21 December 2007

Healthy Holiday Tips!

With the holidays in full swing, we might find ourselves struggling to keep our hands out of the cookie jar, pie plates, and cake stands. Or we might just be too busy to bother to eat well! Hey, I'm guilty of this as much as anyone! I think it's great to treat yourself to some 'naughty' foods and enjoy all kinds of tasty treats-- sweet and savory-- this time of year, but it can quickly out of hand—leading to guilt induced new year's resolutions that don't stick. When you find yourself at holiday parties, dinners, and other events, there are a few easy tips you can employ to help stay healthy during the times of temptation.
- Eat very small portions, or just take one or two bites, if you are interested in trying several different items. Take the time to savor those small bits, and you will feel just as satisfied.
- Resist the urge to eat until you're about to burst. This will only make you feel bloated, fatigued, and make your body work harder than necessary to process it all.
- Even on days where you know a big meal is imminent, plan to eat a regular breakfast, lunch, and snack, so that you don't over-do it come dinner time.
- If possible, encourage your hosts to include healthy offerings such as fresh fruits and vegetables, or, even better, bring a healthy dish to contribute to the feast!
- Keep to your normal routine as much as you can-- take time to workout several times a week, eat healthy home-cooked meals, and be sure to take time for yourself to rest.

These tips were also posted on the Ladies Who Launch blog.
(Ladies Who Launch is an excellent international women's networking group that I am a part of. They have groups in cities across the country.)

19 December 2007

austin whole foods put a ban on plastic bags

Serving as a test-market for their other stores worldwide, Austin area Whole Foods stores are no longer offering plastic bags at check out. Encouraging customers to purchase a reusable canvas bag or inexpensive and cute bags made of recycled plastic bottles. I'm really excited about this, and already have a few of these bags, and have of course, been taking my canvas totes with me when I go shopping for a long while now. Most Whole Foods and Central Market stores now have bins where you can recycle your plastic bags, produce bags, and plastic film, so don't throw them out!

The city of Austin is also working to, in 2008, have all major retailers in the city voluntarily reduce or eliminate the use of plastic bags, following the lead of green-friendly cities like San Francisco.

I think it's great that Whole Foods and Austin are taking these steps that will hopefully influence policies throughout the state and the country! Even if your local stores aren't involved in these progressive policies, you can easily do your part by bringing your own reusable bags when you shop or bringing in old plastic or paper bags to be reused when you go shopping! Take it a step further by encouraging your local retailers to be more eco-friendly, to use less unnecessary packaging, and to care for the environment and their communities!

Read the whole story in the Austin American-Statesman online.

18 December 2007

my favorite lunch.

This has become one of my favorite little meals. Ridiculously simple, but so tasty and satisfying, it's kind of perfect food-- two superfood powerhouses, steamed broccoli and a baked sweet potato, topped off with a little sheep's milk feta, salt, pepper, and sometimes some cayenne pepper or hot sauce for a nice kick.

I'm not quite sure how or why I first put this meal together. It was sometime earlier this year and I wanted something easy and simple. I had the forethought to put a sweet potato in the oven an hour ahead of when I thought I'd be hungry, and figured out the broccoli part later. Not wanting to opt for butter or olive oil to top my sweet potato with, I looked to the fridge, where I almost always have a little sheep's milk feta, and while it kind of seemed an unlikely combination, I threw it on top anyway. Wow! All the flavors come together really nicely. This meal is great-- so little effort, really healthy, and pretty low in fat.

Try it out, let me know what you think!

03 December 2007

recipe: smoky veggie chili (with meat add-in option)

Once the weather gets cooler, I love to make this chili. It's hearty, quick, and warming, and the chipotle and roasted tomatoes give it a nice smoky flavor. I usually invite people over because this recipe makes quite a bit! Or else just freeze some leftovers for later. I like to serve this alongside some short-grain brown rice or fresh cornbread. If you'd like, ground meat can easily be added. I included a recipe suggestion for preparing ground turkey.

Recipe: Smoky Veggie Chili
Serves 10-12
2 medium yellow onions, chopped (= 3 heaping cups)
3 medium carrots, peeled and chopped (= 1 1/2 cups)
4 stalks of celery, peeled and chopped (= 1 1/2 cups)
1 large bell pepper, any color, diced (= 1 cup)
4-5 cloves of garlic, minced
3 T extra virgin olive oil
4 T chili powder
1 T ground cumin
2 t ground coriander
2 canned chipotle peppers in adobo, minced
2 t adobo sauce from canned chipotle
2 15 oz. cans of kidney beans, drained and rinsed
2 15 oz. cans of black beans, drained and rinsed
1 28 oz. can of fire-roasted crushed tomatoes (like Muir Glen brand)
1 28 oz. can of fire-roasted diced tomatoes
2 t sea salt, plus more to taste
3 T molasses or honey or preferred sweetener, to taste (optional)
1/4 c chopped cilantro (optional)

Note: You could substitute whatever canned beans you have handy for this. Pinto, navy, cannelini, and chickpeas would all work well with this dish. Adjust the amount of chipotle to your preferred spiciness level.

1. Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium high heat. Add the onions, carrots, celery, and bell pepper, stirring to combine. Sweat together for about 2 minutes. Add the garlic. Sweat for another minute.

2. Add the chili powder, cumin, coriander, chipotle, and adobo. Stir to evenly combine for an additional 1-2 minutes. If your pot is getting a bit dry, add a few tablespoons of water as necessary.

3. Stir in the beans, crushed and diced tomatoes, and salt. Once the chili begins to bubble, reduce heat to medium-low. Taste to adjust seasonings. Add the molasses and cilantro. Simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

4. Remove from heat and serve topped with chopped cilantro, shredded cheese, and/or sour cream.

Ground Turkey Add-In
2 T extra virgin olive oil
2 lb lean ground turkey, or other ground meat
2 T chili powder
1 T ground cumin
2 t ground coriander
1 T sea salt, to taste
Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the turkey until nearly cooked through, then add all of the spices. Stir to incorporate. Add the meat to the chili pot at the beginning of the 10 minute simmer.

02 December 2007

Texas seeking to adopt CFLs as State Light Bulb

A few days ago five mayors from major Texas cities met to discuss pushing replacing traditional light bulbs with the more energy efficient, and overall more cost effective compact fluorescent bulbs.

With the exception of Austin, Texas isn't especially well known for being environmentally proactive, but considering the amount of land it covers and the number of citizens it harbors, I'm glad to see it making a simple step in the right direction.

Switching your incandescent bulbs to CFLs is a great way to conserve energy and save money in the long-term on your electricity bills. The average bulb lasts about 6 years and expend up to 75% less energy than a regular bulb. I recently switched all of the lamps in the house to CFLS and have found they seem a bit brighter than their incandescent equivalents. I also really like them because of their funky, swirly look, which turns it into a neat design piece!

Here's the Austin American-Statesman's article.

30 November 2007

the 'austinist' interview

I just did a pretty cool interview with the Food Editor of the Austinist, and it's now up on their site! Click here to check it out!

19 November 2007

guest blog: momma's got a brand new (shopping) bag

This, the first in a series of monthly guest blogs, is written by my Mom, Silvia, about her own journey into 'healthier lifestyle enlightenment'. Please contact me if you are interested in writing a topical guest blog.

At my age, being a mother of children in their 20’s, all of those 'eat healthy' and 'go green' statements can be quite confusing because we tend to think that we are stuck in our way of thinking, unable to make changes in the way we live and/or eat. However, I am happy to say that I have made significant changes and feel great! I can’t really say what got me going, other than I started noticing more books and articles on healthy eating and related health issues, seeing reports of tainted foods on the news; and the biggest influence was my daughter who was going to a culinary school specializing in healthy foods. The more I read, the more convicted I became to change.

I suffer from a chronic disease and my husband has a heart condition, so I felt that any changes I made would benefit both of our health. I have always been a pretty good eater so I don’t feel I had to establish completely alien eating. My husband, on the other hand, was a horrible eater. I knew any changes I made for myself would eventually filter over, and I started with small changes for myself and slowly removed pork from my diet, then beef and chicken.

This summer I decided to completely quit eating meat altogether. Mostly, I did it to see how long I would last-- and I'm still going! It was made easier with the markets full of awesome produce. Who can resist all those watermelons, plums, peaches and berries? Not only does my whole body feel better, but all the problems I used to have with my digestive system are gone-- I have more energy and never feel bloated. My hairdresser tells me my hair has gotten thicker and my skin looks great. I've even lost weight and inches too! There are times when I want a burger or a taco and I’ll go for it, but my body quickly tells me I shouldn’t have-- and I pay for it later. It’s amazing how quickly our bodies get used to eating ‘good-for-you’ foods and quickly let us know when we eat foods that are too rich, too salty, too sweet, too processed.

In this transitioning, I have completely changed my husband’s eating habits. He is has been good about tasting all the new and different dishes I put in front of him, and is eating a lot healthier. He has even surprised himself: he was eating homemade chocolate tofu pudding and couldn’t believe it wasn’t his favorite Jell-o pudding! (I myself could never be persuaded to try tofu, however, this summer I tried a deliciously tasty baked tofu!) And while he does eat some meat, he doesn’t eat much, and even then it's turkey or pork, and we both enjoy fish. I’m making my own hummus to snack on with fresh veggies and keeping a jar of fresh made granola on the counter, which we all grab whenever we get the munchies! My friends and family have come to understand that if they come to my home, I won’t be offering them meat dishes, soda or processed foods-- instead, they get freshly made delicious dishes.

We are creatures of habit, and I have found that we can all create new habits that are better for us. I started buying healthier versions of food I’ve always liked by shopping at Whole Foods and try to get my fruits and vegetables from my local farmer’s market. Eating this way, I have discovered how sweet fresh foods are on their own, and have found that whole and fresh foods taste better and need very little seasoning to enjoy their true taste. Just today, I had a baked sweet potato that was so sweet I thought my daughter had put sugar on it, and I ate the whole thing-- and I don't like sweet potatoes. However, she told me that she hadn’t put anything on it.

So if you find yourself wanting to make some changes, I would recommend you start with small steps. Try cutting your meat intake in half: try tofu, beans, or eggs for protein. Eat fresh produce instead of canned.Stop drinking soda and drink more water! Eat whole wheat breads and pastas. And have you every had freshly ground peanut butter? Better yet, my favorite, fresh almond butter! Yummy! Visit a farmers' markets or Whole Foods on a Saturday and you can sample a variety of free samples-- it gives you a chance to try new things without having to commit to actually buying them.

Once you start making some changes, you will find that your taste buds and your body will automatically crave healthier foods. I’m still making changes into my life and not as scared of change since I’ve been seeing so many positive results. I’ve started incorporating 'green' lifestyle changes as well-- saving industrial energy by shopping locally, bringing my own bags when I shop (groceries, Target, everywhere!), and recycling as much as possible-- I feel good about helping the environment and supporting local farmers and businesses.

Take it from someone who felt that making these changes would be hard-- I have actually enjoyed the process. I feel better and am having fun discovering new foods, new recipes and establishing new taste buds. Whoever said you can’t teach an old dog new tricks never fed that dog fresh ground almond butter!

11 November 2007

pomegranate-glazed grilled turkey breast

As a departure from some the more traditional Thanksgiving flavors, this is a great Middle-Eastern inspired option using skinless, boneless turkey cutlets- which takes the work out of cooking a whole bird! I really love pomegranate molasses-- a syrupy, tangy, and sweet concentration of pomegranate juice- adds a nice and unexpected flavor dimension in to so many foods. I found pairing it with turkey, to create a delightful and new main dish for Thanksgiving a tasty change-- and by grilling, you save on time! This is a really great option for a smaller crowd. However, you could use this marinade and glaze on a bone-in breast, leg, whole turkey or chicken!

Recipe: Pomegranate-Glazed Grilled Turkey Breast
Serves 4
1 c pomegranate molasses*
1/4 c orange juice (from about 1/2 an orange)
1/2 c extra virgin olive oil (optional)
1 T ground coriander
2 t ground cumin
1 t dried thyme
1/2 t red pepper flakes (optional)
1 T sea salt
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
zest of 1 orange

4 turkey breast cutlets

4 sprigs of mint, optional for garnish

1. Combine all of the marinade ingredients together in a bowl until well mixed. Take 3/4 cup of the marinade and set aside-- this will be your sauce for your cooked turkey!
2. In a shallow dish or large zip-top bag, combine the turkey breasts and the marinade, turning to coat. Refrigerate overnight, or for at least 6 hours.
3. Once you're ready to cook the turkey, prepare an outdoor or stovetop grill pan. Once it is searing hot, lightly grease the grates with olive oil or cooking spray. Grill the turkey about 5-7 minutes on both sides, turning once only, until just cooked and the juices run clear (no pink!).
4. Remove to a platter or individual plates. Garnish with mint and serve with well combined reserved marinade.

*You can find pomegranate molasses in Middle Eastern or Indian food stores, gourmet and natural groceries, or alternatively, you could make your own by reducing a 24-32 oz bottle of pomegranate juice.
Directions: pour the pomegranate juice into a small pot over medium-high heat. Heat until it begins to boil, turn heat to medium low and allow it to simmer for about 15-20 minutes, until it thickly coats a spoon, but be very careful no to burn it. Remove from heat immediately. It will continue to thicken as it cools.

05 November 2007

welcome to stem+leaf!

What’s Stem+Leaf all about? Well, I’ve been craving an organized outlet through which I can share tips, recipes, photos, news, current events, and the like in relation to natural foods, healthy lifestyles, nutrition, and ‘green’ issues.

It’s very important to me that people understand that being 'healthy' does not have to be difficult, nor does it mean you have to run 5 miles a day, eat granola, be a vegan, or be thin. Being 'green' doesn't mean you have to wear hemp, go cold in winter, or drive a Prius. Being green and healthy go hand-in-hand for me-- it’s about opening your eyes to the world around you, making good decisions, eating well, and feeling good!

Stem+Leaf is green. It’s about food, health, nutrition, whole foods, healing foods, our earth and its inhabitants, positive lifestyles, living, loving, and laughing. It’s about making the most of out of every single day—so start living it up and keep tuned into www.StemandLeaf.net!

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