Monday, January 30, 2012

What is Healthy?

I've been thinking about this question for a long time. I've wanted to blog about my thoughts, but it's such a big topic that I think I'll have to break it into chunks. These thunks (thoughts + chunks) may or may not have recipes and pictures. I hate to post without those because this is, after all, a food blog, but I might have to just give you text a couple of days. Otherwise I'll obsess about getting the right food and the right pictures and I'll never get the posts written.

So, back to the topic - what is healthy?

We are bombarded with advertising that promises us health. It comes from drug companies, vitamin manufacturers, sportswear and sports equipment companies, and food manufacturers. It's a fact that "health" sells. People want to be healthy. They want to feel good. They don't want to be in pain or unable to fit in their clothes. So they are willing to spend money to attain "health."

But what is health? Is it being skinny? I don't think so. There have been some people who were really skinny just before they died. That's called starvation.

Is it being buff and fit? Again, some athletic people have made really muscly corpses. It's possible to kill yourself with exercise or steroid use.

I define health as having everything in the body working optimally, the way God created it to be. 

So, how do you get healthy? Is that something that you take a pill (or a handful of pills) to achieve? Do you  become healthy by buying gadgets to shake, melt, or pummel your fat into submission? Or is healthy obsessing over every bite that goes into your mouth and exercising three hours a day? The answer? I don't know. If I knew the answers, I could write the definitive book, go on Oprah, and become a gazillionaire within a week.

I do, however, know a few things that I believe to be true. If you'd like to join me on my journey toward a healthier lifestyle, keep reading. If not, check back now and then as I'll still have some evil desserts to post. I still bake treats to give away.

Changing your lifestyle, if it's going to work long-term, is a matter of baby steps. If you try to do it all at once, you'll fall and fail.  But changes that can be gradually incorporated aren't as painful and are more likely to be lasting.

A big part of health is being aware of what you put into your body. Your body really is the sum total of what you put into it. You have to give it the right kind of fuel, or it won't work properly. You wouldn't pour Diet Coke into your car's gas tank and expect it to run well. In the same way, putting garbage into your body will eventually break something in your body.

So Baby Step #1 is to change you salt. Get rid of the table salt that's in your cupboard and start using sea salt. It comes with bonus minerals and is easier for your body to deal with than the stuff that's extremely processed. (Here's a nice article about why you should use sea salt rather than processed salt.) You don't have to buy Fleur de Sel (which is wonderful as a finishing salt to sprinkle on top of your food, but pricey), just a sea salt that's available in the grocery store will do.

There, wasn't that easy? Hopefully within the week I'll get back to you with baby step #2. In the meantime, enjoy life - it is a gift!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

What To Eat

One of the hardest parts about going grain-free is menu planning. I'm such a creature of habit that it's hard for me to think outside of my standard menu go-to's: hamburgers, tacos, and pizza.

Pizza is particularly hard as we've had a tradition in our house of having pizza every Saturday night.  Ever since I learned how to make a good pizza dough, we've had pizza and a show on Saturdays. We had pizza with Star Trek- The Next Generation. We had pizza with The New Adventures of Lois and Clark. And now we have pizza with whatever we've Tivo'd (that's a verb, right?) You can see that pizza is firmly entrenched in our family culture.

So after our initial foray into grain-free eating, we approached the coming weekend with dismay. No pizza? How's that supposed to work? What do other people eat on Saturday? And what do they eat on Sundays after church with football? You have to have cold pizza for lunch! I think that's like the 11th commandment or something.

It was my grown daughter who came to our rescue. She offered up her recipe that gives full pizza pleasure without grains - pizza in chili. It's an interesting concept - take a bowl of chili and stuff all of your favorite pizza toppings into it, smother it with cheese, and enjoy it with abandon (or with a bottle of wine). It was a hit! You can easily make it to suit your tastes and preferences by changing up the toppings. And really, you don't have to wait until Saturday to have it; that's just us.

Pizza Chili

1 Tbsp olive oil
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 small onion, diced
1 clove of garlic, minced

1 lb. ground turkey, chicken, or beef
1 lb. spicy Italian sausage, sliced (optional)

1 15 oz. can tomato sauce
1 cup marinara sauce
1 28 oz diced tomatoes
1 16 ox can kidney beans, drained and rinsed

Favorite pizza toppings (olives, mushrooms, pineapple, ham, pepperoni, etc.)
sea salt, basil, oregano, thyme (to taste)
Grated mozzarella cheese

1- In a large pot, cook the bell peppers, onions, and garlic in the olive oil until they begin to sweat. Add the ground meat  (and optional sausage, if using) and cook until browned.

2- Stir in the tomato sauce, marinara sauce, diced tomatoes, kidney beans, pizza toppings, and spices. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer uncovered for about 30 minutes or until chili reaches desired thickness. If it is too thick, add water.

3- Reduce heat and serve in bowls, topped with mozzarella cheese (optional but strongly suggested!).

Sunday, January 15, 2012

What's New

It's strange how some arbitrary things become meaningful. Birthdays that end in zero have much more importance than the rest of the decade. Anniversaries that are divisible by 5 are held in higher esteem than the others. And buying a new calendar makes us feel that somehow there's a new start; everything's new, fresh, and open to reinvention.

One of the things I've been reinventing is our diet. I'm constantly tinkering to see what will help us all be our healthiest. This past Christmas we spent passing the flu around like a White Elephant gift being regifted over and over. We were sick of being sick! So my family didn't grumble too much when I informed them that we were going to be trying something new - going grain-free and sugar-free.

Shocked? I know, me too!

How's it going? Well, it's been interesting. The refrigerator has been fairly bare as I try to figure out what we can eat in place of what we used to eat. Snacks, treats, and meals are all impacted. Empty are the bread drawer and the cookie jar. This is a hardship for the family of the Cookie Baker and former Bread Baking Babe.

My husband's standard lunch is a sandwich and some sort of chips. Well, that's not working out. Take away the bread and chips and you're left with... well ... stuff piled on a plate.

I've figured out that the job of grains is to:

   1- Define portions. A taco is clearly one serving; remove the taco shells and you've just got a big taco salad.
   2- Provide transportation for the meat. Ever try to eat a big double decker hamburger with all the trimmings sans buns? Sloppy mess. Speaking of which, what's a Sloppy Joe with buns? Stew!
   3- Act as a filler. If you eat a bowl of rice with your stir fry, you only eat 1/4 as much of the stir fry, so it stretches further and is more economical.

Once of the hardest things to do without has been bread. No sandwiches. No toast. Nothing to sop up the egg yolk from the morning fried egg. :-(

I realized something had to give when we were at the grocery store and the bread aisle just about did us in. Rolls, loaves, wraps, pitas, and bagels. Ahhh, bagels.....  So I went home and searched one of my favorite sites for special dietary needs,  The Spunky Coconut. I found just what I was looking for - a bread that would be safe for out new diet. I had some pumpkin puree in the fridge leftover from a holiday flurry of pumpkin smoothies and whipped up a loaf.

I wish that I had taken a picture to share with you of my son's happy face when he saw there was bread he was allowed to have. We demolished the loaf in a day and he anxiously asked if I had any more pumpkin puree.

Pumpkin Bread
 - adapted from The Spunky Coconut

1 cup pumpkin puree
4 eggs at room temperature*
1/3 cup coconut sugar (which is low glycemic index)
3 Tbsp liquified coconut oil**
1/4 tsp vanilla creme liquid stevia
1/2 tsp sea salt
2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1/4 cup tapioca flour
1/2 cup coconut flour, sifted (don't skip the sifting!)
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup raisins

1- Preheat oven to 350 deg. F. Line the bottom of a loaf pan with parchment paper and grease the pan.

2- Place all of the ingredients into a large bowl. Beat with an electric mixer. (One advantage of baking gluten-free is that you don't have to worry about over-mixing and getting a tough product.)

3- Scoop the batter into the loaf pan, smoothing it to make an even loaf.

4- Bake for about 50 minutes. Remove from oven and let rest in pan for 5 minutes then remove from pan and allow to cool on a cooling rack.

Serve with butter or cream cheese.

*If the eggs are cold, it will cause the coconut oil to harden. To bring refrigerated eggs to room temperature, float them in a bowl of warm water for about 5 minutes.

** To liquify the coconut oil, spoon it into a small, heatproof bowl and set that in a larger bowl of very warm water.