For more than thirty years, I’ve been blessed to be part of a great group of women… eight faithful, caring, fun-loving friends who also happen to take birthdays very seriously.
In fact, our “birthday group” boldly celebrates aging up with a lively luncheon for each lady - complete with fabulous food, crazy greeting cards, special gifts, lotsa laughs and gobs of gab!
I love those luncheons- until it’s my turn to host one.
You see, my friends are all highly skilled, domestic divas! Me? I would rather address a joint session of Congress than prepare lunch for eight. But with a sense of humor, a few short cuts, and encouraging friends, I somehow get through it.
This year, when my birthday rolled around, the “girls” surprised me with a gift that keeps on giving… a packet of recipes even I can’t screw up!
They gave me their easiest, tastiest, no-fail, favorite dishes and boy, has dinner taken a turn for the better around our house!
In the coming months, I’m going to share a few of these delicious dishes with you… starting with this incredible pasta recipe from Marlena Brown. Just toss all the ingredients in a big bowl. Then sit back and enjoy the oo’s and ah’s!!
Marlena’s Pesto Pasta
1 jar Classico Pesto (or any brand you choose. I like Buitoni. You’ll find it in the refrigerator section at Vons)
1 6-oz. jar of sundried tomatoes (no need to drain)
1 4-oz. jar of capers, drained
1 4-oz can sliced olives
1 ½ pounds chicken, cooked
1 bunch scallions, sliced
1 lb. pasta, cooked (I love whole grain)
Toss ingredients together.
Take a bow!
Don’t I just have the best friends?! Stay tuned for Kendra Dawson’s awesome posole!!
Have you ever wondered what’s so super about “superfoods?”
Somehow, I managed to live more than 55 years without acai? I still can barely pronounce it. I think it’s (ah-sah-EE.) Oh, I’ve tried to incorporate the all-star berry into my diet, but like pomegranate, another fruit rock star, to me it tastes like dirt.
Kale may be the current king of the leafy greens, but hey, it’s an acquired taste.
Actually, I just read about another trendy green that might give kale some competition. It’s the “fiddlehead.” I’m serious! Fiddlehead is a curly fern that’s getting a lot of buzz as the next “fit food.”
Lately there’s been so much focus on these nutritional newcomers that less glamorous fruits and veggies are sometimes treated like second-class citizens.
Fortunately researchers are discovering new reasons to get excited about the old stand-bys! The best part? You probably already stock many of them in your kitchen.
The crunchy green is back on the must-eat list as a potential cancer fighter. It’s a top source of a flavonoid called apigenin. The substance activates a chemical reaction inside diseased cells, causing them to self-destruct. No one is suggesting celery can cure cancer, but scientists say over time a diet containing apigenin-rich foods may help prevent the disease.
The skins of these snackable bites are bursting with resveratrol…the same superstar antioxidant that helps make red wine good for your heart. A recent study has discovered that resveratrol may also aid in boosting immunity…by helping increase levels of a molecule that kills bacteria and viruses. In fact, adding grapes to your diet may even protect you from contracting infections in the first place.
For years, fungi have been thought to be heart healthy and immunity boosting. Now science shows that they may even help prevent breast cancer by lowering estrogen levels. Cancer researcher Dr. Shiuan Chen found that when postmenopausal women consumed 13 grams of mushroom powder (the equivalent of one and a third cups of white button mushrooms) per day for three months, their estrogen production dropped by 27%.
Researchers have long known that smokers have a lower risk of developing Parkinson’s. And while no doctor would encourage lighting up, there may be another way to get the benefit: peppers. They’re a safe source of nicotine, which may protect dopamine-producing cells. The results of a study published in the “Annals of Neurology” found that eating bell peppers twice a week or more was associated with at least a 30 percent reduced risk of Parkinson’s.
Talk about super foods!
And there’s more. Remember the old rule, “eat the rainbow?” When nutrition experts first urged us to fill our plates with brightly hued produce, it made sense. They were just discovering the powerful benefits of a crayon box of antioxidants – from red (lycopene in tomatoes) to blue and purple (anthocyanins in berries and grapes) to orange (beta carotene in carrots).
Well, guess what? Nutrition experts now admit, “white is a color, too!” Cauliflower packs the powerful cancer-combating compounds also found in its flashy cousin, broccoli. Garlic and onions may be pale, but they protect against stomach and colorectal cancer. And Portobello and cremini mushrooms are just as rich in antioxidants as green beans, carrots and red peppers.
So don’t let so-called “superfoods” crowd out staples that are just as nutritious. When it comes to fresh produce, whatever the color, it’s all good!
I drive my coffee-loving friends crazy. Don’t get me wrong. I love coffee, but only if it’s masked with every accoutrement available. By the time I’m done with it, my morning dark roast is the color of my husband’s khakis!
For years, I’ve justified my breakfast treat –half and half, two teaspoons of sugar and a little coffee because, for the most part, I eat healthfully the rest of the day.
But recent news about the relationship between sugar and heart disease has got me thinking I may need to learn to drink my java black. A report from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) comes with a stern warning: eating too much sugar can be deadly!
Now, I hate to be alarmist about food studies, but this research is compelling.
The problem isn’t with sugar found naturally in foods. But the largest study of its kind reveals consuming too much added sugar – found in regular soft drinks, cakes, cookies and candy dramatically increases your risk of death from heart disease.
According to one of the study’s authors, the risk of cardiovascular disease increases exponentially as you increase your consumption of sugar.
Adults, on average, consume about 15 percent of their daily calories – about 300 calories a day from added sugars. The American Heart Association recommends women consume no more than 100 calories a day from added sugars – about six teaspoons. Men should keep it to about nine teaspoons. (BTW: One can of regular soda has about 140 calories of added sugar.)
But just as I began congratulating myself for not drinking sugary soda, there’s this:
Added sugars in the CDC report also include table sugar (the stuff I add to my breakfast brew) brown sugar (which I love atop an otherwise healthy bowl of hot oatmeal) high fructose corn syrup, maple syrup, honey (Yikes! Last night I drizzled honey over a slice of cornbread!), molasses and other caloric sweeteners in prepared and processed foods and beverages (I guess that includes the handful of M&M’s I nibbled on while working at my computer.)
Busted! Clearly – without even realizing it, I can blow right through my 100-calorie sugar limit…even if I’m making otherwise healthy food choices. Bottom line, sugar is everywhere and we need to be intentional about keeping intake to a minimum.
And if the risk of heart attack isn’t enough incentive, other research has tied a high intake of added sugars to obesity, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and risk factors for stroke. With all that’s at stake, it may just be worth keeping an eye on how much sugar you add to your diet each day.
As Rachel Johnson, spokeswoman for the American Heart Association points out, “Now we know that too much added sugar doesn’t just make us fat – it could cause a heart attack.”
Guess I’ll take my cuppa joe with a little half and half, thank you. Hold the sugar.
Following a devastating stroke, my husband’s sweet Dad, “Woody,” lived another five years – each day a challenge because the massive blood clot in his brain left his left side paralyzed. Woody handled his situation with grace and class but it wasn’t easy.
Because heart disease and stroke run in Tom’s family, he’s fighting back with a healthy lifestyle and frequent check-ups and I make sure the fridge is full of fresh veggies including tomatoes.
A new study shows that men who had the highest levels of lycopene, an antioxidant found in tomatoes, had fewer strokes than men who had the lowest level of lycopene in their blood.
And get this. Overall, the risk of strokes was reduced by a whopping 55 percent!
But here’s where the study, based in Finland, got my attention. Lycopene, it seems, is found in the highest concentrations in cooked tomato products such as prepared paste, puree and sauce.
As someone who likes to take short cuts in the kitchen, I was thrilled to learn a cup of ready-to-serve marinara sauce has 10 times more lycopene than a raw tomato. It’s not only okay to use the stuff in the jar it’s actually better than fresh when it comes to lycopene concentrations.
And that goes for the sauce found on fast food pizza and store-bought catsup, too (though high fat and sugar content in these products should also be considered.)
One doctor commenting on the lycopene study in the journal, “Neurology,” says the lycopene study shows “diet is very important” for cutting stroke risk along with exercising and not smoking. Dr. Rafael Ortiz says lycopene works by reducing inflammation and preventing blood clots from forming.
So, when I want a quick and easy meal that’s loaded with lycopene, here’s a simple, little recipe I came up with:
*Sauté a chopped onion, green pepper and 1 cup of mushrooms in a tablespoon of olive oil.
*Brown one pound of lean, ground turkey and combine with vegetables
*Add one large jar of marinara sauce (We’re hooked Costco’s 40-oz. Victoria All Natural Marinara Sauce)
*Simmer all ingredients together for one hour
Serve over whole-wheat penne (or pasta of your choice)
Double the recipe. It’s even better the next day! And it freezes beautifully.
One more thing…If you’re not a tomato lover, no worries. Lycopene is also found in watermelon, grapefruit, papaya and mango.
When it comes to fruit, all the buzz is about the berries – the more exotic the better. From black and blue to goji and acai, these antioxidant superstars get all the attention. And that’s fine.
But I think it’s high time somebody gives a shout-out to one of the most popular fruits no one talks about. In smoothies, sliced on cereal or gobbled up before (or after!) a long workout, I’m big on bananas!
For me, and millions of Americans, the perfectly packaged curved, yellow fruit has been a nutritional mainstay for decades. Tucked in my lunchbox as a child or stuffed in my purse as a working professional…I could always count on a power-packed banana for a burst of energy and sense of wellbeing – all for 100 calories or less!
I decided to investigate whether my favorite fruit could nutritionally go “peel to peel” with other popular fruits. Now, I’ll never look at a banana the same way again after discovering the many health benefits and reasons to keep them in my diet.
If you think bananas are just for monkeys…think again! Here’s a sampling of the benefits you can expect from that bunch of bananas in your fruit bowl:
1. Bananas help overcome depression, due to high levels of tryptophan, which is converted into serotonin…the happy-mood brain transmitter.
2. Eat two bananas before a strenuous workout to pack an energy punch and sustain your blood sugar.
3. Protect against muscle cramps during workouts and night-time leg cramps by eating a banana.
4. Counteract calcium loss during urination and build strong bones by supplementing with a banana.
5. Improve your mood and reduce PMS symptoms by eating a banana which regulates blood sugar and produces stress-relieving relaxation.
6. Bananas reduce swelling, protect against Type II diabetes, aid weight loss, strengthen the nervous system and help with the production of white blood cells…all due to high levels of vitamin B-6.
7. Strengthen your blood and relieve anemia with the added iron from bananas.
8. High in potassium and low in salt, bananas are officially recognized by the FDA as being able to lower blood pressure and protect against heart attack and stroke.
Then there’s bananas and digestion!
9. Rich in pectin, bananas aid digestion and chelate toxins and heavy metals from the body…stimulate the growth of friendly bacteria in the bowel and produce digestive enzymes to assist in absorbing nutrients.
Constipated? High fiber in bananas can help normalize bowel motility. They also help restore lost electrolytes after diarrhea. Bananas are a natural antacid and the only raw fruit that can be consumed without distress to relieve stomach ulcers by coating the lining of the stomach against corrosive acids.
And don’t forget natural cures from a simple banana!
10. Eating bananas helps prevent kidney cancer, protects the eyes against macular degeneration and builds strong bones by increasing calcium absorption.
11. Bananas help with learning by making you more alert. They’re high in antioxidants, providing protection from chronic disease.
12. Eat a banana between meals to help stabilize blood sugar and reduce nausea from morning sickness, lower body temperature and cool you during a fever or on a hot day.
And how about this?
13. Rub a bug bite or hives with the inside of a banana peel to relieve itching and irritation. Remove a wart by placing the inside of a piece of banana peel against the wart and tape it in place (take that, Compound W!!) and, what the heck…rub the inside of a banana peel on your leather shoes or handbag and polish with a dry cloth for a quick shine!
How ‘bout a hand for the mighty banana? (Now you know why monkeys are so happy!!)
Eat a banana today.
Whether you need to or not, these days it’s cool to eat gluten-free. The food industry has capitalized on this so-called health trend, marketing everything from bread and chips to cookies and cereals as “gluten-free.”
But for those who truly are gluten intolerant, the results of eating wheat in any form can be agonizing. For those with gluten-induced Celiac disease, the outcome can be fatal.
After years of living with miserable, unexplained intestinal distress, my step-Mom, Kaye, discovered she had an extreme sensitivity to gluten. Thankfully, her symptoms have abated because she adheres to a strict gluten-free diet. And it’s not always easy.
Maintaining a diet free of wheat-based products takes discipline…especially if you’ve got a sweet tooth. Most cakes, cookies and other baked goods are a big no-no. And sadly, most of the store-bought, gluten-free fare out there tastes like sand.
So, when I came across an interesting recipe for super-healthy flourless brownies, I just had to give it a try. They are so delicious; I’m going to make a batch for Kaye!
If you or someone you know happens to be a gluten-free chocoholic, you’ve got to give these brownie makeovers a try. Even if you’re good with gluten, I think these fudgy, flourless brownies are better than energy bars...packed with protein and fiber to keep you fully charged before or after a workout.
If you’d like to build a better brownie, here’s the recipe! Whip up a batch of these super squares and let me know what you think!
Fudge Flourless Brownies
½ cup sliced almonds
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
½ cup sugar
1 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped
½ tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. salt
½ cup packed pitted Medjool dates (brilliant!)
¼ cup unsweetened almond milk
2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 large egg whites
2 Tbsp. mini chocolate chips (optional)
You’ll find these brownies fudgy but not at all dense, thanks to the whipped egg whites. The olive oil and almonds give a double shot of healthy fats and if you prefer them less sweet, skip the chocolate chips.
The headline on the recipe read “Eggplant and Tomato Pasta Bake.” The dish was among several on a page in one of those women’s magazines at my nail salon.
Eggplant doesn’t do much for me one way or another, so I nearly passed it by. Thankfully, I didn’t turn the page before taking a quick glance at the rest of the ingredients. Roasted tomatoes, bell pepper, basil pesto and Parmesan cheese mixed with whole wheat fusilli. Hmmm. It actually sounded pretty good as I ripped the recipe from the page. (With permission!) Not only that, it was super-easy…15 minutes prep time!
What the heck…a little eggplant wouldn’t kill me, right? Truth is, the health benefits of the eggplant are numerous since it contains a plethora of vitamins and minerals. I had no idea, but the vegetable that’s least vegetable-like, contains Nasunin, a phytonutrient that provides high concentrations of antioxidants and can protect against cell membrane damage and improve blood circulation.
The iron, calcium and fiber it provides are all essential parts of a balanced diet. And eggplant contains only 35 calories per cup. It has a hearty taste and texture similar to meat (maybe more like tofu?) and eating eggplant can be made enjoyable even for those with an aversion to consuming anything healthy. (Think eggplant parmigiana? Roasted eggplant?)
I did a Google search and the number of eggplant recipes is practically endless. I’d just like to leave you with one recipe that’s become part of the regular meal rotation at my house. It’s a great vegetarian option and trust me, you won’t even miss the meat!
Eggplant and Tomato Pasta Bake
1 lb. eggplant cut into cubes
1 lb. small tomatoes (2”diameter), halved
1 lg. red bell pepper, coarsely chopped
8 oz quinoa rotelle (ancient Harvest is good brand) or whole wheat fusilli (or any whole grain pasta of your liking)
¼ c. basil pesto (already made up in the refrigerator section at the grocery store)
4 Tbsp chopped, fresh basil
¼ c. finely grated Parmesan (I LOVE Parmesan, so double this ingredient!)
1. Heat broiler. Arrange eggplant, tomatoes (cut side up), bell pepper and onion on large baking sheet coated with olive oil spray. Coat vegetables with olive oil spray and season with ¼ tsp each salt and pepper. Broil, stirring vegetables (except tomatoes) halfway through cooking, until tomatoes are slightly charred and giving up their juices and remaining vegetables are golden brown and tender…about 6 minutes for tomatoes and 18 minutes for eggplant, bell pepper and onion.
2. Heat oven to 375 degrees F. Prepare pasta per package directions. Drain and toss in bowl with broiled vegetables, pesto and 2 Tbsp of the basil. Spoon into shallow baking dish (about 2 qt.) and top with cheese.
3. Cover with foil and bake until heated through, 15-20 minutes. Sprinkle with remaining 2 Tbsp basil.
Enjoy this healthy and hearty version of comfort food with a salad and grainy bread.
I love it when Dana hosts our women’s Bible study. Her home is warm and welcoming. She has a cool dog and she makes the best, by far, pumpkin bread in the world.
Dana serves her signature sweet bread warm right from the oven in a cute, Bundt-style baking pan in the shape of a pumpkin. Martha Stewart would be proud.
Recently, as I let a second warm slice of pumpkin perfection melt in my mouth, I decided to ask Dana for the recipe. I figured it would be beyond my culinary skills…probably an old, family recipe involving double boilers, exotic spices and separated eggs.
Dana just smiled as she shared her “secret” recipe – three ingredients – one step. So simple, even I could dazzle my friends and family with pumpkin bread worthy of the Cooking Channel.
If you need to bring something sweet to a holiday gathering, consider whipping up Dana’s perfect pumpkin bread. It’s so simple; you won’t even have to write it down. But here it is just in case!
Dana’s Pumpkin Bread
1 Box Trader Joe’s pumpkin bread mix
Prepare according to the box recipe, but add ½ can of organic, canned pumpkin (also at Trader Joe’s) and a small tub of vanilla Greek yogurt.
Bake and eat. Consider it my gift to you!
Good eating and God’s blessings!
It was our first trip to Paris. So much to see and do…the Eiffel Tower…Notre Dam…the Louvre. Amazing!
But as Tom and I recently experienced our first trip to the “City of Light,” we quickly learned the main Parisian attraction isn’t a cathedral or museum. It’s the food! And for nine days, we made it our goal to taste it all.
We indulged in crepes, both savory and sweet, swimming in rich cheese and cream sauces – fresh, buttered baguettes stuffed with ham and Gruyere, buttery croissants slathered in orange marmalade and steaming cups of cappuccino with creamy, whole milk. (Don’t even think about insulting your French server by asking for non-fat!)
We literally ate our way through the streets of Paris. From curbside vendors and colorful sidewalk cafes to charming bistros with white tablecloths, we dined on steaming bowls of cheese-covered French onion soup, spaghetti bolognaise and melt-in-your moth beef bourguignon.
I won’t even begin to describe the delightfully decadent French desserts in this space. Words are completely insufficient. But I will say this much. Last night I dreamt about one of those divine desserts…the rich ice cream, whipped cream and dark chocolate sauce confection known as the “blanche dame.”
For the record, I didn’t work out one day. Oh well, when in France…
But the day of reckoning finally came back home as I stepped on the scale to assess
the damage. Unbelievably, the digital display indicated I had lost nearly a pound!
And then it hit me.
I’d just experienced a touch of what’s known as the French Paradox…the country’s low rate of coronary heart disease despite a diet rich in saturated fat. It’s the basic premise of the popular diet book, “French Women Don’t Get Fat.” Author Mireille Guiliano advises eating only good food of very high quality, eat it in small portions and savor every bite.
And it fits our French dining experience to a tee. Rather than wolfing down a hastily prepared PB and J running out the door, our meals were not rushed. In fact, they were an event unto themselves…consumed slowly while visiting and sipping the local Bordeaux.
As Guiliano explains, “From chocolate to champagne, eat slowly, with all your senses, and make every dining experience pleasurable so you will be satisfied with smaller portions of delicious food. No food is off limits, only large portions. No counting calories, no skipping meals – just control what you eat.”
It truly is a paradox. Lean and fit, the French aren’t into low-fat, low-carb, low-taste and low-calorie. Their diet is full of flavor and high in satisfaction. (And the majority of Parisians don’t have cars. They walk as did we – often miles a day!)
When it comes to food, we could all learn a thing or two from our French brothers and sisters. With their low rate of obesity and cardiovascular disease, the French way may just be the way to go!
Like most of you health-conscious folks out there, I’ve done my best to make sure my diet includes a wide variety of leafy greens because they’re chock full of vitamins, minerals and cancer-fighting anti-oxidants.
I admit going green hasn’t always bee easy. But over time I’ve finally acquired a taste for arugula. I make my soups “super” by adding some Swiss chard. And despite a bitter battle, I’ve finally conquered my aversion to kale and frequently mix the dark, leafy green into my favorite salads. Pretty good effort, I’d say.
But just when I thought I’d gone green enough, a new leafy veggie has become the darling of the farmer’s market. Have you heard the buzz about the nutritional power of “mini greens?” According to the research, these seedlings are proving that good things can come in extremely small packages.
I first ran across the news about mini greens in “O” magazine…then checked it out for myself. Turns out, according to the USDA, when harvested at just seven to 14 days old, these pint-size leaves can be far more nutrient-dense than their full-grown counterparts.
Studies show plants use stored nutrients to grow, so plucking the tiny seedlings early means they still have high levels of vitamins and minerals. Just keep in mind, says one study, that these “mini-me’s” lack the fiber found in mature plants, so they should supplement the greens you already eat…not replace them.
For all you fashionable foodies out there, here’s more good news about teensy greens. Thanks to the concentrated flavor of these diminutive standouts, they can elevate meals in taste as well as nutrition.
Give these a try:
This fragrant green contains 11 times more lutein and zeaxanthin (nutrients that can reduce the risk of cataracts and age-related vision loss) than the same amount of mature cilantro.
Micro Red Cabbage
These slightly bitter, heart-shaped leaves outshine full-grown cabbage with roughly 260 times the beta carotene (a precursor to vitamin A that can help protect eyesight) and more than 40 times the vitamin E.
Micro Purple Mustard Greens
Just four ounces of these greens meet your recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of vitamin C (75 milligrams). Another perk: these greens may be among the tastiest, due to their spicy zing.
Micro Green Daikon Radish
These sharp, spicy leaves are vitamin E superstars, boasting 165 percent of your RDA per ounce – helping to shore up your immune system and protect tissues and organs from damage caused by free radicals. By contrast, mature leaves contain only trace amounts of the antioxidant.
Micro Garnet Amaranth (this one’s new to me!)
Light red with an earthy, floral flavor… micro garnet amaranth ranks highest in vitamin K among micro greens (with more than 3 ½ times the amount in mature amaranth). Vitamin K is essential for blood clotting and may reduce the risk of bone fractures.
I’m not exactly the queen of the kitchen, but I’m thinking if I adorn my next salad with nutrient-dense mini cilantro, would it be OK to can the kale?!