Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Pumpkin and fall: A match made in heaven

Yep, it’s fall here. Those dead leaves on my back deck need to go – thank God for leaf blowers. The sweaters are coming out, the shorts are going back. That seasonal nip is in the air. I really love fall, though not as much as my husband. No one loves fall as much as my husband, who grew up in New England where they do fall the best. (Check out this Onion article – this guy is totally my husband.)

But nothing really comes close to signifying the start of fall as much as the explosion of everything pumpkin. Pumpkin patches, pumpkin spiced lattes, The Great Pumpkin, pumpkin pie – those orange orbs are everywhere. I was at a food store recently where every single aisle had pumpkin all over it. They even had employees marching around the store with huge pumpkin signs, lest you forget about pumpkins for a few minutes.

I do like to eat pumpkin, I really do.  I love pumpkin bread, pumpkin ravioli, pumpkin soup, you name it. Pumpkin is so great in savory dishes like risotto and soups. You can use pumpkin in recipes that call for butternut squash, and even in some that require sweet potatoes. Pumpkin goes great with traditional Indian, Latin and Italian flavors, and it has some actual excellent nutrition, too. It’s even been called a superfood!

Want to spice up your pumpkin this fall? Try these autumnal recipes -- as always, you’ll find them tasty and with fewer calories because they use Equal (aspartame) instead of sugar:
  • Pumpkin nog (can I just say that I love the pic of the little candy pumpkin on this page?)
I hope you're enjoying pumpkin season, too!
Illustration courtesy of poppet with a camera and used under CreativeCommons

Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Big Move

You may notice that the address on my profile has changed. That’s because on September 20 my family – me, husband, almost-five-year-old and cat – moved from Atlanta to Cary, North Carolina. We came here because my husband got a new job in Raleigh, which is right next door to Cary.

Ahhh, moving. Not fun. Not fun at all. It didn’t help that work commitments gave me just a week to pack. It’d be an understatement to say it was a stressful time. Thanks goodness we had a lot of help from friends, and I had my trusty Diet Cokes to help smooth things over.

We hired movers, which took away some pressure, even though we still had to pack the boxes ourselves. We were lucky we could afford to get professional movers, but if you’re moving and don’t want to pay for movers, you can bribe your friends into helping you move by feeding them yummy treats. (At least, that bribe always worked on me when friends used to ask me to help them move!) How about baking them this yummy apple cheesecake or some cranberry orange muffins? Throw in some peanut butter chocolate bars and you’ll have all the help you need. And while they help you unpack, you’ll feel good that your reduced calorie treats say “thank you” while minimizing extra pounds.

The moving of our stuff (HOW did we end up with so much of it?) went mostly okay, except for the thing with the piano. We have a heavy, old piano. On the Atlanta side of things, the movers were able to get the piano into the truck no problem. But when unloading the truck on the North Carolina side, they weren’t able to get it up the stairs into our town home rental. We had to store it in the garage until we could get out some more help to get it in. In the meantime, a couple of the foot pedals broke off, so it looks like I won’t be playing any “Moonlight Sonata” until they’re fixed.
Interestingly, my biggest worry was that the move would be hard on my daughter, who hasn’t experienced a big life change like that before. But she seems the most excited about the change, and she can’t wait to start at her new school. Second to worries about the kid were my worries that moving the cat, who does not like to be picked up, would be a nightmare. It wasn’t easy, but some sedatives knocked him out and he (and me) made the voyage relatively unscathed. Thank goodness for those kitty sedatives.
We’re still settling in and have boxes all around that don’t seem to want to go anywhere. But we have each other, our senses of humor, and a fridge full of Diet Cokes. In no time I’m sure we’ll be just like native Tar heels.

Illustration courtesy of Madame Ming and used under CreativeCommons 

Friday, September 19, 2014

I Have Some Questions About This Recent Study

Have you ever had a low calorie sweetener in its purest form? That is, have you ever tried something like aspartame in any form other than what you can get already packaged at a grocery store or restaurant, or already included in a beverage? How would a normal person even get their hands on something like that? I wouldn’t even know where to start. So, if you were going to do a study on how low calorie sweeteners affect humans, why would you test using the pure form that’s not even readily available to, let alone consumed by, normal humans?

I ask these questions because a recent article published in the journal Nature focused on research using these unrealistic scenarios, among others. As I’ve said before, I’m no expert on research, but I like to think of myself as a critical thinker. The methods these researchers used during their study just don’t seem to make much sense if you’re wanting to evaluate the effects of common low calorie sweeteners consumed by humans.
The Calorie Control Council does a good job of explaining what’s wrong with the research in that study here. This summary breaks down the research in an even simpler way. And besides all that, the research contradicts established studies from respected groups like the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the American Diabetes Association, and the American Heart Association.

Debra R Judelson, MD, Scientific Advisor to the Calorie Control Council, said, “The study published in Nature this week on artificial sweeteners goes against what we know as clinicians and what our patients tell us. The study tries to link low calorie sweeteners with weight gain and ignores the extensive data that demonstrates that low calorie sweeteners help us limit our calorie intake and help control our weight.”

So just use caution when you try to decipher the results of studies conducted like this one.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

To market, to market

We have an excellent farmer’s market in our neighborhood. It’s held every Sunday from spring to late fall, and it’s a central gathering place for many people in the neighborhood. We see friends there, hang out on blankets, listen to (usually bluegrass) music. Our daughter gets her face painted there almost every Sunday.

Picked up these babies just this morning
at the farmer's market.
But the real reason to go there is the crazy delicious food. Popsicles, wood-fired pizza, Korean bulgogi buns, burgers, pastries, cured meats, yogurt, cheeses, homemade pasta, bread. But those are nothing compared to the amazing fresh produce. Greens, lettuce, berries, squash, tomatoes, corn, herbs, green beans, potatoes, mushrooms, cucumbers, peppers … and so on.  The line for the peach stand is always the longest in early summer, and now the same is true for the apple queue. Food just tastes better when it comes from the farmer’s market. (Or I suppose your own garden, but my black thumb makes that a non-starter.) Here’s a cool article I found on what’s good at the farmer’s market right about now.
So many different ways to put a meal together with farmer’s market food. For example, the other day our dinner consisted of corn and sliced salt-and-peppered tomatoes from the neighborhood market. Oh, and there was yummy steak, too, but the veggies were the true stars of the meal.

Here’s an awesome recipe tailor-made to make use of a farmer’s market haul. Need something to wash it down? Use some of that farmer’s market fruit to make this yummy sangria. And a sweet ending using more market fruit.

Next month my family is moving to a new state. I’ve already scoped out the farmer’s market scene, and I’m happy to say there’s one within walking distance to my new home. Market day will continue to be on schedule for a long time.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Harry and Me

Guess what Daniel Radcliffe says is one of his favorite drinks? No, it’s not pumpkin juice, or even butter beer. It’s Diet Coke! I knew I liked that guy.

I mean, not only did he play one of the most iconic heroes in literary history (I’m a Harry Potter geek), but he also seems to have emerged from that whole child star treadmill relatively unscathed. He has a new movie out – a rom com. Not sure if I’ll see it, but I think it’s positive for him to branch out into new movie genres. (I like to think I’d be good at advising Hollywood folk on their career decisions.)

Speaking of Harry Potter: I’m currently reading the first of those books to my daughter. At first I hesitated starting this with her while she’s so young (not quite five), but “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” (or “Philosopher's Stone” as it’s known in Harry’s home country), starts the series off on a tamer note. The really scary stuff happens further along in the series.
And reading it again brings back all the cool memories I had of reading the books myself. I was an adult when I read them, obviously, but the themes are just so purely universal. Rowling really knows how to write in a way that adults can relate to. And have you heard about this research study that argues the Harry Potter books are great for teaching tolerance? Can’t beat that.

So Danielle Radcliffe loves Diet Coke, I love Diet Coke, I like Daniel Radcliffe, he played Harry Potter, I love Harry Potter and am passing it down to my daughter. Dan, if I ever see you out somewhere, your next Diet Coke’s on me.
Illustration courtesy of Karly Nunez and used under Creative Commons