Monthly Archives: March 2012

The Best Diet in the World: Eat Your Veggies!

Spoiler: Great salad, salad dressing mix and Caesar salad dressing recipe links can be found at the end of this post.

What is the healthiest diet for humans? There are certainly a lot of choices and opinions out there, and rarely do they agree.

I grew up in New Jersey (the Garden State) during the ’60s. There were plenty of vegetable stands on the outskirts of town, and I still hold those as my standard for farmers’ markets. Nothing fancy, simply just-picked fresh produce, locally and organically grown, at reasonable prices. Apples came with spots, tomatoes with a few cracks, other veggies and fruit were a little misshapen–distorted even. That’s what real food looked like. No wax coatings. No cukes looking like they were pressure-formed at a plastics factory. Lots of flavor. What could be wrong? That was nature.

I’ve been a human for a long time. As a kid, we ate a lot of vegetables whether we liked it or not. We ate some meat and some carbs. When I was a kid, food was simple. You ate what your mother–or the school cafeteria–provided. Back then, we were all pretty healthy and very few of us were over weight.

But, avert your eyes for a moment (or 50 years) and everything has changed. Increasing incidences of allergies, diseases, diabetes, high cholesterol, blood pressure, obesity–you name it. Change is not always for the good. And better living through chemistry should not necessarily apply to our food.

My thought is, we were crafted from the very elements of our planet and so logic states that our bodies should be in perfect harmony with the nutrition provided by our mother Earth. Our bodies are these amazingly self-sufficient bio-organisms that grow, heal and repair themselves without any conscious effort. We truly are indigenous to our planet. We began here, we belong here and everything we need to perpetuate our species is here — naturally. But… then something went terribly wrong.

Onions at Heavenly Harvest

We humans have been messing with mother nature for about 200 years. We have introduced chemistry into every phase of our lives. Chemical manufacturers have been messing with our food via genetic modification, pesticides and mass production. Greed has reduced the quality of our food via “factory production” of animals and vegetables. Special interest groups, such as corn farmers (high fructose corn syrup, GMO corn), animal feed manufacturers (a pellet for every animal, causing Omega 3 deficient foods), cane sugar farmers, dairy farmers (hormones and antibiotics), pesticide producers (Roundup-ready GMO corn and soy) have shamelessly degraded the quality of our food, all for the all-mighty dollar. We make cosmetics, soaps, lotions, shampoo and cleansers from petroleum that leach through our skin and end up inside our bodies. Not to mention the special interest groups– oops, I meant government agencies–such as the FDA and AGA, misrepresenting and omitting information regarding health issues, studies and statistics.  Add to that pharmaceutical companies pumping dollars into schooling, research and other incentives for the training of doctors and we end up with biases and omissions of information up the wazoo. And for some reason, not many of us have a clue of what’s going on. Somehow we’ve been brain-washed to implicitly trust government agencies, doctors, statistics and studies. How did we become so gullible?

A-hem, so back to diet. There’s Atkins (low carbs, high fat and protein). Paleo, which takes us back to caveman days when humans ate what they could forage — occasional lean meats, mostly greens and maybe some seeds, nuts and rare fruits. There are vegetarians. Vegans. Betty Crocker. Who, exactly, is right? If you look at our teeth, an indicator of what our natural diet should be, it’s pretty much a mish-mash. Our front teeth are perfect for nipping off bite-size bits of food. We have incisors, reminiscent of canines, meant for tearing meat. We also have molars, designed for grinding grain and other foods. Hey, we’re omnivores!  So, apparently humans are built to eat just about anything. But I have to admit that every BODY is not the same. Our ancestors came from different parts of Earth, and most likely adapted to whatever was available to eat in the areas where they lived. So, that introduces another element. We’re all borne of Earth, but our bodies have adapted to local food availability. That’s a thought worth looking into. My heritage is Eastern European. For for some reason, my body responds best to a lot of veggies and protein. Carbs tend to bloat me and make me put weight. People indigenous to the polar regions flourish on lots of fish and whale. People from Asian countries do best with a lot of fresh seafoods, raw veggies and seaweed.

The one single thing I’ve found in common with all the diets and cultures I’ve studied is raw fresh vegetation. Not one diet I’ve heard of has ever said that vegetables are bad for you. Even the diets that insist on lots of proteins in the form of meats and dairy products do not deny that animals that forage naturally on grasses and other plant materials are superior in nutrition to those that are fed pellets. Naturally grazing animals have a much higher Omega 3 content (which is an essential fat that is key to our health) than those fed an unnatural diet. And we’ve all heard that you are what you eat–and what you eat eats.

Today I drove half an hour to Wheat Ridge to shop at a produce store, Heavenly Harvest Produce

So, moving on to this week’s new recipe: My son, who will be 17 this month, became a vegetarian early this winter. It has been a little extra work for me to cook for my husband and I (plus all the animals) and accommodate my son’s requirements as well. But not a big issue. We do a purely-salad night 1-2 times a week. Most teens have very few positive things to say about their parents. Recently my son said I make the BEST salad ever (he also said I was a really good driver “for a woman”). He has loved salad for a long time and usually orders it in restaurants, but our at-home salads are so much more nutritious, creative and deeply satisfying. I call my salads “Kitchen Sink” salad, as I toss everything I need to use up in the fridge into the kitchen sink for rinsing. My salads are never exactly the same, and are usually prompted by an excess of odd amounts of raw veggies in the fridge that need to be used, plus cooked leftovers from the last couple of days.

I love Italian dressing, but have been a bit turned off by the contents in store-bought dressings–even the organic ones. There are always ingredients that we can’t pronounce or identify, and we don’t need that. So here is a healthy ingredient salad dressing mix that can be turned into dressing in a few minutes. Feel good that you’re not only eating what is healthy, but what tastes good and satiates your hunger.

I’ve also added a Caesar Salad recipe that is quick and easy to make and so darned delicious!

Salad, chopped, a hearty meal
Print Recipe
Note: If you want to use my Salad dressing mix on your salad, you'll have to make that first.

Base of salad is a heathy mixture of lettuce (Iceberg is low nutrition, go for Romaine or spring salad mixes); spinach; any greens you have on hand such as Mustard Greens, Kale, Chard; all torn into bite-size pieces.

Extras such as tomato chunks, cucumber, avocado, carrots, peppers, radishes, sprouts, green onions, leftover cooked or raw veggies such as zucchini, yellow squash, asparagus, green beans, brussels sprouts; corn; any other beans or veggies; chow mein noodles; nuts such as almonds, cashews or pinion; sunflower seeds.

A protein if you're so inclined, such as leftover cooked meats; fish such as salmon, tuna, shrimp; hard-boiled eggs; cut up cold-cuts. If you're vegan, tofu works.

Cheese if you want: chopped or shredded cheddar or feta are great; freshly grated parmesan is hard to beat as well.

Croutons if available, or make your own: Sauté stale bread in a butter/olive oil mixture. Add salt, pepper & garlic. Cook until crisp. If you have some Chinese noodles, these are great too.

Herbs are a great addition. If you have scraps of dill, parsley, oregano, thyme etc., chop & throw them in.

Get Creative! If there's anything else in the fridge that is a leftover and you like it, it may just work out fine in your big salad.
Prep Time
30 minutes
Prep Time
30 minutes
Salad, chopped, a hearty meal
Print Recipe
Note: If you want to use my Salad dressing mix on your salad, you'll have to make that first.

Base of salad is a heathy mixture of lettuce (Iceberg is low nutrition, go for Romaine or spring salad mixes); spinach; any greens you have on hand such as Mustard Greens, Kale, Chard; all torn into bite-size pieces.

Extras such as tomato chunks, cucumber, avocado, carrots, peppers, radishes, sprouts, green onions, leftover cooked or raw veggies such as zucchini, yellow squash, asparagus, green beans, brussels sprouts; corn; any other beans or veggies; chow mein noodles; nuts such as almonds, cashews or pinion; sunflower seeds.

A protein if you're so inclined, such as leftover cooked meats; fish such as salmon, tuna, shrimp; hard-boiled eggs; cut up cold-cuts. If you're vegan, tofu works.

Cheese if you want: chopped or shredded cheddar or feta are great; freshly grated parmesan is hard to beat as well.

Croutons if available, or make your own: Sauté stale bread in a butter/olive oil mixture. Add salt, pepper & garlic. Cook until crisp. If you have some Chinese noodles, these are great too.

Herbs are a great addition. If you have scraps of dill, parsley, oregano, thyme etc., chop & throw them in.

Get Creative! If there's anything else in the fridge that is a leftover and you like it, it may just work out fine in your big salad.
Prep Time
30 minutes
Prep Time
30 minutes
Ingredients
Servings: It depends
Instructions
  1. Place all ingredients into a big bowl and toss with your favorite dressing, or just mix in some olive oil, vinegar, salt, pepper and herbs and seasonings of your choice.
  2. Serve and enjoy.
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Water2Wine: The New Urban Vintner

Spoiler: A link for my absolute favorite pasta recipe, Pasta Puttanesca, can be found near the end of this post.

Okay, okay, this was so much fun!

Last July (2011) our next-door-neighbor asked to borrow our car for a few days. He runs fireworks stands yearly and his vehicle, towing a trailer of merchandise, broke down at the worst possible time. For us it was a no-brainer: we didn’t need our second vehicle for anything and were glad to help. It was not a big deal for us.

Apparently it was for our neighbor! After the 4th of July crush, he returned our vehicle and added a gift certificate for a case of wine at Water2Wine, a business where you can not only purchase and taste wine, but make your own. Being a small franchise, they have a few locations across the country.

When I was growing up we had loads of Concord grapes and one year my mother decided to make wine. I was pretty young at the time and so missed most of the action. All I remember about the process was bottles of fermenting wine in our basement exploding and spraying wine everywhere. Our basement was damp, so I remember clearly the smell of wine and mold. Unpleasant enough to make me not want to attempt wine-making myself.

My husband and I went to Water2Wine together a few months after we received our gift certificate. It’s a small but attractive store in a strip mall not far from home. We read a list of the types of wine we could make, sampled a couple, and settled on one specific variety: a Chilean Carmenere. We made an appointment for our wine-making experience.

On wine-making day we were led to the wine-making room. There was a large glass carboy containing some filtered water, a bag of wine concentrate and some yeast. Our mentor did the mixing for us, said they would take care of whatever needed to be done between “now” and bottling day, and gave us a schedule for the approximate date we needed to return to bottle our wine–about 6 weeks away. We were given the choice of picking a pre-designed label or making our own. Since I’m a graphic designer we decided I’d design our own label. I emailed the label to them, they sent me a proof and that was that.

We made an appointment for bottling day. Some people invite friends, bring food and make it into a wine-tasting event. We decided instead to go over (my husband, I and our 16 year old son) ourselves.

We were led to another room to bottle. Clear instructions were given to us. My husband took over the job of syphoning the wine from the carboy into wine bottles. My son took the job of corking the bottles. I applied labels and sealed the corks with heat shrink seals.

It was so much fun! Did I say that already? The owner’s wife asked us if we were hungry. There’s an Italian restaurant a couple of doors over, and she offered to place a take-out order for us so we could eat and continue to bottle and sample our wine. She placed our order for take-out and delivered the food to us. We worked, dined and (with the exception of our son) sampled our wine. Happy work! I’d like to share my absolute favorite pasta puttanesca recipe.

The whole wine-making process was educational, entertaining and satisfying. We now have lots of bottles of delicious wine. We gave some to our gracious neighbors and have many more to gift, enjoy and share.

I have to say that Water2Wine is a terrific experience and great franchise if you’re so inclined. I totally recommend that you search for a Water2Wine in your area and make some wine yourself. They take out all the guesswork and chance for error–and make wine-making so easy! Cheers!

Pasta Puttanesca
Print Recipe
My all time favorite pasta dish! Amazing flavor, complexity and texture. I've often thought this would be a great preparation to serve on garlic bread rounds as an appetizer. Serve with a nice fresh salad and artesian bread. White wine is a wonderful accompaniment, but the flavors are strong enough to shine through a red wine as well. During the summer I've made a version of this recipe using fresh diced tomatoes and chopped fresh basil: Different but no less delightful! Since I LOVE chopping veggies and other ingredients, I chop all the ingredients ahead of time and store in little bowls. Once that's done, the actual cook time goes very quickly. Serves 4-6.
Servings Prep Time
4-6 people 1 hour
Cook Time
15 minutes
Servings Prep Time
4-6 people 1 hour
Cook Time
15 minutes
Pasta Puttanesca
Print Recipe
My all time favorite pasta dish! Amazing flavor, complexity and texture. I've often thought this would be a great preparation to serve on garlic bread rounds as an appetizer. Serve with a nice fresh salad and artesian bread. White wine is a wonderful accompaniment, but the flavors are strong enough to shine through a red wine as well. During the summer I've made a version of this recipe using fresh diced tomatoes and chopped fresh basil: Different but no less delightful! Since I LOVE chopping veggies and other ingredients, I chop all the ingredients ahead of time and store in little bowls. Once that's done, the actual cook time goes very quickly. Serves 4-6.
Servings Prep Time
4-6 people 1 hour
Cook Time
15 minutes
Servings Prep Time
4-6 people 1 hour
Cook Time
15 minutes
Ingredients
Servings: people
Instructions
  1. In a small bowl, combine boiling water and dried tomatoes; set aside for 5-10 minutes to soften. Start to heat up a large pot of water to cook pasta.
  2. In a large skillet, heat olive oil; add onions & anchovy paste (or fish sauce) and sauté until onions are golden. Add garlic, tomatoes and their water, olives, capers and marjoram or oregano. Cook, stirring occasionally, 9-12 minutes until half the liquid has evaporated. Leave the kitchen 1 or 2 times and then return so you can appreciate the fragrance. Add final ingredients.
  3. While the sauce is simmering, cook pasta to your preferred doneness.
  4. Drain pasta thoroughly then place in a large serving bowl. Toss in sauce ingredients and serve. Buon appetito!
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