New Year, new start!

Happy New Year! I hope you had a fun holiday season and a glorious start to 2018.

I personally don’t “start” the New Year until January SECOND. I’ve finally learned not  to begin my new resolutions the day after I’ve stayed up past midnight the night before AND plan to indulge in a few first-day festivities. That’s a sure recipe for disappointment.

I love the chance to begin again, though, don’t you? When I was a teacher, I loved those first days of class. A fresh start! Anything and everything was possible. I feel that way every year as we approach January: a chance to start over, try new things, and change my paradigm.

That’s the big word I bring to you today: PARADIGM. A paradigm is the way we “see” the world, how we understand and interpret it. It’s as simple as how we think each day will turn out, how the world will treat us. Our paradigms are the source of our attitudes AND behaviors. By year end, I was so emboldened by the actions taken by all the women coming forth to accuse their sexual harassers, the Alabama democratic win, the fact that 96% of voters in Lake Hendricks, SD, opposed the building of a 4,000 cow “mega-dairy,” that even Gucci (starting with its Spring/Summer line) will be banning all fur, that I said to myself, we are OK, the world is good and still changing for the better. I vowed to keep doing my part.

In this new world of mine, Im going to cook a little more and hope you will, too.

It’s so easy to go to the store and pick up … (name what you eat all the time). For me, it’s often hummus and “eggless tofu” (it looks and tastes like egg salad). Then I can come home and lather it on a slice of whole wheat bread, adding maybe a “smear” of avocado and a slice of tomato. But if I made it myself, I would know exactly what was in it, appreciate it more and hopefully slow down eating it.

For me, it comes down to choices. I call this my:

GOOD CHOICE, BETTER CHOICE guide.

For example, peanut butter is a good source of protein and natural fat but eating peanuts is better. If you’re feeling crazed, a shot of bourbon might be what you want but it’s not a GOOD choice. A soothing cup of tea would be better. Making your lunch before you head off to work and get all stressed is a good choice. Feel like a burger? Obviously a veggie burger is a better choice. You get the picture. Go for making “good” choices. Strive for “better” when you can.

Here’s my tip tip for the New Year: accept where you are. That could mean stuck in traffic, weighing in over 200 pounds, not yet ready to make a job change, whatever. ACCEPT where you are and when ready, do something about it. Making yourself crazy is what produces the stress. Really. It’s so simple but I just learned it! That’s part of my new paradigm shift.

OK, back to food, my favorite subject. One of the things I learned in 2017 was to pay attention to what I put into my body, not what I was missing. I tried to make each meal as healthful as possible. I was inspired by Dr. Greger’s (http://nutritionfacts.org/video/dr-gregers-daily-dozen-checklist/) Daily Dozen. He has a calendar (doesn’t everyone?) inspired by his book HOW NOT TO DIE and each month features a dish that is scrumptious looking and packed with all the essential foods that will keep our bodies healthy. I tried January’s Morning Grain Bowl and it was fabulous. Check it out. Better, try it! It is packed with six out of the twelve things we should be eating every day. I’ll talk about those  in later blogs. But for now, just know it was easy to make (if you have left-over grain and the other ingredients on hand) and I was actually giggling while eating it. It was that good! I wouldn’t give it to you if it weren’t. The combination is amazing. This recipe is for FOUR (4). I cut it down, of course, to make it for myself.

MORNING GRAIN BOWLS

3 cups cooked whole grains (brown rice, quinoa, oats)
3/4 cup cooked cannellini beans, mashed (I only had pinto beans and they worded fine – plus I didn’t mash them)
2 cups Almond Milk
3 tablespoons ground flaxseeds
1 1-inch piece fresh turmeric, grated (or 1 teaspoon ground)
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger (optional, but it was a good addition)
1 cup fresh or thawed mixed berries (I only had blueberries and didn’t thaw them)
1 ripe banana, peeled and sliced (I only had frozen bananas and it worked great)
4 tablespoons Date Syrup (optional) (I added some date “crystals” I had in a can)

In a microwave-safe bowl, combine the cooked grains, beans, Almond Milk, flaxseeds, turmeric, and ginger (if using). Mix well. Microwave for 2 to 3 minutes, or until warm but not too hot. Divide the grain mixture (it will look creamy) among four bowls. Top each serving with 1/4 of the berries and one-quarter of the slice banana. Drizzle each serving with one tablespoon of Date Syrup (or cut up dates?), if desired.

Make no mistake …

If you’re eating beef for dinner tonight – or having dairy in any form – then you’re contributing to global warming. If you’re consuming pork, poultry or eggs, you’re not off the hook: you’re contributing to a planetary reduction in biodiversity.

Please think about being part of the solution, rather than contributing to the problem.

I’m sure none of you missed the recent horrors – on TV, if you were lucky – of superstorms Harvey, Jose, Irma or Maria. Can you imagine dealing with the loss of all your worldly processions, or your home, or where you used to go to work or school? Imagine living in Puerto Rico today.

Then there were the horrific wildfires out in California. For many people the fire was as close as the house next door. We know now that the intensity of the summer heat waves, the floods, droughts and wild fires are all linked to climate change and are only going to get worse.

To be clear, no one event (hurricane, typhoon, drought) is of itself a product of climate change, but the intensity and record-breaking nature is directly linked to climate change and, I repeat, it’s only going to get worse.

So how are climate change and eating beef related? Primarily, because these animals produce an enormous amount of gas digesting their food. These are the greenhouse gasses (mostly methane and nitrous oxide) that are causing so much damage to our atmosphere. And yes, farmed cattle produce more greenhouse gasses than all the cars, ships and planes combined.

According to Science ABC, “a single cow, on average, releases 70 to 120 kgs of methane per year.” And that’s – pardon me – the farts of just ONE cow! “Worldwide there are approximately 1.5 billion cows and bulls, each emitting that much methane … methane is 23 times more harmful than carbon dioxide.”

Secondarily, because we we are using enormous amounts of valuable land all over the world to graze and feed animals. 260 million acres of forests have been cleared in the US alone to provide crop acreage.

“According to a United Nations study,” James Hamblin reported in The Atlantic, “33 percent of arable land on Earth is used to feed livestock. Even more, 26 percent of the ice-free terrestrial surface of Earth is used for grazing livestock. In all, almost a third of the land on earth is used to produce meat and animal products.”

“Beef. It’s What for dinner.” Remember that marketing slogan from 1992? It was highly affective and beef sales (despite catastrophic health repercussions) continue to rise around the world. China, the most populous nation on Earth (1.4 billion people), is opting more and more for beef. India is poised to edge out China in population (1.3 billion people). India was once thought to be predominantly vegetarian. Now 71 percent of Indians identify as non-vegetarian. As for India’s “sacred cow…” India is now the world’s largest producer of milk and a top exporter of beef ( it also ranks third in egg production and is the sixth largest producer of chicken on earth). There were zero McDonald’s in India in 1995. Now there are 300. Same for KFC: 30 in 1995, 318 today.

So, what can we do? How can we make a difference? The single most powerful change each of us can make is to CHANGE OUR DIET.

Ray Monk, a professor of philosophy in the UK, said he finally went vegan not for health or animal cruelty reasons but for the sake of the planet.

Click here to view his article.

But if that’s too drastic, opt for “Meatless Mondays,” go to the salad bar more often, look online for dishes that would normally “require” meat and see all the cool replacements. Make a commitment to eat meat, pork, poultry or dairy only once a day. Eat more fruit and vegetables. Whatever works for you and your family. Or make only one single change – “substitute beans for beef” –  says James Hamlin, to have THE most environmental impact:

Click here to read his article in The Atlantic.

It’s easy to feel powerless nowadays, but the fact is we CAN make a difference. Look at the choices for different non-dairy milk products in the market place today: soy, almond, cashew, coconut, rice, oat, hemp, flax. Lots of people started asking for alternatives and the market responded.

Helen Keller was one of my childhood heroes. I share the vision of saving our planet. I hope you’ll chose to make a difference, too.

 

 

Turmeric to the Rescue!

True story: three days ago when I woke up, the forefingers on both my hands were stiff. Oh, no, I thought, my arthritis is back! My mother and aunt suffered terribly from arthritis in their joints. Was I genetically doomed?

I had my first battle with arthritis about twenty years ago. I got rid of it by taking daily doses of B-complex vitamins and those squishy, fish oil capsules. Or was it the tons of soy I was eating at that time adhering to the mega-strict ZONE diet? But neither vitamins nor fish nor such strict, unsustainable eating are palatable to me anymore.

Then I remembered turmeric.

For a couple years now, I have been using turmeric – for its beautiful orange-yellow color – to make my tofu scramble look like eggs. The pigment curcumin in turmeric is what does the trick. Adding turmeric to curry gives it the beautiful yellow color.

Turmeric is native to southern Asia and was first used thousands of years ago as a dye. For centuries it has been used in both Ayurvedic (Hindu) and Chinese medicine as an anti-inflammatory, to treat digestive and liver problems, skin diseases and wounds. And curcumin, that wonderful compound in turmeric, is a powerful anti-oxidant. Today the research continues into the roles curcumin can play in lung and brain disease, to speed recovery after surgery and in a variety of cancers! That’s powerful stuff!

No wonder it cleared up my burgeoning arthritis in three days!

I have to give credit to my wife for reminding me about it. She was on Jury Duty and wandered into Cocobeet, the Boston juice bar near City Hall. There she noticed they had shots of orange juice, turmeric and cayenne pepper. When she told me about it, I remembered drinking such a shot at my own gym juice bar but all I remembered was the potent cayenne! I decided to try my own home remedy so off I drove to my local grocery story (I’m now on the Cape so off I went to Salty’s Market in Truro) and bought some oranges. Back at home I squeezed one into a glass (I like the pulp) and then consulted my favorite research doctor (Michael Greger) to see how much turmeric to add. He said only a 1/4 teaspoon. (Hooray, my one tiny bottle will last a year). I added a dash of cayenne to cover the astringent taste of the turmeric. Et voilà.

If you’re using it at home, do know that turmeric does stain. And you will need something (cayenne, ginger, or just mix it into a savory dish) to cover the strong taste. You can buy fresh turmeric in powdered form or you can buy the dried form (think of fresh ginger) and grind it yourself. Any way you do it is fine. That one tiny bit makes such a difference.

Most of you already know turmeric from its many culinary uses, specifically in many savory Asian dishes and, of course, as a significant ingredient in most commercial curry powders. It is commonly used nowadays, as long ago, in the cuisines of India, Nepal, South Africa, Viet Nam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Thailand, Iran and Pakistan.

Beautiful color and good for you … humm, I pause as I write these words, thinking of all these wonderful ancient cuisines that have kept people happily nourished and healthy for thousands of years … and how we, in the US, are now exporting our famous burgers, outsourcing our many fast food restaurants, and selling packaged goods of foods unimaginable years ago. Lots of folks are making money, but people around the world are also getting fat and sick like never before. Thank you, Corporate America.

I say treat yourself to a juice bar if there’s one near you. Eat fruit and veggies as often as you can. Anytime you can alternate, exchange, a healthy food for an unhealthy one is a good thing.

And take turmeric, however and whenever you can. Throw it in your OJ, toss it into a savory dish. It’ll make things pretty. And you’ll reap its healthful benefits.

As always, I welcome your comments and any suggestions or recipes you use

Slowly, with gusto!

We all say we love food and that’s why we eat so much, right? I’d even go so far as to call myself a “foodie,” though I’m not sure what the word really means. I think about food a lot. I’d even call eating one of my obsessions – or a passion, when I’m being kind.

But recently I was reminded that it’s not all about the food.

I just came back from spending four days in NYC. Los Angeles and New York vie for the number, variety and excellence of their vegan restaurants. My wife and I ate at two of the top gourmet restaurants in the country, not just the city. From our mid-town location, we had restaurants (for breakfast, lunch and dinner) literally blocks away. I don’t know how I fit it in, but I remember adding cookies and scones that I don’t usually have room for. It was a four day eating extravaganza (frenzy?). Monday morning I weighed myself and was not surprised (ok, a little, I did think we might have walked off a few calories) to see I’d gained three and a half pounds (which I suppose I’m happy about since a few years ago it would have been four to seven).

And then I panicked. Which I shouldn’t have since this happens every vacation. But then I went back to my tried-and-true method of taking off what I gained.

All that frantic and delightful eating was, for me, mostly because IT WAS THERE. At the tip of my fork… and really delicious. And I love food, right? The first night we ate a four-course dinner but didn’t feel so great the next day, so after that we skipped a course and began sharing the appetizers and dessert. And ordered a salad for lunch. But, speaking for myself, all those extra desserts, the huge portions … I was eating as if I would never see good food again.

Like so many people, I have been on dozens of diets. Not the crazy ones but the big-name ones: Weight Watchers, South Beach, the Zone, all of Oprah’s diets. I’ve counted calories, grams, fat, carbs. But dieting is not only unsustainable, it keeps us from eating what we want. I wanted my cake and eat it, too.

Then a few years ago, my friend, Julie, Zumba instructor extraordinaire, suggested a book called Eating Awareness Training by Mollie Groger. Molly’s thesis is that as much as we say we love food, we’re eating for all kinds of other reasons than the food itself. But (hooray) she said we didn’t have to do all the psycho analysis to figure out the reasons why … just stop eating so much. And gave the reader four rules or ways to do that:

1. EAT ONLY WHEN YOU ARE HUNGRY. Not when you are frustrated or angry or need something to do, or when it’s your usual time to eat. EAT ONLY WHEN YOU’RE HUNGRY. You’ll soon know when that is and it won’t matter what time of day or night it is.

2. TAKE YOUR FOOD TO THE TABLE AND EAT IT WITHOUT ANY DISTRACTIONS. This is the hardest one, the hardest pattern to break. No TV, no reading (not even the back of the cereal box, not your mail, and definitely not your email. This way you solely pay attention to what you are eating. No snacking standing up, either. Go to the table.

3. TAKE A BITE, CHEW IT THOROUGHLY (I’d even go so far as to say, savor it), DON’T TAKE ANOTHER BITE OR EVEN QUEUE IT UP, UNTIL YOU’VE SWALLOWED THIS ONE. Put your hands on the table or on your lap. This will drive you crazy at first but it purposefully slows you down. Enjoy your food and talking to any eating companion(s).

4. STOP WHEN THAT HUNGER YOU EXPERIENCED IS SATIATED. Not when you’ve finished every morsel on your plate. You can finish what you left another time. You’ll have lots of left-overs and save a lot of money on food.
Even though you can eat whatever you want and whenever you are hungry, this is, admittedly, very hard to do! We’re so used to eating mindlessly and in huge quantities. But you do get used to it and oh, how you feel good after each meal. I’ve now lost the weight I put on.

Yes, of course, certain foods are better for you than others, but as far as gaining or losing weight, It’s all about volume and paying attention. Try to eat without your phone or the TV. I guarantee you’ll finish eating quickly because … what you really want to do is read your mail, or talk to your friends or watch that show. It takes us only minutes to fill our stomachs (which, in reality, are only about a fist in size but able to stretch 10 fold!). The rest is … we’re bored, or angry or hurt or watching the game or eating something a loved one made for us … or it’s just there!

You can’t have your cake (and watch TV) and not gain weight. What? It’s gone? I want another piece. I’m still hungry.

The truth is I’ve read this book three times. Groger insists you practice all the “rules” one week at a time so you can get used to sitting down to eat, thinking about your food, figuring out when you’re hungry. These are habits that have to be developed.

Once again I am learning to appreciate the food I am eating. Even to savor it.

My body is worth it. And so is yours. We only have one. And only one chance to learn how to treat it right.

We can have our cake and eat it, too. Just slowly, with gusto. And take home the left-overs.

Antioxidants, baby

Our bodies are amazing. When I think how our hearts beat non-stop, how all our muscles keep us moving. It’s the least we can do to nourish it properly (and keep our abuse to a minimum). One of the simplest and most powerful ways to do that is to eat more fruit – those wonders of nature we often forget about.

What’s the berry we all think about this time of year? The gorgeous, crimson cranberry! Those who know me will attest to how I love food but that I personally … well, I am not a natural cook. But oh, how I can follow a recipe or in this case, make up my own! Just the other day I saw a barrel of fresh cranberries and couldn’t resist burying a couple bagfuls of our (MA) famous berry. I quickly looked online for the basic idea to make sauce and within minutes I had my own version. Like the apple, the key antioxidant is in the skin so I decided not to try to grind it off in a sieve of any type, which made it so much faster to make. I simply added a small amount of water, some turbinado sugar and waited for the berries to pop and the sauce to thicken. It was fun and when it cooled, I added agave and walnuts. If you have a good “real” recipe, please share it here.

This morning I made a smoothie of cranberries (I threw in a handful of whole berries, frozen blueberries and bananas and added some milk). Yum. As I type here I am drinking a little “Pink Juice” I learned about from Dr. Greger’s easy to read, incredibly informative book, How Not to Die. If you go to his website right now (nutritionfacts.org), there is a new animated introduction. Meanwhile the juice couldn’t be easier to make. Throw in a handful of whole berries into a blender with 2 cups of water and blend away. I sweetened it with agave. Yes, it was delicious and I felt extra noble having a “cranberry” cocktail (without the vodka). But why all this fruit fuss?

ANTIOXIDANTS, BABY.

Remember the old adage: an apple a day, keeps the doctor away? Turns out this is more true than I ever thought. Science now backs that up (that same Lancet study I mentioned in my last blog). Nearly 5 million lives could be saved just by eating fruit daily! We’ve all done much harder things. Keep reading for a few suggestions on how to add more fruit into your busy life.

But first a little science. Our body is composed of many types of cells and the cells are composed of molecules and the molecules consist of one or more atoms. You remember the atom with its center nucleus and floating electrons, right? When the atoms all play well together and form bonds with each other, all is well. Just like us, those bonds want stability (requiring them to match up with a free electron). But as in life, some electrons go off on their own, splitting from weaker bonds, to hook up with somebody they really shouldn’t. That’s when the trouble happens. In science they are called FREE RADICALS and they will hook onto anything to capture that needed electron.

Our bodies are attacked every day by environmental pollutants (that cause free radical damage) not to mention that free radicals are formed as part of daily metabolism. That’s not a problem when we consume a healthy diet to combat them. Our immune system even creates them on occasion to combat viruses and bacteria. But when these free radicals are out of wack, they are totally destructive, cause tissue damage, contribute to aging and at worse, attack our DNA, causing cancer.

Think of an apple that you’ve sliced open. It turns brown, right? If you put lemon juice on it, it stops changing color (stops oxidizing). That’s what ANTIOXIDANTS do: they provide those bad free radicals with an electron that neutralizes their destructive power.

This is where fruit (and vegetables) come in. They are antioxidant powerhouses! If you want to “love your numbers,” here are some for you. Outside of exotic berries found in the Arctic tundra, the berry with the most antioxidant power (650 units) is the blackberry. Blueberries are next with 380 units (and wild ones even twice that), raspberries at 350, cranberries at 330 and strawberries at 310 units per cup. Mangos weigh in at 110 units (think of that color inside. No oxidizing going on there). America’s favorite fruits, apples and bananas, come in at about 60 and 40 units, respectively. The healthiest fruit is, of course, the one you eat the most of.

Those smart French. That’s another thing they do right (besides drink red wine): they eat a piece of fruit at the end of a meal. I’m not talking about special occasions, just every day. How can you add fruit to your diet? Cut it up! Make it interesting. One of our favorite breakfasts this past summer was putting a half cup of fresh blueberries (frozen works, too) into a cup, adding a little whole grain cereal, a teaspoon of flaxseed on top (and maybe a few nuts)  and then pouring in some almond milk. It’s crunchy and delicious. If you have a ‘fridge at work and can keep milk there, you can easily put this together the night before and add the milk when you are ready to eat. But now that it’s turning cooler, I’m starting to think about hot cereal.

My recipe for you today actually comes straight off the Quaker Oats box (the old-fashioned, hearty healthy variety): Blueberry Banana Overnight Oats and even better, the Peanut Butter Overnight Oats! It couldn’t be simpler. I told you I like recipes – all kinds!

Blueberry Banana                          Add the oats to a container and pour in
1/2 cup oats                                    milk and vanilla. Add a layer of blue-
1/2 cup almond milk                       berries and a layer of bananas. Top with
1/2 cup blueberries                         chia seeds, cover, place in fridge over-
1/2 cup bananas, sliced                  night and enjoy in the morning. Serves
1 tsp vanilla extract                         one (unless you really want to share).

1 tsp chia seeds (optional)

Peanut Butter Overnight Oats      Same as above: add the oats and pour
1/2 cups oats                                   in milk and vanilla. Add a layer of peanut
1/2 cup sliced bananas                    butter and banana slices. Top with agave
1/4 cup peanut butter                       and chia seeds. Cover and place in the
1 cup almond milk                            fridge and enjoy in the morning … or a
1/2 tsp vanilla extract                       few hours later, if you can’t wait!
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp agave
1 tsp chia seeds (optional)

I’d also suggest adding apples, raisins or other fruit to your salads. It adds a nice flavor twist and a gift of antioxidant power. There are still lots of apples around. I highly recommend home-made apple sauce. I have a great recipe for that, if you’re interested. And finally there’s ice cream. Yes, fruit-based, easy to make, versatile ice cream.

I first heard of blending frozen bananas in a food processor from Gena Hamshaw in her wonderful blog, Choosing Raw. She said it couldn’t be easier to whip up a delicious and healthy dessert in minutes and she was right. We now keep sliced bananas in our freezer. Take out a couple bananas and blend away. They come out exactly like soft serve within minutes. I add coconut, raisins, blueberries, whatever I have on hand.

For you chocolate lovers out there, here’s a recipe from my new pal, Dr. Greger, using dark, sweet frozen cherries. Just throw into a blender or food processor a handful of frozen dark cherries and blend with a tablespoon of cocoa powder, a splash of milk, a capful of vanilla extract and some pitted dates. Spoon into a small container and enjoy. Fruit, antioxidants. And the taste? YUM!!

Big Pharma, Big Risk

I often watch TV when I am doing the dishes. Lately the ads for the new pharmaceutical drugs have been driving me crazy. There seems to be a new one almost every day. I know why the drug companies create them: they make money. But can you afford (and I don’t mean literally) to take them?

Believe me I know the good stuff about modern medicine and the life-saving devices, drugs and techniques that are now available. But wouldn’t it be better if we could stay OUT of the hospital, get off our drugs?

These TV advertisements offer quick fixes for everything from heartburn to memory loss, menopause, stomach – and dare I say – bowel issues; ways to raise your insulin levels, lower your blood sugar. You probably have heard them yourself. Maybe you can even hum the tunes that go along with the ads:

Tresiba

Invocana

Humera

Xarelto

Lyrica

But have you also heard the SIDE EFFECTS? They are frightening!

Invocana warned about dehydration, yeast infections, ketoacidosis, fainting. Humera warned of deadly infections. Really, listen for the side effects. They’re really scary.

I recently read the back page of a magazine ad for Lyrica. It said that it “may cause serious, even life-threatening allergic reactions.” It said that “Lyrica is not for everyone …” It went on to say that “the most common side effects of LYRICA are: dizziness, blurry vision, weight gain, sleepiness, swelling of hands and feet, dry mouth” and “you may have a higher chance of swelling, hives or gaining weight if you are also taking certain diabetes or high blood pressure medicines.” Good heavens!

I don’t want you fooled or even tempted by these easy fixes. According to the Sept 9th “Why You Should Care About Nutrition” NutritionFacts.Org video, Dr. Gregor talked about the Bill and Melinda Gate Foundation study that said that dietary risks are the number one cause of death, disability and shortened lifespans. Not smoking, not high blood pressure, body mass index or even exercise. The food we eat. We all know how difficult it is to change our diets and how tempting those steak fries and brownies are … but try. Make a commitment to stay home and make a delicious, healthy home-cooked meal tonight. Try a new recipe. Make extra for lunch tomorrow.

I don’t want Big Pharma to win. Believe me, occasional indulgences are fantastic, but aim for the long run. Your long life may depend on it.

PRET A MANGER and the like

Corporations often get a bad rap, especially during this wildly crazy political season, but I think there are a lot of good ones. I’m retiring next month from a very good one, Crate and Barrel. More importantly, I recently discovered one that makes my mind and tummy shout: yes!

I’m always looking for places where I can find good vegan or vegetarian options. I’ll ask you in advance: if you know of any in your neighborhood, let me know, please!

To balance my healthy appetite, I exercise a lot. On Friday mornings I swim at the Boston Sports Clubs. For months I walked by the establishment next door whose French name always caught my eye: PRET A MANGER. I am a sucker for all things French. And a linguist, of sorts. My mind’s eye automatically put in the accent circumflex over the ê and an accent grave over the à. But that’s just me. What matters is that it means, as you probably know, ready to eat. And in this case, the food is also great.

So finally one day I couldn’t resist. The familiar smell of baked goods hit me as soon as I opened the door. Croissants, of course. But, not eating dairy these days, what else did they have? Could I even eat there? And the answer was resoundingly, yes. Phew.

IMG_7024

Straight ahead at the counter were their croissants, bagels, muffins. In the corner I noticed a fresh fruit stand and to the right were the shelves of … this was the make-it-or-break-it moment … prepared food items. To my delight, I immediately noticed they had freshly prepared 5-grain and steel-cut oatmeal, coconut-based yogurt, and cups of fresh fruit (like a three-inch mixture of oranges, mango and kiwi that looked like it had just been sliced, topped with pomegranate seeds. Yum). PRET, as it is affectionally known, does not purport to be vegan. It’s pricey but as I looked at the “wall art,” I found a philosophy I was willing to pay for.

IMG_7038

This is as close to a restaurant as any quick, pick-up-something-healthy place can be. Plus it’s fun, modern, vibrant. This is not a fast-foods venue that brings in food from who knows where that has been frozen, stored and shipped “fresh” each week. Each location has its own kitchen or one near by. They slice and dice vegetables all day long. There are no expiration dates on the sandwiches because there is no need of one.

I know I sound like a sales rep but these things mean a lot. Fresh, organic, baked on the premise, cooked, sliced, prepared by hand are all important.

The only person looking out for my health is me. Yes, corporations are there to make money but I happen to like the fact that PRET A MANGER is riding the “it’s good for you” wave. The latest food slogan seems to be “Clean and Green” and PRET is all that. It makes it easier for those of us who are hungry and on the go (without either food at home or the inclination to cook) and who want a healthy option. We know other temptations are out there. I could fill the rest of this page with those choices.

No one is perfect and I personally don’t think we should be. Those occasional food treats are the spice of life. It’s the day-to-day we should pay attention to, making as many good choices as we can.

I’m excited that PRET A MANGER is successful. I was in New York City recently and saw a couple of them there. That means the demand is out there for tasty, fresh food. And if the demand is there, good corporations will provide it.

What’s in your neighborhood?? I’ve told you about one of mine, what’s near you?? Restaurant, lunch place, grocery store, bakery? Where would you go for healthy, delectable options?

Send me, in the comment section, at least one place that you know. We all eat out. This way we can share. Thanks and bon appétit!

 

 

 

Cheese, glorious cheese!

If I close my eyes and think of cheese, I picture the old days of sitting down with my friends in front of a wonderful selection of cheese. There’d be crackers, olives and often fresh fruit. We’d be drinking wine, of course, and talking about things both silly and serious. Or even better, I remember touring France, sampling the local Camembert, Emmental or Reblochon. Before I stopped eating animal-based cheeses, I remember loving that Spanish cheese, Manchego. Ah, cheese, glorious cheese.

When I tell people I am now vegan, they inevitably ask me what I eat for protein and then when I tell them I don’t eat dairy, immediately say, “Oh, I could never give up cheese.” Their look of horror at the idea of giving up cheese makes me smile. Admittedly, it wasn’t easy.

I had a compelling reason to try veganism: my cholesterol was becoming dangerously high. For a couple years, I tried to restrict my diet and do more exercise but it didn’t work. The only answer was going to be a pill. For the rest  of my life. So two weeks before my annual checkup, I stopped all meat, dairy, anything that didn’t come from a plant. My cholesterol dropped so much in that short period, that both my doctor and I were shocked. If I kept it up, she said, food would be my medicine. She didn’t say it quite that poetically but I’ve not taken a pill of any type since. Not even vitamins.

But what about cheese?? Until recently there was no real replacement, none that I’d serve my friends, that is. But, I have to admit, if it weren’t for that animal cruelty issue, I would have given in.

For the first couple years, I didn’t think about cheese. I was so busy, yes, dealing with that protein question, coming up with new meal choices every day, learning about quinoa and the world of whole grains, trying new spices, discovering wondrous ways to eat fruit and veggies (juices and smoothies) that I forgot all about cheese. My vegan cookbook and recipe collection tripled, if not quadrupled.

Then came the day we were going to make our own pizza. How could one have pizza without cheese? So I bought some of that stringy Daiya cheese. The cheese melted which is really all I can say about it other than it looked like cheese. Was that the best vegan cheese out there? I started looking. At Whole Foods I found the brands, Follow Your Heart and Go, Veggie! I give these companies credit for coming up with something cheesesque … but I wouldn’t buy them again.

vegan cheese cookbookFinally on our way to San Francisco (and up north to wine country), we took a side trip to Berkeley to see the university (alma mater of my fictitious character, Sydney) and to stop at a local vegan grocery store. I read they sold some good cheese. Yeh, right. But as it turned out, they did! The scrumptious cheeses from Miyoko’s Kitchen were rich, creamy, handcrafted, aged vegan cheese. I was in heaven. Check out their website or look them up on Facebook. Miyoko Schinner already has a book out, too: Artisan Vegan Cheese: From Everyday to Gourmet.

Next I tried my favorite P-town market, the 141 Bradford Natural Market. Did they have anything good? Their first attempt at “good” was a spectacular vegan cheese so expensive, they didn’t reorder it. In general, vegan cheese seems more expensive but only because the U.S. dairy industry benefits from millions of dollars in government subsidies – from land to corn and soy for animal feed. Then they brought in the brand Fauxmaggio, made right here in Massachusetts. So far I have tried three of their spreadable cheeses: smoked paprika, green onion and chives and the garlic herb. I loved each one.

vegan cheese

The new wave of companies so far seem to be focusing on soft cheese, using traditional techniques such as cultures, fermentation and aging. Most are created with organic nuts and plant-based enzymes, spices and herbs. These cheeses are even good for us! The cashew-based cheeses, for instance, are high in their mineral content (copper, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus), contain vitamin K and – ta da – help LOWER cholesterol. But best of all, they are delicious. Spread them on anything.

I recently found an incredible sliced-cheese variety made by the award-winning company, FIELD ROAST. They’re called VEGAN CHAO SLICES. I love the “Creamy Original.” They’re made with coconut oil and fermented chau tofu (from Greece). Sometimes I just take a slice (or two) from the fridge and nibble on it. It’s that good.

But Miyoko Schinner gives me the best hope. Below is a photo from her website, which she gave me permission to print. This is the new table of my dreams.

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I am so excited to once again be able to sit down and indulge. I know as time goes on, there will be even more and more good choices. Pull up a chair. Join me.

The Tide is Turning

The tide is turning. There must be more demand these days for healthy, nutritious foods because companies are responding. I see signs of it everywhere.

Right before Christmas, I walked over to the Prudential Mall here in Boston to check out the new SWEETGREEN location (www.sweetgreen.com, the most fabulous salad place ever) and found a new juice bar, FRUITATA ORGANIC JUICE AND SMOOTHIES, just feet away. Speaking of juices, I highly recommend the fabulous REVOLUTION JUICE on Huntington Ave (www.revolutionjuice.com). I started walking over there after I found out JUGOS on Dartmouth (closer to my gym) was not organic. Yikes, it’s great to have a fresh juice in the morning but not if it’s pesticide-laden. I also saw a sign for yet another juice bar and café to open across from the John Hancock. The juicing trend is exploding around here.

Around my ‘hood alone, there’s PRESSED (www.pressedboston.com) on Charles Street, the great COCOBEET (www.cocobeet.com) just steps from City Hall, and inside my gym, a new place, NOURISH YOUR SOUL, recently opened up. They make great smoothies but they bottle their cold-pressed organic juice off-site. It is best to have your juices made in front of you. Organic and local does make a difference but if bottled is your only option, go for it. I’ve made juices at home but cannot begin to match the fun combinations that juice bars can do. The rush of anti-oxidants and vitamins are real.

Advertising “real food,” B. GOOD (www.bgood.com), with four locations in the Boston area, has been selling bottled juices for a while, but just lately they started marketing kale and grain bowls. Yes, “bowls” are the hot-new trend. A total meal in one delicious bowl.

Is there a PINKBERRY near you? They have 260 stores in 20 countries. They have one location on Newbury Street and opened a second one in the Copley Mall. Famous for their frozen yogurt, they now advertise “the beginning of a new love.” Among their four new “loves” are açai bowls (with the newly popular açai frozen berry), quinoa bowls and steel-cut oatmeal. Yes, oatmeal at Pinkberry! Didn’t I tell you healthy food is trending?!

I must add one exciting scientific note. My wife received an announcement at work that the topic of the 20th International Conference of the Functional Food Center at Harvard Medical School this coming November will be “Functional and Medical Foods for Chronic Diseases: Bioactive Compounds and Biomarkers.” This is important (really). I strongly believe that a plant-based diet can prevent (and in some cases reverse) heart disease, cancers, diabetes, stroke and hypertension, arthritis, cataracts and Alzheimer’s disease, just to mention the most known of the chronic diseases. Yes, just by food alone! I know a lot of people do not want to or cannot believe this. But it is true. And now Harvard is putting it out there and calling for scientists to submit papers to prove and discuss what is in food that can keep us healthy and prevent disease. Who would oppose this information? All the zillions of people who make tons of money by selling, for example, cheese burritos, all kinds of fast food, diet books, not to mention the beef industry, the dairy industry and pharmaceutical companies. But lets’ get back to the happy news.

Look around your neighborhoods. I bet you have more healthy food choices as well. My grocery store just added a fresh juice bar. The bagel place near me sells whole wheat bagels, a coffee shop added hummus to their menu, my favorite cupcake place (Georgetown cupcake, www.Georgetowncupcake.com) sells a variety of vegan cupcakes. And, oh yes, the word vegan, is no longer taboo. If I didn’t have dozens of cookbooks from which to choose recipes, I could google vegan … well you name it … and find choices from dozens of chefs. Try it, you’ll see. If I lived in LA or NY, I could eat out in vegan restaurants three times a day. I read that vegan restaurants are spreading to cities all over the US and abroad. What’s in your  town?

The tide is turning. You can be part of this trend by frequenting these new establishments and continually asking for healthier choices wherever you shop or eat. You will feel the difference after one juice, meal or even bagel. If it makes money, it will be made or sold or produced. Demand matters. Healthy is in. The buzz is out there. What changes are in your ‘hood?

Move more!

Hello, my friends. I’m afraid I have to write another heavy blog entry today but after this one will be two fun entries: One on cheese (yes, cheese – the new delicious vegan kind) and I must talk about juices and juicing. A new cold-pressed bottled juice is all the rage now so I want to talk about the pros and cons

But right now, I ask you to please STAND UP and continue reading. Really. Feel free to pace while you read.

Last Friday night as I was sitting in my car, driving to the Cape, I turned on the radio to WBUR to catch On Pointe with Tom Ashbrook. His program that night was about how we need to “get off our duffs at the office.” The sitting all day might literally be killing us, he said. Not my problem, I thought, having just left my retail job where I’d walked for more than six hours. Alas, apparently that’s not good either.

Tom had a couple guests on the program. One was a Dr. James Levine, a professor and leading researcher of the “inactivity studies” at the Mayo Clinic. He is the author of Why Your Chair Is Killing You and What You Can Do About It. I later followed up on his book and read a great article published in The New Yorker called “The Walking Alive” by Susan Orlean. I wish I were tech enough to have you click directly on it here. That article (May 2013) in the American Chronicles section is worth reading.

The bottom line is that even those who exercise an hour a day are still statistically more likely to die early if they sit all day. At the very least that explained for me why several people I see at the gym every time I am there have gained weight. It might be what they eat but it might also be that they sit on their duffs all day.

I still feel better when I work out in the morning … but then I don’t sit all day. Do you?

What happens? According to Dr. Levine, “Sitting puts muscles into a sort of hibernation, cutting off their electrical activity and shutting down the production of lipoprotein lipase, the enzyme that breaks down fat molecules in the blood. Your metabolic rate drops to about one calorie a minute – just slightly higher than if you were dead. Sitting for more than two hours causes the presence of good cholesterol to drop, and, in time, insulin effectiveness plummets.”

Just slightly higher than being dead!? That’s a reason to get up and move!

The statistics are out there. And I am talking major diseases. Here’s one last quote from the journal, Annals of Internal Medicine. In the study called “Sedentary Time and Its Association with Risk for Disease Incidence, Mortality, and Hospitalization in Adults,” it was demonstrated that after statistical adjustment for physical activity, sedentary time (assessed as either daily overall sedentary time, sitting time, television or screen time, or leisure time spent sitting) was independently associated with a greater risk for cardiovascular disease incidence or mortality, cancer incidence or mortality (breast, colon, colorectal, endometrial, and epithelial ovarian), and type 2 diabetes in adults.

“Chairdom is hugely affecting humans,” Dr. Levine says. I’d say it may be deadly affecting a lot of people.

So what can we do? The other guest on the program was Dr. Alan Hedge, the director of the human factors and ergonomics laboratory at Cornell University. He talked about using a treadmill desk at work or at home. Not too many of us will do that, I imagine (though Susan Orlean does) but we can, at the very least fidget a lot, get up and pace for a few minutes, bounce on the balls of our feet, jiggle our legs while sitting. Anything to move!

I personally can’t just sit. I do laundry on my writing days. I get up, make coffee, go back for seconds. If you’re in a cubicle, you can at least stand and stretch. Dr. Hedge suggests that you sit no more than twenty minutes, stand for eight minutes, then move around for two more.

The key is to move more!! I know a lot of you have jobs where you must sit all day but …do get up, annoy your neighbor, say something. Stand for any reason, go get water, stretch. There are serious ramifications to sitting all day. Definitely walk to or at lunch. And lastly, if TV is your thing, at least stand or stretch during the commercials.

Let me know of any creative ways you have to move more, especially at work. Share them in the comment section, so everyone can read them. Together we can change those statistics.

OK, now you can sit down. High five, if you stood all this time.