Category Archives: Informative

Grapefruit juice: Miracle or killer?

History of the Grapefruit

A grapefruit is indeed a fruit, but is definitely not like a grape. Nor is it purple. So how did it get its name? People who dedicate their lives to studying fruits are a subset of botanists called “pomologists”. According to the Library of Congress website, most pomologists agree that the grapefruit is a hybrid between a sweet orange and a pummelo.

The largest citrus fruit, the pummelo is native to Southeast Asia and it has white, pink, or red flesh and a thick pith. Learn more here. The original orange was likely crossed with a pummelo having pink flesh, as most grapefruit varieties are pink inside, though there are white and red varieties as well.

All citrus fruit are what is called “Hesperidum”, a large, modified berry with a thick outer skin called a rind. The rind is what you ‘zest’ on lemons and limes. 

Grapefruit. From the National Center for Chronic Disease
Prevention and Health Promotion Web site.

Grapefruit trees usually grow 16-20 feet tall, though they can reach up to 50 feet. The fruits tend to grow in clusters, which has been suggested look like a bunch of grapes, leading to the name grape-fruit. The rind is yellowy-orange and the fruit is largely a sphere, with segmented flesh. The redder varieties are typically sweeter, but all varieties have that acidic tartness for which the fruit is known. 

In the USA, Texas is the state most known for producing commercial grapefruit. TexaSweet Citrus Marketing, Inc. has a page dedicated to the history of the grapefruit industry in Texas. In it they state that the first reported planting of a grove (large group of similar, fruit-bearing trees) in Texas was 1893. Those first trees were of the white varieties, followed soon after by the pink varieties. A developer from Omaha, Nebraska felt that these crops were the future of the state, and thus John H. Shary began combining his knowledge of the latest irrigation techniques with a determination to produce citrus commercially. Now known as the “Father of the Citrus Industry”, he shipped his first commercial crop in 1920. 

Right around the Great Stock Market Crash of 1929 the first red grapefruit was accidentally discovered. In 1929 the first grapefruit patent was issued for the “US Ruby Red” of the Redblush variety. Many new mutations were found producing varying degrees of redness and sweetness, causing confusion in the market. Further laboratory breeding and experimentation lead to even more varieties. Finally Texas decided that to differentiate its red, sweeter fruit from others on the market, they would market crops under only two trademarked names, the Ruby-Sweet and the Rio Star. 

My favorite way to eat grapefruit is just slice it in half, and sprinkle some sugar or sweetener over the halves. Cut along the white part to separate each chunk of flesh. Then dig each piece out with a spoon and enjoy! It’s an interactive healthy breakfast. You can use the peels to make Grapefruitcello, a super easy infused alcohol, too!

Benefits and dangers of grapefruit

Benefits

As grapefruit became more popular, pop culture obsession with dieting created many grapefruit juice cleanses, grapefruit concentrate pills, and of course diets in which your main food is the grapefruit. WedMD has a breakdown of the classic grapefruit diet and considerations if you’re thinking of trying it. The benefits of grapefruit include:

  • Vitamin C – grapefruit, like all citrus fruits, is rich in Vitamin C. This vitamin, also known as ascorbic acid, is required for growth and repair, is an anti-oxidant, meaning it helps get rid of damaging free radicals in your body, and is reputed to help fight off or prevent the common cold. (Source: MedLine Plus)
  • Lycopene – a bright red carotenoid phytopigment, this is a product of photosynthesis. Found only in the pink and red grapefruits, it is suggested to have anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor growth, and age-related eye protective properties. Other foods rich in lycopene include tomatoes, apricots, pink grapefruit, watermelon, papaya, and guava. (Source: Mayo Clinic)
  • Flavonoids – liminoids, glucarates, and naringenin are other chemicals found in grapefruits which may have health benefits. Limonoids promotes formation of glutathione-S-transferase, a detoxifying enzyme which benefits the liver. Glucarates are found in citrus fruits and may help prevent breast cancer. And naringenin has been shown to help repair DNA in a human prostate cancer cell line by inducing formation of two DNA-repair enzymes. Grapefruit juice has been purported to help men lower their risk of prostate cancer. (Source: World’s Healthiest Foods)

Dangers

While grapefruit may be a nutritional powerhouse, it can also cause health problems. Certain types of drugs become more potent when combined with grapefruit juice. Depending on the type of interaction, the drugs can become more or less bioavailable, accumulate in the blood or organs, or fail to metabolize. Certain compounds in grapefruit juice slow the body’s normal detoxification and metabolism processes in the liver and intestine. Grapefruit may inhibit cytochrome P450 enzyme, an important metabolizing enzyme, or P-glycoprotein, a drug transporter which shuttles chemicals into and out of the intestines. 

Interactions may include:

  • statins
  • immunosuppressants
  • calcium channel blockers
  • antivirals
  • hormones

Currently at least 85 drugs are known to interact with grapefruit compounds. Statins in particular can build up to toxic levels, which may result in the serious statin-associated disease rhabdomyolysis. This disease affects muscle tissue, and can cause temporary weakness or paralysis. These interactions may also be more severe in elderly patients. Doctors should be aware of these interactions and education patients about their particular risk, as each individual patients’ situation is variable. Check with a healthcare provider before starting a diet which regularly incorporates large amounts of grapefruit and/or juice.

Additional Resources


For many other facts about grapefruit, including history, ways to use it in cooking, drug interactions, and nutritional facts, check out Vegetarians in Paradise, the Kitchn blog, 3 fat chicks on a diet, Wikipedia, ABCNews, or Health.com.

For a PDF of the Review article
Medicinal importance of grapefruit juice and its interaction with various drugs by Jawad Kiani and Sardar Imam.

Click if you’d like to read this article: The grapefruit: an old wine in a new glass? Metabolic and cardiovascular perspectives by Peter Owira and John Ojewole. 

 

What’s your favorite way to eat grapefruit?
 

How to: Make a “Door Snake” or “Draft Stopper”

Want to know a great way to help your budget in the colder months? Winter-proofing your house or apartment.

If you live somewhere that experiences temperatures below 60 degrees (which is much of the world) your skin and wallet will thank you for taking some simple steps. Winter-proofing is beneficial because it can help your heater work less hard (due to plugging up drafts and beefing up insulation), keep your living areas warmer, decrease your energy needs, and decrease your energy bills. All good things.

Some tips will not apply to you depending on what type of structure you live in and how much space you have to heat. A quick Google search brings up Yahoo’s list of 12 Ways to Winter-Proof Your Home, Women’s Day’s Guide to Winter-Proofing Your House,  and UK Money’s How to Winter-Proof Your Home and Beat the Big Freeze

A common thing among all winter-proofing lists is insulation.

Regardless of whether you have a 5-bedroom home in the suburbs or a one-bedroom apartment in the city, insulating your doors and windows will keep drafts at bay and heating bills manageable.

One way to insulate windows is to use plastic window cling or bubble wrap. I mashed several layers of bubble wrap over the bedroom window and duct taped it in place. There is definitely a noticeable difference in how much cold gets through the window now.

This guide is to show you another simple way to avoid under-door drafts: by making a door snake!

It may seem intimidating, but my friend B and I made two gorgeous draft stoppers in under 20 minutes.

 

You will need:

  • 1 sewing machine (or needle, thread, time, and patience)
  • Material approximately 1 yard by 1 foot (use thicker cloths to stand up to more wear)
  • Approximately 6-10 cups filler (rice, beans, sand, salt, kitty litter, etc)

Step 1: Lay your fabric pattern-side up, and flip it over onto itself so the ‘inside’ faces out. Pin along a straight line.

Step 2: Use a basic stitch to sew along the pins from end to end. You can measure the length of your doorway, leave an extra 2 inches per end. This doesn’t have to be super exact.

Sew all the way along the length. This will create a tube with open ends on both sides.

Step 3: Sew up one end of the tube. Make sure the two sets of stitches overlap to fully close that end.

Step 4: Now flip the tube inside-out so that the stitches are on the inside and the pattern is on the outside.

This is one of B’s 2 cats, she was very interested in what we were doing. Mostly the parts involving string.

Step 5: Measure against your door frame to make sure you fill the tube to the right length. Cut off the extra, leaving a few inches on the un-sewn end.

Step 6: Take the filler material, and hold open one end. Fill the tube up until the length of your door frame.

B proudly holding our first filled door snake. =) This is before cutting off the extra end material and sewing up the open end. Also of note, kitty litter is cheap but very dusty. Maybe try rice in yours.

Step 7: Fold the ends in by about 1/4 inch so that you have 4 layers of material. This puts the frayed, cut ends on the inside and creates a cleaner look & hemline.

 

Step 8: Sew along the double fold at the end. Make sure it is nice and tight, and goes all the way to both sides of material. You don’t want filler bits leaking out on your floor.

Step 9: Make sure your door snake is the right size for your door frame, and admire your hard work.

 

There you have it. A simple solution to cold wintry drafts that saves you from needing to double-sock and saves you some cash. You can re-use these for years, depending on the type of material and your level of sewing prowess. I’ve even heard of people sewing extra washable covers for these so they can wash the cover when it gets dusty/muddy/gross.

What’s your favorite money-saving craft idea?

 

New Years’ Day Lucky Tradition: Kielbasa and Sauerkraut

It’s almost 2014! 

I must admit I am a huge fan of almost all edible things pig. Bacon of course is in a league of its own. But ribs, chops and roasts are also all delicious and versatile to prepare. For New Year’s Day, my family has always had kielbasa and sauerkraut for good luck. You could also make a pork roast and sauerkraut.

According to a Nosh blog, the reason for this good luck is because pork from a “fat” pig represents an abundant year to come, and the sauerkraut from ‘green’ cabbage represents wealth. Thinking about this tradition made me wonder what was in sauerkraut and where it comes from. This lead to hours of research into the various parts and cuts of pork.

Stay tuned after the recipe if you want to know more! =)

Kielbasa & Sauerkraut Recipe

  • Ingredients:
  • 1 small pork roast (2-4 lb) or 2-4 pounds kielbasa
  • 1 bag of sauerkraut (or jar, or if you’re ambitious you can ferment your own)
  • 1 can/bottle of beer, 12 oz
  • 1 cup brown sugar

Step 1: Place roast or kielbasa in a slow cooker. Mix the beer and brown sugar. Pour over the pork, then cover with kraut. Cook on high for ~4 hours or low 6-8 hours.

Enjoy on NYD! May your 2014 be full of success and joy.

Photo from Pressure Cooking With Lorna Sass
Pork roast & sauerkraut on NYE


So what about the rest of the pig?

Generally speaking, pork tends to be less expensive than beef. For reasons I won’t discuss in this post, it is always a good idea to look for humanely raised pork, or best case scenario to be part of a CSA (which stands for Community Supported Agriculture) and get part of a farm-raised pig. Find one near you here.

They usually raise a set number of pigs based on how many shares are purchased, then will slaughter them and divide up the meat for you. However, I understand most people don’t have the time, space, money, or energy to commit to a half or whole pig, wait half a year, then bring home a hundred pounds of meat in various cuts and store it. Therefore, this is more of a guide to what you’ll find at a typical grocery store and what you can do with it.

This photo is from CloveGardens website and shows the various cuts of pig.

The CloveGardens site also has photos of every cut of meat, including less well-known cuts and parts you wouldn’t normally think of using like the feet, snout, and organs. If you’re feeling adventurous you can ask your butcher, or try an ethnic market. The most typical cuts you find at a North American grocery store are chops and roasts. 

Ham

This is the upper part of the thigh, and is what we think of when we think of a holiday ham. Often oven roasted and marinated or glazed. Holds up to slow cooking methods, and tastes great paired with sweet glazes like brown sugar, maple, honey and/or pineapple.

Pork Chops (aka pork loin end chops, center loin chops, rib chops, end cut chops, top loin chops, pork blade chops)

Many different cuts of meat can be called pork chops. They can be bone-in or boneless, in various sizes and thicknesses. Typically, thicker-cut chops with the bone still in tend to be the juiciest and most flavorful. These are great for pan-frying and grilling. Boneless chops are also great for frying or grilling, but can fall apart easier in longer methods like slow cookers or braising. Pork blade chops are from the blade roast, and tend to be fattier and tougher than chops from other cuts. They can be tenderized by marinating beforehand, and can be cooked with longer methods.

Pork Roast (aka pork tenderloins, rib roasts, pork legs, top loin roast, sirloin roast, hipbone roast, end roast, butt and shoulder-see below)

Like chops, there are many cuts that get sold as a roast. They are defined as cuts which stand up well to oven or slow cooker roasting. 

Pork Rib Roast(aka pork center loin roast, pork roast)

The ribs can still be inside or the ribs may have been removed. These cuts are extremely flavorful and juicy, but still pretty lean. If you want to cook it with the slab of attached fat for flavor, simply carve it off before serving. 

Pork Blade Roast (aka pork rib end roast, rib end pork loin, 7-rib or 5-rib roast)

The blade roast comes from the back/shoulder areas, and is fattier than most other cuts. This makes it less expensive but very flavorful. If the bone is still in, you can ask the butcher to crack it between the ribs to carve it easier.

Pork Loin (aka tenderloin, loin chop)

Cuts from the loin come from along the back and sides of the spine and are the leanest, most tender cuts. This makes them easy to overcook, so try to avoid long cooking times. There are three sections, the Blade end, Center portion and Sirloin end. The Blade end is closest to the shoulders and like the Blade Roast tends to be fatty. The Center portion is in the middle, it is the leanest and most tender, which makes it usually the most expensive. The Sirloin end is nearest the rump, and is typically bony and lean. All can be pan-fried, braised, or slow cooked.

Hocks and Shanks

This is the shin area of the pig’s legs. A hock with skin removed is called a shank. They are often smoked, and make good additions to soups to add flavor. 

Pork Ribs 

The ribs are generally cut into three seperate sections, all of which are great for smoking, braising, oven roasting, or grilling. And all are great slathered in BBQ sauce. Country-style ribs or pork blade end ribs are the meatiest and fattiest of cuts, but they aren’t as easy to eat with your fingers. They can be bone-in or boneless. Pork back, or baby back ribs are the middle ground of meatiness and easier to pick up. Pork spareribes are the least meaty, but have the most popular texture for finger foods. They are tender-chewy, and are the least fatty cut.

Pork Shoulders & Butts

Though named differently, both cuts are from the shoulder of the pig. Technically they are different cuts. The “butt” (aka Boston butt or shoulder) comes from a thicker section with more marbling. This makes it ideal for pulled pork or other barbecue styles. The “shoulder” is usually the triangular piece of meat attached to the butt. Both are great braised, slow roasted, BBQ-ed, slow cooker style, or in stew. They can essentially be used interchangeably.  

Bacon and Sausage

Ahhh the longtime favorite, bacon is unique in taste and is revered worldwide for it meaty, smoky deliciousness. Used to flavor all types of dishes and soups, as a centerpiece of breakfasts, and wrapped around just about anything, bacon is a versatile meat. It does not come off the hog looking like bacon. First the ribs and belly are removed from the loin. The belly here does not refer to the actual stomach but rather the fatty underside of the pig. The spare ribs are cut away, then the pork belly is sent through the long process of curing, smoking and eventual slicing up into bacon. Sausage on the other hand, can be made from just about any part of the pig that is not used elsewhere. Anything that was left from de-boning other cuts, high quality meat that can’t be turned into a roast or chop, or pieces that didn’t end up elsewhere all get mixed together. They are seasoned in various ways and ground, sometimes multiple times. This is then sold as bulk sausage, patties, or put into casing for links, most often the pig’s own intestines. (Seriously).

For a great, thorough article on the various parts of the pig and how to use lesser known cuts see this website for Sugar Mountain Farm in Vermont, which has its own USDA approved butcher site on the farm. They use as much of the whole pig, nose-to-tail, as they can, which I totally approve of!

For an article which sub-divides these types of cuts even further and includes photos, see here. They also have pages for cuts from beef, lamb, and veal if you’re curious and I don’t cover them soon enough. 

If you have a solid stomach and want to see photos and a description of each step in the pork processing process (redundancy, check), check out this blog post from Chico Locker & Sausage Co.


Nutrition information such as calories, protein and fat content will vary greatly depending on the type of cut and how it was prepared. According to Nutritioninfo.com the average nutrition data from one pound of raw meat cooked is:

Pork contains plenty of protein, iron and selenium and no gluten. However it is high in cholesterol, so you should try to control portion sizes to 3-6 oz per serving, and as in all things use moderation. Pork is safe to eat when cooked to an internal temperature of 160 F, so use a meat thermometer if you have one. Generally speaking, when oven roasting you should cook it at least a half hour per pound of meat. 

Do you have any New Year’s Eve or Day traditions?

The meaning of Christmas

 

So here we are, on the eve of the year’s biggest holiday, Christmas. For some people that means frantic last minute shopping, cooking, wrapping, and baking. For some it means attending mass of some sort. And for most, it means spending time with family and friends. ‘Tis the season. Regardless of your religious beliefs, everyone can agree that Christmas tends to bring out the best in the world. From the many children’s-toy-related charities to swelling food bank donations to a spike in blood donors, the holiday spirit causes an outpouring of generosity, joy, love, and peace.

Tonight and tomorrow, we gather around the living room and tables, to eat, drink, share, and enjoy family and friends. My family has many traditions, one of which is a meatless Christmas Even dinner. There are shrimp and cookies while we await the completion of dinner. We make mushroom soup, the recipe for which has been handed down from my grandmother’s father from Slovakia, when he used to go out to the cow pastures and actually collect wild mushrooms. We have boatloads of pierogi, the potato-, onion-, or lekvar- filled doughy pillows of goodness.

After a leisurely dinner, which includes holiday ‘poppers’ with fun jokes, toys, and crowns to wear, we have an heirloom angel candle which gets passed around. Starting with the oldest person present, it is lit, and that person blows the candle out. If the smoke goes straight up, you will return next year. It’s always fun to try to make someone’s smoke go sideways, and we debate over the meaning when there is no smoke at all. Then we adjourn to the living room, where gifts are passed out, opened, exclaimed over, and photographed. Some years we open one at a time, some years everyone at once. But it is always boisterous and filled with love.
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If you’re worried about gifts, don’t be. Once the shiny newness wears off, most are discarded or forgotten soon after. The things that stick are the memories, the times and the laughs we share. A heartfelt, handwritten card is more meaningful than a $3 Hallmark card. A homemade batch of cookies or fudge is like a hug for your tastebuds. The hours of care that go into knitting a handmade scarf or afghan are appreciated more than thirty minutes at the mall. This Christmas, focus on the people and the experiences, and creating memories that will last.

Family time ideas for Christmas day

 

Start a new tradition

  • Try something like the Right/Left gift game to make gift exchanges more fun.
  • Go around the table and say what you’re most thankful for this year, or what next year’s resolution will be.
  • Go caroling around your neighborhood.
  • Make up your own words to carols and perform for your family and friends.
  • Drive around looking at Christmas lights.

Create a decoration

Make a large batch of popcorn and make it into a garland for the tree, collect pine branches and cones to create a homemade wreath, or paint a blank ornament for a yearly memento.

Bake-able ornaments:
4 cups flour
1 cup salt
1 1/2 cup water
2 tbsp cinnamon
2 tbsp vanilla

Mix all the ingredients, shape, and bake at 300 for 30 min. If you poke holes you can create hang-able ornaments for this year or next, or even gifts.

Volunteer

Nothing makes you feel more thankful for what you have than to serve those less fortunate. Volunteer at a local food bank, homeless shelter, battered women’s shelter, children’s school, animal shelter, bring cards/gifts/cookies to the elderly, police, or hospital, or whatever cause is near and dear to your heart. You will help make someone else’s Christmas brighter, and likely increase your own sense of joy and gratitude.

Sign up for a fun run/5K

These are great fun, and great for your health! Get out there with family members or friends and race with all the Santas and Rudolphs in the snow. You can dress up or just bundle up, and just have fun. It will help offset the huge dinner and several dozen cookies later too.

Super simple egg nog

History of eggnog: What’s in a name?

Egg Nog is one of the most popular beverages around Christmastime. But where did this dairy delight come from? There is plenty of debate but most sites agree that it is a descendant of the European beverage of “posset”, a popular beverage made with sweetened hot milk and wine. The original didn’t contain eggs, as dairy products were expensive and a rare commodity. In the Americas this wasn’t a problem, since most settlers kept their own cows and chickens, thus having plenty of access to both milk and eggs. Even today, the drink is far more popular in the US than the UK.
As for the “nog” part, CNN has an interesting article which puts forth three theories:
1. The word “noggin” describes the wooden mugs this beverage was often served in
2. The Norfolk slang word for strong ales served in these mugs was “nog”
3. In the early Americas, this drink was called “egg-and-grog”, which after having a few glasses morphed into “eggnnogg…”
 
Other countries have similar varieties, Time cites the Mexican “rompope” as well as the Puerto Rican version which adds coconut milk called “coquito”.
 
A perfectly valid excuse for consuming a carton by yourself is patriotism. Our forefather George Washington was quite fond of the drink, and the official White House recipe called for at least four types of liquor, a quart each cream and milk, one dozen tablespoons sugar and one dozen eggs. I can only imagine the holiday festivities after a few glasses of that…
 

Nutritional info

First of all, eggnog is traditionally made with whole, raw eggs. According to foodsafety.com, you can make a cooked egg base first then chill before mixing to be absolutely sure your nog is safe. According to popular belief, adding alcohol will kill any bacteria. But this is not true, so don’t count on copious amounts of rum or sherry to keep your eggnog sterile. If you have an immune deficiency or are paranoid about salmonella, you can use pasteurized eggs.
If you’re holding a frothy glass right now, you might want to skip over this part. But chances are even if you indulge, you do so with the awareness that eggnog is most certainly not a diet drink. Especially the sugar-stuffed, store-bought kind, which is only required to have 1% egg by the FDA to classify as eggnog. You can get up to 1/3 day’s worth of fat and cholesterol per glass depending on the brand. It is far better for you (and tastier, in my opinion) to whip up your own fresh. 
 
This recipe has only 250 calories, 2.5 g fat, 95 mg cholesterol, and a bonus 7.5 g protein per serving.
For an aged recipe that sounds wonderful (which I will try soon) see Alton Brown’s recipe on Mental Floss.
 
 
Ingredients:
2 cups milk
4 tbsp creamer (flavored kinds will add that extra something)
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp powdered sugar
2 whole large eggs
1 tbsp vanilla flavoring
Cinnamon & nutmeg to taste
*For an adult version, add 1 cup rum or liquor of choice

Step 1: Pour all the ingredients into a blender. Blend on high for a few seconds. Pour into a mug and dust with cinnamon. This makes enough for about 4 glasses.
Do you have any other favorite holiday drinks?

Avoiding Holiday Overeating

You’ve made it through Thanksgiving with a few pounds of meat, stuffing, potatoes, beans, cranberry and pie stuffed into your stomach. If you still made it under your daily expected calorie allowance, great job! We’re all proud of you.

If you didn’t, welcome to 90% of America. But don’t despair. Even if you had that extra slice (or three) of pecan pie, you still have time to make up for it before we ring in 2014. 

But how can I avoid overeating? you may ask, since Christmas is just around the corner, and everywhere I go tempting cookies, cakes, candies and buffets will be shoved in my face 24/7?

Never fear, dear readers, I have scoured the internets and personal experiences to come up with ways you can avoid the “December 15” (like the Freshman 15, except it accumulates every year and intramural soccer plus late teen metabolism no longer gets rid of it over spring break).


15 Tips to Avoid Overeating During the Holidays

 1. Have a plan
The best way to avoid any food traps is to have a plan of attack. Where are you going: an office party, a family reunion, a friend’s big bash? If you’ve been to a similar event, you’ll have an idea of what types and portions of food will be served.

Decide ahead of time how much and on what you expect to indulge, put that amount on your plate, and then avoid the food tables for the rest of the night.

2. Plan exercise
Part of a successful holiday weight maintenance plan is to follow your exercise routine, or start a new one. If you normally run three days a week, put it in your calendar in pen, and keep that appointment with yourself.

Even though holidays are crazy busy and all about spending time with family and friends, don’t forget that YOU time is important too. You can also make a more conscious effort to be more active in general. Go up and down the stairs for each ingredient you need, do squats while you mix dough, play with the pups or kids in the snow (or leaves, whatever your weather) and take an after-dinner stroll each day.

3. Bring your own snacks or meals
If you are going to a potluck, great! Whip up a healthy casserole or slow cooker dish you know won’t damage your waistline if you have seconds. You may even introduce someone else to a new favorite.

Stuff a small bag of nuts, cut veggies or fruit, or granola bars in your purse or coat pocket. That way you can tame cravings if hunger strikes without washing down bacon-wrapped-ham and double cheddar mashed potatoes with a gallon of egg nog.

4. Don’t skip meals
Remember that trying not to gain weight is NOT an excuse to skip meals. This actually slows your metabolism because you’re essentially telling your body that food is scarce now, to which it responds by holding onto every morsel you do eat in the form of fat. Be smart about what you eat, but please do continue to eat. Especially breakfast.

5. Be realistic 
It isn’t always possible to bring baby carrots and have a salad only while those around you nom on piles of holiday treats. Sometimes you have to judge the options and simply choose the best of what’s available. Holidays are busy, so there will also be days where you just can’t cook a healthy meal for yourself or don’t want to bother thinking about it. Just keep an eye on portion sizes and moderation is always key.

6. Allow occasional indulgence
As above, this is also important in “real” life. No one is perfect, we all have that holiday treat or two we wait all year for. Whether it’s Aunt Mary’s peanut brittle, grandma’s perfect pecan pie, or your family recipe for the perfect cookie, make sure to build some indulgences into your holiday eating plan. This helps keep you on track the rest of the time. 

7. Know your limits & when to say no
If there is a treat that you just cannot help yourself around, be mindful of that and remove the temptation. If you know you will eat every gingersnap in sight, don’t bake or buy nine dozen and leave them out on the table.

Also don’t accept and eat food just to be polite or out of a feeling of obligation. Learn how to say no politely, or say thank you and then move the treat along to someone else who will enjoy it.

8. Browse and graze
Before you hit a holiday buffet guns blazing and head back to your table with five plates full to the brim, take a lap. See what is there and prioritize the foods by what you like and don’t get to eat as often, then focus on those dishes.

Had green bean casserole seven times in the past week? Don’t waste space on your plate and in your stomach. Don’t really like stuffing, but feel it’s necessary? Forget about it.

On a similar note, you don’t have only one chance to eat each day. Pick a few tiny samples of things that look good and try them. Then stop. You can always go back for more or to try different things.

9. Focus on experiences, not the food
Rather than giving in to the holiday food-frenzy, make the season about the experiences. Take a walk in the wintry air, pick out a tree, share holiday stories with friends, or drive around to look at light displays.

Anything to take the focus off the sugar rush all around and create memories that will live in your mind and not in your abdomen.

10. Drink lots of water
This is just a solid tip every day of the year. Water is fantastic for your skin, hair, digestion, immunity, and more. It also helps you stay satisfied; a lot of the time we mistake hunger for thirst without realizing it.

Drink a big glass with lemon when you wake up, sip on some hot tea by the fire, have a glass o’ H2O between each alcoholic beverage, or challenge your cousin to a chugging contest. Do whatever it takes to get your daily 8 glass minimum.

11. Fill up on fruits and veggies
If there are any fresh, raw options, those are always your best bet. Allow some heavier foods too, but fill the majority of your plate with salad, cut veggies, and raw fruit. If you fill up on three cups of veggies, you’re still probably only 300 calories into your day!

12. Skip dips, dressings, and gravy
Some of the worst health offenders are well-known. Gravy, ranch dressings, fruit or veggie dips, anything cream or oil based. If you must have gravy on your potatoes, just go easy. They will taste fine with 1/4 cup versus 1 1/2 cups.

13. Observe yourself
Pay attention to trigger foods or situations. Don’t allow yourself to hang around near the food tables. Don’t eat if you aren’t hungry, just because the leftovers are there. Distract yourself by chatting with family you only see once a year, or making a new office friend.

14. Limit alcohol
Alcohol is a two-fold danger. For one, it has fairly high amounts of calories alone, and if you’re the type to enjoy fruity mixed beverages rather than the straight stuff the calorie count can become absurd quickly.

A 100 calorie shot or a 900 calorie peppermint kahlua with cream are both excess calories that don’t leave you feeling full.

Secondly, alcohol lowers our inhibitions. Who hasn’t gotten the “drunchies” after a night of partying hard, only to regret the next morning the 5000 calories’ worth of tacos we ate at 3am?

As above, drink a glass of water between each beverage, choose wine or hard liquor in small quantities, and behave yourself. Mostly.

15. Analyze your reasons
There are so many varied reasons for over-eating, what is it that prompts you to pick up that fork again? Are you hurt by family pokes about your current weight? Does being home make you feel like a kid again and you’re seeking comfort?

Do you feel left out if you don’t stuff yourself? Are you afraid that you’ll never have access to this particular kind of cookie again so you must eat two dozen tonight? Ask yourself why, be honest with the answers, and then be rational in how to deal with the issues.

Don’t forget: Forgive yourself for slip-ups
We are all human. That’s a fact of life. We all have goals and ideals, but we all will sometimes mess up.

And that is OK. Really.

If you just ate three days’ worth of food in one sitting before you even realized it, just acknowledge it happened, think about why, and resolve to not let it happen again. And probably seek some pink liquid help for the severe stomachache you now have.

For more great articles on holiday overeating and how to avoid it:

California Pacific Medical Center
GroupHealth
AmIhungry.com
Prevention Magazine
Huffington Post

 

 

How do you say “no” to seconds of the holiday ham or cookies that are calling your name?

Thanksgiving is for thanks-giving

 

In my previous post about Thanksgiving on a budget, I laid out the history of the North American Thanksgiving holiday. While it’s taken quite a while to get to this point, the more recent incarnation of this holiday has been centered around giving thanks for what we have. Or at least it should be. As with most holidays in the US, the big companies try to take over and commercialize the living daylights out of everything.

Now we can buy decorations, tablecloths, dinnerware, and all manner of turkey-themed knicknacks. The President of the United States even gets to issue a T-day proclamation and “pardon” a turkey, which ensures that particularly lucky bird will spend the rest of its life roaming freely and not trussed, stuffed, and roasted on a dinner table. Though there has been some suspicion involved in that whole process. The Huffington Post wrote a story last year about the fates of previously pardoned turkeys. Mental Floss also wrote a thorough post on the whole history of Presidential poultry pardoning.

There are also plenty of companies out there offering to cook part or all of your holiday meal. While that may be a good option if you’re hosting a huge amount of people and would rather spend time with them than spend thirty straight hours in a kitchen, that is not the case for most people.

And honestly, this holiday should be about spending time with your loved ones. They won’t care if you don’t have a perfect spiral, smoked, honey baked ham, if the turkey skin isn’t just-right crispy, if the stuffing is a little dry (that’s what gravy is for). We tend to put so much stress and importance on the perfect meal that we forget the purpose of having it: to be thankful. To count our blessings. To spend time with people we care about and share a meal together.

There have been tons of psychological experiments on the psychological and physical benefits of an “Attitude of Gratitude” with more being published all the time. People who practice gratitude consistently report stronger immune systems, more joy, optimism, and less feelings of loneliness. The Huffington Post wrote a great article on 10 Reasons Why Being Thankful Is Good For You. The reasons include better sleep, better grades, better relationships, improved heart health, and boosted immunity.

Gratitude has been purported to help in many chronic health diseases like depression, CFIDS and Fibromyalgia. The CFIDS & Fibromyalgia website has an article summarizing a well-know gratitude book “Thanks!: How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier” by Robert Emmons. The NYTimes also wrote a nice article about the main points in Emmons’ book.
 
The CFIDS & Fibromyalgia website also included a 5-point list of things you can do in your life to increase gratitude right now. To sum it up:

5 Things You Can Do To Increase Gratefulness Now

1. Keep a daily gratitude journal. Write down 3-5 things every day you are thankful for. You only need a sentence, and it could be as simple as the sunrise to a hug from a friend to a raise. 

2. Use a visual reminder. People are forgetful little things, out of sight out of mind. Write yourself post-its of all the good things and people in your life. Set an alarm to go off at different intervals to remind you to take a thank-you break.

3. Have a gratitude partner. Any habit is easier to maintain if you have accountability. Plus gr-attitudes are contagious. Make a point to cultivate relationships with other thankful people. One of your daily gratitudes can then be your thankfulness partner.

4. Make a public commitment. This goes along with #3 but is directly related to achievable goals and should be made more public, like a weekly thankful Facebook status, family, or join a support group.

5. Change your self-talk. Also known as an inner monologue, this is the voice running constantly in the back of your mind. Most people have lower mood when that voice is negative, “you’re not good enough”, “you’ll never lost that weight”, “that raise isn’t gonna happen”, etc. With conscious practice, you can rewrite the script to be more kind to yourself and the other people in your life. 

This list is at my desk in lab, where I see it every day.

 

The University of California, Berkeley is launching a 3-year long, $6.5 million initiative: Expanding the Science and Practice of Gratitude. This project aims to increase scientific knowledge of the process and benefits of gratefulness as well as to educate the general public on current knowledge and future findings. They will be exploring everything from the neuroscience of gratitude to gratefulness in romantic relationships to how thankfulness may reduce bullying. All good stuff I think. You can find out more about the project here.

So if the stuffing is a little dry, be thankful you have stuffing at all. If the bird is slightly burnt, be thankful the nine hours of roasting killed any harmful bacteria on it. If the family feud begins somewhere between “grace” and “pass the pumpkin pie”, be grateful you have a family to share this day with in the first place. I am so very grateful for my family, my amazing mother and grandmother who taught me how to cook and supported me through burnt popcorn and un-jelled Jello. My dad for teaching me the value of a dollar and good financial practices. My many friends and roommates over the years who suffered through many first attempts at recipes and recipe creations.
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I am thankful for the ability to get in my working car, drive to a store which is less than twenty minutes away, fill a cart with fresh, tasty foods, and pay for it without worrying about overdrawing my credit. I am thankful that I now have the ability to cook healthy, hearty, delicious meals, and the ability to share that with the internet world. I will be giving many thanks this Thursday, and I hope you will too.
Thank you for reading! Happy Thanksgiving, readers.
More info:
For more information on ways gratitude is good for you, research, and ways to feel more thankful, check out Harvard Health’s article: In Praise of Gratitude, Psychology Today about Giving thanks: The benefits of gratitude, Happier Human’s blog The 31 Benefits of Gratitude You Didn’t Know About, and Berkeley’s video clip on the benefits of gratitude from Robert Emmon’s himself.

 

Please share: What are you grateful for?

 

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Thanksgiving Meal Under $20

 

The time of giving thanks is approaching! Everyone knows the beloved American holiday featuring a rather large, ugly bird. Kids drawn pictures of feathered Native Americans and buckle-hatted Pilgrims gathered around the cornucopia and a turkey drawn from your hand’s outline. 


But like most American holidays the original meaning has become commercialized and veered a bit from the original. The first Thanksgiving meal happened in fall of 1621, sometime between mid-September and mid-November. It was to give thanks for a successful harvest, and the Pilgrims joined the local Wampanoag tribe to eat fowl, fish and deer, and probably local plants like berries, plums and boiled pumpkin. 

After that, it was not immediately a national holiday. That didn’t happen until George Washington proclaimed Thursday, November 26, 1789, a “day of public thanksgiving and prayer” in honor of our new nation and brand new Constitution. Even then the holiday was not a set annual day. During Lincoln’s presidency, when he needed a way to unite the states, he turned to Sarah Josepha Hale, writer of the famous “Mary Had a Little Lamb” rhyme. She thought the holiday would be a way to infuse the nation with hope and belief in itself and the Constitution. Thus Lincoln declared the last Thursday in November a national holiday.

FDR caused a bit of a ruckus when he tried to change the date, causing TWO Thanksgivings in 1939 and 1940. Sounds awesome, two days of paid vacation, stuffing yourself and football right? Not so much, because some states kept the traditional date while others followed the President. Thus it caused some familiar discord as people had different days off, schools had to reschedule tests and vacations, and it sure is lucky airplanes weren’t around yet, because that would have caused a lot of date-change booking fees. Congress finally got around to making it into law that the fourth Thursday of November was the official and forever Thanksgiving Day.

If you’re heading into T-Day with a lot of things to be thankful for, but a large bank balance isn’t one of them, fear not. You can still have a stellar feast, and for less than an Andrew Jackson. 

 

Now, for the remainder of this post I will make a few assumptions. Don’t be offended if they don’t apply to you. Adjust the advice accordingly.

1. You will be feeding 2-4 people.
2. You want turkey and not a ham.
3. You want the most “traditional” American dishes.
4. You have twenty dollars.
5. You have basic cooking equipment and knowledge.
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Ok, so for the “traditional” American feast, the most common dishes are:
*The Turkey
*Stuffing
*Mashed Potatoes
*Green Bean Casserole
*Cranberry Sauce
*Pumpkin Pie
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That’s what we need to make, as inexpensively as possible. If those don’t sound right or aren’t quite what you want, try here for thousands more Thanksgiving day recipes. 
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*The Turkey (free – $7)
Here we have a few options. You aren’t likely to find a whole bird under $20. There are a few ways around it. Some stores run specials leading up to T-day such that you purchase a certain amount of groceries and get a free bird. If you had planned spending $100 in groceries into your budget anyways, pick up that free bird! If not, you still have choices. One option is to purchase only turkey drumsticks rather than the whole bird. I just saw these at a store, four drums for $5-7. Your other option is to purchase mini hens/ducks or a whole chicken. If the people you’re cooking for won’t care what type of fowl they eat, this can get you a bird for $4-7 as well.

*Stuffing ($1 – $3)
If you’re good with boxed types, keep an eye on sales. These can be picked up for $1 or less per box, and you’ll probably need at least two. If you want to make your own, you’ll need a loaf of stale bread, 2 cups stock, seasoning, and 1 cup diced & sauteed celery/carrot/onion. all together the ingredients shouldn’t cost more than $3. Mix it all and bake at 350 inside the bird or in a casserole dish for 30-40 minutes.

*Mashed Potatoes ($1 – $3)
Again, if you don’t mind the boxed stuff, I’ve seen this at the dollar store as well as on sale for $1 or less. To make your own, peel and dice about a pound of potatoes per person. Boil the potatoes in salted water until soft, about 10 minutes. Drain and put back into the pot. Mash or use a hand blender. Add in garlic salt, butter, sour cream, and/or milk to your desired taste and consistency.

*Green Bean Casserole ($2)
A good old stand by favorite, this is nothing more than a can of cut green beans mixed with a can of cream of mushroom sauce. If you’ve been good about sales you should be able to get at least two cans of each for less than $2. You can also be fancy and use a pound or two of fresh green beans, cleaned and boiled. The fanciest is to add some french friend onions or crushed potato chips on top.

*Cranberry Sauce ($1 – $2)
Buy a can of this jello like fruity goop for $1 or less, it will probably not all be eaten. Or you can get yourself a bag of fresh cranberries on sale. Mix 1 cup water, 1 cup sugar and the cranberries in a sauce pot. Bring to a boil, then simmer for about ten minutes, or until cranberries burst. At this point you can add anything you like, such as cinnamon or nutmeg, chopped almonds or pecans, orange zest or blueberries or raisins. Cool and then put in the refrigerator until served.
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*Pumpkin Pie ($1 – $3)
If you get lucky and find a frozen or fresh pie on sale you like, go for it. However if you want the homemade touch, take 1 can pumpkin puree, 1 can sweetened condensed milk, 2 eggs, and pumpkin pie spice (or combination cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice) and a pie crust. Mix all ingredients and pour into the crust. Bake at 425 for 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 and bake another 30-45 minutes, until set.
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Total: $6 – $20
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So you see you can indeed enjoy an all-American thankful feast for under $20. Also of note, there are lots of things that go on deep sale during the holidays that you use other times of the year. If you’re an avid baker and find a 4 for $1 sale on condensed milk, snap that up! If celery is .50 per pound, buy a whole bunch and freeze some for soup, or use it at Christmas. Especially if you have a big freezer, when the birds left are taking up space the day after Thanksgiving, head to the grocery store after your Black Friday shopping for steep discounts on fowl, and freeze it for Christmas or any time of the year. Happy bargain-hunting!
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If you have any budget-friendly holiday tips, please share!
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True Stories of Juicing

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Raw Juice: what’s fact and what’s hype?
 
For several years now I’ve been dabbling in “healthy stuff” like juicing. As most things do, it began as just a curiosity, what’s it all about. I read articles and books and opinions of people who have tried juicing in various ways and for various amounts of time. There are some super-intense proponents of juicing, like this guy. His name is Joe Cross, and he claims juicing saved his life. He has a documentary on Netflix and free online called “Fat Sick and Nearly Dead” as well as a blog. Before you think “ok, crazy extremists who make these claims just want us to buy their juicer”, let me say that recognized sources like WebMD and even Dr. Oz tout the benefits of juicing while giving adequate attention to the possible drawbacks.

Fruit and vegetable juices retain most of the chemicals which make them so good for us in the first place, like chlorophyll, anthocyanins, antioxidants and flavonoids. It is important to note that although adding juice to a well rounded, healthy diet is an excellent idea, beware falling into thinking that juicing is the only or best way to be healthy, or that only juices are good for you and you should avoid whole foods. That is not at all what I’m saying. Juicing also takes out all the fiber from these wonder foods, fiber that your body needs for its normal digestive process. For a list of nearly 50 more fascinating raw food juice facts, check this out.

Now, before you rush out and buy a $300 juicer, consider your needs. Are you just beginning to dabble in this juicing craze? Do you just want a healthy beverage now and then, as well as pulp to put into soup and muffins? Are you already a hard-core health nut ready to begin adding daily juices to your diet? There are two types of juicers, a centrifugal juicer or a masticating juicer. Centrifugal machines work by chopping the food into tiny pieces and spinning it to separate the juices. They are typically smaller and less expensive. You won’t get as much of the nutrients, but they do the job. Masticating juicers work by mashing and grinding the food, producing a thicker, pulpier juice with the majority of the nutrients. They are typically larger and more expensive. You can check out a wide array on Amazon (not an affiliate link. I will get no benefit if you look or buy). 

Funny story, my juicer was actually free. I’m a member of an online community called SparkPeople which has nutrition and exercise trackers, recipes, articles, community boards and much more. I highly recommend it if you want a simple, informative website to keep track of your health stats. Anyways, there was a forum about juicing, and I posted in it that I was curious about juicing. It lead to several conversations about types of juicers, uses, etc. A fellow member sent me a personal message saying that she had just gotten a newer, larger juicer as a gift and had an old one she didn’t need anymore. Of course I was skeptical, but sure enough two weeks later a gorgeous little blue and white juicer showed up! 

My gorgeous gift, courtesy of a kind fellow Spark-er!

 

I was thrilled, and thanked her profusely. Since then I’ve dabbled on and off with various types of fruits and vegetables and recipes, and learned a little along the way. Following is a list of rules I’ve determined for myself. They may not all work for you, but enjoy learning from my experience.


Jen’s Five Juicing Rules: 

1. Take the time to cut off the peels. Seriously, juicing the peels too gives the final juice a bitter, sour taste that is not really pleasant, regardless of what other goodies are in there.Of course, mine is a centrifugal juicer, not meant for large pieces of whole fruit. If you have a masticating one, it might be ok.

2. Know the limits of your machine. If you have one of the huge, fancy juicers you can pretty much throw a whole watermelon into, good for you! Most likely you do not, so know how large of a piece of food your machine can handle at a time, and if you’re doing a large batch clean it a few times throughout to keep it from clogging up.

3. Wash your juicer immediately once finished. Dried on fruit and vegetable bits are gross, start to smell, and are much harder to scrape off the inside of a fruit chute than fresh.  I promise the chlorophyll and phytochemicals in your juice won’t fall apart in the time it takes to give it a quick rinse.

4. Always throw in a little something sweet. Even the most hard-core purist who drinks three glasses of green juice a day has to admit kale, spinach and carrots alone don’t taste super great. Especially if you’re just starting out with juicing, give yourself some slack and add some apple juice or berries to everything.  

5. Don’t be afraid to try new things. I juiced anything I could get my hands on for a while. Sure I made some mistakes (see the list at the end of things that are HORRIBLE juiced) but I also found a lot of new fruits and veggies I didn’t know I liked. 

Prepping for juicing: lots of fresh fruits and veggies
This will become many tasty beverages for the week.
Mmmm green juice, that’s the best way to start the day.

Things that are seriously gross when juiced:
Cabbage
Potatoes
Mushrooms
Garlic – maybe for cooking, but holy cow this stuff is strong! Gag-inducing, even in small amounts.


Things that will overwhelm the taste (use small amounts only):
Grapefruit
Ginger
Lemons
Limes

Best things for juicing:
Apples
Carrots
Celery
Cucumber
Spinach
Oranges
Pears
Berries (most of them)
Pineapple
Lemon/lime/grapefruit


Now that you know the facts, go ahead and find yourself a juicer (Amazon, Ebay, Walmart, Christmas present, Craigslist…) and get to creating! The Beginner’s Guide to Juicing is a great article full of helpful information, reviews of different types of juicers and blenders, and includes more recipe ideas.

Some recipes to get you started:

Citrus Refresher
~2 oranges, peels cut off
~2 apples
~2 large carrots
~1 lemon and/or lime

Green Machine
~1 large handful spinach or kale
~4 stalks celery
~1 large cucumber
~1 apple
~1 lime

Cold Crusher
~2 oranges
~1/2 a grapefruit
~1 apple
~1″ chunk ginger
~1 lemon

If you have any juicing stories, advice or recipes, please share!

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Oven Roasted Whole Chicken

 

When I moved into my new apartment, I went on a stock-up grocery trip as I always do. One thing that was on sale was whole chicken (90 cents a pound or something). Since I had already brined and roasted a whole pheasant, I figured a whole chicken shouldn’t be much more difficult. So I got one and stuck it in the freezer.

Then one day I decided it was starting to get cold enough to count as fall, and chicken soup is great fall weather food! Of course, I roasted the meat and just enjoyed some tasty baked chicken meat first. The carcass is in the crock pot today to make stock for chicken soup.

I took out the bird, made a nice brine*, and roasted it the next day. And it turned out tender and amazing!

*If you don’t want to brine it overnight first, don’t worry about it. Skip right to the roasting part.

Ingredients for brine:

  • 1 cup salt
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1 cup pink moscato (because I had no open white wines)
  • 5 bay leaves
  • sprinkle garlic, sprinkle black pepper
  • About a gallon of water

Step 1: Mix all ingredients in a pot large enough to hold the whole bird. Add water to the top (once bird is added, not before, or you’ll spill everywhere. Not that I’ve ever done that…).

Step 2: Stick it in the refrigerator overnight (or at least for 4 hours. You can put it in there in the morning, head off to work and finish roasting it later that night too). I had to put my milk sideways on the bottom shelf to make room for a day, but I feel it is well worth the space-hogging.

Ingredients for the bird:

  • 1 whole frozen chicken, thawed overnight
  • Several gobs of margerine or butter
  • 1 whole apple, lemon, orange, and/or onion cut into quarters (I used one whole Gala apple)
  • Salt, pepper, and paprika

Step 3*: Take the bird out of the liquid, and pour the brine down the sink. Wipe off any moisture with a paper towel and place in a large baking pan. Rub it down all over with margarine. I despise raw chicken, so this part is super disgusting for me, but it is a necessary evil of epicuriosity. (*IF you skip brining, this is where to start)

Shove some butter chunks under the skin if you can too. If there are bits and pieces inside the cavity, take those out and dispose of or cook separately. Then sprinkle it all over with spices, and shove the aromatics (apple, onion, lemon) up the butt. Sorry, inside the cavity…

 

Step 4: Put the bird breast-side down into an oven at 425 for 15-20 minutes covered with aluminum foil. Flip it over, take the foil off, and roast uncovered for another 10-15 minutes. This will lead to a nice crispy outside skin. Then lower the heat to 375 for about another hour, or until the temperature is at least 165 F.

 

Once it’s all nicely browned and roasted, it looks and smells divine!

 

Take the aromatics you stuffed it with out and discard (or compost it). Use the meat any way you like! It is tender and moist and super flavorful. Not bad for $5 a bird.

 

I served it with broccoli cheddar rice and candied carrots on the side. Perfection.

Now I think I also need to work on learning how to properly carve the thing rather than just stabbing and sawing until a piece falls off…