Thursday, July 29, 2010

Healthy Eating

I have a continual debate with my mother, mother-in-law, and friends, about whether or not my vegetarian diet offers enough protein. Best selling author Dr. Barry Sears, in his new book, Toxic Fat, advocates a mostly vegetable, fruit and legume diet that provides enough protein, and reduces what he calls Toxic fat, a natural fatty acid that causes inflammation and leads to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer’s.

Take that, steak-wielding in-laws!

Dr. Sears’ anti-inflammatory diet balances the body’s hormones, specifically levels of insulin and GI tract hormones.

Even if you continue to eat meat, Dr. Sears suggests a way to cut down, dividing a plate into three equal sections and filling one third with a low-fat protein, 3 ounces for women or four ounces of men the rest of the plate should be filled with colorful non-starchy vegetables, with a little heart-healthy monounsaturated fat: e.g., olive oil, slivered almonds or guacamole.

A Zone Diet meal planner offers menus and recipes, like a Mediterranean pizza made with onions and green olives, and only 1 tablespoon of (fat free) feta cheese.

To follow the diet strictly, you have to buy Zone products like sliced bread ($17.50 a loaf) and multigrain pizza crusts ($25 for 5). They are expensive, but far cheaper than restaurant or take-out meals. And two slices of that bread have as much protein as a chicken breast.

The recipe below uses the Zone fusilli, which is $25 for 5 packages. The rest of the ingredients cost under a dollar total, so you have a whole, healthy meal, for less than $6.

For a few dollars more, you can even invite the in-laws.

Fusilli Fagiole


1 package of Zone Fusilli

1 ½ teaspoons olive oil

1 garlic clove, minced

½ cup Italian plum tomatoes, drained and chopped

1 teaspoon fresh parsley, minced

1 pinch basil, dried
1 pinch oregano, dried

¼ cup cannelloni beans, rinsed

Salt and pepper

Grated Parmesan if desired

Fresh basil leaves for garnish


Cook the fusilli as directed on package.

Reserve 1 cup of liquid and drain the rest.

Meanwhile, heat olive oil and garlic in a medium saucepan.

Sauté on low heat to prevent burning.

Add the plum tomato and turn up heat to medium high.

Bring to a simmer.

Add dried herbs and beans.

Add ½ cup of reserved pasta liquid and stir. The starch in the liquid will help thicken the tomato mixture. Continue to simmer adding more liquid as necessary to thicken tomato sauce to desired consistency.

Pour over pasta. Sprinkle with fresh basil and parmesan cheese. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Northampton Vegetarian

My husband and I don’t have ‘favorite’ restaurants or family vacation spots – we like to try new places, and although we do go back to certain neighborhood restaurants again and again, there are so many in our immediate area that we can’t become regulars anywhere.

But through years of driving to Vermont to ski or visit our youngest daughter at camp, we’ve made a habit of stopping in Northampton, Mass. We have a college friend who lives there, the town is really cute, and it’s right off the highway. And every time we go there, we eat at the vegetarian restaurant, Haymarket Café.

This time, we were determined to try another place. There are several vegetarian and vegetarian-friendly restaurants in Northampton, but one was packed, another didn’t look so great and we found ourselves, once again, in front of Haymarket.

At breakfast and dinner, waitress service downstairs means you can sit and wait for excellent coffee or the basket of warm sourdough bread, served with herbed olive oil. At lunch, you order at the open kitchen and bus your own table. Small price to pay for delicious food.

Filling entrees like a warm rice salad with tofu and veggies, plus a green salad with chickpeas, olives and roasted pepper, or cold soba noodles with a peanut sauce, and the same side salad, are a filling dinner, for only $5.95. You can also get two of three: soup, salad and half a sandwich, for $6.50.

Particularly good sandwiches include a tempeh burger with roasted red pepper, a Portobello sandwich with gorgonzola and tomato and our family favorite, hummus and avocado. We got the idea from Haymarket and make it all the time at home.

I am also partial to the Greek artichoke stew, with rice and cannelloni beans, and the arroz a la Cubana, with black beans, fried egg and plantain. I’ve yet to try the wild mushroom risotto, shephard’s pie or linguini in Romesco sauce with Swiss chard, so I figure we can stop here at least four more times before I repeat a dish.

We may never eat anywhere else in Northampton.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Keeping kids safe with vaccines

Two summers ago, my then 10 year old came home from camp with whooping cough. I got a call from the New Hampshire Board or Health and a reminder from my pediatrician that vaccines protect against diseases, but the vaccine can wear off. In fact, the Tdap vaccine, a booster against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (aka whooping cough) is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for 11 or 12 year olds, but my daughter was just precocious.

Last summer, before my oldest daughter went to college, the pediatrician recommended a vaccine against meningitis, a disease that often strikes college students who live in close quarters.

And then there was the swine flu. College students around the country were sickened, quarantined and given swine and ‘regular’ flu vaccines if their colleges were lucky enough to have the supplies. Hallie’s college ran out, but she came home for the Jewish holidays and our pediatrician saved a dose for her.

All three of my daughters got the HPV vaccine, which protects girls from human papillomavirus, which can cause cervical cancer.

Our health insurance covered the cost of the vaccines. If you don’t have health insurance, your kids who are 18 and younger may be eligible to get the vaccines for free through the Vaccines for Children program (VFC). Visit the CDC Pre-teen Immunization Hub for a text-based versionVisit the CDC site for more information on pre-teen vaccines

I am writing this post as part of a CDC blogger outreach program. I may receive a small thank you gift from the CDC for my participation in raising awareness about pre-teen immunizations.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Late summer and back to school

In New York, summer doesn’t really get going until July 4th. Public school goes until late June, and city beaches and pools don’t officially open till July 1. So it was shocking to me that I could buy figs today.

And yesterday, Staples launched its back to school specials. On July 14th! My kids haven’t even been out of school for three weeks and it’s already back to school.

According to Fresh Direct, figs are a late summer fruit. So what are they doing here in mid July?

I could ponder this, but instead I bought the figs. They are perfect in a vegetarian fig/bleu cheese sandwich. This amazing sandwich should be made at least 2 hours before you want to eat it, so exercise restraint. If the mouth watering sandwich is too much to resist, leave the cheese out till it reaches room temperature. It is also easier to spread this way.

If you are not a fan of bleu cheese, you can make this with goat cheese. Delicious, but not quite as good.


Bleu cheese

Fresh figs



Olive oil


Slice the baguette in half lengthwise and spread cheese on. Slice figs (no need to peel) and layer on top. Sprinkle on some chopped basil, squeeze on a little fresh lemon, drizzle some oil and grind a little salt

Press the top half of the bread on top.

And wait.

Catch up on TiVo, read a book, go for a run. Then enjoy.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Cool off with cold soup

Many years ago, I had a strange hankering for borscht. Strange, because I didn’t really like beets. But I decided to try it and it was delicious. And extremely refreshing in the heat. I am referring, of course, to cold vegetarian borscht, not the hot version with chunks of meat.

When I found a recipe, it called for sour salt, and I couldn’t find any. By then, my grandmother was no longer alive, but my husband still had one grandmother. Our heritage is Russian Jewish, so I figured she’d know about borscht and sour salt.

She did. Not only that, she had three or four unopened jars of the stuff (which is also referred to as citric acid– now that I know that, I can find it in New York). It struck me as rather optimistic that a 92 year old bought in such quantities; at the rate I make borscht, I would exhaust such a supply in 8 or 9 years.

The sour salt gives borscht that tang, almost like the Japanese umami. In fact, when I was pregnant with my third child, my cravings were limited to borscht and miso soup, which gets its umami from the miso paste. And, oddly, my youngest daughter loves both soups, proof perhaps that what you eat when you are pregnant influences your kids.

This soup is refreshing, even when the mercury hits 103º.

Beet borscht

4 medium beets, peeled and quartered

1/2 pickle, finely chopped

1/2 cucumber, finely chopped

1 cup buttermilk

1 tsp sour salt.

Cover the beets with water and cook for 20-25 minutes. Grate the beets – if you do this by hand, your hands will be stained red. I use a Cuisinart. You can also use golden beets, though the flavor is not as intense.

Put the grated beets in a bowl with the cooking water, buttermilk, cuke, pickle and sour salt.

If you like beet greens, you can add them about 5 minutes before the beets are done, then chop and add back in.

Chill till very cold

You can serve with cold boiled potatoes and sour cream or Greek yogurt.