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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.
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.
(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!
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.
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
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.
One of my favorite things about summer in Boston is the farmers markets all around the city. I’m a big supporter of eating locally produced foods – shopping at farmers markets is a great way to support our environment, our American farmers, and our health. I’m fortunate enough to work near the Government Center market, and I love walking over there on my lunch break and meandering around the farmers’ tables, checking out their latest harvests. Last week, on a whim, I bought zucchini, summer squash, an heirloom squash, a big bunch of bright green swiss chard, and some garlic scapes, which I’d never cooked with before. I also bought a dozen fresh farm eggs from Silverbrook Farms. These eggs are amazing – definitely pricier than a cheap dozen from the grocery store, but the taste and texture is so superior that I find myself savoring them in a way that I never do with “regular” eggs. Some research studies have suggested that the nutrition content of free range grass-fed eggs is also better than their factory-farmed counterparts – providing more healthy fats, less saturated fat and cholesterol, and higher amounts of vitamins.
When I got home, I threw together all of my farmers market bounty into a frittata, which came out great. Below is the recipe I conjured up. The beauty of the frittata is that you can put in whatever you want, though, so it’s a perfect base to experiment with as the seasons and available produce changes.
Farmers Market Fritatta
6 eggs (preferably farm fresh!)
1 cup skim milk
Dash of salt and pepper
Sliced zucchini and summer squash, one of each
1 bunch of chard, de-stemmed and torn into small pieces
1 tablespoon chopped basil
3 chopped garlic scapes
2 sliced shallots
¼ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
¼ cup whole wheat breadcrumbs
In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, salt and pepper, and basil. In a cast iron skillet, or a large saucepan, sauté shallots in some olive oil until browned, then add garlic scapes and sauté about a minute longer. Add zucchini and squash and sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Add swiss chard and sauté about a minute. Preheat over to 400 degrees. Pour egg mixture into the skillet, reduce heat to medium low, and cook for about 5-10 minutes, or until it has mostly set. Sprinkle with cheese and breadcrumbs, and place in oven for about 10 minutes, or until the top has browned.
What are your favorite finds at farmers markets?
I had a new experience last Friday night. My friend Carolyn had organized a small group for drinks and snacks—a fun weekend gathering. When I met up with everyone, I found Carolyn’s friends and colleagues as charming and interesting as usual, and we all quickly started chatting. As can happen when a table full of medical professionals, gym instructors and fitness-conscious individuals come together, the conversation turned to recent news of obesity epidemics and health concerns. There was much discussion over the high percentage of Americans who are obese, about the enormous portions served in American restaurants, and about the lack of pedestrian-friendly cities in the U.S.
It was at this point in the conversation that I realized I was one of only two Americans at the table, and I had the unique opportunity to hear the observations of my acquaintances from Singapore, Greece, and Morocco. One of the women noted how accustomed she has become to her large coffee with cream and Splenda each morning. Now, when she visits her home country, she is surprised by the tiny coffee cups and notices the normal servings of everything from coffee to dinner entrees in Morocco seem small compared to the average in the U.S. I really could not refute any of the negative commentary about Americans’ eating habits, because the observations were scarily true about the enormous frozen coffee drinks packed with sugar, the gigantic platters of nachos and fried finger food for appetizers, and desserts large enough to satisfy the entire group seated around our table. Of course the problem is, because we are so used to the more-is-better portions, we are often not satisfied with less, or smaller, or what is actually appropriate. None of this is news, but it struck me anew when told from a different perspective.
I began feeling a little depressed, honestly. I felt proud knowing that the two American representatives in this wonderful mix of nationalities were both healthy, fit examples of people who enjoy life in moderation. But I suddenly felt weighed down by the huge task in front of us as a nation of food-lovers. I realized again the long road ahead of many people who join the gym after years of over-indulging. It’s a lot of work to get back in shape, and it’s even harder work to shed pounds and change long-standing habits. But we need to do it. It’s important and, though it can definitely be made more fun with fabulous music and a motivated group of fellow exercisers in the studio, we do all need to get to work!
On this day I am grateful to my mother who always served colorful meals with lots of fruits and veggies (on small dinner plates), who locked us out of the house and told us to run around in the yard as children, and who recently put herself through rigorous fitness testing so she can improve her health. I have learned from the best!
Last weekend I watched Food Inc. for the first time, a documentary that came out in 2008 (I’m a little behind) which goes behind “the veil” of the food industry, exposing a lot about the way our food is produced and how sick it can potentially make us. A lot of the information wasn’t new to me, having read Omnivore’s Dilemma and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (both are great sources of information on these subjects). But watching footage from the film really reinforced the importance of this subject for me. I was aghast to see some of the facts and figures on the screen, which included the startling number of children born after 2000 who are likely to contract the largely preventable early onset type II Diabetes as one in three. Among minorities the number is likely to be one in two! If you haven’t seen Food Inc. already, I urge you to rent it and start to get acquainted with some facts about the American food system. There are a lot of choices that we can make as individuals to help with the burden that the current system places on our environment, our tax dollars, and our bodies. One of the ways we can help is to eat a more vegetarian diet. While I’ve only been eating meat very sparingly already, I decided that from now on I’m going to renew my commitment to sticking mostly vegetarian, and when I do eat meat, choosing animal products that are organic, grass fed, and not processed in a CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operation). That being said, everyone’s diet and beliefs are very personal, and I wouldn’t want to make anyone feel badly about their choices. But if you are interested in going meatless more often, know that there are a bevy of great cookbooks, recipe blogs, etc. that offer tons of vegetarian recipes, with no shortage of flavor and variety. Below is a black bean burger recipe to help get you started:
Black Bean Burgers
2 cups cooked black beans
1 tbsp. tomato paste
½ cup bread crumbs
1 whole egg + whites from another egg
½ finely chopped onion
2 gloves minced garlic
2 tsps. Chili powder
1 tsp. cumin
Optional add ins:
¼ cup corn kernels
½ diced, cooked red bell pepper
Smash black beans in a bowl, using a fork, until they are mostly smooshed (for lack of better description). Add in the rest of the ingredients and gently stir until combined. Form six patties by dividing the mixture, rolling into balls and gently pressing flat. Cook over medium heat in a large pan, about 5 minutes on each side.
Top with delicious healthy ingredients like sliced avocado, salsa, tomato, lettuce, and red onions, and serve on a whole wheat bun. Who needs McDonalds??
Eating salad for lunch usually makes me feel good. I feel healthy chomping on fresh veggies. But not lately. My discontent has nothing to do with my love for salad or a wish to eat something else for lunch. It has everything to do with what others are eating. What can you do when you see your friends making unhealthy choices? Not much, I’ve realized – unless of course you want to cause a whole mess of hurt feelings and awkwardness.
I like to set a good example. I am a first-born, so I have tried to be a role model to my younger sisters and brother. I spent six years as a teacher who was constantly aware of the impression I made on my high school students. And I strive as an instructor to show the women in my classes that I have a healthy perspective on food and exercise. However, as a friend, my attempts to steer lunch companions away from fat and cholesterol have failed miserably.
The concern I harbor for the health of one friend in particular is something I may just have to let go of, or I will not be able to meet her for lunch or dinner dates in the future. Am I crazy for not wanting to watch her eat a mayonnaise-laden sandwich and brownie for lunch when I know she is damaging to her health? Recently this seems a constant struggle. Yesterday, I felt like a snob eating salad at a lunch table where everyone else was eating pasta or sandwiches with French fries. I enjoyed my salad much less simply because I was depressed at what was happening around the rest of the table.
I welcome advice on this topic, as I really do not know what to do. I care about my friend. I worry about her. As a fitness instructor and her friend, I truly want to help her. I want to see her happy and healthy with more energy. But what can I do if she hasn’t asked for my help?
I’ve been so lax about writing here. I’ve recently been subbing for a class full-time and I have been very busy. Also working all day long teaching, running around and trying to keep on top of all the work has left me exhausted. I’ve been managing to get to spinning a few times per week but still I know it isn’t’ enough. I know that working out more will help manage the stress and keep me energized but by the time I get home at 3 pm I’m beat. When 6 rolls around, the last thing I want to do is change and go to the gym. In fact there are some evenings when I’ve been in bed by 5 or 6 pm, I’ve been so worn out! How do you manage work/workout stress and planning and finding ways to fit it in?
I’ve also been doing some reading and research about healthy eating as of late, and I cannot believe how expensive it is to eat well. When the time comes to do groceries on my tight budget, I’m lucky if I have ten dollars a week to cover food for the week. Having lots of food allergies doesn’t help; and I am limited in certain things I can eat and buy (I have nut, soy, and pea allergies) which make it hard to follow healthy eating plans outlined in women’s health magazines like Self and Shape, as well as diet plans like South Beach. Not being able to have nuts or soy makes it hard. I also face a challenge when it comes to protein as I do not eat red meat or pork. The added challenge is financial and needing to make each dollar count.
How do you manage healthy eating on a strict budget? Do you also face food allergies or limitations in your life?
I’ve been keeping very busy lately. As I’ve mentioned before, I love to play sports and recently I have joined a couple leagues during the week to keep me active. So as it stands right now, I’m playing on three teams (one volleyball, one dodgeball and one basketball) and then working out as much as I can the rest of the week. On top of that, work continues to be challenging and I do my best to be social as well. Overall, I sometimes feel like this about food when I get home from a game or a workout…
All joking aside, I do feel rather ravenous after so much activity and I am tempted to eat whatever I have in my fridge or cabinets. Luckily though, more often than not (I do have weak moments!), I find the restraint and decide to “overindulge” on something good and I would like to share this delicious discovery with you.
It’s pretty simple (aka time-efficient for me!) and may not be a “Eureka!” moment for most. In any case, I love vegetables. Love them to the point where when I don’t have them I crave them! But I don’t have the time or energy right now to buy fresh vegetables and clean and cut them up (I love to do this when I do have time, but these last couple weeks have not given me the opportunity!). Even with the best intentions I sometimes waste perfectly good veggies and I would rather save some cash and not waste. Here comes the solution: frozen vegetable steamer bags from the supermarket (cheap and filling!).
In moments of little or no time, I pop the steamer bag in the microwave, drain and pour into a bowl. Then I pop a lean frozen entrée into the microwave right after and mix in with my vegetables, creating a larger meal and an opportunity for me to fill up on something good for my body.
What are some quick food fixes you enjoy?
Last night I hosted a fun little potluck dinner evening with three other fellow Healthworks members. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I find it hard sometimes to keep up with all the essential life-ingredients — work, relationships, staying healthy, etc. Getting a few friends together for a healthy home-cooked dinner is an easy way to socialize without making elaborate plans or spending big bucks. We stuck to an “asian flavors” theme and ended up with an awesome spread that included: brown rice, ginger, and bok choy stir fry, baked crab spring rolls, thai coconut vegetable soup, fresh rolls with hoison dipping sauce, and ginger-molasses cookies for dessert.
As per usual, I was rushing to get everything ready in time and had about 20 minutes to make my Thai coconut vegetable soup dish before the ladies arrived. It ended up being perfect timing, because it’s such a quick and simple (and delicious) recipe. It’s best when served immediately after cooking, which makes it great to share among friends I stuck to this simple version, but if you wanted to eat as a well-rounded meal, you could add protein by throwing in a few pieces of cooked shrimp, chicken, or tofu.
1 julienned red pepper
1 zucchini, halved and cut into thin slices
1 small onion, cut into half moons
2-3 carrots, cut into matchsticks
1 can lite coconut milk
2 cups chicken broth
dash of ground red pepper
Add broth, coconut milk, red pepper, ground red pepper, onions and carrots to a large saucepan on medium heat; simmer covered for 15 minutes. Add chopped zucchini, cover and let simmer another five minutes, or until vegetables are tender but still firm.
Enjoy for a quick and easy dinner, or bring to your own potluck get-together – it’s a guaranteed hit.
What are your favorite, easy-to-make potluck dishes?
Running and I have a complicated and intertwined relationship. In my post-college days, I came to focus on running as a source of stability in my life. It was my solitary pursuit, my attempt at self-definition, and it made me feel solid, self-confident in a very physical way. Sure, there were days when I hated it, but setting new distance goals made me feel accomplished, and soon I was totally obsessed to the point that I was overdoing it, running 7+ miles a day and increasing my speed without a cross-training regime.
Almost exactly a year ago, running and I had to “take a break” as I incurred a pretty severe stress fracture in my pubic bone. When I began to gradually feel the aches and pains, I ignored them, attributing them to self-diagnosed ITB problems (the proud mark of a “real runner,” I thought), and later, when the pain became debilitating, to a pulled groin. I guess the ones you love the most can also hurt you the most!
The unfortunate aspect of my injury was that it was fairly uncommon, and so I was left wholly underprepared for the emotional side effects. However, in dealing with the five months away from running, I slowly formed my own stress-fracture coping manual to help myself mentally, emotionally, and physically heal while being separated from an activity that had come to define me. While breaking your pubic bone is pretty unusual, this is advice that I would give to anybody with a stress fracture, including the more common metatarsal stress fractures.
• Get Proper Nutrition: My eating habits pre-stress fracture (PSF) had been erratic at best. I skipped meals at times at times or, on the other end of the spectrum, justified my fatty nutrition-deficient meals and drinks with my day’s calorie burn. Faced with the realization that my body actually could become vulnerable and needed a defense of strength and fortification, I forced myself to eat regularly, and upped my nutrition intake. I now incorporate much more dark leafy vegetables into my diet for the calcium benefits and make sure to eat yogurt and drink milk on a regular basis.
• Take Supplements: As with my PSF eating habits, my vitamin intake habits were inconsistent. I thought at age 27 I did not need to be bothered with taking pills every day. Sure, if it crossed my mind, I would pop a calcium pill, but I was not at all regimented about this. I remedied this by finding calcium supplements that are actually delicious. Adora Disks are some of my favorites. Chocolate AND calcium? Yes please! When I don’t want to spring for the expensive bag of Adora chocolates, I often buy a box of the Viactive calcium chews when they’re on sale.
• Be Prepared for Your Body to Change: It does NOT necessarily follow that an injury will yield a weight gain. In fact, I knew runners in college who actually lost weight post-season when they weren’t running as often. However, weight gain was a reality for my situation. Given my history of skinny-preoccupations, this was at times led to an almost unbearable sense of frustration. Ironically, I mourned my muscular man-ish calves and thighs the most! They were symbols of my running identity. Remind yourself that muscle can be rebuilt, and you need the proper healing time to even think about weight loss again.
• Adjust Your Fitness Regime: I was lucky enough to have an amazing sports-specific orthopedist who was also a runner and had had a stress fracture. He understood my compulsion for activity and gave me a suggested list of activities. A stress fracture does not necessarily put you on the sidelines. Key word: cross-train. Changed my life. His general rule for me was: if it hurts, DO NOT DO IT. Pretty simple. In the beginning of my pubic bone fracture, this limited me to biking and the elliptical. Swimming actually hurt my hip when I kicked, but can be very useful low-impact activity. Physical therapy armed me with a series of (hard!) muscle-building activities that invigorate my interest in weight and core training. *** This comes with the caveat that every person and injury is different. Make sure to clear any physical activity with your doctor.
• Be Good to Yourself: Gone were my days of walking 4 miles home after work, gone were my days of getting up at 5:30 to get in an 8 mile run before work. And you know what? I had way more time for myself. I focused on other extracurricular interests such as reading and writing, and just healing in general.
• Talk to Other Athletes: My friends, although sympathetic, did not quite grasp the severity of my emotional response. While I did get the, “Oh sh*t! You broke your hip!?!” response of incredulity, most of my friends did not understand the depths of my depression at mourning the loss of running in my life. Then, I talked to a close friend who had had her share of running injuries and who offered the pity and maternal coddling that, indulgent as it sounds, really helped me. I felt justified in my emotional breakdowns, and yet strengthened in knowing I had a support system of people who cared about my well-being. And that it would get better.
The bottom line with stress fractures, and injuries in general, is that they do get better. But, you have to be proactive in allowing your body to do its work in the amazing natural process of healing. I was able to take the positive out of my experiences: I developed an absolute love for spinning during my second stress fracture this year, and I became more aware of cross-training in general. My eating habits improved, and I am developing a new relationship with my body. We’re on pretty good speaking terms these days. And running? I know that running will come back to my life; however, we may have a really good relationship as “just friends.”