Monday, November 30, 2009

Balancing Food Cravings

To avoid pesky cravings, these two ladies should probably think about having less chrome and more vegetables in their diet.

We've discussed before that eating late at night isn't such a great idea (unless you're trying to gain weight), and I've just read some new information to add to the timing of what you eat. The information comes from a book called "Eat Your Way To Happiness" by Elizabeth Somer, who is a registered dietician. The book is mostly about how to maintain a positive mood and sustained energy throughout the day, but something that I found cool to think about is how what you eat for breakfast influences your choices at lunch and what you eat for lunch influences your choices at dinner. I read about this in Dr. Weil's December 2009 newsletter, which I subscribe to (you should too!).

When you've been sleeping for the past 8 or so hours, your brain releases a chemical called Neuropeptide Y. This chemical causes you to crave glucose. Glucose is the simple sugar that feeds your brain so that you can think and function. The primary way you get glucose is through eating carbohydrates which break down into glucose in your digestive system. So if your brain is craving glucose, it seems like you'd want something sugary like marshmallow Peeps on top of Froot Loops or something, right? Please don't. You'll get an initial rush of serotonin (which, yes, feels great), but you'll pay for it with a yucky, sluggish, even depressed feeling later on. This would probably make you want to reach for another quick boost of sugar for lunch, and so on, and so on. Up and down all day is not a good way to function. I've described what we eat for breakfast here, but just make sure you have good whole foods that include high-fiber carbohydrates, a small amount of good protein (an egg is pretty perfect), and a couple of servings of fruit or vegetables. This will keep your energy balanced up until lunch.

Then, by lunchtime, a different brain chemical called galanin comes into play and makes you want to eat fat. You should have some healthy fat with your lunch (along with a serving of protein and some more complex carbohydrates and, of course, fruits and vegetables), but don't overdo it with the fat, even if it's healthy fat. You'll overproduce galanin and it will make you crave more food than you need at night.

So at dinnertime, having a simple dinner of a lean protein, lots of vegetables, and a medium-small serving of complex carbohydrates (my favorite: brown rice and hulled barley mixed together) will be best. Too much carbohydrate will make you sleepy right after dinner (and we discussed why you shouldn't lay down to sleep right after eating in the last post, but too much protein will block your brain's ability to absorb serotonin (a necessary brain chemical that helps you to relax as well as keep a positive mood) and make it harder to sleep at bedtime.

Sheesh! There's so much to remember! Being a healthy human does take some effort and planning, but you can do it. And it sure beats the alternative!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Go For A Walk

Here's Boris, my amazing walking partner, going around with that beautiful silver hair. I think the wind is in love with him too!

If you're one of the fortunate people who has had the privilege of stuffing yourself with Thanksgiving goodies, do yourself a favor and take a nice, long walk afterwards. It's tempting to flop down on the couch and go to sleep after a big meal, but taking a walk or doing any kind of exercise will help keep your arteries healthy.
Research from 2005 that was reported in The European Journal of Applied Physiology shows that during a four to six hour period after eating a high-fat meal, our arteries look "just like the arteries of a person who has heart disease", states Janet P. Wallace, professor in Indiana University Bloomington's Department of Kinesiology and co-author of the study. That's pretty gross! But if you exercise after that meal, the arteries don't look sick anymore. Of course, the real problem isn't what happens after just one high-fat meal or two, but if this is a regular pattern for you, that's when cholesterol starts to build up, oxidize, and cause serious problems.
Walking is a good choice of exercise after eating because it's so comfortable. It also helps your digestion and just keeps you from feeling the sluggishness that comes with a high-carbohydrate, high-fat meal.
So just get up and do it. Come on, put your shoes on, take the first couple of steps. See how much better you feel?

Monday, November 23, 2009

Thanksgiving Recipe 4: Apple Grape Pie

Here is Dena Obaza (aka Dina Colada) looking so fine in her Thanksgiving mask. Will she remove the mask to eat her Thanksgiving dinner? Heck no! (Today is her birthday--Happy Birthday, Dena!)
The mask was made by Beth Zyglowicz--an artist we met at Illuxcon. What's that? You don't have a Thanksgiving mask? You'll have to get one from Beth!

Apple Grape Pie
Makes one 9 inch pie

1 cup spelt or whole wheat flour
½ cup oat flour
¼ teaspoon sea salt
¼ cup canola oil
A little less than ¼ cup cold water

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray a 9 inch pie plate with Pam or other spray oil. In a mixing bowl, combine flours and sea salt. Add oil and stir with a fork. Mix until the mixture resembles corn meal. Add water a little at a time and stop just when the dough has enough water to form a ball. If you've accidentally added to much water, you can add a little of the oat flour. However, if you need more water, just add some! It should be a nice Play-Doh consistency. If you didn't play with Play-Doh when you were a kid, you need to get some now because it's pretty fun stuff.
Don’t knead the dough after this point, but let it rest for about 10 minutes.

Take about 1/3 of the dough and flatten it into the pie plate, pressing some up at the edges. Poke the bottom with a fork a few times. Set the rest of the dough aside for now.


3 apples (I like Gala or Fuji for this recipe, but any apples will do), cored, but not peeled, and sliced
About 1 ½ cups washed, halved grapes
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ cup brown rice syrup

Mix all the filling ingredients in a large bowl until it looks pretty evenly mixed with the cinnamon and brown rice syrup. Pour into the pie plate that has the dough pressed into it.

On a wooden cutting board, sprinkle about a Tablespoon of oat flour, then put the rest of the dough on it and roll it around a little. Now roll it out with a rolling pin to a circle about 6-8 inches in diameter. Pick it up and put it on the apples that are in the pie plate. It might fall into about a million pieces, but don’t worry about it, just put the pieces together like a puzzle with spaces between them.

Bake at 400 degrees for about 30-40 minutes.

Thanksgiving Recipe 3: Vegetables!

Okay, what? Tony Palumbo has always loved spaghetti and meatballs, so this is his vision of a perfect Thanksgiving meal. It's true, meatballs aren't vegetables. But I'll post a recipe soon (after a little kitchen testing) for a vegan version.

I always say that if I had to only pick two vegetables to have on a desert island (assuming there was an oven to cook with), I'd pick sweet potatoes and broccoli. They're just two of the best Superfoods in terms of nutrition as well as taste. And they're in the list of the Clean 15 that don't require as much pesticide to grow, so even if you don't get organic ones, you're okay.
And salad! Well, you can't beat salad because anything goes! Having some crunchy raw vegetables with your meal is not only refreshing and balancing, but it helps your digestion along. Also, as everybody knows, it keeps you from eating too many total calories in your meal because of the high fiber and water content.
You just can't go wrong with vegetables!

Sweet Potatoes
People often want to know what’s the best kind of sweet potato. I say any kind of sweet potato is the best kind! I love the garnet yams, jewel yams, yellow ones, orange ones, all of them
The simplest way to have them is to just wash them and bake them in their skins, uncut, at about 425 degrees for about an hour to an hour and a half, or until they’re soft. How long it takes really depends on how big they are. Once they’re baked, they’re so delicious hot, cold, or anywhere in between.
But, if you’d like to get a little fancier with them, here’s a good recipe:

Fancy Sweet Potatoes
2 – 4 medium sized sweet potatoes or yams
Wash and cut into chunks an inch or so big. Don’t peel them.
Toss with:
1 Tablespoon soy sauce
1 or 2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 inch piece of fresh ginger, finely chopped
2 Tablespoons Mirin or other cooking wine
1 Tablespoon olive oil

Spray a baking dish with Pam or other spray oil and add the sweet potatoes along with all of the other ingredients. Bake at 425 degrees, turning them every so often with a spatula, for about an hour or until tender.

Simple But Delicious Broccoli
Serves 2-4
The trick here is to clean the broccoli properly. Just cut off the end of the stem, then
peel off the skin with your knife all the way up to where the branches start coming out
at the top of the broccoli. Now chop the stem into 1 inch pieces, then take apart the crown
into serving size pieces.

Mince 1 clove garlic and let it sit for a few minutes. In a cooking pot with a lid, place 1 Tablespoon olive oil with the minced garlic. Heat until the garlic just starts to brown a little. Add the broccoli pieces, 1/3 cup of water, and a sprinkle of sea salt. Cover and cook just until the broccoli is a little tender (about 8 minutes or so). If you find that the water has evaporated before the broccoli is cooked through, add a
little more water. At the end of the cooking time, you can remove the lid and let the water cook away for a few minutes.

Salad Extravaganza
Wash salad greens. My favorite mix is arugula, baby spinach, and chopped dandelion greens, but feel free to make it your own and use romaine, boston, whatever you like.
Slice a couple of carrots into coins and add those.
Add 6 pieces of fresh asparagus, uncooked, cut into 1 inch chunks.
Add any other chopped pieces of vegetables that you enjoy eating raw (could be cherry tomatoes,
sugar snap peas, green beans cut really small, broccoli, gobo root, lotus pods, mushrooms, etc.)

In your serving bowl, put 1-2 Tablespoons olive oil, 2 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar, and 1 Tablespoon brown mustard.
Add a handful of chopped raw walnuts and a handful of raw pumpkin seeds.

Now add the salad greens and vegetables. Mix it all up and serve.

PS This is also good with chopped apple or any other fruit added to the mix!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Thanksgiving Recipe 2: Lemon Thyme Polenta with Mushrooms

Yep, that's chicken and waffles, not lemon thyme polenta. I asked David Palumbo what he'd like for Thanksgiving and this is what he drew.

You could easily substitute any kind of mushrooms for the dried ones I've used here, but shiitake and maitake mushrooms are so extremely good for your system that I like to include them in recipes anywhere I can. A good place to get them for a great price is Mountain Rose Herbs. You can get the Lemon Thyme from there as well. It's a great source and they have the best prices.

Lemon Thyme Polenta with Mushrooms

Preheat oven to 400.
Lightly oil an 8x8 inch glass baking dish with olive oil and set aside.

Soak 1 large dried maitake mushroom,
3 dried shiitake mushrooms in
2 cups boiling water for 20 minutes.

Remove mushrooms, reserve broth. Let the mushrooms cool on a cutting board, then chop them up.

Add the chopped mushrooms back into the broth and bring the broth to a boil again.
Add ¾ cup polenta and
½ teaspoon salt.

Stir and cook until thick and soft (about 15 minutes). If it becomes too thick to stir, add water just
a little at a time. Add
½ teaspoon garlic powder and
½ teaspoon dried or 1 teaspoon fresh lemon thyme. Remove from heat and set aside.

In a bowl, beat
3 eggs, add
1 to 2 ounces of grated cheddar cheese.

While stirring the polenta mixture, slowly pour in the egg and cheese mixture (it’s easiest if you have a
helper here). Pour the whole mixture into the baking dish. Bake at 400 until it puffs up a little in the center.

Thanksgiving Recipe 1: Broiled Salmon with Miso Tahini Sauce

Boris had originally thought he'd draw a salmon eating a little person's head, but when he started drawing the face, he changed his mind. So now the salmon's eating a little round cake of mochi ice cream.

As many of you know by now, Boris and I don't eat meat from creatures that have legs or wings. This includes turkeys (as well as gryphons, centaurs, and minotaurs), so it makes you wonder "what to do for Thanksgiving?". Well, we do eat some creatures with scales (including some flying dragons, but not ones with wings, only the serpenty-ones with those crazy big eyes and fins that fly from magic powers rather than wing power), but dragons are pretty hard to catch because they're so smart, so we usually have salmon for festive dinners. Okay, enough silly stuff. Sorry! I could go on like that all day.

I'm not so crazy about the fake meats made from soy (especially since they have ISP--isolated soy protein--as a main ingredient) or "turkeys" made from tofu (although I love tofu and eat it often, I just don't like the way the taste or texture of tofu turkeys), so we just decided to ditch the whole idea of turkeys and have fish instead.

Broiled Salmon with Miso Tahini sauce
Serves 2-4
One pound fresh salmon fillet, preferably wild salmon
1 Tablespoon olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
Black pepper
1 Tablespoon soy sauce
1 rounded Tablespoon sweet white miso (favorite brand, South River)
1 rounded Tablespoon tahini sauce
2 scallions, with both green and white parts chopped
hot water

Rinse and pat dry salmon fillet. Leave the skin on.
Cut the salmon into serving-sized pieces. These could be either one
larger piece for each diner or cut into smaller pieces (maybe 1 ½ to 2 inches or
whatever size you’d like to have).
In a glass bowl, put the olive oil, minced garlic, chopped ginger, black pepper, and
soy sauce. Coat the salmon pieces in the marinade and let it soak, covered, in the
refrigerator for anywhere from ½ hour to several hours.

Heat broiler and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Spray the foil with
Pam or other spray oil, add the salmon pieces with the skin side down. Place them
a bit apart from each other. Broil until firm (depending upon the size of the salmon pieces, this could be anywhere from a few minutes to 10-12 minutes). Turn the pieces over and, if you’d like to remove the skin, now is a good time to do that. The brownish part between the skin and the meat is where lots of omega 3 oil is located, so it’s best to leave that part alone. If you slip a spatula between the skin and the brownish part, the skin will usually slip right off
once the fish is firm. Now broil the other side until it’s a little more cooked.

In a bowl that’s large enough to hold all of the salmon, combine the miso and tahini. Add enough hot water to make a spreadable paste. Add the chopped scallions. Add the salmon, folding it into the sauce carefully so that you don’t break up the pieces too much. If you have pieces that are very large,
you can just do this step on a serving plate.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Countdown to Thanksgiving

This painting was done by Winona Nelson (aka Nonie) while we were at Illuxcon! We're pretty sure the turkey is just stunned (see below).

In the next few days, I'll be posting a series of recipes that are healthy suggestions for a festive dinner. The emphasis is on healthy, a little fancy but simple, not too much trouble to make, and not super expensive.

I thought I'd make a menu that looks like this:

Miso Salmon
Lemon Thyme Polenta with Mushrooms
Salad Extravaganza
Sweet Potatoes
Broccoli with Garlic
Apple Grape Pie

You could add a couple of these dishes to your menu along side your traditional family favorites. And, remember, if you have kids, the foods you serve them at holidays are the ones they'll think of when they're grown as the kinds of comfort foods that make a holiday special. See? He's okay. Now he's telling her some jokes to take her mind off eating. And I know he was successful, because we just saw him out playing miniature golf with some ducks.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Asian Pear

What can I say about an Asian Pear that even comes close to the effect it has when you take a bite out of it? It's a little like taking a bite out of a crunchy rain cloud (without the lightning) that has been flavored with the perfect mix of sweet and tangy--a little like honey and lemon. Super clean, juicy and crunchy. Better than anything ANY pastry chef ANYWHERE in this world or any other world could ever come up with!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Your Liver: Part 2

Milk thistle is definitely right up there at the top of my Favorite Herbs list. Living in the society we have today with all the pollution and environmental toxins around, and especially if you work with artist's materials such as oil paints (like we do), we need all the help we can get to keep our livers healthy.

First, you have to understand something about your liver--it's a freaking amazing organ. It can regenerate damaged liver tissue faster than The Lizard character from SpiderMan. Seriously, you can remove a huge portion of a liver and it will just grow right back! (Probably not a good idea to try this at home, though.)

Listen to this: "The human liver is one of the few organs in the body that can regenerate from as little as 25 percent of its tissue." says Seth Karp, assistant professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School, Boston. Wait...25% from 100%...carry the 3...minus pi--that means 75% of your liver can be taken away and it will grow back!!! Weird!

And according to Dr. Andrew Weil in his fantastic book, "Natural Health, Natural Medicine", milk thistle (Silybum marianum) "is nontoxic, and European research shows that it stimulates regeneration of liver cells and protects them from toxic injury."
So you can take it regularly without side effects or toxic buildup.

But please don't think that you can take milk thistle and then chug beer and eat tubes of cadmium orange. While I realize that those activities can be crazy appealing, your liver will only forgive you for so much mistreatment before an unknown, crucial breaking point is reached and cirrhosis (basically, massive scarring of the liver) sets in and then it's...well, bad stuff. Really bad. Like death and stuff like that. And something that's coming to light now with the obesity epidemic is that Fatty Liver Disease, which comes from fat deposits and inflammation in the liver can cause cirrhosis. And, get this, you don't really have to be obese to get Fatty Liver Disease. It can also come from foods that cause general inflammation (mostly trans fats, saturated fats, refined foods, and artificial ingredients). So, yep, you can get cirrhosis from eating too much junk food even if you're not technically obese.

Of course, the best approach is to just baby that liver. Milk thistle is a great thing to take herb-wise. But mainly, clean living with whole, unrefined foods, clean water and green tea, exercise, and clean air are the best way to keep your liver dancing the happy dance.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Jumping Rope

I just got a new jump rope and I'm having so much fun with it. It's made by Bodyfit/Sports Authority and it has a little meter on the handle that keeps time, counts jumps, and calculates calories. All that for $20! And that was the most expensive jump rope they had at the store! The regular ones cost only about $6. Not bad for a serious kick-your-butt piece of exercise equipment and all around bringer-of-fun.
Can you remember when you were a kid and you actually jumped rope just for fun? Well, even if you were too busy playing Super Mario Brothers and didn't jump rope for fun, you should give it a try now. It's not just good for blasting calories to smithereens and cardiovascular fitness, it's great for brain fitness, too. The coordination required will stimulate all kinds of new synapses and dendrites, stuff like that, to form in your brain. All brains love new dendrites. Make yours happy today!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


As if you didn't already know this, but did you know that junk food is literally addictive in precisely the same way that cocaine and heroin are addictive? Now we have solid, positive proof, thanks to researchers at Scripps Research Institute in Florida and their team of brave (now obese) little lab rats. The rats were given unlimited access to all kinds of high-fat, calorie-dense food that is commonly available in convenience stores. The rats because compulsive overeaters when pleasure pathways in their brains became less and less sensitive, causing them to gorge themselves more and more to get the same high. Even when they were subjected to a mild shock in order to have access to the junk food, they still went for it.
Then, according to Paul Kenny, an associate professor of molecular therapeutics at Scripps, "after 40 days of becoming more and more addicted (and obese), the rats were switched to a nutritious food pellet, they refused to eat anything at all, even though they were clearly starving."
The act of refining the food is what makes it so addictive. Our bodies evolved with whole foods that needed to be broken down through digestive processes before the foods' nutrients and sugars could be released. Cocaine is only addictive because of this refining process, too. The leaves, when chewed by natives, supposedly give a high similar to coffee. But, when refined, the same chemical becomes a life-consuming addiction. Same with heroin or alcohol, same with sugar, same with any refined product.
When you think about it, this principle applies just as well to experiences. Anything, really, that gives you a good feeling. Painting, music, conversation with someone you love, love itself, nature, anything.
So choose your addictions wisely! They're just another fact of life. Healthy addictions can be cultivated to your benefit and enhance your well-being.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

I Can Read Your Mind!

It's true! This just occurred to me today while I was doing my cardio workout. I can read your mind, right here in this blog. "Okay," you say, "so what am I thinking?" Well, my mind reading only works IN THE FUTURE! And after you read this, my mind-reading tells me that you'll be thinking, "Ha! She can't really read my mind at all." What a great trick!

So what does this have to do with fitness? Well, you can entertain yourself with your own mind like this too whenever you do your cardio exercises. Some people think doing cardio exercises at the gym (like running on the treadmill, stationary biking, or using an elliptical machine) is boring, but I often have trouble trying to look halfway sane at the gym because I'm laughing so hard. It all depends on what you're thinking! IPods help, too. And, if you combine cardio exercises with music you enjoy or something positive going on in your mind, you'll literally flood your system with happy chemistry that will make your whole day so much fun!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Carl Sagan Day

Happy Carl Sagan Day! Today is the first annual celebration of the life and work of an amazing man who really knew how to get into crazy little corners of your mind and expand it into directions that you never knew existed.
If you haven't at least read his book, Cosmos, or seen the TV series, Cosmos, well, you're just really missing an experience that everyone should have. When I first read his essays on biology, especially the parts about our mitochondria, the information really had me so intrigued that it set off a whole new passion of discovery for me. If you're a fellow human being on Planet Earth like I am (and you probably are!), you need to know this information!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Astragalus Root

I thought it would be a good time to mention one of my favorite herbs, astragalus root. With all the talk about colds and the flu, it's helpful to know of an herb that enhances your immune system without any side effects and is a relatively inexpensive herb as well. I first read about astragalus in Dr. Andrew Weil's book, "Natural Health, Natural Medicine". It's great for use when you think you may be catching something, but since it's non-toxic, you can just use it regularly to keep your immune system strong. We use the powdered herb in capsule form and follow the directions on the bottle, but tincture or tablets are fine. If we think we're getting a cold or something, we increase the dosage temporarily to give ourselves an extra boost. You can also find astragalus root in Chinese grocery stores and some health food stores as dried, sliced root that you can simmer as tea or in soup.
Still, of course, the best thing to help you prevent getting sick is hand-washing and avoiding touching your face (especially eyes and nose). Don't you think that shaking hands should be put on temporary hold until after flu season? We can just show our palms to each other to say that we're not carrying any weapons. Maybe make a peace sign or a Vulcan sign or something.