Ode to my Cherry Pitter

I have a serious thing for kitchen gadgets. There’s just something so compelling to me about these tools that were specifically created to help with food preparation. Egg beaters, pastry blenders, melon ballers, rolling pins, spice grinders, milk frothers, spoons and spatulas of all shapes and sizes – they combine form with function in a unique way, and call to mind timeless pictures of people preparing food of all different kinds.

It’s true that there are some kitchen gadgets that really aren’t all that useful. Some of them are cheaply made. Others have functionality that could be easily duplicated with more common tools. Other kitchen gadgets are so perfectly suited to their single purpose that you wonder how you ever cooked without them. I feel that way about my cherry pitter.

cherry pitter

Cherries are one of my favourite fruits, but preparing them can be a serious pain in the neck, thanks to all those pits. After toying with the idea of buying a cherry pitter for years, I finally took the plunge and got one of my own two years ago, specifically to make cherry ice cream. The cherry pitter made the task of removing cherry pits so much easier. I now make cherry ice cream as an annual treat, eagerly awaiting cherry season.

Recently, the folks at Whole Foods Market got in touch with me and offered to send me some cherries to celebrate the arrival of cherry season. How could I say no to free cherries? When the box arrived at my doorstep, my kids and I immediately dove right in, eating them fresh. Now that we’ve had our fill, though, I’ve been left to decide what to do with the rest. I know that I will make some cherry ice cream at some point, but right now I’d like to branch out a little. I’ve decided to try this recipe that Whole Foods passed along, for goat cheese bruschetta with cherries and mint. If you don’t eat gluten, you can substitute a gluten-free bread or cracker for the whole wheat if you whip up some of your own.

Goat Cheese Bruschetta with Cherries and Mint Whole Foods

Image courtesy of Whole Foods Market

Goat Cheese Bruschetta with Cherries and Mint

1/2 pound (about 2 cups) cherries, pitted and halved
1/4 cup lightly packed mint leaves, thinly sliced
2 Tbsp orange juice
4 slices rustic whole wheat bread, toasted
4 ounces fresh goat cheese

In a medium bowl, toss together cherries, mint and orange juice. Spread bread with goat cheese, spoon cherry mixture over the top and serve.

What about you – what’s your favourite way to use cherries? And what’s your favourite kitchen gadget? I’d love to hear!

Creating Routines: Eating my Veggies

Crafting my Life Creating RoutinesI am all about the monthly blog series, and one of my favourites is all about creating positive routines. Each month I set one goal with the aim creating a more purpose-filled life. If you’d like to join in and take some steps to create better rhythms and routines in your own life, I’d love to hear how you’re doing it.

Last Month’s Recap

In June, I committed to spending time every day in my garden. I feel good when I’m out there. Digging in the dirt grounds me. Plus, my plants benefit. I kept it up, for the most part, and it felt good. In June I harvested strawberries, lettuce, parsley, kale and carrots, as well as the first of my raspberries, potatoes and broccoli. My corn, tomatoes, peppers, cauliflower, pumpkins, beans and blueberries are looking promising. Not everything is going gangbusters, but it still feels pretty great to eat food I grew myself.

creating routines eating veggies broccoli

Creating a Routine for July

In addition to making a change of routine each month, I commit to doing one green thing. This month, I’ve committed to eating more local food. It seems like the perfect time to make a change to my diet for the better. While I eat a lot of fruit (and as much cheese and chocolate as I can lay my hands on), the truth is that when it comes to veggies I could do better. We all know we should eat more vegetables. They’re high in all sorts of good things we need, and low in calories, sugar, fat and all that stuff they’re telling us to cut down on. This month, I’m committing to eating at least four servings of veggies every day.

I’m not sure that eating more veggies will be a miracle cure, or noticeable improve the way I feel, but it certainly can’t hurt. Plus, at this time of year lots of veggies are in season and at peak freshness and tastiness. If I’m going to improve my diet, this is the time to do it. If I get in the habit of eating more veggies now, it will be easier to keep it going during the winter months. At least, that’s my theory.

Start With Small Changes

One thing I’ve learned on my journey towards a more purpose-driven life is that change happens best in small, bite-sized pieces. That’s why I’m once again choosing something that isn’t going to take much time. I may be busy, but I can find a few minutes a day to build a better life. I invite you to take on some small changes as well. What could you do to improve your daily rhythm or overall mood? And, what’s holding you back from doing it? Create a new routine, and leave a comment so that we can cheer each other on!

One Green Thing: Eating Local

One Green Thing Strocel.comToday I’m tackling my One Green Thing for July. This month it’s all about eating local. But first, I’ll talk about my adventures in hang-drying laundry last month.

At the beginning of June I committed to hang-drying six loads over the course of the month. I made it – just barely. We had a really hot snap at the end of the month, which helped considerably. I will admit I found parts of it challenging. My husband and I have gotten into the routine of doing all of our laundry on Sunday. With limited space on my drying racks, I found I was only to hang a couple of loads to dry at a time. If I started first thing in the morning on a hot day, I can dry maybe three loads of laundry before sunset. In cooler, wetter weather, it might take a couple of days for clothes to dry. If I really want to line dry my clothes, I’d need to change my laundry patterns, and wash clothes throughout the week.

local eating local food one green thing enviro-mama cauliflower

This cauliflower is growing in my garden right now!

This month, I’m going local in the kitchen. I’m harvesting the first new potatoes from my garden, and my raspberries are currently at peak ripeness. My local farmers’ market is resplendent with all kinds of local produce. To celebrate all this bounty, I’d like to make a point of eating more local food during the month of July. To that end, I’m committing to 10 local meals this month. I already had one last night, with potatoes from my garden and steak and salad greens from the farmers’ market.

I did the same thing last July, and once again I’m giving myself some local eating latitude. I’m not counting condiments, spices and the like as part of the meal. Last night, for instance, I had non-local salad dressing, and I cooked my potatoes in imported olive oil. I’m not sweating those parts. I’m also not defining ‘local’ with a strict 100 mile (or similar) limit. I’m saying any food that I grow myself or buy at a farmstand or the farmers’ market counts, with the exception of prepared foods made primarily of non-local ingredients. Baked goods made from flour of unspecified origins wouldn’t count as local, but the beef that a rancher drove five hours to the market would.

While I do try to eat local, the truth is there are many imported foods my family loves. Bananas and mangoes just don’t grow in the Pacific Northwest, and some foods like broccoli don’t grow here year-round. At this time of year, however, eating local is at its easiest, and fresh produce is at its tastiest. I’m taking advantage of that and doing my best to prepare meals that come from my own back yard. I’ll let you know how I make out.

Do you eat local? What are your favourite sources of local food? Also, if you’d like to get in on the act and take on One Green Thing of your own, I’d love to hear about it. Feel free to grab the button from this post if you’re blogging about it, and spread the enviro-love.

Podcast: Label Lessons with Andrea Donsky

strocel.com podcast andrea donsky label lessonsWe all know the drill: Eat whole foods, mostly vegetables. Don’t eat too much sugar. Don’t eat too much fat. Don’t eat too much salt. Don’t eat things that come in packages. Don’t eat things with ingredients you can’t pronounce. There are lots of rules about what we should and shouldn’t eat, and most of us are at least somewhat familiar with them. Following them, however, is a different story. It turns out that junk food is so popular for a reason, and the reason is that it’s easy and it tastes good. So, when I had the chance to record a podcast with Andrea Donsky, founder of NaturallySavvy.com and author of Label Lessons and Unjunk your Junk Food, I was in.

Andrea is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist, but she’s also a mom of three. Through her books and website she endeavours to help us navigate the aisles of the grocery store, making healthier choices. She’s pragmatic and non-judgmental as she does so, focusing on what ingredients we should seek to avoid, and how we can decipher ingredient lists and nutrition labels. Rather than lecturing us to eat more kale, she helps us to choose a better granola bar for when we need a fast snack on the go.

strocel.com podcast andrea donsky label lessons unjunk your junk foodDuring our podcast I asked Andrea just what a Registered Holistic Nutritionist is, anyway. We talked about what ingredients are red flags, and why. We discussed how to appropriately set limits on junk food with kids. We discussed organic food and genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. We talked about where to shop, how to shop, and why you have to vigilant when you’re choosing what to buy.

If you could use some practical, judgment-free help choosing food for your family, or you’d like to hear what seven ingredients you should be on the lookout for, you’ll want to listen to my podcast with Andrea Donsky:

If you enjoyed my conversation with Andrea, subscribe to the Strocel.com podcast in iTunes, and you won’t miss a minute of my future broadcasts. Also, if you have a podcast idea, please share it with me. I’d love to hear your suggestions!

McDonald’s, Processed Food, Health and Marketing

I was invited to be part of a corporate accountability campaign that ran yesterday called Mom’s Not Lovin’ It. The campaign calls McDonald’s to stop their predatory marketing practices aimed at children. To drive home their point, they created this graphic:

#MomsNotLovinIt McDonald's Corporate Abuse

The truth is that the email with the info on participating got lost in my inbox, so I missed the big day. However, as I looked at the graphic, I had some mixed feelings. While I can’t deny that McDonald’s deliberately targets children with through its advertising and marketing efforts, and I can’t deny that it comes at a cost to children’s health, I remain somewhat ambivalent.

I think I’ve mentioned before that I’m reading Michael Moss’s fabulous book Salt Sugar Fat right now, all about processed foods. While the book focuses primarily on the sorts of convenience foods that you’d find in a grocery store, like soups, cookies, crackers, frozen dinners, chips and pop, there are some points that apply equally well to McDonald’s. For instance, Moss discusses the fact that people buy food that tastes good to them, and that makes them feel good (in the short term). When you eat sugary foods, for instance, bliss signals are sent to your brain, so you experience a sense of enjoyment that surpasses simply pleasant flavour.

The truth is that I, myself, like McDonald’s food. I eat there almost never these days – I would say I average once or twice per year, usually when I’m on vacation. But when I do, their burgers make my mouth feel very, very happy. It isn’t surprising, when you look at the nutritional facts for one of my favourites, their Angus Burger. One burger contains 41g of fat (63% of recommended daily amount), 1640mg of sodium (68% of recommended daily amount) and even 10g of sugar.

Here’s my question: if this food tastes so good to everyone, does the marketing make a difference? My kids eat at McDonald’s as a treat with their grandparents, maybe once a month or so. While they like the toys and the Play Place and the colourful boxes the Happy Meals come in, the truth is that they mostly just know that the food tastes good. And while McDonald’s takes steps like offering plain milk and apple slices and yogurt in their kids’ meals, we all know that the main attraction isn’t the healthier options. It’s the McNuggets and the cheeseburgers and the fries.

I remember breaking the news to both my kids at around age three or so that McDonald’s food wasn’t good for them. This was the age when they were old enough to start asking for things that weren’t immediately in front of them, and so they started asking to go to McDonald’s on a whim. They would pose the suggestion as if it were brilliant, and there could be no possible objection, because everyone loves McDonald’s. As I explained that McDonald’s was a rare treat that wasn’t actually good for them, they reacted with incredulity. How could it be? After all, it just tastes so darned good!

Our bodies are simply predisposed to seek out lots of the ingredients that make us feel good. Processed and fast foods play on that, and so from the time we’re babies we can be tricked into gorging on foods that aren’t good for us. My children’s incredulity about McDonald’s is an example of that.

There are many concerns I have with McDonald’s. I don’t like the vast amounts of trash that their food – and all fast food – generates. I am concerned about the chemicals in their food, about the way that the animals raised to produce their food are treated, and about all the salt, sugar and fat in their meals. This is why I rarely eat there, and why I don’t take my kids there in our daily lives.

In general, I object to the idea of marketing to children. I have a four-year-old, and I know that he can’t really differentiate between an advertising message and an informational message. I also know that, most of the time, the advertising messages are far more engaging. I don’t want companies to make money on his back, by trying to hook him on their products while he’s still too young to understand what’s happening. So, yes, I would like McDonald’s to stop marketing to my kids, in the same way that I’d like other companies to stop marketing to my kids.

In the end, though, my biggest concerns around McDonald’s aren’t so much about marketing as about the processed food industry in general. We buy food because it tastes good (and I’m including myself in this), not necessarily because it’s the healthiest choice. As long as we keep doing that, we’re putting our health and our planet at risk. I think we need a much broader approach than simply toning back marketing to kids. It’s not enough to chastise consumers for eating this food. And it’s not enough to introduce a few healthier options. We need to take a broader approach to overhauling the way we eat.

So, no, this mom isn’t lovin’ it. Except for once and twice a year, when I really, really am. So, I can see the appeal. And that leaves me bewildered and uncertain about what to do, in the face of a food system that’s completely out of whack.

Podcast: Talking Tea for Mother’s Day

I love tea, as anyone who’s seen my annual tea stash challenge knows. I especially love buying tea. There’s something about a new tea that is so full of promise, I just can’t resist it. Because of that, it should come as no surprise that when Soko Tea House opened in my neighbourhood late last year, I was immediately smitten. As I was considering what to do on my podcast for Mother’s Day, talking about tea seemed like the perfect fit. So, I got in touch with Julie Veres, Soko’s co-owner, and luckily she agreed to connect for a chat.

strocel.com podcast soko tea house julie veres

Julie’s love for tea is so great that she’s actually spent years studying it, even going to school to become a tea sommelier. She’s currently exploring the Japanese tea ceremony in intricate detail. All of this sort of begs the question: just how much is there to know about tea?

strocel.com podcast soko tea house julie veresThe answer is a whole lot, as Julie explains in our podcast. Tea may seem like a simple beverage, but like wine, there are many nuances and variations to explore. And like wine, there’s also a lot to learn about pairing tea with food. In fact, Julie runs workshops at her tea shop most Sunday mornings, exploring topics like making matcha, preparing iced teas, the health benefits of certain teas and pairing tea with different foods. After all, tea is the most popular beverage in the world after water, and people prepare it in countless different ways.

If you’re a tea-lover, you’d like some tips on preparing and storing tea, or you’re planning a Mother’s Day Tea and need ideas, you’ll want to listen to my podcast with Julie Veres from Soko Tea House:

If you enjoyed my conversation with Julie, subscribe to the Strocel.com podcast in iTunes, and you won’t miss a minute of any future broadcasts. Also, if you have a podcast idea, please share it with me. I’d love to hear your suggestions!

Seeking a Not-so-Sweet Breakfast

sugar breakfastI am currently a little more than halfway through Michael Moss’s fascinating book Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us. If you’re at all interested in food issues, this one is worth checking out.

The first third of the book – and the one part I’ve completely finished so far – deals with sugar. One of the concepts that Moss discusses is the “bliss point” for sugar. This is the point where the sugar level in a food is perfect for you. Take sugar out, and it won’t taste as good. Add more sugar, and it won’t taste as good. The bliss point is, well, blissful, and it varies from person to person. I can pretty much tell you, without even subjecting myself to any testing, that my bliss point is very, very high. I am the sort of person who will eat a sugar cube straight up, and then still want more.

I’m somewhat concerned about my gigantic sweet tooth, because I don’t believe sugar is all that good for you. If you’re eating it in moderation, that’s one thing. But given studies that show a link between drinking sugary beverages and diabetes, and added sugars and heart disease, for example, I’d rather not be eating it in excess. And yet, the truth is that I do. I know this for sure because some time ago I signed up for My Fitness Pal, a free app that tracks food and exercise. While I come in below the recommended amounts of fat and salt, I regularly consume two to three times my personal daily recommended allowance of sugar.

In fact, I generally consume my entire daily allowance of sugar with my first meal of the day – a bowl of cereal and a banana. Breakfast cereals are high in sugar. Plain milk is surprisingly high in sugar. And banana, being a fruit, has rather a lot of sugar. When you add it all up, my day is off to a really sweet start. But it’s not just my day that’s super-sugary – my kids are eating the same sorts of food that I do.

I’ve given up sugar before, and didn’t notice any particular difference in how I felt. But the truth is that I only gave up sugary treats, like candy, ice cream and baked goods. I didn’t stop eating fruit or all breakfast cereal. Knowing what I know now, after reading Salt Sugar Fat and tracking my own sugar consumption, it’s a pretty safe bet that I was still getting plenty of sugar in my diet. Probably more than I needed, in fact.

I’m not about to go completely sugar-free. I love carbs entirely too much for that. However, I really would rather not eat so much. I’d really rather that my kids didn’t eat so much. But I’m also torn. Our mornings are not exactly what you would call leisurely. Cereal or granola is just so easy. And my go-to easy alternative of sweetened yogurt with fruit is really high in sugar, as well. I know lots of people swear by smoothies, but smoothies gross me out, so I’m not going there, especially not early in the day. The only non-sugary breakfast my family regularly enjoys is scrambled eggs, but I just can’t see making those every day. And so, I’m facing a conundrum.

I’d like to reduce the amount of unintentional sugar I consume, but I’m not sure how to do it in a way that won’t make my mornings difficult. I’m hoping that you can help. Do you have any easy breakfast options that are low in sugar, and that your kids will happily eat? I need suggestions.

I’d also love to hear your thoughts on sugar. Are you concerned about how much you – and your kids – consume? Have you ever tried to give it up? I’d love to hear!

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