Friday, September 17, 2010

Roasted Eggplant and Zucchini Paremsan

Perfect for all the late summer vegetables at the farmer's market. This dish was super easy to make, and very tasty. The two picky kids were a little turned off at the vegetables (eggplant and zucchini are rarely at the top of their favorites list) but cleaned their plates once they gave it a chance.This had a ton of flavor despite being such a simple list of ingredients.

1 medium eggplant, cut into 1/4 in slices
2 medium zucchini, cut into 1/4 in slices
1 pound silken tofu (you can use ricotta cheese here, if you'd prefer)
2 tablespoons minced parsley
1 teaspoon olive oil, plus more for baking sheet
pinch of salt
1/2 jar spaghetti sauce
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Oil 2 large baking sheets. Place eggplant and zucchini slices on sheets and bake 7 to 10 minutes per side, or until tender. Reduce heat to 375 degrees. While vegetables are roasting, puree tofu, parsley and olive oil in a food processor (I added a little salt to the mix since I didn't see any used in the recipe).
In an 8 or 9 inch square pan, layer the vegetables with sauce and tofu mixture in the following order:

Repeat until all the ingredients are used. Finish with sauce on top. (It really doesn't matter the order- just get it all in there and top it with sauce.) Top with mozzarella and Parmesan. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until bubbly. Let sit for 10 minutes before serving.

Note: This can be frozen just prior to baking. To reheat, thaw in refrigerator. Bake covered at 400 degrees for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake for an additional 10 minutes.

Inspired by Cathe Olson's "The Vegetarian Mother's Cookbook"

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Gluten Free Challenge

I am finding that sticking to a Gluten Free diet is extremely challenging given my circumstances.

Road Block Number One:
Pregnancy. An immediate challenge. I wake up in the morning with a blood sugar level and nausea dragging me down so hard all I can manage is popping something into the toaster. It's usually a piece of Sweet Hawaiian Bread spread with melted peanut butter, a plain bagel and cream cheese, or at my worst- a Pop Tart. Terrible, I know. Carbs and pregnancy go together. They are instant fuel for a drained system. They pad all that extra stomach acid and calm the stomach down. Add that to debilitating fatigue sprinkled throughout the day and it's a sure-fire way to mail it in and call the pizza guy for dinner.

Road Block Number Two:
Children. Their presence of course is a blessing, but turning the tables on them too quickly will cause a riot. The pantry is full of lots of goodies for them to munch on including a rainbow of cereals, breads, after school snacks, and aforementioned Pop-Tarts. My three children are great at eating, but like me, you take away all the starchy breakfast foods and they will think I've punished them. Should I be converting them as well in order to assure my own success? Can they survive without a sandwich in their lunch and waffles for breakfast? Or can I just resist the temptation of all those convenience foods?

The challenge is solved with more preparation. Have some pre-flighted choices available to grab when the blood sugar runs low and the kids are nearly dying of starvation at 2:30. That means baking some GF cookies, brownies, and pre-cutting some vegetables. Now, if I can just get off the couch...vicious circle.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Connecting the dots

Strange that it's taken me nearly six years to pull all this information together, but I think I'm on to something.
My youngest, little J, had a rocky start to life in her infancy and toddler years. We were in the constant battle against diaper rash, cradle cap and thrush. We tried everything- traditional diaper creams (which now seem absurd on a two week old baby), expensive sensitive skin products, Calendula oil, you name it. It seemed that we were plagued with her sensitive skin from the get-go.
The thrush was finally managed with drops for her and pills for me so we didn't keep passing it back and forth during our nursing sessions. Diaper rash came and went in the first couple years and was not without helpful suggestions from everyone we knew. We heard to try baby oil, cut out milk products, switch to cloth diapers and wipes, give her hiney lots of "free time". Relief didn't come until potty training.
The worst was the cradle cap. Since all the doctors told us not to worry about it- that it's normal, all kids have it when their little, we did very little besides what was recommended from the general medical consensus. Their best advice is to brush it with a soft comb so the flakes come off and keep it clean. Others told us to use Calendula or baby oil to soften it before you brush more aggressively to remove it. These were important suggestions and would remove the flakes, but not solve the underlying problem, and it would quickly return within the week. Her scalp continued to be plagued with the yellow crust until she was well over 2 years old. One day I brushed her hair, and clumps of it started falling out. We were shocked. More and more fell out every day. We went through several consultations and were finally seen by the Chief of Dermatology. He jumped at the teaching opportunity and we became quite the spectacle. She and I sat in a tiny room full of nearly a dozen interns while they examined and studied, hummed and hahhed.
We left with three prescriptions for both topical and internal remedies hoping that it would respond to one of them and clue us in to what was ailing her. After several follow-up visits, a simple prescription strength dandruff shampoo did the trick. Her hair stopped falling out, and began to grow again.
Hats were all the fashion that spring!

Nearly at it's worst.

What I have finally realized is that all these ailments are connected. However, each was treated as an isolated incident. Which is very common in the medical community, they treat the symptoms and not the whole body. What connects these all is Yeast. They are all one form or another of different yeast.
So, what happened to her? I realized that late in my pregnancy the doctor ran a test to see if the early contractions I was having would lead to preterm labor and also did some sort of other cultures at the same time. They said I had a small amount of yeast (something very common in pregnancy) but since I wasn't having symptoms and didn't want to go through unnecessary treatment, I opted out from taking a cautionary course of Monistat or whatever.
What they didn't tell me was that the yeast is passed from Mom to baby during childbirth and can result in a barrage of problems like we experienced with her. As you can see, there was no quick fix. Many of the treatments aren't available because they can be harmful to such tiny babies. My own ignorance of the risk and the lack of information caused this whole fiasco.
Given the fact that we never want to experience all the rashes from head to tush, I am becoming much more proactive about what I eat. We have to control the yeast at it's source- with me and what I am ingesting. Sugar grows yeast. It's also best to cut out anything white (white flour, sugar, rice) and opt for whole grain whenever possible. Since I may be more susceptible to yeast overgrowth, I have to be especially careful and cut back even farther. I noticed in my own personal health I have never felt better as when I went Gluten free earlier this year. I should probably just stick relatively close to a GF diet permanently to operate at my best health.
I did read up on the Yeast Connection, and while I don't consider it gospel, it could be an underlying cause for some of the problems I have personally that I shrugged off as "unrelated and isolated incidents". Again, sugar and cheap carbohydrates are black-listed (but they're so much fun!!).

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Success! We're consuming less energy!

Bills are arriving, and we had our first little victory!
We lowered our electric bill $45 from last month. I couldn't be happier to see that thing drop so much! We hadn't even begun the big push yet!
Here's what we did for the bigger difference:

-Cut back on AC to only when absolutely necessary- usually when I'm so hot I will pass out or puke. (We live in Paradise, a couple hours a day in a stuffy house wont kill us). It also helped that we had a cooler month than June & July.
-Turned off light switches and fans in rooms we weren't using.
-Lots less TV. The kids are at school that keeps the room heater called our 50" Plasma off for most of the day.
-Use "Light" setting on dishwasher. It runs a shorter cycle that cuts back on hot water usage and operating time.
-Wash everything on cold in the washing machine. Less hot water means more savings. I find the clothes are still very clean and a little vinegar added to the load keeps odors down that you would normally get out on a very hot wash cycle.

It seems like such a small change of lifestyle to see such a huge drop in spending. We hadn't even begun the bigger changes that should drop our bill even more next month:

-Line drying clothes. One of the biggest energy wasters in your house- did you know they can't even issue and Energy Star rating on brand new dryers because they are so inefficient? We've set up our garage as our dryer- with the door open a load of wash dries in about 4 hours. It rains here at least a couple times a day, so outside was not an option. Plus, we live in one of those annoying HOA-run neighborhoods and I'm sure they'd nab us for being so uncouth as to dry our clothes outside.
-Power Strips. We've put the TV, all it's gadgets and the modem on power strips. All day and night those things are just sipping energy despite being turned off. You can actually hear a hum of power going to the TV when we click the power strip on (that's without the TV actually being turned on and everything!). We click it on only when it's being used and love that we can be dropping our bill even more.
-Unplug anything that's a charger. This includes the toothbrushes (they don't need 24 hr/day charging), phone chargers, Wii Remotes, DS chargers, etc. A few hours per gadget is enough to rejuice any battery.

Next month I might:
-Decrease number of lightbulbs in fans and vanities. I mean seriously, who needs 6 or 12 lights to come on when we go into the bathroom? Loosen a few and noone will ever know. If you're paranoid about what the neighbors will say, just screw them back in if you feel impending judgement.
-Turn off the computer at night. Standby mode is still sucking energy, plus it's good to give her a rest to regain her thoughts and run better. (Yes, I rarely do a formal shutdown on the computer! With a Mac it just never seems necessary- it always runs perfectly! I might go weeks without shutting it down- gasp!)

Monday, August 23, 2010

Bringing in variety

For my birthday, I bought myself a small new collection of cookbooks. As I flip through the pages of these culinary adventures, I find myself a little intimidated. The scary outweighs the comfortable for sure! Ingredients like wakame, chard, rutabagas and buckwheat flour leave me turning the page to a more comfortable place with headlines in more familiar territory.
I am totally guilty of reaching for the usual suspects at the grocery store. White flour, zucchinis, romaine lettuce, tomatoes and carrots. I rarely step out of my comfort zone. I was never very adventurous in my dietary habits as a kid. In fact, I was notorious for ALWAYS ordering a grilled cheese sandwich or pasta no matter where we were. I wasn't exposed to a lot of ethnic foods either. Chinese food was even a rarity. I think Italian was as exotic as it got (and that is a stretch since spaghetti seems more of an American dish than authentic Italian cuisine).
Intent on shedding my juvenile habits, I am warming to the idea of trying some of the other 20,000 varieties of produce, grains, and spices. The closer I get to labeling myself as a "foodie" the more of a phony I become because I have never even challenged myself to try some intimidating ingredients like white truffle oil, gruyere, or heirloom tomatoes. There is an amazing world of variety beyond what I am serving- most of which holds a ton more nutrition and flavor. As a traditional American consumer, I reach for what's available at the regular grocery store. All of which are varieties of produce that were genetically chosen for those shelves because of their ability to withstand gross amounts of transportation and extended shelf-life. The natural region and season to which these fruits and veggies grow is completely obsolete.
Here in Hawaii, you'd think bananas are a dime a dozen since they grow here naturally in practically everyone's backyard. But, the actual local variety is something called an "apple banana", which is a shorter, fatter banana that tastes as if you'd crossed it with a green apple jolly rancher. One would also assume that this variety so readily available locally would cost less than the traditional "Cavendish" variety found in every grocery store on the mainland. Totally wrong again- the bunch of Cavendish I bought yesterday was $1.00/pound (yeah, I'm still not over that one) and the Apple Bananas cost $1.49. Why my bundle from Ecuador cost less than one trucked in from a farm a 1/2 mile from my grocery store is still not apparent to me (I'm definitely not an economics major).

I now understand my fears of trying new things. There are two main reasons I will have to overcome: UNFAMILIARITY and the UNAVAILABILITY. 

Because something is new to me, I rarely risk cooking or tasting it. Eating out, I will always play it safe and go for the preparation I am comfortable trying. Another reason I have talked myself out of becoming a world traveler. I am frightened of being one of those cliche finicky American eaters who opts for McDonalds over fois gras.
Additionally, if it is an ingredient or preparation that is not supported in a mainstream grocery store or restaurant, I may never get the opportunity to try it out. I have gotten rid of several cookbooks that had crazy ingredients which required my travel to another part of town into a tiny Asian food market. It seems many of those cookbooks are written by people in New York or San Francisco where everything is available.
I still have no excuse for not grabbing the dragon fruit I saw tonight at the store. What it is exactly- I'm not sure. But, I would really like to understand the culture behind so many of the foods I have written off in the past out of intimidation. And of course, dragging the kids through this exploration will only expand their palate and they will never have my excuse that it just wasn't offered so they didn't try it.
Maybe I'll get around to trying each of the umpteen varieties of squash beyond acorn and butternut. And perhaps curried foods will actually make it to the weekly menu!
Here's to eating like a grown up!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

A funny thing happened...

Today, my husband joined the cause.
Out of nowhere, he was convicted about our lifestyle. No longer satisfied with "flirting with these ideas" of being a more natural family, he is ready to start backing up some talk with action. Strange, considering he has never really read my mission statement for our move towards becoming a "Whole Health Family" or more than one article I've written on this blog. But, he began spilling the same ideas I have about building a family that is wholly healthy- mind, body and spirit. It was like I was hearing myself talk!
I don't regularly preach to him on transforming to a more holistic family, but he certainly picked up on some of my hints and small lifestyle changes. It was just so cool to get his support. I felt almost like I had gotten a grant to do some great philanthropic research from some important university. I got clearance for his financial and emotional support. Awesome.
It was empowering to have someone I love support me in my endeavors, not only as a bystander, but throwing himself into the experiment as well.
That is one important thing about family I have learned along the way: embracing the passions and pursuits of your family whole heartedly as if they were your own. Unconditional love is often found in the actions of self-sacrifice and enthusiasm for the interests of those around you for no other reason than to show your love and support.
Hopefully, you will all see the power of us working as a team. With only one person with a paddle in the water, it's a constant battle to maintain a straight course. But, with both paddles in, we can go faster and straighter together.

(In case you ever read my blog again- thanks Russ for your love and support.)

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The school lunch program

Among the mass of paperwork that accompanied the kids on their first day of school was the good ol' school lunch menu. Wow. This was a shocker.
I have always thought that the USDA is reinforcing bad eating habits with their lunch service. They have relegated themselves to keeping in line with traditional "kids menu" type foods. Here in Hawaii, it's even worse. Our menu consists of a meat main dish- usually something fairly fattening and unhealthy, and one or two sides of STARCH! Not a vegetable listed the entire month.
I see why they do this- they figure kids hate vegetables, they'll just get thrown out, so why bother, we'll just save the expense and eliminate them entirely. I am shocked. Back in Texas the kids could choose from a healthier alternative like the baked potato bar or the turkey wrap when the main offering was something like sloppy joes or chili. My kids frequently chose from that line (proud parent moment) and here the choice isn't even offered.
Here is a small sample of what is being offered:

Roast beef with gravy, garlic whipped potatoes and a biscuit
Batter fried fish, deli roast potatoes and a whole wheat roll
Chicken sticks with sauce, steamed rice and a whole wheat roll
  and my favorite...
Chili Cheese Fries and a muffin!

Normal fare in Hawaii: called the Mixed Plate

What's amazing is that immediately next to the menu posting on the school bulletin board is the nurses office with a poster warning that childhood diabetes is on the rise! Hmmm, I wonder why? Obesity continues to plague our little ones primarily because of what is being put in front of them from such an early age. I understand children can be picky- I have one or two of those in the house. But, continued exposure to the good healthy stuff is necessary if we ever want our kids to move past the basic plain hamburger and fries when they're adults and heart disease, high blood pressure and cancer are banging on their door.
So what can we do? In our house, we are personally opting out of the program and packing lunches everyday, but that wont be enough to change it. Luckily, there are some brave people who are working to make a difference in schools around the nation. Here is some food for thought:
Bringing in a Chef in Berkely
Whole Foods gets involved
New Legislation in the works

Take some time to research this in your community. Become an advocate to shape how are children are nourished when not at home. And please, please, please don't stop offering the salads, veggies and grown-up food!