Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Still Struggling to Trust the Carbs? Step out with this lentil soup!

Another soup recipe?!

Struggling to step out of your comfort zone and try new foods? Carbs still not safe? Selecting foods you can justify by their nutritional value can be quite helpful to get you started. Take lentil soup, for instance. Knowing that lentils are good for you—a great source of protein, oh-so-satisfying fiber, as well as carbohydrate—may get you through. And remembering that carbohydrate is a necessary nutrient, which fuels our active (and sedentary) bodies.

Lentils are also a valuable  source of iron, thiamin, and folate. Being inexpensive, easy to prepare, tasty and versatile places them high on my list of ingredients to keep on hand.

And once you try this soup, I’m sure you’ll be hooked, even if you’ve never liked lentils before. Lentils come in all colors and sizes, (the so-called red ones which really look orange are a lot lower in fiber) and are interchangeable in lentil recipes. By the way, this soup, by itself, is not an adequate meal. But serve with a salad (with nuts and dried fruit, perhaps) and some bread for a healthy, balanced, and delicious dinner! This one is sure to please.

Grilling just isn't an option these days!

Lentil Soup (adapted from Jane Brody’s Good Food Book)
Serves 8

2 Tbsps. olive or vegetable oil
2 large onion, chopped
3 carrots, sliced
¾ tsp. oregano
¾ tsp. thyme leaves
1 28 oz. can tomatoes with their juice, coarsely chopped
7 cups broth/stock (chicken, beef or vegetable, regular or reduced sodium)
1 ½ (or 2*) cups dried lentils ( brown or yellow)
½ tsp. salt (omit if using prepared commercial broth/stock)
6 oz. dry white wine
1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley

• In a large stockpot heat oil and sauté the onions, carrots, oregano and thyme, stirring, for about 5 mins.
• Add tomatoes, broth and lentils and bring to a boil.
• Reduce heat and cover, simmering for an hour. Lentils should be tender.
• Add the salt (optional), wine, and parsley, and simmer the soup for a few more minutes.
• Serve and enjoy!

PS: Looking for another chance to try out lentils? Visit my old post for a delectable lemony lentil stew.

 *(use 2 cups to count as a protein, if following an exchange plan.)

Friday, January 21, 2011

Why Carbs Got a Bad Rep. And What you Can Do About It.

My home-baked, white flour challah from last night.
(Today's french toast!)

 It’s all fat’s fault. It started with fatphobia, a fear of fat. Yes, back in the 80’s when Michael Jackson’s Thriller and Sinatra’s New York, New York were hits, Americans were instilled with a near fatal fear of fat-containing foods.  Meanwhile, carbohydrate was deemed safe and free to consume, without restraint. Ah, the good old days.
Heart disease became linked to saturated fat, and the message got oversimplified. Instead of saturated fats, the true culprit, all fats were grouped together as unacceptable.

And so food companies, ever interested in meeting consumer demand, supported our desire to eliminate the fat from most food products. Welcome Snackwell fat free cookies, fat free ice cream, reduced fat peanut butter—you name it.  Clients would declare, so proudly, that they had eaten 5 or 6 fat free sandwich cookies, clinging to the “free” part of the description. That they had consumed as much from these ”safe” cookies as they would from regular Oreos, never crossed their minds. They simply homed in on the fat content.

As fats were vilified, intake of carbohydrate-rich foods expanded, as did our waistlines. As you eliminate one of the three main building blocks of foods (fat) you are left with only two others (protein and carbohydrate) to fill the void. And we were given incentive to increase our intake of these items—they were “free” (of fats) and seemingly good for us. And their portions increased as well, as our guilt for eating them bottomed out.

So obscenely large I had to dig out my food scale and see what it weighed. Yes, 7 oz!

Unless you grew up in Brooklyn (which I happen to) a bagel was something Lenders made. It weighed about 2 ounces, the equivalent of two slices of pre-sliced bread. But even commercially baked bagels bulked up to 4 and 5 ounces, as in Dunkin Donuts, Finagle a Bagel, and Einstein.

No, not all bagels weight this much!
The thought of energy balance, of eating to meet your need, was absent, as larger amounts of carbs were eaten, regardless of hunger or need.

Finally the reality hit. Americans’ weight was climbing. In spite of having cut the fat, our weight, as a population, was increasing. (By the way, for those of you still fat phobic, this only further supports the fact that fats don't link with weight gain.) The culprit? Well, according to such authorities as Barry Sears (The Zone Diet) and Dr. Atkins (of restrict-carbs-to-make- ketones fame), the obvious conclusion was that carbs were bad. 

And boy did that message take off! They reinforced their messages with a distortion of a truth about carbs—that they increase insulin levels in the blood stream. They pathologized this situation, making it seem like a bad thing. Yes, insulin levels increase upon eating carbs. But a healthy body handles carbohydrate quite well, thank you. Yes, even diabetics can and should include carbohydrate as a chunk of their intake. (I say this as both an RD and a Certified Diabetes Educator.)

When panicked, we tend to not trust ourselves, instead latching on to information, even illogical and incorrect information.

Carbs don’t increase your weight. Period. 

Excess calories do. And the way we were eating carb-rich foods clearly resulted in taking in too many calories. And by choosing more processed, less filling carbohydrate-rich foods, it was quite easy to over consume them. For instance, eating a 5 oz. bagel was a breeze. But could you easily eat 2 ½ cups of cooked oatmeal? Because they’re the same, calorically.  And a 12 oz. can of apple juice? That’s about 3 ½ whole apples. Which would fill you up more? See the point. And the bagel pictured on this page (purchased from local bagel shop)? That’s like having 7 (yes, seven) slices of bread! But we tend to see foods as units—a sandwich, for instance, or a bagel, failing to recognize just how large the portion really is.

That isn’t to say that you should only eat high fiber grains, though. Truly, it’s simply about the portion. They eat white, processed pasta in Italy, and white baguettes in France, as part of their healthy Mediterranean diet. And the record shows it doesn’t cause weight gain. But they also include legumes, and fruits and vegetables on a regular basis. And they rarely eat in their cars, or on the train. And they tend to take time to eat. And I suspect they really enjoy those crusty baguettes and croissants. Get the picture?

Still struggling to trust the carbs? Make a substitution for a protein source, not an addition, just to prove it’s okay. Take baby steps. Once your worst fears don’t come true, do it more frequently. Start with foods you might see as healthier, to get started.

This one was too cute to cook. The rest got tossed with olive oil and baked!
Go ahead. Give it a try. You’ll see that bad things don’t happen. I promise!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Back to Your Roots. Simple Planning and Cooking to Keep You on Track.

I’m driving home from work. It’s 6:30 PM. And I’m hungry, very hungry. I get stuck in rush hour traffic and now I’m starving. Unless I know that the hired help will have dinner ready for me when I get home, my thoughts wander to take out. And since I don’t have hired help awaiting my return, I know I’d better have a plan in place for dinner. Because I need immediate gratification. And I won't feel good eating out too frequently, especially when I'm hungry and vulnerable.

Nutrition knowledge is great. But if the groundwork isn’t laid to prepare a meal, even to mentally prep for eating, your knowledge will get you nowhere. Yes, even nutritionists can be impulsive if they fail to plan. Cooking in advance helps enormously. Soups and stews work like a dream—they freeze and reheat well, contain lots of satisfying ingredients in one bowl, with only one pot to clean up! And they typically make enough for multiple meals, so leftovers can be enjoyed for many days.

Tonight’s dinner (
mentally prepared during my lunch break) was leftover Back to Your Roots soup—a root vegetable puree that is delectable, even reheated from the freezer.  It is total comfort food, creamy and satisfying, but relatively low in saturated fat (given the number of servings it makes). Don’t let the half and half scare you. The bulk of the soup is pureed yummy veggies. The cream is a tiny morsel of this meal! And so satisfying and filling.

Tonight, I served it with a small omelet. I arrival home from work at 7 PM. Dinner? Served at 7:20 PM. And yes, it beats fast food and take-out any day of the week! I had never tried many of these vegetables yet they were a perfect combination of flavors! This is now an absolute favorite, guaranteed to please.

Back to Your Roots Soup (makes 10 generous servings)
(adapted from New England Soup Factory Cookbook by Marjorie Druker)

3 Tbsps. oil (olive or canola, or  butter)
3 whole cloves garlic, peeled
1 large onion, peeled and diced
2 ribs celery, diced
4 large carrots, peeled and sliced
4 parsnips, peeled and sliced
1 large turnip or rutabaga, peeled and cut in chunks
2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
1 bulb celeriac, peeled and cut in chunks
12 cups stock (chicken, vegetable, regular or reduced sodium cartons work well). Some water can be substituted as well.
½ tsp. ground nutmeg
2 cups half and half
salt and pepper to taste (skip the salt if using regular stock versus reduced sodium)

Heat oil (or butter) over medium heat. Add garlic, onion ,celery, carrots, and parsnips. Saute about 8 minutes. Add turnip, sweet potato, celeriac, and stock.
Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium.
Simmer until vegetables are soft and tender, about 40 minutes.
Remove from heat, adding nutmeg.
Puree soup with a hand blender until smooth (those wand-like devices that save you the trouble of pouring scalding soup into the food processor).
Add the half and half and stir.

Savor every spoonful! And let me know what you think.
I have a few other soup favorites I'd be glad to share--just say the word!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Fuller-bodied, Strong and Intense.

Truly the only way.

I like my coffee roasted medium-dark, French press or espresso-machine made. Dunkin Donuts will never do, not even when traveling. I’ll take tea instead, if coffee at friends’ is sub par. Just don’t microwave the water. Yuck!

I like my red wine fruity and flavorful. Full bodied, from any region. Just don’t serve it with fish! For that, a selection of whites will satisfy, thank you.
Dark and intense is my passion for chocolate. Milk and white varieties will get left behind, Lindt or otherwise. Checkout-line varieties will never do, although in my past I loved Peppermint Patties, (although those hardly count as chocolates).

Okay, call me a food snob. I’m the first to admit it.

But it’s like this. If I’m going to eat something, and eat it mindfully, I’m going to taste it. And if I taste my food, I surely want to love what I’m eating. I want to savor the flavors and the textures. 
Every bite should be a pleasure.

A quick fix for dark chocolate, Petit Ecolier, LU France

For me, there is no compromising. I’d rather not eat out, unless the food is superb. Superb generally comes at a price, so I don’t eat out all that often. My husband and I tend to enjoy our own cooking more than the food at most places.

That said, my all time favorite restaurant in the Boston area is Oleana and I would gladly accept an invitation or a gift certificate there any day of the week! Their food is aromatic, texturally interesting, and full of flavorful blends of spices.  The experience is so satisfying, that even if the meals are more substantial (calorie-wise) than I usually prepare, a little goes a long way. Yes, in spite of a multi course meal there Sunday (including a shared Baked Alaska to die for), I was able to comfortably walk out, feeling quite good, I might add.

I believe we have a right to have foods taste the way we want them to. Trying to lose weight? Assuming you need to, ask for modifications to meet your goals—but only if they will also please your palate. If the resulting dish is bland, it will fail to satisfy. And if you only order what you think you should eat, you’ll do fine while out. But once you return home, you’ll be seeking out what you truly yearn for. At a local Chinese food restaurant our family orders everything “light on the oil”. Such cuisines don’t suffer with lower fat modification, given their rich flavor from ginger, garlic, soy sauce, to name a few.
Recipe for the greatest carrot and spice appetizer inside!

But at Oleana, I’d rather have a richer prep of an exotic entrée, eat it mindfully, and stop when I’ve had just enough. Then I get to enjoy the leftovers another day. (This does require asking for a second plate when ordering your food. Otherwise, the delicious meal before you will be consumed in no time, before you’ve thought to put some aside.)

If you are struggling with anorexia, just eating out may be a great accomplishment. Order foods however you need to, to be able to enjoy the meal and not be anxious. Regardless of what others may think. Just be sure to meet your nutritional needs when you get home, if necessary. Ultimately, though, wouldn’t it be nice to be flexible and have foods without analyzing their content?

Look closely. It's made of roses! MFA, Boston, MA.
The message here? Be assertive. Ask for what you need, and what you want. Not just regarding dining, but in life, I might add. And work on choosing foods you really enjoy, not simply foods you think you should be eating. You can't simply cross your fingers and hope all will go well.

I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Hope you enjoy whatever you’re eating tonight.

Note: if you are following a special diet for medical reasons follow the recommendations of your medical team. 

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Please, Refer Sandra For Much Needed Help!

This is not a planned post. But feeling sickened reading today’s NY Time’s article by Sandra Tsing Loh, entitled Taking a Leap of Faith Onto the Scale
I simply couldn’t remain silent. The damaging content just can’t go without a corrective response.

I was drawn in by the promising first line, which ended with “…I can say I am at least one of the few American women who is not obsessed with her weight.” Really? Dear readers, is it me that needs a reality check? Please read this article and confirm that I haven’t missed a bad joke.

After cleverly acknowledging her healthy relationship with her scale, suggesting a healthy relationship with her weight and body, I was horrified to read what follows. That she’s crafted an eating regimen for weight control from a variety of sources—Pritikin, Atkins, Zone, etcetera. And that, (brace yourself eating disordered readers, for what follows can be triggering),”the secret is to eat just one meal a day. I…ingest nothing but coffee starting from the time I get up until…the magical time of 5”(as in PM). And yes, she acknowledges, she’s “pretty hungry” by then.

She then describes how full she felt on her Spa vacation, eating prawns and jicama (trust me, hardly calorie dense), feeling the need to get home to be able to slim down. Did I mention this was a healthy, fitness focused SPA vacation?

Throughout the article, this “not-obsessed-with-my-weight” writer obsessively describes her weight, describing numbers as “depressing” and “terrifying” that are within the range for any healthy, 5’8” female. She further describes herself as a "...circus-elephant-like 147 1/2 pounds..." And she ends with her New Year’s Resolution—“Back to black coffee!”

So why spend my Sunday afternoon ranting about this? Because if you are at a vulnerable place and happen to stumble upon this (or other such pieces), it is very likely to set you back. Seeing things in print somehow makes them trustworthy, even if the content if outrageous, unhealthy, disordered, distorted.

So question what you read. And get angry, please! But direct that anger not against yourself, but in a rebuttal to the source. 
Please feel free to share your reactions here as well. I truly welcome your comments! Thanks for hearing me out! I needed to vent!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Chili In a Storm.

Easy soups you can feel good about eating.

Maybe it was the two feet of snow, and rather frigid temperature leaving me housebound Monday. The result was a hearty vegetarian chili (and cornbread, of course). By today, with the temperatures balmy in the 50’s (F) you might be expecting gazpacho. But instead, a favorite, unusual, tangy, spicy winter squash and chickpea delight was prepared. And in between, were a pureed root vegetable comfort soup and my Friday tradition of chicken soup with matzah balls.
It’s hard to decide which to cover in this post, and upcoming, posts. They are each so unique, and post worthy!

Okay, I suppose I’ll start with the chili, (though not technically a soup given how thick it is) because of its great taste and nutritional value. And, it’s a great excuse to  make cornbread.

The recipe was adapted (it’s hard to not add my own touches, you realize) from an old favorite vegetarian cookbook, Moosewood, by Mollie Katzen. It’s tattered, stained, with broken spine, having been used since I was 19! Perhaps my first cookbook ever, thanks to Rebecca who gave it to me in college, with whom I’m still friends!

What’s so great about chili?
Where shall I start?

It’s quick. It’s easy. It’s cheap. High fiber. Vegetarian. Virtually no saturated fat. And did I mention it tastes good, too? And it’s quite satisfying, especially topped with some shredded cheese (and accompanied by a slice of cornbread). It also freezes well, so for those of you who are cooking for one or two, portion the leftovers into containers and serve it another day. Unlike the soups mentioned above, this recipe is more modest in size, making only 5-6 portions. Living alone? Just the two of you? It’s the perfect dish to freeze for another meal, with leftovers for lunch as well. (Thanks to RHA who requested "simple to prep, without exotic ingredients, to serve under 6 people". Sure hope you joined as a follower now!)

Chili in the Storm (serves 5-6)

2-3 Tbsps. oil (to sauté)
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 ½ cups chopped onion (2 large should do it)
1 cup chopped peppers (any color)
3 cans red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup raw bulgur wheat
1 cup water (or more if you prefer chili less thick)
1 can tomato paste
2 cans diced tomatoes, drained
4 large carrots, cut in thick slices
4 tsps. chili powder
3 ½ tsps cumin
4 tsps. oregano
cayenne to taste (beware—hot stuff!)
3 tbsps. red wine

In a large pot, heat oil and sauté onion and garlic until translucent.
Add carrots and peppers and cook until tender.
Add all remaining ingredients, stir, and cover.
Cook about 45 mins. Add additional water if desired.

Top with goat or shredded cheese, and serve with cornbread or a few tortilla chips.
Note: Chili can be made with low salt canned tomato products and beans, as well as dry beans to dramatically reduce the sodium. I use the canned strictly for a quick and easy meal, but if you are home on a stormy day, consider cooking dried beans according to package directions (use about 2 ½ cups dry beans, cooked, for this recipe). Texturally, it’s a whole other beast—but tastes just fine without!

Followers: Please email me along with your screen name for cornbread recipe!