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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A Mindful New Years Eve

Well in advance, I knew New Years Eve would be a day largely without my hardworking husband.

There wouldn't be new recipes for hors d'oeuvres that we all could thank Pinterest for or craft beers in champagne glasses (because we don't really like champagne, anyway.)

It was going to be a day with my gorgeous son, like almost any other, except for the knowledge that we would be on the edge of a relatively imaginary cliff, with a new 50%-off calendar on the other side.

Okay, I'll play ball.

If today is to set a precedent for the new year--if it's supposed to set an example--what should it look like?

This year's need for "example" has even more importance, since I and we are now responsible for another human being. Yes, he was here last year. But, he was days old, and I was still afraid of my newly postpartum body.

A few major categories began to emerge: reading something spectacular, nature, art, cooking, undivided attention, exercise, yoga/meditation.

The day was going to begin with a trip to a museum, there was going to be a walk through the park, but then life started to happen.

The new baby human places more emphasis on tradition; so, there is shopping to be done for the New Years Day meal. We need dog food. My husband hates our deodorant. We're almost out of toothpaste. I need to go to the post office.

Add in time for meals and tiny human naps, and there was no time for Andy Warhol at all.

There was a need to keep the spirit of the intended day in the day that was.

It became clear that the precedent to be set had nothing to do with categories and everything to do with what the categories represented: mindfulness.

The post office didn't open until 15 minutes after we arrived. (For those who don't know, 15 minutes of "nothing" is an eternity for a 1-year-old…and his mom.) We didn't meet this news with frustration, but saw an opportunity to walk together.

We didn't go into the pet store on autopilot, purchasing the same brand of food as last time. We read; we didn't rush, and we found a variety formulated to protect the joints of our pup who endured two knee surgeries last year.

There was scarcely a parking spot at the grocery store. Before entering, I talked to my son about anticipating the nuttiness of what we were about to walk into, and "we" took a slow deep breath. Inside, we moved at the pace of the crowd without foot-tapping or white knuckles, and we took the time to ooh and ahh at the orchids that stood as impulse buys between the produce and the deli.

We made a meal of fresh vegetables and a-few-day-old noodles that I was determined not to waste.

We played, and read poetry.

I exercised. I meditated.

The meal was purchased. Dog food, deodorant and toothpaste were bought. We mailed our packages.

Tomorrow will include time outside with no buildings in sight and wiping handfuls of paint across canvas.

We didn't live the day we set out to; we lived the day that came to us to the best of our ability, which is probably the only example that matters.

photo credit: riptheskull via photopin cc

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Vegetarian chili for those who hate rules

For those who read my previous Tweet and thought, "Mmm, vegetarian chili sounds good," I thought I'd share my dandy little recipe.

Honestly, I have no intention of telling you exactly how much of each item to include because A. I don't measure and B. the taste and spiciness of chili is extremely individual; so, grab some ground cayenne, and do your worst...or add the tiniest amount and still feel like a rebel.

Yet another perk of a meatless chili: You can taste as you go without risk of food borne illness from undercooked meat!

Gather these:
Olive oil
Peppers of any variety
Scallions (or other onion of choice)
1 can tomato paste
Bean(s) of choice
Diced tomatoes (2 canned or a boatload of fresh)
Spices of choice (chili powder, black pepper, cumin, cayenne pepper, garlic powder)
Zucchini and/or summer squash
Elbow macaroni-like noodle (optional)
Sour cream (optional)
Shredded cheese (optional)
Fresh cilantro (optional)

(Recommended amounts below serve 4-ish rather hungry people.)

Think of your grandmother's soup pot (you know, the one she had to store in the basement because no kitchen cabinet on earth is that big) and divide in half in order to select the correct sized pot. Grab the olive oil, take the cap off, flip it over and squiggle it around making pretty designs in the bottom of the pot until it's coated with a thin layer. Turn the heat on low.

Add 5-7 chopped scallions, 1.5-2 chopped bell peppers and 3-4 stalks chopped celery.

Have fun with the peppers: Any color or member of the pepper family is welcome.

Sidenote: If carrots, celery and onion is a mirepoix, what is the holy trinity of onion, celery and bell pepper called?


Let the menage-a-veggie sweat a little. (So, let them soften a bit.)

Add in one mini-can of tomato paste and mix. (Go lycopene!)

Spice it up: chili powder, cayenne pepper, black pepper, cumin and garlic powder are my go-to flavors.

Bring on the protein! All of the beans I use are prepared from dry then frozen.

According to my dosha, I should eat black beans, and I often do. (No, I'm not kidding.) Also, there's the whole undercooked-kidney-beans-can-make-you-really-sick thing that I'm too paranoid to tempt.

Two bean varieties add visual appeal, like black and great northern, for example.

How much? I add beans until the distribution looks like I'd get at least one bean per bite. Pretty scientific, eh?

Next, 1-1.5 small-to-medium zucchini and/or summer squash. (Remember that summer squash is a bit tougher and will take longer to cook. Also remember that summer squash adds a gorgeous splash of golden yellow to your dish.)

Last, add two large cans of diced tomatoes or a whole bunch of fresh or a mixture.

Served with elbow macaroni, sour cream, some shredded cheddar and fresh cilantro is kiss-your-fingertips fantastic.

This recipe's free-to-be-you-and-me lack of rigidity allows you to empty your fridge, use the veggies that are about to go limp and show some gratitude by using up all of what you already have. (Not to mention, it means you get every penny out of your last grocery store trip.)

Great. I made myself hungry.

photo credit: I Believe I Can Fry via photopin cc

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

What is that warning on the side of your Diet Coke?

And I quote your can of Diet Coke:


(I'm not yelling; the warning appears in all capital letters.)

What does it all mean, man? It goes back to babies' second day of life.

When very new to this earth, newborns endure a "heel stick" which provides a very small amount of blood used to test for a variety of genetic disorders. Exactly which disorders are assessed is state-specific, but phenylketonuria (abbreviated PKU) is universal.

If you're wondering why it is so completely necessary to "traumatize" newborns in this way, the answer is a pretty good one: The tested disorders often have no symptoms at birth, but can result in serious disabilities or even death if undetected.

Like blue eyes, PKU is a genetically "recessive" condition, meaning that both mom and dad need to contribute a the "PKU gene" in order for their child to have the disorder. This results in one in every 10,000-15,000 babies testing positive for PKU--a disorder than can lead to brain damage and mental retardation or worse if not managed appropriately.

Proteins are made up of amino acids. Classic phenylketonuria renders the body unable to break down one of the amino acids found in proteins, phenylalanine, causing it to build up in the body. We all have a small amount of phenylalanine in our bodies, but individuals with PKU accumulate toxic levels.

Signs of classic PKU appear at about six months of age (if untreated) and include irritability, seizures, eczema, musty body odor, pale hair and skin and developmental delays.

What's super tough about managing this disorder is phenylalanine's presence in all proteins, plus artificial sweeteners.

Yep, I said all.

Artificial sweeteners are easy enough to avoid, though it does require a lot of label reading, but how do you avoid protein?

It begins with by-prescription, phenylalanine-free formula and foods naturally or modified to be low in protein. A supplement that helps to break down phenylalanine may be added to handle whatever amount the child does encounter.

Handling the biological portion of this disorder is complicated, but think about having PKU and trying to attend a friend's birthday party or a fourth of July cookout.

How are these families supported? Through a handful of professionals.

Dietitians are intimately involved in the care of these individuals, knowing exactly how to balance the substances they need to avoid with gaining the necessary nutrients.

Support groups give the afflicted and their families methods of coping with the disorder practically and socially.

Genetic counselors may be utilized to gain understanding about the disorder and the chances of the same couple having another child affected, which ranges from 25 to 100-percent depending on the parents' genetic makeup.

A family physician is involved to orchestrate the findings from these specialists and monitor the physiological portion of the disease, at the very least.

How about that: There's something very important written on the side of your soda can.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Vegetarian and Pretty Darn Clean Corn and Potato Chowder

Your presence here is historic.

This marks my first original recipe. Fear not, however, I've eaten it, and I guarantee that this will be the best vegetarian potato, corn, chowdery thing you've ever eaten from a crock pot that was recommended by a blogger named Abby. (Okay, it's not a real guarantee, but I do think you'll enjoy it.)

Here it goes.

photo credit: whitneyinchicago via photopin cc

Vegetarian, Vegan and Pretty Darn Clean…
Corn and Potato Chowder...made in a crock pot

1 pound potatoes (I used red.)
12-16 oz bag frozen corn (or be really fancy and roast some on the cob and add…without the cob)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon garlic salt
1 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon thyme (I used fresh.)
1/4-1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1-1.5 teaspoons chopped rosemary (I used fresh.)
1/2 shallot
4 cups vegetable broth
2/3 cup heavy cream

Clean and cut potatoes (long-ways, then across…usually into 6-8 pieces, depending on the size of the potato). Yes, potatoes are the Dirty Dozen list of the most pesticide-ridden edibles. So, clean thoroughly and move on, or buy/grow organic.

Add cut potatoes, frozen corn and very thinly sliced shallots to crock pot.

Add flour and turn over ingredients with a spoon to coat them evenly.

Add all spices.
Since you've already added shallots, do you really need to add onion powder? Probably not, but I haven't tried it that way; so, I assume no responsibility for your potentially bland soup if you do not add it.

Add vegetable broth.

Cook until potatoes are soft enough to be speared with a knife.
Let's be honest. Recommending an amount of time to leave this soup in your crock pot is entirely dependent upon the size of your crock pot and how temperamental it may or may not be. And how often you lift the lid. And if you followed the recipe exactly. Bank on at least 4 hours on the low setting.

When the potatoes are soft enough, add the cream, and continue to cook until cream is warm.
You can leave it on "keep warm" for a few hours, if need be.

If you feel like impressing someone, garnish with some chopped, fresh parsley or a sprig of thyme.

Friday, October 3, 2014

5 reasons why you should be using dry beans

Photo credit: swong95765 via photopin cc

It's one of those grocery store autopilot moves. Push your cart. Grab a can of beans for the upcoming week's batch of chili.

I propose a different method: dry beans.

Purchased in bulk or from pre-portioned bags, the smaller, dry and hard versions of the beans to which you've become accustomed demand a little more attention up front with several benefits making the time investment worth your while.

1. They're cheap. Depending on variety and the size of the bean, one pound of dry beans yields about four cans of pre-prepared beans. The best part? That pound of dry beans costs less than $2.50, or about half of what you would spend on the canned version.

For those keeping track, that's half the price for twice as much.

2. Less waste Not only does that one pound of dried beans decrease your monetary cost, but it decreases cost to the environment and our collective resources by knocking out the use of four metal cans, paper labels and ink in favor of a very thin, small plastic or paper bag.

3. No BPA Bisphenol A (known as BPA) is an unsavory additive to many plastics, thermal paper (used for receipts) and is known to line the inside of cans so that the food is not in direct contact with the metal. It is also known to mimic estrogen, potentially causing a litany of health problems.

In 2010, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) identified possible hazards to fetuses, infants and young children, which it then ignored in 2013 stating that BPA is safe at the very low levels found in some foods. (Other countries such as Canada, the European Union and Japan have more strict standards on this crappy little chemical.)

Seems to me that we should be doing our best to avoid BPA, which you can do easily by avoiding the use of canned beans.

4. Taste No need to bury the lede: Dry beans taste better. It sounds silly; I know. I didn't believe it myself until I ate my second helping of "homemade" great northern beans. Then, I tried black beans. Then, kidney beans. There is a subtlety to the flavor of these legumes that, to me (and my, potentially, unrefined palette), is undetectable with their canned counterparts.

5. Accessibility Rather than opening an entire can of beans when you wish to use a smaller amount, never knowing if you'll actually use the remainder of the can before it spoils, bags of prepared beans in the freezer allow you to use the magical fruit in any quantity without risk of waste. Not to mention, the ease of use may just inspire you to add the heart and gut-healthy little morsels to your meals far more often.

So, here's how you do it. Take your dry beans (as much as you want--don't feel pressured to make the whole pound at once) and rinse them in a colander. Place them in a bowl to soak in plenty of water for six-to-eight hours or overnight. They'll puff up, but they still aren't ready to eat in that they're still "raw". Add them to a pot with enough water to cover the beans, and bring them to a boil until they are soft enough to eat, which often takes 30-40 minutes.

What happens next is up to you. If you'll use them quickly enough, store them in the fridge. If not, store them in the freezer.

This super affordable food is backed with antioxidants, fiber, protein, B vitamins, iron, magnesium copper and zinc, and, not to mention, is a great way to get all of those nutrients without the saturated fat (and other undesirables) found in most animal proteins.

Whether you're searching for your next Meatless Monday recipe or to make your Mama's ham and bean soup, dried beans are an economical, tasty and satisfying way to truly cook from scratch.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Mommy-and-me virgin no more: Tips and observations

Photo credit: Frisco Public Library via photopin cc
1. Pat-Pat-Clap...
...does not mean you're about to break into We Will Rock You. The time you spend lamenting this truth and singing the Queen super-hit in your head will completely distract you from whichever nursery rhyme you're suppose to be pat-pat-clapping to.

Similar, yet deserving of its own bullet…

2. Repeating "hush" twice in a "hushed" voice is not a tribute to Deep Purple. Again, very distracting from baby rhymingness.

3. Those short people are thieves.
My husband and I are only children, which means two things: (1) We don't have siblings, nor do we have nieces or nephews, and (2) we have the personalities of only children. So, our son hasn't had a lot of experience with other children.
His first? A toddler who stole the toy he was playing with. (This is merely an observation, not a complaint. Little Winona Ryder's mom handled the situation flawlessly.)

4. Do not overdress. No one will like you.
There were baseball hats, workout clothes, cardigans and jeans. By that measure, I fit right in. By another, however…

5. Makeup, the great divider
I spoke to one other mom at this slobbery shindig: the other mom who dared to line her eyes. She even wore--not gloss, not Chapstick--honest-to-God lipstick, IN PLUM. What a hussy.

6. Protect your crack.
I must credit my fellow make-up-wearer with this bit of advice.
"I found an extra-long tank top to tuck into my jeans because I knew I'd be doing this," as she reached out for her daughter from hands-and-knees.
Noted, wise one.

7. Book Babies is not puppy class.
When our Treeing Walker coonhound/beagle mix was a four-month-old wild man, we attended a puppy class that began with the dogs freely running around the room. It was social, spirited, energy-zapping and unbelievably entertaining, maybe even for the dogs.
Any thoughts I had about mommy and me being a similar event were quickly quashed.
The experience was completely sanitized by the moms' concern over toy stealing, accidental hitting and God knows what else.
Classify this behavior up there with peanut-free classrooms, sports where everyone makes the team and Gaylord Focker's 6th place trophy.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

When watching football becomes a parenting decision

Here's something I thought I'd never say: The NFL has left me with a lot to think about.

Growing up, football-watching was simple. Every Steeler football Sunday, Mom made a fresh batch of homemade spaghetti sauce; the aroma would taunt me for the entire day, but there was no eating until after the game. Sometimes we'd mute the TV and turn on the radio to listen to Myron Cope. The entire feeling of a chilly Sunday was soundtracked by the NFL jingle, Terry Bradshaw and the feeling of my worn-in sweatpants.

My son probably won't have the same memories.

With the proliferation of child abuse and domestic violence claims--not to mention the drug charges and weapons charges that have polka-dotted the past several years--a league that represented everything warm, family-oriented and pumpkin-spiced on a Sunday afternoon has become a series of negative examples, showing what not to do.

(Maybe there was something misguided in the first place about centering family activities around a sport which promotes aggression and the physical domination of other human beings. ESPN's Hannah Storm astutely pointed out that there's something fishy about encouraging player aggressiveness on the field and expecting the opposite in the rest of their lives.)

We don't own our children; they are only ours to care for. As a result, their (non-self-destructive) preferences are certainly not ours to dictate. However, it is becoming the case that we simply cannot run the risk of the Adrian Petersons of the world becoming idols of the most recent batch of human beings.

It is becoming the case that we cannot be football fans.

And the problem runs so much deeper than the quality of the individuals being drafted by NFL teams.

Roger Goodell--because of his vast experience as a battered woman, one can only assume--has decided that the first incident of domestic violence by an NFL player is aptly countered by a six game suspension.

Because the woman's emotional scars will only last that long? Certainly not.

Because the public will only care for that long? Well, maybe.

For some reason, we are quickly distracted when it comes to our athletes. There is emotion wrapped up in growing up a fan, the home team, the rivalries, the tradition of that Sunday afternoon.

Most people had negative feelings toward Ray Lewis, but calling him an expletive is maybe too often as much of a stand as any of us took.

The NFL is preying on our short attention spans and appealing to whatever emotion we have invested in our teams. Domestic violence earns a six week suspension because that's how little the NFL thinks of our integrity, our gusto, our ability to stick to our guns. And, maybe because that's all we've ever shown them.

It might be time to show them something new. Something with a little more guts. Something that is unpleasant for those raised to be football fans. Something that protects our sons and stands up for our daughters.

Maybe Sundays aren't for football anymore.