Category Archives: Health

Scheming with themed meals

We’re into our third week of themed menus.  No one has run away from home — yet.

I’ve learned to compromise.  Better to give in a little than to give up my commitment to healthier eating. This week’s Meatless Monday feature of Thai Broccoli Tofu Stirfry didn’t elicit as many “ew-www’s” as usual about tofu because I slipped the guys a side dish of leftover pot roast from Sunday.

My husband and I enjoyed the tofu from The Carb Conscious Vegetarian cookbook (on loan from the library; still debating whether it’s a keeper though it does have many fans online). A sprinkle of Gomasio (sesame seed seasoning) gave the stirfry a boost.

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Meatballs with the last harvest of Swiss Chard

Tasty Tuesday is understandably easier.  It’s my trump card, an opportunity to redeem myself if Meatless Monday has been particular rough on the young palates — like last week’s Chana Dal, sauteed swiss chard and rice. (I swear I could hear chanting in the background while we ate that one.) Last night’s “tasty” dinner was a quickie out of Real Simple — Pork Meatballs (with currants and pine nuts) with sauteed swiss chard (likely the last bunch to harvested from this year’s garden). I added Alexia julienned sweet potato fries because they’re yummy and add much more color to the plate than the baguette slices suggested by the magazine.  Score!

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Buckwheat Groats - fruit or grain?

And then there’s Whole Grain Wednesday — daunting to say the least. Let’s start with the rather unsavory website of the Whole Grains Council.  That baby needs a makeover. A few celebrity models, a few sexy headlines — something! Regardless, I have committed to WGW and expect a few missteps along the way. Tonight, for example, I was determined to make a recipe with buckwheat groats.  Then I discovered buckwheat is actually a fruit, somehow related to the rhubarb family. Never mind. I read elsewhere buckwheat hangs out with whole grains, perception-wise, so that’s close enough for me.  I recovered my well-worn copy of The Moosewood Kitchen Cooks at Home and found the recipe I made a few years ago for Kasha, a Russian-inspired dish of buckwheat simmered with onions and mushrooms, spiced with soy and dill. (Here’s a close version that looks even better than the one I used.) Added some pan-roasted chicken sausages with artichoke and garlic, plus an arugula salad with cherry tomatos, pine nuts, parmesan and balsamic vinaigrette.  Fellow diners were quiet tonight … until bedtime, that is. “Mom, that was just bland!”


Kasha - abused but worthwhile



Filed under Health, Quick

Back in the kitchen, back to my senses

More than two months without a post. Wow. The summer was a blur of work, travel, kids without a schedule and fun times with friends.  I skirted my way with a few memorable menus, but generally lacked any discipline for meal planning.

My waistline noticed. Five pounds heavier. Egads! What the heck happened?  Well, let’s see.  Could have been the fruit shakes and guacamole in Costa Rica. Fresh plaintains, still green and starchy, smashed into cakes and fried, make a savory filling snack that likely contributed to my “expansion” early in the summer.

Then friends visited from Austin. Oh good, a reason to finally prep a decent meal or two!  Grilled chicken and peaches with arugula salad for a picnic by the lake.  Steamed crabs on the back patio, followed the next day by crab cakes topped with sherry aioli.

I entered the true danger zone, calorie-wise, during the month of August. A business trip Down Under was the beginning of the end. Fish and chips, with a pint of ale, at Watson’s Bay in Sydney.

Breakfast the next day: Ricotta pancakes with berry compote, topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. I simply lost my senses with this concoction, gazing at the ski surfers while sitting in an outdoor cafe at Manly Beach.

Then it was back for two weeks before heading to Santa Fe for a long-planned vacation with a dear friend from Cleveland. Enter sopapillas – doughy pillows topped with sugar (or savory, stuffed with chicken or beef) – at Tomasita’s, amazing blue corn enchiladas at The Shed.  We hit two of the city’s hottest restaurants — La Boca for tapas and Restaurant Martin for new American cuisine — and relished every bite.

Sopapillas at Tomasita's Cafe

No wonder, then, that I’m now browsing through stacks of recipes for healthy eating.  Time to get back into a meal plan that’s easy to manage. This fall I’m thinking in themes to keep me on track. I figured a handful of catchy phrases would bring some rhythm and inventiveness to the tedious task of meal planning.  Already we’re in our second week of themes.  Here it goes (with comments from the peanut gallery):

Meatless Monday – “Yeah, Baby” (husband) “WHAAT?  You’re kidding me.” (sons)

Tasty Tuesday – “Mom, that’s stupid.  Isn’t every meal supposed to be tasty?”

Whole Grain Wednesday – “Hmmm, Not sure about that one.” (husband)

Thermal Thursday (using the Pressure Cooker or Slow Cooker) – “Clever.” (husband)

Fun Friday (because we either order out or indulge in a late “date night” meal without the kids) – “Great Idea!” (me)

Details to come as weeknight meal plans swing back into gear!


Filed under Foodie, Health, Restaurants to try, Weeknight

Casado – a “marriage of foods”

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One of my favorite meals in Costa Rica is casado, a popular plated lunch or light dinner of black beans, rice, salad and meat or fish. During our five days in Drake Bay on the Osa Peninsula, we ate in a “soda” or small family restaurant every night. Because the location is remote, supplies are delivered by boat or in limited quantities by truck.  Casado is a simple and fresh menu feature of every soda in town. And it’s healthy. I know because my beach pants are fitting looser than usual – a good sign!

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Organic switcheroo pays off

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Chives sprout early in the herb garden

One must be fickle when it comes to quality. Meal prep started this morning when I pulled chicken thighs from the freezer. But they ended up back in the freezer after a quick stop by PCC Natural Market on the way home from meetings.  Rosie’s organic chicken thighs looked too good to pass up. Sure, they were pricier than the “bargain” thighs thawing in the fridge, but the recipe was simple; a better quality chicken would make a big difference.

A peek at the sink was big clue of the health factor in tonight’s meal. Mounds of broccoli, carrots, radishes, bok choy, chives, garlic littered the sink. It all ended up in the compost bucket, but not before the best bits landed on our plates.

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Braised chicken with carrots, radishes and chives

Braised chicken with spring vegetables. Lovely with chopped chives, an early harvest from our herb garden, and served with long-grain rice plus …

… Bok choy and broccoli stir fry – a recipe clipped ages ago from the newsletter of a fantastic home delivery service, Pioneer Organics. The service is long gone, sadly, and so are the recipes.  No where to be found online and my clippings fail to include attributions.  Here’s a similar recipe at RecipeZaar. To make the Pioneer version, just steam the chopped broccoli stems florets and bok choy stems in advance. Saute the bok choy leaves in oil with garlic, then add the remaining steamed veggies. Toss with 1/2 tsp red chili flakes and 1-2 Tbsp soy sauce.

Yum.  I expended all my cooking energy tonight. Tomorrow night I’ll be dining at the yacht club for my monthly business dinner  – la de da – and the guys … well, we’ll see what happens. :-/


Filed under Health, Recipes

Jamie Oliver: Why food education matters

Jamie Oliver of Naked Chef fame delivered a powerful talk this month at TED about his anti-obesity project in Huntington, W.Va.

His point: Set a new standard for “fresh, proper food” at school, at home. Major brands must invest in food education.  “It’s profoundly important that every single American child should leave school knowing how to cook 10 recipes that will save their lives.”

Jamie won the 2010 TED Prize which is awarded annually to an exceptional individual and is designed to inspire collaborative initiatives with far-reaching impact.  Read more to learn how to help Jamie with his wish:

“I wish for your help to create a strong, sustainable movement to educate every child about food, inspire families to cook again and empower people everywhere to fight obesity.”


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The meal plan as a habit

They say it takes three weeks of concerted effort to cultivate a new habit.  Yesterday marked the end of three weeks of meal planning, or a valiant effort to stick to one.  It was a bumpy road, no doubt, but worth the effort.

Fewer headaches worrying about “what’s for dinner.” We didn’t stick to the plan every night – life just isn’t that predictable – but it was great to have some ideas ready to go if I needed them. Meals were more balanced. If veggies or fruits are missing from the plan, the gaps are apparent.  It’s also possible we shaved a few dollars off the grocery bill.  Fewer impulsive purchases during multiple trips to the store to pick up missing ingredients for ad hoc meals. My husband can just look at the plan tacked to the fridge if he’s curious what’s for dinner.  And believe me, he always wants to know.

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The return of the meal plan

Many years ago when I was in grad school, and my husband was in grad school, and we both were working full time in big offices at opposite ends of Chicago, we realized that our interest in eating well was being compromised.  For obvious reasons.

This was BK – before kids (actually, my first son was born into this craziness four months before I graduated) but we had all the same challenges that working families face in eating well, together, on a regular basis. I remember hearing one of classmates admit that she and her husband often ate cereal for dinner. I still today hope that my face did not reflect my horror.  She was a nice woman. Fortunately, my husband and I loved food too much.  Special K would not do.

I did meal plans. Every weekend I’d sit with the grocery ads and cookbooks and our calendar. If we had evening activities, dinner would be frozen pizza or leftovers.  But for all those other evenings I planned menus. Assembled the grocery list. Planned my shopping trip based on best deals for staples and the best shops for produce and seafood or meat. In Chicago in the mid-90s that meant a trip to Cub Foods, a big box for boxed and canned goods. Then stops at Fresh Fields and Whole Foods for the fresh stuff.  Occasional side trips to the Lincoln meat market or to Joe’s sausage shop in my neighborhood (Joe was Hungarian, but every Saturday a German friend played ompah music on an accordian all afternoon).

It was a weekly adventure.  Sure, it was time-consuming but it saved headaches (and time) during the week.  No questions about “what’s for dinner.” And we ate well.  Happy people.

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