Category Archives: Uncategorized

Tips for lowering cholesterol

Standard

The other day, a friend found that her cholesterol had gone through the roof in just a year’s time. She doesn’t want to go on medication, but she needs to get it down soon, or her doctor wants her to do the meds. I told her I would send on some information that we researched online, and I thought I would go ahead and post it here. I am not a doctor, and I am not a dietician, but this is mostly a summary of information I have found elsewhere, coupled with some recommendations on how I try to implement some of these suggestions in the midst of a busy life.

General recommendations

  • Eat oatmeal. Whole grains in general are good, but oats are particularly helpful because of the soluble fiber beta-glucan, which absorbs cholesterol very effectively.  I like to add dried fruit, cinnamon and just a small amount of brown sugar as it cooks. To eat, I top with vanilla soy milk and sometimes pure maple syrup.
  • Flax seeds have the good kind of fat, omega 3 fatty acids, which help fight cholesterol and plaque buildup in the arteries. For the most benefits, you want to use whole flaxseeds, not the oil, which loses its potency quickly. The seeds have a nutty flavor, and you can sprinkle them on oatmeal, cereal or salads. You can also substitute 1 TBSP milled flaxseed mixed with 3 TBSP water for one egg in baked goods.
  • Eat a lot of fruits and vegetables. They have two aspects that interfere with the absorption of cholesterol–plant sterols and soluble fiber. I am a little crazy on this one, according to my kids. I look at every recipe or eating opportunity to see where the fruits and veggies can be added. We make fruit smoothies a lot in the mornings, and we often make them green with spinach or kale. In fact, there aren’t many dishes to which I won’t add a little spinach at the end. I add it to soups, pasta sauces, salads, casseroles, risotto, and whatever else I can think of. I always have bell peppers, onions, garlic, carrots, mushrooms and spinach on hand to add to whatever I am making.
  • Some particularly good fruits and veggies: garlic, apples, beans, soy proteins.
  • Get some exercise everyday. A daily walk is important, but staying active in other ways is important, too. Don’t sit for long periods. If you work in an office, try to stand up and move for just a few minutes at least once per hour. Try to do as many chores while standing as you can (standing at a counter to chop veggies, vs. sitting at a table, for instance). Park far away from the door at the store. Run errands on foot if possible. Get a good pedometer, and try to work up to 10,000 steps per day. 
  • Avoid saturated fat, especially partially hydrogenated oils and trans fats. Limit red meat, and when you do eat it, trim the fat or get leaner cuts.
  • Avoid processed grains. Whole grains are higher in fiber, which helps to lower cholesterol absorption in the body.
  • Eat a lower carbohydrate diet. I am not a fan of the super low carb, Atkins type diets, but limiting the amount of carbs that you eat is helpful, and getting most of your carbs from whole foods is ideal. Recent studies show a correlation between a diet high in simple carbs and LDL cholesterol levels (LDL is the bad kind of cholesterol). The fiber in whole grains, fruits and vegetables are beneficial in lowering LDL levels.
  • Eat fish regularly, especially salmon. 
  • Red wine and dark chocolate seem to be good for cholesterol levels, too, in moderation. I heard on the radio the other day that drinking a glass of red wine with a meal that follows the Mediterranean diet (whole grains, high vegetable content, moderate meats and eggs, nuts and beans, low saturated fat) actually results in your stomach creating antioxidants–a case of one plus one equaling three.

Fitting these things into a busy life

  • Plan. I try to make a menu plan every week. This does take some time, but the more I do it, the faster I get. If I know what I am going to cook for dinner when I walk in the door from work, I get right to cooking. Also, making the menu plan and then a grocery list means that I rarely find myself with a bunch of meal ideas with missing ingredients at dinner time.
  • Prepare foods ahead. This can mean spending an hour or two on Sunday making up some oatmeal and a veggie soup or slaw, or it can just mean doing a little extra prep work while you are making your regular dinner. If I have a recipe that calls for a chopped onion, I might chop another while I am at it and put it in the fridge for the next night. Chopped bell pepper leads to a sliced pepper for after school snacks. Or, I might make a double batch of dinner, and freeze half of it for a night when we are busy.
  • To get more veggies in, I like to have a vegetable soup or a salad as often as possible. We have a lot of slaw, because that is much easier to make ahead–cabbage doesn’t wilt in dressing like lettuce does–but a nice tossed salad can be thrown together pretty quickly.  For the lettuce salads, I like to use this Jamie Oliver recipe as a base, and this is my favorite slaw recipe lately. I have my eye on this carrot slaw to try soon, though. This cream of baby carrot soup is easy to make while doing the rest of dinner, and is a big hit with my family.
  • Bring healthy snacks to work. It is so easy to head for the vending machine when you are feeling hungry, or stop in the cafeteria for an order of fries. If you already have a healthy choice you can grab, it is easier to avoid this. I usually bring leftover for my lunches, but I also try to bring something for when the munchies hit. Almonds are a good choice for this, and I like to get ready made dried fruit and nut trail mixes. A piece of fruit is always good, or a bowl of fruit salad. I have had soup or slaw for a mid-afternoon snack, too, so I can get in more of those veggies.
  • For the exercise, I basically trick myself into getting more movement in my day. Like I said before, I park far away from where I am going, but I also do things like drink a lot of coffee or water, which makes me get up more often to run to the bathroom. I got a dog partly to make me walk more, but I know that is a bit drastic. I have also arranged with friends to be walking buddies to make sure I head out the door on a regular basis, which is certainly less expensive than a dog. For the gym, I like to sign up for a class rather than just rely on myself to head to the gym, because I am more likely to go that way. Also, I signed up for the Y and took to the kids to the branch with the awesome indoor pool, which means they are often asking me to take them. I exercise for a bit, then join them in the pool.

Avoiding stress as much as you can is important, too. In my experience, this mostly means controlling your reaction to stressful occurrences, as there are so many stressful things that you cannot avoid entirely. Very few of us can afford to just quit a job if the boss is a jerk. When I have had bad bosses in the past (thankfully, my current supervisor is wonderful–it makes a huge difference in enjoying my job), I worked very hard at not allowing that to affect me. I did the best job I could, and worked hard at not worrying about work when I was away from work. It is hard to do, but I would interrupt my thoughts when I found myself dwelling on it, and reminded myself I was doing the best I could, and I cannot control the boss’s reaction. There is no use worrying over what you cannot change.  I apply this to all stressors that are out of my control–my ex-husband, my teenage daughter’s hormones, politics, etc. It takes
practice and work, but I have been able to let a lot of this roll off my back, not letting it upset me.

All of these tips should be good for avoiding almost any health problem.

Kids in the Kitchen

Standard

My daughter started middle school this past year. I went through parochial schools myself, with a K-8 elementary school followed by a traditional four year high school, and was not used to the idea of middle school. It seemed a bit scary to me, but she seems to be enjoying it, and she wasn’t nearly as worried about it as I was. One of the things she was really excited about was the chance to take two electives. Full year Spanish was a given (she loves Spanish), but then there were many choices for the other elective. I could see her choosing most of the choices (drama, art, chorus, orchestra, etc.), so we were glad to see that she could do shorter classes and take three choices over the year. I was surprised at her choices, though: Drama, FACS (Family and Consumer Science), and Shop. FACS and shop? These were not even options at my extremely small elementary school. We did English (which they now call Communication Arts, another weird thing for me), Math, Science, Social Studies, Religion, P.E, and once per week, Music and Art. My high school was all girls, college preparatory, and very small again, so the electives were limited to arts, advanced languages, or additional science type classes.

The feminist in me was pleased to see that my daughter signed up for both FACS and Shop. No feminine limitations on that girl! But, since I know how much she wants to attend college, and her insistence, so far, on an Ivy League school (“I want to go to Harvard, like our president”), her great enthusiasm for these classes is a bit disconcerting to me.

“Did you know that in high school, you can take semester long FACS classes? Sewing, or cooking or child development,” she told me excitedly soon after the second trimester began. No, I didn’t know, but surely she wouldn’t want to take these classes in high school! I suppose it makes sense in a way—she is a smart girl; her academic classes often seem very easy to her, and these classes are challenging in a different way. Other than the cooking section, where they made things that she had already made at home many times (pizza, cookies, scrambled eggs, tacos), she was actually picking up some new skills she hadn’t practiced before. Still, she could get all of these skills outside of school, and save her school time for more challenging coursework, coursework that will look good on a transcript being sent along with a college application. So, I told her that she could take a semester long FACS class in eighth grade, but no high school classes, and we would look into doing some of these things at home.

The easiest thing to implement was the cooking. I have done real cooking all of her life, so she is not a stranger to concepts like menu planning, grocery lists, and planning out your cooking tasks, but this has been very much on the edges of her awareness until now. She was a somewhat active participant in the menu planning, as I asked her and her brother what they would like me to make during the week, but mostly she was just aware that I was doing the planning. Now, though, she is responsible for dinner on Thursday nights. I consult her on the menu, reminding her to include plenty of veggies, and have her look in the pantry to see which ingredients we have, and which we need to buy for her dishes. Before she starts cooking, we go over everything and discuss the order that she should do the work. Sometimes I do step in and remind her to do certain things, or help her with the vegetable chopping, but as time goes on, I have to do less and less of that. She is still working on the concept of having everything ready at the same time, even with my reminders, but there is no substitute for experience in learning this sort of thing. She just needs to keep doing it until it becomes more natural to her.

The boy has been helping in the kitchen more, too. At 8, he is still too young to be cooking entire meals on his own, but he seems to like helping with the cooking, so I am encouraging him in that. He is very excited that I am letting him do some chopping. So far I am only letting him cut up soft things (no carrot slices or onion chopping), but it is all exciting to him. He is proud to be trusted with a knife, even if I am watching him closely, and I figure he’ll never learn how to use a knife safely if he doesn’t get to practice. I have him taste the food with me and judge the seasoning levels. It is so cute to see how seriously he takes this! He takes a bite and holds it in his mouth thoughtfully, usually pronouncing it could use a bit more spice. He even helped me make a Dijon mustard sauce, tasting and expressing an opinion, despite the fact that he did not use the sauce on his own dinner. “I like it,” he said, “but I want plain mustard tonight.” He is an adventurous eater already, but he is even more likely to try unusual things when he helps me cook them.

All in all, this is such a great idea, I don’t know why I didn’t do it earlier. Well, I do know—the girl wasn’t interested, and it is easier to just get in there and get it done. However, I know adults who were never allowed in the kitchen while their mothers cooked when they were children, and they are completely helpless now. They can barely feed themselves the most basic foods, and certainly cannot put together balanced meals for a week. Like all skills, cooking takes practice. I feel good about doing my part to make sure my children grow up to be self-sufficient adults who don’t rely on fast food and heat and serve convenience foods for most of their meals. We do occasionally use the convenience foods, because some nights are just that hectic (or I am totally not in the mood!), but most of our meals start with whole food ingredients, and I want my children to learn how to do that when they are on their own, too.

Some thoughts about last night’s dinner

Standard

  • It turned out to be more universally orange than I was anticipating.  It still had plenty of nutrients, but the plate would have been more interesting if we could have seen more colors.
  • The hot sauce glazed tempeh was amazing, and even better the next day.
  • This is a huge casserole.  We had a friend over, and only ate half of the casserole.
  • The nine corn tortillas that I had on hand were enough, although the 12 called for would have provided better coverage.  I was maybe just a little bit crazy trying to make the pieces I had cover the whole layer.
  • I added a diced Anaheim chili to the veggies (you knew that was coming, didn’t you?)
  • Obviously, the lack of garlic in the original recipe was an oversight.  Who would purposely leave garlic out of such a recipe?  Crazy peole, that’s who.  I added about 3 or 4 cloves of crushed garlic after the onions had cooked for a few minutes.  I also added just a bit more cumin.
  • Overall, it was delicious.  I will just have a non-orange vegetable instead of the sweet potato next time.

Vegan picnicing

Standard

We went to the Shakespeare festival last night. We generally go early and eat a picnic dinner so that we can participate in the festivities before the play starts. They have jesters wandering around, and a fire eater and a juggler, and various dances or talks. It is all very fun, and a nice way to spend the evening with family and friends, topped off with some great free entertainment.

As I have said, I have been trying to eat mostly vegan, so the thought of a completely vegan picnic wasn’t as daunting as it could be. I just feel so pleased with myself anyway, that I had to share what we are had:


For our main dish, we had falafels. In search of a healthier sandwich, I pan-fried half of them, but then I wasn’t 100% sure that they were cooking all the through, so I baked the rest. On the right of the falafels in the back is some spicy hummus from Trader Joe’s, which is very good. In front of that is a salad I made with tomato, cucumber, avocado and a Tzatziki like dressing (with some extra dressing on the side.) For the dressing, I used Tofutti Better than Sour Cream, fresh herbs from my garden and garlic powder. I was thinking that a little bit of mayonnaise would make it nice and creamy, but I was determined to have a vegan picnic, and I had bought a big jar of mayo right before I decided to go vegan, not Vegennaise. However, I looked at the jar of Trader Joe’s reduced fat mayo, and saw that it is eggless, so I was thrilled to read the list of ingredients and find that it is vegan! It’s like it’s stealth vegan–they say no eggs, because vegans know that eggs are the non-vegan mayo ingredients, but then they don’t have to scare people away with the v-word, ;-). In front on the left is tahini sauce with lemon juice, water, fresh cilantro and parsley, and lots of garlic, which was so yummy. Rounding it all out are whole wheat pita breads.

For dessert/snacking, I made up a quick fruit dip from La Dolce Vegan, which was so simple. Silken tofu, maple syrup and cinnamon in the blender–could it get any easier? It feels like a treat, but it is healthy–my favorite kind of food. I brought along pears to slice when we were ready for them:

Not pictured, we brought along whole wheat bread, peanut butter and bananas for the picky girl and her friend, and veggie chips and kettle corn and Sobe life waters, and juiceboxes and a bottle of wine. It was a great night, with friends and good food and a wonderful play, too!

Exciting discovery!

Standard

I just now discovered that Pi Pizzeria has Daiya cheese as an option for their pizza toppings! Vegan pizza! At a very popular restaurant (one that even our president likes!)

I am not usually so exclamatory, but this is pretty darn exciting. This is a place I can go out to eat with my not-even-close-to-vegan friends, and we can all be happy. Plus, we just discovered the awesomeness that is Daiya cheese at home in the past month or two, so I know it is delicious and the kids will be happy, too. But really, the awesomeness of the part where we can go out with our friends cannot be overstated.

Yay!

I sometimes wish…

Standard

…that we as a culture had a much more liberal definition of what constitutes acceptable make-up. Like, the kind of makeup you see on models in art photographs or runways, or men wearing more make-up. I’d like to see it be more about the statement and the personality than just conventional prettiness.

Things I am thinking of cooking ahead…

Standard

…and putting in the freezer.

  1. Breakfast burritoes: scrambled tofu with shredded carrots, onions and bell peppers, hash browns, veggie sausage, maybe some salsa
  2. Chili–I could eat chili once a week, or more
  3. Quick breads–they make excellent late afternoon snacks, and I make mine more healthy than the coffee shop does
  4. West African peanut stew
  5. Coconut Curried Vegetable Stew
  6. Red Beans and sausage–to be served over rice
  7. Sloppy lentils
  8. Veggies from my garden sauteed with teriyaki sauce (or some other sauce)
  9. Spaghetti sauce
  10. Some kind of bean burger

I am not sure I have enough freezer space for this, but I can try to empty it out first. One of these days I am going to get a freezer to put in the basement. Anyone have any other ideas?

An almost (but very convertible) vegan recipe

Standard

I know, I haven’t been here for quite some time. I have good pictures, too, from my trip to Chicago and the Chicago Diner. I haven’t had the time to…wait, I mean I lacked the energy to post those, and I still don’t have it. I made a really delicious dinner tonight, though, and I had to share the link. I did make this with shrimp, but I think it would be good with tofu, too. I love cabbage, so I was glad to find a good stir fry recipe like this. I used half of the red chili flakes and maybe a fourth of the sriracha sauce this recipe called for, because my friend said she wasn’t in the mood for really hot food. I could have eaten it hotter, but it still had plenty of flavor. We had yellow squash and zuchhini sauteed with a shallot in some olive oil, then steamed as a side dish. Delicious and healthy!

Summer movies

Standard

The title of this article drives me crazy. Boys of summer: Manly movies muscle into the multiplex? The intro goes on to say that that the only must-see chick flick is Julie and Julia, and maybe the new Harry Potter movie. I have so many objections to this article, it is difficult to know where to start (common with my experiences with this particular reviewer).

But, diving in, I hate the term chick flick. It’s so dismissive, as if exploring human relationships is silly and lightweight. You know, I have met actual male people who want to fall in love and have happy relationships, so I find it hard to believe that there are no men who enjoy romantic comedies, even if they don’t want to tell their buddies that they do.

Next, anyone who implies that a movie with Hugh Jackman in it won’t appeal to women just as much as men must be smoking crack. Has this guy never heard of People magazine? I would happily watch Jackman read from the phone book for two hours; two hours of him rippling his muscles in various stages of undress sounds pretty appealing to me!

….

Sorry, I had to take a break there. Mmmm, Hugh Jackman…

Moving on, the list of movies that are due out on the right sidebar of this article shows that there are actually several movies made to appeal to a large number of women. There are two adaptations of immensely popular books (My Sister’s Keeper and The Time Traveler’s Wife), a French romance (Shall We Kiss?), a movie about a couple starting a family (Away We Go—bonus: Dave Eggers is one of the writers on this one), and a new Nia Vardalos romance (anyone remember My Big Fat Greek Wedding? No? I think a few women saw that.) I could go on, there are more, but these are the ones that jumped out at me as I looked down the list.

And I’d really like to know where this guy gets the idea that “grown women don’t go to summer movies.” Does he not know any women? Does he only go to the movie theater during the daytime when not many people are there? Because most women I know enjoy movies and escapism, especially in the summer, when they are looking to relax more.

But my biggest problem with this article is that the premise that things have changed this year makes no sense. Even if there really were less summer movies directed at women, how would that prove that women don’t like to go to movies? The fact that movie-makers won’t be convinced to market to women even with mega-blockbusters as proof that women spend money on movies hardly shows a lack of interest on women’s part. The evidence says that women flock to movies that have appeal to them. If movie makers choose not to capitalize on this and make movies that do appeal to women, that proves that their misogyny is making them bad business people, not that women don’t like movies.

Fortunately, that doesn’t appear to be the actual case. There are several movies that were made to appeal directly to women, and some of the movies he lists as guy movies seem to me to have a much wider audience than Joe Williams thinks they do. Sure, more guys go to Star Trek conventions than girls, but just as many women actually watch the movies and tv shows. And although Matthew McConaughey’s Ghosts of Girlfriends Past doesn’t particularly appeal to me, it seems obvious to me that it is being marketed to women. Sure, there are some movies that definitely seem targeted to men (Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra stand out here), but that hardly translates to a summer of pure testosterone. It actually seems like a pretty nice mix of movies, with something for just about everyone. I am looking forward to trying out some of these movies, starting with X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

Mmmm, Hugh Jackman…