A Sweet Treat You Can Love

We have been eating yogurt in this house from time immemorial.  I’ve cut back on dairy considerably since Jim became a vegan, but I’ll never give up yogurt (and kefir).  It won’t happen.  It’s part of a good breakfast, nice to send occasionally in the lunch box and makes a darn good dessert when the need arises (as it frequently does at our house).

One thing that has happened however, is that we don’t make that weekly trip to the frozen yogurt shop in town anymore.  I’m all about supporting local businesses–just not when it could be bad for my heart…and my waistline.

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With the popularity of self-serve yogurt shops, the temptation to fill up that cup can mean more than 50 grams of sugar a serving.  Before the addition of toppings.  Sheesh!  And I always have a tiny financial seizure when they announce the cost.  $5 for a bowl of yogurt? Really?!

So what do you do when you’re a “can-do” penny-pinching, anti-sugar obsessed mom? Why you make it–or something vaguely similar–at home!

Start with really ripe bananas.

Seriously ripe bananas are especially sweet.

Seriously ripe bananas are especially sweet.

Peel and slice them for the freezer.  They’ll blend easier if you only freeze them for a couple of hours.  Make sure pieces aren’t touching.

This gives you the option of putting them into a freezer bag for use later without them all sticking together in one glob.

Here’s the recipe we concocted:

Blueberry Chocolate Frozen Yogurt

  • 1 frozen banana
  • 1/2 cup frozen blueberries
  • 1/4 cup plain yogurt
  • 2 tsp. chocolate powder (unsweetened)
  • 2 tsp. maple syrup
  • 1/4 tsp. vanilla extract

Put it all in a blender or food processor.  Watch it turn into “frozen yogurt”.

Eat it before it melts!

Eat it before it melts!

This recipe made 6 ounces.  Using a free calorie tracking tool, My Fitness Pal, I was able to create the recipe through this application to determine the following nutritional information for a 3 ounce portion.  If you’re eating the whole thing, then double it:

  • Total sugars:  15.6 g
  • Added sugar:  4.4 g
  • Calories:  99

I use about 1 frozen banana with an additional 1/2 cup or more of other frozen fruit. Remember, like most recipes, this is only a framework.  Frozen bananas provide the base from which to work.  Try adding other frozen fruit besides blueberries.  Experiment with different extracts like almond and orange.  If your fruit is especially sweet, skip the added syrup/sugar. Try it with frozen bananas alone if you prefer.

There’s lots of options to go with those frozen bananas.  

  •  frozen peaches and almond extract
  •  chocolate powder and peanut butter
  •  frozen strawberries and shredded coconut

What combinations do you envision?

Imagine Yourself Sugar Free!

Let’s pretend for a moment that sugar is good for you–loaded with vitamins, minerals, essential amino acids and everything healthful.   A tall icy glass of cola with every meal (or orange juice if you prefer–they have about the same amount of sugar). Syrup drenching your french toast and sausage for breakfast.  Luscious ice cream sandwiches for lunch.  An evening repast of tender honey baked ham and maple glazed carrots.  And don’t forget a hot fudge sundae for dessert.

Can I get a refill?

Can I get a refill?

Enjoying the visual?  Salivating?  Good.  Because imagining that you are devouring all that sugar can actually reduce how much of it you consume.

Believe it or not, you can fool yourself into eating less of the foods you shouldn’t be eating.  It’s called habituation.  Thinking about your cravings can actually decrease your desire for them.  It sounds counterintuitive, but it works.  Check out more about the study here.

I’m speaking from personal experience.  Taking that pretend bite, chewing and tasting it (in my imagination) helps me say no thanks to the real thing.  Imagining can make a pretty good substitute for the actual experience.

At this point I know I need to limit my sugar intake.  And I need to help Sam be mindful of his.  The American Heart Association guidelines for added sugars were specific.  With only 6 to 9 teaspoonfuls of added sugar a day (and less for younger children), we have to be selective about when and where we’re going to consume them.

Here are 3 more ways we’re minimizing sugar consumption in our household:

  1. Drink water.  Or natural seltzer.  Add a lemon slice or some mint leaves for interest.  Cut the soda from your diet.  Number one way to reduce sugar.  
  2. Eat fruit.  When you need a snack, grab an apple.  Pack fruit in your child’s lunch instead of cookies.  Dried fruit (in small quantity) makes a great after dinner treat.  I love a piece of mango or papaya.
  3. Put the sugar bowl away.  Stop adding sugar to foods by the teaspoonful.  Squeeze lemon into your tea.  Add sliced banana to cereal.  Spices like cinnamon also help food taste sweeter.

What do you do to hold back the sugar tidal wave at your house?

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Pack an apple in your lunch.

Can I Offer You a Glass of…Fat?

Looking for another reason to think seriously about limiting your family’s sugar consumption?

New York City has enacted an anti-soda campaign to go along with a ban on super-size soda purchases.

I received this link from a fellow blogger who is not from New York.  Kind of graphic but a powerful message all the same.  No wonder it found its way to Australia. Thanks Little People Nutrition!  Click the You Tube link below if you have a strong stomach.

Man Drinking Fat. NYC Health Anti-Soda Ad. Are You Pouring on the Pounds?

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After showing this to Sam, he looked a little green around the gills.  Mean mother that I am. Perhaps it really will work!

Shhh… Use This One Trick for Healthier Cookies.

And now for a cookie recipe!

I know what you’re thinking. You’re wondering if I might be a little schizophrenic.  I’m blasting sugar’s reputation one minute and trotting out a baked sweet treat recipe the next.

Really, I can explain.

My son had invited two friends from school over to our house for a sleepover.  We’re talking teenagers. Tough audience.  Nice kids who would stare down a bowl of tofu chili with blood in their eye.  So I did the only thing I could think of.  I caved.  Frozen pizza.

Which left them wanting more, of course.  We’re talking 8th grade boys here.  They wanted dessert, naturally.  Apples and oranges were not going to placate this rowdy crowd.  It was a party of sorts after all.

So I made cookies.

This is a recipe I recently modified to make just a bit more nutritionally friendly.  I used a simple trick.  One you can use at home with your favorite cookie recipe.

Use 1/4 less sugar.  It works!  Use a quarter less sugar than your recipe calls for and no one will know.

My original recipe called for 3/4 cup of sugar so I used 1/2 cup instead.  I also cut the amount of chocolate chips in half in this version.

Here’s the end result:

Not So Bad Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies

  • 1/2 Cup butter
  • 1/2 Cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 1/2 Cups of rolled oats
  • 3/4 Cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/3 Cup millet (uncooked)
  • 1/2 Cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350

In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until fluffy.  Beat in egg.  Mix in vanilla.

Whisk next 4 dry ingredients together.  Add to butter and beat until just mixed.  Stir in millet and chocolate chips.

Bake on a greased cookie sheet for 9-10 minutes.

Those cookies were barely out of the oven before they were gone.  No need to mention that they contained less sugar and more whole grains than the average cookie.  My son loves the pleasant crunch of the millet and apparently the others did too because I heard nary a complaint.

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Is Sugar The New Fat?

How about laws regulating sugary purchases?  Should people be “carded” when buying a candy bar?  Is sugar really as bad as all that?

Let's see some I.D.

Let’s see some I.D.

Education and self-control aren’t working according to Robert Lustig, author of a new book about the evils of sugar, Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar.  Sugar is addictive, and it is making us fat says Lustig.

And it’s everywhere.

Nearly 80% of the foods we can buy contain added sugars.  Pasta sauce, bread, crackers and salad dressing to name a few of the more unlikely suspects.

For years we’ve been told that we needed to reduce fat–not sugar consumption.  Non-fat and low-fat varieties of standard products became the norm, the haven of health we all sought.  But that’s old news apparently.

Acclaimed food activist and writer, Michael Pollen has a lot to say about it. The notion that fat is bad, particularly saturated fat, has been the public health message foisted on us since the ’70s.  According to Pollen, the science linking fat to inflammation and disease is tenuous at best.  Read his position here.

So what’s it to be–sugar or fat?  Will the real villain please stand up?

Personally, I think that sugar has the edge.  But it often goes hand in hand with fat in the form of highly processed “food”.  And what sugar lacks in nutrition, it makes up for in calories.  Ugh.  It’s serious enough that the American Heart Association has, for the first time ever, set sugar intake guidelines.

American Heart Association nutritional guidelines for added sugar:

  • Women should consume no more than 100 calories of added sugars (6 teaspoons)
  • Men should consume no more than 150 calories of added sugars (9 teaspoons)
  • Pre-teen and teens should consume no more than 5 to 8 teaspoons
  • Children 4-8 should consume no more than 130 calories (3 teaspoons).
  • Preschool children should consume no more than 170 calories (4 teaspoons)

The reality is about as far from that as you could imagine.  The average American consumes slightly more than 22 teaspoons of sugar every day.

Are you an average sugar consumer?

Are you an average sugar consumer?

Here’s a list of common food items that Rodale came up with to help us gain some perspective about total and added sugars:

Plain bagel: 5.05 grams of sugar, 4.8 of which are added

Whole-wheat bread (one slice): 5.57 grams of sugar, 5.0 of which are added

Regular sodas: 8.97 grams of sugar, all of it added

Fruit punch: 11.29 grams of sugar, 4.4 of which are added

Bowl of corn flakes: 6.11 grams of sugar, all of it added

Fruit-flavored yogurt: 19 grams of sugar, 11.4 of which are added

Italian salad dressing: 8.85 grams of sugar, 6.9 of which are added

Fruit cocktail canned in light syrup: 13.93 grams of sugar, 6.4 of which are added

Smooth peanut butter: 9.22 grams of sugar, 3.1 of which are added

Granola bars: 21.8 grams of sugar, 20.4 of which are added

Low-sodium spaghetti sauce: 11.57 grams of sugar, 6.5 of which are added.

While law enforcement of the new sugar guidelines might not be practical, it couldn’t hurt to police ourselves.  What do you think?

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12 Great Kitchen Tools for Preparing Real Food

Cooking real food requires working with real ingredients–no surprise there.  It calls for a bit more than opening a can.  And while my can opener still sees some action, the more I cook, the more I find other kitchen tools that make my life easier and, dare I say it, more fun?

I’m treading on dangerous ground here.  Already outlet space is at a premium.  We have 5 small, electrical appliances taking up valuable counter space.  To reach the phone we literally have to slip our hand between two of them.

But plugged in or not, I have several kitchen tools that I use every day or close to it.  I chose 12 that deserve special mention for their usefulness in preparing healthy food for my family.  From low-brow to high-end (sort of, it all depends on your perspective) here they are:

1.  Oil can.  Love having my olive oil at hand when and where I need it.  It sits “stoveside” for ease of access. Great for filming a saute pan or drizzling over pasta.

2.  Pepper grinder.  There’s nothing to match freshly ground pepper.  Great on pasta, soups, salads, pizza, in sandwiches–wherever!

some tools of the trade.

3.  Finger bowl for salt.  While my salt bowl certainly looks attractive, it serves an actual purpose.  When seasoning food to taste, I enjoy having a small bowl of coarse salt handy  to sprinkle on dishes as needed.

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4.  Digital scale.  Many recipes give weight in addition to cup measurements.  More accurate in baking.  I find I use it so much I just leave it on the counter (whoops, more counter space gone).  Trivia:  about 24 almonds=1 oz.

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5.  Stainless measuring cups/spoons.  Daily use.  Just got a new set for Christmas!  I finally got that 2/3 cup measure I’ve been doing without forever.  I feel so decadent.

6.  Food processor.  I bought this years ago.  Jim was dubious.  But I really use it.  The slicing blade makes for great coleslaw, potatoes just the right thinness for gratin, apples ready for pie.  The dough blade has saved me tons of time making breads, pizza, bagels, etc.  It even makes nut butters!

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7.  Compost Can.  Since we’re eating more fruits and vegetables than ever, we’ve seen an explosion in the amount of trimmings.  Rather than throw them in a plastic bag to haul to the dump, we throw them outside to decompose.

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8.  Silicone baking mats.  I love using these.  Don’t need to oil pans this way for baking projects.  Great for “drying” grains for salads.  Making fruit leather every summer has never been easier.  I hear they’ve come out with round ones.  Looking forward to trying them.

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9.  Citrus press.  This was a present from Sam a few years ago.  I didn’t know I needed it until I had it.  Lots of fresh Meyer lemons at the market right now.  The juice really brightens the flavor of cooked vegetables and makes for some lovely salad dressings.

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10.  Julienne peeler.  I bought one for myself not too long ago.  I love to julienne vegis for sandwiches and salads.  Raw carrots and beets look particularly nice.  Great for sushi fillings too.

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11.  Good quality knives.  Probably the most useful and “high-end” tool we’ve got.  Get a good set.  If you have to choose, make sure you have good paring and serrated bread knives.

12.  Roasting pans.  Ours are nothing fancy.  Three sizes–small, medium and large. Older than the hills.  We roast vegetables and nuts frequently.  Couldn’t live without them.

This list is not exhaustive by any means, but I have to draw the line somewhere. If I had made it a baker’s dozen, I would have included my old, dented aluminum colander–which sees plenty of action.

Cooking is personal.  What works for you?  What tools of the trade do you swear by?

2 Whole Grain Dishes Your Family Will Love

We eat a lot of grain-based salads.  They’re hearty and healthy.  And if you have a vegan in the family as we do, they satisfy everyone.  We’re cutting back on rice a bit, but there are many more grains out there begging to be made into salad.

Like quinoa, for example.  Quinoa is technically a seed not a grain–grown in South America.  What makes it such a star is that it’s a complete protein, high in manganese and phosphorus.  It cooks up pretty much the way rice does–quickly.  Which is handy if you’re in a hurry.

From this...

From this…

To this.  Fabulous.

To this. Fabulous.

I found the recipe for this Quinoa and Black Bean Salad with Orange-Coriander Dressing at theKitchn.  I tried the recipe the way it was written–separating the orange sections with a knife.  They give a link to how it’s done.  If that seems like too much work (and it did to me although the orange segments were delicious), substitute a few of those nice seedless clementines for the oranges and just throw the sections into the salad.  That’ll be quicker and still taste great.

This salad is so pretty to look at that I think it would be a great dish to bring to a party.

And have you ever tried farro?  It’s an ancient wheat variety with a chewy risotto like texture.  This recipe, Farro with Roasted Mushrooms, was a community pick on the hip and trendy cooking site, Food52.

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This recipe can be made vegan by serving the Parmesan cheese on the side.

TIP:  Grain dishes are about as easy to improvise as soups.  I doubled the amount of mushrooms called for in the original recipe and roasted them with lots of fresh, finely chopped rosemary to good effect.  Another time, when I discovered I had no mushrooms, I substituted bite size pieces of roasted cauliflower instead.  Add what you like and make it your own.

TECHNIQUE:  The secret to keeping the grains in a salad from being wet and mushy is to spread them out to dry once they’re cooked.  Use a large roasting pan or cookie sheet.  Or a silicone baking liner like this one.  Once they’re at room temperature they’re ready to use in salad.

cooling farro

Dinner for one tonight.  Hardly ever happens.  Leftover soup pairs well with my grain salad.  And leftover  grain salad makes for a great lunch.  Look for these grains in well-stocked grocery and natural food stores.  Enjoy!

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