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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

2012 Confession Of The Year

Have you ever been in a dilemma where you were really doing something good but it still compromised your ethics?  I know that many people believe my family eats nothing but tofu, fruits and vegetables.  My own kids have even called me the Food Nazi.  Those who know me well know my weaknesses (Snickers, Cheetos, chocolate shakes) but also understand that I strive to serve wholesome foods most of the time.  And most of the time, I do a pretty good job.  Obviously, my blogs are all about promoting good health and helping others.  Still there are times when what you know to be right gets shoved aside for the greater good.

I have had a deep secret for a number of years, something that has bothered greatly me so it is time to confess.  Many more times than I care to admit, I have worked in concession stands, selling food that I consider to be an abomination and that I KNOW is bad for you!  I am guilty of preparing and selling ooey, gooey brownies, chips and sodas at trap meets.  I have sold handfuls of candy at swim meets to innocent young children, who gazed up at me shyly and trustingly as they handed over their money.  I have been a party to the cans of chemicals and preservatives called cheese that is heated and poured over hot Cheetos or chili cheese dogs at basketball games.  I have baked and sold DOZENS of awful, store-bought chocolate chip cookies, all in the name of raising MONEY to support my kids' activities!  I have watched, horrified, as kids buy and eat huge amounts of JUNK that constitutes their dinner that night or lunch that day.  And I have watched many of those kids and adults waddle away.  I might as well hand out business cards for locals dentists and doctors as I hand over the food, because the people who frequent concession stands are going to need them.  In case you are wondering, my husband the cardiologist has worked those same concession stands along with me.

It is quite a dilemma.  We help raise thousands of needed dollars to support trap shooting, soccer, swimming and band without which, these activities would be too expensive for many children to participate.  So ultimately, we are doing a good thing.  But as I hand over the third hamburger and chips that day to an overweight kid I know, I feel bad.  It wouldn't be so bad if I thought that it was just an occasional thing, that kid having some chips and a soda.  But by the size of his waist, I know it is not.

I console myself at swim meets because the parents of swimmers seem to be a bit better educated about nutrition.  You can actually find fruit, carrot sticks and yogurt parfaits at some meets.  Still the majority of food sold at concession stands is the stuff of nightmares - full of fat, salt, empty calories and strange chemical preservatives I can't begin to pronounce.  Let me assure you that real cheese does not come out of an industrial sized can and have an unnatural orange glow.

So there you have it.  The sad truth is that I feel I wage a lonely battle against the junk we serve our kids and ourselves.  Most people would look at me like I'd lost my mind if I suggested we change the concession stand menu even a bit.  Worse, hardly anyone would buy healthier options, except at swim meets.  You probably got a chuckle or two reading this today but I hope I won't see you at my concession stand anytime soon.    

These are some of the kids I sell junk to.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

New Recipe Week

It has been a week for trying new recipes at our house so that means I'm sharing with you all.  Last night's dinner was the best yet.  We really liked the combo of flavors and the twist that made this dish a little different.  I liked that it was easy and fast, perfect for school nights.  Anyone could make this, even older children and inept husbands.

I got this recipe from the 2011 Southern Living Christmas Cookbook which I received on my last birthday.  Southern Living is one of my favorite sources for recipes and some of our most beloved dishes have come from the magazine.  I also aspire to live the Southern Living life: beautiful yard, well decorated, organized and clean home, fun parties and great food.  Oh, and wonderful vacations too!  However, I fail miserably on several counts, most notably the yard.  I'd like to challenge the Southern Living experts to tackle my yard and get anything to grow more than three years before succumbing.

Ranch Turkey Ravioli Casserole
1 15 oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 14 oz. can diced tomatoes, drained (I forgot to drain mine, it was fine)
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro (I used 1 tsp. dried)
1 tsp. cumin
2 cups (or small cans) green enchilada sauce
2 9 oz.  packages refrigerated cheese ravioli
2 cups chopped cooked chicken or turkey
1/2 cup sliced green onion
1 cup shredded Mexican cheese
Heat oven to 400.  Combine 1st four ingredients in a bowl.  Spread one can of enchilada sauce in a lightly greased 11 x 7 baking dish.  Arrange half the ravioli over the sauce.  Top with half the black bean mixture, 1 cup meat, 1/4 cup onions and 1/2 cup enchilada sauce.  Repeat layers.  Pour remaining sauce over top and sprinkle with cheese.  Bake uncovered for 30 minutes until heated through and lightly browned.

 I served this dish with a side of sautéed spinach which takes about 5 minutes to cook.  This dish is a bit higher in fat than I'd like with all the cheese but I like the fiber from the beans and the vegetables in it.  You could adapt this to a vegetarian dish quite easily; just add extra beans.  I also think the fire roasted tomatoes would add a nice touch.  This is a great recipe to use that leftover chicken or turkey.  So this Sunday, you could roast a large chicken and use the leftover meat to make a fast dinner later in the week when things get hectic.

As I said, even an older child could make this.  Give them kitchen scissors to slice the onions and they don't even have to use a knife.  If they can use a can opener, they're in business.

Note:  I do not mean to imply that all men are helpless in the kitchen, just the ones I know best.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Eating Well In A Jiffy

Time is often short at our house, just like it is at yours but that doesn't mean I short change the family on nutritious meals.  It takes a commitment to eating healthy, nutritious meals.  So after I got home from an overnight college visit with my son yesterday afternoon,  I was back out the door in 40 minutes to the grocery where I stocked up on food to last a few days.  I had a meal plan and shopping list for three days which included breakfast and lunches.  I got home about 6 p.m. and made a good dinner.

To do this, you need to be organized and have several go to recipes that are easy and quick to prepare.  Sometimes you have to rely on partially prepared foods and leftovers to ease things along, like I did last night.  I had some leftover butternut squash soup which served as one of our vegetables.  I purchased a roasted chicken from the grocery for the chicken and broccoli casserole I made.  (One roasted chicken can sometimes yield enough meat for two meals.)  I used frozen broccoli rather than chop up fresh.

I did compromise my morals a bit last night as I used a jarred Alfredo sauce (higher in fat than I'd like) and I topped the casserole with buttered bread crumbs (which I rarely do).  Still a nice hot dinner was on the table with a little effort on my part.  Here is the photo and recipe.

Chicken and Broccoli Casserole
1/4 cup butter melted
3 cups of cubed sourdough or other bread, whole wheat would be better
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese or less
3 cups broccoli florets or chopped broccoli
3 cups chopped cooked chicken
1/2 cup drained and chopped roasted red bell pepper
1 10 oz. jar of Alfredo sauce
1/2 cup sour cream, use low fat
2 Tbsp. sherry
Drizzle butter over bread crumbs.  Set aside.  Heat oven to 400.  Combine broccoli and next 5 ingredients in a large bowl.  Spoon mixture into a greased 2 quart baking dish.  Bake uncovered for 25 minutes then top with bread crumbs and cheese.  Continue baking until bubbly and lightly browned on top.

I also surprised my family with a lovely green smoothie last night. If you'd like the recipe and to find out what's in it, check out my other blog tomorrow on  You can find out who liked it and who didn't.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Other Blogs

I am always reading.  I check the news on MSN, I read the local paper, books and magazines.  I also watch local TV and national news, and Good Morning America.  I can't go to sleep at night until I've read for a few minutes, either fiction or non-fiction.  I like to keep up with what's happening.  Since I was up early this morning (5 a.m.) but not functioning enough to write, I checked out a few other blogs.  I don't follow many blogs but recently I came across two that I think are worthwhile to share.

Both are well written and interesting, especially from a foodie's point of view and from a healthy one too.  I am always looking for new ideas and better ways to cook at home and these offer ideas in abundance.  You may want to check them out as well.  The first one is written by a man in Canada who has discovered a love of cooking and eating well.  In other words, a man after my own heart.  Some of his recipes do NOT make the heart or waist healthy list, but some do.  Some of his recipes contain ingredients that will not be found in our little hamlet such as birds eye chilies.  (Readers, correct me if you've seen birds eye chillies locally, though after my chipolte experience, I'm not sure I want to see them.)  Indeed I was surprised to see that he even had one of the same recipes that I do - Pizza Dip.  I have not tried any of his other recipes but I will soon such as the cucumber and feta rolls.  Check out by Kevin Lynch.   He has a sly sense of humor as well, as he claims to cook in a tiny closet sized kitchen.

The other blog I was immediately attracted to because the writer, a mother like me, tries to find healthy ways to feed her family and aims for a rainbow a day for good nutrition.  She has a vast collection of recipes including some which are vegan or gluten free.  I am trying her creamed corn buttermilk bread tonight.  I like that it has whole wheat flour in it.  Look for her at

Both blogs have gorgeous photographs of which I am jealous.  Hopefully my own photos will continue to improve as I learn more about my new camera.  Anyway, I think you will enjoy these blogs if you like to cook as I do.  Check them out today and try something new this weekend!

I'd like to mention a new local magazine that two friends of mine have collaborated on - Mid-South Latino.  This bi-lingual magazine is aimed at the growing Latino population in Northeast Arkansas and Southeast Missouri.  I am honored that they have chosen to include my articles in their publication.  If you are interested in reaching the Latino market for your business, you can contact Susan Ishmael or Alex Lorenzana at    

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Valentines Day

Happy Valentines Day to all!  I believe that our relationships are so important to our well being so be sure to show your love to your friends and family today.  What are the ways you show your love?  Everyone is different and expresses their love in unique ways.  It is a good idea to try to tune into how to best show love to those in your life.  For instance,  nothing says "I love you" to me like a home cooked meal or flowers.  Others might prefer a gift or a massage.  Your children might appreciate extra one on one time or a treat such as movie tickets.  Just taking the time to figure out what that special someone really wants shows your love.

So how is the cardiologist's family celebrating?  Valentines brings lots of chocolates and fancy dinners and our house is no different.  I gave my kids a small amount of chocolate candy, my husband a book and he gave me roses.  Tonight I am cooking brown sugar glazed salmon, garlic pasta, strawberries and pineapple salad with a chocolate pie for dessert.  I was aiming for a mixture of healthy and decadent.  While salmon is heart healthy, it is also a rich and impressive dish.  The strawberries give that red Valentines touch and what would Valentines be without a chocolate dessert?

Here is the recipe for the salmon.  As usual, it couldn't be any easier.  For the garlic pasta, all you do is boil the required amount of pasta per person and while that cooks, sauté as much minced garlic as you want in a large quantity of olive oil, maybe 3 to 4 Tbsp.  When the garlic is lightly brown and fragrant, toss with the cooked pasta and sprinkle with a bit of fresh parmesan and about 1/4 cup of bread crumbs.  Add more olive oil if the pasta is too dry.

Brown Sugar Glazed Salmon
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
4 Tbsp. butter, melted
3 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
2 Tbsp. white wine
4 to 6 salmon fillets
Mix above ingredients, except fish.  Place salmon fillets in a large zip top bag and add marinade.  Marinate for 3 to 5 hours.  Bake at 375 for 20 minutes or until fish is just done.  Yum!

Remember, Valentines Day comes but once a year but that doesn't let us off the hook the other 364 days.  Work on your relationships every day and the benefits will definitely come back to you.  

Thursday, February 9, 2012

How Much Exercise Is Enough?

After working out this morning, I began to think about my exercise routine.  I have been feeling that it's time for something new as I don't feel my muscles are improving.  Then I began to wonder.  How do you know you are getting enough exercise or just going through the motions and wasting your time?  As usual, I started doing a bit of research.

For those just starting out, who may be more loose and pillowy than lean and mean, it is probably best to start any exercise routine slowly.  You don't want to injure your body and thus set yourself back right at the start.  You should expect muscle soreness from most any activity you choose.  Muscle soreness is a sign that you have worked your muscles and that they are getting stronger.  Give yourself a couple of days rest between workouts to recover at first but don't quit just because you're sore.  You should try to push yourself to the point where you are a little fatigued, breathless and sweaty.

Exercise can be as fun as dancing.

Learn to distinguish between soreness, even if it's pretty bad, and true pain which indicates an injury.  Yes, it may hurt to get out of bed and walk the next couple of days after starting an exercise routine but if you really can't get up or move a limb, you've gone too far and possibly injured yourself.  Also, check with a doctor or work with a specialized trainer if you have a medical condition like Parkinson's or have had a previous heart attack.  Remember that soreness leads to stronger muscles; however, you don't have to be sore after a workout to strengthen your muscles.

Once you have achieved a level of fitness, move up and challenge yourself.  Working with a trainer periodically can help motivate you to try harder.  A trainer can access where you are and help you set new goals.  A study released by the Harvard Medical school shows that to really be fit, you should do strength training of all major muscle groups at least twice a week.  Ideally you should also perform 30 minutes of moderate aerobic workouts 5 times a week, as well as balance and flexibility training.  If your routine has become easy or you no longer can see improvements in your body, it is time for a change.  Otherwise, there is no point in wasting time at the gym.

To ease or prevent soreness, always include a cool down phase.  Jog or walk about 10 minutes then stretch all major muscle groups.  When stretching, move slowly, breathe and don't force the stretch or you could injure something.  However, do make sure you are feeling the stretch and achieving more flexibility over time.  You can also try soaking in a hot tub or applying ice to a particular area.  Also rest a day or two between secessions.

Exercise can be really hard.

I'll leave you with these thoughts.  A pound of muscle burns about 10 to 20 calories a day while a pound of fat burns only about 5 calories a day.  Makes a good case for working out as it definitely helps you loose weight and keep it off.  Those who work really hard, like athletes, can eat more of the food they love (but not junk food, that's always bad for you).    

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Confession Of SuperBowl Sized Food

Some occasions just provide us with an excuse for indulgence, don't they?  The Superbowl has become so much more than a football game that even those of us who couldn't care less about the game have something to do on Superbowl Sunday.  First of all, there's the food and parties, second the commercials.  My Superbowl tale of woe starts on Friday evening, when PMS was in the ruling house.  I crave salty foods so when we ate at a local Mexican restaurant, I had plenty of chips and salsa.  Thankfully, I skipped the cheese dip, knowing my weakness.  I also skipped the margarita because I am pretty snobby about drinks and if they can't make one better than my husband, why waste the calories?

I had an unpleasant experience at the restaurant.  We ordered ceviche which if done correctly is raw fish or shellfish, cooked in citric juices only, with fresh herbs, tomatoes and onions.  It is usually delicious so we decided to give it a try.  I ordered the FISH ceviche due to my shellfish allergy.  However by the end of dinner, my lip began to tingle and swell, getting a little numb, like it does when I've had shrimp.  Since my physician friends and husband have all warned me that I could have a really bad reaction if I persist in eating shellfish, such as difficulty breathing (see my post on food allergies, March 2011), I felt somewhat nervous.  It turned out to be minor and by the time we were home watching a movie, the swelling was going down.

The over indulgences continued on Saturday.  I bought some sweet potato muffins that have a chunk of chocolate on top plus some cinnamon raisin bread for breakfast.  I did walk over a mile at the first Walk With A Doc but that was not enough to ward off the impending disaster.

This Superbowl Sunday we had decided to just celebrate with family but I had planned plenty of Superbowl sized junk food, for our house anyway.  My sister made a wonderful new corn salsa which I will share in a moment.  I had lots of chips and dip.  I made a large pot of chili which isn't that bad until you hear that I served the chili over spicy fries with cheddar cheese on top.  I used Boar's Head sharp cheddar which is a fine cheese by the way.  Pat and Barry had beer, which is gross, but Barry made me a Lemon Boom Boom which is vodka with muddled fresh basil and lemon juice.  I can pretend it's somewhat healthy.  We topped off the feast with chocolate cupcakes with peanut butter frosting that my daughter made from scratch.  Yummy yum yum!

The sorry truth was revealed Monday morning when the scales showed I had gained a nifty three pounds.  Now that may not sound like much but if I ignore that and continuously add to it, I could be up 30 lbs. in no time.  And we all know that it is so much easier to gain it than to lose it.  So, back to better ways and I'm happy to report that I have already lost 1 of those ugly pounds by sweating and eating sensibly.

The corn salsa was the healthiest thing we ate on Sunday.  It actually has lots of fresh herbs and vegetables and is awesome served over grilled chicken or fish as I'm going to do with the leftovers tonight.  I'm also adding some chopped avocado to it.  I picked this recipe up from Jennifer Smith who taught a continuing education class recently at ASU on entertaining.

Corn Salsa
16 oz. bag of frozen corn, thawed
1 red bell pepper and 1 yellow bell pepper, chopped
1 red onion chopped
2 to 3 tomatoes, chopped
4 green onions, chopped
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
1 1/2 Tbsp. canola oil
1/2 tsp. salt
2 limes juiced
Dressing: 1/2 cup canola oil, 2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar, 2 1/2 Tbsp. chili powder, 1 1/2 Tbsp. cumin.
Heat oven to 350.  Place corn on a rimmed baking sheet.  Roast 15 to 20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes to promote even roasting.  Mix corn with other vegetables and toss with dressing.  May be served warm or chilled.  Don't worry that there is too much chili powder and cumin; trust me, it is just right.  This is even better the next day or two as the flavors blend so this is great to make ahead.

The moral of this sad tale is that those over indulgences do add up and over time, can aid in wrecking your precious health.  The best thing you can do for yourself is to watch your weight, exercise and eat righteously 95% of the time.


Thursday, February 2, 2012

What Would You Do With $600?

Tuesday you learned that the average family of four throws away $600 of food each year.  What can you do to save some of that money and avoid wasting food?  The answers are not always easy.  Sometimes, the yogurt carton bursts open in my children's lunch bag and spills out.  That is an accident.  But when your child simply doesn't eat what is in their lunch, that is wasteful.

Children waste an enormous amount of food.  Try to teach them the importance of saving money by not throwing away food.  Instead of saying there are starving children in Africa, say that the money saved can be used to take the family to the movies.  Buy drinks in the smallest possible cans and bottles as they often can't finish the larger sizes.  Serve their meals on small plates and give them small portions.  It is better to give seconds than to throw away uneaten food.  Don't feed them large snacks too close to dinner and then expect them to eat a large meal.

Here are some other ways to cut back on the food we throw out.
1. To find out if a food is still safe to eat, or whether it should be tossed out, use the website  This is a great resource and breaks food down into all kinds of categories.
2. Plan out your meals for several days, make a grocery list and stick to it.  Impulse purchases are most likely to be thrown out.
3.  Serve smaller portions.  Just like children, our eyes are sometimes bigger than our stomach, plus it's a great way to control the waistline.
4. Save and use leftovers.  My family often has leftover night which means I don't have to cook.  Saves time and money and people can eat at different times if schedules are conflicting.
5. If you try a new cereal for example, and find you don't like it, give it to a friend or neighbor.  You could also share some of your meals with a neighbor who is single or elderly and might appreciate the thought.  Just make sure to take it over right away and not 5 days later.
6. Be sure you will use what you buy.  If you always wanted to try Meyer lemons and suddenly find some in your local store, be sure you know how you will use them so they don't spoil before you find a recipe.
7. Buy just the amount needed at bulk food stores instead of how much the regular store decides you need.
8. If you find you can't use something before it spoils, freeze it.  Just make sure you wrap it properly.
9. Shop more frequently.  Food bought on Saturday might spoil before Thursday's dinner.
10. Clean out and organize your refrigerator.  If you can't see it easily, it might go bad.
11. At restaurants, skip the extra bread basket or fries if you won't eat it.  I don't like potato chips so I will ask that they not be put on my plate with a sandwich.
12. Don't fall for bargains.  Studies from Harvard Business School show that stocking up on certain items leads to overspending and waste.  Sam's Club is a great example.  If you do shop there, you might want to split some things with a friend or neighbor.  The bread is always packaged as two loaves and my family can't eat it all before it is stale so I skip it.  Same with many of the vegetables and fruits there.  I can't use 5 or 6 avocados.

The important thing is to be aware and make an effort to save food.  If you keep your pocket book in mind,  it is easier to do.  On the other hand, don't beat yourself up if you do need to toss something.  Just try to do better next time.