If She Were Here

If she were here now

I’d want to sit next to her

On this special day.

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The Way I Am

I have a little secret.

Sometimes when I have finished a book and haven’t started a new one, I read something else.

I read my blog posts.

I have favorites.

I’ve read some of them several times.

I find them totally entertaining.

That’s the way I am.

FAD DIETS

Fad Diets have existed since I can remember and I’m sure they have a much longer history than that. Why do we have fad diets?

One reason might be that new discoveries about how the body works were made and these led to new theories about diet. Or, someone claims to have found a better theory than the previous ones based on the results. In either case, we really need to know about the research and how it was conducted and who sponsored it.

Another reason for diet fads is that someone popularizes a theory so they can cash in on the false data that is circulated in order to take advantage of people’s desire to improve their health and physical condition. The key term is usually CASH IN.

Dietary approaches to real medical conditions can turn into diet fads

Diet theories are often about weight-loss, but they can also be about things like diabetes, Celiac Disease or other medical conditions that require a certain eating regimen. One example is gluten intolerance. I’m no expert, but I do know that one condition alone has created a Pandora’s box of theories, opinions and marketing ploys.

For example, there are people who truly have a gluten intolerance. They can’t digest gluten and get sick when they consume it. I know someone like that. A very small percent of people truly can’t consume gluten. Like my friend, if you have Celiac disease or allergies to wheat and other foods containing gluten, you really do have to be vigilant about avoiding gluten.

The Gluten-free Fad

But what about the rest of the gluten-free crowd? Why is “Gluten-Free” one of today’s biggest fads? You see a growing list of packaging marked gluten-free, restaurant menus with gluten-free choices, books and articles about the evils of gluten. For the small percent with real gluten intolerance, this is very helpful. But what about the rest of us? Gluten has gotten a very bad rap in modern society.

U.S. News & World Report reported a study in June 2015 that revealed,

“. . . 86 percent of individuals who believed they were gluten sensitive could tolerate it. Individuals with Celiac disease, a hereditary autoimmune condition that affects about 3 million Americans, or roughly 1 percent of the population, must avoid gluten. Those with extremely rare wheat allergies must also remove gluten from their diet. In addition, those with gluten sensitivity, a condition that affects 6 percent of the population (18 million individuals), should also avoid gluten.”

According to this study thirty percent of shoppers are choosing gluten-free products and a whopping forty-one percent of U.S. adults believe “gluten-free” foods are good for them and for everyone else. They don’t really know if it is or isn’t good, but they believe it.

This makes no sense at all! Gluten-free foods are usually higher in sugar, sodium and fat. Most of these consumers are not claiming to have Celiac disease, but many decide they are sensitive to wheat and gluten. Where did this thinking come from?

In his March 2013 newsletter, diet and nutritional expert Dr. John McDougall explains:

“Because this condition is so non-specific, my guess is that most of these people are simply sick from their unhealthful diet of meat, dairy foods, vegetable oils, and other junk food. Blaming gluten or wheat is wrong, and as a result, their efforts on gluten-free eating are misplaced. Benefits seen while attempting any new more restrictive diet regimen are from simply removing foods recognized to be unhealthful, irrelevant to their containing gluten or not.”

There have been many popular publications, such as the book Wheat Belly by Dr. William Davis that took off like a rocket and influenced people to blame wheat and/or gluten on their unhealthy physical conditions.

The truth is that eating a gluten-free diet can be a cause for weight-gain, obesity and reduced health caused by lack of essential whole foods because it steers people away from starches. Yet it is promoted as a healthy weight-loss regime.

Starches satisfy the appetite and lack of starches easily leads to overeating. If you’re not eating starches such as whole grains and starchy vegetables then you are likely going to choose diet fads that are based on eating “low-carb” i.e. Atkins, Paleo or Keto. Or, you have read about Atkins, Paleo and Keto, you decided to follow them, and your decision is boosted by the gluten-free fad.

It is circular reasoning and doesn’t lead to any stable, knowledgeable and correct conclusions. As many have said before me, people love to hear good news about their bad habits.

Know how the Human Body Works

The key to understanding what is true and what is not true about food and diets is to understand how the body works. Understand what the true history of the human species is regarding food. Were we hunters or gatherers? What is the evidence?

When you read one of these fad diet theories, did you understand the research and did you understand how it was done and who had a vested interest in making you believe the conclusions? Did the conclusions make sense according to how the human body really works?

When you practice the program, is it highly workable in the short term and the long term? You’ve heard all about the benefits. What about negative effects if any. Again, if you know the basics of how your body works, you will be better able to make a wise decision.

I would love to hear your opinion about this. Let’s get the conversation started about fad diets!

Energy. Life. Crunch.

I have started this post four or five times. Each time I tried to work out an approach to what I wanted to say and each time it got really complicated really fast and then I didn’t want to finish it.

New approach. Cut to the chase.

No matter what your dietary habits are, or what diet you are trying to follow, you aren’t eating enough vegetables.

I’m on a lot of social network pages, YouTube, and blogs about healthy food and healthy cooking. Everyone likes to post a special dessert, or a bread that doesn’t have this or that in it, or a hearty thick soup or stew. Anything rich and usually heavier in calorie density than veggies. That is “what sells.” That is what people are looking for.

Keto? My keto friends are all about the meat, the butter, the cheese, the fat, the protein. What is recommended? Lots and lots of vegetables. And there are some awesome vegetable and salad dishes in keto cookbooks!

I would never do keto because it is the opposite of healthy in my opinion. But what makes it REALLY bad is when keto is practiced without enough vegetables. I have one friend who told me her keto guru recommends seven servings of veggies a day. I would think you would have to eat at least that many veggies in order to survive keto at all!

Keto without enough vegetables is downright dangerous.

Even the whole food plant based, vegan and macrobiotic people are shy in the vegetable department. I see it all the time.

I am not saying “vegetables are more important than grains, fruits, legumes, etc.” I’m simply saying we aren’t eating enough vegetables!

If you are any kind of healthy food enthusiast at all, I’m sure you can name half a dozen qualities that vegetables bring to the table. Fiber. Phytonutrients. Minerals. Vitamins. Chlorophyll (if they’re green). Energy. Life. Crunch.

I’m guilty too. When I’m hungry and getting some leftovers out of my refrigerator, I’m not usually reaching for the steamed kale, the cucumber salad or the stir-fried veggies. I started thinking back over each day and looking at what vegetables I actually did eat. It is never enough. I will find myself going for the other stuff, getting too full and the vegetables come home in the container they were in that morning.

What about a vegetable smoothie? Better than no vegetables at all, but you are going to lose that crunch factor and you won’t get the same benefit from the fiber. Even with high powered blenders that pulverize whole veggies.

Who needs crunch? Everybody.

Why? because chewing is so important! Chewing is the start of digestion. It prepares the food for proper absorption. It signals the stomach for what’s coming down the hatch. It is a key element of great health. My sister and mother used to say, “Eat your liquids and drink your food.” They were right! But hardly anybody chews that well. You watch people and see.

Even the United States Government recommends eating five to thirteen servings of fruits and vegetables a day. A serving is a cup of raw or cooked vegetables or 2 cups of leafy vegetables. This is fantastic that they are saying this! Never thought I’d see the day! There is no one who wouldn’t benefit from eating even the minimum five servings every single day.

Challenge: For the next week, honestly take a count of how many servings of vegetables you are eating each day. I’ll do the same and we can compare notes.

Umami for you, umami for me

We’ve been flirting with springtime for several weeks here in New Mexico. I’ve been lightening up the menu since early February, accented by the occasional heavier stew or soup when needed.

 

Now we are about to touch upon some much warmer days and I know that May will usher in a long and lovely hot summer. But no matter how hot is gets, I am a dedicated, all-season soup lover!

The secret to great soup is the broth.

 

A warm weather soup can be more challenging than autumn’s squash bisque or winter’s hearty bean and root veggie soup.  A summer soup calls for a broth that is both light and deeply flavorful. A successful soup broth will rend a delightful soup.

Umami for you, umami for me.

 

I have heard this word “umami” a lot in the past few years and decided to check out what it really is. Believe it or not, there is a website called “The Umami Information Center” which was enlightening. Seems the Japanese word “umami” has to do with the taste imparted by glutamate.

I react to that piece of information as if they said a bad word.  Glutamate?  As in Mono Sodium Glutamate?  No way I’m using that in my food!

Turns out glutamate is naturally occurring in many foods which can be used in cooking to create the coveted Umami flavor.  Some of the foods on the list I absolutely knew were umami-rich. Others, I hadn’t thought of before.

“Wow!” I thought, “This is enough to keep me souping in my kitchen all summer long!”

Without a doubt, the best umami, the best food, the best meal comes from your own kitchen. Even if you are a novice.

 

Okay I will get to the soup recipe. I promise! But I’ve gotta take a little side trip here.  I’m going to make a umami-rich broth made with real food ingredients and condiments. It is not difficult and it can even be considered economical because one way to get a highly-flavored soup broth is to save the cooking water from boiling or steaming other veggies and voila! you have umami.  Or, you can consciously decide to create umami from specific foods that you choose just for your soup recipe.

Either way, the point is–cooking for yourself with real food in your own kitchen wins flavor-wise and health-wise every single time over buying soup in the store (natural food store or not) or ordering it in a restaurant. Forty plus years of savoring my own cooking versus even the best dishes in the best restaurants has taught me that.

Lemon Fennel Soup

 

Making the umami-rich broth:

2 quarts spring water

4-6 inch piece of kombu seaweed

1 head of nappa cabbage (sometimes called Chinese cabbage)

Naturally brewed soy sauce (“Nama” brand is far and away the best flavor and the most umamiful.)

  1. Quickly clean the dried kombu by brushing it off with a clean, damp paper towel or vegetable brush. Place the kombu in the bottom of a large pot and add all the water. Bring this to a boil.
  2. Meanwhile wash a head of nappa cabbage, cut it in half and again in quarters. The core may be cut out and separately sliced fine. Cut the cabbage into 1-inch pieces. If you don’t want to use all the cabbage at once, just use the amount you will probably eat.  The cabbage itself will not wind up in the soup. It will be served separately as a lightly boiled salad.
  3. Put the cabbage in the boiling water and cook for just about a minute or until the green parts become bright green. This may take less than a minute!  Immediately remove the cabbage into a colander to cool.
  4. Continue allowing the broth to simmer with the kombu for about 15 minutes, then remove the kombu. (Save the kombu for another use or to slice up and add to another dish.
  5. Strain the soup broth so there are no solids in it.
  6. You now have a light, flavorful broth that delivers umami flavor.

 

Putting the soup together

1 large fennel bulb

1 shallot

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 lemon

chili flakes (optional)

  1. Wash the fennel and separate the bulb from the rest. Save the feathery fronds for garnish.  Thinly slice the fennel, about 1/4 inch slices.
  2. Slice the shallot
  3. Heat a pan of your choice (I use cast iron) and add the sesame oil.
  4. When the oil is hot add the shallots with a pinch of salt and saute until they soften.
  5. Add the fennel slices and another pinch of salt and continue sauteing until the fennel is well-cooked.
  6. Put the sautéed fennel and shallot into the soup  broth. Season lightly with soy sauce, add and let it all simmer a few minutes.
  7. Just before serving, zest your lemon and add to the soup.  I use a zester that produces thin little slices of zest. In that case I’m going to add about 2 Tablespoons of this.  If you are zesting your lemon with a microplane that produces grated zest, you may want to use less. Experiment with this!
  8. Serve the soup garnished with fennel fronds and a few drops of lemon juice.

 

Some more soup broth tips:

Keep in mind that some veggies, like carrots, have a very definite flavor and color.  Others, such as white daikon radish taste very different when cooked than when raw. Think  with the flavors to get the broth you want. Sometimes you just want lots of flavor and it doesn’t matter too much what you use. If you make a vegetable soup, you can add all kinds of things together. But if you are going for a more delicate taste like the fennel soup, then choose ingredients for the broth that will enhance but not interfere with your finished product.

Sauteing vegetables helps bring out their flavor and sweetness. Decide, however, what oil you will use based on the flavors of that oil. At first I was going to use toasted sesame oil to saute the fennel and shallots but that would definitely have brought in a flavor that might have taken over too much.

Dried vegetables, such as dried shiitake mushrooms have a concentrated flavor that provides a lot of umami, even though you will reconstitute them by soaking first. See more about shiitake and kombu in my 2013 post, “Rejuvenation and Dashi.”

Apparently tomatoes are considered to yield a very high level of umami.  Hmm, sun-dried tomatoes. Gotta play with that!

 

Here’s to the Great Freedom and Latitude of Blogging

First of all, thank you.

To all of you who have ventured over here to My Cooking Life and especially to any of you who are still willing to do so!

My own Cooking Life has taken quite a turn since I last posted something original for New Year’s 2015.  I think my story is like many others’ whose lives get so full and busy that producing decent meals for yourself and family becomes nearly impossible.

My Hat is off to all food bloggers!

I did get very busy lately, but actually that was true before when I was blogging.  What I ran into besides lack of time to cook food, was lack of time and desire to create something new and “photogenic” and then set the dish up in a good display and take the pictures. Then I needed to work out the recipe–something I myself NEVER use–because I thought other people needed and wanted a recipe. (You know, in the event there was anyone actually reading this.)

This is what food bloggers do, and more.  My hat is off to all food bloggers no matter how many readers they have or not!  Food blogging is challenging and the photography alone takes a high level of creativity and know-how.  Despite this, there are a gazillion food bloggers out there!

But competition with other food bloggers was never my focus. What really got me blogging in the first place is my desire to write.  Cooking was and still is a very apt subject for me to write about.

But not all the time.

My life is “cooking” in many ways!  And sometimes I want to write about it.  So here’s to the great freedom and latitude of blogging!

And we’ll see where we end up.  For those who actually like my recipes and healthy dishes, no worries!  Those will still show up every now and then.

Bringing the Family Home

Thanks to all who took the time to read my posts in 2014 and for your encouraging comments which really, truly help keep me going.  Wishing you and yours the best year yet in 2015. Let’s flourish and prosper and help our fellow citizens of this planet do the same!

mycookinglifebypatty

When I lived in Atlanta, Georgia, Hoppin’ John was a very popular dish for New Year’s Day. Every year there would be a big Food section article about it in the Journal-Constitution.  I started making it not because I was a “Southern Girl” (I wasn’t) but because I loved making and serving beans and rice and wanted to try it.

Hoppin’ John is traditionally made from black-eyed peas and rice and is an extremely simple dish.  So why do people make it?  Is it because they drank so much champagne the night before on New Year’s Eve and need something plain to settle down with?  That seems sensible and valid. My own New Year’s Eve Garlic Habit is one reason I enjoy simple, uncomplicated Hoppin’ John the next day.  Just check out the roasted garlic post and you’ll see why!

Popular lore about Hoppin’ John varies but basically says serving this…

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Preserved Lemons – A Tradition in Moroccan, Mediterranean and Indian Cuisine

Throw Back Thursday With A Twist! (Of lemon, that is.) I ran out of my home-preserved Moroccan Lemons and decided to start another batch ASAP. And the twist is—a new use for these—-chopped preserved lemon rinds and mashed artichoke hearts as a spread on crusty bread! If you don’t want to wait a month while your lemons preserve to try this spread, some of the Whole Foods stores have both preserved lemons and artichoke hearts in their olive bar. Certainly no substitute for what I’m making in my kitchen, but not a bad alternative. Enjoy!

mycookinglifebypatty

I’ve been longing for preserved lemons and their uniquely intense flavor for months now.  What a wonderful flash of zing!  What a refreshing, piquant, tart highlight to bring simple dishes alive!

You will find recipes using preserved lemons from Northern Africa, the Middle East, from India and even in some Caribbean cuisines.  They are extremely easy to make, too!

Step One:  Gather up your ingredients.  You’ll need fresh, organic lemons.  Pick ones that look good and don’t have a lot of blemishes.  You may choose Meyer lemons or regular ones.  Wash these thoroughly.  You’ll also need course sea salt.  Do not use regular commercial salt as this has additives and it is too harsh for this use.  You’ll also need a clean jar in which to put your lemons while they preserve.  I chose a Kerr one-quart jar with  tight-fitting two piece top.  You can also use the kind of jar…

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Under the Banner of Veganism. Deprivation Diets, Eating Disorders and Orthorexia.

I reblogged this post by Somer at Vedged Out for us today. I so agree with her about deprivation diets. I did not know veganism was linked with eating disorders, did you? My immediate thought–that is a money-motivated effort by the vested interests in some food industries to sabotage healthy eating and creating less need for medical care. Even the term, “orthorexia” sounds just like some made up “disorder” created by psychiatrists in order to find yet one more reason to drug us. Beware — what better way to control a population than via their food.

Shop Your Local Farmer’s Markets

It’s Throw Back Thursday! Let’s take a little toss back to May 2012 and honor our local farmer’s.

mycookinglifebypatty

The growing season is upon us in the Northern Hemisphere and soon we will be able to get freshly picked, locally grown foods!

Copley Square Farmer's Market Copley Square Farmer’s Market (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the best things you can do to improve the nutritional value and taste of your cooking is to venture over to your local farmer’s market or roadside stand and buy fresh, locally-grown produce.  Your local natural food store may even feature local food growers and producers.  Mine does and they usually have special weekend events where you can meet and talk with these local growers and ranchers.

I would much rather make the acquaintance of the people who are actually growing and raising my food than suffer a distant, from-my-wallet-to-your-cashier relationship with a huge mega-supermarket conglomerate food chain.  I am much more interested in supporting a local grower and seeing that my dollars go into his/her hands rather than having…

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