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When was the last time you got out of your culinary comfort zone? The start of the New Year is a perfect time to look at your habits with fresh eyes and attempt to try something new. Today I ventured out of my food shopping routine and visited Reliable Market, an Asian grocery shop in Union Square, Somerville. I had already gathered necessary ingredients to make this Post-punk Kitchen curry udon recipe, but hadn’t been able to find the udon noodles during my usual trip to Trader Joe’s. At Reliable Market, I found the udon (big, chewy, Japanese noodles) plus a bunch of other fun additions to my kitchen. I brought home a few bags of dried shitake mushrooms ($.99 a piece), teriyaki-flavored seaweed snacks, and some matcha green tea powder—another ingredient that had eluded me during trips to mainstream stores in the past.

Besides the healthy, bargain deals, just the act of wandering around an unfamiliar environment, looking at different types of produce, spices, and sauces, was enough to make me feel refreshed and inspired.

Curry Udon

udon curry stir fry

I made my beautiful curry udon stir fry, with the shitake mushrooms, as well as broccoli, red pepper, and tofu. I always try to add in as many veggies as possible when it comes to stir fries, an easy way to get a big serving of vegetables in one delicious meal.

I’m in love with the teriyaki seaweed snacks, and looking forward to going back to Reliable and picking up more. They had about 30 different kinds of seaweed snacks at this store! There are only 10 calories in 10 flavorful, crunchy strips of seaweed, as well as 50% of your daily recommended allowance of Vitamin A. And, medical journals like Nutritional Reviews have shown sea vegetables to be high in many essential vitamins and minerals like iodine, copper, and zinc. Make sure you read the labels of seaweed snacks, though, as some contain MSG.

I also made a matcha green tea smoothie, blending my new matcha powder 

Matcha green tea smoothie

(1 tbsp.), with 1 cup of hemp milk, 1 tbsp. of honey and a few ice cubes. A refreshing alternative to iced coffee, and high in cancer-preventing polyphenols.

 

Have you tried any new foods or places to shop lately? If you’re interested in visiting in the Reliable Market, or other interesting ethnic shops in the Somerville area, check out Nibble, a new blog by the Somerville Arts Council, highlighting recipes and ingredients from local shops. Go explore!

Thanksgiving is just around the bend, and while this time of year marks the start of the holiday season, it also means that its time to be prepared for something much less fun: cold and flu season!

I was sick all of last week, and know a few other people in my office and grad school program have been coming down with colds  also. I’m thankful to be feeling better and able to be up and active by now—as we all probably know, it isn’t until you’ve felt unhealthy that you tend to fully appreciate just how great being healthy really is.

Hawaiian Ginger Chicken Soup and Sriracha

I made a batch of this Hawaiian Ginger Chicken Soup from EatingWell.com when I was feeling sick, and I’ve decided to go ahead and dub it the “new” chicken soup. While I love the Lipton’s noodle packets as much as the next person, a spicy, pungent soup filled with dark green leafy vegetables, is much more beneficial to your body. It is VERY ginger-y, which I love, but those who aren’t really into ginger may want to reduce it a little. Ginger is acknowledged as having tons of health benefits, including: boosting immunity, relieving gastrointestinal discomfort, and reducing inflammation. The spicy Sriracha in the broth is excellent for clearing up a stuffy nose! I hope you don’t end up needing a cold-remedy, but should you need one, keep this dish in mind. :)

Have a great holiday!

 

pumkin pie oatmeal

Pumpkin-pie oatmeal

 

I never get sick of oatmeal. I might go through brief interludes of interest in switching it up with scrambled eggs or a breakfast sandwich, but for the most part oatmeal and I stick together like glue every morning. I switch it up with a cold variation like bircher-muesli in the summer, and in the fall and winter I love having a hot bowl in the morning, always with toppings. To me, it’s the perfect breakfast food. The health benefits are undeniable–oatmeal has been found to lower cholesterol, and provides energy in complex carbohydrates with lots of soluble fiber to stabilize your blood sugar. It’s also inexpensive–I like to buy a jumbo box of plain, old-fashioned oats, which has about 30 servings and costs around $3-4. None of the pre-packaged, sugary packets for me, thanks. My long-time standby mix-ins for hot oatmeal have included chopped apples, cinnamon, honey, and nuts.

hemp milk

Lately I’ve tried some other varieties that I thought I’d share. First off, I usually mix my oats with half milk and half water. I recently discovered the joy of using hemp milk from Trader Joe’s in this mix. Their hemp milk provides almost half your daily serving of Omega-3 ALA fats–those healthy fats you need for a healthy functioning brain and heart. The fat and protein the hemp milk provides makes for an extra creamy bowl of oats, and I find that it really helps to keep me full for longer.

Along with hemp milk I’ve tried a few new add-ins:

The Thanksgiving-season appropriate Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal, with:

  • 1/4 cup canned pumpkin (plain, not sweetened)
  • Pumpkin pie spices: ground ginger, allspice, nutmeg, and cinnamon, adjusted to your taste preference. I like a lot of ginger in mine.
  • Drizzle of honey
  • Chopped walnuts
  • Raisins

I scoop the pumpkin in with the uncooked oatmeal and hemp milk and heat it up all together (about 4 minutes in the microwave), and then add on the toppings and an extra splash of milk once its cooled a little.

My other new favorite variety involves:

  • 2 tbsp dried, unsweetened coconut flakes
  • dried cranberries
  • chopped walnuts
  • drizzle of maple syrup

This variation came out of using what I had on hand in the pantry, and just happened to come together fabulously. It might be my favorite variety to date.

Enjoy!

There’s no doubt that McDonald’s and similar fast-food chains can give you a “value”—for $3 you could get yourself a double cheeseburger, fries, and a milkshake, which is hard to beat when it comes to fast food. (Although, if you’re in Chinatown, you could get a delicious Vietnamese sandwich with real veggies and lean meat or tofu for $3…) I’ve been somewhat of a thrift-detective since I accepted a new part-time job that allows me more time for grad school, but less money for my food budget. As promised, I’m going to be delivering some new recipes that are super-budget friendly and give a whole lot more value than the aforementioned fast foods.

In case you haven’t noticed, I’ve already been a huge fan of the black bean. Sometimes I find myself rattling off black bean recipes like Forrest Gump’s Bubba in his shrimp soliloquy…Black bean burgers. Black bean Soup. Cuban Black bean and yam stew…And today, I have yet another black bean recipe for you—the delicious Jamaican black bean and coconut cornbread bake. There’s a reason I’m so excited about the legume noir. Fiber, protein, antioxidants, polyphenols, folate, magnesium, iron…the benefits of the black bean go on and on. And the cost? I bought a 10 pound bag of black beans for $10 from MarketBasket about six months ago (which also influenced my plethora of black bean recipes). Dried beans double in size after they are soaked and boiled, so this means I’m getting about a cup of black beans for 25 cents. Not too shabby. I found this recipe on Vegetarian Times website, and adapted a little. I substituted one sweet potato, which I cubed, peeled, and roasted in oven, instead of the frozen corn that the recipe called for. I served it up alongside a serving of sautéed collard greens ($1.79 at MarketBasket for a huge bunch that ended up being about 6 servings.) After doing the math, I calculated this recipe to cost about $1.39 per serving (this doesn’t include the spices, which are just too difficult to factor in).

$1.39! For a heart-healthy, vitamin-packed serving of home-cooked goodness. That’s a real value meal.

 

Black bean and coconut cornbread bake

 

 

I recently got some very exciting news—the part time job that I had been interviewing for finally came through with an offer! I’ve been on the lookout for something part time since beginning grad school this past September. I had been “burning the candle at both ends” by working 40 hours and taking on night classes with tons of reading and assignments. So starting next week, I’ll be in a new work environment, with my hours scaled back to a much more manageable 20 hours per week. The caveat? I’ll also be scaling back on my paycheck. Definitely expect to see some low-budget healthy recipes from me in the future! I’ve always been fairly budget conscious, but I’m really going to have to start thinking thrifty from now on. That being said, I don’t believe in scrimping too much on the important things in life! Which is why I go to the best gym in the world, buy fewer quantity of higher quality clothes and products, and try to use the best (organic, local) ingredients when I cook. To be able to keep my quality of life in check along with my budget, I’m planning on organizing more cheap social activities like potluck dinners, and taking advantage of the deals that are offered daily on sites like Groupon and Eversave.* I’m also planning on preparing lots of meals at home and getting creative with ingredients so I can lower my overall grocery bill without sacrificing great taste.

I know that a lot of people (myself included, until this new job opened up) don’t always have the opportunity to spend lots of hours in the kitchen and planning meals, which is undoubtedly the cheapest way to eat. There are a few strategies for eating on the run that I’ve worked out in the past month or so, while juggling full time work and school. Whole Foods has generally been my go-to spot for cheap and healthy prepared meals. Forget that “whole paycheck” nickname – this grocery store has a lot of really good options if you know where to look. If you’re navigating the world of prepared food items, here are my suggestions:

  • Skip the salad bar. Unless you’re a serious pro with picking out the lightest salad choices, and can effectively steer yourself away from the heavier tantalizing toppings, these salads tend to really add up when it comes time to weigh in. Same goes for the foods in the hot bar.
  • 2 for $5. Whole foods has a whole section of small serving packaged foods that are only $2.50 a piece. There are gourmet salads with dried cranberry, goat cheese, and pecans; mini roasted vegetable or turkey sandwiches; and whole grain pilafs with ingredients like quinoa, kamut, and brown rice. There is a ton to choose from, and mixing and matching these healthy foods in healthy portions is a great way to pick up a quick lunch or dinner for only $5.
  • Prepared foods section. The prepared foods in the glass case at Whole Foods is a total gem. Every week, there are at least one or two prepared foods on sale. The counter staff will let you try samples of their different options, which I’ve always found to be delicious. I personally like to get a grilled marinated chicken breast – today I bought one (on sale) for about $2.20 and paired it with a half-pint of kale salad (mixed with cranberries, walnuts, and tomatoes) which cost me another $2. There’s even a microwave in the dining area to heat this up. You can’t beat a meal of lean protein and fresh greens for $4.20!

Disclaimer: I’m not a secret employee of Whole Foods, and no one bribed me to say any of this. I just love the budget-friendly options that I’ve discovered there.

*Speaking of Groupon, I recently went berserk and ordered 3 of their recent deal—a $60 gift certificate to Studio 9, for just $30. Studio 9 an awesome, yet pricey salon, and I am in love with it, so I jumped at the offer—without reading the fine print, which says only one per customer! If any of you out there are interested in this great deal, please shoot me an email at Jean.Zove@yahoo.com. I’m selling them for the same price I bought ($30). Their services are excellent and this is a great deal!

This past weekend was some pretty glorious Fall weather! Unfortunately, I spent most of the weekend locked away, working on a huge paper for one of my classes (almost finished), but it was just too nice outside to not sneak out and do something fun. I ended up going apple picking with some friends at Russell Farms in Ipswich, quite possibly one of the cutest places ever. I ate the best cider donuts and hot apple cider I’ve ever had, took a hay ride out to the orchards, and brought home a ten pound “peck” of Cortland, Macoun, Macintosh, and Gala apples.

One of the great things about season fruit picking, is finding ways to eat your new bounty. Some of those apples have been getting cut up and cooked with oatmeal in the morning. Some of them might end up going into that apple chicken recipe that I wrote about a few weeks ago. And yesterday, I decided to procrastinate with that paper just a little bit more, by baking an awesome apple crisp. I love apple crisp because it’s so delicious and easy and can be prepared without a lot of extra fat or sugar. I actually really don’t like most store-bought crisps or packaged mixes – I find them to be way too sweet and gooey. Apples baked with some cinnamon and raisins have so much natural sweetness and flavor on their own, why would you want to cover that up? I prefer to keep mine simple, with just a little bit of crumb topping. Below is the recipe I came up with yesterday.

Slightly Sweet Apple Crisp

5-7 apples (I used 5 because mine were huge) peeled, cored and sliced thin. I used the aforementioned apple varieties which are all semi-sweet and tart, good for baking

2 tsp cinnamon

1 tbsp lemon juice

¼ cup raisins

3 tbsp tapioca pearls – this is optional, I like to add them because they add some fun texture

1 cups water

½ cup rolled oats

¼ cup brown sugar

1/3 cup whole wheat flour

2 tbsp butter

Preheat the over to 375 degrees, and coat a 9 x 11 glass baking pan with non-stick spray. Arrange apple slices to an even layer on the pan. Sprinkle with cinnamon, lemon juice, raisins, tapioca, and stir until evenly coated. Add water to the apples. In a separate bowl, combine the oats, sugar, and flour and mix well. (I also added an extra sprinkle of cinnamon to this mixture). Cut the butter into the mix using a pastry knife or two butter knives (if you don’t know what this means, here’s a link to a video that explains). Sprinkle crumble mixture evenly over apples. Bake for about 25 minutes, or until apples are soft.

 

I’m proud to say (without passing judgment on anyone else) that I never ever eat from fast food chains. Back in high school, I used to love the .89 cent chicken nugget days at McDonalds, and on a few college road trips I definitely ate some fast food when there was no other choice. But it’s probably been years since I’ve visited a McD’s, Wendy’s, etc.

However, I have recently discovered the pleasure of a local fast food delicacy known as the Vietnam Sandwich, or “Banh Mi.” With my classes at Tufts Med School located in Chinatown, and the need for moderately healthy in between class and work, I’ve done a little research into the treasures of the neighborhood. There are definitely many good options – pho soups from Pho Pasteur, classic steamed veggies and rice from pretty much any Chinese restaurant – but when you’re looking for something fast and inexpensive, nothing beats the Banh Mi. For $3 (yes, $3) you’ll get a choice of tofu, chicken, or beef on a crusty baguette with flavorful pickled carrots, cucumber, and daikon radishes, spicy sauces, topped with cilantro. My favorite place so far is the New Saigon Sandwich, a tiny little place on Washington Street. Don’t be fooled by the modest appearance – their sandwiches are seriously delicious and very filling! Today I ordered the tofu sandwich with extra vegetables and no mayo, perfect for a quick lunch to eat on a bench in the nearby Boston Common. They also have packaged fresh rolls (vegetables and tofu or shrimp wrapped in rice paper) ready to go, again priced at a reasonable $3. If you’re in the area, or looking to explore a new neighborhood, I highly recommend. Has anyone else found any “hidden neighborhood treasures” for quick and healthy lunches?

- Jean

Happy Hump Day! For a sweet mid-week tip, I wanted to let you all know about a giveaway contest that another blogger, Elena, from Healthy and Sane, is running right now. On one of her latest posts is an awesome sounding “oikos over banana chia pudding with raw cocoa nibs and dried cherries” breakfast recipe that I am dying to try out. And she’s offering a package filled with sweet treats like a coupon for a free Green & Black’s Organic Chocolate Bar, 2 coupons for Chocolate and Caramel Oikos multipacks, and a bunch of other yummy chocolate-related samples. Check out her post and leave a comment if you want a chance to win!

And now, on a completely different note…Since my new life as a Health Communications graduate student has been taking over most of my spare time, and the things I’m reading about pertain directly to health, I figured I might share some of the new information I’ve been learning, with the hopes that it will benefit you readers, as well!

Among my many reading assignments, are chapters from the Merck Medical Manual for my Intro to Clinical Medicine class at Tufts. This week, I read a lot about the biology of the human heart. I have truly been blown away by how amazing our bodies are, and fascinated with getting a deeper understanding of how things like our hearts actually work. I also read a good deal about heart and blood vessel disorders. I love that I actually know now what it means to have a triple bypass surgery (It involves taking a vein or artery from somewhere else on your body, and attaching it from the aorta to the coronary artery, so that blood can bypass clogged arteries.) There’s also a procedure called Percutaneous Coronary Intervention that involves working a tiny balloon-tipped catheter into the narrowed coronary artery, and expanding the balloon so that it can puff open the blockage. I am amazed and humbled by all of these things that modern medicine allows doctors to do in order to “fix” problems in our bodies.

But here’s catch – I don’t know about you, but I never ever want to have to get to the state where someone needs to inflate a balloon in my vein in order to allow my heart to pump and function as it should. Surgery is complicated and scary (to me) and a lot of time, it’s used to remedy conditions that came about because of people’s lifestyle choices. They are, of course, the “usual suspects” that include: obesity, smoking, eating a high fat diet, and inactivity. If you’re new to working out at Healthworks, or if you’ve been working on a healthy lifestyle already, please take this “to heart” and know that you are doing incredible things for yourself and helping to avoid all kinds of health issues down the line!

 - Jean

I’m starting off this week wearing long pants and a long-sleeved shirt as the temperature starts to reflect the end of Summer and start of Fall.  Last week went by for me in a total whirlwind. I had a great Labor Day weekend visiting my best friend in Durham, NC, where I watched some minor league Durham Bulls baseball, walked around the campuses of Duke and UNC, and ate some amazing food. I was very impressed with the local food in Durham – it seemed that every restaurant I went to specifically named the farms that their meat and produce came from. Awesome! We officially said farewell to summer with a few rounds of sweet tea vodka mixed with lemonade.

 
I returned to Boston and dove right into my new graduate student life, with classes on Wednesday and Thursday nights. This is in addition to my full-time job. Whoa. I felt extremely overwhelmed right off the bat with the amount of reading and with the length of the classes – 4 hours on Weds. night! Which means I don’t get home until around 10:45 pm. Then I go to sleep, and leave my house at 7:30 am the next day for work. Repeat. Remember that “Back to School” enthusiasm I was feeling a few weeks ago? This is the reality check. I’m feeling daunted but hoping that I will adjust to the new routine. Managing my time and planning ahead for working out and eating healthy meals is going to be much more difficult now, but I’m hoping to find ways to make it work.

I’m starting off this week a little more prepared. I devoted some time on Sunday for planning out some meals, grocery shopping, and doing my cooking in advance. I now have a refrigerator full of salad supplies, healthy high-fiber homemade muffins, and the best secret weapon I have, a giant pot of black bean soup. Why is this soup my secret weapon? It’s cheap – probably costing $5-10 on ingredients; the recipe makes an enormous batch that will feed me and my boyfriend for at least a week and a half; it tastes great; and it’s full of healthy ingredients like the black beans that supply fiber, protein, and antioxidants. Perfect for a hot lunch or dinner on these cooler Fall days. The recipe is below. Do you have any secret weapons for staying healthy while you’re busy? I’d love to hear your input!

 Black Bean Soup

6 cups cooked black beans

2 tbsp olive oil 1 onion, chopped

1-2 red bell peppers, diced

1 jalapeno pepper, diced

2 carrots, peeled and chopped

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp chili powder

1 tsp sea salt

1 14 oz can diced tomatoes

1-2 cups frozen corn

1 tbsp apple cider vinegar (or white vinegar)

Sautee the onion and olive oil in a large soup pot for a few minutes, then add the spices and coat. Add peppers and carrots and sautee a few more minutes. Then add the black beans, about 3 cups of water, the tomatoes with their liquid, and the frozen corn. Simmer for about 25 minutes. Then add the vinegar. Also good with some chopped cilantro!

 - Jean

Another heat wave has descended upon Boston! It’s been quite a summer and I’ve struggled with finding healthy no-cooking-required meals to eat when the temperature is high. I realized that I’ve been overlooking the possibilities of the good old-fashioned sandwich, all this time. For yesterday’s dinner, I made up a sandwich inspired by the delicious picnic supplied by Whole Foods at the last Blogger picnic. I toasted two pieces of sprouted grain bread, and sliced up a ripe avocado and an heirloom tomato from the farmers’ market. As a side not – I do believe that this was actually the best tomato I’ve ever eaten! This is the season, get them now while they are amazing…Baby spinach greens and a smear of Whole Foods’ lemon garlic chive hummus also went into the sandwich. I dare say it was perfection. I love letting avocado take the center stage as the protein – it really lets the creamy texture and flavor stand out and they are very filling, with a hearty serving of healthy monounsaturated fats. Yum!

I’m keeping my fingers crossed for the heat to break and for Hurricane Earl to stay out at sea and not disrupt Labor Day weekend fun!

 - Jean

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