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Easy Cooked Carrot Recipes

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When a student told me that my tupperware container of balsamic roasted baby carrots looked like dead fingers, it was exactly what I needed to stop forcing forkfuls of the overwhelmingly sour, otherwise flavorless “fingers” down my gob.

We wasted a few more minutes of my plan time and his brief break from in-school-suspension talking about why he didn’t eat cooked vegetables, and then I made a trip to the vending machine. I think I ended up with a Kit Kat. 

I’m a big fan of Cristina Ferrare’s cookbook, Big Bowl of Love, but I’m not crazy about her penchant for drizzling roasted vegetables with reduced balsamic vinegar. Maybe I’m doing it wrong? You tell me. Not reducing the vinegar enough to sweeten it? Dumping instead of drizzling? Seriously, I want to be classy and drizzle a balsamic vinegar reduction over my vegetables… But the dead carrot finger experiment was off putting. 

Anyway, I can go through cooked vegetables like candy because they taste so sweet and buttery after cooking. Here is Ferrare’s cooking method, minus the balsamic glaze: 

Blistered Baby Carrots

  • Heat a LARGE frying pan over medium high heat. 
  • Scoop out a sizable chunk of ghee (clarified butter — it doesn’t burn at higher temperatures) and swirl to coat the pan. 
  • Shake in the whole bag of baby carrots and season generously with salt and pepper. Make sure all the carrots are lightly coated in butter. Add more butter if necessary 🙂 
  • Cook until the carrots get a little char on them, and feel crisp-tender. 
  • Chop some fresh dill and sprinkle on top. 

Bonus: this recipe is Whole30 compliant! 

Speaking of kid-friendlier toppings for roasted vegetables that I can fully endorse, my new “jam” (a parent kept using that word during conferences about her daughter’s interests, it’s on my mind :)) is a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese.

These Parmesan roasted carrots are as lip-smacking to me as French fries. (I recommend halving the bigger carrots.) Roasting a large bag of large carrots whole feels refreshingly resourceful to me — bags of large carrots often linger in my vegetable drawer, and the good thing about roasting vegetables, ahem, is that you can work with the slightly shriveled, spotted stuff. The Parmesan precludes these from Whole30 compliance, but it’s a wholesome cheat… Just a sprinkle 🙂 

Next I want to try Parmesan on zucchini wedges. 

Meanwhile, I’m on the hunt for a low calorie veggie dip that isn’t mustard and isn’t guacamole… Any tips??

On Writing, Raw and Slow-roasted

star5112 Balancing or falling? CC BY-SA 2.0

A couple months ago, I met with a writer friend of mine for some advice about re-stepping into the freelance world. “I wouldn’t blog,” he said, in the form of a question mark, after a brief hesitation. I was asking him about the dilemma I encountered freelancing a couple years ago:

On the one hand, your blog tends to get the bottom pile, backlog version of your best ideas, which are saved for (potential) paid publication; on the other hand, after querying and researching and syncing your words with whatever brand you’re lucky enough to land that month/day/week, it’s like coming up for air to write whatever the hell you please for friends, or at least, friendly, generous readers who have formed a little community around your site.

On the one hand, blogging is something of a distraction from bigger projects that involve more risk and revision, requiring more gestation to discover what they actually are — I’m thinking of the collection of short stories I’ve decided to start for which this blog post, in part, is a thinly veiled form of procrastination.

Then again, there’s something life-giving and soul-soothing, and less narcissistic than Facebook, I think, about being able to scroll through your past reflections when you’re feeling down or disillusioned. In its simplest form, a blog is a record of experiences — like all writing, a confirmation that this “one wild, precious life” of which the poet Mary Oliver speaks is being lived with a measure of meaning.

If you’re still reading, thanks for putting up with all this navel-gazing about blogs. It’s part of a larger conversation I’m having with fellow teachers/writers about the role we want writing to have in our lives. I think it’s a conversation about focus, and meaning. It’s a conversation I find myself having with my husband, too, about where he wants to go with his passions for Irish fiddle and writing poetry, and what does it mean exactly to develop your passion? As I explained to my colleague at the brunch I blogged about last week, I’m realizing that freelancing for magazines here and there is edifying (hah) and fulfilling, in its own way, and I plan to continue that, but I’m finding that I crave a bigger project, one that’s born out of a desire to write for writing’s sake, whether or not the writing is published or paid for.

Which brings me to roasted vegetables… One of my struggles with the Paleo lifestyle is the same struggle I speak of with writing… This need for immediate gratification, and this reluctance to put in the damn time for something that is primarily created for, and consumed by…yourself. If blogs are raw carrots in the food universe, then surely my student Kumari’s manuscript — a fantasy novel about wolves that she has been writing for four years that her English teacher (ahem) encouraged her to revise (with my help, ahem) for another year before she submits it to a literary agent — is balsamic roasted sweet potatoes and Brussels sprouts. Meanwhile, my husband’s book-length files of poetry and extended essay on the meaning of organized religion is more green beans with onions, mushrooms, and peppers than ants on a log.

I write this to encourage myself, and any readers that I may have (hello! thank you for reading!) to take it slow, and pursue any passion project — with the patience and pureness of heart that passion requires.

Today I had the privilege of observing my students participate in a workshop by Antony John, a young adult novelist who happens to be a parent at the school where I teach. We are at the beginning of our short story unit, and I told my students I would write a short story with them. The two short stories I am in the process of writing for my “collection” are semi-autobiographical and deal with rather personal, adult themes, so I needed to start from scratch. Inspired by an article in the Feb 13 & 20 New Yorker called “Valley Cats: Are L.A’s Mountain Lions Dangerous Predators or Celebrity Guests?” I thought I’d put myself in the position of lion P-45, who has a cult following of sorts but keeps eating people’s pets.

To generate this idea, I, along with my students, all shared our favorite of 10 conflict-crisis-resolution formulas, but today Antony John steered us in a better direction: focus on character first. Events are secondary. (On Tuesday we’ll be drafting character sheets.)

When my student Sophia asked how to get unstuck when you’ve started a short story but don’t know how to finish it, Mr. John returned to the idea of character and embodying them like an actor to figure out what they would do. Also, he pointed out that that we often start short stories with an opening scene in mind, and figuring out the plot, aka, getting unstuck, involves working backwards: what events led to this opening scene?

Before the students came back from lunch, Mr. John and I had a brief conversation about the challenges of setting parameters for story writing versus poetry. I’m no more an amateur short story writer than I am an amateur poet, but I find short stories a lot harder to teach than poetry. He mentioned that his visit to last semester’s classes occurred two weeks before the election, and now, in the Trump universe, he’s been reflecting on the broad value of storytelling as a form of empathy. In that vein, he encouraged my students to draw on what they know, but to veer from the autobiographical and create composite characters.

This emphasis on empathy, and its heightened virtue in our narrowing, fear-mongering political climate, helps me justify the next few hours I’m about to spend on this Friday evening writing for writing’s sake, working on a character I’ve decided to call “Cora” who’s grappling with having children (or not) in a different way than I am, though I’m drawing on my own struggles. I’m going to let myself love on this unpaid, unpublished writing project with the same attention I gave to these green beans and brussels sprouts a few weeks ago:

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Green Beans with Onions, Mushrooms, and Peppers
Adapted from The Whole30 Cookbook

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup white or yellow onion
  • 1/2 cup mushrooms (any variety)
  • 1/2 red bell pepper
  • 1 lb green beans
  • Salt and pepper
  • Ghee, or clarified butter

Instructions

  • Thinly slice the onion. Thinly slice the mushrooms. Cut the bell pepper into thin strips.
  • Fill a large bowl with ice and cold water. Place the ice bath in the fridge.
  • Salt some water and bring it to a boil. Blanch the green beans in the salted water for 20 seconds. Drain them and immediately plunge the beans into the ice bath.
  • Heat some ghee (clarified butter) in a large skillet over medium-high heat, and swirl to coat. Once the fat is hot, add the sliced onions, and cook until translucent.
  • Add the mushrooms, and cook, stirring, until they begin to soften.
  • Add the peppers and cook until both mushrooms and peppers have softened to your liking.
  • Turn the heat to high, and add the green beans. Toss and stir the pan, cooking the green beans with the other vegetables for a few minutes longer.
  • Season the mixture to your liking with salt and pepper.

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Balsamic Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Brussels Sprouts
Adapted from The Whole30 Cookbook

Ingredients

  • 1 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 sweet potato
  • 1/2 lb Brussels sprouts
  • 1/2 red onion
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • Ghee, or clarified butter
  • Salt and pepper

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  • Boil the vinegar and then reduce to a simmer — you want it to be reduced by about half, 20 to 30 minutes. Meanwhile, peel and chop your sweet potato, slice your red onion, mince your garlic, and trim and halve your Brussels sprouts. Then mix the chopped sweet potato with some melted ghee in a bowl. Spread it on the lined baking sheet.
  • Add some ghee to a large skillet over medium-high heat. Swirl to coat the pan. When the fat is hot, add the Brussels sprouts and cook for a few minutes, allowing them to brown. Add the onion and the garlic for about a minute. Season the mixture with salt and pepper.
  • And the sautéed veggies to the sheet pan of sweet potatoes and spread everything out in an even layer. Roast for about 15 to 18 minutes, until the sweet potatoes and sprouts are tender.
  • Drizzle the pan of roasted veggies with the balsamic reduction.

Two Flank Steak Suppers

Still putting off a more substantive post on the Whole30 program and all that I’m learning about health, habits, and, let’s be real, expensive grocery bills, because I’m too impatient to share the delicious food that we’re enjoying. Both of these recipes come from Williams-Sonoma School  Night: Dinner Solutions for Every Day of the Week but they are Whole30 compliant, with a few tweaks.

Both of these meals are elegant in their simplicity, but most importantly, incredibly healthy for you. Here goes:

Flank Steak Salad with Grilled Peaches and Red Onions

  • Make a marinade for 1 lb of flank steak: Whisk 3 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 1/2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce, 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary, 1 large minced garlic clove, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a small bowl. Dump your flank steak into a gallon Ziploc bag, followed by the marinade and shake to coat evenly. Refrigerate for at least an hour or overnight.
  • Make the dressing: in a liquid measuring cup, whisk together 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, 2 tablespoons minced shallots, 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard, salt and pepper to taste. Slowly add 4 tablespoons olive oil and mix to emulsify. Set aside.
  • Tear a head of romaine lettuce (or whatever kind of lettuce you like) into a salad spinner; wash and dry.
  • Slice 2 red onions into half rings. Pit 3 peaches and cut them into thick slices. Mix 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar with 3 tablespoons olive oil. Brush the onions and the peaches with the olive oil/vinegar mixture.
  • Heat a grill and grill the onions and the peaches. (Or, if you’re feeling lazy, like me today, omit the peaches and caramelize the onions in a big frying pan over low heat with the same olive oil/vinegar mixture, plus a sprinkling of salt and pepper).
  • Cook the flank steak: remove from the Ziploc and slice into inch thick slices. Heat a frying pan over medium-high heat and fill the skillet with some cooking fat (I used ghee butter). Add as many slices as you can without crowding the pan and cook on each side for 5 minutes, turning with metal tongs. Reduce the heat to medium or medium low as necessary.
  • Assemble your salad and if you’re not following Whole30, add some blue cheese or feta crumbles.

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My nephew and chef-in-the-making grilled all the onions and peaches on a puny little Panini Press! And sported my “onion goggles” in the process. We all enjoyed the fruit of his labor:

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Flank Steak with Avocado & Tomatoes

This is an even simpler recipe than the salad above. The cookbook version actually calls for skirt steak, which is essentially a little beefier and tougher than flank steak, but very similar, according to What’s the Difference Between Flank Steak and Skirt Steak? To make:

  • Cut 1 1/2 lbs skirt or flank steak into 1-inch or 1/2-inch slices, season with salt and pepper, and leave the slices to rest at room temp for 15 minutes.
  • Heat a frying pan over high heat and add some cooking fat (I used ghee butter, but you could use olive oil or coconut oil, or…??) Add the steak and cook until medium rare, 3-4 minutes per side. Transfer the steak to a cutting board or a plate, cover loosely with aluminum foil, and let rest for 10 minutes.
  • Fill a bowl with 1 1/2 cups (9 oz) halved cherry tomatoes, 2 cubed avocados, 1/4 cup fresh parsley leaves, and the juice of 1/2 lime. Enjoy 🙂

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Body Respect

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Disclaimer — one author of this book is named Linda Bacon, PH.D. Chuckle chuckle…

To all my friends who are wearers of white coats — in and out of med school, residency, you name it, I encourage you to give Body Respect a gander. It will expand and challenge your thinking on the much-ingrained “obesity epidemic” and the most authentic, productive definitions of health, whether or not you ultimately choose to accept some of its rather radical suggestions. For the average citizen, it puts forth a lot of radical information about what it means to have a healthy relationship to food. I found much of the information comforting and affirming, some it a little scary, but always grounded in solid research. Here are a few tidbits of what surprised me:

According to this source, BMI — Body Mass Index — is not the end-all, be all health indicator that it’s cracked up to be. Currently anything above 25 is categorized as overweight, when health risks don’t really kick in until much higher than that. The U.S. set its standards for overweight and obese according to international standards, which were heavily influenced by pharmaceutical companies selling prescription weight loss pills.

This article recently published in The New York Times about the Biggest Loser corroborates a lot of what Body Respect says about weight management. Essentially, there are a lot of unconscious forces at work in your body — for example, gut bacteria — that keep your body working to maintain a certain weight, a weight that may not match your desire for your high school figure or what you see in airbrushed magazines. So, treating your body like a machine — calories in, calories out — works in the short term, but then your body will react and try to recalibrate to its desired weight by increasing your appetite, slowing your metabolism, etc. This isn’t to say don’t cut calories to try to lose weight, but it does help explain why our weight loss efforts are often so short-lived. And it’s good to keep in mind when pursuing that ever-elusive weight loss goal in a healthy way.

Perhaps the most radical suggestion put forth by the authors of Body Respect is that health is achievable at a variety of weights and a variety of sizes. The authors view fatness as a form of diversity that deserves the same respect as race or ethnicity. They also delve into some interesting explanations of why “fatness” is their preferred term for describing large people with respect. My mind immediately hearkens to a picture of a very fat teenager dressed to the nines to celebrate her prom, which recently made the rounds on social media. I happened to have just finished Body Respect when I overheard several of my students throwing in their two cents about the photo — “At some point if you’re that fat you deserve to get heat; you need to do something about it” “Well, sometimes it’s a thyroid issue…” and I found myself struck by the overhaul of cultural beliefs that would need to take place if I tried to articulate the more accepting perspective of these authors…

The authors also have some pretty radical research findings to combat the view that America is suffering from an unprecedented “obesity epidemic.” Like I said, radical — all kinds of public platforms teach us that a lower body weight = good health. And fat bodies being an accepted form of body diversity? That can be a hard pill to swallow. I encourage you to read the book for yourself to make your own sense of these claims, but for now, I think it’s a healthy step forward to develop respect for our bodies, as they are, and to distinguish between being healthy and a size [insert your preference].

Lovingkindness and Positive Psychology

vice1, Buddha in a car, Traffic jam with a camera in Bangkok. Everything seemed to move except the Buddha.

vice1, Buddha in a car, Traffic jam with a camera in Bangkok. Everything seemed to move except the Buddha. CC 2.0

It seems appropriate, following the anniversary of so much death and destruction, to share the Buddhist Lovingkindness meditation, something I’ve been practicing lately in honor of September being National Yoga Month. Just kidding — I only know that September is National Yoga Month because of a few instructor shout-outs at my gym, whose classes, if we’re honest with ourselves, definitely lift our collective mood for their powers to tone and tighten, but can also remind us, spiritually speaking, of our inherent interconnectedness, even if it’s just a momentary “ohm” that does it.

The lovingkindness meditation falls into the category of “psychological Buddhism,” where we integrate certain principles and practices of the Buddhist religion into our lives for therapeutic purposes. On September 11, 2001, I distinctly remember being despondent and silent as I rotated through my set of high school classes, and being unable to stomach any food. As a matter of fact, I remember my mom made lasagna that night. Hah, my sharp memory for all things edible has been with me long before I became one of those people who takes pictures of food and blogs about recipes. As I pushed it around on my plate, my dad, with his characteristic rationality, put things into perspective by pointing out that this was the first national tragedy that my brothers and I had lived through. Actually, I think he used the phrase “our generation,” words that somehow normalized the awful, horrific events of the day.

Earlier that afternoon, my AP European History teacher had asked me and a friend if we were okay, that we seemed quiet and scared. A classmate cracked a joke about my demeanor, and then, in a rare instance for my high school self of not caring what my peers thought of me, I snapped back about how I was “empathizing with all the people in that plane.” Everyone sort of stiffened, respectfully, and then another friend after class approached me, saying “I can’t believe she asked you why you were scared.”

Undoubtedly, we all have our own distinct memories of what that day felt like. Looking back, I’m almost proud to share that I was viscerally affected by what happened, even if my rational understanding of the international politics was null, and AP history classes were the bane of my high school existence (until I took elective history classes, and then grew to really like history, especially historical fiction, and then taught high school history, if dance history and theatre history count…)

Lately I’ve become interested in practicing positive psychology. According to “Psychology Today,”

“Positive psychology is the scientific study of what makes life most worth living. It is a call for psychological science to be as concerned with strength as with weakness; as interested in building the best things in life as in repairing the worst; and as concerned with making the lives of normal people fulfilling as with healing pathology.”

“Pathology” is the study of diseases. The lovingkindness meditation falls into the category of positive psychology, with its emphasis on recognizing our spiritual interconnectedness with people and the environment, and by reminding us of our potential to subtly affect the outside world by projecting positive energy.

In this article, Buddhists and psychologists compare beliefs about managing emotions in order to achieve overall well-being, comparing the tenets of Buddhism and the status quo in modern psychology. According to the authors, Buddhists view emotion and cognition as part and parcel — they don’t even have a word for “emotion.” In Buddhism, what’s more important than shifting through distortions of thought is cultivating suhka, a state of general happiness and emotional equilibrium. Suhka

“includes a deep sense of well-being, a propensity toward compassion, reduced vulnerability to outside circumstances, and recognition of the interconnectedness with people and other living beings in one’s environment.”

To achieve this state of mind takes decades of mindfulness training — mindfulness, I also know from personal experience, from practicing “psychological Buddhism,” means to observe your experience in the moment, from your environment to your own thought process, and distinguish between reality, versus subjective ideas or beliefs that you are projecting onto that reality.

Buddhists categorize negative emotions more broadly into three fallacies: cravings, animosity or hatred, and the belief in a fixed, concrete self, apart from the world. I find it so interesting that these emotions are viewed as inherently toxic because they inherently deny our interconnectedness with other people and our environment. When we crave something or feel strong hostility toward someone, in both cases, we exaggerate the qualities of the object we desire or resent, and we seek to claim ownership of it in some way. In reality, according to Buddhist philosophy,

“the self is constantly in a state of dynamic flux, arises in different ways, and is profoundly interdependent with other people and the environment.”

In my opinion, there’s something so eye-opening and soothing about this concept of the self, however much it clashes with Western culture. It’s so refreshing, may because of “the dynamic flux,” element, which suggests that the self is eclipsed and the universe at large is broadened, buzzing. At church, I often find myself wrapped up in my own, individual worship, and then it takes a conscious internal reminder to simply look up and acknowledge the other Christians who are present with me, undergoing the same weekly, re-conversion. Psychological Buddhism, and the lovingkindness meditation in particular, gives me a chance to broaden my immediate awareness. I think it benefits us all, so here are two versions, borrowed. (One’s a transcript and the other is an audio download.) Namaste.

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Sergiu Alistar, YOGA 2, CC 2.0

A Place At The Table

Screen Shot 2013-11-02 at 3.18.13 PMI recently watched A Place At The Table, a follow-up documentary to the critically acclaimed Food Inc. This next installation puts a human, American face on food insecurity, piecing together the different causes and manifestations of hunger in the United States.

Sadly, the terms food desert and food insecurity are familiar to most people now. Nonetheless, the filmmakers document the wide-ranging extent of these realities to set the scene: convenience stores are the closest thing to grocery stores in parts of West Philly and rural Mississippi. The source of tomorrow’s meal worries a single mother with a full time job and an extended family living together in rural Colorado. I was surprised to learn the extent to which federal agricultural legislation perpetuates this cycle of hunger.

Screen Shot 2013-11-02 at 3.20.54 PMThe face of hunger takes many forms: Barbie is a single mother living in Philadelphia. She is shown boiling spaghetti with her two, pre-school age children, explaining that she has recently been laid off and is supporting her family on food stamps. On public transportation, it takes Barbie a total of two hours to buy fresh groceries. She describes her own vivid memories of sphagettios and ramen noodles, and her determination to prevent these memories for her children.

Meanwhile, a mild mannered second grader named Tremonica climbs onto the examining table of a local clinic in rural Mississippi. The lack of accessible, healthy food is affecting her weight. Her teacher is later shown exhibiting “a honeydew melon,” inviting her students to call out adjectives. Tremonica is shown cautiously biting into a juicy slice.

Screen Shot 2013-11-02 at 3.21.28 PMRosie is a sixth grader living in rural Colorado. It recently came to her teacher’s attention that Rosie’s academic and behavior struggles were caused by hunger. Rosie says that she sometimes sees a banana in place of her teacher. She seems sensitive, excitable, and lonely. Members of her extended family juggle various part-time jobs; they share a messy household. She gives the cameras a tour, complaining about the clutter, then shares her getaway spot in the woods.

How did we mire ourselves in a situation where “honeydew melon” is a novelty and factory-made spaghettios are spilling off our shelves? It’s not that I have disdain for spaghettios. On the other hand, I can’t tolerate people who only eat organic, grass fed chicken.

Screen Shot 2013-06-06 at 5.24.29 PMEssentially, our government subsidizes food that is making us sick. By allowing packaged foods to be made very cheaply from refined, processed corn products and strong arming independent-minded farmers, the government makes really nasty, unhealthy, artificial junk available to the poor and limits the availability of fresh produce. In addition to being cheap, this food is very addictive from a biological standpoint. The corruption aspect lies in the fact that most food industry regulators started their careers as agribusiness leaders, CEOs of highly centralized, heavily subsidized farm-to-factory companies.

According to this film, the power of food and agricultural lobbyists rivals that of the NRA. Really, now? The manufacturers of food — basic sustenance — qualify as a “special interest group”?

The film shows a clear cause-and-effect relationship between money, fear, and the U.S. government’s perpetuation of food-related health issues. This is demonstrated by a grieving mother who has lobbied Congress about food safety laws ever since her son’s fatal E. Coli poisoning. After several years, her efforts have not yielded any concrete results. Bound by legal concerns, she minces words with the filmmakers, but her reticence speaks volumes about the power of agribusiness. Meanwhile, a pediatrician and a group of women activists lobby Congress for school lunch funds. Congress “does not have the funds” to spend more than $1.00 per lunch.

The filmmakers also make a compelling argument that food pantries are not a substitute for systemic change to agricultural laws. To do so, the issue needs to have more prominence during election season. In the meantime, you can donate or learn more here:

[Flickr photos by Bread for the World’s photo stream and tpmartins photostream]

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