Blogging Break

I am taking a blogging break, beginning on Monday, May 24th. I will resume the day after Memorial Day. And as much as I love my daily nutrition research and writing and tweeting and facebooking, I am really looking forward to a week off! I am taking a week to spend some time with two of my best friends and favorite people in the whole world, my sisters Alice and Madeline. Alice gets a (well-deserved) break from work, and Madeline is a recent college grad (yay Mads!) and has a week off before she starts her new job. So, this was the perfect time for the three of us to get away. I hope I come back inspired by the nutrition in a different part of the world!

But don't worry, I have one little tidbit of wisdom to leave you with. The Denver Post has a pretty decent food column, and there was a recent article on vegetables and how much they can add to our plates and to our health. The article was written by Tucker Shaw and I really liked his opening words, so I want to share them with you. About two months ago, Ed and I started having a vegetable with every breakfast, every day, no exceptions. Some days they go into a smoothie; other days into our eggs; and sometimes we just have cut up celery or carrots with our hot cereal. But, there is always a veggie and this helps us pack more vegetables into our day, which makes us feel better and more balanced. Anyway, I really couldn't agree more with these guy's words:

You already know you should eat more vegetables. You even know the reasons why. Because they'll help you lose weight. They'll help protect you from heart disease. Stroke. High blood pressure. Cancer. Because they'll help maintain good vision and a healthy digestive system. Because when you eat more vegetables, you feel better. Your energy level goes up. Your skin glows.

But, you protest. Your family won't eat them. My kid/wife/husband doesn't like them, you say.

That's no excuse not to serve them. Vegetables are easy to prepare, much less expensive than meat, and healthy besides. They belong at every meal, on every table, in every home.

And when vegetables are in season, like now, they are utterly beautiful.

(Tucker Shaw, The Denver Post)



Pesticides Linked to ADD

I am sure many of you read the article released this week about research linking exposure to pesticides found in fruits and vegetables to ADD and ADHD in children.

Experts say the research is “persuasive” that pesticides are contributing to common learning problems in children. Was anyone surprised to hear this? I certainly wasn’t! I don't think it's the only thing that can lead to ADD, but I definitely believe it's one part of the picture. I am happy that this information is being released all over the internet and newspapers, because I think more people will finally start to believe what many have been suspecting for so many years.

One reason children are more affected by the chemicals is because they consume more food relative to their body weight than adults do, so they tend to have higher concentrations. The pesticide compounds showed up in urine of 94% of the children involved in the study. A separate study done in 2008 actually showed that when children switched to organic produce, pesticide compound levels in their urine was undetectable or nearly undetectable.

Some of the foods that tested highest in pesticides included celery, strawberries and frozen blueberries. This is a good reminder that we should keep the lists of the most heavily sprayed fruits and vegetables available when we are grocery shopping. The Environmental Working Group is a great resource for this (print the list out HERE).

The convincing research from this article is also a reminder that pesticides and other chemicals used in and on our food does affect our health, and it is not something to be taken lightly. Organic food is expensive, of course, but I truly think that it’s worth it to splurge on organic produce if it’s something that tends to be heavily sprayed. This is especially important for healthy, growing children. Remember that frozen organic fruit has many nutrients – you don’t have to spend extra on the fresh just to get the health benefits. The key is that it’s organic.


I’ve been thinking about doing a post on spices for a while, and decided to save it for this week. On Monday, I wrote about the importance of creating a comfortable and happy kitchen (here) and then guest blogger Katie gave us some tips on how to go about doing this (here). I thought spices fit in pretty well with this theme.

But, ironically, my sister recently told me that spices only last 6-12 months, and then last week my Nana sent me an article on five spices that are good for the brain. Oh, and then today in class my teacher talked about the literal meaning behind “spicing up” one’s love life! [Translation: spices stimulate sexual desire].

SO, I think it’s definitely time to do a blog on spices.

First, it’s important for people to understand that most spices will last somewhere between 6 and 12 months. Unless you are a personal chef and spend all of your time cooking, most people do not completely use up their spices over the course of a year. When I found this out, I actually was sort of frustrated by the fact that spices are sold in such big containers! I mean, they’re small, but still too big! I buy a lot of my spices in bulk at Savory Spice Shop or Whole Foods, because it saves money. But now I think I’ll only buy bulk spices, and get little glass jars to keep them in (just as Katie suggested yesterday!). And speaking of jars, here’s another thing I learned: proper spice storage is in glass jars. If they are in plastic containers or bags, they should be transferred to glass jars because they will retain their nutrients for a longer period of time.

Now let’s talk about the article my Nana sent me. The title was “A Well-Seasoned Mind,” and it is from AARP magazine, May & June 2010. The article talked about recent scientific research that shows that five spices – turmeric, ginger, garlic, saffron and cinnamon – are good for the brain. Turmeric has the ability to break up brain plaque buildup that is associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Ginger can be a powerful spice for treating migraines, with some patients reporting total elimination of the migraine with ginger tea, and others reporting significant improvement. Garlic compounds have been shown to eliminate brain cancer cells, and many scientists believe that garlic-based treatments for brain cancer will be used in our near future. Saffron is a pungent herb that has been shown to work as well as Prozac in treating mild depression in some patients, when taken twice daily. An easy way to cook saffron is in rice or quinoa. And finally, cinnamon has been proven to help stabilize blood sugar and helps us remain focused by increasing the rate at which our brain processes information. So, these are five great spices to add to your collection!

The last aspect of spices I want to touch on is their use in weight loss. Adding spices such as capsaicin, jalapeño, habanero and cayenne pepper can actually help stimulate metabolism and speed it up. In addition, adding spices to meals helps us feel more satisfied and full, preventing cravings later in the day. This is great information for those looking to boost their metabolism or lose some weight.

We use a lot of spices at our house. They have so many health benefits, and are relatively affordable and add so much to any dish. Experimenting with spices is the best way to get accustomed to using them. Also, if you can buy any of them in their whole form (such as coriander, pepper, or cloves), they will contain more nutrients and you can just grind them with your mortar & pestle right before you add them to your food.


Guest Blogger Katie: Kitchen Inspiration!

I am so thankful and excited to have a guest blogger today! Thankful because I am so busy this week, and excited because I know you guys are going to love her!

Meet Katie, aka The Social Secretary. I don't have a photo of her, but just picture the most beautiful freckles you've ever seen. You know that question, "If you could change one thing about yourself...?" Well, my answer is always the same: more freckles! Katie is the best friend of one of my good friends from college. This mutual friend of ours happens to be getting married in a few weeks (so excited, Therese!), and I flew into Chicago last weekend for the bachelorette party. Katie planned the entire party and it was amazing: fresh flowers in jars on every table; laminated cards with trivia on the bride’s life; paper lanterns lighting up the backyard; mini champagne bottles for a group toast; and she even pulled off a video of the groom answering questions about his bride! Everything was coordinated perfectly and guests felt very welcomed and relaxed – the sign of a true hostess! Katie has a blog of her own that I love. She truly is my social secretary! Go HERE to check it out. I also highly recommend following her on Twitter, so you can get updates on the must-read blogs for fashion, design, creativity, and everything else fun and inspirational! She’s the master of rare finds in the blogworld, so I asked her to come up with some kitchen inspiration for PWN readers. Yesterday I talked about the importance of making your kitchen a place you love to work in, and today Katie will help us figure out how to accomplish this!

Thank you, Katie, for taking the time to share these great ideas with us!

When I think of a healthy kitchen, I think of a clean, bright, welcoming place that you'll want to spend your time not only cooking in, but gathering in as well.

Kitchen Photo Sources: Top, Middle Left, Middle Right, Bottom

The first thing to consider for your healthy kitchen is wall color. I love the crisp, sanitary look of a white kitchen with hints of blues and greens tucked in different corners and thrown in unexpected places. If you're more of a color person, choose a palette that makes you happy. Healthy people are happy people, right?

Another thing to consider when putting together your healthy kitchen is to bring life in. Plants and fresh flowers do wonders to spruce up one of the most used rooms in the house.

While you're shopping for plants and flowers, throw some fresh fruits and vegetables in your basket. Fill up clear vases and your favorite bowls and leave these out on your counter or island. Since these fruits and veggies are now out in the open, you'll be more likely to utilize them rather than leave them in the fridge to spoil.

Instead of stacking up boxes and bags of pastas in your cabinets, invest in some glass or plastic canisters and keep them out on your counter. Not only do they make a fitting decoration, they'll keep foods fresh while showing you what you've got to work with while you're deciding on meals.

I think one of the most important things to remember is to stay organized. Keep your counters clear of clutter. Keep your mail, magazines, coupons and clippings out of the way in drawers or unassuming organizers. Consider dedicating the inside of one cabinet to becoming the message center. Cover half of the inside of the door with corkboard and the other half with magnetic chalkboard paint. Chalkboards are the perfect remedy to quick notes or lists. Most importantly, a clean counter won't deter you from using it!

I'm not a big fan of having all of your spices out for viewing - maybe only keep out your salt and pepper and and a bottle of olive oil near the stove. Also, consider forgoing the McCormick bottles stacking up in your cupboard and buy a slew of matching, smaller bottles. Then print out your own labels to get a more uniform and easy to access spice collection.

One other thing I think is a great addition to kitchens is a magnetic knife strip. A block of knives definitely gets the job done, but having all of your knives and blades out for viewing makes them so much more easy to grab and work with. Also, keeping the knives out and away from each other helps keep the blades sharper longer.

No matter how you decide to transform your kitchen into a more healthy one, make sure to be true to yourself and what colors and tones make you happy. It's important to bring in natural light and remember to stay organized. Cooking with a smile won't hurt either!


Creating a Kitchen that is Yours

As part of the curriculum at my school, there is a weekend retreat designed to explore an individual’s personal relationship with food. One of the things we discussed was the importance of creating a kitchen that is organized, calm, welcoming and beautiful – in a way, a sacred place. The idea is that when food is prepared, it will reflect some traits of the person(s) who prepared it and the environment in which it was prepared. If you are stressed out and frustrated and trying to prepare dinner, the meal will not taste as delicious as if you are calm, relaxed, listening to some music and sipping a glass of wine. It was even suggested that we ban all fighting from the kitchen, so that the mood within stays free of stress and tension.

I love the idea of creating an inviting kitchen that I will love to work in. The kitchen is a gathering place. When we entertain, I put cheese and crackers and olives out in the living room, light candles, and arrange seating so there are enough spots for everyone. But inevitably, people gather in the kitchen and we end up moving all the food back in there.

So, I am changing a few small things in my own kitchen. Just some things that will make it a place I am more comfortable working in. The first thing I did was organize my grains and some legumes into glass jars. This make them more available to me and also allows me to buy in bulk, which saves a lot of money.

I also organized my spices (I do not have matching spice jars… it seems too daunting of a project to take on, considering I am buying new spices all the time!). Both the glass jars and the spice rack were purchased at The Container Store.

We have a breakfast nook with some benches (that double as storage, which his very helpful). We had cushions made for the benches so it is a bit cozier and more comfortable. The majority of our meals are eaten here, so it’s been a great upgrade. The cushions are made from a Sunbrella fabric, so it is durable and easy to clean if we spill something.

Since our fridge isn’t magnetic, I bought a magnetic pin board at The Container Store that we can use to hang photos of our families and friends, wedding invitations, Ed’s Red Sox magnets, and other things that are important to us. This makes our kitchen much more personal and since the board is small, it forces me to stay on top of the clutter and throw things out that are no longer relevant.

The last two big things I want to do are update the window coverings to something a little bit brighter, and replace the fixture above the breakfast nook with a pendant lamp or something that will give it a fresher, brighter look.

Is your kitchen a place you love to be in to cook, eat and relax? Or at least are there some elements of your kitchen that you love? If not, I encourage you to make a few small changes to your kitchen in order to make it a room you are proud of. Even really small organizational changes can make a huge difference and get you excited about cooking again!

Tomorrow, I’ll have a guest blogger talk about more ways to make your kitchen a happier place!