Monday, December 27, 2010

baked oatmeal bliss.

photo credit: michelle shefveland

I am an oatmeal addict, but had never tried baked oatmeal until I attended a retreat at the Oak Forest Center in Frederic, Wisconsin, where they served us raspberry baked oatmeal for breakfast. I think I had three servings. And if I hadn't needed to share it with the other seventy people in attendance, I definitely wouldn't have stopped at three.

So what exactly is "baked" oatmeal? Well, traditional oatmeal is "porridge-style," which is made by combining water or milk with dry oats and cooking it either in the microwave or on the stove. Baked oatmeal, on the other hand, is made in the oven and usually in family-size quantities. The consistency, while always variable based on the amount of liquid and baking time, is usually drier and less, well, porridge-y than porridge oatmeal. It is a more elegant dish, lending itself to special occasions like Sunday brunch in a way that porridge oatmeal would be out-of-place. And there are hundreds of ways to spice it up (literally); throw in your favorite spices, nuts, fruits, jam, or whatever you happen to have on hand to make it your own.

While at my parents' home for Thanksgiving I did just that,  tweaking a recipe that combined my favorite things: pumpkins, walnuts, apples, and cranberries. It was like dessert, but as wholesome as it was delicious! The recipe I used was from My Kitchen Addiction, which I adapted by omitting the wheat germ (just because I didn't have any at the time; wheat germ is a great way to add nutrients and flavor) and increasing the pumpkin. My family devoured it. Home again for Christmas, I will surely be trying another twist on baked oatmeal from the recipes below. Let me know if you do too!

baked oatmeal recipes
Pumpkin Cranberry Apple Baked Oatmeal from My Kitchen Addiction
Chocolate Raspberry Almond Baked Oatmeal from The Ungourmet
Amish Baked Oatmeal from
Banana Baked Oatmeal from Kath Eats Real Food
Applesauce Raisin Baked Oatmeal  from MyRecipes

Friday, August 20, 2010

easy ways to cook like a chef in your own kitchen

 As a future dietitian, I belong to the American Dietetic Association. This "Tip of the Day" popped up on my Facebook news feed, and I had to share it with you! Very simple ways to turn your ho-hum dinner into something you might savor at a nice restaurant. And into a healthier meal as well, of course. :-)

Culinary Ideas that Work at Home from the American Dietetic Association 
1. Poach fish, poultry or meat in flavorful broth, rather than cooking them in oil. Poach fruit in juice, rather than cooking in sugary syrup.
2. Intensify flavors with high-heat cooking, such as pan-searing, grilling or broiling to brown meat and seal in juices.
3. Add fuller flavors with more whole grains, including brown rice, amaranth and quinoa as well as wild rice.
4. Serve bean purees or olive tapenade instead of butter or margarine as table condiments.
5. Add nuts like hazelnuts, almonds and pecans to recipes. Just a few nuts pack big flavor and nutrition.
6. Use big, bold flavor ingredients in small amounts, such as feta cheese, pomegranate seeds, chipotle pepper or cilantro.

Photo Credit: Mike McCune (get the recipe for these grilled peaches here too!)

Thursday, August 19, 2010

easy veggie stir-fry

After my sister's grad party we had lots of fresh veggies left over (as in pounds of broccoli and baby carrots), so one night we decided to whip up a quick stir-fry for dinner. Super fast, super healthy, and SUPER yummy. Here's all it takes:
1. Get some organic brown rice cooking (1/2 cup dry per serving) on the stove. It takes about 30-40 minutes, but as long as you plan ahead the time isn't a problem. A lot of people actually cook up big batches of brown rice at a time and refrigerate for use throughout the week. Major time saver.
2. Microwave as many vegetables as you'd like in about half an inch of water. Make sure the container you're using is covered; it should take about 5 minutes, or until the veggies are soft.
3. Heat up about a half a tablespoon of olive oil and your favorite teriyaki sauce (to taste; we used about 1/4 cup for two or three cups of veggies) in a wok or large skillet.
4. Add cooked veggies, stirring as all the flavors simmer together.
5. Slice up some almonds and throw those in there too.
6. Eat and enjoy!

Photo Credit: avlxyz
(Somehow we lost the pictures we took of the stirfry, so I had to use one from Flickr's Creative Commons. Will take a photo next time I make this, though!)

Monday, August 16, 2010

green goal monday: say no to junk

While the age of technology has certainly caused more damage to our environment than good, it has also provided us with some opportunities to decrease our impact on the earth in a positive way. One advantage of technology (namely, the Internet) is the elimination of the need for paper in many situations where your computer can complete the task.

Green Goal No.3: Say "No" to Junk
Ideas from The Green Book, by Elizabeth Rogers and Thomas M. Kostigen
1. Call to stop phone book delivery to your house: If you're one of the many people turning to rather than sifting through your giant Dex phone book for the pizza place's number, then please opt-out to have them no longer come to your house. Phone books take a huge toll on trees and landfills. According to The Green Book (see left), "phone books make up almost ten percent of waste at dump sites." Ouch. Check to see which books you currently receive, then find their number below and call to opt-out. You can also fill out this online form to stop receiving the Yellow Pages and White Pages.
Yellow Book:
1.800.373.3280 or 1.800.373.2324
And once you've done that, make sure you recycle any existing phone books you aren't using.

2. Switch to paperless  bills and statements: It's usually as easy as one click of your mouse. Choose to check your credit card and bank statements as well as your bills online instead of through the mail. That paper really adds up. 

3. Get off junk-mailing lists: This one makes you, your mailman/woman, and Mother Earth all much happier. Here are two websites that can put your name on the "Do Not Mail" lists for many companies and will significantly reduce the junk mail you receive. 

Photo Credit: Alan Levine

Monday, August 9, 2010

green goal monday: conscious cooking

One of my favorite things about this quest towards sustainable eating is getting to experiment with new recipes, from grilled zucchini to black bean brownies. Making your own food is less taxing on the earth, there's no question there. Staying at home for breakfast, lunch, or dinner eliminates the gas you'd need to drive to a restaurant, ensures that you can save your leftovers for later and compost any scraps, allows you to choose sustainably-grown ingredients, and means you can use reusable dishes, cutlery, and napkins rather than the disposable kinds that end up in landfills. And the list goes on.

But cooking and baking at home isn't a free pass for not being conscious of the waste that you do create in the process. Ovens, stoves, dishwashers, and microwaves all use energy and supplies like paper towels and napkins still get thrown in the trash, just like at a restaurant. Being aware of these impacts can be just as important to a meal as the actual ingredients. So my Green Goal for this week is to become a more conscious cook. Here are the two simple actions I am going to begin making into habits today. I encourage you to try them out as well!

Green Goal No.2: Conscious Cooking
Ideas from The Green Book, by Elizabeth Rogers and Thomas M. Kostigen
1. Reduce oven and stove time: Don't worry about preheating items that will be cooking for more than an hour in the oven. And if you're making baked goods, limit preheating time to ten minutes. Then, towards the end of your cooking time (this applies to both ovens and stovetops), turn off the heat several minutes before the food is finished cooking; there should be plenty of heat left to finish things off (I've baked a whole pan of cookies after turning off the oven!). This is not only gentler on the environment but on your energy bill as well.

2. Choose reusable towels and napkins: Use cloth napkins instead of paper, and you'll save landfill space as well as money over the long run. Find some handmade napkins on Etsy and support starving artists while you're at it. As far as towels go, use paper only when absolutely necessary. Get in the habit of asking yourself, before you grab a paper towel, if a cloth towel couldn't do the job just as well. 
Photo Credit: Steven Depolo

Sunday, August 8, 2010

maximum value.

So my boyfriend, Erik, and I have this inside joke about getting "maximum value" out of everything (Ok, fine, it's not really a joke. We're really that big of nerds). One common example of this is buying the largest coffee drink size and saving half of it for later (sometimes there's only a 75 cent difference between the small and large sizes!). This poor-college-student mentality has spilled over from just financial concerns into other areas of our lives as well, such as (no surprise) nutrition and health. This is no new idea, of course; our bodies are programmed to crave calorie-dense foods so we stock up on as many calories as possible in preparation for famine. Nowadays, however, many of us never face such a time and those genes end up up hurting us much more than helping.

Another term being thrown around lately is "nutrient density," which refers to the amount of vitamins, minerals, and fiber you get for your calories. This is a much more relevant concept in a world where obesity rates are sharply increasing. But nutrient density is still not what I'm getting at. When I'm thinking about getting "maximum value" out of my meals, I'm talking about helping my body absorb as many of the nutrients in the food as possible. Many people don't realize that just because a box of Total cereal says it provides you with 100 percent of your daily needs of 12 vitamins and minerals, that doesn't mean your body is able to take up all of those nutrients. Many of them pass right on through. For example, Vitamins A, D, E and K are fat-soluble, which means they need to be eaten with fat in order to be absorbed and used by your body. Makes you think twice about pouring fat-free milk into your cereal, doesn't it?

You don't need to be a dietitian to have a basic  understanding of how to eat to maximize the value of your meals (aka absorb as many vitamins and minerals as possible). Make these few simple tricks a part of your daily routine, and your body will thank you:

1. Eat at least a little fat with every meal and snack. Go ahead and use full-fat ranch or guacamole for your veggies, enjoy your baked potatoes with some real butter, cook with olive oil, and feel good about eating your strawberries with cream. Same goes if you take a multi-vitamin; take it with a meal or a fatty snack like cheese or nuts.

2. Add liberal amounts of fresh garlic and onions to your rice and bean dishes. It is believed that the sulfur compounds that make garlic and onions so pungent also aid in the absorption of dietary zinc (here's a recent study abstract if you're interested). This is especially nifty information for vegetarians, who can have trouble getting enough of this important mineral. While some plant-based foods are rich in zinc (especially whole grains and legumes), the body has a harder time extracting zinc from plants than from animal food sources. Enlist the help of these cousins from the Allium genus to help prevent zinc deficiency (as if you really needed an excuse to add a couple extra cloves of garlic or one more onion than that recipe called for...)

3. Combine calcium and Vitamin D. This is a tricky one, since Vitamin D is not easily found in foods. But it's also very important, as your body needs Vitamin D to absorb calcium. One quick way to solve this is to buy dairy or soy products fortified with Vitamin D.  The few foods that are naturally rich in Vitamin D include sardines, tuna, and salmon (aka fatty fish). Pure cod liver oil is also a great source.

4. Eat something citrus-y with iron-rich foods. Vitamin C goes a long way in aiding iron absorption. So get adventurous and make orange sauce for your next beef and rice dish and add chopped strawberries to your spinach salad. Use the Vitamin Wheel widget below to find other high-C foods.

Photo Credit: WordRidden

Saturday, August 7, 2010

black bean brownies.

You read that right: black bean brownies. I didn't believe it either, but when my sister Rachel's boyfriend Jake told me about them, I had to try them for myself. Jake told us his recipe was on, so Rachel looked it up and whipped up a batch without hesitation. And the verdict? SO GOOD! They definitely had a different taste then normal brownies, but it definitely wasn't a taste of black beans. It was just a richer chocolate, I think. And they were so moist! The black beans replace the butter and the eggs, so I thought they'd be dry, but I couldn't have been more wrong. I will definitely be adding these to my short list of favorite things to bake.

Not only is this a healthier recipe but its less expensive as well. Especially if you're buying organic butter and eggs. A can of generic black beans runs between 75 and 90 cents and a can of generic organic beans should be less than $1.50. Definitely a steal. Get the recipe here: Mocha Hazelnut Black Bean Brownies.

Photo Credit: Michelle Shefveland,

Monday, August 2, 2010

green goal monday: glass over plastic

If I've learned anything since I've started striving to live sustainably, it's that you have to appreciate the baby steps in order to stay sane. While big picture stuff is important, worrying about the magnitude of our wastefulness and disregard for the earth makes it hard to feel that your everyday actions can make a difference. But they can. Why? Because the fact is you that are not the only person trying to make a difference; millions are, and those millions are inspiring millions more to make baby steps that together add up to leaps and bounds.

I've decided that, in my effort to live as sustainably as possible, I'm going to make one baby step each week. That might seem slow, but by the end of a year I'll hopefully be doing 52 things in a more earth-conscious way than I was at the start of the year. And hopefully, through this blog, I'll inspire others to make these changes as well. My plan is to post my "green goal" for the week every Monday. Feel free to comment if you have any tips or insights!

Green Goal No.1: Glass Over Plastic
Idea from 1001 Ways to Save the Earth, by Joanna Yarrow

Buy food, beverages, and household products in glass containers over plastic whenever the opportunity. Why? Glass can be recycled into glass again, whereas plastic loses its integrity each time it's recycled, becoming weaker and weaker until it inevitably has to be thrown into a landfill. Glass is also free of harmful toxins found in plastics, such as BPA, which are harmful to your health. So this baby step's a double whammy; buy glass for your the earth's health as well as your own!

You can also up-cycle your glass bottles, jars, etc for useful things around the house. Some things I've done recently (with the help of my creative sister, of course): Decorated a glass tea bottle into a change jar, a cream soda bottle into a flower vase, and a few bottle caps into magnets. This is also a great money-saving tip as well: why buy it when you can make it yourself? Get some more ideas from these sites:

Photo Credit: (UB) Sean R

Saturday, July 24, 2010

article of the week, 7/24/10

Who:  Center for Science in the Public Interest
When: July 23, 2010
Why: While I don't agree with the FDA on all of its practices, I am pleased to see them "cracking down" on the food industry when it comes to deceptive health claims and other questionable labeling. This news report from CSPI announces that the FDA has received the go-ahead to continue on in their mission to reduce foods with misleading health claims; its target right now: Vitaminwater, a bottled beverage by Coca-Cola. I like this report in particular because it refers back to past court rulings to give you a better understanding of the recent history of this issue.
Read it here:
Learn more: Read about the FDA's current standards for health claims about food at
Speak out: How do you feel about health claims on food packaging? Do you think that its manipulative and misleading or that companies have a right to promote their product as they choose? Share your thoughts by commenting below.

Photo Credit: Robert S. Donovan

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

give your favorite food a green makeover!

Eating sustainably doesn't mean you have to give up your favorite sinful sweets or savory snacks. Usually just a few ingredient adjustments can make your comfort food comforting for your conscience as well your tummy. While modifying your favorite recipes may require some extra effort at first, you'll quickly get the hang of it. To help you get started, though, I'm inviting you to send me a recipe you'd like to give a green makeover. Post a comment that includes the recipe or a link to the recipe, and I'll post back with a new, more earth-friendly version. Don't be shy!

Photo Credit: rore

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

great deal: local d'lish in minneapolis

If you're a Minnesota resident there's a great online deal today for Local D'Lish, a local and organic foods grocery store found in the Warehouse District of Minneapolis. Almost all of their products are made in Minnesota or the Midwest; Ann and Yuilin Yang, the owners, like to think of it as a "farmers market in retail format," which is great for Minnesota winters when outdoor farmers markets seem like a distant dream.

So what's the deal? A website called Crowd Cut is offering a $20 certificate to Local D'Lish for only $10. So basically you're getting $10 worth of free locally-produced groceries. The deal only lasts until midnight though, so if you're interested, don't wait!

Check out the deal here!
Learn more about Local D'Lish.
Join Local D'Lish's Facebook page.

Photo Credit: Andy Rob

Friday, July 16, 2010

article of the week, 7/16/10

I found this great new Huffington Post article today titled "How Real People on Real Budgets Afford Organic," by Robyn O'Brien. It lists eight easy ways to integrate organic food into your daily diet without raising your daily grocery bill. Read it here!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

play with your food.

Chances are you've heard of the Food Network's hit show, Iron Chef. If not, though, I'll give you a quick rundown: Two professional chefs are given an ingredient, any ingredient, from Andouille sausage to zucchini, and are given an hour (with a team of assisting sous-chefs) to prepare a multi-course meal. The rule is that each dish must contain the theme ingredient. Their dishes are then scored by a panel of judges after which a winner is dramatically announced.

So what does Iron Chef have to do with your journey towards healthy, sustainable, and affordable eating? Well, it's a bit of a stretch, but keep reading and we'll get there.

One rainy weekend  a couple of years ago my family decided to play-out our own version of Iron Chef. The chefs? My dad (Kris) and younger sister (Rachel). The ingredient? Apples. The judges? My mom, brother, and I. The winner? Rachel, by a hair. Our spontaneous new family activity was an instant success, and we've repeated it four or five times since, with my dad, sister, and I rotating as chefs. Sometimes my brother pretends to be the host of the "show" and has even videotaped us. And of course my mom needs to photograph the entire process as well as the finished dishes. Whether I'm a "chef" or a judge, my favorite part is always the presentation and tasting of the food. Each chef takes turns bringing in his or her finished products, one course at a time, giving each dish elaborate names and descriptions (parodying the TV show). Then the judges reciprocate with obnoxious critiques like "The soup was a potpourri of joyful flavors " or "This pie was the perfect blend of spring and summer. It tastes like June!" It's hilarious. And as far as the actual food is concerned, every time we get a little more creative and  adventurous with our cooking, and every time the food gets even better. 

Okay, so here's the point. In the midst of our busy lives it's easy to forget how the creation of a meal is more than the boiling of water and measuring out of spices, and more than the science behind the latest energy bars. Cooking is an event; cooking is an experience to be enjoyed, shared, and savored (literally). Playing "Iron Chef" reminds my family and I of this by pushing us out of our usual dinnertime routine. We buy unique ingredients, research culinary techniques and exotic recipes, and even put pains into the way asparagus is arranged on a plate. 

While I wish we could make Iron Chef a weekly or even a monthly tradition in my house, the fact is that life is crazy, and most nights we're lucky to all sit down for ten minutes together to eat. But I think that makes our crazy cooking-nights that much more special. 

How to host your own "Iron Chef" night:
1. Assemble at least four people, and ideally not more than eight. Two will be the competing chefs and the rest will act as judges.
2. Judges determine a "secret" ingredient. Anything goes, but we like to pick something that can be used in both main dishes as well as dessert.
3. Chefs are told the ingredient and given one hour to plan. We like to do three courses: appetizer, entree, and dessert, but you can change this up. Access to the Internet and cookbooks is essential, unless you're working with very experienced cooks.
4. Chefs are given one hour to shop for ingredients.
5. Chefs and judges agree on a prep/cooking time and begin. This will vary, depending on what sort of prep/cooking times the recipes require.
6. Chefs present their dishes for the judges. You can do this two ways: 1) The first chef can present their entire menu to the judges, followed by the second chef. 2) The chefs can take turns presenting their dishes course by course ("one-by-one, 'til you shout 'Enough! I'm done!' Sorry, couldn't resist. Beauty and Beast is one of my favorites). Judges should score as you go along. Official Iron Chef scoring is up to 10 points for taste, 5 points for originality, and 5 for presentation. But you can definitely put your own spin on scoring. 
7. Judges tally the points and crown the new Iron Chef! Said-winner has bragging rights, at least until the next showdown.

Monday, July 12, 2010

mood food. PART II: supplements

As promised, I'm following up my "Mood Food" post with some supplements that are suggested for rebalancing brain chemicals. Supplements are a great alternative for medication if you're not ready to go that route, or you don't feel your symptoms are severe enough to warrant a prescription drug. Here's a quick run-down of some recommended supplements and their descriptions.

 Photo Credit: House of Sims

Brain-Balancing Supplements:
1. Fish Oil -  You can add brain health to the extensive list of reasons to take a daily fish oil supplement. Studies on fish oil have observed the following in people who consumed increased amounts of omega-3 fatty acids: improved mood, concentration, learning, IQ, slowed aging process, and reduced symptoms of depression. Why? Because EPA and DHA (2 types of omega-3 fatty acids) are the "building blocks" of brain structure and function. And it just so happens that fish oil is extremely rich in omega-3's. Here's a guide on how to pick a good fish oil.
2. L-theanine - This is a compound found in green tea, and is the reason you feel less caffeine-jitters after drinking a cup of green tea than after a cup of coffee. If you suffer from anxiety or panic attacks, L-theanine supplements may help your mind stop spinning and give you a chance to relax and calm down in stressful situations. Read more about L-theanine at these two sites: LA Times and
3. Probiotics - While these are primarily utilized for promoting digestive health, their ability to reduce inflammation throughout the entire body includes the brain, and less inflammation can have a big impact. There is also a growing interest among the medical community about the link between gut health and brain health (called the gut-brain axis) that gives you another reason to take care of your gut. Learn how to choose a probiotic here.
4. Miscellaneous - There are many other supplements that have evidence of alleviating certain mood disorders. Some of these are 5-HTP, L-tyrosine, DL-phenylalanine, SAM-E, and GABA. Despite some encouraging evidence, none of these have enough clinical evidence for me to feel comfortable promoting them here. If you'd like to learn more about them however, check out the following sources:
1. This is Your Brain on Joy by Dr. Earl Henslin
2. The Mood Cure by Julia Ross
3. University of Maryland Medical Center

This is Your Brain on Joy by Dr. Earl Henslin, LA Times,,,

Thursday, July 8, 2010

food RX.

Photo Credit: mcfarlandmo

There seems to be a pill or powder for everything these days: Can't fall asleep? Take a Benadryl. Have a tummy ache? Pepto-Bismol to the rescue. Feeling irregular? Bring on the Metamucil. Now of course these concoctions have their time and place, but many people admit that they prefer to take the more natural route to healing whenever possible. And what you eat can play a huge part in remedying whatever ails you; check out the following articles to find out how.

Sleep Better For More Energy  
by David Zinczenko and Matt Goulding
April 22, Yahoo! Health
This short-but-sweet article lists seven snacks that can help you get a better night's rest. And a glass of milk isn't one of them.

by Melissa Johnson
Everyday Health
Make this list your first stop for tummy aches and nausea.

by Experience Life Magazine staff
June 12, Care2
Sure, you could sprinkle on some Metamucil or Benefiber to get your daily 25+ grams, but there are so many yummier ways to get your fiber! This article gives some great tips to add a little more fiber to each meal.

Vitamin C: Stress Buster 
April 25, 2003, Psychology Today
Whether you're a student or a stay-at-home mom or a corporate executive, you almost certainly feel the effects of stress on a daily basis. And all that stress takes a toll on not only your emotional health, but your physical health as well. Read here to find out how Vitamin C can help reduce these negative effects.

Cold Remedies and Flu Remedies: Foods that Fight Infection
 This article gives a great overview of foods that can help fight off infections. Now there's proof that chicken soup is good for more than the soul.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

mood food.

Being the ravenous non-fiction reader that I am, I just devoured a new book called This is Your Brain on Joy, by Dr. Earl Henslin. The book combines new brain-imaging research findings, spirituality, and the author's clinical experiences to help explain (in layman's language) what's physically going on in the brain of people who suffer from depression, anxiety, anger, relationship issues, compulsive behavior, and just about any other mental health issue. And not only did Dr. Henslin do a great job of making it simple to follow some complicated brain chemistry and anatomy (he refers to the Cingulate Gyrus as "The Circular Gerbil Wheel"), he also provides a comprehensive set of suggestions for healing, from prescription medications to prayer to movies (aka: cinematherapy). And, relevant to this blog, he devoted quite a few pages to the important of diet.

While I found all facets of this book interesting and extremely informative, I obviously paid special attention to the nutrition sections. I've always been aware of the importance of diet in all aspects of health, but have always wished to learn more about its role in mental health. This book was a great start, and I'm excited to share what I've learned with you. I think this information can be helpful for everyone, not just those with diagnosable mental conditions. As my mom likes to say, "Everbody's normal 'till you get to know them" (which is actually a book title).

Important Components of a "Joyful" Diet:
1. Fat: Your brain is mostly made of fats, so making sure your diet contains adequate amounts is crucial for a well-functioning cranium. And both saturated and unsaturated fats are needed. Fatty-but-healthy foods to incorporate into your diet? Olive oil, avocados, nuts, seeds, and fish.
2. Organic and Hormone-Free: Pretty self-explanatory. Pesticides can be toxic to every part of your body and added hormones can mess with your own hormones; sounds like a recipe for disaster to me. The naturally-occurring hormones in your body can singlehandedly mess with your mood, so consuming large quantities of artificial hormones in addition can only complicate the issue.When you can, buy organic produce and hormone-free dairy products.
3. Fish: As mentioned above, there are many different fats essential for a healthy brain, but omega-3 fatty acids (specifically DHA) are especially important for a happy brain. Why? Omega-3's help keep serotonin levels up, serotonin being a major factor in relieving depression and other mood disorders. And fish is one of the richest sources of omega-3's. But the brain benefits of fish don't stop there. They're also high in protein. Eating protein-rich foods provides the amino acids necessary for producing the neurotransmitters dopamine and phenylalanine, which are essential for alertness and focus. Consequently, protein-rich diets are recommended for people with ADD and ADHD. My top 3 fish? Salmon, sardines, and tuna.
4. Complex Carbs: Carbohydrate-rich foods increase production of serotonin, which is the chemical most responsible for calmness and relaxation. Dr. Henslin recommends incorporating more of these into your diet if you deal with compulsion issues (such as OCD, eating disorders, addictions, and rage) or fear and anxiety-related disorders. A good calm-inducing menu? Anything that includes pasta, potatoes, or bread. Snack ideas include popcorn and pretzels.
5. Tryptophan: Often associated with turkey and post-Thanksgiving dinner sleepiness, tryptophan is an amino acid needed for serotonin production. Foods high in tryptophan include poultry, beef, seafood, eggs, spinach, beans, soy, and dairy.

In addition to his diet recommendations, Dr. Henslin also recommends certain supplements to help balance-out brain chemicals. I'll talk about these in my next post!

Sources: This Is Your Brain on Joy by Dr.Earl Henslin,,, and WHFoods.

P.S. If you or someone who care about deals with mental health issues (which is highly likely, as the NIMH reports that 26 percent of American adults suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder) I strongly urge you to find this book. While it shouldn't replace the advice of a personal physician, it's a great supplement. Check it out at your local library, buy it directly from Dr. Henslin's website, or get it used or new from Amazon. It can only help!

Dr. Henslin's book and other diet-and-mood books he recommends:

Photo Credits:, *clairity*, bucklava, and

Thursday, July 1, 2010

food independence day

I'm about to head "up North" to my cabin for the holiday weekend, so won't be posting again for few days. But chances are you'll all be too busy with your own summer celebration plans to miss them. But before I go I thought it would be fitting to honor America's Independence Day by letting you know about Food Independence Day, an awareness campaign being coordinated by non-profit Kitchen Gardeners International. So what's it all about? Basically, the group is encouraging Americans to celebrate the 4th of July by purchasing some or all of their grilling/picnic food from local producers. Why on Independence Day? Because buying local is about as patriotic as you can get; you're buying food grown in American soil, supporting your neighbors and your environment, and exercising your independence from chain stores and giant food manufacturers. Not to mention that fresh food that only had to travel a few miles to your plate is about as delicious as food can get.

So where to go to get this fresh, local food? Here are a few guides that should point you in the right direction, whether you live in "the lakes of Minnesota," or "the hills of Tennessee." Happy 4th!
Serve Your Country Food
Eat Well Guide
Local Harvest
Farm Locator
Green People

Photo Credits: J.W. Photography, Mykly Roventine

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

bananas for dessert

Bananas are no strangers to dessert. Banana splits are the ultimate classic while banana cream pie, bananas foster, and banana bread are favorites as well. And while these delectable desserts may please your taste buds, you heart, blood sugar, and waistline won't be so delighted by them. Now there's always a time and place for a treat; if you're at the diner go ahead and get that banana split, and if your grandma is cutting you a piece of her famous banana cream pie, I would be severely disappointed if you turned her down (as I'm sure she would be as well). But if you're just sitting around the house looking for something to appease your sweet tooth, a simple banana is a great start to a dessert that will give you your sugar fix without traumatizing any internal organs. Here are some simple and affordable banana recipes; you probably have most of the ingredients in your kitchen already.

Frozen Ripe Bananas (from the Shefveland household)
Whenever our bananas reach that too-ripe-to-eat point, we peel them and add them to the "banana bag" in our freezer. If I'm looking for a cool, refreshing treat on a hot day or am just craving some sweetness (which is a pretty frequent occurrence), I go straight for the banana bag. They taste just like banana-flavored ice cream/frozen yogurt. Give it a try!

Banana Fritters (from The Starving Student's Vegetarian Cookbook, by Dede Hall)
- 2 tbsp. flour
- 1 organic banana, sliced lengthwise into 1/4" slices
- couple shakes of cinnamon sugar
- 2 tbsp. canola oil
1. Spread flour on dinner plate. Lightly roll banana slices in flour.
2. Empty excess flour off plate and return bananas to plate. Sprinkle both sides of banana with cinnamon sugar until heavily coated.
3. In skillet, add oil and heat on high heat for 1 minute. Add bananas and fry on both sides until lightly browned.
4. Serve alone or topped with ice cream or frozen yogurt and sprinkled liberally with cinnamon sugar.

Frozen Chocolate-Covered Bananas (adapted from EatingWell magazine)
- 4 large organic ripe bananas
- 3/4 cup semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips
- 1/4 cup shredded coconut or chopped nuts
1. Line a baking sheet with parchment or wax paper.
2. Insert a popsicle stick into the cut end of each banana half.
3. Cover each piece of banana with melted chocolate using a rubber spatula and sprinkle with coconut or nuts. (Reheat chocolate, as needed, to keep it melted.)
4. Place the bananas on the baking sheet and freeze until frozen, about 2 hours.

Banana-Citrus Sorbet (from Cooking Light magazine)
- 3 ripe bananas
- 1 1/2  cups sugar
- 1/2  cup fresh lemon juice
- 2  cups water
- 1 1/2 cups fresh orange juice
1. Place bananas in food processor; process until smooth.
2. Add sugar and lemon juice; process until well-blended.
3. Pour mixture into the freezer can of an ice-cream freezer; add water and orange juice, stirring well.
4. Freeze according to manufacturer's instructions. Spoon into freezer-safe container; cover and freeze.

Roasted Bananas with Brown Sugar-Walnut Glaze (from Cooking Light magazine)
-1/3 cup packed brown sugar
- 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
- 2  tbsp butter, melted
- 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
- 4 large organic firm ripe bananas (about 1 1/2 pounds)
- Cooking spray
- 1/4 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
- 1 1/2 cups vanilla frozen yogurt
1. Preheat oven to 450°.
2.Combine first 4 ingredients in a bowl, and set aside.
3. Cut bananas in half lengthwise. Place banana halves, cut sides up, on a jelly-roll pan coated with cooking spray.
4. Bake at 450° for 4 minutes.
5. Drizzle sugar mixture evenly over banana halves, and sprinkle with toasted walnuts.
6. Bake an additional 3 minutes.
7. Cut each banana piece into thirds crosswise.
8. Serve bananas with frozen yogurt; drizzle with any remaining sugar mixture.

Banana Mousse (from
- 2 tablespoons milk
- 4 tsp sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 1 medium organic banana, cut in quarters
- 1 cup plain yogurt
- 8 1/4-inch banana slices
1. Place milk, sugar, vanilla, and banana in blender. Process 15 seconds at high speed until smooth.
2. Pour mixture into a small bowl; fold in yogurt.
3. Chill.
4. Spoon into 4 dessert dishes; garnish each with 2 banana slices just before serving.

Photo Credits: Ian Ransley Design + Illustration,

Friday, June 25, 2010

supporting the arts

 is primarily a sustainable food/nutrition blog, but I also want to use it from time to time to talk about other, maybe more general, topics surrounding sustainability. Yesterday I attended the annual Lemonade Arts Fair in my hometown of St. Cloud, MN. I look forward to the event every year, as I am always in awe of the talented and versatile artists that are a part of my community. After buying some fresh sugar-snap peas (from Stoneybrook Farms in Foley, MN) to crunch on, my sister and I set out on our mission. Though our time was cut short by some other plans, I was excited to leave with a bottle cap necklace (from Pop Top Art out of Minneapolis) and two tea-themed coasters (GEMA Cards & Coasters from Burnsville and Eagan, MN). It took me about 20 minutes to pick from the vast array of necklaces and 10 from all the cute coasters, but thankfully Rachel was there to put her foot down and make me decide (see photos of what I finally decided on below). And although part of my good-mood as we left was due to my new-found treasures, most of it was a result of the conversations I'd had with the people who made these treasures, as we laughed about my indecision. You can't get that in a department store or from shopping online. So, without further ado (and that was quite a bit of ado), today I'd like to discuss the value of supporting local artists and artisans.

Nowadays it is easy to find art, roomwares, gifts, and clothing in whatever style you like, be that cutsie, edgy, Victorian, eclectic, vintage, modern, shabby, or even Trekkie. You can walk into your nearest Target, Ikea, or Kohl's and find dishware in nearly all of these styles (well, maybe not Trekkie), and usually for a reasonable price. And that's great. Modern technology has made it possible for us to have all this variety only a five-minute drive away, which makes it easier (and more fun) to express ourselves through something as small as the design on the coffee mugs we buy and the coasters we rest them on. But the other great things about technology is that it's also made it extremely easy to find the work of obscure, locally-based artists across the globe. And it only takes a little more time and effort (and only occasionally more money) to support these often-struggling artists and express ourselves outside of what Target decides is most popular.

The most sustainable way to shop is through artists based in your own area, but buying online through other small businesses comes in close second. The Internet has made it extremely easy to do both. If you're passionate about supporting artists and artisans in your own community, check out your local newspaper's website for information about upcoming art fairs and the like. There are even websites devoted to helping you find such local events. Some good examples are:
Festival Network Online
Art Fair
Fairs and

If you want to go beyond your community and find an absolutely endless array of unique artists around the world, then look no further than etsy. I can lose myself for hours just drooling over all the beautiful and eclectic pieces of art. And shipping is usually very manageable.

There are dozens of reasons to shop locally for handmade goods, and I simply can't discuss them all in detail here. But here's a list of some of the reasons I feel compelled to support local artisans, along with some sources to help you get more detail if you so desire.
1. It's more environmentally sustainable.You don't need me to tell you that mass production sends tons of pollution into our water, soil, and air.
2. It makes it possible for others to do what the love for a living. That's everyone's dream, isn't it? Purchasing from local artists enables them to continue living out their dreams. Now doesn't that make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside?
3. By buying from small businesses, you are doing your part in the fight against sweatshops and other unjust labor practices. Every mass-produced purchase you DON'T make is a step towards the end of all the exploitation that affects the lives of millions of laborers.
4. It's fun and heart-warming to be able to talk with the actual people making the products. Like I mentioned above, the artists selling the coasters tried to help me with my dilemma of which coasters to buy, and the woman selling the pop top necklaces was more than happy to share about how she makes her unique products. You get to learn people's stories this way, and it's a great reminder that every purchase you make a difference in someone's life.
5. Handmade gifts are more meaningful. Your recipients will appreciate the extra thought and time you put into finding a unique gifts for them, and will especially be glad to know that the purchase of their gift is supporting a local artisan.
6. Shopping local keeps your money in your community. This is pretty simple: you support business owners in your community and they're more likely to spend that money at other businesses in your community, which is good for your local economy and therefore good for you.

For more information on the importance buying from local artists and artisans, check out these sources:
Why Buy Handmade?
Behind the Label
Sweat Free Communities
Craftivism Blog
Big Box Tool Kit

Handmade Nation: The Rise of DIY, Art. Craft, and Design by Faythe Levine and Cortney Heimerl Big-Box Swindle: The True Cost of Mega-Retailers and the Fight for America's Independent Businesses by Stacy Mitchell

Short and Full Documentaries
Made in L.A.
Handmade Nation 
The Yes Men
Life + Debt
The Empire's New Clothes Only nine minutes, watch it for free!

Want to make a more conscious effort to buy from local artisans? Take the Handmade Pledge here!


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

food for thought.

Photo Credit: ShironekoEuro

I know the phrase "food for thought" is about as cliche as it gets, but there's a good reason that it is! Here are few articles I've come across recently that I found really thought-provoking.

Can Meat Eaters Also Be Environmentalists?  
by Nicolette Hahn Niman 
June 2, The Atlantic
A vegetarian cattle rancher's take on the environmental effects of all eaters: vegans, vegetarians, and carnivores alike.

Seeking to Illuminate the Mysterious Placebo Effect  
by Erik Vance
June 21, The New York Times
As a nutrition major I've heard a lot about how difficult it is to lead nutrition-related studies, and of course health research studies in general, due to the placebo effect. This article looks into the life of a Dr. Tor D. Wagner, whose life works revolves around this common psychological phenomenon.

Doctors Warn: Avoid Genetically Modified Food  
by Jeffrey M. Smith
May 2009, Institute for Responsible Technology
This article gives a great overview on why you should you be eating as much non-genetically modified foods as possible.

Irony in Progress  
by Dr. Mehmet Oz  
June 21, Time Magazine  
Dr. Oz gives shares his concerns about the spreading of Western diseases, such as obesity and cardiovascular disease, throughout developing countries.

A Life Engulfed by Pesticides
by Barry Estabrook
June 10, The Atlantic
An eye-opening look at the real effects of agricultural pesticides on real people.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

to tea or not to tea: is it even a question? PART II

My last post focused on the many benefits of drinking tea (primarily green tea). Interesting information, but probably not too surprising. Today I'm going to talk about a more controversial beverage: coffee. Coffee drinking has long been condemned as a bad habit, or vice, as if it is something to feel guilty about. No longer. Coffee drinking has now been linked with a lower risk of diabetes, liver and skin cancer, Parkinson's disease, and Alzheimer's disease. According to WebMD, over 19,000 research studies aimed at investigating the health effects of coffee have been conducted in recent years. And the majority of studies' findings have given coffee lovers reason to brew-on, guilt-free. So what makes coffee so great? After all, it doesn't have any "essential" nutrients like proteins, fats, carbs, vitamins, or minerals. But it does have antioxidants, nature's cancer-fighting chemicals. Check the last post for more detailed info about antioxidants. More surprisingly, coffee also contains between 1 and 2 grams of fiber per cup.

Many of the benefits of coffee are similar to those of tea, so I won't repeat what I wrote about in the last post. If you want to know more specifics, check out these links:
Coffee and Type 2 Diabetes
Coffee and Liver Cancer
Coffee and Skin Cancer
Coffee and Parkinson's Disease
Coffee and Alzheimer's Disease

Okay, so now you're (hopefully) convinced that there are plenty of great reasons to include tea and coffee in your daily diet. But, just as important, do you even want to? Because, sure, a Grande Starbucks White Chocolate Mocha may taste heavenly, but its 470 calories and 59 grams of sugar most likely completely negate the benefits from the coffee. Now there's no question that the healthiest way to drink tea and coffee is plain. No added sugar, creamer, etc. But while there is certainly a portion of the population that will happily drink tea plain and coffee black, most of us can't hope to do this without puckering our lips from the bitterness and rushing for some other food or drink to cancel out the taste. So what to do? As an enthusiastic coffee drinker myself, I've spent quite a bit of time trying to figure out how to adulterate my coffee as little as possible and still enjoy my daily cup (or daily 3 cups). My favorite "recipe" so far is to mix about 4 parts coffee to 1 part organic vanilla soymilk, then stir in a few teaspoons of honey or homemade hot cocoa mix (which is just cocoa and powdered sugar). The soymilk acts as a sweetener and creamer with a bonus of protein and nutrients like calcium and Vitamin D. The honey or cocoa add some more flavor and sweetness without the high fructose corn syrup, partially-hydrogenated oils, and artificial colors and flavors of sweeteners and creamers like Coffee Mate. I do something a little different with my tea. Because I can't stomach the bitterness of straight green tea, I've started making by tea using two tea bags: one green tea bag and one naturally-sweet tea like Chai, Rooibos, or fruity herbal tea. I sometimes add a little vanilla soymilk as well. Here's a list of ways to keep your coffee and tea healthy while still being able to enjoy it:

For Tea
1. Lemon Juice or other Fruit Juice
2. Jam

For Coffee
1. Molasses
2. Cocoa
For Both Tea and Coffee
1. Honey
2. Milk
3. Vanilla Soymilk, Almond Milk, or Rice Milk
4. Agave Nectar
5. Cinnamon
6. Maple Syrup

(Idea Sources:, World Tea News)

Photo Credits: Selma90, rore, alsjhc

Monday, June 14, 2010

to tea or not to tea: is it even a question?

Today I received a very enthusiastic Facebook message from my boyfriend, Erik: "Read these Wiki pages!" he exclaimed, linking to two Wikipedia pages he'd just read devoted to the health benefits of coffee and tea. "Did you know these things? If so, why didn't you tell me?" While I couldn't help but laugh at his adamance, I could certainly relate to where he was coming from. The list of purported beneficial health effects of tea and coffee is extensive. And while some of these health claims are lacking in quality scientific evidence, many of them are well-accepted by practitioners of both Western and alternative medicine. If you aren't already drinking these popular beverages on a daily basis, you may want to consider doing so.

Now, most tea and coffee-drinkers are in it for the energy boost that a few-dozen milligrams of caffeine kindly bestow upon their consumers. For others, hot beverages are appreciated for more social or nostalgic reasons (my great-aunt Arlene decided to start drinking coffee at the age of 35 so that she could begin joining her mother at the kitchen table for a cup of coffee and a chat). And for yet others, like me, hot beverages are simply a soothing start or end to the day.

In addition to all of these great reasons to drink hot, caffeinated beverages, more and more people are taking up the habit purely for its health benefits. Wait a minute, you may be thinking, I know tea is healthy, but coffee too? And isn't caffeine dehydrating? If these questions are running through your head, you'll be pleasantly surprised to learn that caffeinated tea and coffee can, in fact, be very good for you (in moderation of course). They are chock-full of cancer-fighting antioxidants and other beneficial plant compounds. And while you may have been warned in the past that caffeine will dehydrate you, new research has found that this simply is not the case. While caffeine is a mild diuretic, if you consume one cup of coffee you'll retain nearly the same amount of fluids that you would retain from drinking one cup of water. The diuretic effects may be stronger if you rarely consume caffeine, but regular drinkers need not worry about this side effect at all. But if you find that caffeine simply makes you too jittery, prevents you from getting a full night's sleep, or otherwise makes you miserable, please don't drink it. Decaffeinated beverages still provide many of the same perks as their caffeinated counterparts.

A lot of scientific terms get thrown around when talking about the benefits of tea and coffee. Here's a quick guide to what means what.
Antioxidants (biological)- substances that inhibit the oxidation of biological compounds; common examples are Vitamins A, C and E;
Catechins - phytochemicals that are considered potent antioxidants; currently being researched for benefits in preventing/fighting cancer and heart disease; highest concentrations are found in green tea
Flavanoids - a large group of plant chemicals that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties; may prevent heart disease and cancer
Free Radicals -chemically unstable molecules that "steal" electrons from other molecules, causing oxidative stress
Oxidation - when a chemical element or compound loses an electron
Oxidative Stress - damage caused to molecules through oxidation that can lead to injury of whole cells and tissues
Pro-oxidants - substances/events that increase the rate of oxidative stress in the body; common examples are UV radiation, cigarette smoking, and inflammation
Phytochemicals - chemically active compounds found in plants; include flavanoids, catechins, and carotenoids
Polyphenols - a group of antioxidant chemicals found in plants; have been found to reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease
(Sources: Guide Jennifer Moll and TheFreeDictionary's Medical Dictionary)

Now that we've covered some general info about caffeinated beverages let's break it down and look at the individual benefits of drinking tea and coffee.

TEA (specifically Green Tea)
1. Prevents and may even fight cancer: Green tea is rich in polyphenols, especially a type called catechins. One specific catechin, EGCG, has been found to kill cancer cells in test tubes. It's been harder to find this powerful of a cancer-fighting effect among actual human studies, however. The strongest evidence for green tea's role in cancer prevention is for that of cancers of the digestive tract.
Studies have found:
-  Drinking green tea may reduce the risk of developing stomach, esophageal, prostate, pancreatic, and colorectal cancer.
- Breast cancer patients who have surgery and consume green tea may have a lower risk of cancer recurrence than those who have surgery and don't consume green tea.
- Increasing your consumption of green tea by 2 cups a day could decrease your risk of developing lung cancer by 18%. 
- Women under the age of 50 who consume 3 cups of green tea a day may have a 37% reduction in the risk of developing breast cancer than women who don't drink tea.
- The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of the EGCG compound in green tea can prevent skin cancer.
2. Benefits arthritis patients: Some studies have found that green tea may reduce arthritis pain by reducing overall inflammation. It may also slow the rate of cartilage breakdown.
3. Prevents and manages diabetes. Green tea may place a role in regulating blood glucose, which is important for both preventing the development of diabetes as well as dealing with the condition if already diagnosed.
4. Can reduce risk of heart disease: The antioxidants in green tea can prevent the clogging of arteries by increasing vessel flexibility and dilation. One Japanese study found a decrease in the severity of coronary heart disease among males who drank four cups of green tea daily; a Dutch study found similar results. 
5. Prevents Alzheimer's disease: Several promising studies suggest that the green tea catechin EGCG can prevent the buildup of plague in the brain that is correlated with Alzheimer's disease.

While there may not be enough evidence for your doctor to start prescribing you green tea as a cure or preventative step, there is enough for you to add it to the rest of steps you take to becoming a healthier person. So why not?

To be continued (with some specific benefits of drinking coffee) ...

Sources: Mayo Clinic, WebMD Health & Cooking, WebMD Alzheimer's Disease Health Center, University of Maryland Medical Center

Photo Credits: Nick J Webb, Ayelie, and Dano.

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