Archive for July, 2010

Minnesota Mysteries and Boxtop Bonuses

   This is one of those sublime summer mornings when the temperature is perfect for walking and the sun beams down from a classic azure sky tufted with powder puff clouds.  The kind of day that inspires an appreciation of the blessings of the outdoors.  Infused with motivation, the pup and I take off with grateful hearts for a 45 minute pre-breakfast march through the park. 

Rounding the corner of a neighboring block and heading toward home, we are assaulted first by a blast of heavy metal rock music and then by a horrifying sight:  a woman, tucked into the far, dark, grimy recesses of her garage, labors away on a treadmill, some cable T.V. channel blaring at her as she huffs and pumps her way toward her fitness goal for the day. 

My mind screams with confusion.  Why would anyone pass up the opportunity to be outside on a day like today – anyone living in a state where residents spend half the year cursing the ice dams at the end of their driveways and yearning to leave their cabin fever behind them in a pile by the fireplace, along with the ubiquitous Minnesota lap robe? 

I have a white-blurred mental flash of all those days when many (I am the fool who trudges right on through sleet and snow) are forced inside to chug away on whatever apparatus they have managed to wedge into the last empty corner of their basement.  

Led Zeppelin fading into the distance behind us, my mind drifts to a recent Saturday when my husband and I actually ate our dinner seated on the weight-training equipment in a dank corner of our own basement, as we tracked warnings connected to a few capricious tornadoes that skittered around us. 

That night my jittery mind had entertained fears about  power surges and a fried home computer system, and losing hundreds of filed recipes, not to mention countless hours of labor spent on various writing projects.  “But wait,” I remember thinking – note my priorities, if you will – “There is a whole storehouse of good recipes printed on food packages right in my very own kitchen.” 

When the danger passed with no damage done, I scrambled upstairs to scour my cupboards for some samples, like Effortless Spinach Salad using Ocean Spray Craisins, Chicken and Dried Plum Pizza from the Mariani Premium Pitted Prunes folks, Oat Bran Muffins from everybody’s favorite grandfather figure, the Quaker Oats guy, Amaranth Date Nut Bread from the Arrowhead Mills people, and from Bob’s Red Mill, Five Grain Cookies, Tabbouleh Cracked Wheat Salad, and Outrageous Soy Flour Muffins, loaded with tasty extras.  (Recipes below.) 

Have you gone on a treasure hunt through your pantry lately? (more…)

July 29, 2010 at 11:30 pm Leave a comment

Dog Wisdom: Life Lessons From a Petite Pooch

Muneca and Friend

When I was growing up we had a Cocker Spaniel named Richie who had to be as patient and loving a creature as God ever created. When there was a litter of kittens under the same roof, Richie tolerantly allowed them to ride him, rodeo style, around the living room. He even sat by uncomplainingly as they helped themselves to his food dish, moving in only after they had finished nibbling away at this dinner. And he was the best comfort a child could hope for, head on my knee through a scary T.V. program or warming my feet through a cold winter night. 

Unfortunately, dear Richie was succeeded by several generations of overbred, neurotic Cockapoos, who terrorized the now-grown cats and attacked their own doggie reflections in the full-length mirror three or four times a day for years. So I’m certainly not claiming here that exposure to all canines is equally edifying. But my tender memories of dear Richie will never cease to bring a serene smile to my face. 

Jumping decades ahead, my husband and I had shared our home with several pairs of felines for the first 21 years of our marriage when our neighbors relocated, and our sympathies were stirred by the soulful expression of their displaced and confused pup, a two-year-old Chihuahua-Papillon mix weighing in at 6.5 pounds. Over a year later, tiny Muñeca – Spanish for Little Doll – has found a permanent place in our home and our hearts. And observing her closely for the past 18 months has taught me a few things about… 

Relating to others: Make sure you have sniffed them out a bit first, but then throw yourself wholeheartedly into a friendly relationship, expecting the best and appreciating each for their own unique offerings. And never forget the way to a friend’s house. (more…)

July 23, 2010 at 5:30 pm Leave a comment

Marvelous Melons and Not-So-Glittering Generalizations About Weather

    “Minnesota is either too hot or too cold,” my Florida-craving stepmother once observed.  That phrase in turn inspired her brief rendition of Jimmy Dorsey’s lyrical lament on behalf of the gals (and in regard to the guys) left stateside during World War II:  “They are either too young or too old…Either they’re gray or they’re grassy green…The pickings are poor and the crop is lean.” 

While we do sometimes seem to be hurled abruptly from the deep freeze of winter into the cauldron of summer heat and humidity, weather absolutes of course invite refutation – just as the Dorsey verse must have raised objections among the “gray and grassy green.”  Weather statistics confirm that we did have a smattering of lovely days in the upper 70s just a few weeks ago, for example, although the memory of them melts away pretty quickly from a brain exposed to 90+ degree temps and a wet blanket of air that holds water vapor like a freshly baked loaf of French bread sucks up warm olive oil. 

As I write this, the official readings for the Twin Cities are a temperature of 83° with 58% relative humidity and a dew point (whatever that is) of 65.  I don’t know where these guys take their measurements, but my suburban thermometer reads 90, in the shade – literally. 

But weather-gauging arguments aside, I do know that when I walk every day, year-round, my body doesn’t seem to be jarred by seasonal changes, so perhaps nature does ease us more gently from “hot to cold” than fickle human perceptions apprehend.  And I also know that I am blessed – or cursed – with an appetite that is virtually never diminished by atmospheric conditions.  So into the kitchen I take my shower-refreshed self to drum up something tasty but light, since not everyone is endowed with my steel-hulled constitution. 

I return to basics and assemble a classic favorite, Cobb Salad, and turn to my recipe files to ferret out a version of Honey-Pecan Bran Muffins I came up with a few months ago.  For a final course, some chilled, cubed Canary Melon.  I discovered this lovely, mildy sweet variety just last week, and managed to impress my table mates with the find.

I think, as summer menus go, you could call that a meal.  I like these muffins so much that I eat them without spread, but a schmear of orange juice flavored margarine would be lovely, too.  Tall glasses of brewed iced tea with lemon or lime wedges round out this hot weather lunch or dinner.  Just remember to bake the muffins first thing in the morning.  Even a devoted cook can’t stand the heat and gets out of the kitchen at some point. (more…)

July 19, 2010 at 11:02 pm Leave a comment

Teaching Our Children What It Means To Be an American

    On Sunday, July 4, like thousands of Americans, I attended church – the freedom to do so being a particularly poignant privilege on the occasion of Independence Day. Our pastor gave an exceptional sermon inspired by Galatians 5:1, “Stand fast, therefore, in the liberty by which Christ has set us free,” and warned of the dangers of incrementalism. To open the service, we sang Christ, by Heavenly Hosts Adored, a hymn by Henry Harbaugh. Two lines into verse three, my throat tightened to an aching lump and biting tears stung my eyelids. See if you have the same reaction:

                                                  Let our rulers ever be

                                                  Men that love and honor Thee;

                                                  Let the powers by Thee ordained

                                                  Be in righteousness maintained

                                                  In the people’s hearts increase

                                                  Love of piety and peace

                                                  Thus united, we shall stand

                                                  One wide free and happy land.

My pained response to these sweet sentiments welled up from a harbor of uncertainty deep inside of me. We like to believe that things will right themselves within a political system that encompasses a brilliantly designed set of checks and balances. But even the noblest of systems is as corruptible as the men and women who operate within in it.

When many have come to accept a 30% return on their tax dollar for the privilege of allowing political entities to perpetuate the social problems they claim to address, I have to ask myself:  Have we actually availed ourselves of the Founders’ intended protections from the creeping expansion of centralized power over the lives of individuals, or has post World War II abundance lulled us into complacency –  like Martin Luther’s smug frog, who sits and enjoys his warm saucepan bath, not noticing that the water is getting dangerously hot?  Have incremental exchanges of personal freedoms here and now for the vague guarantee of future benefits slowly sapped us of our reverence for self-sufficiency and fierce individualism?

A recent YouTube clip circulating on the internet features talk show host Dennis Prager being asked the question, “What is the biggest single threat to the future of America?”  Mr. Prager replies, “The single biggest threat to the future of America is our failure to teach our children what it means to be an American.” He argues that if people cannot even articulate what it is that makes America unique, they’ll never comprehend the importance of preserving those principles that led Abraham Lincoln to call it “The last best hope for mankind.”

And I argue that perhaps we’ve stopped teaching the historical facts that lead one to an awed respect for the cycle of events and the degree of personal sacrifice that brought about this grand experiment. Exceptionalism isn’t arrogance, and it isn’t a shallow sense of parochial devotion to one’s homeland. It is the magnet that pulls others from all corners of the globe to seek a better life for themselves and their families; it is the difference between being a land of opportunity and a wasteland of underachievement. (more…)

July 14, 2010 at 3:53 pm Leave a comment

Health Care Catch-22s and Other Modern Day Challenges

   Here’s a solution to the politically-exploited “health care crisis” for you: Stay well.  Now don’t yell at me.  I know there are people beset by environmental risks beyond their control or by genetically ordained conditions.  My husband is one of them.  But those in the know tell us its the epidemic of preventable diseases that threatens to overwhelm our once-thriving medical system. 

In his 1988 Surgeon General’s report, C. Everett Koop blames the American diet for two-thirds of illness-related deaths in the U.S. each year.  Combine poor eating habits with inactivity and you can add to that grim statistic long-term suffering with heart disease, strokes, some cancers, Type II diabetes, high blood pressure, depression, chronic fatigue, stress disorders, and even Alzheimer’s.  That’s one blaring wake-up call. 

So here’s the Catch-22 part:  My husband – who discovered new hope for complications stemming from 50 years of trying to control inherited Type I diabetes by adopting Dr. Richard K. Bernstein’s approach – lost 35 pounds, reduced his overall cholesterol level by 30 per cent, brought his blood pressure into normal range, reduced the amount of insulin he takes, slashed his triglyceride count, and regained control over his blood sugars. 

Great news, huh?  You’d think he would have left the doctor’s office with a medal rather than a new prescription.  Sadly, since they keep lowering the targeted range for ideal test results, you’re less likely to get a pat on the back for progress than a skeptical scowl for declining to pump more drugs into your body – even when your earnest efforts are paying off quite nicely for you, thanks anyway. 

The logical deduction? We have to be our own researchers, educators, and advocates.  The information is out there, and it doesn’t have to be complicated – or Spartan.  Move around more; exercise pumps up the immune system and boosts insulin sensitivity.  Read labels religiously.  Better yet, prepare your own wholesome meals.  Eat a colorful variety of fresh foods.  Fill half your plate with unsauced vegetables and the rest with complex carbohydrates and lean meats. Discover how delicious seafood can be.  End each meal with fruit. 

And, of course, read my postings here whenever you have the chance.  I will always red-flag “once-in-a-while” desserts,  otherwise what you’ll get are good-tasting, nutritionally-dense offerings, like recipes for Smothered Pork Chops in White Wine, Brown Rice with Currants, Green Beans with Chopped Toasted Walnuts, and Grilled Nectarines with Crumbled Feta.  If this is sacrificing, then I’m a martyr ’til the end.  (more…)

July 9, 2010 at 2:54 pm Leave a comment

Not-So-Odd Couples and Strange Platefellows

   Social psychologists tell us that we tend to be attracted to a mate who looks like us, having become accustomed to our own face in the mirror over a few decades and human nature predisposing us to find the familiar appealing.  There are, of course, glaring exceptions, but have you ever stopped to notice how many couples look as if they could be brother and sister? 

Figure into this theory the propensity for folks who live together to pick up each other’s mannerisms over the years, and the old saw that married couples end up looking alike is thrown into its proper light:  We probably start out more similar than we realize, and a lifetime of rubbing off on each other simply reinforces that impression to the outside world.  Not sure if that holds true for personality traits as well. 

Well, that’s me going off on a tangent again when my actual theme is the science behind combining foods to enhance the nutritional value of each component – kinda’ like my husband’s cool, rational yang completing my emotionally-charge yin.  (How’s that for a retrofitted transition?)   The whole – and again I see a parallel – being greater than the sum of its parts. 

I’ll turn my spell-checker off and give you some examples.  You guacamole purists might want to reconsider when you hear that lycopene, the highly pigmented carotenoid found in tomatoes, is more available for absorption during digestion when paired with those lovely omega-three fats in avocadoes.  And oatmeal eaten with orange juice doubles the efficacy of heart-healthy organic compounds called phenols found in each.  That’s a twofer I can appreciate, although I always opt for the additional fiber and phytonutrients of whole fruit over juice. 

I’ve listed more dynamic duos at the end of this piece, but I’ll confess to having no idea whether the combined ingredients in my Turkey, Wild Rice, and Nectarine Burgers bolster each other nutritionally, ‘though they seem to do well in the taste department.  This very simple meal – inspired by a local foodie’s Wild Rice and Blueberry Hamburgers, which sounded fascinating but had too many fat-and-calorie-boosting fillers for my tastes – can be rounded out with Ciabatta-Style Honey Wheat Buns, a big Mixed Greens Salad, Foolproof Corn on the Cob, and a bowl of Red Grapes. 

If you toss some Toasted Walnuts or Roasted Peanuts onto the salad to complete an amino acid chain with the whole wheat bread and set out a bowl of Premium Dark Chocolate to munch with the grapes, the resulting nutritional powerhouse may just knock you off your feet – a perfect position in which to nap, and perchance to dream about your future look-alike soul mate. (more…)

July 3, 2010 at 1:21 pm Leave a comment

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July 2010
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