Hail to Kale


The beginnings of a spinach kale and veggie frittata

In preparation for my upcoming cooking class at the Davis Coop next Monday, I came upon this article about all the benefits of kale.

It got me thinking.  Why do we, as a culture, pay homage to junk like Gingerbread Latte’s, soda, overstuffed burritos and all that kind of food  when the payoff for eating things like kale and other greens is SO MUCH HIGHER!  Kale alone has been associated with reducing cancer risk (along with it’s cousin Brussel Sprouts), is high in beta-carotene, vitamin C, calcium and potassium and more.  Furthermore, and maybe most importantly for Off-White eaters, foods like kale with a bitter principle can help reduce carb cravings and promote optimal digestive movement.

If only the fruit and veggie industry had the marketing budget of McDonald’s or Dow chemical (who, but the way, also makes a lot of food products – hopefully not at the same place that make your scrubbing bubbles to clean your bathroom!).  If only our ‘optimal default’ behavior was to hanker for kale and not Krispy Kreme.  I realize that we are hard wired to want sweet/fat because at one point it acutally helped us survive to indulge when we came upon a crop of nuts or honey as we foraged.  But can you tell me about a SINGLE food from nature that is both HIGH CARB and HIGH FAT at the same time.  Even milk, which has carbs and fat, is relatively low in the carbs compared to a plate of nachos or bowl of pasta tossed with olive oil.

Part of the issue is that we don’t know how to prepare kale or other greens in a tasty way.  They don’t grown from the ground being super tasty, I’ll be honest.  But when you cook with them properly and add flavor to them they become delicious.  At some point I went from detesting such foods to actually putting raw kale in my salad.  Does the pleasure center of my brain light up the same as when I’m eating a piece of cheesecake, or even a banana…no.  It doesn’t.  But the wellness centers of my brain are on fire!  And that is what really counts.

Perhaps some of you can join me April 18th @ 6pm at the Davis Food Coop for the “I HEART KALE” class.  It’s only $25 for non-members and you’ll get a ton of food, learn a lot, and meet other like minded kale-consuming hopefuls.



Off White eats on the cheap

According to market research, two of the top 6 reasons American’s don’t eat healthy are cost and convenience.  I wonder if this is especially true among  those of us trying to cut refined sugars and carbs from our diets.   The cheapest and most convenient foods are refined-carb laden.

I’ve been on this Off-White quest for a few years now, and have a few ideas on how you can make off-white eating more affordable.  My ideas are somewhat unconventional because I think we’ve all heard the advice to eat seasonal produce and buy in bulk one too many times.  It’s true that these approaches help you eat well for less, but it’s not the only way.

Here are my tips for affordable and convenient approaches to  off-white eating

1. Factor in the notion that your  grocery budget is more than just food.  It’s the things you need to prepare, serve, store and clean up food.  Thus if you can save on a few of those other non-food items, you will have more money for better food.  Here’s what I do in that arena:

  • Use cloth napkins and wash cloths in the kitchen.  It’s more environmentally friendly and cheaper.  Wash them 1-2x/week whenever you do laundry.  You’ll save annually on paper products
  • Reuse your ziplock bags when  they contain dry goods like crackers or non ‘wet’ snacks.  Also, use the produce bags from the grocery store like a ziplock for things that don’t need to be fully sealed.  That sliced apple will fair just fine in the Safeway bag it was purchased in just as much as in a zipper-sealed bag
  • Buy cleaning products at the Dollar store.  My mom, a professional housekeeper of 30 yrs, swears by the Dollar store cleaning products for the basics like bleach, toilet scrubber, Windex and Ajax/Comet.  Don’t waste money on brand names for this stuff
  • Couopons!  Take 10 minutes/week to look at the coupons in the mail.  Set aside those for products you use.  Also, buy them when the store puts them on sale and set them aside.  I never, EVER buy toilet paper unless it’s on sale.  Seriously – it’s literally going to be flushed down the toilet, so I’d like as little of my $$ to go into that flush as possible
  • Invest in a portable lunch bag and a few good small food containers.  This way you can tote your lunch and reduce the temptation to buy it at work/school.  Also, small containers can hold hummus, peanut butter, salad dressing, yogurt, etc – things which, when purchased in larger quantities are cheaper per serving.

Eat more of these:

  • Oatmeal:  It’s about $.99/lb in bulk, which is about 8 servings (2 oz/serving).  Compare to the individualized serving packages, which are about $2.50-$3/box.  You just halved the price and got some good fiber, protein, wheat-free carbs, and a good vehicle to add fruit and boost your morning nutrition
  • Eggs:  They are a cheap source of protein, zinc, B-vitamins, Folate and they cook fast.  Hardboiling a few for a quick breakfast or snack.  Protein is an off-white eater’s best friend and eggs are a handy source.  Even expensive eggs are only about $.40-$.50 each
  • Beans:  Beans are so versatile: they can be the mainstay of a meal, such as a chili, or a protein/fiber dense addition to a salad, or the basis for a quick veggie taco, etc.  Canned beans can still be nutritious and can be very inexpensive if you buy on sale.
  • Tuna:  I used to hate tuna until I discovered how to make it my way: with spicy mustard, olives, and green onion.  YUM!  I love it on salads or on rye crackers such as Wasa.  I wish I could say that I buy the Coop canned tuna, but at $6/jar, I just go for the basic stuff, which is more like $1/can.  However, I take that extra money and spend it on really good fresh fish.  See….it’s about give and take.
  • Tea that you make at home or work.  Can anything be any easier to make yourself than tea?  Hardly.  It’s over $2/serving at Starbucks, which is ridiculous.  I bring a myriad of tea bags with me to work/school and then make my own when I feel like a cup.  If I spend $4/box I get 18 servings whereas that $4 only gets me 2 visits to a cafe.

Eat less of these (some of them will surprise you):

  • Granola.  It’s as expensive as it is calorie dense and often a misconception altogether.  Just cut it our or limit it’s use significantly
  • Acai-containing foods.  The exotic nature of Acai allures people but you are better off just buying things made with blueberries
  • Gluten-free bread (usually found in frozen section).  Unless you must be Gluten-free, I suggest you go wheat-free and you’ll get a better quality product at a more reasonable price.  Ezekiel bread, for instance, has more fiber and better flavor and is a bit cheaper.
  • Agave nectar and organic sugar.  I have changed my tune with agave.  It’s got too much fructose to be a healthy sweetener and it’s also extremely expensive.  Organic sugar is …..still sugar!!!  Go for turbinado, brown rice syrup, succanat.  They may be organic but they are also less refined.  However they are still sugar so don’t deceive yourself.

Okay bloggies, that sums it up this list.  What ways to you make off-white eating easy and convenient?  I’d love to get some new ideas.  Now that we spend only $80/week on food adn cleaning products I’m always open for a new suggestion!

Is the environment making us diabetic?

I am taking an environmental health class (SPH262 for those UC Davis folk reading).  It’s pretty interesting, but what I am finding most interesting is the interface between the nutrition and the environment. It’s kind of a new realm of discovery for me.   Think back: 100 years ago (yeah, I know YOU weren’t alive, but you can ponder human existence), environmental toxins were likely slim: maybe too much smoke because of long hours cooking over a wood-burning stove, or the reside from coal burning.  But let’s face it: the air was cleaner, and the food was cleaner too (at least from toxins).  However, of recent, with the huge surge in obesity and related diseases, scientists are hot on the trail for cause(s).

Environment and weight have been linked for a while, but mostly in the sense of our environment being “Obeseogenic” – meaning that it promotes a sedentary lifestyle, is infiltrated with junk food, and we are bombarded with messages to EAT! EAT! EAT!  But I haven’t really looked into how toxins might play a role in weight issues or diseases that relate until I read this article.

Now, before I go into sharing what I’ve read, a few caveats:  First, the research I’m reading is in animal studies.  Yes, there are similarities with people, but let’s not assume a lab rat mimics a human exactly.  Also, there are A LOT of factors that contribute to insulin resistance (which can result in diabetes, among other things).  Diet, fitness level, muscle mass, stress level and genetics also play a role.  Ultimately I believe it’s all of our responsibility to manage our own self-care to limit the influence of environmental factors in disease and obesity.

Okay, now the punchline: According to a 2010 study in Environmental Health Perspectives, Volume 118/Volume 4 (a reputable journal full of lots of science jargon), lab rats exposed to human levels of Persistant  Organic Pollutants (POPS), developed insulin resistance compared with the unexposed (no POP) rats.  The take-home is that we may want to think about the toxicants we ingest as a contributor to our diet.  POPS are found in pesticides, among other places.

My suggestion is to do two things:

1. DON’T panic- this isn’t definitive research – more work needs to be done.

2. BE PROACTIVE AND SHOP CONSCIOUSLY:  eat more local, pesticide free foods and consider alternatives to pesticides when you are tending to your own yards, etc.  POPS are also ambient, especially in the San Joaquin Valley of CA, so I saw we all take regular breaks to the Mountains and the Ocean to get away from stifling valley air.  IF you live in Oregon (my home away from this home…) – LUCKY!!!!!  Clean air and lots of awareness about environmental pollutants.

Now it makes me wonder whether or not POPS contribute to food cravings…hmm……

Mc Make-overs

This past Monday, in the name of science, I chomped on a sausage egg McMuffin with cheese for breakfast.  Did I mention I got $20 and a free blood draw?  Score!  Hey, I’m a starving student…cut me some slack.

The whole experience got me thinking about why people go to Micky-D’s for B-fast anyway?  The line was long when I arrived at 7:30 Am, and I’m sure some folk’s were getting more than $.99 coffee.  So I decided to put my Off-White skills to the test and see whether I could improve on this drive-thru staple.  Let’s see…

The challenger:  Sausage Egg McMuffin

Ingredients:  Muffin, egg, cheese, sausage, and probably some added sodium.

Nutrition facts:
45cal,   27g Sat fat,  42g total fat,  0g fiber, 285 mg cholesterol…all this for on sale for $1.50, but usually somewhere around $2 – yee-HAW.

My challenge: to do this at home for the same price and BETTER nutrition.  Bring it on!

OFf-White version:

1 dozen cage-free, Omega 3- fat fortified eggs:  $4, or $.33/egg
1 package of Sprouted 100% Whole Grain English muffins: $3.60, or $.60/muffin
1 oz of mozzarella cheese $6/lb = $.38
1 standard turkey sausage patty: $.50/each (based on what I find on the web)
Total: $1.86

Estimated Calories:  about 430
Total fat: about 21g
Total sat. fat: 9g
Total cholesterol: 215mg
Fiber: about 6 g
Other added benefits:  omega-3 fats from eggs, an array of vitamins and minerals from the english muffin, and the satisfaction of knowing where your food comes from.

Am I lovin’ it…oh YEAH!!

Would love to hear what your McMakeovers for breakfast are!

Coming to a Phone near you…Group Wellness Coaching

Good news Bloggies,

If you are wanting to make some healthy lifestyle changes and want support, you are in luck.  Support is on the way!

I am hosting an 8-week Group Wellness Coaching session starting FRIDAY, SEPT 17th.  We will convene via phone (you’ll get the # when you sign up) and create achievable, motivating goals around issues of weight, healthy eating, increased exercise, and stress management.

The session will last 8 WEEKS and will occur every Friday 1:30-2:30pm.  You will complete a thorough intake form upon sign-up so we can both know where you are coming from.

Group coaching takes all the benefits of personalized coaching and amplifies them, as you’ll learn from others and build positive relationships.

If you want to know more see the  flyer below and visit www.wellspringmedicalcenter.com/coaching – there is even a fun Video to watch!

Cost: $199 for all 8 weeks


An evening with Deborah Madison, my hero

Deborah Madison and I at the Avid Reader in Davis

Deborah Madison, author of great cookbooks like Greens and Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, came to Davis tonight.  As soon as I heard about it on NPR I hopped to the chance to interview her for Davis Life Magazine…little did they all know that my alterior motive was to get a few minutes with the woman who first introduced me to cooking with Vegetables.

I got the cookbook Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone several years back for Christmas.  I was committed to the path of eating better and having more variety.  My approach was simple: a new veggie/week.  This is where I discovered my love for kale, first saw the word quinoa (and had NO idea how to pronounce it), and realized that a little mushroom goes a long way.

Today that book is still a staple, as evidenced by the food stains throughout the dog-eared pages.  I make many modifications to switch out white flour, dairy, and sugars but for the most part it is great as it is.  I highly recommend it for the beginning vegetable cook.

Tonight’s experienced reminded me of why Off-White is such a passion of mine – I was amidst a group of people who also believe that food has vitality when it is fresh, wholesome and close to nature.  I was reminded that nutrition is not about counting calories, but rather making our calories count by putting flavor and intention as a top priority.

So now I’m fired up to dig into the kitchen this summer and play with some new recipes.  Her new book focuses on fruits for dessert.  I’m going to make it a treat for myself to buy the book this summer when fruit is such a bounty in Davis.  But for now I’ll try the quinoa pudding she directed me to in Veg. Cooking for Everyone.  I’ll let you know how it  goes.

Yeast challenge part 2

homemade burger on a homemade bun

Recently I posted the first half of my “Kitchen Bootcamp Challenge”, by Jen Schall, to make a yeasted bread.

Well, I ‘rose’ to the challenge, so to speak, but my bread did not.  Here’s why:  I was using an enriched starter, meaning that is has milk, sugar, and flour added to grow the yeast.  A baguette style bread is just flour and water.  Hmm…. made me think about how my starter was (or was not) aligning with my eating values.

I really have no business feeding my bread sugar and milk when I try to minimize those in my own diet.  So, I’m putting my starter on a diet and ‘leaning’ it out, based on what I learned in the Professional Chef cookbook.  Let’s see what happens.

One good result was that I added an egg wash to the bread, which made for a nice shiny finish.  We ate the buns with turkey burgers instead of steak becasue I frankly don’t like steak sanwiches that much.

an egg wash makes for a shiny finish

Enriched buns are quite tasty, but a little too cakey to be a good sandwich or baguette bread.  Next time…..

5 things that help me stop sugar binges

getting out of the house helps stop sugar binges

Today I was in a counseling session and it dawned on me (thanks to my kind counselor) that I have come a long way in harmonizing my relationship with sugar and carbs.  Looking back on the past few years, I feel like I’m in a pretty grounded place to offer some advice on what helped me personally win the fight against the urge to O.D. on sugar and carbs. Keep in mind this is not professional advise, per se, but rather the kind of insight that comes from the familiarity of going through something and knowing it intimately.

#1. Get support.  I always do best when I have a good friend to share my feelings with or am seeking professional support (counseling for me).  Groups like Over-eaters anonymous can be a great support network and there is no charge for joining.  Support that is non-familial has been key for me.  As much as  I love my family and husband, sometimes the issues that drive me to  crave sugar involve them and I have found that having a safe, non-biased place to express myself helps me trust my feelings and explore the core issues behind my sugar addiction.

2. Eat a balanced diet.  Okay, maybe this is the nutritionist in me, but it’s also just the experience talking.  When I eat protein at every meal, have veggies at least 2 meals/day, eat 2-3 fruits/day, and up to 3 servings of grains, I am good to go and don’t physically crave sugar.  I have to eat pretty substantial meals because I don’t like to snack (Snacking = trouble for me).  Also, include plenty of healthy fats like olive oil, some nuts/seeds, avocados, goat cheese or other cheeses that are strong enough in flavor that you don’t want over eat them.  Even butter has its place in my diet.  Milk is out for me, so I use almond milk and drink about a cup/day.    Protein really is my anti-sugar antidote, so I try to reach for protein instead of carbs first when I’m hungry.

3. Don’t eat trigger foods alone.  I have no business eating cake and frosting, ice cream, frozen yogurt, or cookies by myself.  It’s not that having these alone is inherently bad, it’s just bad for me.  When I eat binge food alone, even if it’s gluten-free or wheat-free, I’m way more likely to over eat.  Also, I have to ask myself why I’m eating alone in the first place?  Am I sneak eating or hiding something?  Big red flag for me!  If I’m not willing to eat treats out in the open, I’m not eating them for the right reasons.  On the flip side, when I do want to enjoy a treat and I’m with others I rarely want to eat in excess because my motivation is simply to enjoy a delicious something, not curb an emotion or numb out.

4. Get out of the house.  I spend a lot of time at home during all hours of the day now that I’m  back in school.  That kitchen calls pretty loudly sometimes, If I’m not careful.  I find that getting away to study helps me feel less isolated and more confident.  I’m not sure why, but it does.  If you find that you binge or eat mindlessly when you have too much unstructured time at home, it’s time to get out!  Structured time has also helped me stay away from derailing my flow with food.  If I have time goals or placed to be I’m much less likely to waste time eating mindlessly.

5.  The pleasure principle.  “All work and no play” makes me cranky and hankering for something to ‘sweeten’ my life…such as a donut or cookie.  When I make the pleasures of life a priority, I’m usually good.  I’ve learned that the emotional craving for sugar is often a calling for a break from the work or from the expectations I place on myself to always be doing something productive.  I like to hang with friends, cook with other people, go for a walk with my husband at night, chat on the phone, watch movies or do whatever to give myself a break.

I’d love to hear from you about what helps you avoid the pitfalls of sugar binges.

better buns

whole grain italian bun dough

Recently my love affair with baking bread has spread into a personal challenge.  Steak buns.  Yes, you heard me!  I don’t really eat a lot of steak sandwiches, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity presented by Jen Scall,  on her Kitchen Bootcamp.  Oh, how I love a cooking challenge.

The deal was sweetened when she mentioned that this month’s challenge involves yeast (bread) and that she’s been inspired by her challenges from the book Professional Chef, from the Culinary Institute of America.  Lucky for me, my brother-in-law (a CIA graduate) gave me that book for Christmas a couple years ago.  Excellent!

My recipe is a unique blend of inspiration from Emeril’s Sourdough recipe and the bread start that I’ve been fermenting from the Amish frirendship bread I was gifted a few months ago.

I use rye and whole wheat bread flour for my mix, and 2% milk when I feed my start.  Today I learned (from my handy Prof. Chef book) that a yeast starter fed with sugar, milk and flour (mine) is an ‘enriched’ start, compared with those made with water, yeast , and flour (a lean start).  No wonder my breads come out dense and cake-like, which I find really pleasant.  So far no complaints from others either.

One thing I do to mediate the sweetness is I feed the start on day 6 and then bake on day 10, so the sugar and milk have been fermented.  Otherwise I’m to feed again on day 10 and THEN bake.  Delish for sweet breads, but not quite part of my off-white lifestyle.

Today, for creativity, I added some mediterranean spices during the kneading process because I hope to make these steakbuns to go with a mediterranean-inspired steak (recipe TBA).  mmmmm…….

spices to add flavor and flair

So now it’s a waiting game.  I rise the dough for a few hrs and then knead again, separate and form into cute little buns and bake.  I’ll keep ya posted on how it all goes.

It’s so hard to say goodbye to yesterday…

Today, while motoring down the I-80, the Boyz 2 men song “Its so hard to say goodbye to yesterday” came on the radio.  The station was asking for songs about your high school graduation, and some guy requested it as a memory to the Class of ’94, which is also my year.

Funny timing, because it was such a day of reflection for me. I  attended my Nephew’s Kindergarten graduation at Pleasant Ridge Elementary, where I had gone to school.   As I sat in the auditorium, 33 yrs old – a ‘grown up’, I rememberd what it was like to be a kid again. This tiny auditorium once seemed so big, and teachers seemed so powerful.  School was a sanctuary for me as a child.  My home life was littered with mixed messages, secrets, and confusion.  School made sense to me.  Friends made sense.  Academics made sense. Sometimes it was the only place where the world seemed safe.  Seeing those sweet faces walk up to the podiums today, proud and excited, made me just want to reach out and hug them and  tell them that no matter what they are beautiful, loveable, and smart, especially my nephew (which I did, much to his chigrin).

I guess the reason I’m blogging this because today I got to go back to the place where Off-White really had it’s origins: My  childhood.  Just as school was a friendly escape from the things in life I couldn’t control, so was sugar.  It started young for me: obsession on easter candy, spending my $3 allowance on candy, and just wanting to avoid my feelings, unless they were happy.  It wasn’t until I was older that my emotional eating really took hold, but I know it all started with fears and unexpressed feelings I had as a kid.  I guess that is why I latched on to academics so much and made that, along with my friends, my entire universe.

So today when I stood there as my 33-yr old self, I felt some sense of peace.   I am not a scared child anymore.  I have tools to help me cope and language to express what I tried to tuck away for so long.  I felt like I’m actually OKAY.  I am beautiful, loveable and smart.

And guess what, I was even able to pass up the COSTCO white frosting cake (those who know me know this is BIG).  I simply felt okay in my own skin – the child and the woman in me all at once!

Thanks for listening bloggies!