Category Archives: Notes from the (mostly) Healthy Life

Easy, healthy Walnut, Date & Coconut treats

I saw this recipe on Facebook recently and I immediately made it. Shockingly, I had all the ingredients (this is almost never the case). The original recipe, posted by someone I know casually who practices a healthy lifestyle, used coconut oil as the “binder” but in the interest of an even healthier treat, I used plain water instead. I was delighted with the results!

Walnuts provide good fats, potassium, fiber, protein vitamin B6, magnesium,  iron, and a little bit of calcium. Dates provide potassium, fiber, carbs, magnesium, sugar, vitamin B6, and iron. Coconut provides saturated fat, potassium, carbs, fiber, sugar, protein, vitamin C, iron, vitamin B6,  magnesium, and a little bit of calcium.

-20 pitted dates

-1/2 cup unsweetened coconut (I buy mine from Amazon by the 4 pack)

-1/2 cup walnuts

-1/2 cup water

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Don’t feel wedded to the exact amounts or even the ingredients. This little recipe should lend itself easily to improvisation.

My Oster blender has a food processor attachment so I used that but if you don’t have a food processor you could try a regular blender; maybe break up the larger food pieces first.

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After mixing

The last step was to shape the mixture into little balls. I like to initially freeze them on a baking sheet. This made 15.

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After they were in the freezer a little while (just long enough so they don’t stick together), I bagged them and put them back in the freezer. So easy!

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A report on my “dairy free” week

I want to report on my recent, voluntary week of a dairy-free diet. It was interesting, challenging even.

First off, I didn’t plan very well. That became evident very quickly. I thought I kind of had. I moved anything dairy out of sight. I even decided it would be an egg-free week too. But what I didn’t do to any great extent was plan what I would eat. I typically have some kind of dairy every day – cheese, yogurt, and milk are the main ones. But there’s others occasionally (ricotta cheese, sour cream, butter, parmesan or romano in the plastic canisters; cream cheese and ice cream rarely). Dairy is a big group!

What no dairy for seven days did was force me to come up with substitutes and that was the big takeaway. If you’re eating less cheese, maybe you’re eating more vegetables for instance. Eating less eggs, maybe eating more whole grains. I sure wasn’t going to eat crap in place of no dairy, not when I was thinking about it so much.

Because I am already mostly vegetarian, it was a week of vegetables, home-made soup, beans, fruits, pasta, breads, whole grains, nuts & seeds, and fish (one can of tuna, two small frozen whiting fillets, and canned salmon in a soup). The only place I messed up was when I cracked open a little jar of pesto and had that with a couple meals, only to remember later that it has cheese in it! Right there on the tiny label, Romano cheese. I just wasn’t thinking. I didn’t eat any candy or chips or crackers and stuck with stove-topped popcorn and home-made cookies that aren’t full of junk for snacking and treats. I did make wonderful little dates/walnuts/coconut treats (recipe coming in future post, super easy) that someone had just posted on Facebook although I made my version just a bit healthier. (I am not one of those people who claims to have no sweet, salty or fatty cravings.)

The dairy free week made me think about how many meals I make. Even if it’s two a day most days, just to be conservative, that’s easily 700 meals a year!!!  I don’t know why that never occurred to me before. It’s work to put together wholesome, non-toxic, nutrient-rich meals from scratch on a daily basis. And I like variety (I don’t want to eat the same things every day, not even for breakfast).

The no-eggs was challenging too. Although I love eggs and with no repercussions would eat them daily, same as cheese, I try not to over-indulge. If I’m going to guess, I expect I  eat 12 (a carton) every month or 6 weeks.  On night 6 my week of no dairy or eggs I had a dream that I made scrambled eggs just for me USING 8 EGGS. In real life, I eat only one egg at a time, whether it’s adding one egg to a recipe (even if it calls for 2 or more), or adding one hard-boiled egg to a salad, or making one scrambled egg for toast or a sandwich. ONE. Only one. Dream-me was going to scarf down 8 in one sitting!

So far as feeling better or seeing any big changes, I didn’t notice anything in particular; I felt normal, regular. My allergies (to molds, dust, etc) seemed about the same, no worse. My energy was okay, nothing amazing. (Typically, if you’re going to try out a vegetarian or vegan diet, 3 weeks is the suggestion.) For me, one week of trying something – whatever it is – seems sufficient to “re-wire” my brain. I mean, that breaks my habits and makes me sufficiently conscious of them.

All said, I’ve decided to cut back on cheese. While my previous limit was no more than an ounce a day (based on something I read as “okay”) I didn’t measure it and kind of guessed. And even though I predominantly chose lower fat varieties, they’re still pretty fatty. I’m not wholly anti-fat but I haven’t seen anything convincing to negate the conventional wisdom that saturated fats contribute to the top killer of Americans, namely heart disease. I certainly have older relatives who either had or died of heart disease. Also, I’d gotten into a habit of frequently buying packaged shredded cheeses and I have to say I was never comfortable with the “anti-caking” or other preservatives that many brands contain but I kept on eating them because they were convenient and tasted good. I think I can do better now.

The little grocery store closest to me sells store brands of sliced provolone, Monterey jack, and Swiss cheese in 8 ounce packages. There are no weird additives. Each has 12 slices per pack, so each portion is well under 1 ounce. They cost more per pound than the cheeses I usually buy but I really like the idea of knowing how much I’m having (rather than guessing and probably “rounding” in my favor). This means I’ll put one slice per home-made pizza, one slice to go in a big salad, or one slice for a grilled cheese.

If I buy a block of cheese, I can cut it into portions to freeze. I’ve done this before but not so much with the idea of measuring or limiting portions. If I cut 8 portions from a one pound block to freeze, I’ll know that each one is no less than a two-day ration. This gives me a guideline. I keep improving my diet over the years and I feel good about this. I think it’s the righ.t direction. Particularly as I noted above, in that it forces me to come up with other/better substitutes. It sure isn’t las if I’m in danger of eating too many vegetables.

(p.s. THIS week is my self-imposed Amazon-free week. No shopping, no looking at the site, no Amazon.  I have my reasons for this, one of which is simply breaking a habit. This one might be harder than cheese, not sure!)

 

NOTE: Please forgive 1-2 days’ delay in responding to comments; I definitely want to read them.

 

 

This is not a resolution

So. For the next seven days I’m going dairy-free. I am a “mostly vegetarian” with NO plans to become a vegan. However, I’m curious what, if any benefits I might get from cutting back dairy. I don’t over-consume (my cholesterol level is in the desirable range) but I am careful. My rule of cheese-thumb is no more than one ounce a day, a suggestion I once read. Left to my own devices with no repercussions I’d definitely eat more cheese as I suggested in this short and surprisingly (to me anyway) popular post. And milk, yogurt, etcetera? Oh I like them very much too.

I do hear/read a lot of good things about the vegan diet and while I am not onboard I don’t think a seven-day experiment is too onerous. I have miserable allergies plus tend toward winter lethargy (definitely affected by seasonal lack of daylight) and I’m simply curious if a dairy fast will help either. IF I saw some difference I might be motivated to eat less dairy but we’ll see. I have read that you’re supposed to give a vegan diet a three week trial (certainly vegan advocate Dr Neal Barnard says so, sigh; he just wrote a WHOLE anti-cheese book, which I did not read). Three weeks without cheese?? Noooo. Oh, and “cheese substitutes?” Pricey of course, not buying any, not now anyway.

I think the biggest issue, for a middle-aged lady who wants to maintain her bones, is the calcium  Dairy products pack lots of calcium. I DO take calcium supplements and eat other foods which have calcium, but those “other foods” are meager in their calcium comparatively speaking. Sure, broccoli has calcium but c’mon! It ain’t no dairy product in the calcium cage matches!

In preparation for a dairy-free week, last night I fixed my favorite food of all, popcorn, and added chili powder and a Mexican blend shredded cheese. Oh my. (I like to make “theme” popcorn sometimes to shake things up.)

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This is before I stirred it. I wanted you to see the lovely toppings.

 

My plan is to report back how The Week of No Dairy went in a later post.

 

NOTE: Please forgive any delay in responding to comments due to internet issues (that or I keeled over because my system went into some kind of cheese withdrawal shock).

Easy Squash, Red Pepper & Bean Soup

Winter is the time for cooking and soups. The beauty of soups is in the season of hibernating-n-eatin’ is that they help fill you up and as a result you’re less likely to woof down a lot of heavy carbs.  I made one up the other day. It’s similar to this Easy Squash and Red Pepper Soup. This time I added “refried beans” (pinto bean puréed in the food processor with just a tad of canola oil).

First I sautéed half a chopped onion.

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Before it got too cold I covered a few herbs outside so I was able to pick fresh not-yet-frozen sage which I cut into tiny bits.

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Here’s the beans and butternut squash (the latter came from the farmers market in the fall and after cooking and pureeing  I froze a few portions).

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Puréed pinto beans and puréed butternut squash

 

I used half a can of Roland Fire-roasted Red Peppers.

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I rinse all canned foods

 

I added all the ingredients to 2 cups of water in the blender plus a splash of lemon juice (otherwise it was too sweet for my taste).

 

 

I heated a bowl in the microwave and it was ready to eat. This soup is nutrient rich: Vitamins A, B, & C, fiber, iron, magnesium, potassium, calcium, and protein. It was also delicious!

I’m bringing sexy (or something like it) back

Like a lot of people I am less active in winter. I don’t belong to a gym – never have – so this means I have to find ways to keep moving, to keep exercising, usually outdoors. Long walks, bike rides and so on, suffice, but geez-o-flip, it’s COLD and WINDY and UNPLEASANT outside. Plus, it’s BORING out, nothing much to see. There are so many more interesting things to look at in nice weather, flowers and birds and people doing stuff.

I’m not sure why a mini trampoline or “rebounder” caught my eye on Amazon last month. Was I looking at hand weights and saw one advertised? I don’t know now. I didn’t understand them, let’s start there. A rebounder?? What was that? I’d never been on a trampoline, not in childhood, not as an adult. I’m pretty sure my parents would have considered trampolines dangerous and I never had the opportunity to bounce on one anywhere else, be it school or at a friend’s house.

I liked the idea of JUMPING just fine. What kid doesn’t have a go at jumping up and down on their bed until they get yelled at to stop?

As I am wont to do, I started reading customer reviews and doing research about the benefits of using a mini trampoline. There are even videos. Some people take “rebounding” VERY SERIOUSLY. I liked what I saw. Trampolines are considered easy on the joints, suitable for any age, and give a good aerobic workout, plus some other high-falutin’ claims about cleaning out your lymphatic system that you can surely read about if you decide to look into it yourself.

I don’t have room for exercise equipment beyond hand weights and pushup bars. There’s nowhere for a treadmill or rowing machine. Unless I got rid of my bed. Or the couch. Or the refrigerator. At just 3 feet across, the mini trampoline appealed for its “low profile.” I know all too well if you store something like this (as opposed to say, a chocolate cake or a massage chair) away where it’s inconvenient, it’s out of sight and  out of mind.

There are two types of mini trampolines, one with metal springs and another with bands. I opted to go with one with bands because it cost less and apparently ones with springs are noisy (and I want to be considerate of neighbors, even when they aren’t considerate of me AHEM). My thinking was if I spent around $20 on a low-end Stamina model and found I liked it, I could always upgrade down the line.

Balance is one of the things that begin to decline in middle age. I truly didn’t know how I’d be at jumping. One suggestion online was that you needn’t even have your feet leave the trampoline surface; you could just move in place and get some benefit. Some of the models come with “balance bars” that you can hang onto while jumping. I figured even if I wasn’t comfortable really jumping, any movement would be better than nothing.

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When I first tried my trampoline, I was tentative, afraid of falling through it even though I don’t weigh much. I told myself that even if it broke it probably wouldn’t break all at once and send me flying onto my face on the floor but in stages that I’d notice. The next day, when I put the radio on, and Justin Timberlake’s “Sexy Back” came on the radio, I had gotten over my tentativeness. I was jumping baby! Hop, hop, hop. It felt good. I was bustin’ some moves. Justin and I were bringing sexy back. “Them other boys don’t know how to act. YEAH!”

Is it fun? Yeah, yeah, it is, certainly as compared to other exercises. It’s suggested that you start with short intervals, gradually increasing your time. At this point I set the kitchen timer for 15 minutes and jump away. I mix it up, sometimes jumping up and down, sometimes running in place, or maybe doing little side steps. There are exercises online but I haven’t found the need to look them up yet. Right now, I know I’m getting an aerobic workout and doing something good for myself.

Finding a place to stow in when not in use was a challenge but I came up with this. I moved the couch/love seat out from the wall, leaving just enough room for the trampoline. The slight rearrangement made the living room seating area cozier and more intimate too. Who knew?

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I want to share one more winter thing I do each year to help make sure I don’t let my fitness levels slide too far off. A couple times a winter I try on my “keep me honest shorts” to make sure I can still get into them. It’s a lot easier to STAY in shape over winter than to try to get back there on the first nice day in spring when you want to wear shorts!

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Can’t hide in these “keep me honest shorts”

Short Thought 156 (air conditioning)

Did you know this? People who spend their time in air conditioning consume more calories than those who tough it out with the heat. I read this years ago and filed it away in my mind. It makes sense. There’s a natural inclination to eat less when it’s hot (and eat bigger, heavier meals when it’s cooler and you feel nice-and-comfortable).

Ch-ch-ch-Chia! (seeds that is)

P_20160214_152245.jpgSo, recently I posted a drink recipe, Everything but the Kitchen Sink Drink that included chia seeds. I’d never had them before buying a 15oz bag last month. Chia seeds get such swell press for their nutritional properties that I was curious if I’d be able to see any measurable benefits. I finished the bag in just under a month, so I was knocking back essentially half the portion size listed per day.
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As I’d said in the other post, chia seeds are not exciting. Not offensive, but not “Oh, yum!” either. (I looked through my files and found a Delicious Living article from a few years ago – July 2011 I think – which described them as “flavorless” which I guess is better than the “boring” I said.)

I noticed two results. The first was I dropped a pound or two which I attribute to the high fiber. I don’t need to lose weight but to maintain it, which in winter is more challenging. So my weight is right where I want it. (Many years ago I read & kept an article which said the secret to weight loss is fiber. That simple maxim stuck with me and besides that, if there is anything adults are forever being encouraged to add to their diets, it is fiber. The Delicious Living article notes that with 6 grams of fiber per 2 tbsp, chia seeds have more fiber than any other whole food.)

The second specific thiing I noticed was that my nails grew a tad faster. I already have a decent amount of calcium in my diet and this was just an added boost. That is, I didn’t eliminate any of my other calcium sources while I was eating chia seeds. There may be other, less obvious benefits (the good fats ought to be working in there somewhere), but these were the ones I could measure.

Because I found the chia seeds for such a decent price ($2.99 for a 15oz bag), I went ahead and bought a second bag. I’m pretty sure I won’t try to eat it in a month, but I think it’s a nice addition to my diet, not for its bland taste, but for the nutrients. It’s one I’ll definitely have to remind myself to eat, because I’m pretty sure I’ll forget it exists otherwise.