Saturday, April 30, 2011


Dear friends,

Today I made myself a quesadilla.

I gleefully thought to myself that maybe I could sneak in some extra nutrients by adding arugula. I did so, congratulating myself for the extra fiber and vitamins every step of the way.

I took one bite of the quesadilla, which tasted exactly like skunk smells, and put it directly in the trash (bite included).

I made a new quesadilla. Sometimes you don't mess with a good thing.

My education never ceases.

Happy Saturday,


Thursday, April 28, 2011


I wish I had some pictures to share, but the detox ended tonight (21 days!) and the fiance and I had an excellent biking date after work. I didn't bring my camera and my crackberry pics sucked, so I'm doing my best for the recap.

First, we went rode our bikes ~2 miles to Olde Main brewing company for dinner.

Somehow, we thought the special tonight was $4.00 pitchers, but evidently that was Tuesday and we missed it. Still, we got a pitcher of their scottish ale and their seasonal - a bourbon cask pilsner. They bottle and sell the scottie, which is super good and has this excellent insignia.
Cute, eh? We also got the nachos as an appetizer. After three weeks without fried food, these tasted AMAZING. The chicken was simple and grilled and the nachos were topped with fresh onions and had salsa on the side.

For dinner, I got the Seafood Salad, which I've had before. It's really good. Greens, pickled red peppers and onions, shrimps and scallops, and a lemon vinaigrette. Super simple. Very delicious. I also got some Potato Soup. I ordered a cup, but the fiance changed the order to a bowl so that we could split it.

The desserts at that restaurant are usually lackluster, so we decided to bike across town (~4 miles) to another restaurant, The Cafe.


The Cafe has an excellent, local menu. They are really known for their desserts and coffee, which are always amazing. We had the panna cotta and the lemon marscapone cake, and I had a glass of Sauvingnon Blanc (not local - IA wines are terrible). Both were really, really delicious, though I let the fiance finish both because they got a bit heavy after all that alcohol.

Then, we biked the long way home (~2 miles) and are safely on our couch enjoying eachother's company. The fiance announced that that was the 'best date ever', which is super sweet coming from him. He really liked biking around and getting to sample so many foods. Plus, the sun was out for the first time in weeks...though it was still really cold.

Ok, the fiance's dad is in town this weekend and I have a race, so I'll probably post on Sunday or Monday. Coming up: Detox recap, plus a definition of toxins from a science perspective, and a re-evaluation of my summer goals.

What is your favorite night out?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Delicious Eats

I have managed a couple new recipes this week. They were a hit in my household, and both are super easy, so I thought I'd share.

Dessert first, of course! This is a pretty typical crisp I make for parties or nice dinners. It's healthy, pretty cheap, and really stupidly easy. It all starts with frozen fruit:

You can use fresh, but I am SUPER LAZY. In this one, I used frozen peaches and frozen sliced strawberries, both unsweetened.

Other combinations I've made:

Blackberry + Raspberry
Strawberry + Rhubarb
Apple (fresh apple, peeled and sliced)
Peach + Blueberry
Peach + Raspberry

You'll notice the peaches are common. That's because they are usually much cheaper than all the other frozen fruit. I use them to beef up smoothies and yogurt parfaits, too. Plus, they can be made into a super cheap, easy, and flavorful peach salsa.

Ok, so you'll need about 4 cups of fruit. That's about 2 12 oz bags (16 oz is actually 2 cups, but the fruit takes up more space than weight)
Add 1 tbsp flour or cornstarch (you'll want double if you use fresh fruit) and 2 tbsp of your favorite sweetener. I use Splenda on the berries.
Add 1/2 tsp of pure vanilla extract. And mix the bowl thoroughly.

Next, the topping:
In a separate bowl, combine 1 c rolled oats, 1/2 c almond flour -- see recipe for how to make your own --, 2 tbsp sugar (do NOT use Splenda here, but you can use maple syrup, agave, sucanat, etc), and a hefty dash of cinnamon. Mix.
Add about 1/4 c butter (I used Smart can also use shortening or probably even coconut oil). Mix with your hands (thanks for the help on the picture taking, fiance!)
Get the butter or substitute all dispersed. If you can pull your mixture along the bottom and sides of the bowl without losing crumbs, you have enough. If you need more, add more.
Looks good! Ok, time to top the fruit.

Bake at 350 uncovered for 45 minutes. It's done when the topping is a little more golden than it started, and there is thick bubbling liquid around the edges.
Benefits to this recipe:

It's a dessert-type food with minimal sugar (c'mon, 2 tbsp of real sugar for an entire pot (maybe 6-8 servings) of food...not bad)

It's REAL FOOD. It feels like you ate breakfast when you're done. It's what I call 'self-limiting' because you really have trouble overeating this because you get too full

You can use whatever fruit you like or is in season.

The only 'tricky' ingredient is almond flour, but that can easily be made at home with raw almonds and a food processor. If you are absolutely against such things, WW or AP flour does work. It's just not as fibrous or protein rich.

Ok, an easy dinner option is next. If you were only here for dessert, a nice printable recipe for the crisp is at the end of the post, so scroll down.
This recipe is a tribute to my Dad. When I was growing up, my mom was into health food before it was cool. My dad ate what she cooked for the most part, but he did get to have whatever he liked on special occasions. The thing I remember vividly from this period of my life was lasagna with italian sausage. It's very decadent, but flavorful. It sticks in your mind because it's so rich. So, when I finally recovered from my flu bout last week, after not touching a vegetable in three days, I wanted some veggie power that was still a comfort food. I came up with this. (Veggie friends - you can substitute lentils for any ground meat. Just season accordingly. I've done it with taco meat before and the fiance, my true food critic, actually requested that I do that more often. It was good!)

For this one, I don't have a play-by-play, but I'll tell you the basics.

I used italian sausage (lower cal, lower fat option is available in the recipe below - it can save you 60 cals per serving!) and browned it. We have a local grocer that grinds and seasons their own and it's superb. I dare say that I think it's lower in fat than commercial sausage, but I have no proof. In any case, because I know the source, I use this meat. If I didn't, I'd buy ground pork or turkey and season it myself. Or just use lentils.

I added some veggies - onion, red and green pepper, garlic, spinach, 1/2 can of quartered artichokes, and 32 oz cans of both diced and crushed tomatoes.

I cooked some (2/3 lb) WW spaghetti. When it was almost done, I transferred it to the pot with the sauce along with 1-2 scoops of the pasta water. What we got was an amazing, flavorful dish.

I estimate that we'd get 6 'Doc -sized servings' out of this since we got 2 meals for me and 2 meals for the fiance. He eats double what I eat most of the time. That means that you're looking at roughly 1.75 oz pasta, <3 oz sausage, and roughly 1.5 cups of veggies per serving. It's a heavy meal - I estimate about 700 cals per serving the way I prepared it, but it makes a good one-pot dinner. You can also lighten it by using another meal product.

Fruit Crisp
4 cups assorted frozen or fresh fruit
1 tbsp flour
2 tbsp sugar or sugar-substitute
1/2 tsp vanilla

1 c rolled oats
1/2 c almond flour*
2 tbsp sugar (do not use SPLENDA or ASPARTAME - it doesn't melt right)
1/4 c butter or butter substitute
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp cinnamon
In large oven-proof dish, mix fruit, 1 tbsp flour, 2 tbsp sugar, and 1/2 tsp vanilla. Set aside. In separate bowl, mix oats, almond flour, sugar, and cinnamon. Add butter and vanilla and mix with hands until all crumbs are included in mix. Top fruit mixture with oat mixture. Bake 350 for 45 minutes. 

To make almond flour, take 1/2 c raw almonds and process in a chopping food processor. You'll get a mixture of larger pieces and flour-like pieces leading to approximately 3/4 c. If you use this method, you may want to add 1 tbsp flour to ensure that it has the correct texture. 
Sausage Pasta
1 lb italian sausage (or ground turkey, ground pork, lentils)
1 tbsp fennel
1/2 tbsp italian seasoning
1 tbsp minced garlic
1/2 white onion
1 red pepper
1 green pepper
1/2 jar quartered artichokes
32 oz crushed tomatoes
32 oz diced tomatoes
1/2 tbsp sugar

2/3-3/4 lb WW pasta - long variety
Set pasta water on to boil. In seperate pan, brown sausage or ground meat. If you use ground meat, double the seasonings to ensure proper flavor. You may also want to add 1 tsp paprika and a dash of red pepper flakes. Add chopped onion, garlic, peppers and saute until they are just tender. Add tomato products and 1/2 tbsp sugar. Taste add salt and pepper as desired. Finish by adding artichokes. When pasta is almost done, use pasta fork to transfer the noodles + 2 spoonfuls of liquid to the sauce. Stir. Serve hot. Top with cheese if you like.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Meet the new family

Hope your Easter weekend was nice! Maybe some of you have the day off today? I don't, but I had a full weekend to enjoy, so I don't feel too bad about it.

Unfortunately, the insomnia returned on Saturday night...I was wide awake. I blame the sudden death of my beloved sound machine.
No more artificially perfect raindrops or crickets. It will have to be replaced ASAP.

Since sleep was evasive, I read over 100 pages of this book:
I'm not a particularily military-oriented person, but my dad served in Vietnam and the fiance had a brief interlude with the Marine Corps (injury made it brief...). I saw this guy on John Stewart before Xmas and decided they would enjoy the book. They read it and enjoyed it, so I borrowed the fiance's copy and started reading. So far, so good. Especially when it's 5am and you aren't asleep yet.

Ok, so sleep finally came from 7am-9am, and then I forced myself up and made Easter breakfast for the fiance. The goal for the day was to keep moving, hopefully invoking a major crash later in the evening at some appropriate time. I was supposed to do my long run, but I knew my body wouldn't be able to do it, so I ditched that plan and just tried to stay active.

Insert: unsuccessful trip to replace sound machine, but I came back with some plants. I busied myself setting up our apartment garden. Meet my new (plant) family!

 Meet -- Graduation Cactus. She (her name is Louise, I just found her nametag today) was a present from the girls in the lab when I graduated, and she looks drab now because she produces bright fuschia blooms in the winter. 
Meet -- Yellow Cherry Tomato. Brand new today, he will produce some amazing fruits by the end of the summer. The fiance promises to help me find a yellow lattice for him. You'll see why in a minute...

Meet -- Red Cherry Tomato. She is already decorated with her color-coded lattice work.
Meet -- Mr. Fire Plant (aka Love Plant #3). He was a present from the fiance. Yes, the fiance unabashedly gives me love plants. I don't think he's seem How to Lose a Guy in 10 he probably doesn't think it's funny.

Mr. Fire plant got a new pot today. He is ever expanding. Check out his plumage!

Meet -- The Giant Basil Pot. This thing is huge - bigger than both of the tomato pots. And it contains all the basil plants we will need to stockpile pesto into the winter. This year we made it to March on frozen pesto. Tip - basil leaves don't freeze or dry well, but if you mix them with some fat (like in pesto) they hold flavor amazingly in the freezer or jar.
 Meet -- Love Plant #1. Unlike Graduation Cactus, LP#1 is totally in her element this season. She even has new blooms!

As a side note, Love Plant #2 died. The fiance decided to 'test' our love by buying a tropical plant in the dead of winter in Iowa. The salesgirl tried to talk him out of it, but he believed our love would survive any obstacle. Lesson learned: When transplanted outside of our natural conditions, our love dies. Good thing I found that job in MN and not Florida!

Ok, the new baby members of our tribe.

Soon to be mint!
Soon to be oregano!
Soon to be catnip! Yes, we love our cats and want to get them really high (sidenote: catnip is actually a very close relative to cannibus - i.e. marijuana).

In this process, I managed to get our deck really dirty. I would be more concerned, but since it's rained almost every day for 2 weeks, I'm sure some rain will clean this up shortly.

Ok, time to find some food and maybe go on a bike ride or other low-impact exercise. Gotta keep moving!

Do you grow any plants in the summer? If not, what is your favorite spring/summer produce?

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Detox Update

Happy Easter weekend to those that celebrate! Hope the bunny brings you a treat and your lenten sacrifices are relieved. 

3 days left in my 'official' detox...if you missed the initial post, here's the synopsis:

I decided to do a detox to encourage myself to clean up my diet. This was going to be fast and furious. I already knew how to eat well, but I just needed to remind myself how it feels. This is what I did:

Days 1-3:
No alcohol
No soda
No fried snacks

Days 3-6
Only whole grain carbohydrates (whole wheat, cornmeal, quinoa, brown rice, etc)
Drink 8 glasses of water per day (64 oz+)

Days 6-9
Limit dairy to 1 serving per day
8-10 servings of fruits and veggies (I do this most days. I want to be sure I'm doing it everyday)

Days 9-12
Reduce sweets to fruit-based treats (smoothies, mock ice cream, etc) and dark chocolate (antioxidants!)

Days 12-14
Increase protein to at least 1 g/kg body weight

The major question is how has it been going?!?!

First, I am happy with this choice.  Some days it was tough. On Tuesday, I would have killed for a beer. But you know what I did? I went for a run. And I felt better. Which is exactly what I needed to remind myself about.

Other notes:
Avoiding fried foods was easy. They don't make me feel good anyway.

Limiting my treats to fruit and chocolate was harder than I thought. However, I did make myself a little loophole that seemed to work out well. Instead of cookies or cake, I would have a whole grain biscuit (like english muffin) and some jam. It was  more filling than chocolate and more nutritious than cookies.

Avoiding soda and pushing was ok. I did it. I didn't always like it. I'm better for it.

Pushing protein: Well, this hasn't happened...yet. I got a little derailed. I've felt really tired/sore all week. I was worried that it might be dietary (like a deficiency caused by this new diet or something), but it turns out I was coming down with a virus. Finally, on Thursday, I went home at noon. I woke up with a fever, and it just got worse over the morning hours. Friday wasn't any better. An odd side effect was that my fever would swell, and then my stomach and intestines would become nausiated. I couldn't even think about fiberiffic foods.

For dinner on Thursday, I requested one thing 'noodles' - the starchy white things I'd been avoiding all week. We didn't have whole wheat noodles. We barely had white noodles. What we had was a box of macaroni and cheese. I requested macaroni and cheese with peas and corn. Who am I? I had about a cup of it. I didn't puke. The fiance tried to get me to put tuna in it for some protein, but even the thought of tuna made my stomach turn. Otherwise, I'd subsisted on toast, popcorn, oranges, tea, and tang. Yes, it's a kick in a glass.

 Today I feel a lot better, so it's back to 8-10 servings of veggies, sugars from fruits and chocolates, whole grains, and more protein. I actually have been enjoying it so much and feeling so good, I will extend this detox through  May 1. I have a half marathon on April 30, and I don't want to drink before then anyway, so it seems like a really good option.

Oh, I said I'd weigh myself. I lost 2 lbs from Sat-Wed. I'm sure it was water weight. I'm actually not convinced it wasn't a difference in the calibration of the scales. I'll weigh myself again either this weekend or next week and then once again after the detox is over. Remember, the goal isn't to lose weight, but to just feel better and clean up my diet.

How do you monitor your health?

Friday, April 22, 2011

Recipe Thief

Good morning, Sunshines! Happy FRIDAY. Happy WEEKEND. What will you do? I have a long run and some cleaning planned, but nothing fun...

During this past week, I've been able to try some new (to me) recipes, and while I usually try to be original with my recipe content, I got a lot of mileage from a couple other people's recipes this week. These recipes were so good that...

1) One is vegan. And the fiance has requested it repeated it not once, not twice, but THREE times. So good.

2) The other is a vegetarian casserole-type dish and it was almost gone in 24 hours. We ate it for dinner, lunch, snacks...basically everything except breakfast (because breakfast was covered by #1).

Ok, so this is what happened. I've been eyeing Angela's Vegan Oat Parfaits for a long time...but it's really warm weather food, and it was too cold in Iowa. Then last week Lauren reminded me that it was a recipe worth trying. And she is similarily addicted now.
 This is a perfect, filling, protein heavy breakfast, lunch, dinner, or snack food. It takes a little prep, but it is fully customizable.

Angela's recipe is perfect, so I just used her basic recipe, and then I started playing with the flavors. She has tried every variety imagineable, so I'm really excited to play with the flavors as well. 

The three we tried were:

Original layered with raspberry puree, sliced strawberries, and kashi go-lean crunch

Cardamom-almond layered with blueberries and strawberries

Chocolate layered with raspberry puree and almond butter sauce

So amazing. I am also inspired by Gina's Meyer Lemon Lavendar Macaroons...maybe we'll have some coconut, lemon zest, lavendar oat parfaits in the future? Yummmmmm.

Recipe #2?
Black Eyed Peas and Cornmeal Biscuits from Meghann at Meals and Miles.

I was doubtful. The fiance was sure he wasn't going to like it. But from this really simple, easily customizable recipe rose a meal so delicious that we abandoned snacks in favor of eating more of this delicious, nutritious stew.

This one we didn't completely follow Meghann's recipe, so I'll tell you what I did. But I should emphasize that this is so perfectly customizable, you could probably use any bean, any veg, and any herbs. It's really just a concept piece.

1/2 yellow onion
2 small carrots
1 celery stalk
1/2 butternut squash
1/2 c frozen peas
1 tbsp garlic
1 tbsp savory (it's an herb - use whatever you like)
1.5 c frozen or canned black eyed peas
2 c chicken stock
1 tbsp flour

Biscuit mix
1.5 c WW flour
1/2 c cornmeal
1 tbsp baking soda
1.5 c milk

Chop veggies small for quick cooking. Saute onion, carrot, celery, and squash. When onion is translucent, add garlic, herbs, and a hefty pinch of salt and pepper. Stir in peas and beans. Transfer to greased oven-proof dish. In a bowl or cup, whisk flour into cold chicken stock and add to veg mixture (prevents clumping). 

Seperately, mix together biscuit components. Very gently, roll out to 1 in thick and cut out rounds. Top stew mixture with rounds. I had extra and cooked the remaining biscuits for 15 minutes on a cookie sheet while the stew was cooking. 

Stew cooks with biscuit topping for 45 min at 350. 

Biscuits are also good with some smart balance and jam, and because they are whole grain, they fit perfectly into my detox! 

Speaking of detox, I'll do an update this weekend on how it's going. I'm almost to day 10 of 14...and I can already tell my healthy eating is coming back. More on that later!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Protein Power

A few weeks ago, I made a guest appearance at a local high school to teach a food science course. This particular high school had some budget issues previously, and their food science course had its budget slashed. As a result, the teacher had to ask for some outside help from the community. She takes guest lectures on any food-related topic, and as long as the supplies are cheap or you're willing to bring your own supplies, you can come in and work with the students. I came in a couple years ago and did a unit on sugar and how the body uses different sugars. This time I came in and did a unit on protein.

I couldn't take any pictures in the classroom, but we did a quick experiment as well as some meal planning. I thought I'd do a recap and also mock up the experiment for you all to 'participate' in. The students had a lot of fun, so maybe you will enjoy it too!

We talked about:

What foods are high in protein?
How 'big' is protein? 
Why do you need to consume protein?
What is perfect protein? 
How much protein do you need? 

What foods are high in protein? 
I had students shout out their ideas. They had a lot of really good ones, and I had written down some basic information on foods that were high in protein and what their protein content was. Here are some examples. 
Beef - 21g/serving
Chicken - 18g/serving
Tofu - 6g/serving

Milk - 8g/cup
Fish - 12-15g/serving
Beans - 6g/serving 

Those aren't surprising, right? Well, these ones are a little surprising...and the students really liked to find out about them.
Spinach - 6g/cup cooked

Wheat bread - 3g/slice (oz)
Noodles - 8g/serving (c)
Broccoli - 2g/cup

You'll notice that these foods vary a lot in size...and even foods that contain similar amounts of protein (i.e. 2 slices of bread and 1/2 c of beans) take up very different volumes. That is one of the more interesting things about protein...protein can be a variety of shapes and sizes! This is why we measure protein by mass - in grams. One of the students pointed out that 1g is approximately the weight of a paperclip. This is a good unit of measure, but you can't picture a paperclip when you're thinking about grams of protein because protein takes up so much more space - or in other words, it has greater volume. So what can we picture?

How big is protein?

 If you want to follow along in this little experiment demonstration, you'll need the following:

1/2 c milk
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 coffee filter
1 rubber band (or emergency hair binder...heh)
1 cup
1 bowl

Bind your coffee filter to your cup. 
In bowl, add milk + lemon and stir until clumpy. What is happening? The milk proteins react with the acid in the lemon juice and clump. 
Spoon/pour mixture into your filter. Allow to drip. Don't overpour! 
The liquid will drip through the filter and leave the protein attached to the filter. 
I think you'll be surprised at how much volume 4g of protein takes up! 

Why do you need to consume protein? 
Our bodies are made up of proteins. Proteins form tissues and organs. They allow us to see, taste, touch, feel and move! Our bodies have the capacity to make those proteins from other components, like sugar and fat, but a great deal of our tissues are recycled from protein we eat.

Proteins are made up of smaller units called amino acids. These are like puzzle pieces. They have different shapes and sizes, and they give proteins a variety of different characteristics. These amino acids make our skin elastic, they make our eyes jell-ey, and they make chicken taste like chicken and beef taste like beef.
There are 20 regular amino acids. Your body can usually make about 11 of these, but 9 ALWAYS have to be obtained from your diet. If you have a varied diet, this can be no problem. However, some diets are not varied enough can lead to side effects like weak nails, sores in your mouth, hair falling out, and in extreme cases, muscle degradation. 

What is perfect protein?
This is where you hear about combining foods to make 'perfect protein'. Many people know that beans + rice are a perfect protein together.

Another one is corn + peas.

How about peanut butter and toast?
In fact, if you pair (beans, peas, and nuts) with (grains), you almost always get a perfect protein. Just a tip for you veggie types out there!

 How much protein do you need? 
So, we've covered what protein is, what it's made of, how to make it perfect, even how much space it takes up. much of it do we need?

The general rule I've always heard is 1g/kg of body weight per day. There are some people who say that the average woman only needs 25-30g of protein per day, but I really feel that is low. However, if you  have a digestive disorder, or are really, really sedentary, it might be an appropriate amount.

Personally, when I am most active (in the spring, summer, and fall), I try to get 1-1.5g/kg of body weight per day. That works out to be about 75-100 g of protein per day. For me, it works. But, before you go out on any crazy diet plan, you should consult someone schooled in such matters...aka not me.

Hope this was helpful and that you learned something about protein and your body.

What other questions do you have about protein? If I don't know the answer, I'll look it up!