Thursday, March 24, 2011

"Get Busy Living or Get Busy Dying"

Photo courtesy of Josh Pesavento under the Creative Commons License

"Get Busy Living or Get Busy Dying" is one of my favorite quotes from the movie The Shawshank Redemption.  When I cry in frustration at the obtuseness of those in charge of disseminating dietary advice to the masses (doctors, the government, companies touting "healthy" products, etc.), I have to take a step back and realize that all I can do is throw a stone into the water with my thoughts and hopefully cause a ripple.  As a CrossFit Kids coach and as a human being, I care about the health of our kids!

Childhood Obesity

Why is childhood nutrition such a hot topic?  Childhood obesity is on the rise.  Here is an interesting article on 10 Frightening Facts About Childhood Obesity. Their list is below.  For more detail on each, please check out the full article.
  1. Only 2% of kids in the U.S. eat healthy.
  2. Fast food consumption is rising.
  3. About 25% of kids don’t do any physical activity.
  4. Kids spend up to 5 hours daily watching TV.
  5. Obese children make poor students.
  6. The risk for heart disease jumps.
  7. Half of diabetic children are overweight.
  8. Sleep apnea is a growing threat.
  9. Health care costs are triple what they are for healthier children.
  10. Obese children will live shorter lives than their parents.
For many overweight kids and adults, junk food and sweets aren't the only cause: it's starch.  One reason is that high fructose corn syrup is in EVERYTHING, even starches like bread.  Check the labels--you'll be horrified.  Why we need to sugar everything we consume is another post, but for now, take it on good authority that high density foods like bread, pasta, rice, and potatoes give too much energy, and the excess carbohydrate turns to fat.  In reality, it isn't fat that makes us fat, but carbohydrate!  The old advice to eat a low fat and high carbohydrate diet hasn't gotten us out of the obesity epidemic; in fact, the epidemic has gotten worse.

I just got back from a talk given by Dr. Lustig of "Sugar: The Bitter Truth" fame, but I can't write up that smorgasbord of info at the moment.  Next time, Gadget, next time. Right now, the focus of this post is:

Step 1: We need to work toward the goal of replacing that starch AND SUGAR with vegetables and fruit--i.e. REAL FOOD.

How to Change

My advice is to start adding more vegetable and some fruit to a child's diet in a number of ways:
  • Veggie Hunt: Let your kids run wild in the produce section.  Anything they find, they can learn how to make with you.  Find a recipe and cook it together.  This gives kids a chance to be creative and try something new.
  • Make It a Family Affair: 
    • Eat vegetables as a family: make sure you are all eating the same healthy diet so you are a role model for healthy eating. 
    • Cook Together: make your kids a part of the process so they feel more connected to their food and the hard work it takes to prepare it. 
  • Pile in the Veggies: Incorporate vegetables into sauces, soups, chili, ragout, and anyplace you can add more vegetables without really noticing them.  Some parents find success pureeing vegetables into textures kids like better than when they are raw or cooked and whole. 
  • It's No Big Deal: Don't make a big deal out of dinner, just make it and serve it.  Don't highlight the changes you've made, just make it completely normal and natural to eat whatever you've prepared. 
  • Easy Favorites:
    • Tacos: Try taco night with lettuce leaves and have shredded cabbage, onions, and other vegetables as the toppings.
  • Don't Forget the Healthy Meat and Fat: Don't be afraid of meat and fat--it's those dense, high glycemic starches that we have to worry about.  Healthy fats are avocados, coconut oil, olive oil, pasture butter, nuts, and seeds.  Healthy meats are pasture-raised, wild-caught, and grass-fed. 
  • Label Hunt: Spring clean your pantry and fridge so it's free of unhealthy temptations.  Read labels--more than five ingredients?  Chuck it.  Something you can't pronounce/don't know what it is or where it comes from? Chuck it.  Added sweeteners?  Chuck it.  You can make this a family affair--kids can practice reading and get a kick from throwing away the crap. 
  • Drink Water: Water is the ultimate thirst quencher.  Anything with sugar, even if it's a "sports drink" or 100% juice, is no better than soda. To transition off the juices, try watering them down.  Unsweetened herbal teas are great and add a burst of flavor to water hot or cold.  
  • Be the Boss: You are the boss when it comes to food in your house.  Use your choices to nourish, not harm.  
  • Cultivate an Appreciation for Healthy Food: Eating healthy is a positive feedback loop--you feel better and better.  Eating poorly is a negative feedback loop--you feel awful, BUT it positively effects your desire for those poor choices.  Break the cycle and eat healthy choices to get yourself back on track.  Substitute your sugar cravings for fruit--such as a decadent, healthy snack: Berry Bowl--and slowly cut back by adding more veggies.  
  • Reward Excellence: You can give a reward for the family's effort--perhaps a once a week cheat meal at a restaurant or ice cream for dessert one night. Some people don't like a reward, but for me, if I can stay healthy all week, I have earned a cheat meal or dessert and feel pride that I earned it.  You can also make your "cheat" meals really not so much of a cheat if you buy or make homemade treats still low in sugar and starch and gluten-free--they'll definitely make you feel better than a blow-out gluten cheat.  On the other hand, you can also just forgo the cheat altogether and make it family plan to get healthy and stick with it. 
  • Help!  Here are some helpful resources:
    • Get Your Kids Off the Crack--my soapbox stand against sugar and refined carbs. Check my sidebar and browse my label cloud for more topics of interest. 
Parenting Blogs:
    • Everyday Paleo: a mom with it all going on--easy paleo recipes for the whole family, functional fitness, and her own book!
    • Organic Thrifty:
    • Primal Kitchen with amazing lunchbox ideas, recipes, and pictures!
    • Joyful Abode: a very professional smorgasbord of information and recipes
    • The Paleo Child: with the title "A Paleo life from birth to breastfeeding and beyond."
    • The Cave Kitchen with a great Learning to Cook section categorizing the tasty recipes.
    • Enjoying Healthy Foods Says Lindsey: "I started this blog to share my experiences (recipes) good and bad through our major change. I am not scared to share my FLOPS with you... as this is a learning experience for me."
    • Paleo Mama "I am not a professional chef.  I am not a doctor or a nutritionist. I am a mom who is cutting through the propaganda of the American “healthy” diet, to create REAL natural meals for myself and my family."
    • Primal Mama Cooks...and dishes on life "Seeing the positive changes in my health and strength led me to explore creating healthy, paleo-style recipes to share with you."
    • Paleo on a Budget "How a family of three eats frugally while following the Paleo Diet."
    • Life as a Plate: amazing, beautiful recipes and posts
    • Paleo Parents: delicious and colorful recipes and some helpful parenting tips.  I like their sidebar intro: "A practical approach for modern day families to eat from the Paleolithic period. It's not about a diet. It's not about "no" grains, dairy and sugar. It's about eating healthful, wholesome food for your family to look and feel their best. It sounds hard and overwhelming, but one (easy) step at a time you can get there, too."
    • Paleo Chronicles
      • Part 1 Says Patty: "In this series I plan to get down to the nitty gritty - what's worked, what hasn't, where I'm going and where I'm at with my own children."
      • Part 2 Says Patty: "Like I said in my first post, any child over the age of 5 is gonna resist if their food options are suddenly changed.  I took a different stance and gave my kids the same time, education and choice that I had when I chose to eat healthier."
So I hope I helped give you some starting ideas and support for choosing this path to nutrition and health.  Life's a journey--you just have to take the first step and if you fall off the path, just pick yourself up and get back on.

If you write or know of any other parenting blogs to share here as a resource for others, please write a comment and I'll add them to the list.  Please let me know how your journey is going for you!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Southern Cooking Classic: Collard Greens

Collard Greens are definitely a rare menu item outside the South, but they don't have to be in your diet!  What can be wrong with bacon and greens--two of my favorite foods!

The traditional recipes use a smoked ham hock, but since my husband and I had recently taken a butchering class offered by the Pig Wizard, we have cuts from half a pasture-rasied pig in our freezer (it actually fit in our refrigerator freezer!).  A few portions went home with the Pig Wizard to cure, since he has the set-up.  After sampling some dried, cured meats he brought along, ours will be well worth the wait!

I cannot speak highly enough of the incredible opportunity it was to better connect with our food and play a role in the process of bringing it to our plate.  The 8-hour class was an eye-opening experience to see inside our food and how to parse it into cuts.  There were no cleavers and we only used the saw a couple of times--with finesse of the knife and careful work, you can render elegant cuts.  This was respectful butchering and in its craftsmanship and skill, an art form.

We devoured the carnitas we made from the butt or pork shoulder--omg is fresh, quality pork sweet and delicious!  We cut out the shoulder blade that was embedded in our carnitas meat and reserved it for our collards, leaving some meat attached.  This is a great use for the bone if you buy a bone-in pork shoulder or pork butt, which is often the case in some markets.

To supplement the pork bone, which we felt was a little sparse, we added a pound of bacon.  Yes, a full pound.  And it was awesome.

The collard greens are a hearty green you can find around the chard and kale.  They are related to broccoli and cabbage, so they have similar benefits such as vitamins A, C, and K, and calcium.  These veggies are also potent cancer fighters, as a 2006 study published in Cancer Research indicates:
Epidemiologic evidence suggests that high dietary intake of Brassica vegetables, such as broccoli, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts, protects against tumorigenesis in multiple organs. 3,3'-Diindolylmethane, one of the active products derived from Brassica vegetables, is a promising antitumor agent. 
Collard Greens recipes involve boiling the collards, but don't leave that liquid behind when you serve them!  Don't throw out the baby OR the bathwater in this case!  That liquid, called "pot liquor" or "potlikker," is an extremely nutritious broth with the vitamins leached from the cooked greens.  The loss of nutrients is one reason why I never boil or blanche my veggies, except in a soup--I try to keep as much of the nutrients in the food as possible and if they are released during cooking, I make sure to use that liquid.  In the case of pot liquor, it is rich and delicious--you don't want to waste a drop!

My husband was the driver in this recipe--and boy am I lucky to feast on this incredible creation of his!  He scoured the recipes out there and mashed together the ingredients we like best.  I took the revered role as sous chef and taster.  He is a great cook, and cooking together is so much fun, even in our small kitchen.  We always manage to wind up laughing and having a good time.  Just sharing the time together is infinitely precious.

So without further ado, here is our recipe:

Collard Greens and Bacon
Healthy, hearty greens paired with bacon--this is a heavenly match you'll soon devour!
Prep Time: 15min. or less
Cooking Time: 2hrs, give or take

  • 3+ big bunches of collard greens
  • uncooked ham bone from a bone-in roast, with some meat attached (great for using the bone from pork butt/shoulder leftover when making carnitas!) 
  • 1lb nitrate-free bacon, diced
  • garlic powder
  • salt
  • pepper
  • pinch of red pepper flakes
  • water
  • a large stock pot

The first step is the stock: toss in your ham bone, diced bacon, and all the seasonings--you can wing the amount based on how much you are making at once.  We used about 2T garlic, 20 pepper grinds, 2t salt, and a pinch of red pepper flakes, initially, then we added more to taste once the collards were about done.  Add 3-4 quarts of water and bring the liquid to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer uncovered for an hour.

Once the hour is up and your house smells amazing, you can add the collards.  Here's how to prepare them: wash them twice to remove any sediment (we've heard that they are notoriously dirty and need a good rinsing), then strip the leafy greens from the woodier parts of the stem using one hand to hold the stem and the other to make a fist around the stem and pull up to the top of the leaf, stripping the leafy green from its stem (I use this method for making my kale chips with dinosaur kale and it saves SO much time!).  Stack the leaves and cut the collards into wide strips.  You can stop there and add the strips to the pot or add another slice to break apart long tangles.  Many of ours after cooking became a large dice--think stamp-sized--but there were still some noodley strips that were more difficult to fit on a spoon.

Add all the collards to the pot--you really can't go wrong with adding a ton--we wish we added more to ours because they were delicious!  Stir to help get them all in the liquid and simmer the pot for another hour--less if you want more chewy leaves and at least an hour if you want them meltable.  Stir every now and then to break apart tangles and feast on that delicious aroma up close.  Taste and add any more seasonings as desired.  They're done once you reach your desired tenderness of the greens.  Serve in a bowl as a soup alongside your main meat or add the cooked meat right in.  This as a chicken soup is amazing!

This dish is absolutely, lip-smacking delicious--which is definitely saying something considering it's a healthy, green vegetable!  Hope you enjoy it too!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Simple Slow Cooked Garlic Studded Grass-fed Beef Brisket with Mushrooms

That title is a mouthful.  I could also add any number of modifiers such as "delicious," "mouthwateringly delectable," and just plain old "awesome," but I think the name includes the most important bits.

This recipe is dead simple: poke holes in the brisket and shove in some garlic cloves, season, throw in a load of sliced mushrooms and more garlic cloves, and slow cook away for a day or overnight (8hrs).  I originally watched Emeril way back when garlic stud his roasts and loved the idea.  I've used it before in my recipe: Not Your Mama's Pot Roast.  It is a great way to flavor the meat and insert little pockets of meltable deliciousness into the beef.

And wow is the outcome amazing!  The garlic beefiness just fills the house and wafts outside to make your neighbors jealous.  And everything about the finished meal is delicious--the rich, savory jus (or juice as in au jus--"with [it's own] juice") created just from the beef and the mushrooms, the garlicy mushrooms and spreadable garlic cloves, and the tender, shred-able beef that stays moist and flavorful, especially when drizzled with jus and topped with mushrooms.  Yum!

Don't Fear the Fat!

Check out that beautiful yellow fat in the photos.  Remember the advice we've all heard to choose brightly colored vegetables?  Well, here is the same idea holding true for meat.  That yellow fat is chock full of vitamin A and E and healthy fats (as opposed to not-so-healthy fats like vegetable oils and seed oils that overbalance our omega-6:omega-3 ratio).  White fat of feedlot beef is not only less nutritious, but it also carries a heavy toxic load since the fat is the storage place for most of the crap we pump into those poor, sick cows to keep them alive long enough to fatten them up for slaughter. 

On the other end of the spectrum, both in terms of nutrition and humane, sustainable husbandry is grass-fed (and finished) beef from pastures.  Its fat is healthy fat, full of CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) and omega-3 fatty acids.  Omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory and great for recovery from exercise and inflammatory ailments (hence many use fish oil supplementation).  According to Eat Wild (a source for finding local pastured products), CLA may fight and reduce the risk of cancer. A diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids and CLA is closer to our ancestral eating profile, which is how our digestive tract evolved and how it still functions today despite the disconnect most people have between their anatomy and their diet.  Enjoy what nourishes, not harms.

Bottom line: Don't shy away from eating healthy fat!

Without further ado, I give you Simple Slow Cooked Garlic Studded Grass-fed Beef Brisket with Mushrooms:

Simple Slow Cooked Garlic Studded Grass-fed Beef Brisket 
The simple combination of minimal ingredients and fuss-free slow cooking create a delicious meal fit for a holiday feast or simple weeknight leftovers you actually look forward to!

Cooking Time: Start to finish, about 8.5hrs but 8hrs of that are spent unattended while slow cooking

  • grass-fed beef brisket (we used about a 3-lb brisket--you could probably use any similar cut of roast)
  • lots of garlic cloves (to save time and effort, you can buy whole, peeled garlic cloves*)
  • lots of sliced mushrooms (to save time and effort, you can buy these sliced as well*)
  • salt
  • pepper
Add 1-2 packages of sliced mushrooms (or about 3-6 cups if you prepare them yourself) to the bottom of the slow cooker pot.  Depending on the size of your brisket and your slow cooker, leave enough room for the brisket to sit on top of the mushrooms and still lid the pot.  Add some whole garlic cloves to the mushrooms and distribute them.

Prepare the brisket by creating deep slits with your knife and inserting a garlic clove in each.  Try to get good coverage and be as thorough as you have the patience for.  Turn over the brisket and repeat on the underside and then try to get as many in the sides of the meat as possible.  Once finished, sprinkle on salt and pepper and rub it around the brisket to season it.

Place the brisket on top of the mushrooms and add another package or 3 cups of mushrooms on top and around the sides--basically jam in as many mushrooms as you can fit--remember, they cook down and they are adding some of the moisture that is keeping the roast tender and juicy.  Add any remaining garlic cloves you had leftover from the brisket studding or if you just want to add some more you have around, feel free--the more the merrier!  The garlic roasts into a mellow, spreadable deliciousness, so fear not!

Now, set your slow cooker to Low for 8hrs and walk away.  Your job is done until the time comes to unlid the pot and feast!  Hope you enjoy this as much as my husband and I did!

* I know hard-core cooking purists will cringe at the use of any convenience foods like sliced mushrooms and peeled garlic cloves, but if it helps more people cook real food for themselves and their families by cutting corners in minimal areas (they are still using one-ingredient-on-the-label foods), then that is a win in my book.  I'd rather offer an approachable recipe than frustrating those who are time-crunched with yet another recipe that takes too long to even try.  And this recipe is well worth the minimal effort required!