December 22, 2011

Home

Mes amis, I’ve been away for a while. So much has happened since my last post that I honestly feel like a different person. But perhaps you do too, so it may be a good thing that we are meeting again.

The summer ended in a whirlwind–the last days of my job, a brief jaunt to South America with NPR and family. I flew back the night before my new PA program began, head still spinning, running on adrenaline. Things started out smooth enough…excitement, new friends/classmates, thisisthefirstdayofmylife, yada yada. Ah, little did I know. The intensity of my program rose from 0 to 90 within a couple of weeks, and let up…oh, you know, a few days ago. And my mornings went from this:

To this:

Oh wait, do you not see a photo? Yes, that’s right. For all of my preachiness about being healthy, I skipped breakfast–not to mention cooking in general– for the better part of the last five months. Sympathy? No thanks…just a bit of understanding regarding my disappearance off the face of the planet. And now I’m home, resting, and sleeping off the vertigo with a batting average of 2.2 naps a day. But rest, family and good food are the perfect prescription, and each day has been feeling a bit more normal.

I even coaxed myself into the kitchen to make my traditional (er, since last year) Christmas muesli:

Based largely on this recipe and made gluten-free, for special people around me with gluten aversions. Make it and enjoy, or give to someone you love.

It’s so good to be home.

June 22, 2011

What dreams (and greens) may come

Lately, I’ve been having this running dialogue in my head. With myself. Yes, I know that’s not a good sign. Onward. It starts up around…oh…8, 9, 10 pm at night. When I’m supposed to be getting ready for bed. Or when I’m supposed to be sleeping. In short, it goes something like this (Evil Becky has been represented in italics in the below dialogue):

***

–I’m sleepy. I should get ready for bed.
–But there are so many things I could do right now…like watch all of the episodes of This American Life on Netflix!
–I can watch them later…I need to get up early for my workout tomorrow.
–…I could study medical terminology…or read all of those books that I have to write reports on before August…
–I’m sleepy. I really should go to bed.
–That’s right, I AM sleepy. I just need a little snack to keep me going!

***

And it all goes downhill from there. The night creeps towards waking hours, and I can be found filling out tourist visa forms, cleaning out my closet and organizing my desk. Obviously I’m too cool for school. Most nights, I feel like this:

Source

I’ve known this for some time now, and I’ve decided to finally go public: My name is Becky, and I have a sleep problem. For a while. Maybe most of my life! I’ve hated naps since I was a kid, and always had to be coaxed into them. Naps aside, I’ve wished more than once that I could simply plug into some energy source and recharge à la Energizer Bunny. Alas, sleep is still an integral part of a healthy life, and I’ve been short-circuiting mine through this unhealthy habit.

Not sleeping–unhealthy, really? Yup. It’s serious business, too. Slumber helps us to consolidate daily input into our memory (read: make sense of your life!), and a deficit is linked to a host of chronic diseases, depressed immunity and weight gain (most likely due to midnight snacking…ouch). Plus we need more of it: the latest recommendations have upped the adult sleep requirement (formerly 7 hours) to 7-9 hours.

Hmmm. I need an attitude adjustment toward my nights on the double. So what if it took a New York Times article to convince me? I’ve decided to create a challenge for myself, and of course, you’re welcome to come along, too. I’m calling it “Eight in Eight.” What can I say…I’m guessing my sleep deprivation is zapping my creativity as well. The challenge is simple–get eight hours of sleep for eight days. In a row. Starting tonight. I’m cringing a little as I write this. But I’m going to keep a diary of sorts to record (1) if I make the challenge for the day, and (2) how I feel during the day energy-wise. I’ll let you know how it goes on the 28th!

In the meantime, I’m adopting a few strategies to help woo myself into bed (please, um, refrain from comments of an inappropriate nature). I’m sure you all already practice them, and I’m way behind the trend of sleeping through the night. However, do permit me to share:

1. Remove all clutter from your bedroom: I did this yesterday. Check.
2. Stop eating several hours before your bedtime: Um, starting this tonight. Semi-check.
3. Stop all forms of electronic stimuli (email/internet, movies, etc.) at least one hour before your bedtime: Eek, this will be hard. Starting tonight.
4. Plan a scrumptious breakfast to wake up to. Check!

It’s no secret that I love breakfast. But hot oats and scrambled eggs have no place in steamy Atlanta summers. What to do?

Go green!

I discovered Kimberly Snyder’s blog last year and was happy to see her book come out a couple of months ago. A beautiful clinical nutritionist and yoga instructor, Kimberly features simple but delicious raw recipes on her blog and in her book. Her “Glowing Green Smoothie” has also appeared on a host of shows and is being promoted by celebrities that Kimberly works with. I started drinking one of her smoothies last summer that I want to share with you all…although it makes for a lighter breakfast, this tasty, refreshing breakfast drink will surprise you with its sweetness. It is the perfect option for those summer days when you don’t want to feel weighed down with a heavy breakfast, or for when you have heavier meals planned for later in the day.

***
Summertime Smoothie, adapted from Kimberly Snyder’s Glowing Green Summer Smoothie

Ingredients:
-2 cups of spinach
-1 cup of purified water
-1 very ripe white peach or white nectarine, sliced up
-scant handful of fresh mint leaves
-3-4 ice cubes

Directions:
Blend the spinach, water and mint together until smooth. Add the peach/nectarine slices and ice cubes. Blend until smooth.

***

Enjoy, and be sure to check out Kim’s blog!

June 13, 2011

How to get your groove back (a simple guide)

1. make time to be with your family. wherever they may be.


2. visit a place you once lived. it helps if it’s California. and if you eat a bit of raw food along the way.

3. go and stand in your best friend’s wedding. remember when you both talked of this day, and how far away it seemed at the time.


4. explore your home (for the next few years, anyway), with someone you love. very much. make delicious meals. be thankful for time, serendipity and amazing farmers’ markets.


Stone Mountain, 93 degree weather



Sophie Dahl’s
Stewed Chicken with Olives…


…avec Mama Pea’s Sunshine Kale Salad


The only shrimp I’ve ever liked, cooked in a curry (an NPR original) and served with Trappist Ale (an NPR favorite)

Chloe Coscarelli’s Mexicali Sliders with Cajun Yam Fries



yummy dessert of dark chocolate, roasted almonds and home-dried fruits from a favorite new cookbook


Repeat above steps as necessay
.***

That’s right, folks, I’m back…sorry for the neglect. You’ve caught me at a strange time, finishing up my current job, getting ready to start my graduate program and trying to squeeze in two manuscripts in the process! In short, my inkwell doth run dry. But I continue to be inspired by those around me who persist in creative expression in spite of busyness, and I’ve decided this is the sort of person I want to be. In short, sorry I’ve been away so long. We are going to have a great summer.

***
Photo credits: Christine Swanson (Family photos 1-3), Debbie Miller (Family photos 4-7, all California photos, Wedding Photos 1-2), Brad Walcher (Wedding photos 3-4)

April 3, 2011

Matcha Do About Nothing

I can’t believe the weekend is almost over. It’s been so beautiful, with 70-degree weather and clear, sunny skies. Such a treat after a long, dreary week filled with overcast skies and rain. On gorgeous days like this, it’s quite easy to rise with the sun and flee to Piedmont Park for a quick run, a leisurely walk or simply to doggie-watch (I melt every time I see a Schnauzer). In contrast, during the storm-filled week, I found myself dragging in every way…skipping workouts, rising out of bed with unnecessary resentment toward my alarm clock, even passing on breakfast a time or two in the rush to get to work (for shame..I know, I know!). By Thursday, I was fed up in more ways than one. I needed an energy boost and a light, refreshing and QUICK breakfast to reclaim the spring my step and the season upon us. Farewell, oatmeal: I shall see you next fall. Tis the season of the green smoothie.

And about that energy boost. I’ve been trying to completely cut out coffee for now and rely on green tea for my caffeine fix…there are several reasons for this, and I’m sure I’ll explore them in a later entry. So in line with this goal, I picked up some matcha green tea powder from Market Spice several weeks ago during my trip to Seattle.

Source

Matcha–which can be quite expensive according to the grade/quality–is a type of Japanese green tea that has been finely ground into a powdered form. Elaborate tea ceremonies surround the preparation of matcha tea in Japan, and the powder makes a frequent appearance in Japanese cuisine, as a coloring agent as well as a flavor additive. Green tea in general has been praised for its potent antioxidant levels as well as its pro-metabolic properties. Consider matcha then as the king of green teas: it delivers much higher antioxidant levels (at least 3-fold for the antioxidant EGCG) and stronger health benefits than your ordinary cup of bagged or loose green tea. So the answer was clear. It was now also the season of the matcha.

For some time now, I’ve had my eye on the recipes at Green Lemonade, a healthy living/detox blog. When I saw a little number for a Matcha Green Tea and Apple Detox Smoothie, I knew I’d struck gold.

Delicious, light, refreshing. And the best part? I don’t have to take the extra time to brew a cup of green tea! Pinkies up, folks.

March 24, 2011

Green. Eggs. No ham.

Why hello again. Apologies for being gone so long. I haven’t exactly had writer’s block. Life just happened. Distractions, meetings, and such. I’ve been working long hours at my job for the last couple of weeks, trying to catch up on work after my Seattle jaunt, and since I have to write so much during the day, sometimes I am overtaken by the need to zone out for a while after hours. This all sounds like an excuse. What I meant to say is…Sorry I’ve been gone. I’ve missed you. And I’m back.

After my last post, I feel like I should post something rather cheery. And the title of this post may certainly suggest that I will do such a thing. But over the weekend, a dear friend suffered a horrific tragedy, one that made me want to hold on to everyone I love with a vise-like grip. Life right now feels a bit heavy, and as Will Ferrell would say, “This may sound like gibberish to you, but I think I’m in a tragedy.”

It reminds me of my brief time in West Africa, where the year is marked out according to rainfall… La saison seche et la saison des pluies. The rains began shortly after I arrived and continued on after I left. I probably saw the sun less than a week total. But the people I met there were accustomed to the moodiness of the land, and knew that the rainy season would pass. Life is punctuated by tragedy, and sometimes the punctuations don’t seem to be fairly spaced. The impermanence of life is one of its harshest realities and greatest gifts: terrible things happen, but they pass. And when they pass, we get back to living.

And in my life, getting back to living means good times (translate: good meals) with loved ones, or as I’m often apt to do, by one’s self. NPR and I got to spend one full day together this last weekend, and it was wonderful. The city smiled on us with sunshine and 70-degree weather. NPR did not smile, since–due to his polar bear tendencies–he tends to melt when the thermostat rises above the 60′s (that would be Fahrenheit, apologies to the Centigrade audience). We frolicked in Piedmont Park, were amazed at the astounding Bodies exhibit in Atlantic station, and topped off a perfect day with a delicious meal at Cakes and Ale. Sound familiar? Readers of Bon Appetit? As much as I would love to show you what we ate, I neglected to bring my camera and have nary a picture to share. I will tell you that this restaurant deserves the accolades it received in Bon Appetit. Although if I had to choose between Cafe Alsace and Cakes and Ale (both housed in the charming downtown Decatur), I think I might have to side with my little bit of France. In Georgia. I know that sounds weird.

And breakfast? You didn’t mention breakfast!

Did you even have to ask?

Apologies for the photo quality–this was one of those instances where the dish looked so scrumptious that I scrambled to take a shot as quickly as possible and then dove into the dish, hoping in vain that the picture turned out. Not so much.

A little better. Oeufs en Cocette, courtesy of the lovely Coco at Roost. I followed the recipe with a few exceptions: (1) I swapped rainbow chard for swiss, and (2) I used these lovely baby heirloom tomatoes from Melissa’s. A wonderful breakfast with two thumbs up from the boy. And if you haven’t visited Roost yet, I encourage you to stop by. Coco’s recipes are both delicious and healthy, and her entries make you feel like you’ve been invited over for coffee and are sitting down for a chat in her kitchen.

***
And for the “Green” bit of this post title…I decided to treat myself to a green juice the other day. Yes, that’s right…I equate veggie juice to a treat. If you have heard about Kris Carr, you’re probably familiar with her mantra to “Make Juice, Not War.” Kris, the late Jack LaLanne and many others are big promoters of juicing, mainly for its nutrient benefits and high digestibility. I particularly love green juice since it takes away the icky relish factor that can arise when you try to replicate green juice recipes in smoothie form. Given that I’m shy of a juicer and an unlimited food budget, I do have a few personal juicing caveats:

1. Only every now and then. Juicing is expensive, whether you own a juicer or you purchase from a juice bar. It takes an incredible amount of produce–especially if you are juicing greens–to squeeze out 8 ounces of juice.

2. Only after workouts. In green smoothies, the presence of fiber, fat, and protein (if you add a supplement) prevents a spike in your blood sugar following consumption. Since the fiber has been strained out in the process of juicing, all juices–including green ones–will cause your blood sugar to increase considerably. Your body is best prepared to handle this spike following a workout, this this is the time that you are most sensitive to insulin.

Again, these are just my personal guidelines for juicing. Feel free to use or discard them. Either way, I do encourage you to give green juices a try. No juicer? Do it on the cheap, à la me. Blend, then strain through a fine-mesh strainer. Here is a recipe I made up the other day:

It’s Not Easy Being Green Juice

Ingredients:
1/2 bunch of curly kale
1 sweet apple (I used Gala)
1/2 Meyer lemon
purified water

Directions:
1. Separate kale leaves from stalks. Place leaves in blender. Add 1/2 cup water and blend. If the blender gets stuck, add more water. Continue to blend until relatively smooth.
2. Core the apple and add piece by piece to your green juice. Blend. The texture will thicken considerably, so feel free to add more water to increase blend-ability. Continue to blend until smooth.
3. Strain mixture through fine-mesh. It may be useful to use a spoon to press the mixture against the mesh and get as much juice as possible. Pour extracted juice into mason jar, mug, martini glass, etc.
4. Squeeze lemon juice into your juice and stir. It really makes a difference to use Meyer lemons…they are naturally very sweet!
5. Drink immediately, or chill for ~15-30 minutes. I personally prefer mine lightly chilled.
6. Enjoy. Smile. Pay it forward.

À Bientôt!

March 15, 2011

I am Loved

I like to think of Atlanta as the east coast. In fact, when I first wrote the About section of this blog, I wrote that I was an “east coast transplant,” which I begrudgingly changed when a certain someone forced me to admit that, why yes, it’s true…I do live in the South, and there ain’t no sugarcoatin’ it.

But I didn’t always (live in the South, not disguise my reality with not-so-clever vernacular). I grew up moving every 3 years until college…my parents, four other siblings and myself went globetrotting à la the von Trapps, albeit the military edition. At the end of such days, each of my siblings ended up for a time in California. Before my first round of grad school (which landed me in afore mentioned Southern city), I spent 8 years in the sunshine state (no, Florida, not you), forgetting that subzero temperatures existed, wearing scarves as accessories and living in close community with some of the most precious people (to me) on this planet.

I didn’t know that things could be different.

Flash forward to now. Incredible things have happened in the last several years. I went continent skipping again. I met NPR, and so many other wonderful friends. I got my first Masters degree. I decided to pursue clinical medicine once and for all. But right now I find myself stuck in the loneliness of transition, with state and transcontinental divides between me and those I love best. And with each week that goes by, I feel an eerie sense of time irreparably lost through our separation. I’ve found myself growing increasingly…not homesick but heartsick, for reunion, for history, for communal familiarity. Please don’t misinterpret, you sick kids.

The cure for the heartsick? Sunshine, in the most unlikely of forms.

In the moody drizzle of Seattle. A visit to my grande-sœur and le hubby. Avec NPR. Too many good things to say–a full post later, I promise.

Photo credit: Sister

In an unexpected visit from the dearest of friends: Irish and Lucy Lam. Sushi and wine. Perhaps a bit too much. But far be it from me to forbid feasting with friends.

Lucy Lam Photography

In a surprise in the mail. Chagall (mon favori) and words and music. Le sigh.

These are small things. But they help me remember…well, you already read it when you opened up this post. And this too:

Ne sois pas découragé.
Tu n’es pas oublié.

Laguna Beach photos courtesy of Christen Bridgewater and Emily Birkeland.

March 11, 2011

A World in You

My friends, this was originally supposed to be an apology post. I meant to write a dazzling piece yesterday about the impact of HIV/AIDS on women in line with The Red Pump Project (any Atlanta kids going to Stems & Stilettos tonight?) and since yesterday was National Women & Girl’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. But I was bullied into wearing my Wellies by moody skies, and I trudged home from work in a mood to match the weather. In the evening, after a fiery debate with NPR over acid-alkaline diets, kidney physiology and integrative medicine (I know, I know–we’re too cool for school), enjoying a little brain drain in front of Fairly Legal seemed like the right thing to do. I decided to postpone the entry until today.

But I woke up this morning to apocalyptic headlines about the disaster in Japan and the worldwide tsunami warnings, and my posting plans fell into a million little pieces. I kept the news on as I got ready and felt a deep silence settle over me. I trudged back to work with a heavy heart. Even as I write this now, several aftershocks have shaken Japan, and coastal areas around the world are still on alert. It’s hard for me to know what to say when events like this happen, or how to feel. But my friend Lindsey–who spent several years of her life working in the Marshall Islands–posted this quote, and it spoke to me. I hope it speaks to you, too.

“You can kiss your family and friends goodbye and put miles between you, but at the same time you carry them with you in your heart, your mind, your stomach, because you do not just live in a world but a world lives in you.”
- Frederick Buechner

Love and prayers to those who have lost, the displaced, and those who continue to wait.

March 9, 2011

Don’t pick the flowers.

Last week, before NPR and I left for Seattle, I decided to make a special Southeast Asian-style dinner.

My inspiration? Mostly NPR–he spent much of last summer traveling around Southeast Asia and continues to extol the glories of the regional cuisines. Also, my heroes at Green Kitchen Stories–David, Luise and their baby Elsa–have been traveling around Hong Kong, Vietnam and Thailand for the past several months and have periodically posted recipes for local dishes. Green Kitchen Stories is one of those tried-and-true blogs that you can visit when you want a dish that you know will taste incredible and is also fool-proof. I eagerly look forward to each post, and was nothing short of enchanted when I saw their recipe for a colorful Banana Blossom Salad, especially since I recognized banana flowers from the glorious Dekalb Farmer’s Market…a market in Atlanta that carries the most unbelievable range of produce (with a ton of organic options) for the cheapest prices in town. While I had previously noticed the unusual looking banana flowers on my weekly trips to the market, I had resigned them to a section of the market filled with exotic produce (ugli fruit, Indian bitter melon, aloe vera leaves) that I suspected I would never know how to prepare. Eager to succeed in this culinary challenge, I decided to go a step further in my Asian-themed dinner and also prepare spring rolls, also from Green Kitchen Stories. I gathered my supplies, ignored NPR’s questioning looks when I set banana flowers in my grocery basket and set out to amaze.

To put it mildly, there were a few setbacks. The first? I failed to anticipate that preparing not one but TWO dishes that required intense chopping/shredding/julienning might be next to impossible in the absence of a spiralizer or veggie peeler. Midway through the first dish, I realized we were on target to eat at 11:30 pm and had to call in reinforcements (aka NPR, the recipient of my special dinner) through my special siren call that involves incessant whining/a damsel-in-distress routine.

I wish I had a picture to go with this, but I was too busy weeping into my failed banana flower dish to snap a photo. Oh. Did I give away the next setback?

So yes. The banana flower dish was not to be, and I felt quite bitter given the amount of effort that goes into preparing banana flowers.

After soaking the “edible” portion of the flowers per the recipe directions, NPR and I did a quick taste test. Bad move–we are both still trying to forget the taste! For some reason, chewing the flowers seems to coat your tongue in a fuzzy layer. Not good. We thought that it might be hard to find good banana flowers in the U.S. and the odd taste might be indicative of compromised quality. David, Luise, (or anyone else who loves banana flowers): tips? Would be much appreciated!

So I found myself in misery, leaning over the bowl containing the rest of the ingredients for the dish and a separate bowl housing the wretched flowers. I weighed the expended effort with my pride as a cook and decided to omit them. NPR may or may not have done a jig in celebration of my deviation from obsessively following recipes to the T. And the final creation? Yummy and flavorful, especially the next day when the flavors had even more time to marinate. Behold, I give you:

De-flowered Green Papaya Salad, based on Vietnamese Banana Blossom Salad (serves 2)

Salad Ingredients:
1/2 green papaya, shredded or julienned
2 onion thinly chopped
2 carrot, shredded or julienned
1 green pepper, thinly sliced
2 Tbsp cilantro
2 Tbsp mint leaves
4 Tbsp peanuts, coarsely chopped
2 Tbsp shallots to garnish (I sautéed mine in a bit of oil until lightly browned)

Marinade:
2 Tbsp water
2 Tbsp honey
2 Tbsp reduced-sodium soy sauce
Juice from 4 limes
1 tsp garlic, chopped
1 tsp shallots, chopped
1 tsp habanero chili, chopped

Add all of the ingredients for the marinade to a small bowl and combined until well incorporated. Combine papaya, onion, carrot, green pepper, cilantro, marinade and peanuts in a large bowl and toss well. Serve in a pretty dish (at last found some utility for those blasted banana flowers) and sprinkle with crispy shallots and chopped peanuts.

****

I served the salad along with the Fresh Summer Rolls recipe from Green Kitchen Stories and followed the recipe without modification, except for the sauce…NPR and I liked the marinade for the Papaya Salad so much that we modified the dipping sauce to taste more like it. And? Complete winner. NPR–who is already well-versed in the art of spring-roll assembly–dubbed them the best spring rolls ever.

In his own words: “The mango and avocado really take it over the top.” Mango. “In my spring rolls?” Yes. So good. Please try and see for yourself!

Up ahead this week: A Seattle recap, reminder to remember the impact of HIV/AIDS in women, and other random musings from yours truly.

March 3, 2011

Atlanta is for Lovers

NPR came to town again. To visit me, or perhaps to snatch up some of our beautiful weather. Have you heard? The south is beautiful in the spring. Last year’s rain made me forget, but this year just might be making up for it. Thank you, Atlanta. [Editor’s Note: Gratitude toward the city is retracted for the one day of bad weather this last week that also included an evening tornado watch. Badly done, Atlanta.]

To celebrate an early printemps, we had some spring-worthy meals:

Chocolate Granola courtesy of La Tartine Gourmande. I know, I know.

Served with almond milk, golden raspberries, strawberries and my favorite goat milk yogurt. Oh, the treasures you find at Trader Joe’s.

Like everything at La Tartine Gourmande, this granola was exceptional. Lightly sweet, with the perfect hint of dark chocolate. Béa suggested using 70% or 64% Valrhona chocolate, but after a mad dash to all the usual places proved fruitless, I opted for Theo’s 70% dark chocolate, a fine alternative à mon avis. Have you tasted Theo Chocolate before? A Seattle-based company, I had the good fortune of touring 3400 Phinney Chocolate Factory (owned by Theo) several years ago on a visit to my sister. If you are in Seattle, GO. Simply delicious and too good to miss. Where else can you get your Willy Wonka fix and sample award winning fair trade chocolate? Why the interlude on Seattle? Stay tuned.

Now where was I? Good company, good meals, good weather. Perhaps I should upgrade that to excellent. Here are a few more:


Mediterranean-ish feast à la NPR (Chicago aficionado, med student, incredible chef all in one). Again, no real recipes to share with you (“an NPR original!”) save a couple that I forced the boy to share. Bison meatballs, spice-infused tzatziki (you can find the recipe for both here on Epicurious), veggies, homemade wheat-spelt pitas, and rainbow chard sautéed with olive oil, garlic, onions, lemon juice, chili peppers and topped with Kalamata olives. For serious impact factor in your next dish with rainbow chard, try including the stems! Colorful and tasty. I don’t know why I’ve always just used the leaves?!

We also stopped for a midday feast at one of my favorite restaurants on earth. Bundled away in the already charming downtown Decatur, Café Alsace is run by Alsacian owners and features exquisite French cuisine, eclectic décor and cozy elbow-to-elbow seating that makes you believe (without even closing your eyes!) that you have been magically transported to a café in France by walking through the front door.

And apparently we aren’t the only ones who enjoy this place; along with receiving numerous awards from the city, a bustling crowd made it in for lunch on a Tuesday. Who goes to lunch on a Tuesday? Well, besides us.

I was on cloud nine with an herbed chicken salad featuring apples, almonds and veggies, all on a bed of greens drizzled with fig-honey vinaigrette.

We decided to prolong our delectable lunch with a bit of dessert:

Nutella and macadamia nut ice cream, made in-house and topped with the sweetest strawberries (Alsacian trade secrets, perhaps–where do you find them in February??). I wish you were with us, too.

Still hanging on to my bit of France in Atlanta, I couldn’t resist ordering an après-lunch espresso.

Best. Espresso. Ever. And I wish you were with me to enjoy it.

There is more to say, but I have to admit I’m out of time. NPR and I are trading Atlanta sunshine for Northwest drizzle to visit these two:

Sister and Huz…the best of Seattle.

I haven’t quite figured out my posting rhythm yet, but I’ll most likely return early next week. For now, NPR and I will spend some much-needed quality time with Sister and Huz. Until then, take care of you.

Ciao!

February 24, 2011

On Culinary Austerity, the French Paradox, and Magical Breakfast Creams

If I can successfully hit all of those topics in some sort of sensical way in this post, I will be most impressed with myself. This is only my seventh post, dear readers, but you may notice that this one has a more serious tone, pretty much devoid of quips and cleverness. Just this once, I promise (I think). Bear with me!

I’ve been thinking a lot over the past couple of days about food, and the rather complicated relationship that the health and figure-conscious part of the population has with it. I was fortunate–in addition to being genetically slim, my parents raised me to both eat for good health and to savor a meal well-prepared. While I’ve had my share of struggles with food and certainly can’t pretend that I’ve always approached my eating patterns with the healthiest mindset, I feel that I keep coming back to the idea that food should be enjoyed, yet not obsessed over and never used as a method of punishment, and this seems to outlast all of the eating trends (vegetarian, vegan, raw, high-protein, etc.) that I latch on to and then discard for the next major fad. It’s taken a while to reach this mindset, and along with the eating habits modeled by my parents, I credit Mireille Guiliano in my progress to this state.

I first read Mme. Guiliano’s memoir French Women Don’t Get Fat several years ago and was charmed and captivated by the notion that it just might be possible to have your (little itty bitty piece of the finest) cake and eat it, too. While I had always considered myself health conscious, I was beginning to suspect that life was simply too short to permanently forego stilton cheese with apricots, and that espresso with a pinch of cream was heaven compared to a skim-milk latte. Mireille’s memoir was the first book that really validated my suspicions and offered a way to live healthfully, maintain weight and still feast in the garden of delights. A French Woman for All Seasons later appeared on my bookshelf, and my admiration for Mme. Guiliano has been most recently renewed through the 2010 publication of The French Women Don’t Get Fat Cookbook.

Source

In all of these books, Mireille discusses the French paradox–that French women eat rich food and drink alcohol on a nearly daily basis and yet remain impossibly thin. She waves a hand at the cries of genetic injustice and attributes the fabulous French figure to: 1. portion control and intuitive eating during breakfast, lunch and dinner (no snacks!), 2. emotional and physical satiety due to regular consumption of exquisite foods, and 3. daily activity (walking and light exercise). Interestingly, her musings that consuming rich, delectable foods in small portions does wonders for appetite satiety have been more recently supported with the promotion of increased fat in “healthy diets” in the U.S. For my own part, I have personally found that I actually consume less calories when I am savoring something rich in small amounts. In contrast, when I eat a low-calorie meal or snack, I do not feel satisfied, and continue to eat in order to fill up that gnawing feeling that can take up permanent residence in your stomach during low-fat, low-calorie diets. Although I realize this is a sensitive topic and may be lighting a proverbial fire by mentioning this, I feel that regularly relying on low-calorie foods as the basis for meals can foster overeating, since we–or let’s be honest here–since I am not afraid of the caloric impact of 5 cups of squash or 4 bags of butterless popcorn. And when we overeat, we do not listen to our bodies and eat intuitively. If this is indeed the case, it stands to reason that an important antidote to the mindless over-consumption of austere, unsatisfying foods and getting back in tune with one’s body is to (1) eat mindfully, and with pleasure! and (2) to eat nutritionally and calorically dense foods in small amounts.

Sadly, chronic disease studies in the last few years have indicated that the French paradox seems to be slipping away. In the last decade, the national prevalence of obesity increased dramatically, and in 2009, researchers found that over one-quarter of French women were overweight, while more than 15% were clinically obese (as a reference, the percentage of overweight females in the U.S. is over 64%, and over one-third are obese). There are a number of credible suggestions for the weight shift in France. Longer work hours (with less time to prepare food or take extended breaks to enjoy a meal), decreased smoking (due to established associated cancer risk), increased use of public transportation as opposed to walking, and a rise in the consumption of processed foods are all among the purpotedly incriminated. NPR –as in the actual National Public Radio–did an excellent, albeit brief segment on this, for the curious at heart.

Social marketing campaign aimed at reducing obesity in French children through activity promotion

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So, with the French paradox becoming less and less paradoxical, will Mme. Guiliano have to change her book titles? I think not, and in fact, we should all be somewhat encouraged. The French do not have magical genes. A national culture that fosters intuitive eating, portioned indulgence and daily activity is conducive to weight loss and maintenance, plain and simple. As this culture is starting to erode in key arenas, the country is observing a tangible shift in the prevalence of obesity and overweightedness. The concepts in Mme. Guiliano’s books are therefore never more true, as the French are not immune to weight fluctuations without upholding the afore mentioned lifestyle she so succinctly describes.

Enough of these statistics and doom & gloom, Miss TuesdayswithMuesli! Where is my recipe?? (What I imagine you are saying in your mind right now)

So glad you asked.

In celebration of the revival of Mme. Guiliano in my life, I thought I would share one of the heavily promoted recipes from her new cookbook: Magical Breakfast Cream. Mme. Guiliano divulges to readers that this delicious and indulgent-tasting breakfast recipe was her “Tante Berthe’s” secret for weight loss/maintenance…and hence “magical”. For copyright reasons, I will not print the original recipe, but the astute internet sleuth may be able to find it here, here or even here. Like any good blogger, I have made some modifications, and these tweaks I will share. This recipe is a winner, my friends! Change it up as you like according to your taste and textural preferences; however, I will say that it is amazingly filling for such a small portion and keeps me going from early morning to a mid-afternoon lunch. I also made it into a pseudo-overnight recipe in order to spare precious morning minutes.

Overnight Magical Breakfast Cream à la TwM

Ingredients:
-2 Tbs oats (or kasha–roasted buckwheat–for the gluten-intolerant)
-2 tsp roasted, unsalted pistachios (or any roasted, unsalted nut of your choice–walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, brazil nuts, etc.)
-1/2 cup of low-fat yogurt (I opted for Goat’s Milk yogurt, since it is easy to digest. I urge you not to use non-fat…this is already a low-calorie recipe, and the extra fat here will promote satiety)
-1 tsp high-quality EFA oil (I used Udo’s Oil, which combines flax, sesame and primrose oil. Dr. Barlean’s and Vega oils are also very good options)
-2 Tbs lemon juice (about half a lemon)
-Sweetener of choice (the original recipe calls for 1 tsp of honey, but I opted to use 1/3 cup of raspberries and 4-5 drops of stevia in its place)

Directions:
The Night Before
1. Place oats and nuts in a spice grinder or food processor; process until finely ground. Refrigerate.
The Morning Of
2. Place yogurt in a small bowl. Add your oil and stir until fully incorporated.
3. Add lemon juice to your yogurt mixture; stir until fully incorporated.
4. Add sweetener of choice to your yogurt mixture and stir.
5. Top yogurt mixture with oat-nut mixture (and fruit, if using).


If you’re a food blogger, snap pictures, and run around your apartment in vain hopes of capturing the perfect lighting for your photo. Everyone else, savor each spoonful. Close eyes, smile.

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:)

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