Thursday, July 30, 2009

Recipe from the Garden: Ratatouille

I love to make up recipes. I do it all the time now. And while some are better than others, I've found that if I'm using fresh ingredients and taste along the way, it's really hard to go wrong. Not that it can't be done! But I'm getting competent enough with flavors that I can just improvise with ingredients and turn out something pretty good. One such case was last night's creation. What do you do with eggplant and zucchini from the garden that are threatening to go bad if you do not cook them this instant? Why, make ratatouille, of course!

A little research today, after the fact, explains that "ratatouille" is a dish that originated in Nice, France in the 18th Century as a way to cope with my exact predicament: use up summer vegetable abundance. The people of France came up with the name, which is derived from the the verb "touiller" which means, "to stir up". Apparently, true original ratatouille did not contain eggplant (which the British call the by the lovely name, aubergine), but merely zucchini, onion, peppers, tomatoes, garlic, and spices. But I say, what veggie dish can't be bettered by a little aubergine? Not to mention that I had one on hand threatening to go bad if it wasn't used. I've heard of several different ways to cook ratatouille, which seems to be more familiar since the 2007 Pixar movie and is appearing on The Food Network, blogs, and so forth. I've heard that you should cook the vegetables all seperately so their flavors stay intact. I've heard that you should add them in a certain order: eggplant, zucchini, peppers, onion, tomato, so that the flavors build. But that didn't make sense to me from a texture perspective, because the vegetables that need to cook the most were added later. I'm a big fan of the "one pot" supper (fewer dishes to wash), and then I just added everything in an order that made sense to me. I seasoned to my own taste. So here is my recipe, which I'm proud to say I made up on the spot. It was not popular with my three-year-old, but my 18-month old gobbled it up.


1 medium eggplant, coarsely cut into pieces
1 large zucchini squash, coarsely cut into pieces
1 medium vidalia onion, diced
1 large bell pepper, coarsely diced (I had an orange one on hand)
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 medium tomatoes, coarsely cut into pieces (the size of pieces is up to your personal preference)
2 tsp thyme
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp unrefine sea salt
fresh ground pepper to taste,
olive oil, several turns of the pan, more as needed.

In a medium sauce pan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and saute. When onion is almost tender, add one of the minced garlic cloves. Saute about 1 minute, then add peppers. Saute a couple of minutes, and when peppers are beginning to get soft, add zucchini. Saute a few minutes, until zucchini begins to get soft, then add eggplant. When eggplant begins to get soft, add tomatoes. Then add all spices and the rest of the garlice and cover. Turn heat to low, and let vegetables simmer until all are soft and flavors combine.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

New Diet Packs a Punch of Energy-----Ka POW!!!!!

So, I recently read The Swiss Secret to Optimal Health by Dr. Rau, and since what it said made sense to me, I decided to follow the diet guidelines. (note: I mean "diet" only in that a diet is the foods you eat, not diet as in losing weight or restricting calories or a "diet fad", as it has come to mean today) I guess it's been about a week, since I bought the book, 1 day to read it, another day to get going on the guidelines, so I would guesstimate that I've been doing this for 5 days. I skipped the "cleanse diet", which would restrict too much fat and protein intake since I'm eating for two, and went straight to the "maintenance diet" which provides plenty of both. Each day I've woken up expecting to feel the differences the book promised: cleaner, lighter, more energy, better focus, and improved memory. I couldn't really tell a difference. It was still painfully hard to get up in the morning at 5:30 and I would still hit the snooze button until 6. By the end of the day I was still worn out and dog tired. I couldn't tell any improvement in memory or focus. I did notice two things: one was that my bowel movements, which have always been regular, were much easier. I'm prone to rectal tears (thanks for those genes, Mom) but since none of them were ever serious, I just thought it was something I would have to live with. That started clearning up in about 2 days. The other thing I noticed was that two nights in a row I slept really poorly due to anxiety about my algebra test, and I didn't get sick. Nor did I get any precursors to being sick like I usually do: sore throat in the morning that dissipates, deep, sore pimples on my face or back, or mouth ulcers. These things appear without fail before every sickness, and I've come to learn that they occur when my immune system is struggling. For me to miss sleep two nights in a row and not be sick, or at least feel like I'm getting sick, is unheard of. So I decided to keep going with the diet: maybe there was something to it. Maybe it just took a while, and BAM! Today, test day, which should have had me all in a dither and losing sleep last night, and I wake up at 5:00 a.m. ready to bounce out of bed. My energy level has soard, but not in a jittery way. It has been even and constant. My mental clarity has been astounding. While taking my test today, the answers just came. Now, I don't want to downplay the amount of hard study time I put in for this test: I knew the answers because I had worked so hard to learn the concepts. But when I mentally reached for the information, it was just there. I was able to pull it to the front of my brain and use it. I was less confused. It's nearly 2:30 and I'm not longing for a nap, but am ready to get focused and tackle some errands. The best thing that I can say is that I have never, in my entire life felt this good. It's like my cells are happy. I can feel them communicating and all is going well. It is an amazing feeling.

So what am I eating? What have I changed? First, let me just say that I could not have started this diet 2 years ago and stuck with it. I've been changing my eating habits, bit by tiny bit, for at least 2 years. I've changed my entire viewpoint about food, and that is why I can stick to this diet and not feel deprived. And my viewpoint has changed because of hundreds of hours of research, not just because someone one day said "Cheetohs are bad for you, don't eat them." It has taken me over 2 years for my priorities to shift where eating healthy was more important to me than the pleasure of eating junk. That being said, here are the modifications I've made:

Very little caffeine.

Very little sugar, and no refined (white) sugar or flour. I use honey or raw brown sugar, and I try not to eat much of that.

Much less protein in general, and animal protein in particular. I eat lots of beans and veggies to make sure I'm getting my recommended amounts, but I am NOT relying on soy: Soy contains a nutrient which blocks the absorption of calcium. I plan to eat animal protein about 4 times a week (the high end of what the diet recommends). I used to eat it three times a day.

Less cow dairy. I refuse to give up heavy cream or butter, though. But since they are entirely fat and not protein, they are allowed in small quanities on this diet. Goat and sheep cheeses are allowed, and luckily some of my favorite cheeses are feta and pecorino romano, so it's not all bad.

No processed foods i.e. nothing with ingredients I cannot pronounce. Just good, whole food the earth produced.

This diet does allow semolina pasta, arborio rice, and quinoa, as well as breads made from wheat flour or other grains. I intake good fats (walnuts, olive oil, butter, avocado) to keep me full, and I DO NOT allow myself to go hungry.

I understand that I am not going to be 100% every day on this diet. Life is just too short to not have a doughnut once in a while. But I absolutely cannot believe how good I feel, which is odd because diets are usually associated with feeing run down and hungry. But I find that there is more pleasure in feeling this way than there is in drinking a Dr. Pepper. Go figure!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Garden Fare

I am so happy to announce that my tiny garden is producing results! Yesterday, my daughter and I picked okra and eggplant from our meager bed, and today we enjoyed fresh eggplant spread on toast, and a delicious pot of okra and tomatoes. I wish that I had pictures to post, but alas and alack, I'm not that thoughtful a blogger yet and taking pics didn't occur to me until after we had consumed our delicious bounty. We due for some more okra, eggplant, peppers, and possible even a zucchini.

I realize that most people don't care for okra, but it is one of my favorite vegetable. Since I didn't know much about it besides the fact that it's completely yummy, I did a little research. It seems that okra has a long history: it grew wild by the Nile, and the Egyptians were the first to cultivate it! It is related to both hibiscus and holly hocks, and many people may be surprised to know that it produces lovely flowers before fruiting. Although okra is traditional in Southern and Creole dishes, it is actually a prominent component of Indian cuisine, where it is known as Bhindi. While we think of okra as being green, there are actually varieties of other colors, including red, purple and white! Although you won't find those kinds in your local produce section, specialty and high end grocery stores, I've noticed, are carrying more heirloom varieties. And of course you can grow your own from seed.

Nutritionally, okra deserves much more recognition than it receives! It is a powerhouse for fiber, both soluble (good for cholesterol) and insoluble (good for colon and intestinal tract: prevents certain colorectal cancers). It is also high in potassium, folic acid, calcium, vitamins C and A, and contains only 25 calories per half cup. In fact, the "slimy" texture that is the turnoff of most people is actually really good for you digestive system and can help ease constipation. That's one hardworking seed pod!
Here are some sites I found, although since okra is not "in vogue" in the food world, there's not as much to be found on it. World's Healthiest Foods site search didn't bring up a single listing!

University of Illinois
All About Okra
my okra and tomatoes recipe is as follows. This is actually my second batch of okra and tomatoes. The first time, I ate the whole pot in one sitting directly from the pan.

In a medium sauce pan, saute one small, diced onion in a olive oil (a few turns of the pan) over medium heat. When onion is tender, add 2 minced garlic cloves, and one SMALL diced green bell pepper (optional). Stir in 2 cups sliced okra, 2 14 1/2 oz cans diced tomatoes, a pinch of salt and fresh ground pepper to taste. Let simmer on low heat for 45 minutes, or until okra is tender.

Eggplant is also sadly over looked, although it is becoming much more popular lately. Ironically, it is one of my favorite veggies, and it is also very prominent in India where it grew wild, although it as first cultivated in China. The link to the eggplant recipe I used is here. It was quite delicious! My eggplant, you're typical garden Black Beauty variety, was very nice: very tender and not at all stringy as some eggplant from the grovery store can be. It mashed up nicely. I would suggest waiting to consume (if you can stand it) about 30 minutes because it takes a bit for the flavor of the roasted garlic to come out. I would add a bit less roasted red pepper: the flavor almost overwhelmed the mild taste of eggplant, but I love roasted red pepper so it was all good with me. At the end, I added some leftover green peas from my daughter's lunch the day before. They added just the right pop of color and added layer of texture which this dish needed. I toasted some french bread slices in the oven with olive oil, sea salt and pepper, and the crusty/crunchiness was the PERFECT compliment to this spread. We consumed the entire bowl full in one sitting.

You can read more on eggplant here:
World's Healthiest Foods
University of Illinois

Friday, July 24, 2009

Navigating the Highway of Nutritional Information

I am absolutely fascinated by nutrition and health. Also by gardening and fitness. I soak up information on these subjects like a sponge soaks up water. I can't help it. Something about it just fascinates me. For one thing, the more I learn, the more obvious it is to me that there is an over-all design for the universe and the world. There seems to be a balance between everything and a connection between man and the universe that is, well, downright spiritual. The more I learn, the more I realize that God gave us everything that we needed to survive here and perpetuate. For example, we don't need to invent chemicals and pesticides for pest control: that's why we have birds, snakes, lizards, frogs, and a host of other creatures that eat insects. If pesticides were a long-term solution, then farmers would be losing less of their crops to pests than they did in the 1940s, not more. And it seems that when we tamper with the system, everything gets messed up. The earth is unbelievably adaptable, and so are our bodies, but it seems that just as when our bodies are out of alignment we get chronic pain, when we live contrary to the system, bad things happen. Unfortunately, a lot of the information out there is full of fallacies, sound-bites, myths, and contradictions. It seems that every year a new nutrient is isolated as "curing this" or "preventing that" and then the next year the same nutrient is demonized as "causing" this or that disease. I'm trying to currently read the arguments both for and against dairy, and for and against meat so that I can decide for myself what is bet to eat. But here are a few things that I have learned that I keep in the back of my mind as I navigate the aisles of the grocery store:

Your food should be a virtual rainbow of colors. Nutrients have a synergistic relationship, and you only get the right amounts of all the rights pairs when you eat the right foods. Supplements will work in a pinch, but they are not a replacement for poor diet. They don't contain the right balance of nutrients, and are often very poorly absorbed by the body. You don't need to count grams percentages, just think, "I haven't eaten anything orange in a while" and then go grab a carrot.

Americans eat way to much animal flesh. I am by no means a vegetarian, but flesh at every meal, every day is just too much for me. I've cut back to meat about 4 times a week, and that is working out great for me. When I eat meat, I eat the whole meat. I don't want lean cuts, I leave the skin on (in the case of chicken) and I like things bone-in when possible. And my portion sizes are appallingly small compared to the typical American portion: about the size of my palm (not including my fingers). Too much protein is really bad for you body. If you liver cannot process it all, it will back up into the blood, causing an acidic environment. Your body will leach calcium and other minerals from your bones in order to neutralize the acid, which can cause osteoporosis, atherosclerosis (when the nutrients react with cholesterol in your arteries), and other chronic, degenerative diseases. If your blood continues to be acidic, it will slow down cell function and can cause cell death, and can aggravate symbiotic micro-organisms in your blood called biotes until they become destructive and attack your cells. These reactions can cause fatigue, migraines, arthritis, and even depression. Cancer cells are also known to thrive in acidic environments, and are dramatically reduced in an alkaline environment. Because processing meat requires more water than processing plants, you can become dehydrated. I know for myself, since I'm eating less meat I am more regular, and I feel lighter throughout my bowels. Now, I don't mean to say that I think that eating chicken or beef will automatically cause these things over night: you're body is far too adaptable for that. And as I said, I'm still an omnivore, and I personally feel that eat the right amount of meat is beneficialt to the body. But compounded over a lifetime, the effects of over-eating meat are not happy ones. (sugar as the same acidic effects)

Eat mostly plants. (see above) Plants are made up of cellulose, rigid fibers that our bodies are not capable of digesting because we lack the right gut bacteria (like a cow). Because they stay more intact, plants "sweep" the intestine and colon as they pass through your system. Cooking plants begins the breakdown process, which is why you might notice that raw veggies can cause gas and bloating over cooked veggies. A clean intestine and colon is good for your over-all health, and is incredibly important, but the fact that plants are not as digestible is why I feel it is also important to eat meat in the right amounts. Since our bodies contain the correct enzymes necessary to digest it, nutrients such as protein and iron are more easily available to the body, and are more readily absorbed. Also, because meat is a more "dense" protein and is also more readily absorbed, you don't need to eat as much of it.

Drink water. Lots of it. More than they tell you you should. You can, apparently get water poisoning (so I hear) but that would be incredibly hard to do, especially if you are active at all. Keeping well hydrated keeps your cell functioning happily. Your urine is the best indicator of hydration: you want it to be nearly colorless. If it is dark yellow, go grab some H2O ASAP!

Don't fear natural fats. Your brain is made up of fats. You have a healthy, protective layer of fat around your heart. Fat keeps you full. Good fats, such as butterfat and olive oil, are essential to health. The fat to avoid is processed fat: oils that are solid at room temperature (such as Crisco and all hydrogenated- or partially-hydrogenated-oils).

Although I believe High Fructose Corn Syrup is worse for you than sugar, that doesn't mean that sugar isn't bad for you. It has virtually the same effect on your blood as excess protein, and let's not forget that whole diabetes-thing.

The idea of "everything in moderation" seems to apply to every aspect of diet. You need a little of everything, but too much of anything can turn toxic quick. Our bodies are highly adaptable, and when we are young and our anabolic processes are good, we may not even notice anything negative. But as our metabolic processes slow down, things can go south in a hurry. If you suffur from constant fatigue, malaise, headaches, and poor sexual function, check your diet before turning to drugs.

Exercise is a poor way to control weight. There are 3500 calories in one pound. The typical workout will burn between 300-500 calories per hour. Not even close to one pound, and you can consume twice that many calories in one meal. And unfortunatey, according to the FAO, the typical American consumes about 3790 calories per day. (note: this estimate is much higher than others, which hover closer to 3000 calories per day). So you can see, unless you have a ton of free time or are an Olympic athlete in training, exercise is not a means to control weight in and of itself. Now, it will help you become a bit more of a fat-burner, but exercise is healthy and important for a host of other reasons. It will increase your oxygen intake, which will increase cellular function. It will strengthen your heart, lungs, and improve muscle function. It will reduce stress and lower blood pressure. But again, exercise is not a solution to poor diet. It is an accompaniment to healthy lifestyle.

My current bookshelf and link list:
Real Food for Mother and Baby by Nina Planck
Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser
The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan
The Swiss Secret for Optimal Health by Dr. Thomas Rau, M.D.
The China Study by T. Colin Campbell, PhD
The Crazy Makers by Carol Simontacchi
Swanson Health Products And Articles
The World's Healthiest Foods
The Journal of American Dietetic Association
The Paracelsus Clinic

Whatever happened in Iran?

I was wondering: whatever happened in Iran? Was that turmoil resolved? Did anything happen with the appeals? Why has the news stopped reporting ANYTHING about it? And then I realized that Michael Jackson died. I guess the memorial service of a washed-up pop star was more newsworthy than reporting crimes against humanity, or the story of a nation of people struggling for freedom from their oppressive government.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Random Rants

Perhaps it is just my pregnancy hormones surging, but I am completely disgusted with men. Every day, some stupid-ass male at school tries to flirt with me. It's really pathetic. Now, this might appear to be flattering on the surface, except for one minor detail: I am obviously pregnant. What kind of man tries to flirt with a random, pregnant stranger? Now, I know testosterone makes you stupid, but this is just ridiculous. Do they think a woman who is pregnant is obviously "easy"? Coz, if so, they should talk to Jay. I think he would disagree. I can't take this kind of attention as a compliment, because anyone who would attempt to start up a flirtatious conversation with a pregnant stranger is the type of man who will dry-hump anything that moves. Move along, Sparky, and leave me alone!