Sunday, January 30, 2011

Cooking Company

 I discovered that you never cook with someone else without learning something. In every case, there’s a two-way transfer of knowledge. If they know less than you do, you grow from teaching. If more, of course, you grow from learning.
-Mark Bittman

Over a year ago I wrote a post entitled Kids and Kale , which, it seems, none of you read (guilt intentional) and so I’ll remind you what I said. I wrote that I think most people can easily fall into a cooking rut. No matter how much you enjoy cooking, when pressed you go for the crowd-pleasing recipes you know by heart. I recruited a few friends and chef Jenna Helwig and we dished up some interesting, family-friendly recipes.

I’m happy to report that last time around we each found a recipe or two that made it into our families’ regular rotation but that was 2009. While we now all have improved standby selections we found ourselves, once again, craving new ideas. So the email went out to Jenna and we picked a date after the holidays. That date was last week and we all trudged through the snow, toting our knives and cutting boards, to my friend T’s apartment.
The menu was fantastic. We got started with Jena’s “Crowd-Pleasing Chili.” After a round of “not-it” my friend Z and I were put on onion chopping duty.  The others browned the meat and measured the spices. While some women compare purses, we talked knives. I have a minor obsession with Global stainless steel knives. Jenna and my friend S prefer the knives with a beveled edge and T was enjoying a new Kuhn Rikon ceramic knife in her favorite color purple 

With the chili simmering, next up was meatloaf with sage. We used oats versus breadcrumbs for this recipe.  A great tip of Jenna’s was to make little test patties, the size of a quarter and heat them in a pan to assess the seasoning of the loaf. With the seasonings approved, we moved onto the quinoa salad. 

On the subject of timesaving secrets, T told us that her mother used to make larger batches of seasonings for recipes she cooked often. She would then label them “chili seasoning” or “meatloaf mixture” and not have to measure away each time. If you ask me that’s genius and something that would never have occurred to me.
For our vegetable dish, Jenna jazzed up potentially boring broccoli with lemon zest and garlic. We mixed all the ingredients on a parchment-lined cookie sheet, for easier cleanup. The final recipe was a ginger shrimp dish. For this we prepared a brine which was something I hadn’t done before. My only prior brine association was pickles but I was thrilled to try something new.
 A couple of our friends had to run to school pick up but a few of us lingered and sat down to eat. We learned a lot and everything was delicious.
 Jenna calls this Crowd pleasing Chili but to be it’s Cinnamon Chili, either way it’s a good family recipe and a great Super Bowl option:

This is a great make-ahead meal, and it freezes very well.

Ingredients:  1 Tablespoon canola oil (if using ground turkey)
2 pounds ground beef, ground turkey, or a combo
                        2 small (or 1 large) onions, chopped
                        2 garlic cloves, minced
                        1 Tablespoon chili powder
                        1 tsp. cumin
                        1/4 tsp. cinnamon
                        1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste
                        3/4 cup ketchup
                        28 oz. diced tomatoes and their juices
                        1 can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
                        1 tsp. red wine vinegar or balsamic vinegar
                        2 plum tomatoes, chopped

  1. If using ground turkey, add the canola oil to a large pot over medium-high heat. Brown the ground meat with the onions and garlic. If using ground beef, once the meat is browned, drain. You can generally skip this step if using ground turkey.
  2. Return the mixture to the pot and add the remaining ingredients. Stir to combine. Raise heat to high and bring chili to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and cook for at least an hour, stirring occasionally. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt and/or pepper if necessary.
  3. If desired, garnish with chopped avocado, shredded cheese, or chopped scallion.
 What are your favorite crowd-pleasing recipes to make? Who do you like to cook with? What knives do you like best? Can you relate to our dinner rut?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

10 Allegedly Healthy Foods

( A far prettier version of this post appeared on Blisstree)

I’ll bet my nutrition credentials that broccoli will remain in the good--for-you food group for eternity. Similarly, SPAM and Velveeta will always be unhealthy. Still, many foods aren’t solidly at either end of the health spectrum. And lots of foods that people assume are healthy really aren’t. So, in the hopes of helping you to make smarter eating choices, here are ten foods you may think are healthy and nutritious, but the reality? Not so much           

Most pretzels boast no fat and so have a beloved place in many snack drawers. But aside from taste, exactly what do pretzels have to brag about? One ounce of pretzels contains 100 calories and 580 mg of sodium (and little else). Which is almost the same as eating 1 oz. of white hamburger bun: 77 calories and 149 mg sodium. For healthier alternatives, we suggest Happy Herbert’s Gluten Gone Pretzels or our favorite, Food Should Taste Good Chips.

Couscous is cute, with its small bead-like shape. And my clients often put it on the “good carb” list with bulgur and other whole grains. I hate to break it to you, but couscous is pasta. The nutritionals are exactly the same. Bulgur and quinoa contain more nutrients.

Veggie Burgers
“Veggie” doesn’t automatically mean healthy. Many veggie burgers are made with TVP (processed soy), grains, and at times, scant amounts of actually vegetables. Scan ingredient labels for TVP and look at the sodium. (Our favorites are Sunshine Burgers.)

 Tuna Salad
And now for many people’s treasured tuna salad. Fish contains omega-3’s and we’re told we should consume more of those. However, these particularly omega-3’s have globs of mayo added to them. Four ounces of tuna salad contains 212 calories and 10 grams of fat – double the calories and five times the fat of sliced turkey. We suggest those delicious jarred tunas with chopped peppers, onion and celery, like the Zoe or Tonnino brands.

Brown Sugar
Brown sugar should be healthier than white sugar, right? Unfortunately, it’s not fiber that gives brown sugar its color; it’s molasses. When it comes to calories, brown and white are equals.

Canned Foods/Canned Fruit
My mother was a great cook, but we admittedly ate fruit cocktail growing up. I have two issues with canned fruit: one is the corn syrup pool the fruit swims in, and the other are the BPAs present in the can itself. Fresh fruits are always best, but dried (no sulfites) is my second choice. A medium peach has 8 grams of sugar; while one serving of canned peaches has more than 24 grams (or three times as much).

Olive Oil
Now it's time to address a food we all know, use, and love: olive oil. We’re actually fine with EVOO (thanks Rachel), but we’re not fine with using it like it’s “free”. It does contain calories, and if you use it to scramble eggs in the morning, in your salad dressing at lunch, and for dunking your bread before dinner (and more to cook your entrée), you’ve racked up almost 1,000 calories – not so healthy. It’s also not recommended to heat olive oil at high temperatures.

We love Italian names, but these are still just cookies. For you cookie monsters, we like healthier options including GlowCookies and Kookie Karma.

 UHT (Ultra-Pasteurized) Organic Milk
As we mentioned in an earlier post, organic is a good choice when it comes to dairy, but you need to look carefully at the labels. UHT (ultra pasteurized) milk is not as healthy as regularly pasteurized because the high heat process kills good bacteria and other nutrients. Companies like Organic Valley offer both options, and many including Natural By Nature, Milk Thistle, and our #1,  NY Milk always pasteurize at a lower temperature.

Sugar-Free Pudding or Sugar Free Anything.
Sugar-free Pudding (or sugar-free anything) with Splenda or NutraSweet can make brown sugar actually look healthy. We’ll take a little bit of real sugar over the faux version any day.
What were the surprises on this list for you? Any allegedly healthy foods we missed?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Big Easy Tips

This is a guest post from Foodtrainers’ favorite nutrition nerd Lisa Ganguzza. Aside from our nerdom, Lisa and I are both “Green Wave” graduates. We felt we needed a post about the city that we love and all the great food. 

After a recent visit, Lauren and I discussed whether it’s possible to eat healthy in New Orleans, a food-centric city world-renowned for decadence. Laissez les Bon Temps Rouler, let the good times roll, are the guiding words for most decisions made in New Orleans. Unfortunately, many of those good times include deep fried meats and pastries topped with creamy sauces, and sugary “signature” drinks. But of course, in a city built on enjoying oneself, there are delicious options for those of us looking to leave New Orleans elated but not inflated. So from us to you, here are some Tulane Alumnae tips to enjoy eating in Nola, while still being able to enjoy your jeans on the flight home.
*These travel tips can be applied elsewhere. After all, if you can eat somewhat healthy in New Orleans, you can do it anywhere.

Breakfast: typical New Orleans breakfast items include cheesy grits, biscuits with gravy, Andouille sausage and eggs, and crab cake eggs benedict heavy on the hollandaise. Last time I was in New Orleans, I actually encountered praline bacon, a first but not a surprise. These things are all delicious, but we feel, when traveling it’s a good idea to start the day on track. You’ll have plenty of time to play later. Try egg whites scrambled with peppers, onions, and of course Crystal hot sauce;  substitute toast for the biscuit.

Lunch: whether you’re a tourist or a native, lunch items like muffulettas and po-boys tend to make it into the rotation. Since New Orleans is all about giving, muffulettas can be 8 inches in diameter, and po-boys a foot long, all for no more than $6 or $7. Needless to say, these are great items to share. Our #1 lunch tip: you don’t want your sandwich “dressed”.  Sandwiches should be naked or topless (we’ll explain). Dressed in Nola is code for slathered in mayo, so we would recommend asking to hold the mayo or the other “special sauce”. Standard po-boy fillings include fried chicken, fried oysters, fried shrimp, fried soft shell crab and fried catfish. We promise the grilled shrimp, fish, and chicken po-boys are just as good prepared with delicious Cajun spices and seasonings. Lastly, we’d recommend tearing off some bread (or removing the top so it’s “topless”) and enjoying a side of collard greens instead.  

Dinner: When you sit down for dinner in Nola, it’s difficult not to be distracted by the brass band playing in the restaurant, the patrons singing along that have been there since brunch, or the waiter chatting you up about your day, your week, and your year. Despite the festive and friendly distractions, be sure to really read the menu. Avoid anything “stuffed” and remember what we said about jeans above. The stuffed mushrooms, stuffed tomatoes and stuffed shrimp may sound healthy but they are stuffed with buttery crabmeat and creamy breadcrumbs. New Orleans is known for their amazing local seafood, and healthier dishes like bbq gulf-shrimp, crawfish etouffee, and oysters Rockefeller must be taken advantage of. You are sure to find 4 or 5 delicious grilled fish options on any menu. Just be careful when you “take sides”. If your entrée comes with a choice of sides, stick with the local favorites like gumbo and red beans and rice, corn maquechoux or jambalaya. You can get fries at home.  

Dessert: Bananas foster, crème brulee, and bread puddings dominate New Orleans dessert menus. Of course they are all delicious but we suggest having an Irish coffee instead. Order a dessert for the table if you must but we recommend saving the sweet tooth for a beignet. One note about beignets: it is worth the wait at Café du Monde versus surrounding imitations. 

Drinks: “Hurricanes” and “Hand Grenades,” the brightest red and lime-est
green drinks you’ll ever see, are ubiquitous on Bourbon Street. The surrounding French Quarter offers some better options. Sip on some sazerac or southern comfort with fresh lime juice, traditional and historic New Orleans drinks that can last you the entire night. Spicy Bloody Marys with fresh tomato juice and string beans are another great drink option. Whatever you choose, we recommend limiting the drinking so your meal choices aren’t governed by your hangover the next day.

Breakfast, lunch, dinner, or late night lucky dog, New Orleans offers some of the most creative dishes you’ll ever find. So skip the buttered cornbread at every meal, and don’t fill up on boudin balls so you can enjoy a little of everything and leave the “big” in the Big Easy.
And so you know we didn’t spend our college days subsisting on egg whites and collard greens.
 Lauren loves Eggs Florentine at Commanders Palace, Abita’s Turbo Dog beer and the best crawfish in the world at Big Fisherman Seafood.
Lisa loves the Crab Claws Bordelaise at Palace Café, Fried Green Tomatoes at Jacques-Imo's  (and  jazz fest tents) and would fly this minute for the bronzed tuna or curried chicken salad at Café Rani. We do disagree on one thing Lisa would choose Purple Haze over “Turbo” any day.
What are your tips for eating healthy while away? What were your favorite college treats? And what’s your favorite thing about New Orleans?

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Would you Like a Side of Kale With That?

On more than one occasion, my husband and I have found ourselves watching a show that airs on ABC Friday nights called “What Would You Do?” Using actors, actresses and hidden cameras the show sets up certain scenes: someone banging another person’s car or a woman breast feeding at a restaurant or a parent harshly scolding a child and tapes how strangers respond. It’s fun to see who speaks their mind or sticks up to someone and of course how people feel when they find out that the scene wasn’t real. This past Friday’s show placed an overweight woman at a restaurant ordering large amounts of unhealthy fare. The actor-waiter was scripted to inform her it was “a lot of food” or suggest healthier alternatives.  His suggestions were presented with varying degrees of malice.

Some fellow patrons stuck up for the woman telling the waiter he was “rude” or that it wasn’t his business (my husband pointed out that much of the outrage came from equally overweight customers). Others, though in the minority, felt the waiter was trying to be helpful. While watching the show, I was filled with “can you imagine if this actually happened?” but I feel differently after mulling this over. I’m wondering if there isn’t a tactful way to do this.  If we could eliminate the meanness, is there a way a waiter could steer people in a healthy direction much like a register person asks if you want fries with your order or a server reveals his favorite items on a menu? This is all unlikely because restaurants have a financial interest in us eating more and not less and generally do not have our health or weight in mind but it could be interesting. I’ve had servers, especially when dining in a group, say “I think you have enough food ordered” which never seems to offend.

And then I started to think that a waiter’s comments might not be that different from calorie counts on menus. Whether we want to know or not, we now see just how many calories that Starbucks scone has (440). Do people feel this is rude or that it’s a not restaurants’ place to tell us this? No, for the most part, buzz kill aside, people feel it’s good information to have. So when it comes to observing a hit and run, I might not speak up if the person seemed scary. With breastfeeding in public, booby covered I’m fine. And if a waiter suggested I add a side of kale to my dinner, I might have to kiss him. If I did, "what would my husband do"?
Do you think it’s a waiter’s place to steer customers in a healthy direction? Do you like or dislike calorie counts on menus? And do you think we actually know what we would do until we’re in the situation?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Prune PR

 I don’t know where things went so wrong. I doubt it’s entirely about looks. After all the date, which after living in New Orleans, seems the fruit that most closely resembles a cockroach hasn’t been slowed down.  And if it’s a matter of wrinkles then why are raisins in every preschooler’s lunchbox? With the exception of dried cranberries, dried fruits aren’t fruity beauty queens.

So if it’s not a matter of appearance, is it about, you know, poop? Prunes seem to have this grandma reputation because they help move things along. After over 10 years practicing nutrition I cannot wrap my brain around this being a bad thing. We are a people pursuing the perfect poop; if prunes are a poop producer shouldn’t this make them praiseworthy? 

As the sweatshirt (which sadly I don’t own) states, I love prunes and I’m hoping us prune-lovers can band together. I’m not in favor of the name change either. In 2000, the prune board conducted 10 million dollars to convert prunes to dried plums. Oh well, it was only 10 million and guess what? Didn’t work. They’re still prunes.

Prunes are unique; it’s not only the fiber content but also the amount of sorbitol  (as in sugar free candy) naturally in prunes that helps relieve constipation. Prunes are a great source of potassium and also B vitamins and magnesium. Prunes are also powerful antioxidants and contain compounds known as phenols. Prunes make a great snack or dessert with 4-5 for 100 calories. When you buy prunes, try to find those that haven’t been treated with sulfites.

Pruney Recipes:
Stewed Prunes- great with Green yogurt or Ricotta cheese
Prune Snack Bars (I would use a flour other than soy flour)
Bacon wrapped Prunes- use nitrite free bacon for this.
Finally, from the shiksa in the kitchen (and is there a better blog name) hamantaschen anyone?

 So be honest, are you a prune lover? What do you think accounts for their uncool fruit-loser reputation? How do you like to eat prunes? Or do you call them dried plums?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Milk Matters

Last Friday we had a meeting with the head of my boys’ school. No, it’s not what you think; the Slayton silliness isn’t that out of hand. All is well in 1st and 3rd grades; we were meeting about nutrition. There are 4 of us, 3 RD’s and an MD, all moms’s at this UWS nameless-for-now private school. Earlier this year, we met with the head of the lower school and outlined some suggestions to improve the food situation. The meeting went well and we left encouraged.  Certain changes were implemented and Friday’s meeting was to follow up on a few matters.  First on our list was organic milk.  As soon as we asked we were told, rather bluntly “there isn’t going to be organic milk.” It turns out the head of the entire school feels organic milk is ultra pasteurized and that therefore conventional milk that is “free of synthetic hormones” is just as good.  My head was spinning. Here we are in NYC, I would guess that less that 5% of the parent body uses conventional milk at home.  I silently reminded myself I had 2 children at this school and needed to keep my passion under wraps. We agreed I would “gather all pertinent information” and circle back.

So what is ultra pasteurization and is it bad?
Ultra pasteurization (or UHT pasteurization) means that milk is heated at a higher temperature that pasteurized milk (280 degrees for 2 seconds versus 167 degrees for 15 seconds). The drawback of this process is that ultra-pasteurization kills nonpathogenic bacteria in addition to pathogenic. Many discussions of ultra-pasteurized milk also mention the burnt or cooked taste but I am not enough of a milk drinker to verify this. There is some concern that ultra-pasteurization destroys vitamins. UHT extends the shelf life of milk and is attractive to retailers for this reason. Dean Sparks of NY Milk states, “This is all about THEM and nothing about YOU and your family.” With “them” in this example being retailers. While ultra pasteurization may not be dangerous, it doesn’t appear necessary or desirable.

Some fantastic companies who offer non-UHT milk are:
Organic Valley – offers both UHT and not UHT
Evans Farmhouse Creamery
*We eliminated certain producers based on Cornucopia’s dairy farm ratings.

 Is “no synthetic hormones” conventional milk “just as good”?
Cows naturally produce hormones so no milk is technically hormone free. As for contains no “synthetic hormones” in my opinion I am not OK with this. Alexandra Zissu, Foodtrainers’ favorite green expert and author confirmed my suspicions saying, “There isn't a government organization or third party agency verifying the hormone and antibiotic claims.”  The USDA organic standards are government regulated. Plus, hormones added or otherwise aren’t the only issue here.

Why does it make sense to buy organic milk?
Organic milk has fewer pesticide residues as no pesticides or non-organic fertilizers are used for the cows’ feed. No BGH is used to increase milk production and no genetically modified ingredients are fed to the cows.  Under the organic standards if a cow receives antibiotics it will be a year before they are used for milk as a washout period. And finally, the cows used for organic milk live in better conditions and have access to grazing and grass. Organic milk has higher levels of vitamins, antioxidants and omega 3’s.

 Advice from Dean Sparks: “If the date on the top of the seal is more than 3 weeks out, you’ve got UHT milk. Also, it will say “ultra pasteurized” right on the carton. You want none of that…put it back and find some good, wholesome, local fresh organic milk to drink. Doing so almost ensures you are supporting small family farms that are doing things right.”

To summarize:
  • Choose non-UHT milk whenever you can.
  • Conventional “no synthetic hormones added” is questionable at best and without a doubt inferior to organic.
  • I was pro-organic before this post but even more so after delving further into dairy.
What type or brand of milk do you buy? Did you know about ultra pasteurization before? How do I tell the school they don’t “pass” the dairy test?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Are you "well" read?

 Over Christmas break I received the following message:
Would you consider doing a post about what your twitter feed looks like or what you wake up and read immediately--a day in the reading life of Lauren?
The closing of this message included a postscript, which read:
PS: I got engaged over the holiday. A nice surprise.
Needless to say, I was much more determined to receive the proposal details than to talk reading. While the engagement specifics will remain private, I figured better late than never with my daily reading. I also called on some of my well-read wellness peers for their reading lists.

A day in the reading life of Lauren:
I do a blog hop many mornings. This includes cooking blogs, running blogs, yoga blogs and of course nutrition blog. When a new post is up, I get a little excited. Some of my favorite blogs include:

I also get the NY Times, USA Today and The Wall Street Journal on my kindle. I love Tuesday’s Personal Journal in the WSJ and of course the Science and Dining Times in the NY Times. 

On Twitter, I always check out @Blisstreedotcom, @MarionNestle, @TheAtlanticFood, @The_Stir, @AmyTaraKoch.
And there’s generally a “real” book or 2 in the mix I’m now enjoying (by the fire) Poser by Claire Dederer and also reading Keith Block’s Life Over Cancer.

Hemi Weingarten, founder of Fooducate.
Fooducate was one of the first blogs I followed when starting mine. Fooducate has a fantastic IPhone app that rates food products like students.
Hemi’s daily reading:
LA Times Booster Shots is great, USA today, NY Times health (only a small % is food)

Marion Nestle's Food Politics is the best. She tells it like it is. It's Not About Nutrition by Dr. Dina Rose - amazing take on getting kids to eat well. 

I also get good email roundups from:
Smartbrief for Nutritionists
Phil Lempert Supermarket Guru
Food Navigator
Progressive Grocer
My best source of topics though, comes from readers who alert me to things going on (commercials, ads, new products, etc.)

Christine Egan, editor in chief of Blisstree. I contribute to Blisstree weekly and find that we’re on the same page when it comes to snark. Blisstree doesn’t shy away from honesty with its content and for that reason I visit daily. I always end up with some great information and a chuckle (the non-edible variety).
Christine’s reading list:
The Guardian's website does great health video series
NPR radio (pretty obvious) 
 I also usually look at the health sections of all the major newspapers online.

Dr. Ayala is a pediatrician, artist, blogger, mom, and the creator of Herbal Water. Dr Ayala’s posts are so well referenced that it doesn’t surprise me she’s a voracious reader.
Dr Ayala’s reading list:

I read The New York Times and listen to NPR when I’m in the car or cooking. I go to the BBC for another perspective.  I catch yesterday’s Daily Show with Jon Stewart when I’m exercising -- he makes the news more bearable.
Books: I’m addicted! If I don’t get an hour of reading my day is not complete!
Scientific magazines: I read mainly about nutrition and pediatrics (American J of Clinical Nutrition, Pediatrics), and go through the leading medical journals (NEJM, Circulation, Lancet, BMJ).
Twitter: Such an amazing way to meet new people and hear about what’s going on! Tweeps introduce me to news resources and new ideas I wouldn’t otherwise have known about.
 I hope you enjoyed these lists and learned about some new resources (I did). I’d love to hear what you, my readers, "ingest" on a daily basis. Please share your reading list in your comments.

Friday, January 14, 2011

10 Sneaky Sources of Salt

We all have a friend or family member who, like my husband, often reaches for the saltshaker even before tasting their food. Perhaps this person is chided for their overzealous shaking; perhaps not. But the truth is that even the most serious salt-lover isn’t in danger of approaching the recommended one-teaspoon-a-day of salt from that habit. Instead, have you ever considered criticizing the amount of spaghetti sauce someone uses? Maybe you should.” Here are ten sneaky salt sources lurking in your food from a post I wrote for Blisstree.
 Chicken Breast
And I’m not talking about fried chicken or chicken tenders, either. Most supermarket chicken breasts are injected with a sodium solution. One serving of that can contain 400 mg of sodium (raw!), while less than 100 mg of sodium are naturally found in chicken. I first learned about this from Janet Helm’s Nutrition Unplugged post and have been disturbed ever since.
You have PMS, so you pop an NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug) to help relieve your cramps. But many NSAIDS (like ibuprofen) are high in sodium, which is a concern for those with high blood pressure or high “bloat.” A salt pill won’t likely help improve your moodiness once you realize that.

Baked Goods
Muffin with your salt? A Starbucks low-fat red raspberry muffin contains 500 mg of sodium, but at least that’s 400 mg less than the 900 mg in its egg white, spinach, and feta wrap. Either way, go easy on the baked goods.

Tomato Sauce
You may obsess about the carbs loaded in your bowl of pasta, but have you contemplated the sauce? Tomatoes are full of lycopene, a powerful antioxidant; tomato sauce also contains lycopene – and a lot of salt. A cup of tomato sauce (no meatballs) contains almost 1,500 mg of sodium. For less salt, make the sauce yourself using fresh tomatoes (yes, less convenient).
Deli Sandwiches
It’s no surprise that processed meats are salty. However, at delis, the meat, bread, and “extras” also contribute salt. A 6” Subway turkey breast sandwich has 910 mg of sodium. American cheese adds 200 mg and pickles another 125 mg, for a grand (or not so grand) total of 1,235 mg of sodium. How’s Jared’s blood pressure doing?

Canned Beans
You’ve probably considered the serious salt in canned soups, but what about your beans? Those that come from a can will run you more than 700 mg of sodium per cup (or 1/3 of your daily allowance). If you eat beans at home, give them a rinse in a colander or buy low-sodium beans. Better yet: Soak and cook your own.

Raisin Bran Cereal
You know that fiber is a good-for-you whole grain, and we all need more of it in our diets. Problem is, salt and sugar are often added to processed whole grains to spice them up. One culprit is raisin bran cereal, with 342 mg sodium per cup (plus a whole lot of sugar).

Bottled Salad Dressing
Just two tablespoons of bottled Italian salad dressing contain almost 500 mg of sodium. (And two tablespoons is not a lot.) Pair that with the aforementioned beans, plus some olives or roasted peppers and now you know why you feel bloated after hitting the salad bar. Foodtrainers’ favorite dressing olive oil and lemon juice.

Cottage Cheese
When you mention “diet” foods, many people’s heads fill with images of cottage cheese, Melba toast, and Kellogg’s Special K cereal. But cottage cheese is certainly not a low-sodium diet food. Just one cup contains 900 mg of sodium, so you may want to rethink breakfast (just not with raisin bran).

Those cute little packets look so harmless, especially compared to the fries next to them. But just one tablespoon of this adorable condiment means 190 mg of sodium. Add the fries, and you’re well over 500 mg.

The moral of the story is to read labels and check out the sodium. You don’t want your day’s food composed of many serious sodium sources, the same can be said for your children’s food. Which of these items was the biggest surprise? Do you consider yourself salt sensitive? Any strategies, other than making yourself to cut salt?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


It’s not easy to list your good qualities and I’m not about to start. I will say that I am not a whiner. Whether it’s pain,emotional or physical, or discomfort, I have a high threshold. This serves me well in the ski season. My husband always says, referring to our kids, “skiing will toughen you up, anyone can sit on a beach.” Let’s just say on Sunday, I was craving some beach time. I was wearing many layers and hand warmers, cashmere socks and a neck gator and I was still cold. I may have even whined a little. I didn’t whine that much though because I didn’t last that long. It was bitter and windy, the tips of my fingers couldn’t grip my poles…aren’t you jealous of our ski weekends?

My husband was not cold (and was so proud of this fact) and my boys do not finish until 12:45 so I headed home for a bit to warm up. I wasn’t ready for lunch but I was ready for warmth. I scanned our soup selections and perked up when I saw something I hadn’t tried before.  It was this:

I poured some of this French Onion Soup into a pot and heated it up.  I would normally have been giddy with anticipation was I was still thawing.  I cut a couple of thin slices of Cabot Reduced Fat Cheddar and changed out of my many layers. When I came downstairs the soup was simmering. I poured it into  a Le Pain Quotidien bowl and took a seat at the kitchen counter. I am an onion soup lover but it’s hard to imagine French Onion Soup without Gruyere and bread. This soup has neither bread nor cheese but it also has only 30 calories per cup. I held the soup to my mouth and tasted it. It was delicious. I had a bite of the cheddar cheese and for a minute really felt as though there was nothing better. Here was a 30-calorie, organic, gluten free version of one of my favorite, high fat, gluten-y foods.  I will say this soup is high in sodium. I would keep your serving to a cup or cup and a half.  My cup of Pacific’s French Onion soup turned my day around. Anyone can sit on the beach.
What activities do or did you do as a child that “toughen you up”?  What are your favorite ways to warm up, a fire? A certain type of clothing? Seat warmers in the car? And what are your favorite supermarket soups?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Three Ingredient Fix

I was out to dinner with a couple of good friends on Thursday.  We were joking about staying on top of everything: work, kids, food, exercise, sometimes doing a better job than others. My friend Meg shared a story, her son woke up that morning and requested “something not bread for breakfast.” Meg looked and they were out of eggs,  yogurt and all other typical non-bread breakfast items as she was due for a food shop. She looked in the pantry and spotted something. “Do you want to have soup for breakfast?” Her son loved the idea and perhaps a new tradition was born.  We all know those times when it’s slim pickings in the house, your supply of staple items exhausted and, like Meg, you have to be creative or at least flexible.  Meg’s story  reminded me of a post I read on Cannelle  et Vanille. A reader asked her the 3 items she always has handy. Her answer was “lentils, eggs and some sort of green”.

 The 3 items I have on hand and use regularly are avocados, jarred tuna and greens.
Avocados go so far beyond guacamole for me. I often bring them to the office for breakfast. I slice them down the middle, remove the pit and sprinkle them with sea salt or black pepper and agave. I eat them “straight” with a spoon. I also use avocados in smoothies and this time of year in my “Breakfast Pudding.” I mix ½ avocado with cocoa and chocolate hemp powder and a dash of cayenne. I blend these ingredients until they are smooth but thick. At lunchtime I use ½ avocado as a bowl for tuna or other salad. And at dinner I often cube avocado into  tomato  or black bean soup or slice one into fish tacos.  And let’s not forget guacamole. I am the proud owner of a new mocaljate that is already seasoned and well used.

My second item, the jarred tuna, is my go-to protein source. I have written about 2 of my favorites Zoe and Tonnino. I suggested Zoe for the “Let’s do Lunch Challenge” and the jalapeno Tonnino was one of my “4 Current Obsessions”. This tuna is great over greens or on Mary’s Gone Crackers. For an easy dinner I chop up any veggie I have into the tuna, add a squeeze of lemon or lime and viola!

Finally, I guess Aran and I overlap in that greens are definitely a necessity for me. Lately, I’ve been purchasing greens from a company called Olivia’s Organics.  My new favorite is their “50/50 Blend” which includes: Spinach, Tango, Lolla Rossa, Red & Green Romaine, Red and Green Oak, Red and Green Chard, Mizuna, Radicchio, Frisee, Beet Greens, Arugula, Tat-Soi and Red Mustard (most of which my spell check doesn't recognize). Olivia’s also makes single, to-go containers of greens. I use greens in omelets and juices. I wilt greens with garlic a lot for an easy side dish and use larger greens, such as kale leaves, for a wrap. I am partial to the clamshell (think shoe box size) containers as I find they stay fresh the longest.  And of course I love combining my top three tastes, avocado, jarred tuna and greens in a salad with lemon vinaigrette and a dash of hot sauce.
What 3 items do always have handy? What’s your equivalent of the “soup for breakfast” moment? Any other avocado uses I omitted?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Are you an underachiever?

I know, here we are not even a week into this full-of-potential New Year and I come out with a bummer title like that. I’m not here to burst your motivated bubble; my intentions are good. You see, I was in a session on Monday with a client I’ve known for some time. We were setting goals for the year ahead and I was reviewing her food journal. This client is an exercise hater but we’ve made progress in that department. She has worked out with a trainer and managed to get into a routine where she does something about 3 days a week. As I looked over her exercise total,  I saw that she had done 2 25-minute workouts and one for 30 minutes. Few would argue that this is better than nothing.  I looked asked my client if 35 could be the new 25? She said, “it probably could, I just get to 25 minutes and feel I’ve done enough, I have the time though.”
You may call it settling into a routine but I think there are places for all of us where we consistently underachieve. There are certain yoga poses I just don’t do. Some of them I am incapable of going into without serious bodily harm. Others, I don’t do because I never do them. Occasionally I attempt a non-Lauren pose and I am surprised.  Aside from fitness, this same mentality apply to eating. How often you resort to take out when you have ingredients at home you could technically cook? Or do you have a snack after dinner simply because you always have a snack after dinner? Maybe you’re not hungry on a particular day; if you’re on autopilot you may not even notice this.

So while we’re setting lofty goals (did I really say I was writing a book?), think of the details too. Take a minute to file the papers on your desk rather than shuffling them or bring your lunch to work when there are leftovers, stretch after your run, you get it. There’s a difference between cutting yourself a break here and there and consistently copping out. OK having said all this, I should probably start to file and run more than a few miles at a time.
What areas do you see yourself underachieving? Would you call it underachieving?
Will I ever be able to do a headstand in yoga class?

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

I'm Glowing

It was the Friday after the Friday after Thanksgiving. I was at Whole Foods Market stocking up for our first of many trips to Vermont for the season. Aside from produce and meal staples I had to get everyones favorite goodies. I had Bear Naked Fit vanilla granola for Marc, dried strawberries for Myles and smores ingredients for Weston. I always have medjool dates and dark chocolate on hand but noticed a brand of gluten free cookies I hadn’t tried before. I tossed a box of Glow Gluten Free Snickerdoodles into the cart and continued to shop. 

 The next day, after skiing and lunch, the boys and Marc headed down the road to skate. I stayed back to organize the house, do some cleaning and eventually get dinner started. If I’m being upfront, I really stayed back because I get a couple of hours to be alone (and do the aforementioned activities yeah, yeah).  I said goodbye to the boys and started up the teakettle. I choose Harney Hot Cinnamon spice tea 

and turned the lazy Susan (what’s better than a lazy Susan, really?) in the cabinet in search of a mate for my tea. I spotted the pretty package of snickerdoodles and opened it. 

I sat at the kitchen counter with my oversized cup of tea, my generously sized cookie and aptop and before tasting anything knew life really doesn’t get any better than that. And then it did. I had a taste of the tea and it was perfect for a cold winter day. It had a sweetness from the cinnamon and wasn’t too hot to drink. Then I had the cookie, I am not a snickerdoodle person, and it was crispy and chewy at the same time. I dunked the cookie in the tea and almost fainted from euphoria, I tweeted about it instead.

Deliciousness is one thing but I knew that if these cookies and I were going to coexist I had to know more about them. I looked at the label and saw they were 110 calories and had 2 grams of fiber per cookie, pretty good. I glanced at the ingredients expecting to see potato flour or some other gluten-free, and not necessarily wholesome, base and saw “garbanzo and fava bean flour”. While I know this information might deter many of you for me this sealed the deal. My newfound treat was made from legumes, it tasted fantastic and I still had an hour and a half left in the house.

P.S. Over Christmas I bought the Glow Ginger Snaps. I had one and they were even better than the Snickerdoodles. When I returned to the lazy Susan a couple days later, I turned and turned and the Gingersnaps were gone.
Do you love being alone as much as I do? What are your favorite cold-weather treats? Do you think it’s bad that I don’t skate with the boys?