Category Archives: Food

Danger: Calories Ahead

Captain’s Log. Day Four.

The…attempt to…eat sugar free for…10-days…appears to…be going well. Despite a…minor setback…on Day One…our heroine seems to…have recovered nicely.

It’s better if you imagine it in William Shatner’s voice.

So, today was another leftovers day, but I do have an update on the Butter Cups. Before I get to that, though, here’s a quick recap: breakfast was NAVI (coming soon!) and a one-egg omelet with goat cheese. I’m out of good omelet veggies or I would’ve thrown in some spinach or peppers as well. Lunch was the salad of the day and more broc and mac. Hey, what can I say? I cooked the broc and mac Italian-style (i.e.: for an army). One serving left. Any guesses what lunch will be tomorrow?

By the way, since my salads are many-splendored and varied, I’ll be posting each day’s Design-a-Salad on my Facebook page. Go there if you are looking for new salad ideas. And because I’m awesome.

Dinner was the same as last night, but just as delicious.

And now, onto more important things. Like dessert. Tonight I made Alex’s Butter Cups. I had been waiting for my weekly trip to the grocery store to restock the peanut butter I left at work over the weekend. Unfortunately, when I went out today, I forgot my shopping list, so no peanut butter. But I couldn’t wait any longer, so I decided to try them with cashew butter. I wasn’t sure how I’d like that, since I have pledged my eternal love to the crushed peanut, but…they were amazing. Oh boy, were they amazing.

I’ll share my pictures, but I’m going to make you go to Alex’s to get the recipe – which you’ll totally want to do after you see these babies. Here’s the play-by-play:

After I made the chocolate mixture, I pressed the bottoms and sides into the paper liners with my finger. I’m not coordinated enough to use a spoon. After I added water, the mixture got grainy rather than smooth, but it spread just fine. These got popped into the freezer while I prepared the cashew butter.

butter cup bottoms

When they came out, I added a dollop of the cashew butter mixture.

dollop of cashew butter

And spread it out with my finger.

patted down butter

Then another dollop of the chocolate mixture.

dollop of chocolate mixture

Spread that smooth and press flat.

top of butter cup

Then back in the freezer. I left mine for almost 20 minutes, as they were still a little soft after 10.

finished butter cups

I was afraid the paper liners would stick to the cups, but they peeled off easily.

peeled butter cup

But how were they? How did they taste?

butter cup middle

Like that. Yeah. They taste as good as they look. Better, even. Alex is right – these do melt in your mouth. I can’t even imagine these with peanut butter. I’d probably spontaneously combust upon tasting them.

I’m so glad I only made half a recipe. These are healthy, but because they are made with coconut and nut butters, they are highly, dangerously, deliciously caloric.

Glad I bought a wheelbarrow at Lowe’s today. I’m going to need it for my butt tomorrow.

Day Three and a (Sugar-Free) Recipe

I’ve tucked another sugar-free day under my belt. Day Three of The Sugar Free Challenge and all is well. You know – except that I ate sugar on Day One. But that wasn’t my fault!

Mostly.

Breakfast was much the same as Day One: I had my NAVI (or New And Vastly Improved) breakfast. And lunch was much the same as Day Two, so I won’t bore you with those details. (Hey, I’m lolling in a drill weekend here, remember? Don’t bother me.)

Dinner, on the other hand, was a little slice of heaven. I had Bangkok Noodles with Spicy Tomatoes – one of our favorites. It’s a little labor-intensive, but well worth it if you have the time. It’s not hard to make. There’s just a lot of chopping.

colorful veggies

Pretty!

Here is the finished product:

Bangkok Noodles

Bangkok Noodles

Well, almost. It’s not nearly as tartly and spicily flavorful if you don’t add these:

Spicy Tomatoes

Spicy Tomatoes

Thai food with a twist. I’m swooning just thinking about it and fighting back the urge to go get another plateful. I’m stuffed to capacity, but it’s that good.

Here’s how to make it. I’ve added my notes because I can never follow any recipe exactly. If I were a Camp Half-Blood demigod, it would be my fatal flaw. It’s also the reason I can’t bake for beans. But my cooking usually comes out quite good. In this case, I felt there weren’t enough vegetables so I added more, but feel free to alter things as you see fit. You can also use chicken instead of tofu if, like my husband, your fatal flaw is that there’s never enough meat.

Bangkok Noodles (source: Vegetarian Times, with my edits)

  • 1/3 cup vegetable broth
  • 1/4 cup coconut milk
  • 2 Tbs. soy sauce (Note: gluten-free, of course!)
  • 2 ½ tsp. curry powder, or to taste
    • Note: I ran out of curry powder, so I made my own:
      • ½ tsp. cinnamon
      • ½ tsp. coriander
      • 1/4 tsp. cloves
      • ½ tsp. cumin
      • 1/4 tsp. turmeric
      • 1/4 tsp. chile powder
      • ½ tsp. cardamom
  • 1/4 cup chopped scallions (white and light green parts)
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 ½ tsp. vegetable oil
  • 2 tsp. minced garlic
  • 1 Tbs. minced fresh ginger
  • 1 small hot green chile pepper, minced (seeding  is optional)
  • 4 oz. firm tofu, drained and cut into 1/2-inch
    cubes
    • Note: I used 5 oz. because that’s what comes in a package of Nasoya Tofu
  • 1 cup mung bean sprouts
  • 2 cups fresh spinach leaves
    • Note: I added: one small summer squash, sliced; one small zucchini, sliced, a half a red bell pepper, sliced; one orange bell pepper, sliced
  • 6 oz. rice vermicelli, soaked in warm water for 20 minutes and drained
    • Note: I used 8 oz. because that’s what comes in a package and rice vermicelli are virtually impossible to divide up. I also boiled it for 3 minutes, then drained because I forgot to soak it. Worked fine.

Directions

  1. In small bowl, mix broth, coconut milk, soy sauce, curry powder, scallions and black pepper. Set aside.
  2. In large wok or skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Stir-fry garlic, ginger, and chile until fragrant, about 10 seconds.
  3. (Note: Add all vegetables except spinach and stir-fry for 2-3 minutes.) Add tofu, and stir-fry 1 minute. Stir in soy sauce mixture, and bring to a simmer. Add 1/2 cup bean sprouts, spinach and noodles, and stir-fry, about 30 seconds.
  4. Add remaining bean sprouts, but do not mix into
    noodles. Serve with Spicy Tomatoes on the side if desired.

Spicy Tomatoes
(source: Vegetarian Times, with my edits)

Note: I usually double this recipe to have enough for all the noodles. Double all ingredients except the chile peppers. Add one more pepper if you like things spicy. The tomatoes are fire-breathing spicy.

  • 3 small green or red hot chile peppers, seeded
    and minced
  • 1 medium tomato, seeded and chopped (about 1/2
    cup)
  • 3 Tbs. fresh lime juice
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 2 medium shallots, minced
    • Note: You can substitute onions in a pinch. Not that I’d know.
  • 2 tsp. soy sauce (Note: gluten-free, of course!)

Directions

  1. In medium bowl, combine all ingredients and mix well. Let stand 10 minutes before serving. Tomatoes will keep up to 3 days, refrigerated, in covered container.
Bangkok Noodles with Spicy Tomatoes

Enjoy!

And be sure to eat with chopsticks or it’s not really Thai food.

How about you? Do you substitute when you’re cooking? Or do you follow recipes to the letter?

Back in the Saddle

Howdy, Buckaroos! I’m back in the saddle for Day Two of The Sugar Free Challenge. Hey, that first part rhymed, kinda. I’m a poet and you didn’t even know it. Probably you still don’t, but that’s neither here nor there.

What is here is that I have successfully completed Day Two with no sugar. Here’s how it went down:

Breakfast was not my new (and vastly improved) all-time favorite, but it was delicious nonetheless. I had a veggie and goat cheddar omelet with red grapes, green tea and diluted pomegranate/orange juice.

Day Two - breakfast

Don’t ask me why, but I can’t take my vitamins with water first thing in the morning. I have to have juice, but juice is so “carby” that I use just enough to taste and dilute it with water. Very strange since I drink only water throughout the rest of the day.

What veggies are in the omelet? I knew you were wondering. Yellow peppers, scallions, spinach and jalapeno peppers with grape tomato garnish. Nice little kick!

I did my normal “Design-a-Salad” for lunch using whatever was in the fridge and whatever struck me. This one has: mixed greens, grape tomatoes, fresh dill, shredded coconut and chia seeds. I hijacked K’s suggestion and topped it with olive oil, lemon juice and sea salt. Seemed like sort of an odd combination, but I went with my gut and it worked!

Day Two - lunch

I paired my salad with leftover broccoli and macaroni from last night, topped with grated romano. Romano cheese is made with sheep’s milk, by the way, which is why I can eat it. I also threw in a few cannelini beans from yesterday, for protein.

Lunch didn’t quite fill me up. I’d worked out earlier in the morning, and I still felt like I needed something with a little more substance, so I added this:

Apple & Cashew Butter

Apple & Cashew Butter

That did the trick.

Here’s my late afternoon snack:

blue corn tortillas and salsa

blue corn tortillas and salsa

This salsa from Trader Joe’s is one of the few I’ve found that does not have sugar. It’s very, very good. I’d love to make my own – and do, on occasion – but let’s face it. I have to work for a living, too.

Suppah (or dinner, for those of you who do not live in New England) was leftover Sweet Potato Curry (from the Nutrition Diva’s Secrets For a Healthy Diet) on a bed of spinach. At the request of my husband, I add a couple of small white potatoes and a pound of chicken when I make this recipe, which makes it very, very filling.

Yup. Leftovers. That’s how I rolled today. My husband is at a MUTA 6 drill this weekend. That means drill starts at 0700 on Friday instead of 0700 on Saturday, like a regular old MUTA 4. It also means that I’m off the hook as far as cooking goes. Leftovers, vegetarian meals, cold lunches – anything goes. Woo hoo!

Does it make me a horrible person if I adore drill weekends?

Don’t answer that.

ANYway…because exercise is an important part of any diet plan, Owie and I went out this afternoon and tossed around the ol’ frisbee.

Unfortunately, it didn’t last long.

frisbee

So, we’re off for a walk now. Later, we’ll probably have a chia pudding parfait while we watch a chick flick.

Did I mention that I love drill weekends?

How about you? What did you eat today that made you happy? What is your favorite thing to put in a salad?

Tricked!

They got me! Arg! Day One and already I’m out of the game (aka: The Sugar Free Challenge).

I swear it’s like an Easter egg hunt, only you’re searching for hidden sugar that is going to ruin your teeth, your brain and your waistline instead of plastic eggs filled with, um, sugar – sugar that is going to ruin your teeth, your brain and your waistline!

No, I did not take a Drama Queen pill today. I’m just upset. Foot-stompingly, hair-tearingly upset.

Here’s what happened: Day One of my sugar-free adventure started out much like any other day. I made my new (and vastly improved) all-time favorite breakfast and sat down to eat while reading The Lost Hero, by Rick Riordan.

The Lost Hero

I’m not going to share my breakfast until I have pictures, which I don’t yet. But it was delightful and healthy and I felt like a million bucks after I ate it.

Next, I made my salad to bring to work. I have a bad habit of doing this in the morning when I’m rushed instead of in the evening when I can put more thought into it. But I gamely threw the following in a bowl, in no specific amounts:

  • Grape tomatoes
  • Yellow pepper
  • Avocado
  • Scallions
  • Dulse flakes
  • Chia seeds
  • Mixed greens

Luscious! But even with the fat of the avocado, it wasn’t going to keep me full for long, so I needed some protein. I had some spreadable goat cheese and wasabi rice crackers, but that wasn’t going to be enough. So I grabbed a can of beans. I thought about chick peas, but they aren’t my favorite, so I went for the kidney beans.

Just to triple check myself – as I’ve been tripped up here before – I scanned the label.

kidney beans

No! I was furious. I could’ve sworn I’d inspected that at the grocery store. But, no problem. I hadn’t opened the can yet, so I swapped it out for cannellini beans instead.

Next up? Salad dressing. We make our own with a seasoning packet, so I was pretty sure it was safe, but just for the heck of it…

salad dressing packet

(Where did the "I" go?)

Seriously? Whatever. Not a big deal. I drizzled on some olive oil and some red wine vinegar and sprinkled on salt, pepper and oregano. Herbs are huge in the nutrition department, though fresh would be better. For snacks I had grapes with cashews in the morning and a clementine in the afternoon. Dinner was pork chops (marinated in balsamic vinegar and olive oil), and broccoli and macaroni (my Nonni’s recipe). No sugar there!

So, what’s the problem? Well, as I was eating lunch, something was nagging at me. The only thing I wasn’t 200% sure of was the rice crackers, so I flipped the package and read it again.

wasabi rice crackers

Do you see it?

I didn’t, at first. But I kept thinking, dex…dex…dex? See, there’s this little old thing called, “maltodextrin”. It’s such a weird name that even I – the health freak – didn’t pick up on it. In fact, I had to Google it to be sure it was sugar.

It is. And it’s just one of many, many guises under which sugar comes. Alex did a great post on the many forms of sugar recently, but I guess that particular one escaped me. I should have been clued in that I didn’t know exactly what “maltodextrin” was. I’m a big believer that I should know what I’m putting into my body. Maybe I didn’t pay much attention because it was far down on the list of ingredients and therefore not used in large quantities. (Did you know that ingredients are listed by quantity – most to least?) Whatever the case, it slipped by me.

I’m so bummed that I failed out already! I didn’t even chew any gum today because it’s got all those artificial sweeteners in it. I know, I know – it’s not a competition, but I was bound and determined in my own mind to go 10 full days completely and totally without sugar.

Stupid maltodextrin.

And this, my friends, is why processed foods suck.

I guess I could throw in the towel right now and go make lava cakes. My husband would love me forever if I did. But I’m not going to do that, for several reasons:

  1. I’m not going to let a little setback like this keep me out of the Challenge.
  2. It’s a good lesson to learn about hidden sugars. So, lesson learned and moving on.
  3. I want Butter Cups!
  4. My husband will love me forever anyway.

How about you? What did you eat that was sugar free today? What sugar surprises did you come across? And does anyone need a couple of cans of kidney beans? Going cheap!

Sugar Free Since ’93! (Not Really)

I just like it because it rhymes.

Tomorrow is the start of the 10-Day Sugar-Free Challenge, hosted by the very healthy Alex from Spoonful of Sugar Free. It’s not too late to join the fun if you want to head over and sign up!

I’ve spent the last couple of weeks experimenting with some new foods that I’m very excited to share in the coming days, including my new (and vastly improved) all-time favorite breakfast. I’ve also been reading up on sugar, so I’ll be sharing some sugar facts – and tips for cutting back – both here and on my Facebook page.

Finally, I’ve stocked up on some of my own personal superfoods to help get me through. Let’s take a peek, shall we?

Sarah's Superfoods

Sarah's Superfoods

Check that line up, man. Clockwise from the center, we’ve got: cacao nibs, chia seeds, coconut butter, unsweetened shredded coconut, dried cranberries, coconut milk, and dulse.

Cacao nibs are my newest love. The natural food store nearest us just started carrying the unsweetened version and I was over-the-moon ecstatic when I saw them. They are a gloriously crunchy, slightly bitter substitute for chocolate chips. Eaten straight out of the bag, they can take some getting used to, but when combined with other rich foods, the difference isn’t noticable. Here’s my favorite thing about them:

cacao nibs

Cacao Nibs

I love one-ingredient foods.

Chia seeds are these miniscule miracles that hold something like four zillion times their own weight in water and have lots of fiber. You think you’ve never heard of them, but you have. Ch-ch-ch-chia! Yep. The very same. Only instead of smearing them on the back of a clay sheep, you sprinkle them on cereal, salads or yogurt, or make chocolate pudding out of them. Not even kidding. It’s really good!

The coconut butter is pretty new to me, but I recently used it to make the vegan frosting for these ridiculously good  lime cupcakes. (The recipe actually calls for coconut oil, but I substituted this and it worked fine.) I originally bought the coconut butter for Alex’s Butter Cups, which I have been drooling over since I first read the recipe and which I fully intend to try this week.

And I love this:

coconut butter

Ingredient. Awesome!

Coconut is naturally sweet, so I got the shredded coconut to sprinkle on my chocolate chia pudding. I’ve been using agave in the pudding, but no more! (At least for the next ten days.)

Next up, we have dried cranberries. I adore the chewy tang of dried cranberries. I eat them in salads and cereal and stuffed peppers and whatever else I can think of. The problem? Most are sweetened with sugar. Not these.

dried cranberries

These are sweetened with apple juice. A technicality? Yeah, maybe. Dried fruit is still very high in simple sugars, as is fruit juice. It’s probably not the best thing to eat by the handful or anything, but I think it’s okay to use sparingly.

Coconut milk is just darn delicious no matter what you do with it. Personally, I could eat it out of the can with a spoon. (I wonder if it’s high in BPA?) But you’ll be seeing this food more later in the week.

Then there’s the dulse. Wait, who put that in there?

Dulse has absolutely nothing to do with going sugar-free, but it’s one of my superfoods, so I decided to include it in the family photo.

dulse

Yes, I eat seaweed. And I enjoy it. Dulse has approximately 4,596 different vitamins and minerals in it. Not really, but it is a champ, nutritionally speaking. It also contains iodine. Iodine is good for the thyroid. It’s also not in anything we (meaning most Americans) eat, with the exception of iodized salt. And I use sea salt, so I don’t even get iodine that way. It’s important. Think about it.

But wait! I’ve got two more:

raw cashews

You almost can’t be a good vegan or raw foodie without raw cashews. I’m neither, but there are some neat recipes out there that I’d like to sink my teeth into (literally). These have been earmarked for Alex’s Quick Vegan Milkshake, which contains no milk, nor is it shaken.

And last, but not least:

whole dates

I learned a while back that dates are so super sweet that just a few will satisfy almost any dessert craving. I’m hoping I don’t need these (again, they are full of simple sugars), but I’ll have them if I run into an emergency.

Besides…

date ingredients

Did I mention my affinity for one-ingredient foods?

Now that, my friends, is what whole foods is all about!

How about you? If you don’t want to go sugar-free, how about cutting back for 10 days? How would you do it if you were going to cut back?

The Story of a Love Affair

Freshly steamed artichokes sparkling with sea salt, speckled with black pepper and glistening with olive oil; a crackling wasabi rice wafer slathered with pristinely white goat cheese and topped with a fleshy slab of salmon; a golden mango ripe with juices that trace lovingly down the chin with each bite.

Artichokes

Image via Wikipedia

For me, food is not merely a life-sustaining necessity. It’s a love affair.

My passion for delicious and healthy eating started long ago. In my family, we always sat down to dinner together. As we ate we shared stories, problems, laughter and sometimes tears. I adored this time with my family and long after my parents stopped requiring that my brother and I attend the evening meal, both of us continued to show up.

Further, my mother and father never served a meal where a vegetable was not present. From the beginning, I was lucky. I loved vegetables and I loved the ones most kids hate: spinach, broccoli, snow peas. Even when I started hanging out with friends who gravitated more towards Airheads and Charleston Chews than asparagus and chard, my body couldn’t keep up with their binging. I would end up sick, tired, headachy and really, really crabby. It didn’t make me a popular companion. (But then, what did?)

The Food BibleMy interest in good food intensified about ten years ago when I quit smoking (for the second but not the last time). I gained ten pounds and needed to take it off. I bought a book called The Food Bible, by Judith Wills, which explained calories, exercise and an overall approach to healthy eating, including weight loss. This book introduced me to terms like “superfoods” and “phytochemicals”. More importantly, it presented the idea of food as medicine. I started to realize that the single most important way you can affect your body’s health is to pay attention to what you are putting into it. Because, if you think about it, we have to eat with some frequency in order to survive. And in this culture, we eat a whole lot more often than that.

This idea was only reinforced once I started seeing my naturopathic doctor a few years ago. When I tested positive for a sensitivity to lactose, he suggested that I cut out dairy. I was raised on milk and brought up to think of it as an important part of a healthy diet, so it was difficult at first, but ultimately it was one of the most brilliant changes I could have made.

He also suggested that for thyroid health I cut out gluten, which I have since done. It may seem like these things would limit my choices severely, but I’ve found the opposite to be true. These eating styles have encouraged me to explore new options and foods I may otherwise never have tried or heard of: quinoa, rice pasta, millet flour and so many more.

Finally, I tested positive for a sensitivity to yeast. This was no surprise. I have always had problems with fungi and molds and basically anything fermented: I’m allergic to penicillin, I have had problems with eczema, and damp weather makes me feel like someone stuffed two elephants up my nose.

So, not only did I cut out yeast, I cut out sugar, too. At least for a while. Yeast feeds on sugar, so even if you aren’t eating yeast but are consuming mass amounts of the white stuff (like a literally large percentage of the American population), your yeast factories could still be going crazy.

Yeah, I’m not a doctor, so don’t ask me to explain it any further than that. Also, don’t take my word for it. Never take anyone’s word for it. Go look it up.

Raw Sugar

Image via Wikipedia

The problem is that sugar is so accessible in this country. In fact, I don’t think “accessible” is even the right word. “Almost unavoidable” is probably closer to the truth. It’s in everything from salad dressings to spaghetti sauce. I talked about this more in detail in a previous post. I cut it out completely for a while, then added some back (*cough* husband *cough*), then researched and experimented with alternative sweeteners like agave nectar.

I still have hopes of someday cutting out sugar and sweeteners completely. I’m probably 99% of the way there. (Okay, that might be slightly optimistic – but not a gross exaggeration!) I never buy anything with added sugar. Unless I forget to check the label and it happens to be in there, which happens on occasion. I try to eat: cereals sweetened only with fruit juice (a spinach omelet is better, but we do what we can); desserts sweetened only with agave or brown rice syrup (chocolate chia pudding is my current favorite); and I’ve been putting pumpkin purée on my occasional frozen waffle instead of maple syrup (it’s good – really!).

I can honestly say that I love eating like this. Love it. As with going gluten free, it has opened me up to all sorts of new food ideas. I just need a little extra shove in the right direction to further reset the “sweet” button on my taste buds.

That’s where the amazing Alex comes in. Alex is the mastermind behind the blog Spoonful of Sugar Free, which has been a huge inspiration for me to get back on track. I am endlessly impressed with Alex’s recipes, her enthusiasm and her outlook.

And now, starting on June 1st, Alex is hosting the Sugar-Free Challenge. The challenge is this:

Don’t eat any sugar for 10 days. This includes honey, molasses, syrups, artificial sweeteners (like Splenda), sugar alcohols (like maltitol or xylitol), and no refined sugar.

Crazy, right? I think it’s a great idea. I’ve joined the challenge and I think I may have convinced T to try it with me, too! (Please note: I can’t make any promises on his behalf, especially if we have chocolate chips in the house starting on 01June).

How about you? Are you interested in joining the challenge with me? If you are, hop on over to Alex’s and leave a comment on the Challenge page. Please leave a comment here, too, so we can support each other! I have a few ideas for more sugar and food-related posts and would love to know your interest level on the topic. Thanks!

Pushing My Luck

The other night my husband was playing an online game and wanted me to join him. I told him I would if he got me some ice cream.

This is a lie. I was going to play anyway.

But he said, “okay,” and got up to go into the kitchen, so I took advantage of the situation. As he passed by my chair, I said, “In a bowl, please.”

Then as he was walking down the stairs I called, “With chocolate chips!”

I just love having my ice cream server back.

When he returned, he set this on the table for me:

vanilla ice cream in a bowl with chocolate chips

Vanilla ice cream, in a bowl, with chocolate chips.

Hm. Maybe I pushed it a little with the chocolate chips?