Category Archives: food

Why It Matters Wednesday: New USDA Guidelines

I won't lie... the Whole Foods produce section is practically a religious experience for me.

You probably grew up with the understanding that fruits and veggies were an important part of the daily feeding process, but recent reports are indicating that Americans, advised to aim for ‘five a day,’ are still not getting enough

Yesterday, the US Department of Agriculture released new dietary recommendations to Americans, this time focusing less on counting servings and focusing more on fractions. In addition to advising Americans to watch their salt intake, eat less sugar, and consume less processed, prepackaged food (particularly of the dessert variety!), they also created a visual example of how to eat enough vegetation — fill half of your plate.

So is the Food Pyramid becoming a pie graph?
NPR’s April Fulton suggests… maybe. “The pyramid is still in place for now, although they might revise that a little bit later,” she says here. “But a lot of people are speculating they may move more towards a plate.”

But the break down gets a little more specific.
Age and race considerations factor into advice given to people with hypertension, those over 51, and African Americans — no more than 1,500 milligrams of salt — because these groups are the most likely to experience health problems as a result of excessive sodium intake.

So will this make eating better easier?
We can hope. At the very least, this gives a very visual guide of how to approach our plates. But there is still quite a bit to be desired…

We all know fruits and veggies are low calorie, highly nutritious and do worlds of good for us, and as always… that the ounce of prevention will always be worth more than the pound of cure. But what about the long-run? What will it all mean in the next several years?

Well, this remains to be determined. We’re starting to see more in the news about work being done to make school lunches healthier, etc., and I’m certainly hopeful that these will have a genuinely positive impact on our society. In the mean time, though, keep these images in mind when you’re dishing up dinner or reflecting on your food journal:

– Most dinner plates are about 10″ across, meaning that to follow the USDA’s new half-plate advice, you should have veggies spanning 1o inches in length and 5 inches in width. About the size of a (slightly rounded) paperback.
– Consider giving up the salt shaker entirely… I won’t lie, this is a hard one to do… But Jessica, aka Sodium Girl, likens sodium-free living to being similar to not wearing black anymore — at first, a mind-boggling challenge, but later a lesson in creativity and exploration. Be sure to check out her blog which explores how delicious life can be without sprinkling tiny crystals all over everything.

Sound off!! Tell me what you think of the new guidelines — will they do any good? Are they helping or hindering?

More info/news on the guidelines here.

P.S. Thank you, Jeremy, for post inspiration this week! 🙂

Eggnog French Toast

It’s worth mentioning that the alternate title to this post was “Buy Yourself Stretchy Pants on Black Friday Because We’ve Got a Lot of Holidays to Go.”

California Weather is FINALLY starting to figure out that it’s not time for us to be in swimming pools or cranking the A/C and I am relishing the wet, rainy weather that is creeping in. Using my defogger in the car, seeing frost on the grass outside my apartment, and feeling the sharpness of the air when I’m running . . . Gah! It’s sooooooo wonderful. I love fall and winter the most. But truth be told, winter edges out fall just a bit . . . and that bit has to do with my birthday. (Sorry, Fall, I just wanted to arrive on time.)

The best part, though, might be all of the seasonal goodies. While I don’t partake in the mint-chocolate (gross!), there is one thing I truly, deeply LOVE about the swiftly-coming-upon-us holidays . . .

Eggnog.

Up until I was about 16, I’d never tried eggnog. My parents both hate it, so we never had it in the house. I definitely think it’s one of those love-it-or-hate-it kinds of foods and I simply love it. For someone without much of a sweet tooth, I’m amazed at just how thrilled I get seeing little red and green cartons of deliciousness. It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

But I am not always a fan of a one-trick pony and a visit this weekend from my boyfriend prompted some creativity . . . What else could I do with eggnog aside from drinking it?

I stocked up (two cartons — I don’t mess around with eggnog) and thought about the substance itself — eggs, cream/milk, vanilla, cinnamon . . . The ingredients list goes on, but I’ll be darned if the first thought in my head wasn’t, “French toast!” as I whipped around to stare at the woman behind me at Whole Foods, dramatically of course. (She, of course, gave me quite the perplexed look as I stammered about bread and eggnog and tried to explain what I had been thinking but thought I’d actually articulated to her. Smooth, Robyn.)

So while Alex snoozed on Saturday morning, I took to the kitchen, giddy and eager to whip up some culinary magic. (Side note: I seriously wish I could do breakfast like in the movies where the girl has just woken up yet is effortlessly adorable with barely-taussled hair and no makeup. However, in my grubby sweats, my curly, unruly hair and sometimes-failed-makeup-removal, I usually look like Robert Smith upon waking.)

I got my supplies: eggnog, eggs, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla and maple syrup (not shown, but check out the bar of dark chocolate for cooking-in-progress nibbling).

Necessary supplies: eggs, eggnog, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and chocolate. (Okay, the chocolate was for nibbling during the process. Shh!)

I dipped two pieces of crusty, whole wheat bread (possibly the only redeeming ‘healthy’ component) in a mixture of the ‘nog, eggs and spices and then laid them in a pan to fry with butter (because you might as well go all-out at this point).

Using anything other than butter for this would be the breakfast equivalent of the Diet-Coke-with-your-Big-Mac phenomenon.

After they were done, I put on another pat of butter (Paula Deen much?) and some maple syrup and I was done. Seriously, stick a fork in me D-O-N-E.

It was soooooooooooooooooooo good. Alex’s thoughts? “Simple creative deliciousness.” (I bribe him into saying stuff like that with food. Sorry.)

I’ll have to make it again soon because I have some baggy pants to fill and I scarfed it down before I had the chance to take a picture of it.

But seriously . . . Wellness is more than being skinny, it’s more than hours-long workouts, and it has every bit to do with a well-purposed state of mind — the one that thinks, “Hmm, something tasty would be a fun breakfast treat for my hunny” and understands that food is not the enemy and that little indulgences are part of longer-term happiness.

I hear the road to Hell is paved with good intentions . . . 😉

Robyn’s Get-Out-Your-Stretchy-Pants Eggnog French Toast (serves 2)

Ingredients:
– 2 eggs
– 1 cup eggnog (full fat, folks – go big or go home)
– 1 Tbsp nutmeg
– 1 Tbsp cinnamon
– 1 Tbsp vanilla (I’m really not sure why I added this other than it was a Pavlovian response to the French toast process — so, consider this ‘optional’)
– 4 slices of bread
– butter (use about 2 Tbsp to fry the French toast, use however much you want to put on the toast when it’s done)
– maple syrup

1. Break eggs into a bowl and add eggnog, vanilla (if you’re using it), and spices. Whisk until it’s smooth and pour into a baking dish (or some other dish with an edge high enough to keep the fluid in).
2. Melt 2 Tbsp butter in a frying pan over medium heat.
3. Dip bread in mixture and set in frying pan. Cook for about 3-4 minutes and flip.
4. Serve with butter and maple syrup (the real stuff . . . no fake crap, please).
5. Try to make sure you’re using up the last few slices of a loaf of bread — that way you can’t make it again immediately following the finishing of the meal.

Bon appetit! Time to go waddle to the gym . . .

What are some of your favorite holiday/seasonal treats? Do you repurpose fun things into ingredients for other recipes? What’s your most creative dish?

Because every girl needs standards.

 

candy corn

Pretty sure you could power a car with this stuff. Nasty!

 

I have always considered myself an equal-opportunity food taster, which has led to some rather interesting habits and ‘isms’ over the years. My mommy taught me early on that you shouldn’t turn your nose up at something you’ve never tried — an adage I have taken quite seriously throughout my life.

But some things I just cannot palate and there are some things I just cannot do when it comes to eating. I try not to think of myself as a hater, but some things are just not meant to be enjoyed by everyone and a girl’s gotta have her standards.

Recently, Katie asked about her readers’ “food quirks,” citing her aversion to blue M&M’s and her hubby’s affinity for brown bananas as examples. It got my wheels turning and got the coffee pot percolating and as a result, I’m sorry I’m not sorry, but it’s time to do some cathartic confessing.

I truly, deeply, passionately HATE candy corn. And I mean really, really HATE it. I won’t touch it. I can’t explain the aversion — I used to enjoy it quite a bit as a kid. As an adult? Nope, sorry. Just can’t do it. If it were between candy corn and a pile of dirt, I’d choose the dirt. (Now, as Halloween is almost upon us, I should confess that my strategy at work is to keep a large bowl full of candy corn — that way everyone else eats it and I’m not even tempted. Wicked or brilliant? Your call.)

I love the flavor of pears — but I still won’t eat them. It’s a texture thing. Eating pears is like eating syrupy-sweet sand, to me. Gross. One day, I do hope I get over this.

I eat green bananas. Green. Not yellow with freckles, not yellow with green tinges . . . Green. I think I get this from my mom. She only eats green bananas because she says that yellow ones are “just too sweet.” There isn’t a whole lot that I 100% agree with my mom on, but this is one of those things. (Sidenote: My boyfriend told me shortly after we started dating that the fact that I eat green bananas was his favorite thing about me — he loves ’em too. Clearly, a match made in heaven.)

On a similar topic of sugary things I won’t touch: mint chocolate anything. No Andes mints, no mint chip ice cream, no Ghirardelli chocolate squares with a “hint o’ mint.” No . . . freaking . . . way. My boyfriend (who loves candy corn) doesn’t understand. “It’s so good!” he pleas. Don’t get me wrong, I like chocolate. I even like mint. But eating them together is just so wrong — you wouldn’t scarf a bar of chocolate and then go brush your teeth, would you? (Okay, maybe if you were going to the dentist and wanted to pull a fast one, but still . . .) You wouldn’t. Because chocolate is delicious and you should savor the flavor. End of story.

Other foods that induce gagging: Swiss cheese, licorice (both varieties — the black stuff tastes nasty and the red stuff? well, that’s not technically licorice and it tastes like plastic regardless), ham (not that it matters anymore – I’m a vegetarian now), and coleslaw.

But on to the ‘isms’ . . .

I only eat one food on my plate at a time. If I’m eating soup and bread, soup first and then bread. If my plate has three things on it, I eat them one at a time. Don’t ask me why, I just can’t mix-n-match, so to speak. My dad thinks it’s incredibly bizarre — “It all goes in the same place!” he cries. No, no, no. I mean, yes, it does, mixing the foods in my mouth is just beyond weird to me. The textures and tastes melding together . . . I’ll pass. (I was that kid that really enjoyed sectioned lunch trays in school.)

“Hello, my name is Robyn and I’m an ice-a-holic.” Seriously. Love to crunch ice. Believe me, I know it’s bad for my teeth — so don’t even go there. But I just can’t help it. I love the cold and crunchy. I even have a mental list of fast food places with “good ice.” (Seriously. Sonic is best. Trust me on this.)

Any time is a good time for something spicy. If I can put Tapatio or Cholula on it, I probably will. Sometimes I regret this, but those few minutes of, “Oh, God, what was I thinking?!” are quickly quelled by “Oh, God, this tastes SO GOOD!”

I will put black pepper on EVERYTHING. Unless it is meant to be sweet, it gets pepper on it. I almost never salt my food, but I regularly crust different foods with a healthy dose of pepper.

Okay. Shameless lifecasting done with. Something meaty tomorrow.

What about you? What foods top your list of things you just cannot possibly eat? Any strange and fabulously quirky habits about food? Spill it!

Kabocha squash and spinach soup

Pulled this recipe from my Whole Foods iPhone app. (If you have an iPhone, I seriously recommend getting this app.) I love squash and when I was at the farmer’s market on Sunday, I saw a beautiful kabocha squash. To my knowledge, I’d never tried it before, so I picked one up — there was bound to be some way to eat it, right? (Plus, Teri recently professed her love for kabocha and made it sound really easy and good. Gotta love some good word of mouth, right?) The fall weather that is slowly, but surely making its presence known in the Bay area added to my enthusiasm for culinary adventure this evening.

Here goes . . .

1 medium kabocha squash, cut into 1″ chunks
2 cups spinach, packed
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
8 cloves garlic (I used 2 tsp of pre-minced garlic, so I really don’t know how close I got to this estimate)
4 cups vegetable broth
salt and pepper to taste
shredded mozzarella or crumbled feta to garnish
sour cream

Put broth, squash, onion and garlic into a pot and bring to a rolling boil. Boil until kabocha squash is soft (about 15 minutes). Use a potato masher to mash squash. Add spinach and cook for another 5 minutes. Serve, salt and pepper to taste, and garnish with sour cream and/or feta.

My modifications: I used feta and sour cream, but when I went back for a (smaller) second bowl (hey, it’s 130 cal per serving – ain’t no shame in going back for seconds), I used goat cheese instead of feta. DELISH!

 

Kabocha spinach soup.

 

A casualty of cooking — my poor, broken wine glass. It slipped out of my hand as I was pulling it out of the cabinet and smashed on the granite counter. There was glass EVERYWHERE. That was fun. On the bright side: I couldn’t remember the last time I’d swept my floor and now I can — today. It was also from IKEA — it was cheap.

 

Broken wine glass. (Sad. So very sad.)

 

The recipe made four servings — and I mean HEARTY servings. I put some in a container for tomorrow’s lunch and I STILL had enough to freeze two servings. Wow!

Also on tonight’s agenda:
– a glass of cabernet sauvignon (okay, two)
– pieces of chocolate (72% cacao, baby!)
– curling up with a book, my chocolate and wine in bed
– early bedtime

Do you like squash? What are you cooking lately? Any seasonal foods working their way onto your menu these days?

Vegetarian Lentil Chili

I love chili. It’s hearty, usually healthy and you can do a LOT with it. You really can customize it and make it your own. That said, I’m going to have to get inventive with the names because “vegetarian lentil chili” covers a multitude of concoctions.

I wish  I had a photo of tonight’s masterpiece, but I don’t. It really was so simple, though, that you can just imagine French lentils and tomatoes.

Alrighty . . . here goes . . .

1 cup French lentils
2 cups water
1 can no-salt-added tomatoes
1 Tbsp minced garlic (I use the stuff in the jar — so much easier even though I don’t mind mincing garlic)
1 Tbsp butter
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried cilantro
1 Tbsp cumin
2 Tbsp chili powder
1 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)

I started by putting the lentils and water in a pot on high heat. While that heated up, I simmered the garlic in the butter in a separate pan. After the lentils started to boil and soften, I added the browned garlic, herbs and spices. I like spicy chili, so I’m a little more liberal with the dosage of cayenne.  Anyway, after all of the spices have been added, let it simmer for a few minutes (like, five) and then open the can of tomatoes, drain the liquid and pour in. Stir, let it heat up and then serve! I put a splash of Tapatio in mine (because apparently, it just wasn’t spicy enough) along with a bit of shredded cheddar cheese.

I would have loved to have added onion, celery and maybe even some carrot to the mix, but I didn’t have any and didn’t feel like making a special trip to Trader Joe’s.

Confession: when I’m cooking on the fly, I rarely measure. I kind of eyeball it. I also don’t really time myself either. I have a feeling that this isn’t the best practice for recipes, but you know what? It works for me. Sorry I’m not sorry.

And that’s that. Hope everyone else ate something tasty today. I also watched “You’ve Got Mail” while cooking — I had every intention of watching the news, but flipped on the TV where it was still on AMC (from watching “Mad Men” last night) and saw one of my all-time favorites and, well, you know . . . I just didn’t want to couldn’t turn it off.

What’s your favorite go-to recipe? Do you have recipes that you rely on when you’re busy/tired/stressed?

Junky.

In a desperate attempt to get some food in my stomach after more than 12 hours of not eating, I scarfed some cheese pizza and had a soda this afternoon.  Later, I had a cupcake and a Coke.  For dinner, I tried to redeem myself with a large salad (romaine with black lentils, feta and artichoke hearts dressed with some olive oil and lemon juice), but the damage was done.

Tonight, I went for a short (40 minute) training run.  I’m just starting marathon training and I seriously felt like crap today.  For starters I had NO motivation, no energy to run until late in the day and I had to guilt trip myself into putting my running shoes on.  Then, I didn’t quite get in three miles (my goal; I managed 2.77) and it felt like it took me forever just to get there.

Lesson learned: you are what you eat. I ate a bunch of crap today, I felt like crap today. I know it’s a holiday and tomorrow will be better, but oy . . . My body is craving some serious ruffage now.

In spite of my sluggish running, I also got in three 10-minute segments of Core Fusion Pure Arms & Abs before giving up and resigning myself to a better tomorrow.  I’m sure I smell amazing.

Post workout snack: plain Greek yogurt with fresh blueberries, a handful of rolled oats and a drizzle of honey. Delish!