Archive for March, 2011

Not-So-Expert Advice

Have you heard? Salt is the new fat. Remember when dietary fat was the mortal enemy of anyone aspiring to reasonably good health? Avoid it, we were told, unless you want to be the willing architect of your own premature heart attack. Fat was the single most culpable culprit in obesity; it served no good purpose; it clogged the arteries and packed itself around our vital organs. Especially stern warnings were issued against the monstrous threat lurking in a tub of movie theater popcorn. 

But long-term research confirms that, while calorie-dense, lipids provide fatty acids essential to bodily functions and that many of the “good fats” actually help lower cholesterol – fats like olive, canola, safflower, and palm…What??!! Palm oil? That villainous inspiration for tirades from self-appointed arbiters of health like the Center for Science in the Public Interest? The very substance that made commercially-popped corn a dietary snare contrived to cut costs for the greedy vendor while simultaneously bumping-off cash-paying customers? (It’s not mylogic, folks.) Can it be true that it’s not one of the bad guys after all? 

Confusion is understandable, considering the hype that accompanies sensational health scare pronouncements when they first hit the pipeline. But according to numerous updated reports, the nutritional and health benefits of palm oil are staggering. Found to be rich in vitamins E and A, a source of desirable HDL cholesterol, and fifteen times richer in beta carotene than a carrot, earlier claims of its adverse effects seem designed to baffle. Such industry-destroying hysterics presumably provide job security to the “authorities” cited, but what about the hapless bamboozled consumer?  

And eggs. Why, those little cholesterol time-bombs were to be disdained and avoided., useful only to mischievous teenagers with Halloween mayhem on their minds. Help yourself to the tasteless, colorless albumens, but send the yolks right down the drain. One or two eggs per week was the maximum recommendation back in the 80s.  

That story sure has changed. Now the Journal of the American College of Nutrition reports, “Data from free-living populations show that egg consumption is not associated with higher cholesterol levels [and] epidemiologic literature does not support the idea that egg consumption is a risk factor for coronary disease.” 

The Journal of Nutritionconcurs: “Although [the recommendation to limit intake] may be useful for certain individuals with a history of elevated plasma cholesterol or established coronary heart disease, it is unwarranted for the vast majority of the population and may actually have negative nutritional implications.  

As a whole food, eggs are an inexpensive and low calorie source of nutrients such as folate, riboflavin, selenium, choline and vitamins B-12 and A. Eggs are also one of the few exogenous sources of vitamins K and D. Furthermore, eggs are a source of high quality protein, and the lipid matrix of the yolk serves to enhance the bio-availabilityy of nutrients such as lutein and zeaxanthin.” I’m converted. 

So, what beloved substance should zealots target next to create uneasy consciences amongst the citizenry and keep themselves gainfully employed? Why salt, silly. Gotta’ have a bogeyman, some simplistic explanation for the problem of ill health.  

This particular campaign really raises my hackles because salt is my last “vice,” and now I have to defend it every time I turn around. I’m starting to feel like the poor soul Mark Twain describes, who has cleaned up his act to the extent that when his doctor tells him to give up some bad habits in order to regain good health, finds himself in a sinking ship with nothing left to throw overboard.  (more…)

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March 27, 2011 at 1:58 am 2 comments

Soup Week – Not To Be Confused With Weak Soup

Two weeks ago, my bff Rae sent me a photo of a flowering Tabebuia tree currently blossoming in her yard.  The subject line of the email reads, “I guess it’s officially spring!” 

Well, maybe in Florida it is.  Not so here in East Central Minnesota.  As of the second week of March, I still can’t see my 5’2” next door neighbor standing by her vehicle when I walk down my driveway.  The culprit is not poor vision, it’s that imposing barricade of mounded snow – the result of shoveling our record-approaching snowfall out of the way for the past four and a half months.  Even as I type up these notes, more flakes appear and drift lightly to earth. 

78.7”  That’s the figure I’m hearing when I dare to peek at televised weather reports.  Sometimes it’s better not knowing these things. 

A safer bet for non-stressful television viewing is a local program that broadcasts, among other things, recipes and shopping bargains of interest to Twin Cities’ residents.  I tune in most weekdays for some lighthearted chatter as I eat a late, post-snow-trudge lunch, fascinated by a regular feature called Kitchen Takeover.  In these segments, a local media-savvy chef goes into the homes of viewers and teaches them how to introduce some novelty into family meals using ingredients they already have on hand.  The very thought sends shudders down my spine.  So much for the non-stressful bit. 

Surely I can’t be the only observer to whom this sounds more like a living nightmare than a dream come true.  I’ll grant you that it makes for good television.  But I don’t even allow my family and friends into my kitchen to help with clean-up when they’ve just finished dining at my table.  There are numerous reasons for this, not the least of which is that, even though I clean up along the way like Mom taught me, my prep area still looks as if it had been marauded by a hoard of Huns by the time everything gets dished up and set on the table. 

And doesn’t anybody else out there cook in a decades-old kitchen with warped cabinetry, dulled counter tops, squeaky drawers, and cracking linoleum?  Certainly not the eager beaverettes who gobble up the chance to invite this handsome stranger in to rummage around in their pantries.

This brings me to fess up to the foundational source of my horror at the thought:  I subscribe to the Erma Bombeck credo that it is much easier on the conscience to pack away every tiny bit of leftover food into a tightly covered container and then throw it away two weeks later, after it has started to reproduce and turn odd colors.  This practice makes me a bit self-conscious about inviting guests into the clearing-up process.  Just imagine having a celebrity chef rooting around amongst all the various petri dishes.  I can’t even. 

But keeping dibs and dabs of leftovers has advantages as well, and in my defense, I rescue far more of those little bits and bobs than ever get sacrificed to the garbage disposal – which I don’t have in my 52 year old kitchen.  One excellent use for them is in homemade soups, and this being just one more in a long succession of wintry days here in the Upper Midwest, a week of soups seems just the prescription to soothe the weary soul who longs for fresh cantaloupe, but will no doubt miss these bubbling pots of heartiness when the summer heat and humidity come rolling in. 

So, from my own files and adapted from other cited sources, I offer you recipes for Chicken Lentil Soup With Celery, Light Tomato Soup Three Ways, a swoon-inducing Sweet Potato Soup, my carnivore’s version of Rachel Ray’s Curried Vegetable Soup, the Leftover Maven’s favorite Mish Mash Beef Chowder, and finally, Christmas Soup, based on a recipe from Alton Brown.   

That’s six days’ worth; on the seventh day, you rest, and serve up a soup-sampling smorgasbord to ensure that there are no leftover leftovers.  As always, non-foodies can skip to the last paragraph.  (more…)

March 17, 2011 at 2:25 am Leave a comment

Leg Lifts and Legacies

I have a wonky thumb. Actually, I have two wonky thumbs, but one of them has wonked its way past painful to merely unreliable. Doctors say the wonkiness stems from a mysterious, non-arthritic deterioration of the basal joints; I blame it on the contortions I put those digits through doing Stupid Kid Tricks in third grade. Whatever the explanation, I occasionally get frustrated trying to open a jar or peel a potato, and start to grumble about the inconvenience. 

Blam, blurts the voice of reason from a remote corner of my psyche, reminding me of all those noble souls who have true physical challenges to deal with. At this point, disgusted though I am over the lapse, I have to laugh at myself. I am blessed, who knows why, with a very well-functioning body, in spite of many years of neglect and downright abuse when I was younger.  

Praise the Lord, and pass the aerobics DVDs. Hand me a few ten-pound dumbbells while we’re at it. Following a few sporadic commitments to fitness in the 80s and 90s, I am finally four-and-a-half years into a true lifestyle metamorphosis – a walking, talking example of how it’s never too late to get (and stay) in shape. The longer you wait, she sighed knowingly, the less likely that “shape” will be rebounding to its teenage proportions. But there’s no age limit on attaining cardiac, vascular, flexibility, endurance, disease and injury prevention, mental acuity, cholesterol, and blood sugar benefits. 

Introductory remarks concluded, let the true pontificating begin. But seriously folks, try on this second installment of the wellness lecture series and see how it fits you. Use what you can; tuck some of it away for consideration. And do chime in with your take on the subject. Nothing speaks more eloquently than real life experience, and the whole idea is to inspire each other to be our most vigorous selves. 

Chapter Two: The Foundations of Physical Fitness 

There are tons of recommendations floating around about exercise, so many that people cringe at the mention of the word. Physical activity is probably a better term for what is missing from our lives that our fitter, leaner ancestors had plenty of – you’ll forgive the prepositional ending. The pioneers had no need to invest in a stair-stepper, and few Depression era parents belonged to health clubs or trained for marathons. 

Thirty minutes a day has become the standard minimum “moving-about” prescription for restoring some physical balance to our sedentary lifestyles; an hour of aerobic-level effort is probably closer to what our circulatory systems require. However, since anything is better than nothing, let’s start from that premise. Remember, too, that you can sneak in little snatches of movement throughout the day to effectively fool yourself into getting even more of The E Word than you ever thought you could wedge into your overloaded schedule.  

So, thinking in terms of a moderately-paced lunch hour stroll for starters, try enhancing your conditioning endeavors with these strategies for success:  (more…)

March 8, 2011 at 4:29 pm 1 comment


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Recipe. According to Encarta, "a list of ingredients and instructions for making something." The thesaurus offers the alternate terms, "formula, guidelines, directions, steps, technique."

And what is the "something" we are aiming for here? Simply a life of robust good health in every important area - spiritual, physical, cognitive, and emotional.

To that end we offer inspirational real-life stories about PEOPLE OF FAITH AND COURAGE; menus and cooking directions meant to fuel your creative inclinations and your healthy body in the form of MUSINGS OF A MIDWESTERN FOODIE; and ADVICE FOR LIFE from the perspective of those who have lived it to maturity. (Click on the green category tabs at the top of this page to learn more about each section.)

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