrex and pop into the microwave. Chances are you can get a protein, veg and grain in at this meal.

Dinner (whole grain/starchy veg, protein, colorful veg)

This meal must be prepared (and cleaned up) quickly, as the witching hour is fast approaching for many munchkins. What protein, veg, and carb can you cook in one dish, ideally throwing it in the oven so that it doesn’t require your attention during cooking time? One that comes to mind immediately and is primarily made of pantry staples is - 1 can diced tomato, marinated artichoke hearts, and cannelloni beans a base for roasting chicken pieces. Jot down your own list of quick and healthy options, so that you don’t have to give it much thought at 5pm.

Snacks (dairy/fruit/veg)

Here’s your opportunity to fill in gaps that meals didn’t provide with easy to grab options; a cup of dairy/dairy alternative, a handful of dried fruit and nuts, a carrot and stick of celery dipped in hummus, a few whole grain crackers and cheese.

Instead of concentrating on what you have to restrict, make it your goal to consume all of the good things that you need in a day (ie approximate number of servings from whole grains, fruit, veg, protein, dairy) in 3 meals and 2 snacks. That will be enough of a challenge and will help keep hunger and cravings at bay while providing you with the nutrients you need to keep up with the demands of little ones.

*Fat not noted in goals as we don’t typically have to make a special effort to make sure to consume it. Canola and olive oil are good choices for cooking. A little butter won’t hurt. Nuts are tasty, nutrient packed and portable.

As owner and dietitian at Fresh Start Nutrition Studio, Megan Tubman, MS, RD finds the opportunity to help mothers and mothers-to-be make a fresh start at healthy eating! Megan is a registered dietitian. She is a member of the American Dietetic Association and the leadership team of the Women’s Health Practice Group.  Megan studied Dietetics at the University of Cincinnati and completed the New York-Presbyterian Hospital / Weill Cornell Medical Center dietetic internship.

April 14, 2011

Kitchen Harmony: How to Organize Your Kitchen for Maximum Soul

{This Spring Cleaning post courtesy of Erika Salloux, who I met while living in Cambridge years and years ago.  I've always admired how organized Erika is (it's her job to be--she's President and CEO of Living-Harmony.org) and love what she can do with small or tricky spaces, so I asked her to guest blog for A&B.  You can find more information and contact Erika yourself here or using the links at the end of this post.  Thanks so much, Erika!}

We often hear “You are what we eat.”  I’m going to take you a lot further today, and say that not only is this very true, but we are also how we eat and where we eat.  So when we order our kitchen and regularly engage in certain food practices we order ourselves and consequently generate more harmony in our lives.  Here are the top eight tips that my clients find most helpful when I work with them to reorganize their kitchens to create physically and spiritually nourishing spaces:
1. Take the four steps to simple.
Certain techniques of living, certain environments, certain modes of life, certain rules of conduct breed serenity.  Simplicity is one of these.  It fosters inner harmony and serenity.  And the less we have the simpler our lives are, for everything we own owns us.  So follow these steps to end up with a clutter-free kitchen.  That means a kitchen that only contains tools and food you use and eat.
* Evaluate.
Do this by being a visitor in your own kitchen.  After helping clients prepare their homes for sale, I often hear “It looks so good!  Why didn’t I do this when I still lived here?”  The answer is that many of us take our homes for granted.  When getting ready for a move, we view our homes in the way a potential buyer would look at it.  Then we see all the little things that we ignore on a daily basis - the pile of clothes meant to go to charity, the double-stacked books on the shelf, and the awkward living room layout.  Step into your kitchen pretending you are a seeing it for the first time with the eyes of a visitor.  What do you notice that you don’t like?  Now make a plan to change those things.
* Sort.
Empty out all of the cabinets and decide what you really use and put like items together.  This will keep you be honest with yourself.  “Oh, wow, I have 12 wooden spoons and five tea sets.”
* Purge.
Get rid of items that you don’t use, own too many of, or are so worn out they need replacing.  Use these three tests.  Would you feel good about handing that over to a guest to use if they were in your kitchen?  Would you replace the item if your house burnt to the ground? Have you used it in the past year?  If the answer is “no” to any of these, toss or donate it.  If your kitchen is suffering from cookbook clutter use the sticky-note test.  For the next six months, every time you make a recipe from a certain cookbook, mark the page with a sticky note.  At the end of the trial, donate all the books without sticky notes in them.  Nowadays, you can find heaps of recipes online.  Do you really need to take up so much space with all those books?
Ask yourself is you are holding on to any kitchen items that you are not using for any of these reasons.
companionship: That cracked bowl reminds you of your grandmother.  Take a picture of it, and toss it.
unfulfilled goals: You want to keep that juicer because you really want to juice every week.  But you don’t.
someone else’s view of who you should be: Your mother was a major baker and believes you should be too.  But you’d rather spend your spare time biking.
old belief system or obsolete need: You used to cook rice regularly.  But now you don’t eat as many carbs, so you don’t need that rice steamer anymore.
If any of these reasons ring true for anything in your kitchen, maybe now that you can identify the cause, you can let go of it.
Do as Lao Tzu instructs us:
“In the world of knowledge, as
Every day something new
is added.  In pursuit of the Tao, every
day something is let go.”
If you buy a new can opener, get rid of the old one.
* Containerize.
Locate like items together.  Use containers.  Put the items and food you use the most often in places that are easier to reach.  Station items near to where you use them.  I was working recently with a client who had their toaster in the kitchen closet.  When I inquired how often they used it, she informed me that it was “every morning” and proceeded to tell me that they took it out of the closet every day, plugged it in, used it, and then returned it to the closet.  Does anyone smell a big time suck?
2. Label everything.
Go crazy with your label maker.  Hit up shelves, the inside of drawers, your frig compartments.
Once you have designated specific places in your kitchen for certain items, labeling them will speed up the process of putting items away as well as finding them when you need them.  After all that decluttering you did by sorting, purging, and containerizing, you don’t want your spaces to revert to their former state of chaos, do you?  Labels are your best friends for maintaining your organized spaces.  And everyone in the home can help maintain your new order when they know where things belong.
3. Acquire some effective solutions.

* Wonder Drawers
These IKEA boxes are oh so versatile if you need to add storage space to your kitchen.  You can stain, paint, or decorate them any way you wish.  You can hide away all sorts of items in them.  That way the space always looks tidy and organized.
* Simple Shopping
Declutter your entrance-way and/or kitchen cabinets of all those plastic and paper bags and go green all in one simple step.  Invest in a set of these cool looking shopping bags that handily role up to fit in any purse.
4. Make “Do it now” your mantra.
For example, when you’re done reading the day’s paper, don’t leave it on the kitchen table or counter.  Think “Do it now” and immediately bring it to the recycling bin.  If you only handle something once you are saving time and reducing clutter.  That goes for dirty dishes too.  Build time into your nightly routine to wash the dishes.  Wash up as you cook.  Waking up to a clean kitchen is refreshing.
5. Employ a grocery list.
To keep your kitchen running smoothly, always have what you need to make the meals you want, and avoid having too much of any item, create a grocery list by store of the items you buy regularly.  Print it out weekly, and post it on the frig.  Let everyone know that if they use up an item they are to draw a check box in front of the item.  And add any extra items to the list when you plan out your weekly meals.  Then when you shop, you’ll zip around the store, shopping with more confidence.  Engaging everyone in the process also leads to more involvement from others in meal planning and frees you up to do other things.
Email me at transform@living-harmony.org if you want a grocery template that you can modify.
6. Congregate for community building.
It’s the people and the process that count, and it’s about the sharing of meals not the appliances and tools in your kitchen.  I once heard on the radio that many Japanese kitchens have one knife.  And even the 12-year-old boy knows how to wield it in so many different ways.  That’s why only one is needed.  Bring less stuff, and more people, into your kitchen.

If you want to bring some more harmony to your home, ditch the attempted multi-tasking in your kitchen.  There is nothing more unmindful as trying to do more than one task at a time.  Instead of chatting on the phone when preparing dinner, connect with a family member about their day as they share in the meal making.  If you’re a couple, plan dates in the kitchen, sharing a cocktail as you whip up a dish you experienced while on vacation.
Share the cooking fun with your kids.  If you start involving them when they’re young, they’ll find it fun, resulting in them being really helpful at meal time.  Even small tasks can make a big difference.  Instead of your kids using magic markers while you cook, hand them a spoon.  Teach your son to mix ingredients.  You are imparting a life skill as you share an experience with them.  I joke with one of my friends who is a stellar chef that her boys will be preparing gourmet meals for us when we are old and grey.  And it’s a direct result of the fact that she cooks with them all the time.  Her four-year-old makes pancake batter from scratch on his own.
Study after study shows that those with strong connections to others are healthier and live longer.  So involve everyone for a kitchen with warmth and a life that feels full.
7. Delineate your space.
Even when I work with clients in wee studios in the city I let them know that their space will serve them better if we design it so there are sections that are reserved for certain activities.  This is because all items, and thus spaces, hold energy.  So, for instance, if you allow heaps of bills to pill up in your kitchen, when you are cooking, you will encounter mental jabs saying, “When am I going to get to those bills?”  That nagging question won’t serve you well when it’s time to make dinner.  It will only result in a distraction and stress.  Stick with food prep and eating in your kitchen.  Taking on specific tasks in certain designated areas makes for a more peaceful, productive life.
8. Pray together before you eat.
No matter what your belief system, the simple act of taking time to be thankful for the food you are about to eat is centering.
Tomorrow start practicing one of these tips you aren’t doing now or take on one of the tasks I mention and you’ll be on your way to a kitchen that will feed your body AND soul.
Erika Salloux, CPO®
Living Harmony, LLC
24 Harvey St.
Cambridge, MA 02140
© Copyright 2011.  All rights reserved.  Living Harmony, LLC.

April 12, 2011

Asparagus for All of Us!

{The following are two of Rachel Brownlee's eagerly anticipated asparagus recipes; one for the kosher folks, the other for those who dig the pig.  Asparagus is a great nutrition source this time of year because it's actually in season in the Southeastern states in the spring.  You can read all about asparagus's riches of vitamins, minerals, and fiber at Rachel's blog over here and at the end of this post.  Thanks for a fun collaboration, Rachel!  I'm the healthier for it.}

Simple Grilled Asparagus with Lemon and Fleur de Sel:
*1 bunch freshly harvested asparagus
*1 teaspoon olive oil
*zest and juice from 1/2 lemon
*2 cloves garlic, minced
*1 1/2 Tablespoons unsalted high quality butter
*high quality Fleur de Sel or favorite special sea salt
*freshly ground black pepper
* freshly grated parmigiano reggiano for garnish

This recipe is simple but unbeatable. Pure spring.
Rinse asparagus. Remove any woody portions from bottom ends. Chop each shoot in half.
Place a grill pan over medium heat. Coat with olive oil. Grill asparagus for about 4-5 minutes turning occasionally until bright green and tender. Transfer to a large bowl. 
Gently toss with remaining ingredients while asparagus is still warm. Adjust seasonings to taste. Transfer to a serving dish and sprinkle with freshly shaved parmigiano reggiano. 

Grilled Asparagus with Pancetta and Local Jersey Milk Feta:
*1 bunch freshly harvested asparagus
*olive oil for grilling
*1/4 cup crumbled local sheep or cow milk feta
*1/4 pound thick slice pancetta, cubed
*black pepper

Rinse asparagus. Chop shoots in half.
Place a grill pan over medium heat. Coat with olive oil. Meanwhile, heat a separate pan over medium heat and add cubed pancetta, stirring occasionally until golden and crispy. Remove from pan with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.
Begin grilling asparagus while searing pancetta, turning once or twice until slightly tender.
Transfer to a serving plate. Sprinkle with the feta, pancetta and freshly ground black pepper.

Asparagus facts:
One of the oldest known cookbooks from the third century, De re conquinaria, contains a recipe for asparagus. Its diuretic properties have been praised since early times for medicinal use. The list of minerals and vitamins found in asparagus is long including: vitamins A, B6 C, E and K, calcium, magnesium, zinc, niacin, folicacid, riboflavin, iron, potassium, phosphorus, copper, and selenium.
Asparagus is notably high in dietary fiber as well as protein. Special to asparagus is a property known as chromium which has been shown to enhance insulin's ability to deliver glucose to the body's cells from the bloodstream.

April 8, 2011

The Energy of Spring

{This post in the A&B spring cleaning series deals with taking a good look at how our environment, including where we live and how we eat, affects the way we feel and our longevity, energy, and vitality. You know that headache you've had since that first day it was 60 degrees out?  Read on.  Also, "Qi" is pronounced "chi," for those of us who haven't studied Eastern Medicine.  Thanks, Ethan, for sharing your knowledge with readers.  And for giving us another reason to eat ice cream without guilt!}

By Ethan Borg, M.A.OM., L.Ac. practicing in Rochester, NY

The change of seasons may not seem like such a big deal to those of us living in the modern era, as to the most part these shifts are slow and subtle and barely capture the attention. What, with a thousand errands to run, children to fuss about, and work, work, work – a process that entirely lacks connection to shifts in temperature, clothing, and any appreciation of nature's cycles. But take a larger perspective and you see that the change in seasons has been a major factor for most human beings for most of human history. Our lives are lived today as if in an hermetically sealed cabin. If we wanted to, we could never leave our houses. And many of us venture outside only briefly – mostly enjoying the seasons from a cozy room looking out a window like it was a painting on the wall. For most of history, however, human beings have not been so lucky. The seasons literally crept into our dwellings – hot, cold, rainy, steamy, windy, and dry were constantly changing bedfellows even for those lucky enough to live in the finest mansions and tallest castles.

Yes, today we tend not to notice seasons so much as we did only a few generations ago – air conditioning and and central heating have made such a huge impact. Since we do not notice the climactic shifts happening around us, we tend to underestimate their importance to our minds, bodies, and spirit. A hundred years ago, this was absolutely impossible. Not only did the weather intrude into our dwellings, but also we had major signifiers of these shifts in the form of religious holidays. For those who practice one form of faith or another, you are likely to still celebrate a holiday close to the winter and summer solstices as well as the Fall and Spring equinox. In the United States, however, people tend to be less religiously observant today than they were even a generation ago. Thus, for many people living today there can be total detachment from the seasons and their importance in our everyday lives.

Each season arrives not just with obvious weather shifts, but also with subtle shifts in energy and focus. These subtle shifts permeate our hermetically sealed lives no matter how well constructed our asbestos shingles and insulated vinyl windows. 

Spring is a time of renewal, anticipation, increased action, and renewed hope (after a long Winter). Summer is a time of stimulation, flow, change, joys, passions, and freedom. Fall is a time of cultivation, reaching peak, and preparing for personal needs and the needs of one's family in regards to imminent Winter. And Winter is a time of darkness, contraction, and quiet. This is true no matter where you live or how you live. The subtle energies of these seasons extend their influence on us even if we do our best to ignore them.

The goal in Chinese medicine, the medicine I have practiced for over a decade now, is to remain as much as possible in a state of energetic balance regardless of the constantly changing energies that surround and permeate us. Each season arrives with its own set of intense energies. To stay healthy – to avoid the seasonal flu, for instance, or to avoid the sudden onset of very predictable sets of diseases (predictable to someone trained in Eastern medical arts), it is important to adapt to these energies as much as possible so that these intensities don't drive elements of our bodies out of balance. When our bodies are out of balance, we experience symptoms that can range from the mildly annoying to three alarm fires. So, we place a high value on balance. An ounce of prevention is definitely worth a pound of cure.

As this is Spring, I will focus on this season. The energy of Spring is called Wood Qi. As I said, it is a time of revival, vigorous action (think of the energy necessary for a seedling to push through compacted soil to find the sun), excitement, planning, connecting to others/resources/ideas, and growth. In balanced quantities Wood Qi keeps the connective tissues of the body flexible and strong, keeps the eyes sharp, and helps the body break down the foods we eat. Wood Qi is associated with the sour taste and the color green. It is one of the Five Elements. And it is just as necessary to the body as any of the other four.

Early Spring is a time of Wood and Water Qi – cool and windy, sometimes wet and stormy. Later Spring is a time of Wood and Fire Qi – hot and vigorous, active and sometimes hyper and explosive.
According to Chinese medicine, no energy is good in excess. Your body already has a significant amount of Wood Qi in it no matter the season. So, in Springtime, Wood Qi fills the liver and gallbladder organs, engorges the connective tissues such as the ligaments and tendons, and brings flush energy to the eyes. Depending on how much energy is already in these areas, sometimes this increased flow of Wood Qi overflows the normal reservoirs designed to hold it in place. 

When this happens, the eyes, eyelids, ligaments, tendons, gallbladder, liver, sides of the body, and vertex (topmost point of the head) may develop new symptoms that they didn't have before that are of a particularly sudden onset and intensity. We also say that Wood Qi, when it is excessive, invades the Earth areas of the body – the GI tract and abdomen, the muscles and flesh, the mouth, and the sinuses. Sometimes these areas also develop symptoms of disease or illness of a severe and unexpected nature during the Spring. The seasonal flu tends to take on Wood Qi elements at this time, causing more severe body aches, nausea, eye pain, headache, and diarrhea symptoms.

According to Chinese medicine, you have to adapt to each season to stay healthy. Metal Qi controls Wood Qi, and in the Springtime we use Metal Qi as a tool for avoiding excesses from forming in the body. For instance, it can be very helpful to eat spicy foods (considered Metal in character) in the Spring. All aromatic spices contain Metal Qi. So lot's of spices of any kind are a good idea in your food. Specific teas that feel dry to the tongue such as Earl Grey (a Metal tea) are excellent. Even a few pleasurable sweets in small healthy portions (ice cream, candy, and baked sweets are Metal Qi) can be balancing (remember I did say “healthy portions”). 

It is also good to reduce exposure to Wood Qi in the Spring by eating less sour foods (wait for summer for lemonade), spending limited time in green pastures and woods (in the Spring this is best to do when stressed out and/or feeling frustrated), protecting the neck from wind in early Spring by wearing scarves, and giving your eyes plenty of rest. Some of what I just wrote may seem counter-intuitive. Spring is definitely a time of lush green. And sour fruits ripen and are plentiful. There is nothing wrong with a little of these great things. But too much of a good thing is not a good thing. Not according to Chinese medicine.

So, what do I want you to take away from this discussion? First, that most diseases are preventable. And I am not just talking about avoiding fatty foods and salt. Prevention also means adapting your behaviors and changing your diet according to the seasons. 

If you are interested in learning more about what you can do to adapt to other seasons, feel free to become a fan of “Ethan Borg, Acupuncture” on Facebook or follow my Tweets at: @ethanborg. 
Subtle changes can make a big difference in your long term health and well being.

April 6, 2011

Spring "Cleaning" Post #1: Creating A Healthier Kitchen

{Dear A&B readers, I invited Rachel Brownlee to post here because I am such a big fan of her blog, Girl in an Apron, where you'll find tasty recipes and beautiful food photography as well as learn from her expertise in nutrition with a special nod toward seasonally-available, natural foods.  She also just happens to be a really joyful, lovely person.  Enjoy Rachel's informative and inspiring post below.  And stay tuned for Rachel's forthcoming asparagus recipe to follow!}  

Top Ten Guide To Creating A Healthier Kitchen:
By Rachel Brownlee C.H.C, A.A.D.P
Monica graciously asked me to guest blog on the topic of creating a healthier kitchen. Such a fabulous subject to spend some time on, especially as we all prepare for spring. What goes on in the home kitchen is truly the foundation of personal health. My friend Kelly likes to say, “What we eat in private shows in public.” Now, as we are all sheepishly picturing the large bowl of ice cream we made-out with last night before bed, this phrase can go the other way as well. When we treat ourselves to satisfying food that nurtures us and keeps us healthy, this shows too. 

I like to approach this topic by leaving guilt at the door. In my practice as a Personal Health and Nutrition Coach, I have seen how culturally acceptable it has become to beat yourself up in hopes of becoming the person you desire. To be honest, I have never witnessed a more counter productive way to create healthy change. Guess what? It’s okay to like your thighs. Yes, your thighs as they are right at the moment, not your thighs six months from now. Let’s get real for a sec: aren’t you glad you have them?

The kitchen is a powerful place, as the home cook is a powerful person. The moment we begin cooking more for ourselves at home, we take the reigns. Regardless of where you live, or however many options there are in your city for eating out, a home cooked meal trumps all. Here’s why: the ingredients used in restaurants need to meet many goals before nourishing your health. Restaurants are businesses, kept in business by turning cheap product into something that tastes good to the unsuspecting eater. Same is true for packaged products. “Cheez Its” are not sitting on the shelf to keep you feeling your best. They are there because they are convenient, crunchy, salty and thus can turn a profit. 

By contrast, the ingredients we choose to stock our home pantry can be chosen with greater things in mind. 
Following is a top ten guide to help you transform your kitchen into an oasis where healthy meals are born. When I say healthy, I am not suggesting you eat soy noodles and steamed broccoli three nights a week. No. I encourage you to eat foods that satisfy you. That speak to who you are. That are colorful. Honor your heritage. Make your family draw in a deep breath when they walk into the house.

You can begin by nixing the nutritionally faulty fat-free trend. Use high quality olive oil and butter. Explore new foods. Have fun. Include the family. This is the beginning of a true love affair with flavor, sitting down to savor, and leaving the table feeling fulfilled in every sense of the word. 
1. Put It In A Ball Jar:
This may seem strange as the number one suggestion, yet storing most of my pantry items in half gallon ball jars encourages me to buy in bulk. Packaged items such as crackers, chips, cereals and cookies essentially are not food. They are just crunchy filler. By foregoing these items and their nutritionally empty profiles, you can make space for whole grains, dried beans, nuts, a variety of flours, seeds and spices. Storing food in jars also helps you see what you have at a glance while keeping the shelves organized. 
2. What Goes In Your Cart Goes In Your Mouth:
As mentioned before, packaged items represent quick and easy nibbling. If such convenience items are in the house, they will get eaten, regardless of all the promising you’ve made to abstain. If an item goes into the grocery cart, it will eventually make it into your mouth. This brings me to my next tip. . .
3. Make A Grocery List and Stick To It:
Before shopping for groceries, make a list to help keep you on track with your intentions. It is a good idea to think about what items you want in your home, write them down and stick to it. Grocery store marketing is a slick device designed to encourage impulse buying. A list will help guide you beyond these hurdles.
4. Eat Before You Shop:
As with making a list, shopping on a full stomach will help you make wiser choices. I remember when I was a little girl grocery shopping with my Aunt one day after church. We were both hungry, and somehow came home with a whole chocolate cake amongst our other items. Had we taken the time to eat lunch before cruising through the aisles, that cake wouldn’t have made it into our cart. 

5. Linger In The Produce Section:
It is so easy for us to fall into the habit of buying the same produce week after week. Carrots, celery, onions, etc. Yet, as the seasons change so does variety. It is wise to think about what is fresh and locally available. Take time to explore new foods, this will help you grow as a cook. 

6. Find Your local Farmer’s Market:
Farmer’s markets are the key to reclaiming your health. Locally and seasonally grown/produced foods are far superior to anything you can find in the grocery store. Granted, not all foods found at all farmer’s markets mean they are healthy, but the chances are greater. Get to know your local producers. They will become the backbone of your health. Knowing who grows your food will create more meaning and community behind the meals you prepare. Fresher food means more flavor too, making your job in the kitchen almost effortless.
You can find your local market with a simple google search. Bring cash (not all vendors are set up to accept credit cards) and canvas bags to haul your tasty loot. 

7. Enjoy The Process:
Cooking can be a chore for some and a creative outlet for others. Whichever category you fall under, we’ve all got to eat. Try reshaping the way you look at cooking. Turn on some music, maybe sip a little wine and enjoy yourself. The more you do, the better your food will taste. 

8. Invest In A Good Knife:
Part of enjoying the cooking process is having the right tools to make the job successful.  Contrary to what many may think, one good kitchen knife is all you need to begin. I highly recommend Global, Wusthof, or Henckel brands. 

9. Stock Up On Fermented Foods
Almost every culture across the globe historically enjoyed a variety of fermented foods from kim chi to sauerkraut. Fermented foods are not only some of the most nutrient packed foods out there, they are wonderful accompaniments to home cooked meals. Look for locally made fermented items such as lacto-fermented pickles, kraut, miso, or kefir. You will learn to crave the briny, sour taste of such beneficial foods.  

10. Quality Is Key:
I often hear how expensive organic or high quality foods tend to be. Here is the thing: organic foods or foods produced using ethical/quality methods are not expensive, it’s that the rest of the food out there is artificially cheap. The food industry has done an excellent job filling foods with chemicals, fillers and colorings which make the final product unrealistically inexpensive, and very dangerous to our health. Remember, most products are sold to make a profit, not to help us maintain our health. 

By investing in high quality food, we are single handedly doing the most to invest in our long term health. Cheap processed food makes us feel cheap and processed.  Eating this way will land us in the doctor’s office where we will have to pay for medical care. So think of it this way: you can spend your dollar on flavorful food or pills. It’s that simple.
Bonus tip:
11. Turn Off The Food Network. I love Top Chef as much as the next person but this is not real life. Home cooks need not be discouraged by flashy food challenges and glossy editing. Real cooking is messy. It has mistakes. Rice will occasionally burn. It’s okay. Go easy on yourself. 
Cooking shows can inspire, but they can also make us feel under qualified to cook. Cooking is for anyone and everyone. For kids, for elders and everybody in between. 
Make your kitchen a place where you want to be. Spend time there and watch your health transform. 
Bon Appetit!
Rachel Brownlee is a Certified Health and Nutrition Coach with a background in Sustainable Agriculture and In-Home Health Care. She currently lives with her husband in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina. In addition to practicing nutrition, Rachel enjoys teaching on the joys of cooking, the guilt-free pleasures of whole foods and healing. She is a regular contributor to Plant Healer Magazine while maintaining her recipe blog: Girl In An Apron. Gardening, writing and cooking are favorite past times.