Healthy Holidays

Well, with all the hustle and bustle of getting it all done before holiday travel, I didn’t get this post up in time for you to read it before your Thanksgiving meal..but I think a lot of these tips apply to the whole darn holiday season, whether it be Chanukah, Christmas, or Festivus.

Hope everyone is enjoying time with loved ones, and that no one is feeling too nauseous at this point.  If you are, I have to recommend the homeopathic remedy Nux Vomica.  Put a few of those little pills under your tongue whenever you feel like you’ve overdone it, and see how you feel in about 10 minutes.  Chances are probably a little better, unless you’ve gone way overboard.  It has saved me and my sensitive stomach many, many times.

Tonight I am feeling very thankful for my home, my family, and all of my amazing friends near and far.  I am truly lucky to have come upon such goodness in my life, and I hope you are too.  Here’s to filling your bellies and your souls with pure deliciousness..

Sunflower (Helianthus annuus L). Słonecznik zw...

Sunflower (Helianthus annuus L). Słonecznik zwyczajny (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The holidays are upon us, and trying to get it all done can be very stressful on both our bodies and our psyche.  Taking the time to take care of yourself at this time of year can make a world of difference.  Here are some great tips for staying healthy through the holiday season, both physically and mentally:

  • Take a short time for your self each day.  Whether it be a 15 minutes yoga session, a short afternoon nap, or just a few minutes to read or veg on the couch, it is important to just let go of all the “things” for a few minutes each day.  Taking this time to rejuvenate can actually help you check things off your list at a faster pace.

    yoga

    yoga (Photo credit: GO INTERACTIVE WELLNESS)

  • Don’t give up on cooking meals.  From purchasing the perfect gifts to planning that special holiday meal, there may not seem like there is enough time in the day to cook meals.  Do your best to keep up on the cooking as much as possible and let some other things fall aside…keeping on your Facebook feed or watching your favorite TV show perhaps.  Fresh, nourishing meals will help to keep your body healthy in the chilly weather, and will also keep you going much longer than a greasy take-out meal.
  • Plan your holiday meals well in advance and rely on the help of others.  Ask a few family members to bring a side dish and order some pies from a local baker.  Prepare as many foods in advance as possible and reheat them an hour before the meal.  This will leave you free to actually enjoy the meal and your family and friends.
  • Boost up that immune system.  If you are getting on a plane this holiday season (or even if you’re not), prepare your immune system in advance for the challenge.  Ramp up your intake of garlic and onions, which are full of natural bacteria fighting compounds.  Consider adding anti-inflammatory herbs such as garlic and ginger to your dishes.  Already popular for the holidays, cinnamon and clove have lots of anti-microbial action too.  Elderberry is also a great immune booster and flu fighter and can be found in delicious syrups or lozenges.  I even bought whole dried berries this season and made my own elderberry syrup.  Yummy!  It is so delicious I think it would even make a nice holiday gift.

elderberry-bsp

  • Speaking of gifts, don’t get crazy with the gifts.  People get REALLY stressed out about holiday shopping and getting the best deals.  Try thinking a little differently this holiday season. Is there something you could make or bake at home that would serve as a great gift for most people on your list?  These types of gifts are usually inexpensive to make and mean more because they are homemade.  And you don’t have to be super crafty to bake mini banana breads and wrap them in red cellophane!
  • Drink alcohol in moderation.  Sure it’s nice to enjoy a spiked egg nog or a few glasses of wine, but excessive drinking along with all that heavy food is sure to leave you feeling awful the next morning.   Have a glass of water in between each drink and pace yourself.  Holiday meals are usually day-long events, and if you spread your drinking out over the day, you will not only feel better, but also be able to remember the whole day and enjoy the next one too.
  • Allow yourself to indulge in holiday favorites without feeling guilty, but don’t starve yourself all day and the day before just so you can go nuts.  Eat a balanced meal before going off to your gathering.  Doing this will help keep your blood sugar steady and keep you from getting too hungry and eating everything in sight right when you get there.
Pumpkin Pie from a *real* pumpkin.

Pumpkin Pie from a *real* pumpkin. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  • Listen to your body’s cues!  Eat slowly and enjoy all the delicious food.  Take small portions and then go back for more if you are still hungry.  Stop eating when you are full, and try to get out and take a walk in the fresh air after your meal.  This will not only help to burn off some of those calories, but also aid in digestion.

Lastly, remember what the true meaning of the holidays is.  Whatever holiday you will celebrate in the coming weeks, it is not about the best gifts, meals, or outfit.  It is about being thankful for what we have and enjoying the company of wonderful friends and family.  I wish everyone a safe, relaxing, and joyful holiday season filled with laughter and love!

So the farmers market got cancelled this week due to horrid weather, so I never got to make this recipe, Sauteed Red Cabbage with Raisins from Martha Stewart.  But it looks like it would be a nice addition to a holiday meal, and I am always looking for things to do with cabbage other than cole slaw.  If anyone gets around to making it before I do, let me know how it comes out.

Advertisements

Turkey Safety

A few years ago when I was in school for nutrition, I took a course in food safety.  We happened to be learning about proper thawing and cooking techniques for turkey right around Thanksgiving time, and one of them involved the possibility of food poisoning from stuffing cooked inside a turkey. Most of us had not heard about this, and sure enough, when we returned from the Thanksgiving holiday, one of my classmates had gotten food poisoning from the stuffing at her relative’s meal!

A roast turkey prepared for a traditional U.S....

A roast turkey prepared for a traditional U.S. Thanksgiving meal. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

No one wants to make their guests sick, and of course no one would do this on purpose.  But there are a lot of food safety protocols for cooking turkeys that just aren’t widely known.  Many people learn from their mothers, who learned from their mothers, and so on.  Well, the meat was probably a little cleaner and safer back then, and unfortunately in today’s world, we need to take some extra precautions to make sure our turkeys are handled safely.  Here are a few turkey safety tips, and a wish for a happy, healthy, and very delicious Thanksgiving holiday.

  • Turkeys must be kept at safe temperatures during thawing. The danger zone for food is between 40 and 140° F.  Food that is kept between these temperatures for any period of time run the risk of bacteria multiplying rapidly, and the food becoming unsafe to eat.  There are 3 safe ways to thaw a turkey:
    • In the refrigerator.  Allow 24 hours for every 4-5 pounds of turkey.  Place the turkey in a container so the juices do not drip on other foods.  A refrigerator thawed turkey may remain thawed in the refrigerator for 1-2 days before cooking.
    • In a cold water bath.  Place the sealed turkey in a large container of COLD water and change the water every 30 minutes until the turkey is thawed.  Allow about 30 minutes per pound, and cook the turkey as soon as it is thawed.
    • In the microwave.  Follow microwave instructions for thawing a turkey.  The turkey must be cooked immediately after microwave thawing because some areas of the turkey may have gotten warm in the thawing process.  I DO NOT recommend this type of thawing except in an emergency because microwave cooking is so uneven.
  • Prevent cross contamination.  I know I talked about this a couple of weeks ago but let me reiterate.  All hands, cutting boards, knives and other surfaces that come into contact with raw meat or poultry should be washed thoroughly with soap and water before contacting any other foods.
  • Keep your stuffing safe.  It is optimal to cook stuffing in a dish outside of the turkey.  If you choose to cook stuffing inside your turkey, place the stuffing inside the turkey just before cooking, and use a food thermometer to ensure that the center of the stuffing reaches at least 165° F.  Any part of the stuffing that does not reach this temperature carries a risk of bacteria that can cause food poisoning.  This is serious and how my friend from school got sick!!
  • Cook safely.  Make sure the turkey is completely thawed, and set oven temperatures no lower than 325°F.  The meatiest parts of the turkey should reach a minimum internal temperature of 165°F.  Let the turkey stand for 20 minutes before removing the stuffing and carving the meat.

IMG_2765

The recipe for this week comes from Chef Ann Cooper.  These Cornmeal Apple Griddle Cakes were yummy little pancakes, and I even used gluten-free flour and they came out great.  They were delicious with our Vermont Maple Syrup on top, but I didn’t feel like they were apple-y enough.  Next time I would probably add some cinnamon or apple pie spice to the mix.

Naturally SWEET

Natural sweeteners are definitely big news lately.  From classics like molasses and honey, to new fangled agave and stevia, every week seems to bring about a new favorite, each touting its own unique ‘health’ benefits.  Sure, some natural sweeteners contain more nutrients than white sugar, while some digest a little more slowly, thus causing a slower rise in blood sugar levels.  But the fact of the matter is that these foods are all still sweeteners, and most of them break down to the same molecules as plain old sugar, and are digested in the same way.  Therefore, we should still use moderation with sweeteners, no matter which ones they are.  This is especially true for those who need to keep watch on their blood sugar levels.

 

One of the most classic ‘natural’ sweeteners is honey, which comes in many varieties that all lend slightly different subtle flavors.  Raw honey, which you can find for sale here at the market, contains a host of enzymes, minerals, amino acids, and antioxidants along with natural sugars.  Raw honey is nutritionally superior to pasteurized or processed honey because many of the beneficial properties are lost when honey is heated.  There is also some evidence that eating locally produced raw honey, which contain local pollen spores, can help alleviate seasonal allergies by acting to build immunity much like a vaccine would.  Unfortunately, there are no studies yet to back up this belief.

 

Med u saću

Med u saću (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Honey is also a natural humectant (something that attracts and retains moisture), so it can help to keep a dish moist when used in a recipe, or retain moisture in the skin when used in a skin care product.  Honey is also known to soothe and coat a sore throat, and one study has shown that buckwheat honey provided better relief for nighttime cough in children than an over the counter cough medication!   However, please note that it is not considered safe to give honey to children under 1 year of age because of the risk of botulism poisoning.  Honey may naturally contain spores of Clostridium Botulinum, a toxin which adult digestive systems can easily fight off, but could sicken a young child.

 

Another classic is of course maple syrup, which has it’s own wonderful and distinct flavor.  Recent research shows that maple syrup is high in polyphenols, an antioxidant that helps ward off inflammation as well as supplying the minerals manganese and zinc.  Maple sugar has become very popular lately too, and is made by boiling down maple syrup until all of the liquid has evaporated.  It should be noted that maple sugar is about twice as sweet as regular sugar.  It is recommended to use ¾ cup of maple syrup for every 1 cup of granulated sugar called for in baking, and reduce the amount of liquid in the recipe by 3 tablespoons for every 1 cup of maple syrup used.

 

When substituting honey for sugar in baking, Heidi Swanson, author of Super Natural Cooking, recommends substituting ½ cup honey for every cup of sugar, reducing the liquid in the recipe by ¼ cup, and increasing the baking soda by ¼ tsp. It is also advisable to turn down the oven temperature by 25 degrees to prevent overbrowning.

IMG_2932

The recipe for this week, Sweet and Sour Braised Fennel, was simple and so warming and delicious.  Especially on a VERY cold and windy day at the market.  The weather conditions made the stove a little hard to deal with, but the result made it all worthwhile.  I of course substituted honey instead of the sugar that the recipe called for!

 

Spice it up!!

Do you use herbs and spices in your cooking?  Not only are they a great way to add tons of flavor to a dish, but they also provide many health benefits.  Using herbs and spices in cooking also may eliminate the need for extra salt, fat, or sugar in a dish, without sacrificing taste. From heart health to cancer prevention, here are a few of the most beneficial herbs and spices around:

  1. Turmeric is a bright orange root that comes from the same family as ginger.  It is great for reducing inflammation and may reduce incidence of some cancers.  It can be found fresh or dried as a powder.  Try it in soups, stews, curries, or mixed with yogurt as a dip.  If you find the flavor too bitter, you can take turmeric as a supplement, but look for one that includes piperine or black pepper extract, which enhances absorption.

Turmeric (Curcuma longa)

  1. Cinnamon is not only warming, delicious and versatile, but is also loaded with antioxidants. It has been shown to decrease inflammation, as well as decrease blood sugar, cholesterol, and triglycerides in some diabetics.  Most of us are familiar with how to use cinnamon; sprinkle on oatmeal or yogurt, in baking, or on top of just about anything.  My little secret-adding a dash to ground turkey or lamb really covers the natural gamey-ness of the meat.
Cinnamon verum2-spice

Cinnamon verum2-spice (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  1. Ginger can be found as a fresh root or powdered and dried.  I love the natural spiciness of fresh ginger root in a stir-fry or soup, or as a tea.  Ginger is wonderful for combating nausea and stomach upset, and also has anti-inflammatory properties.
English: Adrak

English: Adrak (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  1. Oregano, a wonderful Italian herb, is certainly delicious sprinkled on pizza, but also contains some very strong anti-bacterial agents that help fight infection. Oregano contains lots of antioxidants and is high in vitamin K.  You can find oregano fresh or dried and it can be used in dishes from salad dressing to pasta sauce.
  1. Thyme, another herb with strong antibacterial and antimicrobial properties, is delicious in soups, stews, or roasts.  It comes fresh or dried and can also be used for common skin problems such as acne and eczema.

Herbs: Thyme, oregano and rosemary

  1. Chili peppers come in many varieties; fresh, dried, or ground, from the pretty spicy jalapeno to the super spicy habanero.  The spicier the pepper, the higher the concentration of capsaicin, the compound that provides health benefits such as increasing circulation and providing high levels of antioxidants.  As a topical cream, capsaicin has also been shown to relieve nerve pain.  Use chili peppers in any dish you want to add spice too.  And keep in mind that the seeds contain the highest amount of capsaicin, so to mellow out the spiciness of any chili pepper remove some or all of the seeds, while wearing gloves of course.
Fresh red chile de árbol chili peppers

Fresh red chile de árbol chili peppers (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My recipe for this week was a simple looking soup with surprising delicious flavor.  Cayenne pepper adds a nice kick of heat to warm you while filling you up with a plethora of fall vegetable goodness.  Get the recipe for Autumn Vegetable Soup.

Food Borne illness…nothing to sneeze at!

October 27, 2013: Reser’s Fine Foods Recalls More Products for Possible Listeria Contamination…October 25, 2013: Taylor Farms Recalls Broccoli Salad Kit Products for Possible Listeria…October 25, 2013: Another 100,000 Pounds of Ready-to-Eat Chicken and Ham Recalled for Listeria…October 25, 2013: Boston Salads Recalls Ready-to-Eat Chicken Salad Products for Possible Listeria Contamination…October 23, 2013: E. Coli Illness Prompts Minnesota Costco Ground Beef Recall

These are just a few of the food recalls on the list over the past few days.  Kinda makes you want to stop eating food if you think about it too much.  Food-borne illness is more and more common in today’s mass-produced, pre-packaged world, and it doesn’t look like there is an end in sight.  Truth is, the more industrialized our food system becomes the harder it is to not only keep tabs on every production facility out there, but also to be able to trace food back to it’s source should someone get sick.  This results in recalling large amounts of food that is most likely safe (a waste) as well as a lot of mass hysteria (think spinach). 

Though food-borne illness certainly is nothing to take lightly, there really is no need to avoid spinach for the rest of your life either.  A little education on the subject as well as taking precautions in your own home to prevent it can go a long way. 

Lets take leafy greens for example, unfortunately one of the riskiest foods in terms of food safety.  The CDC recently found that between 1998 and 2008, 22% of food-borne illnesses were attributed to leafy vegetables.  Because leafy greens grow close to the ground, they are at higher risk for contamination from animals, contaminated water, or poor worker hygiene.  Pre-washing of leafy greens also makes them riskier since several batches of greens from different farms could be washed together.  This can cause safe greens to become contaminated by one small batch of bad greens, and also leads to traceability problems.  Because greens from different farms are comingled in the bath, it becomes hard to trace which farm the contaminated product came from. 

Image

So what’s an eater to do?  Well, the benefits of eating leafy greens most definitely outweigh the risks, especially for adults with healthy immune systems whose bodies can usually fight off the bacteria without causing symptoms.  The elderly, young children, pregnant women and others with compromised immune systems are always at much greater risk in terms of food-borne illness. 

There are a few things you can do to help to reduce your chance of being exposed to food-borne illness.  First, buy your leafy greens, meat, eggs, and other high-risk foods from a local grower whenever possible.  You are then able to meet, talk to, and ask the farmer about their growing methods, and hold them accountable for the food they grow. You also get a fresh product that has been minimally handled, which greatly reduces your chances of worker contamination.  There is no risk of commingling either, since what you buy will only come from one farm.

Be sure to rinse produce in cool, running water, even if it is a pre-washed product, and take the following food safety precautions when handling meat in your home:

  • Wash hands, cutting boards, countertops, and knives thoroughly with soap and hot water after handling raw meat.
  • Always store raw meats in the refrigerator away from produce or ready to eat foods.
  • Make sure all meats are cooked to proper internal temperatures.
  • NEVER thaw meat on the counter, always thaw it in the refrigerator.

Here is a link to the recipe for this week, Brussels Sprouts Salad with Warm Bacon Vinaigrette.  I used a bit less vinegar than it called for and the vinegar did turn the brussels sprouts a kind of olive-y green, but it sure did taste delicious.  Also I cooked it for a little longer than called for so the Brussels wouldn’t be too firm.