"The researches of so many eminent scientific men have thrown so much darkness upon the subject that if they continue their researches we shall soon know nothing."

- Artemus Ward

“If you aren’t confused about health and nutrition, then you haven’t studied it long enough or deeply enough.”

- Matt Stone

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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Starvation rations

This is a picture of my breakfast this morning. Coconut pancakes with a side of bacon. Does it look like I'm deprived? Yet the scale dropped again this morning. I'm now down 110 pounds, with 10 lost just since mid-March. And yet I eat food like this *every day*. In fact this is the same thing I had for dinner last night - though today I'm shaking it up a bit later on with a shrimp and scallop stir-fry with snow peas and mushrooms and garlic, and I have some chicken livers lined up for later on in the week.

Besides, only 4 eggs left until my next Real Food delivery on Saturday, so I have to husband them wisely. :-)

Yet when most people think of the word "diet" they think of starvation rations. Breakfasts of a small fat-free yogurt and a slice of dry toast with black coffee. Lunch of a small salad with minimal dressing. Dinner of a dry skinless chicken breast. etc. In many ways I feel it goes back to our Puritan roots - obesity is a *sin* caused by gluttony and sloth, and therefore you must do penance to atone for it - which includes starvation rations.

And I'm sure everyone hears that all "diets" are doomed to failure, and inevitably people gain back the weight they have struggled to lose. Yet I am currently rereading "Good Calories, Bad Calories" where Taubes mentions that the statistics on the high percentage of diet failure are *all* based on calorie-restricted diets.

Yet surely you must restrict calories to lose weight? Isn't that what everyone says? I don't have the answers, but the more I read the more I am convinced that it's the kind of calories that matter, and not the specific number. And what kind?

Well I don't think low fat is the answer. I don't think high grains is the answer. I do think adequate protein is part of the answer, and that decent levels of fat is part of the answer. And I definitely don't think sugars or refined grains have any part in the answer, nor high-PUFA vegetable oils.

So I don't even *count* my calories. In fact I don't count anything these days. I just eat to appetite from the food groups I allow myself - good fats, good carbs, good proteins, no processed foods with long lists of frankenfood ingredients. Basically everything is made at home from scratch. I'm a supermarket perimeter shopper. That's where all the real foods are. I don't even go down the aisles unless I need toilet paper or laundry detergent.

Do I have the final answer? Damn, I wish I did. I don't think anyone has it yet. But this way seems to be working for now. 110 pounds down total, and other health markers improved as well.

But I keep reading books and blogs. I don't want to become too wedded to my own beliefs, as who knows what new truths will come to light tomorrow.

Coconut Pancakes

- 1/4 cup cream
- 2 eggs
- 2 Tbsp coconut flour
- 2 Tbsp whey protein powder (optional)
- 2 tsp baking powder
- pinch of celtic sea salt
- packet of Truvia if desired

Mix all ingredient together in a bowl until smoothly blended. If necessary add water to thin the consistency. Then cook as you would any pancakes, though you need to keep them small - like silver dollar pancakes. Otherwise they are unlikely to flip well! I usually have them with bacon. I cook the bacon first, then cook the pancakes in the bacon grease. Otherwise I cook them in coconut oil.

P.S. - based on the comment I got I did try adding 2 tbsp of whey protein powder to the mix. I'm not sure yet if I like it better, but it does make them come out with more of a "pancakey" texture.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Make a Joyful Noise

I sing alto in a church choir. Besides singing weekly for the Sunday service we also perform two concerts a year, one at Christmas and one in the spring. Today is the day for our spring concert, and I finally feel pretty comfortable with the music and ready to go.

This morning at church I happened to pass one of the sopranos in the hallway. She has a lovely trained voice and has been a paid choir section leader for years, though she is singing as a volunteer with us. Her husband teaches voice and has one of the best tenor voices I've heard, and he sings with us as well.

As we passed she reached out and stopped me. "I just wanted to tell you", she said, "what a lovely voice you have. I'm not usually in a place where I can hear you, but the other day I happened to be placed where I could hear you singing. I was really surprised. I told my husband, 'wow, Deb Cusick has a really nice voice'. That's a fine instrument you have there. Congratulations."

Naturally I was quite chuffed, and even managed to just thank her graciously, unlike the "old me" who would probably, instead, have started sputtering out all the things that were wrong with my voice.

So, other than tooting my own horn, what does this have to do with a food blog? Nothing specifically perhaps. But someone who is ill-nourished is unlikely to be able to sing well. There is a lot involved in singing, breath control probably being one of the most important. You have to be able to get the breath support from deep within your diaphragm, and to control it to be able to sustain a line.

Someone who is ill-nourished is also likely to have weaker muscles, less diphragm control, just less energy all around.

I certainly had less energy back in the "bad old days". Our choir director often makes us stand to rehearse certain numbers, especially for a final rehearsal. That used to kill me! I never had the energy to stand and sing, and would stubbornly stay in my chair while everyone else was on their feet. And I could never take in enough breath to sustain me to the end of a line, and was constantly having to sneak in little catch breaths.

Here we are at the dress rehearsal yesterday. I'm the one in the second row to the far right, with my head tilted inward. We were rehearsing the second half of the program here. But the first half features a performance of Randall Thompson's "The Peaceable Kingdom" as well as his well-known "Alleluia". Both are a capella works and we will sing them straight through. "The Peaceable Kingdom" alone takes about 20 minutes to perform.

Since it's a capella the orchestra will have moved, and the choir will come out and stand in front of the organ console to perform the work. So that was how we rehearsed it yesterday. Since it was a rehearsal it didn't take 20 minutes! We had to keep going back and repeating things, so it was probably more like 40 minutes, plus the Alleluia. So that was more like 45 minutes straight on my feet for rehearsal. I could never have done that in the days when my diet was so much worse, and I weighed 109 pounds more than I do now. I would have had to walk off and sit in a pew.

So energy and strength are certainly among the good things I have been acquiring, and which have helped me greatly with my voice. I came home from church and had some delicious parmesan-crusted chicken thighs and some coconut-rhubarb compote for lunch, and that will surely sustain me through the concert.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Farmer's Markets

I love farmer's markets, or the idea of farmer's markets - fresh local produce brought directly to you, the consumer, at the height of ripeness. Although, alas, many "farmer's markets" don't fit that bill. There is a farmer's market in the park across from my office every Wednesday during the summer. But the farmers are in short supply. It's mostly prepared food vendors - local restaurants setting up stands to sell hot lunches to the business crowd. There is one token purveyor of produce (although with lots of pies and breads and cookies) but it depresses me so to see the bananas and oranges offered for sale there, and wondering where New Jersey's orange groves and banana plantations are. Local produce????

But the farmer's market in nearby Montclair, NJ is a fabulous one - a shining example of all that a farmer's market should be. I wait each year for it to open, usually in June. But my run-in with the "seasonal produce" google gadget made me realize I had read somewhere that there was a spring farmer's market open in Montclair.

So I went over this morning. Yes, there were two local vendors there. One was selling freshly made Polish food - sauerkraut, stuffed cabbage, kielbasa, some other meats, pierogies, etc. The other was a farm vendor. Sure enough, his only fresh produce was lovely asparagus, but he also had fresh eggs, grass-fed meats, freshly-made cheeses, his own tomato sauces. Their sauces are lovely - made with fresh ingredients and spices, with no preservatives or additives, no sugar, no HFCS. I especially love their vodka sauce which is a standard tomato sauce but with the addition of vodka (naturally) and heavy cream. I nearly bought a jar before I remembered I was avoiding nightshades for the time being. :-)

But I did buy some grass-fed ground beef, some fresh asparagus, and a container of the Polish sauerkraut. I began trying to quiz the vendors about how the sauerkraut was made but they hadn't a clue. They did assure me that it was made by a Polish lady using old-fashioned Polish methods. Well shades of Dr. Kwasniewski - I figured it was far better than supermarket sauerkraut and bought some of that too.

And as I was driving home I got the email that my Real Food order was in, so I just went right on to pick up my order of 3 dozen pastured eggs, 1 quart of grass-fed heavy cream, and two packages of dog food meat (beef ground up with all the bones, blood and organs) for my collie, Bran.

So all in all it was a good morning's haul, and I'm less peeved now about my google gadget. I had delicious orange pancakes for breakfast (sour cream, an egg, a pinch of salt, some baking powder, a rounded spoonful of coconut flour, a rounded tbsp of low-sugar orange marmalade, and some water to make it the right consistency) with some Whole Foods bacon, I have two pork loin cutlets marinating right now in a pork marinade from Julia Child's "The Art of French Cooking" for dinner - maybe with some saurkraut, or fresh asparagus, and maybe some more of my caramelized onions. Tomorrow I'll do something with the grass-fed ground beef, yesterday I had delicious chicken livers with caramelized onions, as well as a great veggie (red cabbage, zucchini, mushroom) omelet with Wensleydale cheese. I feel like I've been eating like a Queen lately, and the scale has dropped a couple pounds over the last few days. Can't beat that. :-)

Pretty Chickens's Caramelized Onion recipe:

- 3-4 pounds of onions, peeled, sliced into slices 1/4 to 1/3 inch thick, then separated into rings
- 1 cup (two sticks) butter

Put one stick of butter on the bottom of a slow cooker (you can slice up into pats if you want). Then put all the onion rings on top. Then slice the second stick of butter into pats and put on top of the onions. Turn the slow cooker on to low for about 14 hours, and you will have perfect caramelized onions! Chickens's recipe did not include salt. but I *might* add a pinch of salt if I make these again.

What's up with Google Gadgets?

Hmmm, this is really just a silly sort of rant I suppose. But when I first set up this blog I thought it would be cool to include some nice google gadgets to dress it up a bit Of course there are thousands of google gadgets, so what to add? Since this is a blog that centers around food I thought a food-related gadget would be fun to include.

So I searched the gadgets and found one called "Seasonal Foods". Its little description reads:

Seasonal Fruits and Vegetables. Every day see the fruits and vegetables which are in season in your area. See what foods are growing near you. Click to find recipes for any ingredient. Fresh, seasonal food should be an important part of our everyday diet. Support your local farmers and growers and see what is available in your area for the freshest, most delicous foods you can find.

And this sounded perfect to me! I'm moving in the direction of being more of a locavore which would involve eating fresh foods in season. When I started my blog in March the gadget sadly told me that nothing was in season in the NY area in March. But now in April I'm starting to see things...but my list is: apples, onions, potatoes, turnips....

Hmmm, seems like an odd list to me. I mean apples and potatoes seem like classic *fall* foods to me, not foods that are in season in mid-April. Heck, the apple blossoms are barely starting to bud! So where does this list come from. This site shows asparagus and spinach as being fresh in NJ at this time but does list apples, onions, potatoes and turnips (and a few others) being available locally from area greenhouses.

Okay, I guess that is still local. But hothouse products were not what I had in mind for a gadget promising to show the produce that was in season. I thought it would show lists with items more like this:

Oh well, I'll keep it for a while and see what it comes up with as the growing season progresses. Otherwise I may be gadget shopping again.

On a personal note, I have lost 6 pounds in the last month, so that is a total of 108 pounds lost. Yay me. I'm having to break out jeans that were still a tad too tight for comfort a month ago. Now they are feeling fine.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Babies - then and now

(John, March 2010)
Yesterday on my way to art class I stopped by to visit with my 7-month-old grandson, John. John is clearly the cutest baby on the face of the earth at this time. :-) He's a sturdy little guy, and at 30+ inches long and 21+ pounds he's big for his age. But though you seem to hear a lot about the obesity epidemic, even in infants, John is clearly not fat. Sure he has baby fat, but just the normal round cheeks and chubby thighs of a well-nourished infant.

I'm so impressed with the care and attention John's parents give him, and how determined they are to do the right things to raise him in a happy and healthy and well-nourished manner. Yet don't most of us wish to do the same thing? I know that was certainly my own goal in raising my son, but the paths of knowledge I had available to me in 1978 were not even close to those available to new parents today.

John has been breast-fed from birth, but he is now also a fearless eater, willingly trying new things. His parents use a baby food grinder to puree their various adult foods into things for John to try. One of his favorites is a mixed banana-and-liver puree. Did baby food grinders exist in 1978 when my son Brock was born? My sister, whose oldest was born in 1981, says she used the food grinders for all of her children.

Yet when Brock was born in 1978 I had never heard of such a thing. I had never seen a baby food mill, my pediatrician never suggested such a thing, no one else that I knew who had babies or small children had ever used such a thing. Babies were fed "baby food". I was, then as now, widely read and had dozens of books on child-rearing and feeding, and none of those had anything about baby food mills in them. In that pre-google era it was sometimes hard to know what you didn't know.

But I "knew" some things about the way I wanted to raise my child. I knew I wanted to breast-feed him for one thing. Luckily, in 1978, that was a relatively easy thing to do. I was a breast-fed baby myself, and when my mom chose to do that with me in 1952 she was regarded as almost mentally deranged. In her solidly middle-class world this was not "done". Babies were almost exclusively formula-fed, and she had to fight tooth-and-nail against her doctor and the hospital, who were determined to give her injections to dry up her milk. Mom was really quite a pioneer in the back-to-breastfeeding movement.

But by 1978 the movement was well underway. When I was admitted to the maternity ward I was matter-of-factly asked "breast or bottle" so that I could be paired with a roommate doing the same thing. We breast-feeders were a minority still, but a very sizable one.

I had also, in my reading, come across reports stating that babies who were breast-fed exclusively, with no solids foods, up to the age of 6 months, were less likely to become obese as adults than babies who were introduced to solid foods earlier. So I had decided on breast-milk only for at least 6 months. But I didn't accomplish this goal. Brock was a big baby at birth, 8 lbs. 14 oz., and he continued to grow steadily on his breast-milk diet, so by the time he was 4 months old the pediatrician felt he needed to start getting introduced to solid foods.

So I started slowly introducing him to "baby foods". It seems amazing to me now - but back then baby foods were almost all heavily adulterated with sugar and salt. Heck, maybe food coloring too. But I was totally determined *not* to fill my baby with sucrose. Despite my incomplete knowledge even back in 1978 I had the nebulous idea that things like table sugar and white flour were bad for your health, and I was determined to keep them away from my baby as long as possible.

By 1978 baby foods that were sugar and salt free were just beginning to appear on the market, and I was a ruthless reader of labels. So Brock got nothing with added sugars or salt, his baby food being supplemented by foods that were easily soft or easily mashable - gently scrambled eggs, unsweetened applesauce, mashed bananas, mashed sweet potato. And I continued to breast feed.

My pediatrician told me that babies were not capable of digesting cow's milk prior to about 8 months of age, so that if I stopped breast-feeding before then I would need to go to formula. But after 8 months I could transition him to cow's milk. But I was not to give him full-fat cow's milk! I was told this was too fatty for babies. Fortunately he didn't suggest skim milk. He did tell me, quite correctly, that babies *need* fat in their diets - but that 1% or 2% milk would be fine.

So again I was determined to breast-feed past 8 months as I didn't want to expose my son to that "evil" formula. I began weaning him, finally, at 10 months, in preparation for my return to the work force, and we transitioned to 2% milk as I was fearful about going against my doctor's advice about the full-fat milk, but the 1% was just too thin and watery for me to want to give it to my child.

But Brock thrived and was a healthy baby - and had the usually baby chubbiness without being the least bit obese. He was a normal, healthy weight.

And in fact I came to appreciate the US baby food market even more when I took Brock up to his first summer vacation in Canada in August of 1979. Baby food in jars does travel well when unopened, and I took a big cache of it up to Canada with me. And I was happy I had done it as baby food without added salt and sugar didn't exist in Canada! I tried several supermarkets and could not find a jar or fruit or veggies that didn't list sugar as one of the principal ingredients.

(Brock, August 1979)

So Brock existed on a lot of meat along with the fruit and veggies jars I had brought, supplemented by the foods he could eat from the adult world. He was able to handle chunkier textures by then, and surprised me by eating almost all the blueberries it had taken me a good 30-40 minutes to pick.

So how does this early feeding affect us? I was breast-fed, and was such a skinny beanpole of a child that my pediatrician accused my mom of not feeding me properly. But then I hit puberty and began to gain weight, and have struggled with weight issues my entire adult life, even though up to age 11 I was about as skinny as I could be.

(Debbie - 1963)

And my son was the same. He was a skinny little stringbean also until he hit about the age of 10 or 11. And then he began to gain weight and has struggled with weight issues as an adult also.

Of course there is more to diet than mere infant food. My childhood diet was awful - full of white bread and sugar and margarine and processed food galore. I tried to do better by my own child, but still fed him plenty of whole-wheat bread. And while I tried to avoid white sugars and limit other sugars we did have lots of brown sugar and maple syrup and honey. I remembered my own "cookies and milk" childhood snacks and wanted to make the same for my son. So I was always baking Tollhouse chocolate chip cookies - except instead of white flour I use half whole wheat flour and half old-fashioned rolled oats. And instead of the 3/4 cups of white sugar and 3/4 cups of brown I only used a cup of brown, and I added in tons of chopped nuts, and I used to add it lots of dried fruit.

Okay, I *thought* I was being healthier! Yet when my sister was babysitting for my son one time she made Tollhouse cookies with him and just followed the recipe as written - white flour, the mixture of white and brown sugars. "Yes, *real* chocolate chip cookies!" my son exclaimed.

So what determines these things? Due to health problems my mom was unable to breast-feed either of my two younger sisters, so they were both bottle babies, and both grew up eating the same diet I ate as a child. Yet both remain slender into their 50s and neither has ever had a problem with obesity.

Yet I also have the feeling that maybe baby formula was actually better then that it is now. That was prior to the high fructose corn syrup era, so I know the formula was not adulterated with that. It was also prior to the vilification of tropical oils, so might have contained coconut oil also. But I don't know what it did contain. Maybe google will help me out. :-)

So here is the $64,000 question. Will John's diet keep him fit and healthy as he grows into a child and a young man? Only time will tell, of course, and who knows what new nutritional knowledge will come our way over the next 20 years?

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Easter Dinner

This year again I hosted Easter dinner at my house. Guests were my sister and her husband and two college-aged kids, my son and daughter-in-law, and my 7-month-old grandson, and my DiL's parents. As was the case last year it was a bit tricky trying to plan the menu. That's because I knew I would have leftovers, and I no longer want to serve any food or drink that I would not eat myself. My eating plan is not *that* restricted. I'm not a raw vegan or something totally out in left field. But I have a few "don'ts" - all of which are heavily infused into the Standard American Diet. My don'ts?
- No gluten grains, especially no wheat in any way, shape or form
- No sugars, or at least very very minimal sugars
- No highly-polyunsaturated vegetable oils

I also sing alto in the choir at the Glen Ridge Congregational Church so would be there most of the morning, so I needed food that I could prepare ahead of time, or that would be easily cooked between the time I got home and the time my guests were due to arrive at 1:30 PM.

This is finally the menu I came up with:

Easter Menu


Brie cheese with sesame/flax crackers
Shrimp with garlic tahini sauce
Roasted peanuts

Main Course:

Orange-teriyaki chicken, with mushrooms
Garlic roasted pork loin
Asparagus with Hollandaise sauce
Artichoke-spinach casserole
Sweet potato casserole
Sliced tomatoes
Coconut blueberry muffins


Iced tea/water/hot tea/decaf/coffee/wine


Rhubarb compote with whipped cream
Lemon meringue pie

Okay, I was not going to eat the tomatoes since they are a nightshade, but I had bought some vine-ripened tomatoes before deciding to try a nightshade-free diet, so figured I might was well use them up on my guests. The peanuts were a birthday gift from my other sister in North Carolina.

The biggest issue is dessert. I could have served just fresh berries with whipped cream. That was what I did last year. But when I was shopping at the supermarket I found fresh rhubarb in the produce department and I adore rhubarb! But it can't be eaten raw, and is way too sour without some sort of sweetening.

For sweeteners I used stevia and erythritol which, arguably, are at least as "natural" as table sugar (meaning not very, but I don't feel they are any worse, and they don't affect my blood sugars as table sugar does).

My sister brought the lemon meringue pie and I believe she used Splenda as the sweetener.

I had never made Hollandaise sauce before. It was easy and delicious! Essentially mayo made with melted butter rather than olive oil. I'll have to make it again. :-)

That was probably my last holiday in my house. I'm sad to be leaving it after 30 years, but with my job going to India, and May 31 being my last day at work, I need to find somewhere cheaper to live. The hardest part of the process is going through 30 years worth of clutter! I confess I'm a major pack rat and bookaholic.