# Wednesday, 09 August 2006

Last weekend my son and I headed up to the Indian Heaven wilderness with some friends, and had great fun doing it.  Food-wise, we brought stuff to keep up going, but that didn’t weigh very much.  For lunch, we had tortillas (low carb for me, white flour for him) with either PBJ or vacuum packed tuna fish.  We tried both the whole “gourmet” tuna fillet with lemon and cracked pepper, and regular old plain chuck tuna.  Both were good.  The whole fillet was a bit dry eaten cold. 

For breakfast, we had Nature’s Path “Optimum Zen” instant oatmeal, which was fantastic.  It’s seasoned with ginger and cinnamon, and includes roasted soy nuts and dried cranberries.  Very tasty, light weight, and a good nutritional balance.  The second day we had rice crispies with freeze dried strawberries and bananas.  We used Organic Valley powdered milk, which was much less penetential than the powdered milk I remembered from my childhood.  I think it seemed more finely powdered than I remember as a kid, and so dissolved better. 

For dinner, we had one Mountain House entree (sweet and sour pork, our favorite) and then ramen with freeze dried veggies and tofu.  That came out very well, and was a big hit. 

We also tried some “corn chowder” which I found at New Seasons.  It’s basically dehydrated yellow pea soup with corn and red peppers.  Not quite “chowder” but very tasty and filling, and convenient in a “just add water” kind of way.  The also had curried lentil, and green split pea varieties, which we haven’t tried yet. 

Rounding out the pack was some tea, hot chocolate, and s’mores makings (with organic, fair traded chocolate, of course). 

I brought a bit too much food, which is probably better than too much, but it was still nice carrying a less heavy pack on the way home. :-)

Wednesday, 09 August 2006 06:41:35 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #    Comments [0]
# Wednesday, 02 August 2006

After an extended period of back-sliding, I’m back on the low-glycemic wagon.  Due to a raft of stress-inducing circumstances over the last couple of years I’d gradually gone back to less-than-healthy eating habits, which lead to weight gain, and general unwellness. 

In the last month or so, the backbone has reasserted itself, and I’m back to eating low or no sugar added foods, wheat and “low carb” bread products (mostly low carb tortillas, which I happen to like anyway) and a lot more fruits and vegetables.  Not only have a lost a few pounds, but I feel way better.  I’m always amazed at how much of a difference diet makes in everyday wellbeing. 

It does take a while to power through the week or two of feeling like you are starving to death all the time, but the worst is over. 

The other thing that really makes a difference for me is the realization/remembrance of the fact that cooking is one of the things that really brings me joy, and when life gets “too busy” to cook I suffer for it more than just through eating crappy, soul-less food.  With that perspective in mind, it’s that much easier to make time to prepare tasty healthy food.  And it doesn’t really take as much time as all that to make a real difference in the quality of the food we eat.

OK, ranting finished.  Hopefully I’ll have some interesting cooking to report on soon.

Wednesday, 02 August 2006 22:22:18 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #    Comments [0]
# Monday, 24 July 2006

I took my daughter on her first overnight backpacking trip this weekend, which would have been fantastic had it not been for the mosquitoes.  Other than that, it was a lovely trip, just to the Southeast of Three Finger Jack. 

Anyway, in preparing for the hike I spent some time researching good backpacking food.  One thing I had to work to keep in mind, though, was that much of the literature assumes that you are thru-hiking, or taking longer, more arduous trips that you can with a seven-year-old.  If you are only walking 3 miles a day, you have to watch out for the high-calorie, low space/weight stables common in the hard core hiking literature.  Since my daughter’s a bit “particular” we opted for Mountain House’s freeze-dried mac & cheese for dinner, which went over well, and was tasty enough, although their sweet and sour pork is still my favorite.  I want to try experimenting with some cheaper alternatives, like ramen and freeze-dried veggies/tofu, or instant refried beans and rice, which are pretty easy to come by. 

I also tried “Ultralight Joe’s Moose Goo”, which is 2 parts honey, 2 parts “corn flour” or masa harina, and 1 part peanut butter.  Joe suggests putting it on tortillas, which is what I did.  Tasty, callorie dense, and pretty stable.  Much less gooey than peanut butter by itself, and pretty easy to work with, at least when it’s 80° out.  According to the literature, it’s pretty much immovable below about 40°. 

Also a big success was Alacer Corp.’s ElectroMIX:  basically unsweetened electolite powder that you mix into a liter of water.  It tastes great, with none of the cloying sweetness of Gatorade.  Just the thing for hot weather, and it weighs practically nothing.

 

Monday, 24 July 2006 20:52:55 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #    Comments [0]
# Friday, 24 June 2005

I’ve become completely entranced by- and infatuated with kefir. 

Having been raised on hippy vegetarian food, I was familiar with kefir from early on.  Always Alta-Dena brand, preferably strawberry, although my Dad favored the boysenberry.  It’s basically like yogurt with a consistency like a thin milkshake.  Tasty.  Apparently it’s an acquired taste though.  My wife Vikki can’t stand the stuff.  She says if it tastes like yogurt is shouldn’t be drinkable.  Just wrong. 

Anyway, I’ve always been a fan.  And lately I’ve been reading the odd article on the wonders of “probiotic” foods, a.k.a. those foods that contain live bacteria that are supposed to be living in our guts.  “Intestinal flora” as they say.  These can be wiped out by antibiotics and all the preservative-heavy food in the modern American diet, which leads to all kinds of problems.  So now you can buy “probiotic” yogurt and kefir, presumably with extra bacteria.  Or you can take “probiotic” bills that contain dried bacteria.  It’s all good. 

So back to kefir.  I’d always assumed that kefir was just yogurt that had been mixed up with stuff until it was runny.  And for many commercial brands that may in fact be the case.  But “traditional” kefir is made quite differently from yogurt.  It comes from the Northern Caucasus originally, and has been known historically around that region.  The word “kefir” itself comes from Turkish apparently.  The secret is what are called “kefir grains”.  These are actually little colonies of a bunch of lacto-bacteria with some yeasts that form little balls (the “grains”).  These balls grow and divide naturally until they look kind of like a cauliflower.  The kefir making process is quite simple.  You acquire a set of grains from somewhere, and stick them in a jar of milk at room temperature for around 24 hours.  They you pour your newly cultured kefir through a strainer to recover the grains for the next batch.  Very cool. 

I had to try it, so I got some starter grains on eBay and started production.  It looks like there are several suppliers who sell on eBay, or you can try G.E.M. Cultures (www.gemcultures.com).  There are also kefir-grain-sharing networks that you can find on the internet.  The grains grow quite quickly, so pretty soon you have more than you can handle, which is a good time to give some to a friend (or apparently to sell them on eBay).  I’ve only had my grains for a week, and with one batch a day, the grains have more than doubled in size. 

The taste is not nearly as sour as I would have guessed.  Fresh from the 24 hour culturing cycle the flavor is very mildly yogurt-ish, with a very slight taste of yeast.  It makes great smoothies, and is good on cereal.  If you like that kind of thing. :-) You can “cure” it further if you want it more sour, but I haven’t tried that yet.  You can also get it to carbonate, which sounds pretty fun.  I’ll have to try that soon.  Also, supposedly the little critters are just as happy in soy or even coconut milk, which could be interesting. 

For more information on kefir than most people could possibly absorb, check out Dom’s Kefir in-site.  Highly informative, with lots of tips and tricks, and recipes. 

Friday, 24 June 2005 23:14:58 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #    Comments [0]
# Tuesday, 19 October 2004

I'm a big fan of whole grain cereal, particularly raw, sugar free muesli types.  These days I have a new favorite though.  The clever people at Food For Life have come up with a new flourless, sprouted grain cereal that I really like.  It's basically their Ezekiel Bread, ground up and dried until it's crunchy.  It's very reminiscent of Grape Nuts (tm), only it's all organic with no additives, sugar, preservatives, etc.  It's great with a little soy milk and some bananas and raisins.  Very crunchy.  While obviously full of dreaded “carbs” it's all made from low-glycemic sprouted grains, which are high in both protein and fiber.  Godd stuff.  And it takes a bit less chewing than muesli. :-)

Tuesday, 19 October 2004 02:31:05 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #    Comments [0]
# Thursday, 24 June 2004

While I can't stand sweet coffee, I must admit to a craving for sweetened tea that I picked up while in Ireland a few years back.  There are some food stories there that I'll have to post some time.  Anyway, I love the occasional sweetened tea, but I'm pretty much totally off of sucrose.  The idea of adding aspartame to a hot beverage fills me with dread (it's not good for you) so I mostly just don't drink sweetened tea anymore.

Recently I decided to try stevia, which comes from a plant, is much sweeter than sugar, and comes from a natural source.  It also has 0 calories and supposedly 0 effect on blood sugar.  I got some packets of stevia mixed with FOS (a soluble fiber that's supposed to promote the growth of healthy GI bacteria) for bulk.  It's quite lovely in tea.  No after taste that I can detect, it's quite sweet.  I use a really big teacup, so a whole packet is OK, but in a regular sized cup it would be too sweet for me.  I haven't tried it in any cold drinks yet, but will soon.  I want to see if I can make it work for sekanjabin, which is one of my favorite summer beverages.

The only thing about it that inspires caution is that it hasn't been approved as a sweetener by the FDA, but I would tend to agree with some web sources that the lack of approval probably has a lot to do with the fact that stevia is a plant that isn't patentable and therefore doesn't benefit big chemical companies (the ones with all the lobbyists) who make stuff like aspartame and sucralose.  There are some references to studies on stevia.net that suggest that it's pretty safe, but of course many such studies can be made to reach whatever conclusion you want.  The fact that the FDA hasn't approved it as a sweetener (although they OK'ed it as a "dietary supplement") won't keep me up nights.

Thursday, 24 June 2004 23:01:45 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #    Comments [0]
# Thursday, 10 June 2004

10 Foods you should never eat [via Scott].  I'm not sure I agree 100% with all their criteria, mostly around saturated fats, but all in all quite the lineup.  It's pretty amazing how gross a lot of commercial food products are when you stop to think about it.  There are some studies coming out that maybe saturated vegetable fats aren't so bad for us (in moderation) but 40% of your day's fat from a little snack is obviously not a good thing. 

Luckily most of the foods on their list are completely gross, and you wouldn't want to eat them anyway :-).

Thursday, 10 June 2004 18:26:25 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #    Comments [0]
# Tuesday, 27 April 2004
A while back I posted on the idea of mindfulness as applied to eating.  There's an interesting article on Yoga Journal that takes that idea to the next level. 
Tuesday, 27 April 2004 23:24:03 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #    Comments [0]
# Thursday, 08 April 2004

I saw a really interesting tidbit in the new issue of EatingWell (which, BTW, is a great magazine: good recipes, and great nutrition info) that really hilights the fact that what you eat is at least as important as how many calories you eat. 

Anyway, a study took a group of overweight men and women and put them on 1,000 calorie-a-day diets.  Half of those calories were from the same foods for all the participants.  The other half came from different sources.  Half the people got those calories from complex carbs like pasta and bread, the other half got the same number of calories from almonds.  The almond people lost 62% more weight, and more body fat. 

That's pretty dramatic.  That's why the whole low-glycemic thing makes sense to me.  I think the biggest problem with low-carb versus low-glycemic is that low-carb encourages people (since most people don't think very carefully about it) to eat lots of calories in the form of fat, which has other consequences.  Just because you aren't eating carbs doesn't mean you aren't eating calories, and no matter what food you eat, if you eat more calories than you burn, you won't lose weight.  The key to the low-glycemic diets is that you encourage your body to burn the fats you are eating, so that you are burning all the calories you are eating instead of storing them in favor of burning carbs.  That's true of low-carb diets too, but my personal feeling is that low-glycemic diets encourage healthier long-term eating habits as opposed to the either all meat or all fake foods that people tend to fall into on the low-carb diets. 

That said, I eat my fare share of low-carb protein bars, sweets, etc.  But I also try to get good low-glycemic whole foods that are nutritious.  It's tough on a busy schedule, but it can be done.

Thursday, 08 April 2004 18:42:31 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #    Comments [0]
# Wednesday, 10 March 2004
I can't say I'm surprised, but the CDC officially declares that we as a society are eating ourselves to death.  Diet related health problems are causing almost as many deaths as smoking.  That should serve as a wakeup call.  Remember those "Stop violating your mind with television!" bumper stickers from the 80's?  Went along with Bob Dobbs?  We need new ones that say "Stop violating your body with crappy food!". 
Wednesday, 10 March 2004 17:12:35 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #    Comments [0]
# Tuesday, 02 March 2004

I've been under some pretty crazy time pressure lately, and as a result I've been eating out way too frequently.  Most of the time I try to be pretty selective, and stay away from junk food. 

Last night I had all of about 10 minutes to get dinner for the whole family in between hectic activities, and I cracked.  I went to McDonald's.  The ignominy!  The shame!  The carbs!  The worst part, of course, was that it tasted really good.  Just like the cheap gastronomic crack that it is.  I shudder to think what it's doing to me even now.  I heaped on some extra flax seed oil on my cereal this morning to compensate. :-)

Therein lies the problem with food like that.  It tastes good.  It's full of things that are rare in nature, and that our bodies therefore crave and have lots of taste receptors for.  And the occasional indulgence probably isn't too bad.  Or maybe I'm just rationalizing.  People who eat that kind of food all the time are hurting themselves.  Stay away!  It's not good for you. 

On the other hand (and I didn't know the rant would go this way, but there you have it) it's certainly not McDonald's fault that people are hurting themselves by eating their food.  The idea that people are suing fast food companies over being unhealthy is completely ludacris and inappropriate IMHO.  The fast food companies are catering to the market.  They don't make you eat there every day.  That's your choice.  It's up to consumers to understand that the food's not good for them, and that's hardly a secret.  Taking responsibility for your own health and nutrition is essential, and no one is going to do it for you.  Don't wait for your doctor to tell you to go on Lipitor, just eat better (and excercise, but that's a whole 'nother story).

OK, I'll stop now.  I'll go back to basking in the glow of my musli and soy yogurt with apples and bananas.  Ahhhhhh. 

Tuesday, 02 March 2004 18:03:59 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #    Comments [2]
# Wednesday, 11 February 2004

Over the past two or so years I’ve lost over 50 pounds (yea me!) and the first thing that people I haven’t seen in a while ask is “are you on ‘the Atkins’?”.

Nope.  I think the Atkins diet is bad for you, and has long term consequences for your health that you may not notice for years to come.  It makes people sick.  Don’t do it.  I know there’s been a great deal of controversy on this particular issue, and I don’t have tons of statistics on my side.  Mostly instinct.  We’re not made (evolutionarily speaking) to eat that way.  Meat is hard to catch.  The other big problem is that people do lose weight on the Atkins diet quickly, and that’s pretty encouraging.  I just don’t think it’s worth the eventual consequences.  It teaches people to forget that in the long run, at the end of the day, you have to expend more calories than you eat every day, or you won’t lose weight.  That means that just because you’re eating too many calories that all came from fat you won’t lose weight any faster than if you’re eating too many calories worth of white bread. 

My dieting strategy has had much more to do with the theories behind books like The New Glucose Revolution.  The key issue to be concerned about is not whether or not you are eating carbohydrates, but what those carbohydrates are doing to your blood sugar.  Eat carbs all you want, but choose carbs that have less impact on your blood sugar (and therefore insulin) levels.  Wheat bread instead of white bread, rice instead of potatoes, whole grain cereals like musli instead of cornflakes.  These are pretty simple changes to make, and they make a difference.  I think this route leads to much healthier eating than does the Atkins diet.  We’re supposed to be eating things with carbs.  Look at pre-industrial society for clues there.  We’re just not supposed to be eating refined carbs like white flour and sugar. 

Anyway, I think that no matter which diet you choose, the single biggest factor is what I think of as “mindful eating”.  I realize that sounds rather Buddhist (and it is, I suppose), but it makes a huge difference in how you feel and how much you weigh.  Just think about what you’re putting into your mouth.  It’s as simple as that.  Ask yourself questions like

  • Is this good for me?
  • Is this bad for me? (chemicals, artificial ingredients, etc.)
  • If so, how bad?
  • Am I going to expend this many calories today?
  • Do I really want to eat this? Or is it just habit?
  • What’s really in this? (possibly the most important one)
  • Is there an alternative that would be better for me?

I’m not suggesting that you adhere slavishly to the answers to any of those questions, but I think you’ll find that just by asking them, you’ll eat better, and probably lose weight, if that’s your goal.  I think way too many people these days eat horrible food because they don’t stop to ask these questions.  I mean not just horrible in terms of health concerns, but just plain gross food.  Take a look at some of the junk in the grocery store. 

On that note, please take as much care about asking yourself those questions before you give food to your kids.  They depend on us to feed them food that’s healthy and won’t harm them down the road.

I think if you get in the habit of asking yourself about the food you eat, you’ll find yourself eating more whole foods, and more food that’s better for your body (and your wallet, but that’s another story).  You may decide that you worked out extra hard, and you just feel like a chocolate bar today.  OK, eat it, but just think about why you're eating it, and what it means to your body.

One last note: I had been excersing pretty regularly for a couple of years, and not losing any weight until I changed my diet.  Now that I've lost the weight, I find that how much I excersise makes a bigger difference now than it did before.  Even if I eat mindfully, I still have to excersise or I'll start gaining weight.  Remember, if calories in > calories out, you'll gain weight, no matter where the calories came from.

Wednesday, 11 February 2004 21:38:38 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #    Comments [0]
# Wednesday, 04 February 2004

It’s harder and harder these days to promote good nutrition at home, since so many of the products that kids and other family members are exposed to are full of complete and total crap.  Don’t even get me started on school lunches.  (More on that some other time.)  So there are times when it’s useful to sneak in some nutritious foods without your kids (or others :-) ) noticing. 

My son is pretty adventurous in his eating habits. He loves sushi, eats bean-spread sandwiches with relish (enjoyment, not pickles) and demands chicken livers at New Years.  My daughter, on the other hand, is a completely different story.  If she could live exclusively on cheese-flavored wheat flour paste, she would. 

One of the areas that I always seem to get into conflict with the rest of the family is pancakes.  I like “weird” pancakes.  Whole wheat, cornmeal, buckwheat, barley flour, you name it.  And I tend to throw in things like flax seed meal, wheat germ, soy flour, and other (IMHO) interesting ingredients.  Since I took up the low-glycemic lifestyle 2 years ago, the last thing I’m down with is pasty white pancakes. 

This doesn’t go down well with the rest of the gang.  My wife asks for “regular” pancakes, and my son begs for no more “healthy” pancakes. 

I’ve discovered, however, that crepes are apparently exempt from these restrictions.  I make what my wife calls crepes, and I grew up calling “roll-ups” with all the weird ingredients I want.  Bring on the flax seed, bran, soy protein, you name it, and no one seems to be too bothered.  Of course, when you roll said crepe around enough butter and applesauce, there’s only so bad it can be.  I continue on the path of pancake experimentation, but for now at least I have an out.

I’ve been meaning to try some yeast-risen pancakes or waffles.  I used to do that fairly often, but haven’t in ages.  I noticed that in this months Cooks Illustrated, there’s an article on yeast-risen waffles, so I’m feeling re-inspired. 

Wednesday, 04 February 2004 22:21:03 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #    Comments [0]
# Wednesday, 21 January 2004

Back in my wayward youth in the far off 70’s I was raised pretty much exclusively on hippy vegetarian food.  Seeing as I grew up (through my elementary school years) in Marin County, CA, and it was the 70’s after all, that seemed to me the norm rather than the exception.  I’m talking old school hippy vegetarian, the likes of the original Moosewood cookbook, and lots of things involving tofu, wheat germ, and (heaven forefend) carob. 

The result of such an upbringing was that when I went away to college, I thought things like chicken fried steak and chipped beef on toast were exotic and fascinating, but that’s another story.

Occasionally I miss those old standbys of hippy vegetarian comfort food, and lately I’ve been doing a lot of experimenting with peanut butter balls.  For those of you who aren’t into such things, peanut butter balls basically consist of some peanut butter, with some other binding agents and something to dry them out enough so that they don’t stick to the hands of children or nostalgic adults.  Back in the dim time, dry milk powder and wheat germ were popular additives. 

When you’re done, you get little balls of peanutty goodness, just bursting with protein, some fat, and just enough sugar (usually honey) to make them attractive.  A great snack for kids on the go, since they’re full of energy and not full of sugar and starch. 

Anyway, I’ve been experimenting a bit, and have come up with a pretty decent combination of stuff. 

  • Peanut butter (my personal favorite is Maranatha organic)
    • I’ve also tried adding some sesame butter (also Maranatha brand) and almond butter with good results
  • Wheat germ (adds fiber and has a nice texture)
  • Flax seeds (a nice crunch, and lots of Omega-3s)
  • Barley malt (a nice mellow sweetener, and lots of vitamins)
  • A little honey or agave nectar (a low-glycemic alternative to honey)
  • Dry whey powder (protein, nice filler, I use Bob’s Red Mill brand)
  • Instead of whey powder, I’ve also used soy grits (about the texture of fine cornmeal) which was good but adds a very slight bitterness
  • I’ve also tried substituting some flax seed meal for some of the wheat germ, which adds some nutrition and didn’t seem to affect the taste.
  • Raisins (my favorite are organic “flame” raisins)

 

Mix all that up in a bowl, check the consistency (should be like playdough) and roll into little balls.  I’ve tried rolling the balls in either wheat germ, or coconut, which makes them less sticky.  My kids especially liked the coconut.

A quick, nostalgic (at least for some of us) and healthy snack.  Mmmmmm, good :-)

 

Wednesday, 21 January 2004 18:11:06 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #    Comments [2]