Eating in the image of the beast

I have started this post so many times, so many ways … I’m just going to come out and say it.

It’s been a month since I’ve had more than a bite of meat. I’m not ready to say I’m a vegetarian because I reserve the right to change my mind. But I don’t think that’s going to happen because to my utter surprise I love the way I feel after not eating meat for a month. So much so that I’m not sure I ever want to go back to it.

Don’t worry I’m not going to go all born-again-vegetarian on you. I won’t be all judgey-judgey to you carnivores, you know me better than that, but I will share what this experience has been like for me.

First of all, I wish I could tell you the inspiration behind this lifestyle change (because it is much more than dietary) came from reading something beautiful and smart-sounding like Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle or Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma (both of which are on my read someday list). But no.

Instead, the book I have to admit changed me was the shallow-sounding yet shockingly smart and sassy little book called “Skinny Bitch.” Yes, Skinny Bitch. Two words I rarely use much less identify with. But there you have it.

The craziest part was that my meat-loving husband also read it at my request to get past the title and just skim it so we could talk about it. He blew through the whole thing before I did and came to the same conclusion as me: we’re done with meat. The book actually heavily promotes a vegan lifestyle but we are not done with eggs, honey and cheese. However, we are using less of the above in our cooking and getting healthier versions (organic, soy, locally grown, etc). than we were in the past.

Here’s the super crazy part: it’s been relatively easy to make this change. With the amount of fake meat products that don’t taste like shredded pulp, and even available at my favorite Grocery Outlet Bargain Market, combined with the plethora of cookbooks, websites and blogs dedicated to this kind of cooking it hasn’t been as big a deal as I thought it would be.

In fact, it’s been better. Here is a classic Matt compliment that sums up what I’m trying to say:

“Wow, babe, great dinner. Another one! I’m starting to think it was just the meat holding you back.”

Maybe so.

Why? Why? Why?

That seems to be the most FAQ question lately but the answer is longer than I can get into in this post. I promise to revisit it but for now will leave you with this one thing. I’ll just say it, I’m no animal-lover. I’m just not. Which doesn’t make me a hater, but I haven’t been an animal rights activist in the past. Some people don’t particularly adore kids. That doesn’t make them bad, just not someone you’re going to ask to babysit yours. I’m like that with animals.

So as the book was going into the details about how animals are treated in common slaughtering and butchering practices, I cringed but wasn’t ready to throw in the blood-soaked towel. Until I got to the reminder about “you are what you eat.”

You either believe that’s true or you don’t. I do.

So when the authors wrote that when you consume most of the meat commercially available (I’m paraphrasing) you are literally eating fear and anxiety.

As a person consciously working toward reducing my anxiety levels this hit home.

Guess what?

The other day I was in the middle of a particularly stressful time of day for me, the part where your kids are hanging on you and the fridge door as you try to figure out how Cinderella's godmother turned a pumpkin into a coach so you can use those powers to turn random leftovers into dinner?

I felt this strange feeling in the midst of the chaos and didn’t quite recognize it. With a start I realized it was a sense of inner calm.

That felt better than any meat I’ve ever tasted.

{Meatless Monday: Kale chips}



I play this little game called: “Good or gross?” I make something for dinner that may, or may not, be good but I’m kind of the “you’ll eat it and you’ll like it” type of mom so even if it’s gross, it’s what’s for dinner. Sometimes the English major in Matt needs to know what something is called. I have no idea. It’s leftovers in a blender with some cumin and salsa mixed in and wrapped in a tortilla. So, I say, “It’s called dinner.”

Tonight we played “good or gross?” And I was sure we’d all agree the vegetable side was disgusting, but it wasn’t. All that is to say, you should totally try this at home: Kale chips.

At first Sam wasn’t buying it. But we have a try it once, spit it out in your napkin if you must, and we’ll leave you alone about it rule, at least until we think you’ve forgotten. Before he could have his bread he had to have a bite. Yep, he liked it too. It was a hit with Jake as well. When I read the reviews and someone said they were “like potato chips” I laughed out loud: LIARS!

Well … I have to tell you – they’re kind of like potato chips, only super good for you.

Preheat the oven to 350.

Kale – wash, tear off stems, rip into pieces and spread out on baking sheet.

Sprinkle with olive oil and sea salt.

Bake for 10-15 minutes until crunchy.

Done. Delicious, really! Let me know if you try it.



Meatless Monday: Harvest Salad

I made this Monday's recipe for our Halloween dinner with the Faulkners, we ate it with their delicious Shepherd's Pie but for a meatless meal I'd suggest pairing this salad with a good, creamy soup. I got this recipe from ... my head.

Spinach - use kitchen scissors to cut it up

Yams/Sweet Potatoes - I happened to be cubing some for Jake and decided to toss them in - they made a nice, unexpected touch

Blue cheese crumbles

Sliced almonds - I think walnuts would be tasty, too

Pomegranate seeds - pain to get the seeds out, yes - but worth it! If you really aren't feelin' the pomegranate seeds try dried cherries.

I mixed it all up but think it would've been better to make "rings" out of the ingredients on top and then toss before serving.

Served with Blue Heron's Blue Cheese salad dressing

Also in retrospect ...note to self: take food pictures before serving instead of limpy leftovers!

Meatless Monday & Food for Thought

Happy Monday! Meatless recipe to follow as well as some "Food for Thought" from Leanne Ely, C.N.C.

I discovered a new magazine to love recently: Family Fun where I found all sorts of inspiring and cool ideas including this weeks Meatless Monday selection - which I'll be making later in the week so I can't post my notes yet - instead, in case you're a stickler for your meatless day being on Monday - here is a link with a recipe for cooking white beans from dried to delicious so you can freeze for later use in recipes like the tasty looking sesame bean-and-pasta salad.  

Beautifully Basic White Beans:

Sesame Bean-and-Pasta Salad:

The article below is long but worth sharing. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this essay by Leanne Ely, C.N.C. (The bolds and underlines are mine).

It occurred to me as I was watching the news about the approaching Hurricane Earl, that being prepared for a disaster (flashlights, water, food) needs to be front and center on everyone's list; to be unprepared would be a secondary disaster. And then I took it step further and began thinking about menu planning (really!). You see, not planning is choosing to live in an unprepared state and invites it's own disastrous conclusion. Think about what that means for a minute. Being unprepared means chaos, confusion and regret. Living life in a state of perpetual unpreparedness is highly stressful. Why do we do this to ourselves?

In the kitchen and in the food department of life, being unprepared translates to not having the food you need to cook and feed your family and yourself well. Unprepared means unhealthy, expensive and wanting in nutrition. And when you consider that 70% of all disease is lifestyle-induced (by making poor choices in food, drink, not exercising, smoking and being stressed out), it's astounding that we are surprised when handed a less than healthy diagnosis from our doctors. We have got to take responsibility!!

Here's the thing, menu planning isn't sexy and glamorous. However, it's necessary and one of the easiest ways to get a grip on your health. The simple art of menu planning is too often passed up by adventure seekers living on adrenaline and the thrill of the hunt. You know what I mean, right? Hunting for something to throw together for dinner at the very last minute. Hunting for a fast food place to get your whining children and cranky spouse fed. Hunting for a place to park at the grocery store at rush hour, hoping to score an already cooked rotisserie chicken to feed your family.

This kind of hunting is not feeding your family the way you want to. It's stressing you out, neglecting your health and not helping you with the body clutter you may be sitting on.

Instead of being hunters, we need to be gatherers. Gatherers always have food because they have a plan. They use menus. They make grocery lists. They gather their groceries, they chop, they cook and they feed. It's deliberate preparedness that gives them a sense of calm and peace. Yes, preparedness is that powerful and when applied to all things food-related, it will revolutionize your health, your well-being, your finances and that of your family's as well.

The beginning place is a menu plan for the week. Pull recipes as necessary, make a list for the grocery store and then implement your plan. It's that simple.

Don't put this off and invite chaos and disaster into your home come each and every mealtime. There's too much at stake to be so capricious with your health. Do it today.


Today's word count: 1, 238 (and one query sent)

Happy Friday! Before I share my Google list for the week, here's something you can't find on Google, until after I post this: Thailadas.

That's what we had for dinner last night. The week started with one dinner disaster followed by another until Wednesday I made a relatively successful stir fry. By "I" I mean Matt. I chopped the veggies and made the rice. He did the rest. So Thursday is our leftover night and you should've seen Matt's face when I told him I put the stir fry leftovers in a blender with the leftover rice, pureed the crap out it and folded them into tortillas.  I poured Thai peanut sauce on them (mixed with a can of lite coconut milk) and baked them for 20 minutes on 425 and served them with salad. It might sound totally disgusting but it was actually pretty good and way better than what I did Monday where Meatless Monday ended with the classic standby of sausage and leftover cabbage salad  because the veggie patties I stayed up making until 11:30 the night before wouldn't cook. At all. Plus they smelled bad. Supid mushrooms. Clearly, I missed an important step.

Then Tuesday, I thought "wouldn't it be fun to do a family fondue night?"

No. It wouldn't. Not with a toddler. What was I thinking?  It doesn't matter if the recipe says "easy" fondue, it's still a lot of spattering (scalding hot) cheese with spears ... Again, what was I thinking?

Clearly, I didn't Google enough recipes this week. But here's a partial list of what I did Google - I kept forgetting to keep track:

breastfeeding symbol

hungarian translation dictionary

strain turns into?

Boys names

Natural  health food stores Newberg

pain in right side when sneezing and coughing

pain in lower right quadrant of stomach when sneezing

spider bites

carlton city hall

Emily Puro

natural treatment for diaper rash

how to make magnetic paper dolls

How about you?

Meatless Monday: Warm bean and spinach salad

I had a cold soup and sandwiches planned for dinner tonight but it wasn't hot and the kids didn't nap so we wound up with this instead. It was easy and good. Plus, I skipped what appears to be a main ingedient and it was just fine.

1 package (10 oz) washed fresh spinach

1 can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained (Also called Great Northern Beans)

1 large bell pepper, coarsley chopped (I didn't have one)

2/3 cup Italian dressing (Since we're on a one year salad dressing ban I made my own with the Pampered Chef thing)

1/4 tsp garlic pepper (Skipped this too)

1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese (2 oz) Or a few fistfuls if your kids are too fussy to mess with measuring cups and scales!

1. Remove large stems from spinach, tear spinach into bite-size pieces. Place in large bowl (seems like that goes without saying) Add beans and set aside.

2. Heat bell pepper and dressing to boiling in 1 qt. saucepan; reduce heat to low. Cook uncovered 2 minutes, stirring occassionally. Stir in garlic pepper if you have some. So I pretty much just heated up the dressing ...

3. Pour bell pepper mixture over spinach and beans; toss. Sprinkle with cheese. Serve warm.

Matt, who is supportive yet struggles with the Meatless Monday concept, suggested we have this salad regularly. With bacon. From Victor's. Or, Carlton Farms. So, not on Mondays.

- Recipe from Betty Crocker's Good and Easy Cookbook

Muffin Meals & Spa Water

Muffin Meal (3) 
Muffin tins somehow make meals taste better ... I suppose fun is always better! Note the special eating "utensil" - mini (play) tongs. As long as it's safe and can go in the dishwasher, I don't care if Sam eats with it as long as he's really eating and not just playing. So here he has a relatively balanced meal, macaroni, peas, tofu and some applesauce. Random. Whatever. His dirty chin is proof that he actually prefers the tofu. Gross, I know. Just a small thing to share in case it helps mealtime at your house. I can't offer help for parents of picky eaters because I've been lucky there so far, but Sam has gone through plenty of food phases and mixing things up is helpful. When he's going through a particularly difficult eating phase I offer him the muffin meal and tell him he has to eat something out of each cup and that has worked so far.

So spa water is just good tasting water. I happen to not mind drinking water but it's nice to have a variety. When the mint starts growing like crazy ... pick it, wash it and put it in a pitcher (ideally the kind with a strainer spout) and add sliced cucumbers and chunks of cantaloupe. I described it to Mel and she said, "Sounds like something you'd have at a spa." So there you have it ... serenity in a glass.

Meatless Monday: Salad Dressing

One of the first things I liked about my friend Barbara is that she made her own salad dressing. It just seemed like the kind of thing my alter ego {the me I didn't realize I would eventually become} would do. What's funny about being attracted to it then was that I didn't even really eat, much less make, salad back then.

As you may know we bought a new house, by new I mean two years newer than this one {1900} and it'll require, uh, adjusting to a new budget. We've got all kinds of ideas on how to make that work, one of which is not buying salad dressing for a year.

The tool that'll help me accomplish that goal is my Pampered Chef Salad Mixer where you literally measure, mix and pour. The mixer has recipes for four basic dressings printed right on the container: Asian, Caesar, Italian & French. I'd post some of the recipes here but they don't actually have measurements, it's more like "fill to this line, add to this line, dash of this, shake of that" and mix. A bonus cool thing about this little gadget is that you can use it to let your toddler scramble their own eggs. Very cool.

If you have the following on hand:

Vegetable oil, 1/4 cup grated Romano or Parmesan cheese, garlic cloves, sugar, Dijon mustard, coarse black pepper, lemon juice ... you've got the makings of your own Caesar dressing and a couple bucks back in your pocket. I'm not saying it'll pay the mortgage but it's a step.

If you're not so much into making your own, my two favorite dressings are:

Annie's Naturals Goddess Dressing and Blue Heron Blue Cheese Dressing. I'll be working on approximating those for the next year.

Meatless Monday: Food for thought

Maybe you've received the memo that we're moving ... I seem to have just dialed into that fact recently. I was so preoccupied  consumed obsessed with the details of finding and buying a house that I didn't consider what that actually meant, exactly. So we brought home car loads of boxes from the liquor store over the weekend (mostly empty, C.) And started packing in earnest. Sam was super supportive. When he broke a crystal candle holder he announced that he did, indeed, "break something." I figured it was just one less thing to move. Then I declared a "ball-free" zone and asked him to go help daddy rake. Turns out that Sam adores his dad so much if Matt declared picking up dog poo with bare hands Sam would be right there doing it alongside him. I need to tap into that.

Moving also means it's time to clear out the pantry. We are doing a lot of this meal lately:

Grain/Pasta + meat + sauce/gravy + canned fruit/vegetable = sometimes good, sometimes not but always a meal and less to move.

The grain we've been really enjoying is quinoa - I don't have a real recipe for you because we've just been cooking it and pouring gravy or other sauces on it but it tastes great and is super good for you.

"The World Health Organization has rated the quality of protein in quinoa to be equivalent or superior to that found in milk products." 

And, finally, some food for thought. Here is an article by nutritionist Leanne Ely I got in my inbox this morning. There are a few parts I take issue with but that's a story for another day, for the most part I think it's worth considering. Particularly, that the point of power is in the present moment and health care reform begins at home.

Buddy Hackett once said, "My mother's menu consisted of two choices. Take it or leave it."

That's what my mother's menu consisted of, too. We had the choice of eating the dinner she prepared or leaving the table hungry. If we didn't like what she prepared, we weren't allowed to make ourselves a PB & J. If we snuck a banana or anything else for that matter, we were in big trouble. Why? Was my mother abusive and mean? Was my family dysfunctional because the children weren't allowed to call the shots on what was for dinner? Am I in therapy now because I was made to eat my vegetables?

Nope. My family had issues like any other family, but it was pretty "normal". I've noticed however, that what was fashionable in the childrearing of yesterday is now considered barbaric and obsolete. Today, we are told, that if we "make" our children eat what's in front of them will develop eating disorders. Not giving children "choices" will harm their self esteem, so say the "professionals".

The very words "eating disorder" sends us into a tailspin. Consequently, after years of permissive parenting at the dinner table, we suddenly realize our children may have never eaten an honest portion of veggies in their entire young lives. In our perfectionism (and boy, parenting is the place where we wear our maternal stripes with pride!) we have been more concerned about our children's psyches than teaching them an important life skill--eating nutritiously. Because we want to be better parents than our own parents, we want our children to have "perfect" childhoods with no conflict whatsoever. We buy all of that, don't we? And, to use a food analogy, the proof is the pudding--just take a look at the kids. 

Childhood obesity is at epidemic proportions. According to the International Obesity Task Force, there are about 22 million children in the world, UNDER 5 that are overweight or obese! In another study, the Canadian Medical Association reported that obesity among young boys ages 7 to 13 years old, TRIPLED between 1981 and 1996.

That's just the children. What about the adults? In the United States, 7 out of 10 adults are overweight or obese (according to the Centers of Disease Control)! The problem of obesity or what we like to call Body Clutter, is a FAMILY problem. And we, the parents have a huge responsibility to teach our children how to be healthy (by eating right and exercising) and we do that primarily by example. You can't preach healthy living if you're not doing it yourself. 

I don't pretend for a minute to hold all the answers to this and other child rearing dilemmas. Like you, I struggle with my decisions as a parent. However, as a nutritionist, I have to look at the statistics and they are absolutely mind blowing. That's how I want you to evaluate what I'm saying--look at this from a nutritionist's point of view.

Believe it or not the family dinner table is one place that you can make a difference in your family health quota. By serving a healthy, balanced meal at least once a day, you'll be making great progress. But the problem is schedules, sports, dance classes, band practice, church...did I miss something else that has you going almost every night of the week? We often find ourselves in the car at dinnertime schlepping kids to yet another activity during dinner time. Or we're driving thru for a quick bite (and feeling guilty about it) or going out to dinner (again--there goes the family budget!).

How do we get back to the dinner table anyway? The first step would be to reevaluate your family's schedule. What is the reality of your schedule? Are you out of the house almost every night of the week? Can any of these activities be combined and done in one night instead of two? Can you eliminate anything?

If you're out nearly every night of the week, ask yourself these questions honestly: how often are you eating fast food? And even if you are eating fast food, how often are you making the healthiest choices on those menus?

Body Clutter is a FAMILY project-- becoming healthy and fueling yourself and your family with the right amount of quality food is a lifestyle, not a diet. Talk to your family about food--have a family meeting. Tell them your intentions and invite them to come aboard. You might not get the warm welcome you're hoping for when you're talking about a healthy diet! But stay persistent, buy healthier foods and make them for dinner (how about adding a nice green leafy salad a few times this week for dinner? A bowl of baby carrots for the table? See how easy this can be?). Take a family walk after dinner and leave the TV in the OFF position. Just these little babysteps will make a huge difference.

Remember, you can't organize clutter; you have to get rid of it. That means body clutter, too.

Copyright (C) 2010 www.savingdinner.comLeanne Ely, CNC All rights reserved.


Meatless Monday: Asparagus Soup

My best friend from the crib mentioned the other day that I haven't been posting recipes. Yeah, about that. Another loving person in my life suggested that perhaps posting these recipes and my notes alongside them were boring to readers and that really, nobody cared. Which kind of bummed me out because I enjoyed sharing and writing about the things I'm doing these days ... I rather consider my life my muse, playground and office and it seems I spend a lot of time in the kitchen these days ... not quite what I expected for myself, but the shocker is actually how much I enjoy it. Sometimes. Plus, all these notes are drafts for my kitchen memoir, Not like the Picture.

This one's for you Mel ... 

The same day I discovered this delicious, easy to make, asparagus soup, my friend Emily's "On a Shoestring" column ran in our local paper.

Source: Google search of "asparagus soup" lead to One of the things I love about that site is the way you can enter how many people you're serving and the math gets done for you.

This posted recipe serves four but I don't know why you wouldn't just double it and freeze leftovers.

For four servings you'll need:

  • 1 pound fresh asparagus (coming into season right about now)
  • 3/4 cup chopped onion (Tip: while your eyes are already watering, chop extra for the week)
  • 1/2 cup vegetable broth
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour (whole wheat flour works great)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 pinch ground black pepper
  • 1 1/4 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 cup soy milk (I was out but used almond milk which is on mega-sale at Grocery Outlet)
  • 1/2 cup yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese (you don't need this if you don't have it) 
    1. Place asparagus and onion in a saucepan with 1/2 cup vegetable broth. Bring the broth to a boil, reduce heat and let simmer until the vegetables are tender.
    2. Reserve a few asparagus tips for garnish. Place remaining vegetable mixture in an electric blender and puree until smooth.
    3. Melt butter in the pan that was used for simmering the asparagus and onions. Stir while sprinkling flour, salt, and pepper into the butter. Do not let the flour brown. Allow the mixture to cook only 2 minutes. Stir in remaining 1 1/4 cups vegetable broth and increase the heat. Continue stirring until the mixture comes to a boil.
    4. Stir the vegetable puree and milk into the saucepan. Whisk yogurt into the mixture, followed by lemon juice. Stir until heated through, then ladle into bowls. Garnish with reserved asparagus tips. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese if desired.