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.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

jerome's garden

The best kind of food is the food you grow yourself. The second-best kind of food is the food grown by a friend. My family hasn't kept a garden since I was little, but we are fortunate enough to have a kind and generous neighbor with a passion for home-grown vegetables. Jerome has a garden that encompasses a sizable portion of his front yard, with lengthy rows of spinach, three kinds of lettuce, radishes, onions, tomatoes, carrots, green beans, beets, celery, and probably a few other veggies I missed. And to top it off the fence that lines the road has a grape vine, from which he cans his own grape juice.

A former employee of a chemical fertilizer company, Jerome was happy to tell us that this garden is completely organic; he uses only Epsom salts and manure as natural fertilizers. It's just Jerome and his wife Bev at home, as their kids are grown-up and on their own. That means that Jerome seeks us out every spring and summer so he can make sure his fresh vegetables don't go unloved. Today marked the first of many days of my mom, sister, and I walking through his garden with a knife and bag, encouraged by Jerome's enthusiastic pleas to "take as much as you want," "take the whole bunch, more'll come up soon." We don't argue.

Today was extra-special because Jerome greeted us with four large Ball jars full of goodies he'd canned last fall: green beans, grape juice concentrate, salsa, and his own juice-concoction made up of just about everything he grows. As you can imagine, I could hardly contain my glee.

We rushed home like we'd just robbed a bank. My sister Rachel went straight to the sink to wash some veggies to make a salad for lunch and my mom headed for her camera bag for the obligatory photo shoot. Let me share the products of both with you. Hope you're enjoying Mother Nature's Bounty this summer as well!

Rachel's Garden-Grown Salad
- Spinach
- Greens assortment
- Chopped radish
- Chopped green onion
- Sunflower seeds
- Organic Greek Feta Dressing

Photos by Michelle Shefveland,

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

"asking to photograph my refrigerator is like asking me to pose nude."

I wasn't expecting to come across an idea for a blog post as I was flipping through my parents' January issue of Popular Photography, but when I did it was a reminder of just how pervasive food is throughout all aspects of our lives. The choices we make about what we put in our bodies speak so much about us; they give a snapshot of our values regarding our personal health, the treatment of the people who produce our food, the treatment of the animals who are our food, and the sustaining of the earth and its resources. Just to name a few big ones. I was reminded of all this upon reading the article entitled "The Cold Facts," which showcased photographer Mark Menjivar's project of taking portraits of people by photographing the insides of their refrigerators. He calls it "You Are What You Eat." See it at

Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons Artist BigTallGuy

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

snack attack

Everyone's busy; high school students with all their extracurriculars; college students juggling classes, jobs, and social lives; adults trying to provide financially for their families but still have plenty of family time. Even retired folks often fill their schedules with volunteering, traveling, and spending time with grandkids. As a symptom of our collective busyness, the most popular blog post request I've had so far is for quick and healthy snacks. So here's a list I put together of snacks for all different types of cravings and times of the day. Pick and choose which ones you think will make your life both healthier but easier.

1. Air-popped or Stove-top Popcorn: Takes just few minutes to prepare, fills you up with fiber and protein, and satisfies any salt tooth.
2. Dry-roasted, Salted Pumpkin Seeds: Lower calorie than most other seeds and nuts (only 70 calories per 1/4 cup) and full of filling protein as well as nutrients like calcium and iron.

1. Fresh fruit: Nature's dessert.
2. Frozen bananas or blueberries: Taste like frozen yogurt (minus all the added sugar)!
3. Hot Cocoa or Sweetened Tea: For relatively few calories, some homemade hot cocoa or honey-sweetened tea can satisfy your sugar craving. Here's a good hot cocoa recipe from Alton Brown of the Food Network.

1. A Banana: It has its own built-in packaging, so what could be an easier breakfast when you don't even have a minute for a bowl of cold cereal? If you can, though, grab a handful of almonds or walnuts as well for some protein.
2. Breakfast-in-a-bag: In a small zip-lock bag, pack about half a cup of your favorite cereal (high in fiber and protein, hopefully), a small handful of nuts, and another small handful of something sweet if you'd like, such as dried fruit (idea from Jennifer Saltiel on Stash in your purse/backpack/etc and you're out the door with energy to get you through your morning.
3. Whole Wheat Muffins: Make a dozen or two on the weekends, stick them in the freezer, and take them out and microwave when you needed. There are hundreds of versions of whole wheat muffins, but my favorite is pumpkin. Here's the best-tasting and healthiest recipe I've tried to date: Whole Wheat Pumpkin Muffins.

Car Keepers:
1. Trail Mix, of course: Almonds, walnuts, dried fruit, granola, cold cereal, peanuts, banana chips, raisins, sunflower seeds, chocolate chips, cashews, pumpkin seeds, popcorn, pretzels; pick a few, fill up a medium-sized resealable bag, and permanently stash it in your car so you don't feel the need to raid a convenience store or drive-thru whenever hunger hits. If you don't have a car, keep a smaller-sized bag in your purse or backpack instead.
2. Cereal: Simple but works great. Find a high-protein, high-fiber cereal (I love Kashi) and either keep a bag or the whole box in your car 24/7.

Afternoon Energy Boosts:
1. Apple or Banana Slices spread with Peanut Butter: Get a serving a fruit in while filling up on its fiber and the protein from the peanut butter. Great snack to pick you up when you'd rather be taking an afternoon nap. If you're not a peanut butter fan, try pairing a cut-up apple with slices of your favorite cheese.
2. Carrots or Celery dipped in Guacamole or Hummus. Great for the same reasons as the above snack. Fiber + Protein + Unsaturated Fat = Get You Through Until Dinner.
3. Fair Trade Tea: Tea is a great energy boost for several reasons; first and most obvious is the caffeine. But because most teas have less caffeine than coffee they are also less likely to cause caffeine dependence (which is no fun, believe me). The second great thing about tea is (another obvious one) that it's hydrating. Being adequately hydrated is a huge part of staying energetic and alert. The third reason that tea is such a great "snack" is for it's long-term benefits; tea is full of antioxidants, which reduce the long-term effects of stress on your body. If you can't stomach tea plain, add a little milk, soymilk, lemon juice, or honey.

Evening Snacks: If you're anything like me, nighttime is the hardest  part of the day to suppress the desire to clean out the pail of ice cream sitting seductively in the freezer. Whether I'm either trying to avoid homework or cure boredom, the object of my desire is usually sugary or fat-filled. Thankfully I've developed a few coping methods.
1. Homemade Hot Cocoa or Decaf Tea: Here's the same hot cocoa recipe link posted above.
2. Popcorn: Great for the same reasons mentioned previously.
3. Chicken Soup or Broth: I find this a really soothing snack, especially on a cold winter night, and can even trick myself into thinking it's a full meal. :)
4. Homemade Baked Potato "Chips:" Found this snack idea at Thinly slice a potato (white or sweet) with a potato peeler. Spray a cookie sheet with PAM, arrange the potato slices on the cookies sheet so they're not touching or overlapping. Spray them lightly with PAM, sprinkle with salt to taste and back them in a 370F oven for about ten to fifteen minutes - or until they are lightly brown and crispy.
5. Water: Wait, water isn't a snack! Exactly. If you've had a filling dinner, chances are your food itch is (as in my case) not hunger-based at all. So flavor some water with lemon and find another distraction (easier said then done, but it sounds nice, right?).

Photo Credits: Flickr Creative Commons Artists laffy4k, Rex Roof, floodkoff, kevinmarsh, and roland.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

easy meals on a budget

I helped my boyfriend, Erik, move into his new apartment this past week. Moving from a tiny room to a full two-bedroom apartment not only meant a need for more furniture, but kitchen utensils, dishes, and staple foods. I was more than happy to assist him in stocking his shelves. After grocery shopping we returned to his apartment, where he assembled a new lamp while I cooked dinner with the budget ingredients we had just purchased. There had been some great sales, such as whole wheat penne for $1.09 a box, $1 jars of marinara sauce, extra virgin olive oil for about $5, and fresh asparagus for $1.88 a pound. And we were especially excited about the small one-serving packages of seafood on sale for $1 a package. So what exactly did I assemble for dinner? Seafood Pasta and Roasted Asparagus. Yum. And so easy! I had the whole wheat penne cooking while I brushed a cookie sheet with olive oil, rolled the asparagus in the oil, and sprinkled them with sea salt. I placed thawed frozen scallops and salmon on the pan as well and stuck it in the oven at 425 degrees. The sauce was simple: I added a pinch of minced garlic and sprinkled some dried chopped onion into the jarred marinara sauce and cooked that up on the stove next to the pasta. Right before serving I mixed in the scallops. Within half an hour I had a fantastic meal ready for two.

The moral of this story: It doesn't have to take dozens of ingredients and complicated cooking techniques to make a hearty and healthy meal. Here are a few recipes and cooking tips that I think qualify as tasty, affordable, easy-to-make, and healthy. Enjoy!

Rice with Chickpeas and Tomatoes (from The Vegetarian 5-Ingredient Gourmet by Nava Atlas)
- 1 cup uncooked brown rice
- 1 16-oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- 1 16-oz can organic diced tomatoes, with liquid
- 2-3 scallions, sliced
- 1-2 tsp cumin
1. Bring 3 cups water to simmer in a large saucepan. Stir in the rice, cover, and simmer gently until the water is absorbed, about 35 minutes.
2. Stir the remaining ingredients into the rice and cook until everything is heated through. Serve at once.

Sweet Potato Fries (from The Vegetarian Meat and Potatoes Cookbook by Robin Robertson)
- 4 large sweet potatoes 
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 1/2 tsp sea salt
- 1/8 tsp ground pepper
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Lightly oil a large baking sheet.
2. Peel the sweet potatoes, then cut them lengthwise in half and cut each half into 1/4-inch-wide wedges. Place in a large bowl and add the oil, salt, and pepper. Toss gently and coat the potatoes well.
3. Spread the potatoes in a single layer on the baking sheet. Bake until lightly browned and crisp on the outside and soft on the inside, about 25 minutes. Serve immediately.

Chipotle Black Bean Burritos (from
- 3 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 medium red onion, chopped
- 1 Tbsp chili powder
- 1 15-ounce can organic black beans, drained
- 1/2 cup frozen corn kernels, thawed
- 1/3 cup plus 3/4 cup chipotle salsa
- 1 avocado, halved, peeled, pitted, diced
- 6 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
- 4 10- or 12-inch-diameter flour tortillas
- 1 cup crumbled queso fresco or feta cheese
1. Heat olive oil in medium saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and chili powder; sauté until onion softens, about 4 minutes.
2.Stir in beans, corn, and 1/3 cup salsa. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and cook 10 minutes to blend flavors, stirring often. Season filling to taste with salt and pepper.
3. Stir together remaining 3/4 cup salsa, diced avocado, and 2 tablespoons cilantro in small bowl.
4. Heat tortillas one at a time over gas flame or electric burner for several seconds on each side to soften. Transfer to work surface.
5. Spoon filling onto centers of tortillas, dividing equally. Top each with 1 tbs cheese and 1 tbs cilantro. Fold two sides in over filling, then roll up burrito from unfolded edge. Place a burrito, seam side down, on each of 4 plates. Top with avocado-salsa mixture and remaining cheese.

Shrimp Fried Rice (from Busy Cooks, by Laura Larsen)
- 2 cups cold cooked brown rice
- 3 Tbsp olive oil
- 12 oz. pkg. frozen cooked shrimp
- 1 cup fresh or frozen baby peas OR other green vegetable of your choice (organic if possible)
- 2 eggs, beaten (organic and cage-free if possible)
- 3 Tbsp soy sauce
- Dash pepper
1. Make sure rice is cooked, then chilled. In colander, place shrimp and peas; run cold water over these ingredients until thawed. Drain well.
2. In heavy skillet or wok, heat olive oil and add shrimp and peas; stir-fry until food is hot. Add rice; stir-fry until hot.
3. Push food to sides of skillet or wok and pour beaten eggs in center. Scramble eggs, stirring frequently, then stir the eggs into the rest of the food until pieces are small. Add soy sauce and pepper, stir-fry for 1-2 minutes longer, then serve. (Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons Artist tsuihin - TimoStudios)

Friday, June 4, 2010

eating out sustainably

While it's hard for a large restaurant chain to serve food that is responsible to the environment, consumers, and it's employees, a few big-name restaurants are doing some things right. Here's a list of places you can eat out without having your conscience ruin your dinner:

Nationwide (U.S.A.)
1. Chipotle: The uber-popular burrito chain buys its pork from Niman Ranch, which raises its animals in a humane and sustainable way, following the Animal Welfare Institute's Animal Husbandry standards. In addition, Chipotle reports that 35% of their beans are organically-grown, their dairy products come from hormone-free cows, and, when possible, produce is purchased from locally grown producers. And to top all that off the restaurant is trying to use as many environmentally-friendly products (like napkins), appliances (Energy-Star), and even buildings (some are LEED-certified). 

2. Burgerville: This restaurant's name may conjure up images of greasy patties, buns, and fries, but in reality Burgerville is hoping to change the face of the burger joint. While they serve  your standard fast food fare, you'll also find items like the Grilled Asparagus and Tomato Melt on their menu. Talk about original! Their meat is all antibiotic-free and raised locally, their eggs are from cage-free chickens, and they recycle their cooking oil into biodiesel fuel. Very cool.

Southeast +Cali
3. Evos: At first glance Evos's menu seems little different than your standard fast food chain's, including burgers, wraps, fries, and shakes. But look a little deeper and you'll see they could not be more different from your neighborhood McDonald's, Subway, or Taco Bell. Their fries, called "Airfries," are cooked sans-oil by using a circulating hot air method. And they have an extensive sustainability profile; one-third of Evos's energy comes from wind power, they use certified organic and fair trade products, and use disposable products, such as napkins, made from recycled materials. And that's just a few of the great things they do.

East Coast + Kansas + Cali
4. Pizza Fusion: This pizza joint uses organic ingredients, builds its facilities using LEED standards, gives customers discounts for bringing back pizza boxes to be recycled, serves food in biodegradable corn starch containers, and the list goes on. And on.

Virginia + Oregon + Vermont
5. American Flatbread: This artisanal restaurant serves flatbread pizzas, salads, and desserts, all made from organic and mostly seasonal, locally-grown ingredients. And besides selling sustainable food, the company also gives back to communities by donating organic bread to hospitals, supporting Vermont's Organic Food for Public Schools program, and holding "Benefit Bakes" to raise money and awareness for different community causes. Don't live in Virginia, Oregon, or Vermont? You can still enjoy their organic flatbread by buying it frozen in a grocery store near you.

Sources I used for this post:
Eco Friendly Eating at Sustainable Fast Food Restaurants,
Other Sustainable Sources,
Chipotle: Sustainable, Delicious, Profitable,
Evos: Organic, Healthier, More Sustainable Fast Food. Seriously.,
Sustainable Fast Food Chain

Photo Credits: Flickr Creative Commons Artists: sun dazed, scaredy kat, and Carl Black.

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