April 30, 2011

Links I Like

Happy Saturday! Here's some link goodness to go along with my site redesign. To get updates on the week's best nutrition and health news throughout the week, follow me on Twitter and Facebook!

  • Great story on NPR about "Sitting All Day Is Worse For You Than You Might Think." This isn't brand new news, as I've been reading about some of the emerging studies for at least six months, but NPR did a nice job with it.
  • You probably know that red wine can be good for the heart, right? Does that mean you should polish off half a bottle with dinner. Errr...no. Turns out that most Americans are a bit confused on this point. They are also confused on where most of the sodium/salt we eat comes from. Hint: It's not from the salt shaker.
  • I was simultaneously amused and disgusted by the news that the sugar industry is suing the corn industry over the rebranding of high fructose corn syrup as "corn sugar."
  • Again with the semantics. New research finds that while health-conscious people say that potato chips, sugary drinks and milkshakes aren't very healthy, they believe that "veggie chips," "vitamin water" and "smoothies" are quite healthy...even when there is very little difference in the ingredients of the two sets of foods!

April 29, 2011

No, no twigs and leaves here

I keep thinking about yesterday's post. I have a thread that continually runs through my head: "How can I help people embrace a healthier lifestyle?" Please note that I do not go around thinking: "How can I make people suck it up and adopt a healthier lifestyle."

Change can be hard. Change is hard. But change is a heck of a lot easier when you not only want to live healthier, but you have the motivation to make the necessary changes. You embrace healthier living. It becomes part of you, instead of something you're just doing because someone said you should.

I got into a bit of a debate with someone in my microbiology class yesterday. We were talking about mutations to the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, which significantly increase a woman's risk of getting breast and/or ovarian cancer. That lead to a discussion of how genes are not the only factor that determines if we get cancer...our lifestyle habits are also big influencers.

She said something about a cancer-preventive lifestyle being unattainable. "Really?" I said. "What's unattainable about going for a 30-minute walk every day, not smoking, limiting alcohol to one or two drinks a day (one for women, two for men), keeping body weight in a normal range, eating a lot of fruits and vegetables and avoiding fast food and junk food." There are more specifics for the dietary part, of course, but that's it in a nutshell. That lifestyle is attainable. It may be a big change for a lot of people, if they are used to grabbing fast food for lunch every day and they smoke and they haven't gone for a walk since Clinton was president. But it is possible. Bonus: That same lifestyle would also be a mighty weapon against diabetes and heart disease.

The problem is, as I said yesterday, a lot of people don't want to give up their daily cheeseburgers and their big bowl of ice cream and their six hours of daily TV. And a lot of other people want to be healthier but just don't have enough motivation to make changes that stick.

Maybe people think that healthy food is tasteless and bland and heavy on the twigs and leaves. I know cheeseburgers and fries taste awfully darn good (too good, if you ask me), but I made a healthy pizza last night that was so good I thought I had died and gone to heaven. And it wasn't complicated to make!

I shortcutted on the crust by buying a bag of whole wheat pizza crust dough at Trader Joe's. I took it out of the fridge to de-chill and rest, then cut and onion in half and sliced it vertically so it made long strips.
I sauteed it in some olive oil (medium heat to start, then low heat once it started to brown a tiny bit) until it gave up a lot of it's moisture and was all nice and caramelized. While I kept an eye on it, I sliced some mushrooms that needed to be used up, chopped up a few cloves of garlic, and tore up some kale from the garden.
Mmmmm...dark leafy greens. When the onions were done, I added the mushrooms to the pan, sauteed them a bit until they started to release their moisture, then added the garlic and kale. I cooked it down enough where I felt like it wouldn't make the pizza crust soggy. (I only wanted to get one pan dirty, but the onion sautee and the garlic/greens/shrooms sautee could be done simultaneously with two pans if you're short of time).

Finally, I cut a ball of fresh mozzarella (also from Trader Joe's) in half and then sliced it into roughly 1/4" slices, and I grated some Parmesan.  I took the pizza dough out of the bag, gently put it on my pizza stone and gently stretched it into a rough circle. (I totally disobeyed the instructions on the bag by not doing this on a floured surface, but I was feeling lazy and it worked for me!) Then, I brushed olive oil onto the dough, laid down the mozzarella slices, then the onions, then the greens/garlic/shrooms, then the Parmesan. I popped the whole thing in a pre-heated 450 degree oven, and baked until the crust was golden, about 15-20 minutes.
Voila! Doesn't this look good? So many veggies, and so flavorful!
I think I am officially addicted to caramelized onions on pizza.

April 28, 2011

What will it take?

Two news stories today made me crazy. They shouldn't have, because neither one really surprised me. But both served to call attention to huge health problems that don't have to be as big as they are. The first story, on NPR, was this:
"The Coast Guard puts out a number that's important for companies running ferry boats and charters. Since the 1960s, it's been assumed the average person weighs 160 pounds. In keeping with America's changing waistlines, the Coast Guard has raised the average weight, the Los Angeles Times reported. Boat operators must now assume people weigh 185 pounds."
Yes, it's no secret that America, along with most areas of the world that follow a standard Western diet, has climbing obesity rates. But to see it trickle down to the point where ferry boat operators will have to allow fewer people on ferries...insane.

The other story was about the World Health Organization warning that chronic illnesses like cancer, heart disease and diabetes have reached global epidemic proportions and now cause more deaths than all other diseases combined. Why does this bother me? Because these three diseases are lifestyle-related. They are epidemic because way too many people smoke, eat unhealthy food, watch TV instead of exercise, don't keep their weight at a healthy level and drink too much!

This is not to say that anyone "deserves" cancer or heart disease, and the research does not totally agree on all points about what lifestyle factors contribute to chronic disease, but there is enough agreement among health experts that if someone did want to try to avoid these diseases, they could take some solid action toward that end.

If I sound like I'm yelling down from my soapbox, it's because I am. This is why I'm going to grad school. This is why I'm going to study public health nutrition and become a Registered Dietitian. I am absolutely driven toward these goals. Obesity and chronic disease is a public health issue, and its also a very personal issue.
  • If someone has trouble moving through their daily activities with reasonable ease because they are obese or their body has become stiff and unconditioned from lack of physical activity, then their quality of life is less that what it could be. 
  • If someone is dealing with cardiovascular disease and/or diabetes and are worried that they might have a heart attack or go blind or lose a foot or have to go on dialysis, then their quality of life is less than what it could be.
  • If somebody has to remember to take several prescription medications on the right schedule while dealing with the side effects that are often part of the deal, then their quality of life is less than what it could be.
It doesn't have to be this way. Who doesn't want to be able to feel physically comfortable, to play with their kids, to walk the dog, to go for a fun bike ride with a friend or loved one? Who does want to juggle doctor's appointments and trips to the pharmacy and spend life waiting for their health to go from bad to worse? Don't we all want the best quality of life possible? I'm not talking about money or big houses or fancy cars, I'm talking about health...and health is priceless. Trouble is, we don't see how valuable good health is, until we've lost it. What will it take to make people see what they are squandering?

I'm sure there are some people who truly don't see the connection between their unhealthy lifestyle and poor health. Others know the connection, but don't want to stop smoking, start exercising or eat vegetables. Then there's the group that see the connection, and know what they need to do to change, and even want to change, but never manage to turn intent into action. I fell into that group at one point, but I eventually found my motivation and turned into the next group, the group that sees the connection between lifestyle and health, and makes the effort to live as healthfully as possible each day.

A healthy lifestyle doesn't guarantee a life free of chronic disease, but it certainly increases the odds! It's pretty well understood that our genes don't necessarily dictate whether we will or won't get cancer, heart disease or diabetes. It's how our genes intersect with our daily habits and the environment around us that matters. It's a hotbed of scientific research, and as these things often go, there's much that is now known, and much that is still unknown. This is one reason that twin studies are so fascinating...identical twins have identical genes, but there are many cases where one twin gets cancer or another chronic disease, but the other twin doesn't. Clearly, our genes are not our fate. Clearly, how we live makes a difference.

April 27, 2011

A revolution burger without the revolution


I was so bummed yesterday afternoon when I saw (via Twitter) that Jamie's Food Revolution wasn't going to be on this week! All because of a two-hour Dancing With The Stars (don't even get me started). I had been planning since last week's episode to try to recreate his Revolution Burger. Oh well, the show must go on, even when the show isn't going on.

First, the bun. We used thin whole wheat sandwich rounds that we buy at Costco. We usually eat our burgers without buns (smothered with sauteed onions and/or mushrooms and served with a huge salad), so I've reached the point where "standard" white flour buns taste like soggy sawdust to me, and high quality artisan multi-grain buns (or whatnot) just seem like too much bread. So the sandwich thins work nicely, IMO.

Then we have the smashed black beans (I think Jamie used kidney beans). I drained and rinsed a can of black beans, then simmered them in a small pot with a lid so they didn't dry out. I added some green chili sauce, cumin and a little salt. Then I dumped about half in a small bowl and smashed it with a fork.

Next we have the rest of the fixings...and the burger itself. I chopped up half a red onion and sauteed it, then Jeff squished it up with a pound of grass-fed beef (from our annual quarter-share of steer) and some breadcrumbs. I mixed a bit of nonfat plain Greek yogurt with some cumin, green chili sauce and granulated garlic. That went on top of the burger. I took part of a roasted sweet potato and mashed it with a fork. I didn't add anything to it. That went on the top bun. We served it with a super-quick (an impromptu) red cabbage slaw and dill pickles (canned by Jeff last summer!).

The results were tasty, although we probably put too much sweet potato on it. We LOVE sweet potato, but Jeff said it made the whole thing taste like a veggie burger, and I sort of agree. I would totally do a yogurt sauce again (and it could easily be varied with different seasonings), but I would probably use mustard and keep my sweet potato on the side.

April 26, 2011

A stew for spring

The lingering cold weather makes me crave warm, comforting foods, but the fact that it is, technically, spring makes me want lighter fare with loads of veggies. This stew recipe I pulled from my files (originally from Cooking Light, adapted slightly by me) was just the ticket!

Chicken Stew with Sweet Peppers
Serves 4 (about 1.5 cups each)

Ingredients:
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 cup finely chopped onion
3/4 pound skinless, boneless chicken breast, cut into bite-size pieces
3 cups chopped zucchini
1 cup finely chopped carrot
1 small can chopped green chilies, drained
3/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 (15.5-ounce) can Great Northern or white kidney beans, drained
1 (14.5-ounce) can chicken broth (preferably low-sodium)
1 cup chopped roasted bell peppers (I used a jar from Trader Joe's)
4 teaspoons chopped fresh cilantro
  1. Heat olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add chopped onion and chicken; saute 5 minutes or until lightly browned.
  2. Add zucchini and next 9 ingredients (zucchini through broth); bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer 30 minutes or until vegetables are tender.
  3. Add bell peppers and cook, uncovered, for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Ladle into bowls and sprinkle with cilantro.

P.S. Just a little heads up that I'm planning a site redesign soon...as soon as possible, really. So if you visit and it looks different, or looks a little wonky (if you catch the site while I'm making adjustments), you don't need to check your eyesight. Thought you might want to know.

April 24, 2011

Happy Easter...time for oatmeal!

Since Seattle got it's first taste of decent weather in MONTHS yesterday (and is supposed to rain today), we celebrated early (starting with a great early morning walk). Dinner was a ham from our half of a pig we get yearly from a small farm. We were thinking of giving up our share for next year, but this ham was so good we're reconsidering. We kept it simple, with some organic asparagus from Whole Foods, sauteed in butter and garlic, and roasted sweet potatoes.

We also celebrated early because, honestly, we wanted to have leftover ham today. Today is going to be a great day for leftovers, what with ham and fritatta and baked oatmeal in our fridge.

I'd been meaning to make baked oatmeal for months, but could never settle on one of the four or five recipes I'd found. So yesterday I turned my kitchen into a lab and combined the bits I liked best from each recipe. I went with steel cut oats instead of regular, soaked or not soaked, buttermilk instead of cow or almond milk and eggs instead of...no eggs. The results were fantastic, kind of a cross between stovetop oatmeal and thick French toast. We served it topped with ground flax seeds, unsweetened coconut, a drizzle of sunflower butter and a few crumbles of chunky granola, for crunch.


Baked Steel Cut Oatmeal
Serves 4-6

Ingredients:
8 ounces steel cut oatmeal (by weight) or 1-1/4 cups
1/2 cup walnuts (or nuts of choice)
Water to cover plus 1 tablespoon buttermilk, kefir or plain yogurt
Pinch of sea salt
1 cup buttermilk (or milk of choice)
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/2 cup dried fruit (I used 1/4 cup each dried cranberries and diced dried apricot)
2 tablespoons maple syrup (if desired)
2 tablespoons butter or coconut oil (melted and slightly cooled)
Additional butter or coconut oil for greasing the pan
  1. The night before, put oatmeal and nuts in a glass or ceramic bowl, add enough water to cover them completely, then stir in the salt and 2 tablespoons of buttermilk, kefir or yogurt. Cover and leave to soak overnight (about 8 to 12 hours) at room temperature.
  2. The next morning, preheat the oven to 375 degrees and grease a pie plate or 8-by-8-inch baking pan.
  3. Drain the excess water out of the bowl. Whisk the buttermilk or milk and the eggs together in a separate bowl until frothy. Add to oats, along with the vanilla, cinnamon and maple syrup (if using). Stir well to completely combine. Add melted butter or coconut oil to oat mixture and stir to combine. Fold in the dried fruit.
  4. Pour mixture into the prepared pan. Smooth the top with a rubber spatula.
  5. Bake for about 45 minutes until the top is golden brown and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean and dry. You can serve immediately if you want to scoop it out of the pan. If you prefer to cut it into squares or wedges, allow it to cool for 5 or 10 minutes, first.
If you've never soaked grains before, you might wonder what the point is. Soaking can make grains more digestible and make their nutrients (including B vitamins and several important minerals) more absorbable. I don't always pre-soak grains but I often do. It's easy when you're planning ahead with a great weekend morning breakfast like this one!

April 23, 2011

How low do I go?


A point came during my two sugar-free weeks when I had a moment of panic. "I'm going to have to get rid of all my baking books, because I won't be able to bake anymore!" Then I went downstairs, stroked their sleek spines, and snapped out of it. Life is about balance, and tossing out my precious volumes would be a little excessive.

I have a LOT of baking books. In addition to the books pictured above, I have a number of massive tomes with sections on baking. (For example, "The Joy of Cooking," the two Martha Stewart's Classics (old and new) cookbooks and assorted Nigella Lawson books.) I have three books dedicated to chocolate. And then there are my two huge textbooks from pastry school:

I have little-to-no intention of living a totally sugar-free life. As I've said before, healthy living exists on a continuum. There was a time when I ate sugar (and white flour!) with impunity while shunning fat, in a halo of misguided dietary righteousness. Over the years, my food choices gradually improved. I ate less overall, and made sure most of the foods I did eat were nutritious and unprocessed.

Originally, I cut back on sweets simply because sugar was "empty calories." Then sugar's role in obesity began to emerge. Then the evidence began mounting that sugar contributes to heart disease. Finally, recently, I began learning more and more the role sugar (specifically the glucose and fructose molecules that make up table sugar and other caloric sweeteners) plays in cancer. I wasn't thinking about empty calories anymore...I was wondering how much sugar, if any, should be included in a healthy diet.

And that's about the point at which I almost tossed my baking books!

How much sugar is too much? That's a tough one. In "Anticancer," David Servan-Schreiber, M.D., suggests limiting dessert to two or three times a week. In "Foods that Fight Cancer," Richard Beliveau, Ph.D., recommends eating about an ounce-and-a-half of dark chocolate (over 70%) daily. Elsewhere, I found the suggestion to limit caloric sweeteners to two teaspoons, two to three times a day.

I enjoy baking, even though I have little time to do it these days. Between cookbooks, magazines and recipe files, I probably have thousands of recipes for scones, muffins, tarts, pies, crisps, cobblers cakes, cookies and breads at my fingertips. They aren't all sugar laden.

I'm sort of approaching it like a grand experiment, or maybe even an adventure. I'm determined to sleuth out the recipes that are already low in sugar, or can be modified to be so (this can be tricky, since baking is chemistry, and is harder to tamper with successfully than, say, cooking). As for those recipes that are super sweet? I'll surely want to dip into those that are a few times a year, on very special occasions. Very special, because another issue I'm reading up on is sugar addition addiction. More on that soon, I promise.

April 22, 2011

Wishful thinking

The weather today was one big tease.


I didn't expect it to be warm enough to eat my breakfast alfresco (10-grain cereal, cooked with chia seeds, half a banana, dried cranberries, vanilla and cinnamon then topped with flax meal, wheat germ, unsweetened coconut, a few granola chunks and some sunflower butter, along with a fab tangelo from Full Circle)...


...but my high hopes for my late lunch (romaine salad with carrot, cucumber, radish and avocado in walnut oil and red wine vinegar, with a cup of turkey chili, the last bran muffin and kiwi and mango topped with plain nonfat Greek yogurt, flax meal and walnuts) were dashed, because it was only 50 degrees out!


I was determined to sit outside and enjoy a cup of coffee and a little magazine reading after work, but I bailed halfway through my cup. Breezy and too cold in the shade! I consoled myself with making a yummy fritatta for dinner.


Full Circle onion and zucchini, and kale from the garden...


...sauteed with some mushrooms in olive oil and butter until a lot of the moisture was cooked out and everything was lightly golden. I added eight eggs from the hens, along with some extra egg whites. Added some fines herbs and salt & pepper, and let it cook, moving it around just a little with a spatula, until the bottom half was pretty much cooked and set. Then I topped it with spoonfuls of nonfat ricotta and stuck it under the broiler (on a lower setting).


I checked on it occasionally until the top part was set and just a bit browned. Really good! I haven't made a fritatta in forever. I have no idea why! I ate a wedge with a leftover sweet potato, and it was perfect.

This is a perfect example of delicious, low-sugar eating. The only sugar I had was the tiny bits in the sweetened dried cranberries and small amount of granola at breakfast, and the square of dark chocolate I had later in the evening. I don't worry too much about sugar from fruit, but even that was average: One half of a banana, one small tangelo, one kiwi, less than one-quarter of a mango.

Tomorrow...high of 65 degrees. I will eat at LEAST one meal outside, by golly!

Muffin madness!



Since going sugar-free for a few weeks (and settling into a less-sugar-than-before lifestyle adjustment), I've been looking for low-sugar muffin recipes. This is not as easy as you might think. Most so-called "low-sugar" recipes involved:
  • Splenda
  • Another caloric sweetener (like agave nectar, honey, etc.)
  • Sugar (although supposedly less than the "original" recipe)
None of this was what I was looking for. I was about to resort to taking the base from a savory muffin recipe and adapting it, when like a bolt from the blue (accompanied by the whole "choir of heavenly angels" soundtrack, et all), came the very thing I was looking for! A hearty bran muffin with no added sweeteners. It gets its sweetness from banana, raisins and the natural sweetness in the grains and milk. Orange zest, fresh ginger and cinnamon give it a boost.

I made a trial batch, and as it was cooling on the counter, Jeff snuck a bite. "Oh my god, these are amazing!" was his reaction. They are pretty amazing. Lightly, naturally sweet, fantastic with eggs for breakfast or a salad for lunch. They taste great as is, or with a dollop of nut butter. We've been eating them over the last few days, and they hold up really well when kept in an air-tight container.

Finding this recipe was a little bit of serendipity, because the recipe came from Full Circle's "Good Food Health" blog, which I only stumbled upon because I'd decided to start getting their weekly produce delivery. The recipe is here, but I've also included it below.


Cinnamon Raisin and Banana Bran Muffins
Makes 12 muffins

Ingredients:
2 ripe bananas, mashed
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp grated fresh ginger
1 Tbsp orange zest
1 ½ cup bran cereal (I used 1 cup oat bran and 1/2 cup wheat bran)
½ cup raisins
1 cup milk (I used 1/2 buttermilk and 1/2 almond milk)
¼ cup coconut oil
1 egg
1 cup whole wheat flour
½ cup unbleached all purpose flour
1 cup whole rolled oats
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 ½ tsp baking powder
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and line a 12 cup muffin tin.
  2. Mash the bananas and mix with the cinnamon, ginger, zest, bran, raisins and milk, Let sit until the bran cereal has started to soften and break down (about 15 min). 
  3. Meanwhile mix coconut oil with the egg until well combined. Add softened bran mixture to egg mixture and combine. 
  4. Add flours, oats, salt, baking soda and baking powder to the banana and egg mixture and fold together until just incorporated.
  5. Spoon batter into lined muffin cups (about ¾ full). Bake for 15-22 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted in the muffins comes out clean. Let cool slightly, remove from muffin tin and enjoy.

I've decided that any 12-muffin recipe with more than a half cup of sugar (or other caloric sweetener) would better be defined as a cupcake. I'll be making this bran muffin recipe again and again, and look forward to trying it with different variations, like lemon zest and dried blueberries or cherries. I also look forward to experimenting with other recipes to see if I can make them tasty with 1/4 cup of sugar, or less.

April 21, 2011

Christmas in April


It came! It came! Our first weekly box from Full Circle came! They deliver (quietly) overnight by 6 a.m. They actually delivered around 2 a.m., when Jeff just happened to be up getting some water. He left the box on the porch until we got up at 5:45, since it was colder outside than inside.


A nice head of loose-leaf lettuce and a bag of their fabulous braising greens on top.


Then radishes, kiwi, tangelos, mangoes, carrots,apples, two zucchini (in the paper bag), white onions, an eggplant and a cucumber. And nestled against a cold pack in the shiny insulated bag...


...local organic milk!


I made a pseudo-Greek salad for lunch with some romaine I already had, along with fresh cucumber, carrot, radish, some hummus, feta cheese, walnuts and an egg (courtesy of the backyard hens). Accompanied by one of the kiwis and a few strawberries with some nonfat plain Greek yogurt, and a yummy sweetener-free bran muffin with a dab of almond butter. (I'll share the muffin recipe tomorrow.)


Greens braised with garlic and shallots for dinner, with roasted chicken and a sweet potato.
I can't wait for next week!

April 20, 2011

Chilly enough for chili


Do you see what I'm dealing with? Thanks to La Nina and her chilling effect on the Pacific Ocean, we've had a freakishly cold spring. Between February 1 and April 14, we had only two days where the temps got above 55 degrees. Last year in that same time period, we had 26 days above 55. So when I whine, I whine for a reason!

Anyhoo...I've been in "let's use up stuff in the freezer" mode, so when I saw that we had a package of ground turkey that needed to be put to good use, I immediately thought "Turkey Chili." My favorite turkey chili recipe is a photocopy from a cookbook owned by a former coworker, so once again I don't know the exact provenance. I do know that it's super good, and super easy. It's about as close to convenience food as I get.


Black Bean and Turkey Chili
Serves 8

Ingredients:
1/4 cup olive oil
1 cup yellow onion, peeled finely diced
5 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1.5 pounds ground turkey
1 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and finely chopped
1 cup diced celery
One 12-ounce jar of salsa
One 28-ounce can of plum tomatoes (break up the tomatoes with your fingers)
Two 14.5-ounce cans black beans, rinsed and drained
One 14.5-ounce can corn, drained
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
Salt and pepper to taste
Grated cheddar or pepper jack cheese, for garnish
  1. Heat olive oil with the onions in a 5.5 quart Dutch oven over medium heat. Cook for five minutes. Add garlic, cook for one more minute. 
  2. Add ground turkey and brown lightly, crumbling with a fork as it cooks. Add the red pepper, celery and salsa and simmer uncovered for 5 minutes. 
  3. Add the tomatoes with their sauce, plus the black beans, corn, chili powder and cumin. Heat through (if you're not ready to eat, it can simmer for a while).
  4. Season with salt and pepper. Serve in warmed soup bowls and sprinkle with the grated cheese.

April 19, 2011

The revolution heats up


"This is war," Jamie declared as he plotted a way to get into at least one school in LA, after being rejected by the school board. He dressed up as a tomato, stirred up an e-mail campaign and handed out free healthy lunches for parents to give to their kids.

He finally gained entry into a "contract school" that operates in partnership with the larger LA school district...only to find out that he wasn't allowed to set foot in the cafeteria or kitchen! The people running the school wanted him there, as they realize it's significant that almost half of the students in the community they serve are overweight or obese. The school district, however, continued to be an obstacle. When Jamie looked in the cafeteria windows, the hovering school district representatives told him to stop!

Ultimately, he was limited to talking to students who were already taking culinary arts classes. (They were awfully cute and quite excited to do some yummy healthy cooking.) 17-year-old Sophia has two parents and a 13-year-old sister with type 2 diabetes, and feels like her own diagnosis is coming any time.

"These kids deserve to be taught about food and what it does to their bodies, and I just wish the [school district] could see," Jamie said.

After much negotiation between lawyers for all parties, Jamie was told he could prepare food for a segment of  the student population, but if he talked to them at all about their lunch or asked them how they felt about the school lunches they were normally served, he would receive a police escort out of the school.

"This is dirty," he said. "The whole thing feels filthy."

Meanwhile, he continued arguing with Dino, the fast food restaurant owner he was working with. Jamie wanted to create a healthier fast food menu; Dino said he was open to ideas, but ultimately resisted changing anything on his menu.

"Gas stations and fast food, that's what we have here."

Back in his kitchen, Jamie experimented with cuts of beef that would make healthy, delicious burgers that don't cost much more than the burger patties Dino used.  He created four signature burgers and set up a "pay what you will" booth to test the recipes. He was slammed with customers, and no wonder...I myself will be recreating his "Revolution Burger": A layer of smashed, seasoned pinto beans on the bottom bun, then the patty, then the house sauce and a dollop of baked smashed sweet potato. Yum-O

Back at Dino's, Jamie got half the menu board and priced his burgers (around 430 calories each) to be competitive with Dino's mid-priced burgers (800-1500 calories each). Reaction from customers was great, but Dino remained unconvinced. Even after he said that his father, who started the business and ate burgers every day, died of a diet-related disease. Shocking!

"From the few items that Jamie has shown me, I see no chance that it'll be successful," Dino said. "Fast food has been around so long that people are accustomed to what we provide. It's hard to break somebody's habits."

Is there any wonder why the rate of obesity and diabetes are climbing in this country? Good grief!

Get up, stand up!


Think hitting the gym on the way home makes up for the hours you just spent sitting at a desk and the evening you will spend sitting on the couch watching the tube? Think again!

I've been reading with interest the growing body of research showing that sitting, sitting and more sitting is B-A-D for us, even if we do make formal exercise a part of our day. The New York Times had another "Gee, did you write this just for me" article in last Sunday's magazine that asked the eternal question, "Is Sitting a Lethal Activity?" The focal person of the article is the Mayo Clinic's James Levine, author of NEAT, which I wrote about almost a year ago. This bit really hit the mark:
Being sedentary for nine hours a day at the office is bad for your health whether you go home and watch television afterward or hit the gym. It is bad whether you are morbidly obese or marathon-runner thin. “Excessive sitting,” Dr. Levine says, “is a lethal activity.”
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Our bodies are meant to move. And not just in one big dose every day or every other day. The article quoted inactivity researcher Marc Hamilton thusly: "Exercise is not a perfect antidote for sitting." Even if you have to work at a desk all day, you can stand up, do a few stretches, fidget, swap your chair for a stability ball...just do something so you're not sitting still for hour and hours.


I do most of my exercise before work, but I also go for a short walk or do a little bit of yoga at lunch. After work I do something similar before I make dinner and settle into an evening of studying and blogging. Whenever I am sitting for a stretch, I make it a point to get up roughly once an hour. To be perfectly honest, my habit of drinking a lot of water makes this easy, both from the input and output sides of the equation, if you catch my drift, and I think that you do.

Tuesday evening update: I noticed my low back was sore when I went to bed last night, and it was worse this morning. It felt like the pain was in the muscle (as opposed to the spine or the sciatic nerve), so I stuck to my intended activity plan for the day. I went on a 4-mile walk (starting out a little slower), lifted weights and did yoga (modifying both a bit to not aggravate the low back muscles). I made sure I did not sit in my desk chair for more than an hour without getting up and moving around for a few minutes. I did take two ibuprofen this morning, but that's it. It's now 9:18 p.m., and my back pain is nearly gone. Movement is good medicine!

April 18, 2011

Sometimes more is just more


When I was a senior in high school, I was so excited about going to college (at the University of Oregon...Go Ducks!) that I spent hours upon hours pouring over the course catalog and planning my schedule for all four years. Needless to say, I didn't stick to most of that plan beyond freshman year, but I still liked the feeling that I had all my ducks in a row. (Look, a pun!)

Flash forward to the present, and I am so excited at the prospect of starting graduate school at the University of Washington (I would say "Go Huskies," except I might get disowned by portions of my family...for those of you not from the Pacific Northwest, the Duck-Husky rivalry is, um...huge). I'm not obsessively mapping out my schedule, though, because when you're in a small program with a roster of required courses that are offered only one term each year, your schedule is pretty much set for you.

But that doesn't mean I'm not planning! Because I'm a planner! I know two things for sure about my life come fall.
  1. I'm going to be insanely busy. 
  2. I'm still going to need to eat healthfully and well. 
Frankly, I would feel like the biggest hypocrite in the world if I let my eating and exercise habits slide while pursing a degree in nutrition. Seriously.

Last week, I seized upon the possibly brilliant idea of joining a local CSA (community supported agriculture) program that is also a home grocery delivery service. That is, subscribers get a box of produce that is partially from the farm, but also includes items from organic farms in warmer climates (so, more local produce in the summer, less local in the winter). Subscribers can also shop from an online "green grocery," adding on locally produced items like milk, cheese, bread, grains, chocolate, meat, tofu, granola, nuts, jam, etc.

We get our first delivery Wednesday, and I'm excited to see how we like it. My hope is that this will prove to be a fuss-free, stress-free way to make sure we have fresh produce, milk, bread and a few other essentials in the house on a weekly basis. Then, on school vacations, we can do a big sweep shopping trip to stock up on pantry and freezer items.

I think we both are a little nervous to give up our weekly Costco runs. What, no more huge tubs of lettuce and strawberries. No more mega-packs of apples? No more gignormous bags of chicken thighs? What if we (gulp) run out of something?

And then I stepped into my pantry. "Holy heck," I said. "There is no freaking way that we will ever starve!"

Convenience aside, I am really getting into the idea of breaking out of the whole Costco-ization of our food mindset. Don't get me wrong, I still like Costco, but when you do most of your grocery shopping there, for a household of two, and you actually want to have a little variety in your diet, you end up with a lot of food in your house, and a lot of pressure to eat that food so it doesn't go to waste. True, veggies are not particularly high in calories, but I'm now wondering if "Eat more broccoli" doesn't sometimes turn into simply "Eat more."

Down with excess...I think I'll become a minimalist.

April 17, 2011

When in Seattle...

...cook with coffee!

I was flipping through my really big binder of clipped and photocopied recipes (I say "really big" to distinguish it from my other binders of recipes, which are a bit less packed to the gills)...


...and I came across a recipe for barbecued pork tenderloin that uses coffee in the marinade AND in the rub! Here's how the resulting thought process went: "Hey, I love coffee! Hey, I have a pork tenderloin in the freezer that needs to be used! I'm SO making this recipe this weekend."

And so I did. It was delicious Saturday night, then delicious again as leftovers for Sunday dinner, after a hard day working in the back garden. Is their anything better than having really good leftovers to look forward to?


Barbecued Pork Tenderloin
Serves 8

Marinade Ingredients:
1/2 cup strong brewed coffee
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 tablespoon spicy brown mustard
1 tablespoon dark molasses
2 (1-pound) pork tenderloins, trimmed

Rub Ingredients:
1/4 cup finely ground coffee
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoons coarsely ground black pepper
1.5 teaspoons sea or kosher salt

Sauce Ingredients:
1/4 cup barbecue sauce
1 tablespoon cider vinegar

  1. Combine marinade ingredients in a large zip-top plastic bag, add the pork. Seal bag and marinate in refrigerator for 2 to 12 hours. Turn the bag occasionally. Remove pork from bag and discard marinade.
  2. Prepare the grill, heating one side to medium and one side to high heat.
  3. Combine the rub ingredients in a bowl and rub over pork. (I had too much rub, but my tenderloins were a little small, I think.) Let stand at room temperature for 15 minutes.
  4. Combine sauce ingredients. Separate out 2 tablespoons of the mixture and set it aside.
  5. Place the pork on the grill over high heat and grill for 3 minutes, turning the pork on all sides. Place pork over medium heat, grill for 15 minutes, turning occasionally. Baste with the portion of sauce you did not set aside, then grill for 5 more minutes (or until a meat thermometer registers 160 degrees), turning the pork occasionally. 
  6. Place pork on a platter and brush with the reserved 2 tablespoons sauce mixture. Cover with foil and let stand for 5 minutes.

Notes: I did not use the sauce because, in spite of having a pantry as stuffed to the gills as my recipe binder, the only barbecue sauce I had was a bottle of some stuff we got (from Whole Foods of all places) that we had already tried (we originally had two bottles) and knew it was grossly sweet (gee...could it be because agave nectar is the first ingredient?). When I make this recipe again, I plan to make sure I have better BBQ sauce on hand, because I would really like to try that portion of the recipe.

Speaking of sweet, you'll notice that this recipe has molasses in the marinade and sugar in the rub. Yes, this goes against my two weeks of no sugar (officially over today). I'm still thinking about how much sugar I really feel good about consuming, but I have decided that it's probably better to include a bit of sweetener selectively in recipes where it really adds something (like a touch of maple syrup in my collard greens), while continuing to really limit traditional desserts (cake, pie, cookies, ice cream, etc.). Like, limited to special occasions. Weekends will not count as special occasions.

April 14, 2011

Risotto redux


I love risotto. I first learned of its existence in the little Italian restaurant in Greenwich Village where Jeff and I had lunch after eloping to Manhattan (we were living in New Jersey at the time). I first learned how to make it when I came across a recipe from Donna Hay (the Australian Martha Stewart) right after we moved back to Seattle.

Risotto became one of my go-to dishes. Arborio rice, chicken broth, white wine, onion, Parmesan, salt and pepper. Simple, inexpensive, delicious and comforting. And remarkably effective at helping me complete my climb to my all-time-high bodyweight. To be fair, that had more to do with portion sizes and frequency than it did with the dish itself. All things in moderation, young Jedi.

I don't make a habit of eating white rice anymore, although I will bust out the Arborio once in a while. Thus, I was mighty pleased to stumble across a recipe for brown rice risotto. I had previously attempted to substitute short grain brown rice into my original risotto recipe, but it didn't quite work. That's partly because brown rice takes longer to cook, so all that stirring you do with regular risotto? Triple it. I needed a nap by the time I was done.

The recipe I found and adapted was easy peasy. It called for long grain brown rice, which seems strange, since short- or medium-grain rices like Arborio, Carnaroli or Vialone Nano are traditional and preferred. I stayed a bit truer to the original by sticking to my short-grain brown rice. At this point I feel that I must include the disclaimer that the method used in this recipe in no way resembles the true risotto method. But the results were pretty satisfying for not being "real risotto."

Brown Rice Risotto
Serves 2-4

Ingredients:
1 cup short grain brown rice
2.5 cups chicken broth (or 2 cups broth and a half-cup white wine)
1 tablespoon butter
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup Parmesan cheese, grated (or 1/2 cup parm and 1/2 cup ricotta cheese)

Olive oil
Butter
1 cup sliced or diced onion or shallots (as preferred)
Other vegetables as preferred (discussed below)
  1. Bring broth (and wine if using) to a boil in a medium-sized saucepan or pot. Add the tablespoon of butter and allow to melt. Add rice, stir, lower heat and simmer for 45-50 minutes. Rice will tender when it's done, and will probably have some excess moisture.
  2. While rice is cooking, heat butter and olive oil (use as little or as much as you prefer, but do use some) over medium heat in a 8-inch saucepan or skillet. A onion or shallots, reduce heat to medium low, and cook, stirring often, until they are golden.
  3. When rice is done, add veggies of choice and stir to combine. Remove from heat, stir in cheese and add additional salt and pepper to taste.
Variations: There are as many variations of risotto as there are cooks. Last night, I quartered and thinly sliced a fennel bulb and sauteed that along with the shallots. You could thinly slice or dice just about any vegetable you like and add it. Mushrooms, zucchini, tomatoes, asparagus, shelled peas (don't slice those!)...feel free to experiment.

The original recipe said it served two, but we had leftovers. I would say it serves two hearty eaters or three light-to-moderate eaters as an entrĂ©e (we had green salad and some roasted vegetables with ours). As a side dish with protein, it would probably serve four.

A little nutrition humor

I stumbled across this earlier today and had to share. Very timely, in light of all the sugar chat lately.

How to Choose a Sweetener
[Source: Be Food Smart]

April 13, 2011

When it rains, it pours

Well. If it wasn't enough that I've been living sugar free for the last nine days AND immersing myself in books, articles and video lectures about the potential negative health effects of sugar, today the New York Times dealt up a hearty portion of investigative journalism goodness for my reading pleasure.

The article, "Is Sugar Toxic?" is running in this Sunday's New York Times Magazine, but you can read it right now online. And if you care about your health, I suggest that you do read it. The author, Gary Taubes, has a new book out called "Why We Get Fat," which I have not had a chance to read yet (it's on my library hold list). I did buy his previous book, "Good Calories, Bad Calories," after reading a library copy.

Right off the bat, Taubes mentions Dr. Robert Lustig, a leading expert in childhood obesity and professor of pediatrics in the endocrinology division at the University of California, San Francisco, Medical School. Specifically, he mentions the video of a lecture Dr. Lustig gave almost two years ago ("Sugar: The Bitter Truth"), which subsequently went viral on the interwebs. Ironically, it's this lecture on sugar that got my UCTV addiction started last month. I highly recommend it. The YouTube version is embedded below, but you can also access it here.


I'm also about one-quarter through the book "Anticancer: A New Way of Life" by Dr. David Servan-Schreiber, whose UCTV lecture I talked about previously. It's a good read so far. He hasn't talked about sugar yet, but I know that he will.

Can you guess that I'm going to have more to say about sugar? You betcha. For now, go take another look at the sugar-filled school bus in yesterday's post. Oh, I made a really good brown rice risotto for dinner tonight. I'm mentioning it now because that means I'm obligated to share the recipe tomorrow. But for now, my microbiology textbook awaits!

April 12, 2011

Jamie takes on LA


Tonight was the Season 2 premier of "Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution." Before the first commercial break, I was thoroughly grossed out by the assortment of school lunches that kids brought into Jamie's kitchen (located somewhere in downtown LA). Such a collection of sugary, uber-processed food I have never seen. He likened it to airplane food, and that's probably not far off the mark.

"From the age of 4 to the age of 18, your kids are eating this junk," he said to the group of assembled parents. The LA school district wouldn't let him into the schools, so he was doing an end run to start rallying support for his cause.
Jamie to young boy: "Oh, you have an apple!"
Young boy: "We homeschool."
Back from commercial. I have two words for you: Pink slime.

What the what? Pink slime is the bits of of a cow that used to be considered fit for dog food only, but now, mixed with ammonia, its apparently fit for humans. It's in 70 percent of the ground beef in the United States. I am never, ever eating a hamburger or anything with ground beef in it ever again, other than the ground beef we get from our annual 1/4 beef share. Or maybe from Whole Foods, because I'm pretty sure they are not in the 70 percent, and we would be able to verify that.

Jamie decided to attend a meeting of the California School Nutrition Association. He went into one of the seminars, "Keep Flavored Milk from Dropping Out of School." The speaker said that milk consumption drops when you serve plain milk instead of flavored.

"Well, we all know that if you dip food in sugar, they'll eat more of it," Jamie said. "You do not give kids sugary milk in the middle of an obesity crisis." Makes sense to me. One little carton of milk has 28 grams of sugar!

This is one weeks worth of added sugar in the flavored milk in the LA School District.

With all the evidence linking sugar to cardiovascular disease and cancer, feeding that much sugar to kids is simply appalling. And that's all I have to say about that. For now.

April 11, 2011

Not for the faint of heart


Short post today. I've been working on an assignment for microbiology in which I have to discuss whether I think the addition of antibiotics to animal feed is contributing to antibiotic resistance, and if I think the benefits of adding antibiotics to the meat supply outweigh the potential risks. (Short answers: Yes and no.)

For our research, we've been using the wealth of materials on the PBS Frontline companion website for it's program on "Modern Meat," which aired a few years ago. Visit it and start reading if you want your toes to curl, and not in a good way. There's a link for a video excerpt, lengthy interview transcripts from experts on all sides of the issue (meat industry spokespeople, scientists, federal regulators, Michael Pollan, etc).

I nearly spit nails when I saw one industry insider describe feedlot beef as "pampered," (then nearly did it again when I read the full transcript). Yeah...because standing and laying in your own feces is like a day at the spa.

I am so grateful for the little farm outside of Seattle where I buy my grassfed beef, I want to go drive out there right now and kiss the farmers. I'm just saying.

April 10, 2011

The sugar-free diaries


So, it's been a week without sugar. And I'm still standing. Yay, me!

But seriously, folks, it really hasn't been that hard. I have only missed sugar twice this week. Once when I made collard greens without the dash of maple syrup (plus hot sauce) I usually cook them with. The second time was Friday night, when I had such raging cravings for something sweet AND for peanut butter that I almost bit down on a kitchen cabinet door to distract myself. But I held firm, and the craving passed. No harm, no foul.

On a happy note, I've made a few tasty discoveries. For example, I was having a late breakfast yesterday after my microbiology lab, and I wanted a little something extra on my slice of Ezekiel toast. So what did I do? I spread on my almond butter, then topped it with half a mashed banana. Then I sprinkled some ground flax seed on top. Mmmmmmmm...tasty and nutritious!

I've found that when trying to reduce intake of a certain food or beverage (especially sugar, caffeine and alcohol), it's easier for me to abstain from it for a few weeks or months. It's like hitting the "reset" button. Then, when I resume consumption, it's really easy for me to enjoy smaller amounts of it. I don't feel deprived the same way I do when I try to go straight to a simple reduction. This may not be the case for everyone, of course. Some people are prone to binging when they put a firm "no" on a particular food. Goodness knows I've had some issues with food, but binging has never been one of them!


I think that another aspect of temporarily cutting out highly palatable foods (i.e., foods that contain some combination of the sugar-fat-salt trifecta) is that it gives you a chance to break the various habits associated with those foods. If you are in the habit of having dessert after dinner, you become conditioned to expect dessert after dinner, regardless of what you ate, or how full you are. If you are in the habit of getting a candy bar from the vending machine mid-afternoon, guess what you are going to start craving every day mid-afternoon? If you always get a pastry with your latte, you start to associate lattes with pastries, as if you can't have one without the other. Sometimes, I wonder how much we really differ from lab rats...

Anyhoo, I've been enjoying this little break from sugar in all its guises. When my two weeks is up, I'm thinking that I'll reintroduce select items (such as maple syrup in my collard greens), but remain committed to a diet that is as low-sugar as realistically possible without feeling too austere, or resorting to artificial sweeteners.

April 9, 2011

Spicy!


I didn't do a very good job of spring cleaning my recipe files during spring break. I doesn't help that when cooking a normal-size recipe for two people, there are often lotsa leftovers. That's great for saving time, not so great for trying out a lot of recipes in a short time span. Ah, well. C'est la vie!

One winner that made it to our table last week was Pork Ribs with Garlic, Chilies and Tomato, along with it's companion recipe of Chickpea, Carrot and Olive Salad with Cumin Vinaigrette. I'm not 100% sure of the provenance of these recipes, since the torn-out page doesn't say, but I think they came from O Magazine. Both of these recipes were good enough to warrant a repeat visit to my kitchen. And good enough to warrant sharing with you!

Pork Ribs with Garlic, Chilies and Tomato
Serves 8 as a main course

Ingredients
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 pounds country-style pork ribs, cut from rib end
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
8 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
2 (24-ounce) jars or cans Italian tomato puree (crushed tomatoes will also work, but do not used diced tomatoes, which are too chunky, or tomato sauce, which is too watery)
1/2 cup pickled chilies, such as cherry peppers
Basil leaves for garnish (optional)
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place a Dutch oven over medium-high heat, add oil, and heat for 1 minute. Meanwhile, season ribs with salt and pepper. Add ribs, working in batches (don't crowd, or you'll end up steaming them!), and brown on all sides, 8 to 10 minutes. Add garlic to the last batch and brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove ribs and garlic; set aside while you drain excess fat from the Dutch oven, then return them to the pot. Add the tomato puree, season with salt and pepper to taste, then add enough water to just cover the ribs.
  2. Cover pot and put it in the oven. Braise (cook) until meat is tender, about 2.5 hours. Add chilies and cook for 20 minutes more.
  3. Transfer the ribs to a platter and ladle the sauce and chilies over them. Garnish with basil and serve!


Chickpea, Carrot and Olive Salad with Cumin Vinaigrette
Serves 4 to 6, with extra vinaigrette

Ingredients
1.5 teaspoons ground cumin
3 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, rinsed well and drained
2 cups julienned carrot
1/2 cup finely chopped celery
3/4 cup pitted black olives, halved
1/2 cup raisins
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh chives
1/2 cup cilantro leaves
  1. To make vinaigrette: Place cumin in a small bowl. Add vinegar and then oil in a slow stream, whisking until well blended. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  2. To make salad: Combine rest of ingredients in a large bowl. Add 1/4 cup vinaigrette and mix well to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

The rib recipe was insanely easy. I loved that once you stuck it in the oven, you did not have to do a thing except open the pot once to add the chilies. We bought our chilies from the bulk olive bar at Whole Foods, and they were a touch hot. I halved the recipe, but added the full amount of chilies, so sticking to the proportions as written would be about right.

The salad recipe was fantastic, and I would gladly make it again on its own. I enjoyed the leftovers the next two days, and thought it held up quite well. I used Kalamata olives instead of plain black olives, because that's what I had on hand, and they tasted great. If you don't have sherry vinegar on hand (I did), you might be able to substitute apple cider vinegar or white wine vinegar. Vinegars have a long shelf life, though, so I personally think it's worth having Sherry vinegar on hand. Think the raisins seem weird in this recipe? I thought they were really delicious.

April 8, 2011

Another brief announcement

Hello. I have news!

Today I received a very welcome e-mail telling me that I have been accepted to the Graduate Coordinated Program in Dietetics at the University of Washington. Naturally, I e-mailed right back with my own acceptance!

A month ago, I was accepted into the Masters of Public Health in Nutrition Sciences program at UW, and found out shortly thereafter that I was on the waitlist for the GCPD. The GCPD part is a necessary step in becoming a Registered Dietitian. It involves some extra dietetic-specific coursework and the supervised practice (internship) that is required before a student can take the RD exam.

There is a massive shortage of RD internships in this country (I've even seen the shortage referred to as a crisis), so getting into this competitive program, which combines the coursework with the internship, is very exciting. Not to mention the fact that I'm quite thrilled at the prospect of jumping in to the rest of the MPH and nutrition coursework. Fall can't come soon enough!

April 7, 2011

Viva la Food Revolution!

It's back! It's back! Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution is back! And this time, he's taking on LA:



Well, you'll know where I'll be at 8 p.m. (7 p.m. Central) on Tuesdays. Unless I'm right in the middle of studying, then I'll rely on Hulu as a fallback. I watch no regularly scheduled TV at the moment (I don't count the premium cable shows I watch on DVD during vacations), but for Jamie, I'll make an exception.

Join the revolution here.

April 6, 2011

I've got a long way to go...


...to build a cookbook collection the size of the Fales Library, the cookbook library housed within the New York University Library. It contains more than 50,000 books about food and cooking, including a donation of 21,000 books in February from a couple who were the longtime owners of an Upper West Side restaurant.

No, I did not accidentally add some extra zeros in there. The library's collection started about 10 years ago when they bought a private collection of 10,000 books (including an autographed first edition of "The Joy of Cooking") for a cool $115,000. An anonymous donor paid for some of it. Yeah, where do I get one of those?

I need to count how many volumes I have. Maybe this summer. Maybe I'll do an actual inventory!

April 5, 2011

Get ready, get set, go!


Did you know? Did you know? Tomorrow is National Start! Walking Day!

I love walking. All you need is comfortable clothes and shoes, and you can do it almost anywhere. Treadmills, sidewalks, boardwalks, high school tracks, nature trails, hiking trails. You can up the ante by walking faster, adding hills, going barefoot on the sand. Walking is the most versatile and natural exercise around!


Saturday, we had a GREAT walk along the Seattle waterfront...


...then out on the old pier where they used to have a great summer concert festival (I saw Chris Isaak there three times)...


...through the Seattle Art Museum art park (that's not a real tree), just a block from our old apartment...


...back through Belltown (our old neighborhood)...


....and my old community garden plot. It was the best plot in the whole garden!

How ironic that I did NOT want to go for a walk today. Seattle has had an unusually cold, grey and damp spring, and even though it's April I feel like hibernating! If it weren't for the fact that daffodils are blooming, trees are starting to leaf out, ducks are pairing up around the lake and birds are collecting stuff for their nests, you would never know it was spring. It feels like winter.

I was, of course, determined to go for a walk, and not just because it's Day 2 of a pedometer-based workplace fitness challenge. I am a "regular exerciser" and that's what we do. We exercise even when we don't really feel like it. Trouble is, I usually do feel like it, and I wanted to feel like it today!

Fortunately, I had a laser-sharp instant of inspiration. About 45 minutes before I was supposed to lace up my sneakers, I fired up iTunes, opened the same playlist I listen to when walking, and clicked play. I thought, "Hey, if this music inspires me to walk faster, maybe it will inspire me to walk...period!"

Worked like a charm. Soon I was bouncing in my seat as I worked on an article about bursitis (so exciting...not). Then, as if on cue, the sky suddenly changed from dark, ominous clouds to...well, light clouds. (Yes, in Seattle that distinction is important. As is the difference between "showers" and "rain.")

So I walked four miles, and I liked it. Even though it was cold and windy. I didn't even care that I got rained on a little. (Or maybe I was showered on.)

So tomorrow, lace up those walkin' shoes and go for a walk. One mile, two miles, four miles or more. Bring a spouse, partner, child, friend or coworker. Or fly solo. Doesn't matter. All that matters is that you do it!