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I have a small burn on the palm of my right hand. I got it when the handle of a skillet was accidentally heated by the flames from an adjacent burner on my freaky stove (the front burners put out huge flames one one spot, while the rest of the circle of flame is normal sized–what is up with that?) and I stupidly grabbed it to turn the skillet around. Being right-handed, I find this especially annoying, because I have to be careful about the blister.

On the other hand, the burn is almost exactly the shape of the communicators that all crew members wore on their chests in the original Star Trek. This makes me smile every time I look at that stupid burn,:).

A Small Geeky Thing


I believe this was Hector Tobar, author of The Barbarian Nurseries, talking about the places that workers in the garment district might come from:

They come from Italy, they come from the Ukraine, they come from Missouri.

My memory may not be totally accurate on the phrasing, and it might be Siberia rather than the Ukraine, but it definitely made me smile to hear my home state in that list of bizarre and exotic places from which people might migrate to California,:) .

Heard on NPR this morning

Tips for lowering cholesterol


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


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


  • 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.