Monday, August 31, 2009

We Love Pocoyo!

Pocoyo is an adorable children's animated tv show, although you're probably not familiar with it here in the U.S. Pocoyo is produced in Spain (in Barcelona, I think), but it is also dubbed in English. It's just that it is only broadcast in Europe. However, you can order the DVDs online.

Pocoyo is an absolute favorite of both my girls, and me, too! It's one of the few videos that I actually let them watch (do not even get me started on the crappy American cartoons they broadcast here. And the only thing worse than the quality of Dora the Explorer are the commercials they broadcast. Ok, rant over). I find Pocoyo to be the highest quality. There are actually valuable lessons being taught, like in the episode I posted here, Don't Touch! It is done in a way that is very approachable to kids, and despite all the silliness, it's not silly. Nothing is "dumbed down". Stephen Fry is an excellent narrator, and I love the way the narrator explains things so clearly, but not in a belittling way. I can't really think of  a single complaint I have about this show. I feel that its simplicity is what makes it so special.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Of Memories and Muscadines

We all have them: those golden, pure, perfect memories of a childhood summer day. The ones that it seems no amount of time can diminish or fade. They are burned into our mind's eye forever, and we wouldn't have it any other way.

I don't know why this one particular memory stuck with me. Nothing special happened, nothing kids today would find particularly interesting. We were just a bunch of kids, I think 5 or 6 of us, all cousins (two of them were my brothers), visiting our grandparents' house out in "the country".  It was a hot, late  summer afternoon and we walked down the looooonnnggg, winding driveway towards the road, where we picked wild muscadines for Mamaw to make into muscadine jelly.  Of course, we ate tons of them straight off the vine. I still remember the little "pop" as they burst in my mouth, and that rush of wild, tangy flavor, and the bitterness if you got one not quite ripe.

This has been one of my favorite childhood memories, perhaps for the simple fact that I was included in the group of "big kids" for once. Perhaps it was because we were partaking of a tradition in the spirit of pioneers: harvesting food wild from the land!  I was a very sentimental child like that. Whatever the reason, the mere utterance of the word "muscadine" will bring it all back. So it's no surprise that when we were picking strawberries back in June at a local U-Pick orchard and they advertised that they would have muscadines in August, my sentimentality took over and I pre-ordered 2 gallons worth: one each of red and white muscadines.

Let's fast forward to late August, after a phone-call to let me know that my order was ready and a drive to the orchard to pick it up, and I have 2 gallons of muscadines sitting on my kitchen counter. And, for laughs, let's throw in the fact that I don't know how to make jellies, jams, or sauces that muscadines are typically used for, so I have no way to consume them unless I eat them like grapes. By myself. All two gallons. It's nearly enough to make me wish I'd never heard of muscadines!

But after a few minutes of allowing myself to wallow in buyer's remorse, I decide to get on with it. They're just grapes, after all, and I am a fully-grown Homo sapien with complex rational thought, problem solving skills, and opposable thumbs. No way are those grapes getting the best of me! I head to my first line of defense: the internet! A feat of man no mere Vitis rotundifolia could ever conceive of! I begin my research and quickly succumb to another weakness of mine: fascination. Damn, if those little buggers aren't fascinating! Here's a bit of what I uncovered:

Muscadines are native to the Southeastern United States. They were discovered in 1584 by Sir Walter Raleigh. The name muscadine comes from the word, muscus, which is the root of the muscat grape, as well. Early settlers called the new, wild grape of America after a grape they were no doubt familiar with. A golden/bronze muscadine was found growing and then cultivated along the Scuppernong river, and so were given the name scuppernong. Muscadines are no doubt the red-headed step-child of the wine industry, but for no good reason other than blatant wine snobbery and ancient prejudice. This little jewel of the South is high in vitamin C, vitamin B, and manganese, and are higher in calcium, fiber, iron, and zinc than most other fruits. But muscadines are also a significantly better source of that "miracle" compound, resveratrol, than their more popular grape cousins. Wondering where you've heard that word before? Resveratrol is that compound found in red wine that is thought to reduce abnormal cells and lower your risk of heart disease. It has been in the news recently as containing the key to "The French Paradox", and is also thought to have anti-aging benefits.

So now I am totally thrilled that I have 2 gallons of muscadines on my counter, and I can't wait to try some recipes. I found a recipe for muscadine jelly that doesn't seem too intimidating, here. I will let you know how that turns out, and hopefully I'll some muscadine recipes of my own to post. But for those of you wanting to try muscadines without all the work, there's always muscadine wine!

Sources on Muscadines:
Paulk Vineyards
USDA Website
Birmingham Business Journal

For A little Bit on Arkansas Wine:
Wiederkehr Wine Cellars

Friday, August 28, 2009

New "Recipe Box"

Just wanted to draw your attention to my new "Recipe Box" on the left-hand side of the screen. There is a direct link to the recipes that I post, so you don't have to search. Bon Appetit!

Heartwarming Story of an Elephant and Her Dog

Here's a story we saw on CBS Sunday Morning- one of our favorite shows! There is always something interesting. Of course, my little elephant lover went nuts over this, so we recorded it on the DVR and watch it a of couple times a week. Our favorite part is where Tara the elephant throws dirt on Bella's back...Something elephants do protect their delicate skin from sunburn. Such a sweet gesture of friendship!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Painting Pots

Since it stays so hot so long here (it's warm through October), I decided that I wanted to put in a late-summer crop of greens: "lacinato" kale, "bright lights" chard, and "catalina" spinach. I chose varieties from Renee's Garden that were said to do well in containers, and I got inspiration from our local botanical garden, where they had huge clumps of rainbow chard growing in giant ornamental pots. Then I got it into my head that it would make a fun art project for the girls to each paint one of the terra cotta pots! I thought it would be a good way to add color and incorporate the wonderful whimsy of childhood into the garden. Plus, what great memories for years to come!

The only problem is: how in the world do I go about it? A Google search of "how to paint terra cotta pots" led me to a message board on some garden website with a thread of exactly that subject. The advice was to use a brand called "Patio Paint", which I found at Hobby Lobby, but they apparently sell at Michael's, too (our brand-new Michael's does not open until this fall).  After painting, seal it inside and out with a coat of Patio Paint's sealer. Well, Hobby Lobby didn't have the sealer, so I found a brand called "Tree House" which the helpful employee assured me people use to seal painted terra cotta pots.  Everything looks okay so far, my only concern is that if I didn't do it right, the paint will peel and not last more than a few seasons. However, there's no way for me to know until it happens.

The girls had a BLAST painting the pots. I pretty much just let them go at it, supervising to make sure no one ate any paint. They're too young now to do any kind of real drawing or pattern, but this is definitely something that we'll do again.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

August 25th, 2009: The Day a Little Girl Grew Up

My oldest daughter completely surprised me today: she dressed herself. She went to her dresser and browsed through her clothes until she put together an outfit all by herself. Shirt, skirt, shoes, hair clips, everything. It was a big day. I remember wanting to pick out all of my clothes when I was a little girl, but I must say, my daughter has far surpassed me in fashion sense, as her choices actually matched. Here's a picture of her in her outfit:

Quick Break from Studying and a Daily Dose of Sarcasm

So, I'm reading for my classes and researching for my speeches, and I had to take a quick break and share something that I read.
While researching for my persuasive speech on breastfeeding in The Politics of Breastfeeding: When Breasts Are Bad for Business by Gabrielle Palmer, I came across this passage:

"Though any part of a woman's body can be a focus of eroticism, our era is the first in recorded history where the breast has become a public fetish for male sexual stimulation, while its primary function has diminished on a vast scale. Perhaps the only parallel is the phenomenon of foot-binding in China, when the primary use of a part of the body was sacrificed to serve the cult of sexual fetishism which celebrated female helplessness."

To counter-act this horrible exploitation of the female breast by men and the correlated decline in breastfeeding that is so detrimental to our society, I plan to start a non-profit, activist groups called "Breasts Are for Babies!"  We will have the action statement: "Take back your breasts! Go slap a man!"

I hope you had a good chuckle. I did.

(updated later)Although I tend to make light of any subject, I'd like to end on a serious note. Breastfeeding is happily again on the rise after a steady decline in this country. Cited in the her book, Gabrielle Palmer tells of one study which estimates that "...helping and supporting women breastfeeding would save more children's lives than any other public health preventive intervention, more even than immunization, or improved water sanitation."
The research I've been doing is even more compelling, though, and I plan on posting my paper when it is completed, hopefully before Thanksgiving. The evidence is compelling to me, but I'll let you decide for yourselves.

(Note: I am not here to attack anyone's feeding method of choice for their baby. Instead, I am relaying some information I have found on a topic that is completely fascinating to me)

Monday, August 24, 2009

Some Enchanted Evening

As often as I can, I take the girls to our local botanical gardens, where we are members. Going and walking there is one of our favorite things to do! It gets us close to nature: we're always seeing honeybees working, or hummngbirds, or butterflies, as well as fish and of course, a plethora of plants, but it is also a place where I can let the girls out of the stroller to run, run, run! Recently, we've been taking snacks along for a quick picnic down by the coy pond. The girls pick up pine cones, sticks, and nuts, and we "oooh" and "aahhh" over brilliant spiderwebs delicately spun between trees. It truly is a magical place for little ones, and the addition of a new children's adventure garden has provided us with even more to explore. This evening was a great time for us to go! After a quick dinner, we headed over to burn off that second wind of energy. Here are a few pictures from tonight's adventures:
                                  (Can You see the feather caught in the spider web?)
(a tiny grasshopper on a leaf)

Some Days Are Just More Perfect Than Others

The weather has been unbelievable lately: Highs in the low 80's, low humidity, and beautiful sunshine. This is absolutely unheard-of in Arkansas in August! The girls and I have been taking advantage of every out-door opportunity. Mostly we've been playing in the kiddie pool outside, but this weekend we took a trip to our local zoo. It was amazing! The weather was so cool that the animals were very active, and we got to see a gorilla do a somersault, an elephant throw sand on her back (to keep cool), and a lion get up and get a drink of water, then look at us through the glass and growl! It was one of the best trips to the zoo that we've ever taken. Here are just a few pics (I hope to get better about taking pictures, it just seems that I never remember until after-the-fact)



Meet the newest addition to our garden, Harvey! No, he's not an imaginary, giant bunny! He's an Asparagus Fern that I got to replace my beloved, Marv, who had to stay behind in NorCal (perhaps a post on Marv later). Harvey is beautiful and bushy, and brings a bit of brightness and texture to our patio.

Despite the common name of "fern", asparagus ferns are not ferns at all! Although they both have modified leaves, a fern reproduces through spores which grow on the underside of their leaves, while asparagus ferns actually have blossoms and produce little berries!  Asparagus ferns are, in fact, related to the asparagus you buy at your local farmer's market. The asparagus that we put on our table are the baby shoots of the plant. But if you allow the asparagus to grow to seed, it will actually grow up to be tall and bushy,  and will look quite similar to the asparagus fern.*

Although in mild Northern California, Marv was able to winter outside, here in Arkansas we will probably have a few nights that will be too cold for Harvey, so I'll have to remember to either cover him with a sheet, or let him over-night indoors.

*Where I read it:
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

Photo Blog: Baby Lunchbox

A woman named Chloe packs the most delicious lunches for her 24-month-old daughter, 4 days a week. She takes a picture of each lunch and adds a description. Her blog, Baby Lunchbox is a photo diary of those lunches. She has some GREAT ideas, many of which I plan on stealing for my own growing toddler and pre-schooler. ;) This is how I like to imagine my children eat. I'm pleased to say that many of our own lunches look similar, but I know that junk food slips in as often as not. Still, it's something to aspire to!

Quinoa HOAX! "Mother Grain" Isn't a Grain at All! (and recipe: Quinoa Salad)

Have you ever heard of quinoa? (pronounced: keen-WAH) No? That's really a shame. And let me explain why.

Let's talk about amino acids for a minute. Your body is basically twenty amino acids strung together in complex ways with some water and other minerals. (that's really over-simplifying it, but it's my blog, so I can do what I want!) Your amazing body can manufacture ten of those amino acids from other materials, but the other ten you cannot. You do not have the enzymes required to make them (like plants do), so you must consume them in food. These are called "the essential amino acids" (ever heard of "leucine", "tryptophan", "lysine" and their unique health benefits? That's why). And guess what? Quinoa has got 'em all.

A Little History

"Quinoa" means "Mother Grain" in the Incan language, and was regarded by that ancient people as a sacred food. It is native to the Andes moutains. Although it has been grown for over 5,000 years it wasn't until the 1980's that two guys began to study its nutritional value and began to cultivate it in Colorado. Quinoa is more commonly known among the vegan sect, because it contains a complete protein, but it is gaining popularity among anyone who is health-conscious. Quinoa is gluten-free and has fewer calories and lower sodium than other grains. And although it is, for all intents and purposes, a "grain", it doesn't seem to be related to other grains, which I believe are kinds of grasses (just like corn). It is instead related to the spinach family! However, the quinoa seed looks, tastes, and is used like a grain, which is why it is always given that distinction.

I love quinoa. My mom is not crazy about its distinctive, nutty flavor, but that's what I like. It is also considered to be more easily digestible than other grains, and it is gluten-free. It can be used as a substitute for for almost any grain, such as rice or couscous, and there is even quinoa flour and quinoa pasta!

It might be hard to find quinoa at your local Albertson's or Safeway. I find it at Whole Foods and buy it in the wonderful bulk section. Or you can buy it online. I store it in an air-tight container.

Here is my recipe for Quinoa Salad. You may notice that it has a similar flavor profile as some other dishes I've made recently, because I'm really on a cumin kick right now. This was a hit with my dad and my youngest daughter (my older one is a picky eater on principle), and even my mom liked it, saying that "the apples made it edible." I nearly ate my weight in it, it was so good.

Quinoa Sald with Apples and Golden Raisins
ne cup uncooked quinoa (rinsed thoroughly if it is not already)
2 apples, cored and diced, peel on (I always have Gala on hand)
1 handful golden raisins (maybe 1/2 cup)
1/4 cup sliced green onions
1/4 cup walnut halves and pieces
1 tsp parsley (if using fresh, I would use about 1/4 cup)
1 tsp cumin, divided
1 tsp ground ginger (fresh is best, but I only had the dried on hand)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp honey
6 tbsp butter, divided
sea salt and pepper to taste

Cook quinoa according to package instructions (or in 2 cups boiling water for 15 minutes, if you bought in the bulk section). Add half the cumin and ginger to the water as it cooks. In a large saute pan, melt 4 tbsp of the butter, then add the apples and saute until tender. Add raisins, the rest of the cumin and ginger, parsley, cinnamon, honey, salt and pepper. Put the onions and walnuts in the bottom of a seperate bowl. Add the hot apple mixture and cooked quinoa to the onions and nuts and mix well. Add last 2 tbsp butter and mix well. Refridgerate for at least 30 minutes to let flavors deepen. Serve hot or cold.

World's Healthiest Foods: Quinoa
Quinoa factsheet

Saturday, August 22, 2009

My Current Bookshelf

This list is really ridiculous....

Milk: The Surprising Story of Milk Through the Ages
Milk, Money, Madness
Breastfeeding Politics: When Breasts Are Bad for Business
Wicked Plants
Natural Infant Hygiene (a post on this later!)
Our Babies, Ourselves
Food Synergy

Books I want to read:

Too Many Cooks: Adventures of 1 Mom, 4 Kids, and 102 Recipes
A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table
Alone In the Kitchen with An Eggplant: Confessions of Cooking Alone and Dining for One

Most Adorable Seed and Garden Company Website

I recently found the most adorable website and online catalog for heirloom and/or unusual garden seeds, Renee's Garden. Renee's Garden is located in Northern CA, and I vaguely remember once buying a packet of sunflower seeds, "Musicbox", for my oldest daughter's "Farmer-themed" second birthday party (the toddlers each got to plant a seed in a mini clay pot and take it home as a gift). This website is choc-full of gardening tips, articles, recipes (they have two cookbooks), and pictures, and even has a blog! What I love about the seed catalog is that they carry varieties with the kitchen and container gardener in mind, making these seeds much more approachable to beginners like me. I found each variety to have a good description, as well handy growing tips, and a pretty illustration (we'll see if my results yield anything close to the pictures!). I also LOVE that they mark each seed variety that attracts bees, hummingbirds, or butterflies, and whether or not it is recommended for containers. And the best part--they are currently having a sale! You can go to their blog, here, to get the sale code to enter at checkout, as well as how long the sale is running. Happy gardening!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Upcoming Family Events

I am so excited about two upcoming events in our area:
The Hot Air Balloon Festival (pictured above) in October, and Breakfast with the Elephants and our local zoo in September. I am so excited to be able to take the girls. I can only imagine how giddy they will be to see some elephants up close (my oldest daughter had an "elephant birthday" this year!), as well as some beautiful hot air balloons!

Recipe: The Most Delicious Eggplant Parmesan I've Ever Eaten

I love the humble eggplant. Can you tell by my previous posts? It is so beautiful and interesting, and has such a unique, mild flavor that I absolutely adore. It's becoming quite fashionable lately, which I appreciate because it makes it easier to find. I find eggplants at the grocery store to usually be very poor, but I have made some beautiful finds at the farmer's market. The skin (usually purple, but can also be green, yellow, or white) should be a vibrant color, and the eggplant itself should be firm and heavy for its size. And did you know that eggplants are related to tomatoes? I didn't, but it makes sense, as they grow on similar plants and have similar-looking seeds, which they store in a similar way.
According The World's Healthiest Food website, eggplant is a good source of folate, potassium, dietary fiber, and thiamin (vitamin B1), as well as manganese, tryptophan, and copper. But what is especially good about eggplant, is that it is rich with antioxidants which are powerful free-radical hunters. It is especially high in nasunin, which is known to protect brain lipids! So the next time you want to do something good for your brain, eat an eggplant.

Here is my recipe for Eggplant Parmesan, which I made the other night to rave reviews. My youngest daughter couldn't get enough, and my dad ate more than his share. The key is to sweat the eggplant first, then use buttermilk for the binder, rather than egg. Again, I never peel anything, because most of the nutrients are stored in the skin, so wash VERY WELL. From what I've read, the nutrients and antioxidants which is so beneficial to us are what protect the fruit from pests, disease, fungi, and other environmental hazards, which is why they are stored in the skin. Isn't nature amazing? Also, I make my own tomato sauce, since I found every jarred sauce at the grocery store to contain sugar and a lot of sodium. (Even Paul Newman let me down)

Southern Style Eggplant Parmesan*
(get your sauce going first)
1 large eggplant, washed and sliced into thin medallions
1 cup cornmeal
1 Tbsp flour
1 cup buttermilk, in a bowl
olive oil, enough to coat to the pan and more as needed
salt for sweating eggplant
salt and pepper to taste

Lay the eggplant medallions out on a baking sheet (or whatever surface you choose) and sprinkle liberally with salt. Let rest for 30 minutes (this will draw out moisture, as well as some of the bitterness, and keep eggplant from absorbing too much oil). Rinse the salt off and pat dry. Heat olive oil in a pan or iron skillet over medium heat. (You want it to sizzle immediately when you add the eggplant.) Combine cornmeal, flour, and salt and pepper to taste in a re-sealable baggy. Dip your eggplant medallions in the buttermilk, then dredge them in the cornmeal mixture. Pan-fry medallions in the olive oil until they are crisp and golden brown. Serve over pasta.

My Home-Made Tomato Sauce

1 14-oz can diced tomatoes
1 14-oz can tomato sauce (not a jar of prepared sauce; the plane-jane "nothing but tomato" sauce. I use Hunt's)
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
1 medium onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp salt
pepper to taste
olive oil, several turns of the pan

In a sauce pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add onions and saute until tender, then add garlic and sautee one minute. Add tomato sauce and diced tomatoes. Add spices. Turn down heat to low and let simmer about 30 minutes.

To put together the Eggplant Parmesan, I just use a bed of spaghetti, two eggplant medallions per person, cover with sauce, then sprinkle (liberally) with freshly-shredded mozzarella and parmesan cheese. Serve immediately (the eggplant doesn't re-heat well)

*I also use this dredging technique to make the best pan-fried okra I've ever eaten! The okra doesn't need to sweat, just slice it, dip it in buttermilk, dredge in the cornmeal and flour, and pan-fry in vegetable oil until golden brown.

Diet Update: Animal Flesh Creeps Back In

So, it's about week 4 on my diet, and my schedule has changed, which in turn means that my diet had to make some adjustments, too. For one thing, I'm taking all online classes this term, and so being home means that I'm eating meals with the family more, rather than meals by myself. While socially this is a good thing, it's hard to stick with it when we're all eating the same thing, I'm not always in charge of what's for dinner or lunch, and no one else is following the diet that I am. This means more meat has crept back into my diet, because my mom insists on animal flesh at every meal, and I can tell. My bowels have become hard and painful again, and while they were regular (as in, the same time every day), now they are more sporadic. I feel sluggish in the afternoon and worn out in the evening. My mood is still even, and I think that is because I still intake a high amount of fresh fruits and veggies and don't eat much sugar. I'm thirstier, and feel that I cannot get satisfied no matter how much water I drink. I have not gained any weight, and have even lost a pound, but my energy has suffered, and I'm not sleeping as well. This despite the fact that my stress level has decreased since college algebra is done.

I think if eating at home meant meat one or two more times a week, it might not have had such a profound affect, but I more than doubled my meat intake per week, from around 4 times a week to twice a day. Plus, we eat lots of legumes and eggs, so I'm getting ADDITIONAL protein every day. I've started just politely skipping the meat at one meal a day, but it's difficult, because of the "guilt complex" I have from my childhood: if there are left-overs, I feel compelled to eat them so they don't go to waste. However, I've come to the conclusion that keeping my energy level up in these busy times is more important than not throwing out that last piece of Salisbury streak.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

New Diet is Un-knowingly Approved by My Doctor!

I was in for my regular OB appointment the other day, and my doctor was very, very pleased and mentioned my weight-gain specifically. "It hasn't been bad all along, but it was absolutely perfect this time. Whatever you're doing, keep it up." I felt a surge of joy. Apparently, when you're not pregnant, you can expect to drop anywhere from 10-20 pounds on this diet if you're overweight, or gain weight if you're underweight. It's designed to maintain you at your optimum weight. I haven't lost any weight since starting the diet, but my weight gain has been much slower, which is good.
I had been hovering right at the tip-top of the "normal" weight for my height ever since my first pregnancy, and have not been able to successfully lose a single pound that I gained. I'm determined to be healthier this pregnancy and lose my excess weight (the correct way!) once the baby is born. What a thrill it was to hear that I am on the right track. I knew I had to be, because my body is giving me all the signals that it is healing from the stress of the last year, but it was great to get a thumbs up from the doctor just the same.

Recipe: Sweet Potatoes Stuffed with Apples, Brown Rice, and Raisins

Ah, the sweet potato. What a wonderful food! This delicious tuber, which originated in Central America and was taken to Europe by Christopher Columbus, deserves so more more than to be eaten once a year at Thanksgiving. It is an amazing source of Vitamin A, a great source of vitamin C, and a good source of dietary fiber, iron, B6, manganese, and beta-carotene. Plus, the typical sweet potato contains fewer than 150 calories, making it a nutrient-dense complex carbohydrate that's great for the weight-conscious consumer. And let's not forget that it's delicious! The sweet potato is found in cuisine from all over the world, including Asian, African, South American, and Southern-style cooking, and can be used in anything from breads to main dishes, side dishes to desserts.

Tonight I tried experimenting with a flavor profile that was a bit more complex than my usual fare: baked sweet potatoes, stuffed with brown rice, apples, and raisins, seasoned with cinnamon, cloves, and cumin. It turned out to be quite yummy! I would love to have this dish on a cold winter night. It seemed like comfort food at its best, with just a hint of Indian flavor. Since it's so hot out, I served it with a simple spinach salad, making this one of the most colorful meals I've ever made!

Swet Potatoes Stuffed with Apples, Brown Rice, and Golden Raisins

1/3 cup golden raisins
2 Gala apples, cored and diced (I left the peel on for more nutrition and color)
2 Sweet Potatoes, washed and baked until tender
1/2 cup dried brown rice, cooked until tender
1/3 cup walnut pieces (optional)
4 scallions, sliced
4 tbsp butter or olive oil
1 tsp unrefined sugar or honey
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cloves
Fresh ground pepper to taste

Heat butter in a pan. Sautee apples until tender. Add scallions, raisins, and nuts. Sautee 2 minutes, then add rice and seasoning. Scoop out sweet potato flesh, leaving skins intact. Mix with stuffing, then re-fill skins. Bake at 350 F for 15-20 minutes.

This made two VERY large potatoes, so I would say this feeds four. I used apples that I had on hand, but I would imagine you could use your favorite variety. Just make sure not to cook the scallions too much or their flavor will get lost. Enjoy!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Diet Update: Week 2

So, I've been on the Swiss Secret to Optimal Health diet for over two weeks now, and while I've let my guard down here and there, over all I've stuck with it really well. No refined sugar, no white flour, very little caffeine, less meat, less cow dairy, more goat dairy and as many fruits and veggies as I can possible eat. I feel amazing. In fact, I wish, wish, wish that I had known with my first pregnancy what I know now. I've noted a marked difference in my:
1. stamina- it is constant
2. sleep- I need less of it
3. focus
4. memory
5. mood- I don't get crabby
6. appetite- I don't feel the need to snack and I don't crave anything.

If I continue to feel this good, I cannot imagine ever eating any other way ever again. I still indulge in dark chocolate once in a while, but I never crave food because I get enough fat to satiate my appetite. I'm lucky, though, because I do not seem to have any food allergies. If I were restricted from walnuts or heavy cream, this diet would be very different. As I am still getting to treat myself to my favorite foods, I'm not having any problems sticking with it.

The Slight Edge

I've been thinking a lot lately about a book that I read last year called The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson. It was a book that changed my life.
The principle of The Slight Edge is that it is not the big "make or break" decisions that will determine your success in life, but the mundane, simple, seemingly insignificant decisions every day which, compounded over time, are the ultimate determination of success.
While I don't like absolutes, this makes perfect sense to me. Why do some people just seem to "have it" while others don't? well, that's actually a fallacy. Som people are willing to make the short term, painful, not-fun decisions every day, and some people are not. That is the difference: choice.
What Olson argues is that after years of making good, mundane decisions, the slight edge becomes so powerfully in a person's favor due to exponential growth, that the big decisions ultimately become less important. If built up over time, the slight edge can, in itself, get you through the tough times.
This principle can be seen in being frugal and "saving for a rainy day." It can be seen in good parenting, where parents make the tough decision to discipline their children consistently every day, there-by avoiding the more turbulent teen-age years. And it can be seen in becoming a "master" at any art: you work so hard every day for so long, and eventually become so skilled that you learn faster, retain more, and execute your craft more precisely.
I recently had an experience where I got the slight edge in my favor. I just took college algebra during summer term with a lofty goal of making an 'A'. This challenge will vary in difficulty depending on the person, but to me, it was almost insurmountable. My background in math is poor. I made a 19 in math on the ACT. In college, I substituted math for liberal arts for college algebra and struggled to make a 'B'-- and this was after I fought hard to make a 'B' in remedial algebra. My skills were thought too poor to go straight into a college level math course. It has now been seven years since I held a graphing calculator. I couldn't recall the laws of fractions or exponents. I couldn't factor an equation. This is where I started five weeks ago with the goal of making an 'A' in college algebra. The first test did not go well-- I almost passed. Likewise, I flunked the first two quizzes. But I studied every day. I tried to put in four hours a day- although with two kids, that was not always possible. I raised each of my test scores by more than ten points each (almost 20 points between the first two tests) and I started passing quizzes, then making 90s and 100s on them. I caught up to the class at the end of week three and was able to start working ahead and reviewing during week four. I made a high 'A' on test four and the final, and secured my 'A' in the class. I was lucky-- the professor replaces your lowest test score with your final grade. As the term progressed, I understood the material faster and retained more of it. In other words, I got the slight edge working in my favor because I made the decision to put in the study time every day. I didn't stress about the final- in fact it was my easiest test. And I came away with an actual understanding of numbers, how they work, and how they can be used in life that I didn't have before. I was faced with a difficult challenge, and I came away with a meaningful experience.
I'll always be thankful that the Slight Edge was brought to my attention. Mr. Olson was able to succesfully explain one of life's simplest principles to me in a way that no one had ever been able to before, and my life will be better because of it.