I Like You Berry Much.

I’ve mentioned this before, but I totally nerd-out for grocery shopping. Every time I do it I get to make so many choices – some planned, most on a whim, some based on old stand-bys and some by picking something up and saying “I have no idea what this is, but it looks neat!”

Today, a local market offered some incredible deals on seasonal produce. One of the best finds were these cartons of blackberries for only 50 CENTS each. I know! If you want to know why doing your best to eat seasonally is important, here is a great example – you can actually afford it.

These berries aren’t organic – and I know all of my current nutrition professors and classmates would be a tad bit disappointed in me because of that. And yes, buying organic is good for so many reasons, personal and environmental. But at the end of the day, snacking on these is a whole lot better than snacking on potato chips, so I’m going to eat ’em up.

Berries are obviously a healthy and nutritional food. Blueberries have been the stars of the show lately with their inclusion among “Superfoods”. (A Superfood is a whole food that packs an incredible amount of nutrition into it’s small food-like body. Many people swear by incorporating these into your meals, because in one “superfood” you can get as much nutrition as eating a whole array of other whole foods. Remember those Total Cereal commercials, where they would pile all kinds of insane foods into a bowl, and then say “Or you can get all of those nutrients in just one bowl of Total!” That’s the idea with superfoods.)

An easy health tip – the beautiful colors of berries also means they are full of good things! In most cases, the more colorful your food, the more packed full it is of healthy vitamins and minerals. So sweet red strawberries and dark purple blackberries aren’t just pretty, they’re going to make your body feel good. (A win-win, for sure!)

They are filled with great things your body loves, like Vitamin C, calcium, magnesium and potassium. One cup of strawberries has about as much vitamin C as a glass of orange juice – but whole fruits are better than juice because you get full from all of the fiber.

Plus, berries have something called “polyphenols”. You may have heard of these because they are also found in dark chocolate, tea and red wine. Yeah, the berries are certainly in good company. (Anyone want to have a Polyphenol Party? We can hang out and eat and drink all of these delicious things, than throw our heads back and laugh as our hearts get healthy!)  Polyphenols are plant compounds that are wonderful at keeping your heart healthy by acting as antioxidants! They also lower blood pressure and increase HDL (good cholesterol) in your body.

For my first cooking class, I made berry “mousse” desserts, which were a total hit. Essentially, these gorgeous beauties consisted of mixed berries, lemon juice and zest, some agave nectar, and silken tofu. So not only are they pretty as a picture, and not bad for you – they are actually GOOD for you! Don’t feel guilty about eating this dessert. It’s full of vitamins and protein. Oh yes.

So keep an eye out for berries! They taste amazing in pancakes, on salads, in desserts, or on their own when you’re watching Top Chef reruns.

Advertisements

SUBSTITUTE TEACHING.

Yesterday I had a lovely morning in the Wise Bean cafe (ahem, see yesterday’s HEART OF STEELcity post!) with my buddies, and one friend that recently lost a bunch of weight by following a very specific weight loss program said she’d like to try using dairy substitutes when she starts eating “real food” again. She’s not vegan or vegetarian, but has found that the way her body feels and reacts to her eating dairy is, well, negative.

That got me thinking about today’s post. Once I said the blatantly obvious, “Low fat soymilk!”, I had a flood of other simple switches for healthier, animal-free (and thus, entirely cholesterol-free) alternatives for cooking.

For a CREAMY texture: Try nuts, like raw cashews – but be wary of added fat if you are looking to lose weight. Great Northern beans (white beans) also have a very mild, almost neutral flavor that help to thicken soups when pureed. And of course, silken tofu.

If you aren’t familiar with different kinds of tofu, silken tofu is sold off the shelf in an aseptic box as it doesn’t need to be refrigerated. If you’re making a soup, sauce, or salad dressing the “soft” kind will thicken it and also add protein. It’s neutral in taste, so you get all the creamy texture you want without any fat of a heavy cream! For things like desserts or pies, try “firm” or “extra firm”.

Healthy/Healthier Sandwich CONDIMENTS: Fat is tasty. It just is. That’s why so many people like mayonnaise – it’s just oil and raw eggs  whipped together. (Sorry to freak you out if you didn’t already know that!) If you want to keep the fatty, creamy mayo taste and feel, consider switching to Vegenaise. This stuff is freaking delicious. Even people that don’t like mayo love it! It’s not exactly low-fat, but it’s free of dairy, eggs, refined sweeteners, etc… It is sold in the refrigerated section of the “health food” department at your local store.

Other great options for sandwiches and veggie burgers are: hummus, something you buy pre-made or make your own with hummus-style spread by blending beans of your choice with garlic, onion, herbs, or spices. You can also make a homemade pesto-type spread with herbs or green veggies blended with nuts and garlic.

Replacing EGGS in Baking: These are great alternatives for people looking to lower their cholesterol (the yolks of eggs are little yellow orbs of that stuff!), or just use better alternatives. Eggs are a binding ingredient, so depending on what you’re baking, you achieve similar results by using fruits like mashed banana (this is AMAZING in muffins and pancakes!) or mashed avocado. Applesauce is a common replacement when you can have a more wet batter, or you can buy Ener-G egg replacer – white powder that looks like baking soda that you mix with some water. But one of the healthiest and best egg-alternatives is ground flax seed.

It’s best to buy whole flax seeds (you can sometimes find them in bulk bins at the store), and grind them in a coffee grinder or equivalent. Grind 1 Tablespoon of flax seeds, transfer to a bowl and add 3 Tablespoons of water. When you whisk it or mix with a fork, it will become goopy and sticky and this will replace 1 egg. This is best use for things that aim to taste whole-grainy, as flax seed has an earthy, nutty flavor.

un-TUNA Sandwiches: If you like cold, meat-based salads like tuna or chicken salad, you can create very similar vegan salads! You can use all the seasonings you’d normally put in the tuna salad, use Vegenaise instead of mayo, and the filling can be mushed chick peas! Just mush a can of chick peas into a bowl and it will make that “meaty” texture! Or, try using textured vegetable protein (TVP), which is small dehydrated pieces of soy flour that has been pressed and formed into little chunks. If you’ve ever used “fake ground hamburger”, imagine that but without the flavor added. Once rehydrated, a flavorless food that takes on the flavor of whatever you mix it with.

You can also try crumbled tempeh. Tempeh is a thick cake-like food made of pressed soy and grains that has been fermented. Don’t let the f-word deter you! It has absolutely wonderful texture. It can be cut in cubes for a stir fry, sliced thin to make tempeh-bacon, or crumbled up for a sandwich filling. If you like grainy, textured artisanal breads, you’ll love this. It’s best to steam the tempeh for about 10 minutes before you use it to remove any bitter flavor.

Sugar-Free SWEETNERS: The problem with sugar isn’t so much that the one teaspoon you add to your coffee will hugely effect your health – a teaspoon only has 16 calories – it’s that huge amounts of sugar are put into EVERYTHING (processed foods), often in the form of high fructose corn syrup. If you aren’t eating many whole foods, chances are you are consuming a surprising amount of sugar from places you wouldn’t expect.

Agave Nectar has been getting rock star treatment as a great sweetner alternative. It’s sweeter than sugar, so a little goes a long way, and has the consistency of a thin syrup. It’s made from the agave plant (same as tequila! woo hoo!) and doesn’t cause a spike in blood sugar levels. It does have about 60 calories in a Tablespoon, similar to white sugar but obviously less refined and processed. You can also use brown rice syrup which is more mild than agave nectar, but it does cause blood sugar to spike so it may not be great for diabetics.  Maple Syrup (the REAL kind, not Aunt Jemima’s – no offense to her) is a better alternative than honey as it is much lower in calories, and is a great source of manganese and zinc!

Please feel free to comment with some of your favorite substitutions!

Stuff yourself with stuffed (toy) food.

Over the weekend I was conducting ridiculous ebay searches, and found something truly incredible: stuffed animal tofu dolls in various colors! They are even marketed as “collectibles”. Holy gosh! They are so cute! Today, I bring you some of the cutest vegan-related food and animal toys.  Is there anyone that doesn’t like chubby little plush versions of regular everyday things? These should feed the kid in you.

These are the items that kicked off my newfound obsession with plush food. I went on ebay and searched “tofu” and found these silly, ridiculous but unabashedly awesome tofu stuffed-animals (stuffed NON-animals?). I am completely in love. The next time I have very dispensable income, you will all be mine!  And lest we forget about this HUGE TOFU that can sit on a chair in your kitchen and watch you cook! I KNOW, RIGHT!?

Friends, my birthday is in September. Hint hint.

Onward to other cute stuffed foods:

Here is an adorable set of felt veggies! I love the speckled zucchini and brown underside of the mushroom cap. Is it weird that I want to put these in a bowl in my kitchen? I bet they are soft enough that even Pierogi would crawl in and snuggle up with the green beans. More awesome felt fruits and vegetables are found in the Etsy shop, like watermelons and slicable (!) kiwis, and spaghetti with veggie-meatballs. Set from Felt Playground, $22.50 for 5 vegetables.

If you’re crafty and wield a mean crochet hook, consider buying this pattern for a vegetable garden! For a few dollars, you can make your very own window planter box and “grow” crocheted potatoes, carrots, turnips and onions. A simple change of yarn color and you can make even more vegetables, like radishes and beets! I LOVE the idea of making this for a new baby. So much more hip than the usual crochet baby blanket. Pattern from Crafty Anna, only $5.oo!

Why should humans all the fun? For some of the most truly unique cat toys you’ve ever seen, you have to check out the shop of OhBoy CatToy. All toys are made with organic catnip inside. For $10, you get a set of 2 tacos. Some of the other toys include: VanGogh’s ear, a beer mug with eyes, a camera, a roll of toilet paper, and I’m hesitant to say a... bearded clam. I wonder if they’ll ever make a pierogi, and then I could say “Pierogi is chewing on a pierogi!”. That’s kind of weird. Nonetheless, these are cute and weird and totally original. If cat toys have to be sprawled all over the living room floor, they may as well be conversation-starters. Check out OhBoy CatToy, toys starting at $3.00.

 

What smells so good?

I have been the busiest bee! I’m mostly feeling excitement, but some exhaustion and feelings of being overwhelmed creep in. I’m curious to try some aromatherapy as a way to relax, slow down a little, and recharge my mind.

There are various aromatherapy products on the market, but the most basic form of use is to dip cotton in some of the scented oil and inhale through the nose, allowing the scent to take over your senses and calm you. Some of the most frequently used scents for stress and stress-related problems are:

Anger, Anxiety: Basil, bergamot, chamomile, clary sage, cypress, frankincense, geranium, hyssop, jasmine, juniper, lavender, marjoram, melissa, neroli, ylang-ylang

Depression: Basil, clary sage, grapefruit, jasmine, lavender, melissa, neroli, rose, sandalwood, vetiver, ylang-ylang

Insomnia: Basil, chamomile, lavender, mandarin, marjoram, melissa, neroli, petitgrain, rose, sandalwood, thyme, ylang-ylang

Nervous Exhaustion: Basil, cinnamon, citronella, coriander, ginger, grapefruit, hyssop, jasmine, lavender, lemon grass, peppermint, nutmeg, rosemary, ylang-ylang

Nervous Tension: Basil, bergamot, cedarwood, chamomile, cinnamon, frankincense, geranium, jasmine, lavender, marjoram, melissa, neroli, palmarosa, rosemary, vetiver, ylang-ylang

Remember that scents are also great memory-triggers, so you can find one that brings up nice memories or that smell of a calming place to help you visualize something positive. And if you’re really lucky, you may be able to convince someone to give you a nice back massage with oil or oil-scented lotion!

Diffusers are also available, which are like small clay pots with a bottom half that holds a tea candle, and a top half above the candle where you can pour the oil of your choice, and let the scent fill a room, similar to a scented candle.

They won’t get all of your emails answered, and using scented oils may calm you down. If not, using aromatherapy certainly won’t have a negative effect! Scents can be found in some specialty grocery stores, health food stores, and online.

Check out Auroma’s website for everything you could ever want to buy or know about aromatherapy: www.auroma.com

What are your favorite calming scents?


Psst… Want to hear a secret?

This is something I hadn’t previously factored into my hush-hush surprises, still to come (new one revealed tomorrow, Yay!), but this is something monumental for me, and could turn out to benefit you, too.

So, this is my kitchen. This is where all the magic happens. It’s small but mighty, and I put that floor in myself! And here’s why I’m posting it…

I’m moving. I’m selling my home, and moving!

Not out of town, though for a long time that was the option. Things are getting so good here that my aim now is to continue to cultivate a community and identity in the Lehigh Valley. But I have decided to take residential opportunities elsewhere, and with that comes the filtering through my life for the past five years.

(I sort through boxes of books I intended to read, clothes that no longer fit, letters that were worth more than all the money in the world… these artifacts make up a unique collection of my life, a gallery of every taken opportunity or mistake learned from. When I hold them in my hands, I can view them with new perspective on the role they played in my life and how lucky, sincerely lucky I am for everything, all of it, every last part.)

So: IF YOU, OR ANYONE YOU KNOW, WOULD LIKE TO BUY A ONE-BEDROOM CONDO (rather than rent, but trust me it’s the same cost) A PLACE IN BETHLEHEM, PA – please ask them to contact me at savethekales@gmail.com. This place is IDEAL for a single person looking to build their credit as a owner, for the price of a renter!


I’m making up fliers and can post one soon,  listing all the benefits and approximate monthly cost. I’m asking $50,000 but will negotiate with a fair offer! My monthly living expenses right now for everything – literally everything from Wifi to trash costs, is $700. Yup. Good deal, right?

It’s a really lovely home and I’m only moving/selling because I want to see what this new path has in store for me. More photos available upon request, of course.

Love Note on a Napkin

I know my friends from the womens college where I did my undergrad schooling would dramatically roll their eyes at me for admitting this, but I love being domestic. Maybe it’s the novelty of acting like June Cleaver, but it brings me so much joy when I can prepare food for others, do the laundry, and occasionally dust.

One of the most wholesome small acts I enjoy is packing a lunch for my partner. I remember being in elementary school and being so excited to open my Jem and the Holograms lunchbox  (yes!!!) to see what goodies Mom had in store for me. And now, I think taking the time to prepare a wholesome, satisfying lunch for my loved one is a tiny gesture that equals big love.

Today I’m going to highlight a few products that can make packing lunches easier, cuter, and better for the environment. All products are handmade via Etsy:

Reusable Insulated Lunch Bag A classier, more adult step up from a plastic lunchbox, a good lunch bag is a great way to transport your food and prevent confusion in the break room fridge. These bags from Julie Meyer are insulated, helping to maintain the temperature of the food (hot or cold), and made of vinyl and water-resistant nylon so they can easily be washed out if your salad dressing spills. So many cute designs, it’ll be hard to choose! Prices range from $21-26, and bags can be found here: http://www.etsy.com/shop/JulieMeyer

Reusable Coffee Sleeve If you get coffee to go, you know a sleeve (usually cardboard) is essential to sparing your precious fingers from a scalding burn coming through the cup. While these sleeves are slightly better than using two cups, they are still very wasteful. Why not purchase a stylish reusable sleeve? You’ll never forget which coffee is yours when its your turn to make the coffee run for the day, and these sleeves are small enough to throw in a purse, and they’re washable! They also keep your coffee warmer for longer periods of time – like a coffee sweater! Sleeves from She Sews Lovely cost only $6.50 each, or check out her shop for deals on orders of multiple sleeves! http://www.etsy.com/shop/karley

Snack Bag Alternative While convenient, plastic snack bags are wasteful. They carry some crackers or veggie sticks for a few hours and then get tossed out. Tupperware is an alternative, but can get very clunky to carry around. Thankfully, there are many affordable (and adorable!) reusable snack bags available. These  from Snack Savers are made from high-quality cotton, and lined with water and stain resistant nylon – completely washable. They close with a thick strip of velcro. Bags come in various sizes and range in price from $6-12 ($12 for a set of two sizes). The most difficult part is choosing which designs to get! http://www.etsy.com/shop/sacksavers

Bento Box These fabulous Japanese food containers have really caught on in the United States. They are very cute, very practical, and all the little compartments make finding your food a lot of fun! You can find many types of bento boxes online and in some upscale grocery stores. Or you can get this wonderful set from Ojamiya. It comes with a hand-stamped, handmade lunch bag, a bento box with strap to close it, and chopsticks! Using a bento box is also a great way to control food portions for those of you concerned about that. This is just one of many sets, and sells for $29.50. You can find more sets here: http://www.etsy.com/shop/ojami

Bamboo Flatware Set This is a great little set to keep in your desk at work, or to take out when you know you’ll be getting food from someplace that would normally give you plasticware.  Bamboo is sustainable, and these sturdy utensils are easily cleaned with water and only need some oiling once in a while – you can read about how to take care of them on Pony Up’s  site, and also browse various designs for the handmade roll-up case. You get the utensils and case of your choice for only $20! http://www.etsy.com/shop/ponyup

What did you have for lunch today?

Take it with a grain of salt.

Salt. Some people are told by their doctors to stay far, far away from it. Some can’t eat anything unless the food is dusted in it. It has become a B-List ingredient as it’s usually haphazardly tacked onto the end of a recipe, “Salt to taste”.

These meager little crystals have earned a bad rap. While it’s true that too much salt in your diet may raise your blood pressure, there is a history behind it’s importance, and ways to use it as a flavor-enhancing and, believe it or not, nutrient-adding seasoning. As cute at the Morton’s Salt Girl is, you can do better.

It has been used for thousands of years to naturally preserve food. The ancient Egyptians used it to preserve mummies. It became something everyone needed, but only a few could mine and produce, so governments actually began to tax it! You can learn more about the history of salt in Mark Kurlansky’s book, appropriately titled Salt, A World History.

As this is primarily a cooking blog, I wanted to talk about why it’s important to switch from plain table salt to a less-processed kind. When I first began to cooking for myself as a teenager, I noticed many of my cookbooks specified using sea salt. I didn’t understand why this was of any importance, other than it looked a little fancier (and thus a little more expensive).

While the minerals that make up various salts are the same – sodium and chloride – the differences lie in taste, texture and processing. To put it plainly, table salt is highly processed and has been stripped of any minerals that it may have once contained. A basic sea salt is made by evaporating the water from which it came, leaving behind trace minerals.

It’s easy: If you are going to cook with salt, you may as well use one that has more nutrients.

If you have never seen “gourmet salts”, you are in for a treat. They do cost much more than table salt, but would make a beautiful gift for someone that loves to cook, or a nice treat for yourself. Different kinds have different flavors.

Hawaiian sea salt, for example, is dark red in color due to the addition of a volcanic baked red clay called “Alaea” which gives it iron oxide, and a mellow salty flavor. Smoked sea salt is black in color and is actually smoked over real wood fires to add that deep, smokey flavor to dishes – certainly a flavor that would enhance grilled veggies!

Sea salt can be purchased in the spice aisle of most grocery stores, and certainly at your local health food stores. A basic sea salt is not very expensive, so don’t let the prices of the gourmet salts deter you!  Get those minerals! And if nothing else, it makes you feel like a fancy-schmancy cook!