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Thursday, September 30, 2010

It's Hard To Be Healthy, A Confession From The Doctor's Wife,

Did I ever mention that it's hard to be healthy?  In our society, eating right and getting enough exercise can be difficult, even for the dedicated.  I consider myself to be dedicated but not fanatical about good health.  And I find it difficult to do the right things every day.  Exercise is pretty easy for me.  I like to dance, swim and ride my horse.  When the weather is this lovely, I enjoy long walks.  I even like challenging myself to hold that yoga pose longer or do more sit ups.  However, I realize that not everyone loves to sweat or be sore the next day.  

Eating is my problem.  I love food, all kinds of food so I fight the battle everyday not to overeat.  Just yesterday I made chicken and dumplings, one of my favorite comfort foods.  Chicken and dumplings usually leads to me eating way more than I should but I did manage to restrict myself to a reasonable serving.  Nor did I indulge in a chocolate milkshake though I would have loved one.  So I sympathize with those of you who not only don't like to exercise but who don't like to cook and eat too much of all the wrong things. 

However, the more research I read, the more I realize that my health is in my hands.  I was just reading about how certain foods can affect the appearance of your skin.  If you want more youthful skin, skip refined sugar.  Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables.  And please put down the cigarettes!  Nothing ages your skin like cigarettes and the sun. 

While I have not read his entire book, Dr. Nicolas Perricone has a new book, Forever Young, which discusses the importance of diet to your skin.  He is a big proponent of the philosophy that you are what you eat.  He gives specific recommendations of what to eat to lessen the effects of aging.  You might want to check it out.  Of course, following a healthy diet such as the one he suggests will do great things for your insides.

Since we have a chilly weekend ahead, here is my sister's recipe for Red Beans and Rice, just the thing to warm you up.  Plus, you can freeze the leftovers for another meal. 

Pat's Red Beans and Rice
16 oz. dried kidney beans or 3 cans kidney beans
1 1b. spicy smoked sausage links
3 ribs celery, chopped
1 bell pepper chopped
1 large onion chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 14 oz. can crushed or diced tomatoes
2 bay leaves
1 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
pinch of cayenne or Tabasco or to taste
2 cans of chicken broth if using dry beans
Rinse and pick over dry beans.  Place in a large soup pot; add bay leaves, broth and enough water to cover beans.  Simmer 2 to 3 hours or until tender.  If using canned beans, drain beans and place in pot.  Add broth and enough water to cover beans.  Saute celery, bell pepper, onion and garlic in 3 Tbsp. olive oil till lightly browned.  Add to beans along with the remaining ingredients.  Simmer another 30 minutes to allow flavors to blend.  Serve with hot cooked rice.  You can also simmer a ham hock in the beans or add diced ham at the end if desired. 

If you are pressed for time, the canned beans work just as well and greatly reduce the cooking time.  Make some cornbread or corn muffins and you have a complete meal.  Have a lovely weekend and be sure to get out and enjoy the wonderful fall weather.    

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Time To Double Up

This is the time of year that I make double batches of many dishes so I can freeze some for later.  Last night I made red beans and rice, an easy dish, and froze half for another meal.  This is such a simple dinner solution for all those busy nights when you really don't have time to cook. 

Here is my list of favorite foods that freeze well.
1.  Chili
2.  Spaghetti*
3.  Chicken spaghetti (I don't add the spaghetti before freezing.)
4.  Red beans and Rice (add rice later too)
5.  Beef Soup*
6.  Zydeco Soup*
7.  Minestrone (add pasta later)*
8.  Meatballs*
9.  Grilled or Smoked Pork Tenderloin
10.  White Chili (made with chicken and white beans)

Of course there are many casseroles and soups that freeze well.  I usually don't freeze the rice or pasta and while I have frozen chicken and dumplings, it just isn't as good as when made fresh.  I find it isn't much harder to make a double batch when I am already cooking.  I have had good luck freezing many things in gallon Ziploc bags but I also use those disposable plastic dishes with lids that go from the freezer to the oven.  Remember to label and date your food so you don't have to guess what it is later.    

Just think how nice it would be not to worry about dinner when you know your schedule is tight.  You simply pull out your meal and let it thaw in the refrigerator all day and heat it up that night.  Add a simple side dish or salad and you are done without relying on fast food.  I have a friend who regularly makes extra to freeze.  She likes to make baked goods such as muffins to freeze as well.  Give this a try and see if it doesn't make your life easier.

Thursday, I'll post a recipe for Red Beans and Rice.  Until then, you may want to check out these ideas for keeping track of the calories you consume each day.  Use apps on your iPhone such as  or Lose It!  Many restaurants have their nutrition information online so you can see just what you are ordering.  You can print these out and keep them in your car for reference.   The USDA has two websites you may find helpful; and 

*Recipes for these are on my blog, see the list on the side.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Friday Night Fast Food

Just like many parents, I have a busy Friday night.  I have one child who will swim till 6 and one who must be at the band room at 5:30 before the ballgame.  My husband and I need to be at the game later to help with band uniforms.  We all need to eat and you know by now that we will not be eating fast food.

I make my own fast food at home that is so much better.  This recipe I'm about to share is so easy my husband could make it.  Check out Eat This, Not That for some recommendations for store bought chili to use.  If you make a big batch of chili and freeze some, you could have your own chili to use in this dish.  This is a great comfort food dish for those cold nights that I'm sure are coming soon, despite the unseasonable, 90 degree temps we've been having. 

I will make this dish and pop my son's in the oven early so he can eat, then cook the rest so we can eat after swim practice but before going to the game.  I plan to serve fresh fruit with it.

Cheesy Hash Brown Chili Bake
4 cups of chili
1 16 oz. bag of shredded hash browns
1 cup of cheddar cheese or your favorite
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro or 1 tsp. dry
Salt and pepper to taste.  You may not need salt depending on the salt content of the chili.
Heat oven to 425.  Grease 4 oven safe individual ramekins.  Divide the chili among the dishes.  Thaw hash browns and blot with a paper towel to absorb any excess moisture.  Mix hash browns with cheese and cilantro, salt if needed, and pepper.  Sprinkle over chili.  Bake 20 to 25 minutes till bubbly. 

Yum!  Sure to please everyone and you could even use vegetarian chili for the vegetarians in your family.  I hope you enjoy the outdoors this weekend.  The Cardiology Associates Heart and Sole run and walk is Saturday morning and my husband and I will be walking.  Check back next week for an interesting announcement.    

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Things You CAN Eat

I posted a list of the top ten things to avoid recently so in return, I'm posting things it is OK to eat (in moderation of course).  I always try to make the point that we aren't strict vegetarians around here, nor do we forgo sweets and some fat in our diet.  We aim to get it right most of the time. 

That said, here is the list of things you may think you shouldn't eat but that it is perfectly OK to have them, quite frequently in fact.

1.  Alcoholic beverages.  Now I'm not saying it's OK to have a 6 pack every night or a kegger at your next party but studies show some alcohol can even be good for you.  Red wine in particular is good for your heart and I recently read a study which shows that moderate drinkers, not teetotallers or alcoholics, actually live longer.  Interesting, isn't it? 

2.  Avocados.  Yes, they are high in fat but it's the good fat.  Make some fresh guacamole this weekend and enjoy it with a few chips and a margarita.  Just remember it does have alot of calories so don't eat the whole bowl.  Avoid the store bought guacamole as there's not as much of the good stuff in it and it has a whole bunch of salt.  I'm not sure there is even any avocado in it; maybe they just used green food coloring.

3.  Chocolate.  Yes!  Enjoy your chocolate now and then.  By that, I didn't mean the chocolate lava cake at your favorite restaurant or a Hostess cupcake.  Dark chocolate is full of antioxidants and can help lower blood pressure.  Unfortunately, milk chocolate doesn't do the trick.  Nuff said.

4.  Eggs.  I think these little oval beauties are nutritional gems.  We eat at least a dozen eggs in a dozen different ways each week, usually more.  Eggs are versatile and cheap, so start your day off right and have an one for breakfast.

5.  Dairy products, excluding ice cream.  Sorry if your hopes got dashed there.  Dairy isn't just for kids and adults reap the same benefits from the calcium and protein.  Select skim milk to avoid the fat, and the reduced fat in most everything else such as cottage cheese, yogurt and cheese.  Remember to watch the amount of cheese you use in sandwiches and casseroles and to be stingy with the sour cream.

There!  Eating healthy doesn't always have to be about vegetables and starving yourself.  So have a glass of red wine tonight.  Your doctor would approve.  

Thursday, September 16, 2010

It's A Waistline, Not A Waste Land

If you have been listening to the radio this week, or maybe you caught this tidbit elsewhere, you heard the news that clothing manufacturers are conspiring to make you think you are smaller than you are.  I was aware that women's clothing had actually gone up in size from the days of my youth, but I had no idea of the true extent of the deception. 

In case you missed the news, men's jean sizes actually measure much differently than the size stated on the label.  The difference varies from brand to brand.  For example, Old Navy men's size 36 jeans measured a whopping 41.5 in the waist.  I don't care what kind of math you do, 36 does not equal 41.5.  The manufacturers do this as a marketing ploy so you will buy their brand.  Who wouldn't like to feel they can wear size 36 rather than 41?  However, this deception is dangerous to your health.  We are already good at fooling ourselves into perceiving things differently than they are.  We don't need clothing companies helping us believe we are smaller than we are, thus ignoring a health problem.  And a large waist is a health problem waiting to happen, not just a cosmetic issue.

A waist measurement larger than 35 inches for women and 40 inches for men is an indicator of metabolic syndrome, a group of risk factors that also includes high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and high blood sugar.  Metabolic syndrome leads to increased risk for diabetes, heart disease and stroke, and other unsavory diseases.  According to the American Heart Association, 47 MILLION Americans are affected by metabolic syndrome. 

Let's get real people.  The Michelin tire man and the Pillsbury Dough boy are not the new age sex symbols.  Let's not blame doctors when they can't fix our health problems we caused.  Let's try something different for a change - take charge of your own health.  Most of risk factors for metabolic syndrome can be reversed by eating healthy foods in reasonable proportions and exercising, plus giving up cigarettes.  If you think you are worth it, do something.  Just don't buy the size 36 jeans. 

I'd like to announce a new feature on the blog.  I've started a recipe index so you can find a recipe without hunting for it.  Try something new this weekend.  And start exercising now.    

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Beware The Food Manufacturer

I know many of you just don't get my passion for eating right and exercising as a means to good health.  I know most of us just expect good health to happen and wonder why we are "unlucky" when our health goes to hell in a hurry.  And do we want our doctors to fix our problems in a hurry!

Having two parents who suffered from many health problems, plus a husband who is a physician and dedicated to promoting better health, has definitely affected my outlook.  I don't want to spend time and money at the doctor's office or hospital trying to fix what I ruined.  Please don't take your good health for granted.  View it as the precious gift that it is and take care of it like you do your other possessions. 

A recent Harvard study showed that women who already have heart disease are three times as likely to die suddenly from cardiac arrest when they eat a diet high in trans fats.  You should know that trans fats are found in highly processed foods like fries, snack cakes, cookies and crackers.  A food has trans fats if the ingredients include partially hydrogenated oils.  Many  food companies have begun switching oils since trans fats are getting the bad reputation they deserve but be careful.  Palm, coconut or palm kernel oils are highly saturated fats and are no better for you in the long run.  Look for foods that contain canola, soybean or other non-hydrogenated fats.

What would you rather eat?  A simple homecooked meal that is good for you and tastes good or some store bought crap with who knows what in it?

 Fried okra, tomato salad featured in previous blog, butter beans and boiled potates.

This simple meal was delicious and full of nutrition.  The okra was the hardest thing to make because it involved alot of slicing.  Doesn't this look more appetizing than pizza or another tired hamburger?  Doesn't your body deserve better?  Think about it. 

I'll be working on an index of my recipes.  Hopefully that will be ready soon so you can find them easily. 

Friday, September 10, 2010

Foods To Embrace

After my last post about foods to avoid, a friend jokingly asked what's left to eat?  Now I know she knows better but some of you don't know there is a world of food out there to explore.  Being a foodie, my mission is to leave no food unexplored (except for those involving insects or spoilage).  The best approach to food is not to view food preparation as a chore but rather as an adventure.  That does not mean we should set out to eat at every fast food chain in the nation.  Rather we should enjoy the chance to try new things. 

My family tried the new Indian restaurant here in Jonesboro and we loved it.  The spicy smells that greeted us when we walked in the door were irresistible.  I discovered mango lassi, the kids liked the milk balls in honey syrup for dessert and Barry learned once again to listen to his wife.  He ordered his food spicy, not mild, which was a bit much for his American taste buds.  He said it was only a bit milder than the chipolte incident awhile back.  See?  An adventure in eating.

I have a wonderful new salad recipe to share that may seem outside of your comfort zone of what should and should not go together.  Trust me, the flavors of this salad go together amazingly well.  Plus, it is a very attractive dish.  It is easy to make and the leftovers were just as good the next day.  Try it this weekend before you can't find the ingredients.  The key to this recipe is finding good tomatoes.  Store bought just won't do so steal some from your neighbor's garden if necessary. 

Tomatoes with Fresh Peaches, Goat Cheese and Pecans
2 lbs tomatoes, sliced (try heirloom or different varieties mixed together)
1/3 cup white balsamic vinegar
1 minced garlic clove
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1/8 tsp. salt
1 large diced, peeled peach
2 Tbsp. fresh chopped basil
3 oz. crumbled goat cheese
1/2 cup coarsely chopped, toasted pecans
Lay tomato slices in a pretty dish.  Whisk vinegar through salt together.  Add peaches and basil.  Pour gently over tomatoes.  Sprinkle with pecans and cheese and fresh black pepper to taste.       

I had yellow tomatoes but it would have been nice if I had a mix of tomato varieties.  Enjoy one of the last summer weekends we'll have and don't forget to exercise!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Top Ten Foods To Avoid (Or Ignore As Much As Possible).

I was thinking the other day that if more people simply avoided eating certain popular foods, we'd have less of an obesity epidemic.  So I decided to come up with my own list of the top ten foods to avoid as much as possible.  That doesn't mean eating them only once a day - it means eating these foods once a month or less.  Really. 

I'm pretty successful at keeping these foods out of our hands most of the time.  However, if you are a regular reader, you know I confessed to a milkshake habit recently.  I'm getting a handle on it though.  Without further preaching, here is my list of the top ten worst foods, in no particular order.

1.  Chips.  Need I say more?  Even baked, there is nothing here but fat and salt, neither of which is particularly good for you. 

2.  Ice Cream.  Cold, creamy, smooth and delicious, might as well spread it on your belly.  Don't try the "but it's dairy" routine.

3.  Fries.  No, these don't count as a vegetable and they are just as bad as chips.  Find a healthier version of potatoes.

4.  Sodas.  I know they can be addictive and taste good but really, would you mix up some sugar, water and a bit of food coloring and drink it?  That's basically what sodas are.  And because we tend to think what we drink doesn't count, these babies can pack on the pounds. 

5.  Pizza.  The pizza chains have taken what could be a decent food and turned it into a fat and salt nightmare.  Just say no unless your aim is to look like the Michelin man. 

6.  Hamburgers.  Same thing as pizza.  What could be a decent food has been supersized and fatticized into another metabolic nightmare for your body.

7.  Cookies, cakes, donuts, etc.  Little Debbie and the Kebler Elves are not your friends.  They are greedy profiteers who could care less that their products make rolls around your waist as long as they are putting dough in the bank. 

8.  Bacon and sausage, or any fatty meat.  Yes, I love good bacon, especially on a BLT.  However, fatty meat isn't going to do anything except make you a fatty.  There are better forms of protein.  Find them. 

9.  Coffee drinks.  Frozen, hot, latte or not, coffee drinks have become one of our pleasures but we don't stop to think about the growing calorie content.  These drinks have come along way from a simple cup of joe.

10.  Cheese.  Now you may wonder why I've put an innocent food like cheese on this list.  Cheese is fine in moderation but it has become a much abused additive to our food.  I actually love cheese but not when it is gobbed on sandwiches, pizza, casseroles or salads.  Cheese can be high in fat so use cautiously please.

I hope you'll think about this list, particularly if your kids eat these foods on a regular basis.  You are not doing them any favors if they do.  I hope everyone had a lovely Labor Day weekend and got some good exercise while enjoying friends and family.