kombucha lights

last week at next gen house

Now that we’ve turned the corner into March, I’m ready for more mild weather. I know that long winters can contribute to more gratitude for the spring. But more and more it feels like we have two seasons here in Pittsburgh: cold mess and hot mess.

While we wait, here’s what happened last week at Next Gen House.

Last Week in Running

brooks ghost 725 on the schedule this week, including the 10-mile Spring Thaw race on Saturday. That’s the lowest mileage I will run until the week of the race, since my training amps up for these last 8 weeks. Tuesday I had a really great outdoor fartlek run – and I was really glad my schedule allowed me to get out to the group workout with Elite. I am really craving running outside more and I’m thinking I need to make more of an effort to run outside my office directly after work while there is still daylight, instead of waiting until I get home. I think I might try to do that for my Wednesday run this week.

I will probably recap the race itself this week, but I ended up treating it like a long run instead of a race, which is something I only decided moments before we started. I got to meet Jennifer from Running on Lentils and we ran together! (Also, she is a lovely person and you should be reading her blog. She’s one of the official Pittsburgh Marathon bloggers this year!)

I also got new shoes this week (the Brooks Ghost 7 – pictured at left!) and took them for a spin on the treadmill on Sunday. They don’t feel quite right yet, but I need to put my insoles in and give them a go outside before I make any judgments. I have to remember that brand new shoes don’t feel quite the same as ones with 350 miles on them!

Don’t forget that I’m still raising money for the Food Bank. You can donate by using the widget in the right sidebar on the blog or visit my fundraising page directly. Every dollar counts – and multiplies by 5 with the Food Bank’s resources. A $25 donation means $125 worth of food to hungry families in our community!

Last Week in Eating

We made several good meals this week, including a great slow cooker goulash, but the highlight of the week (and probably the month of February if I’m honest) was the Knockoff Chipotle Sofritas. Sofritas are Chipotle’s new vegan option – a marinated spicy tofu. I haven’t had it at Chipotle yet, but Mark did, and he really liked it. His co-worker mentioned this knockoff recipe was delicious, and actually tasted even better since the sauce is thicker and not as runny as Chipotle’s (since the tofu soaks in its sauce there like the other meat options do). I even got to use some of my frozen roasted poblano peppers from our garden.

It. Was. So. Good. I could have eaten it every day that week and was sad that I only made enough for four servings. (I used two packages of tofu and doubled the sauce in the recipe and it was perfect.) We ate it over homemade lime cilantro rice and black beans. Mark made his homemade guacamole and we were in heaven.

Don’t be afraid of cooking tofu, either. I had a meltdown about halfway through because I felt like I wasn’t frying it correctly. (It’s lightly fried, not deep fried.) But it turned out perfectly and I had nothing to be scared of. Just be fearless, like Julia Child says. Have the courage of your convictions.

collage sofritas

Last Week in Reading

I finished the third book in the Silo trilogy, Dust, as well as Bad Feminist on audio. Really liked both, but they were both heavy in subject matter, so I’m catching up on a bunch of comics this week in both trades and single issues. I also started Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick on Scribd, which imagines an alternate future where Germany and Japan won WWII and occupied the U.S. So I guess I didn’t get that far away from heavy subject matter. But I found that book after watching the Amazon original pilot that is based off of the novel. The book is fine so far, but the narrator is not so great, so I’m not sure I’d recommend it on audio. It’s crazy how narrators can make or break an audiobook for me. I guess I’m just picky!

Last Week in Homesteading

I am giving kombucha one last winter try, after many unsuccessful attempts. (I’m just not willing to keep my house at 70 degrees in the winter to sustain a SCOBY. No way.) I now have it in the warmest room of the house with all heating vents in the room open, and I tried the suggestion of wrapping Christmas lights around the jar. Which seems to be keeping it at a nice temperature. (Only after I first put LED lights around it because I am an idiot. LED lights don’t get warm.)

kombucha lights

I also had to use a thin gaiter that Mark had to cover the top until I can get cheesecloth (which we both thought was in the house, but we can’t find it anywhere). It seems to be working so far! Fingers crossed that I get some SCOBY and no blue fuzz!

apples resize

what clean eating means for me

People talk to me a lot about wanting to eat clean, but not really knowing where to start. Or they equate clean eating with the kind of diet that food marketers would have you believe qualifies as healthy and then wonder why they don’t see any of the benefits that clean eating supposedly provides.

This is what I talk about when I talk about clean eating for me.

Lots of water

I’ve been using an app for awhile that keeps track of water consumption, and it’s really helped me with its reminders to hydrate during the day. Hydration has all sorts of benefits, but one of the big ones for me is helping to curb random attacks of the munchies, since often when you think you’re hungry, you’re really thirsty. So I’m less tempted to grab candy from the candy dish at work or eat a random donut in the break room. When I get restless, I drink some more water. It also helps with digestion, and when you’re someone like me with GI problems a plenty, the importance of this can’t be overstated.

It’s worth noting that when I say water, I mean water. I do drink some coffee every day, but don’t fill up your tank with a ton of what I call “fake” water – the kind with stevia or artificial sweetners in it. If you absolutely can’t drink water without it having a fruity taste, try La Croix, which doesn’t have artificial sweetners or sodium. I like La Croix when I feel like having something carbonated and fruity. We also use a Soda Stream to carbonate regular water, when you crave the burn of a soda.

Little to no extra sugar

Sugar really gives me heartburn, so when I stop getting heartburn from sugar, I know I’m eating too much. (Hello, December.) Now that I’m avoiding most sweets, when I do have something, I really feel it, especially when running. So for me, eating clean means staying away from refined sugar. I eat at least two portions of fruit every day, so I am okay with naturally occurring sugars, but I try to keep the other junk at a minimum. I don’t eschew white bread or pasta, which I know is supposed to be terrible for me, but I don’t eat enough of it for it to cause me grief.

Lots and lots of vegetables and fruit

Eating clean for me is impossible without eating tons of vegetables and fruit. There are no fruits that I won’t consume, and I love most vegetables with the exception of beets. I eat more of them in the summer when they are more readily available, but this is a key part of clean eating at any time – and probably the one that’s the most intuitive and easy to understand. Cook them, eat them raw, snack on them, do whatever you need to do to eat that produce.

Limited alcohol

I love craft beer and red wine, and there is no existence I can imagine in which I wouldn’t ever drink them. But when I’m eating clean, I limit the alcohol. Too many empty calories and it causes me to retain water. Plus, I don’t sleep well if I’ve had more than two drinks.

No processed foods

I am not fanatical about this, but I do feel really strongly that highly processed foods are not something that your body wants. I stay away from hyper processed foods all together, and will eat minimally processed things that I don’t have the time to make myself. For instance, I buy taco shells and tortillas at the store, rather than grind the corn myself at home, because ain’t nobody got time for that. I just try to stay away from processed foods with a lot of additives or unknown ingredients. My body has enough problems regulating its own chemicals that I don’t need to introduce unnecessary foreign ones into the mix.

One other part of this processed food thing is to not fall into the trap of products that are marketed to you as healthy. For instance, fat free Cheez-its are not healthy. All of those cereal bars with all the added fiber? You can get just as much fiber from an apple and a lot less sugar. Foods shouldn’t have to market their healthfulness to you – it should be pretty apparent by the nutrition label and your own common sense. I used to live a life where I ate Lean Cuisine entrees and 100 calorie snack packs all day. Sure, I lost weight pretty fast. But I was so unhealthy and I wasn’t giving my body or my taste buds what they needed. Don’t look at the terms that are called out on the boxes to give you the truth – the companies that make and market these products are not your friends, giving you loving guidance and support. They are businesses, looking for your money.

No fast food

I haven’t eaten traditional fast food in more than 3 years, and now it’s only when we’re traveling on the turnpike and I’m super cranky that I really want to eat fries at McDonald’s. Otherwise, it’s not even a temptation anymore. I’m not above eating at restaurants, though when I do, I try to eat at places where the food is made there fresh, instead of reheated from frozen (I’m looking at you, Applebees, blech). And I try to eat vegetarian unless the restaurant specifies where its meat came from – both because of my predilection to eat humanely raised meat and also because CAFO produced meat has hormones and antibiotics that I have no desire to consume, either. Plus, there are so many local restaurants doing it right in Pittsburgh that I’ve never had a problem finding some place to eat if need be.

Cook a lot

It’s not surprising that the bedrock of eating clean is cooking. (That is, unless you can eat at the Whole Foods salad bar every meal or fancy eating all of your food raw.) My diet is at its healthiest when I make a commitment to cooking most days of the week (when I say I, I really mean we, since Mark does at least 50% of the cooking if not more). We make foods that we actually like to eat, and temper recipes we know and love with new ones so we don’t get bored. And we really just love cooking. But you don’t have to love cooking to make simple, clean meals. It’s really okay if you look at cooking as a chore in the same way I look at cleaning the bathroom as one. But it’s still something that has to get done to live a healthy, productive adult life. So we do it.

Cut yourself a break

Perfection is the enemy of good. Don’t overhaul everything in your diet all at once, because you’ll not be likely to stick with it. Eliminate some stuff you know is a problem slowly, and add in the better options. No one ever died from eating an Oreo cookie once in awhile, and I do believe that you can eat some things that don’t qualify as clean and it doesn’t make you evil or weak. Just consider them actual treats – things that you don’t regularly consume. And you’ll likely find that some of them aren’t as appealing over time as they used to be.

Also along the lines of cutting yourself a break is not allowing yourself to fall into the trap of fad diets. You can find a million recipes, cookbooks and recommendations for different types of diets – grain free or dairy free or gluten free or fat free, Paleo or Atkins. If you have an allergy, sensitivity or special medical condition that requires a particular type of diet, do it. If you have moral reasons that lead you to a vegetarian or vegan diet, do it. But don’t take one person’s experience or one isolated study as proof of “health,” I am not an unhealthy individual because I choose to eat pasta (the grain! the gluten! the carbs! oh my!). Use your brain and listen to your body and you won’t go wrong.

sexist mac and cheese

last week at next gen house

Coming off of another weekend of travel and family stuff, and my brain hasn’t caught up with the mental and physical fatigue. Here’s hoping I catch up this week!

Last Week in Running

26 miles on the schedule this week, and I’ll be honest. It was hard. Too much treadmill, for one thing. I had to split up my long run miles because of traveling, since I can’t (won’t) do 10 miles on a treadmill. So it was a lot of 5 mile treadmill runs. And at the end of the week while we were traveling, I developed a lower body rash aggravated by heat and sweating. Joy. But I did all of the runs and got the miles in. Even if I had to bribe myself with pizza.

treadmill pizza

I’m getting to that point in training where I’m desperate for the weather to lift a little and to get to daylight savings so we have a little more light in the evenings. I just don’t have a safe place to run outside in the dark with the exception of Tuesday group runs, which I hope to get to this week. Next Saturday is the Spring Thaw race at North Park – I’ll be doing the 10 mile option. I know I should treat it like a long run and go at long run pace, but I’m tempted to race it. I’ll have to do some thinking on that one.

Last Week in Eating

Besides the delicious homemade pizza that Mark made on Friday night that was a great reward for a long interval workout, we also had a pretty good week for regular dinners. Nothing super special, but good standards – penne alla vodka (one of our favorite vegetarian pastas, made with our own canned tomatoes), venison meatloaf and roasted vegetables, haluski, Salad Monday and Taco Tuesday. In the last two weeks or so, my 2015 resolution to eat clean has really kicked in. I’m off sugar as much as possible (considering it was giving me some WICKED heartburn, especially on the treadmill) and feeling good.

I’m especially dedicated to this right now since I’m seeing a few signs that my thyroid is acting up again and I might need a med adjustment – fatigue, in particular. Knowing that it could be due to the combination of run training and a lot of job stress right now, I’m making sure to eat clean and also to do the daily relaxation exercises. Eating clean has so many healthy effects for me – and I know that my mood is improved when I’m dedicated. So this week will have more clean meals – including two new recipes to change it up a little.

Last Week in Reading

I’m still listening to Bad Feminist on audio through my free trial of Scribd (which I really like and think is a great deal for the monthly fee of $8.99). It’s an interesting book of essays – some are too tied to a critique of another piece of writing or film that I haven’t seen for me to get really into them. But some of them are just spot on.

I finished the second book in the Silo series by Hugh Howey – Shift – on my Kindle. On to the third and final – Dust – and then I’ll probably switch back to some comics and my large nightstand pile. Reading on the Kindle has gone a lot better than I expected, though it probably helps that I’ve been reading books that are so good that I fly through them without even noticing the format.

Last Week in Homesteading

I got more kombucha to start a SCOBY again – for my final try at kombucha in the winter. Going to use a tip that Deanna mentioned in the comments – to wrap Christmas lights around the jar for a bit of extra warmth. We’ll see how it goes.

Tangentially related to homesteading, I learned while grocery shopping that Manchester Farms, the local dairy that produced the non-homogenized milk that we love, has stopped dairy production. This makes me so unbelievably sad – particularly because this farm was a great example of how dairy can be done right – with super happy, healthy cows and no hormones, etc. Not sure why they closed, but I don’t know if people really appreciated the quality of this milk and why it stands out from any other dairy offering in the case. I’ll probably write a post about this, since I need to explore milk options now.

Last Week in Randomness

While traveling and getting gas, I noticed this sign outside of Sheetz.

sexist mac and cheese

I angry tweeted Sheetz, wanting to know what about me being a lady means that this large “man platter” of mac and cheese isn’t for me?  (Whether or not I would eat mac and cheese from Sheetz is besides the point.) I find this kind of gender marketing obnoxious in about 10 ways. I could eat my husband under the table in mac and cheese and it has nothing to do with my gender. Plus, probably no one of any gender needs the portion size of the man platter of mac and cheese, since it’s probably twice the daily recommended caloric intake. I want to go in the store and ask them if I’m using the right gas pump for the ladies. Perhaps there’s a pink one that doesn’t require you to squeeze as hard?


movie review: fed up

fed up resizeFed Up came out in May of this year, and at the time, I kept meaning to see it in theaters, but I missed it. It came out on video in September (I still say video, like I could go rent a VHS at Hollywood Video or something), and I have been on the waiting list for it at the library for weeks. Finally, I was able to watch it this weekend with my mom.

Going into it, my expectation was that it would be well done, but that I wouldn’t hear much that was new to me. I was pleasantly surprised – not just at what I learned, but also the fact that I’ve been mulling it over since I saw it several days ago.

The basic premise is that what we’ve been taught for decades about the keys to a healthy lifestyle – eat less and move more – isn’t exactly right. And that the obesity epidemic is less “our fault” than we think it is. The film details the history of this epidemic and what factors have led to it, and how science no longer backs up the “all calories are created equal” mantra that Big Food likes to spew when the safety of their products is questioned.

Type 2 diabetes cases are skyrocketing, particularly in children and adolescents, to the point where Type 2 is no longer called “adult onset diabetes.” We spend the GDP of a small nation on weight loss drugs and gym memberships, and every container of food in the supermarket has some health claim on it. Yet if America had a blood work panel done, it would show that by and large, as a nation we are pretty sick.

Setting aside the idea of the “obesity epidemic” for a moment, let’s talk about what got us to this place.

The filmmakers (as well as the World Health Organization and other esteemed health science groups) believe the primary culprit is sugar. When your body digests sugar, it needs fiber to slow down the absorption of the food. When something is high in sugar, but lacking in fiber, the body digests it quickly, overloading the liver and creating both fat and insulin. And that fast sugar digestion is what creates “sugar highs” and the related “crashes” once your body comes down off of the sugar. (They often liken sugar consumption to heroin or cocaine consumption, because it lights up the same parts of your brain.) It’s because of the way your body processes sugars that not all calories are created equal. 160 calories of almonds has a different effect on the body than 160 calories of soda.

Beginning in the 1980s, America became obsessed with eliminating fat from our diets, and “low fat” became synonymous with health. But when an essential part of the processed foods trifecta (sugar, salt and fat) is removed, the others have to go up to make the food palatable. So those low fat products that we all were convinced by the food industry were healthy? FULL of added sugars. The American Heart Association recommends that adults only consume 6-9 grams of added sugar per day. Every teaspoon is 4 grams, so you really should be consuming only about 2 teaspoons per day of added sugar. The average American daily intake? 41 grams. And that’s AVERAGE.

Sugar comes in many forms on nutrition labels – and it’s not just high fructose corn syrup that is the problem. The backlash against HFCS has actually become a good thing for the food industry – they take it out of their food, add back in a ton of sugar, and then sell it as a health food because it doesn’t contain HFCS. Now I’m no fan of HFCS, but your body reacts the same way to that as a million other sugars, even natural sugars. But the difference between naturally occurring sugar in fruit and sugar in a soda is that the fruit has the digestive benefit of natural fiber. Most people don’t get a sugar rush from eating apples, and they get full on apples before they could eat enough to produce that effect. Getting a sugar rush from something like soda also means that your pancreas produces insulin to deal with it, which blocks the receptors that tell your brain you are full. Which is why you can often mindlessly eat junk food way past the point of excess without ever thinking you are full.

All of the metabolic diseases that Americans are sick with – diabetes, heart disease, cancer, strokes – have links to excess sugar consumption. And the average American has no idea how much they are consuming, because sugar doesn’t just appear in things like cookies and soda that we know are “sweet.” Virtually every processed food has added sugars – even ones that we would traditionally associate with health, like yogurt.

The film also touches a lot on the impact of this sugar intake on children, and how it’s particularly harmful to them because it sets them up for a lifetime of trouble. And we don’t do them any favors by marketing the food specifically to them (which the industry actually claims they don’t do). Yet somehow, 50% of schools in the U.S. serve fast food directly from restaurants. There are actually Pizza Huts in schools.

Speaking of industry, when the World Health Organization released a report that sugar was the primary culprit for the “obesity epidemic” and recommended that no more than 10% of daily calories come from sugar, the U.S. Health and Human Services lobbied the WHO to take that information out of the report, and threatened to withhold the U.S. contribution to the WHO. The WHO caved, took it out of the report, and the U.S. extorted the WHO out of making a recommendation in the interest of public health. Government for the people, indeed.

Fed Up has much more information on all of these areas I’ve touched on, and the cinematography is really engaging and well done. Many different types of experts are interviewed, and virtually every possible industry company was asked to participate and declined. I’d definitely recommend that people give it 90 minutes of their time – particularly if you struggle with sugar (or if you have kids that eat a lot of processed foods).


I had one significant issue with this documentary, and that’s the constant focus on weight as an indicator of health. The documentary frames itself around the “obesity epidemic,” but I keep referring to it in quotes because I think it’s a misnomer. We don’t have an epidemic of obesity – we have an epidemic of metabolic disease. The film itself points out the staggering statistic that 40% of people who are in the normal BMI category actually have the exact same underlying metabolic conditions as people who are overweight or obese. It isn’t what you weigh. It’s what you EAT. You can be fat and healthy. (I know this because my scale and bloodwork say I am both overweight and super-humanely healthy.)

So then why are all the kids interviewed in the film severely overweight? Why not interview a “skinny fat” person – a kid who lives on nothing but sugar and is on their way to diabetes, but they’re skinny? Because it’s a lot easier to stigmatize and shame fat people than it is to convince the public that skinny people are just as unhealthy. One poor 12 year old girl who was interviewed just kept crying. They used her shame to make a point. Why not interview a 12 year old girl who has significant behavioral issues that result from being hyped on sugar constantly? Because we don’t really care how healthy our kids are as long as they are not fat. No individual parent would say that, but collectively, it’s true. So while the film seeks to tell people that fat people aren’t responsible for their own “condition” because they have no idea what their diet products are doing to their bodies, I feel like it’s a hollow message, since it’s directed at only a portion of the people who need to hear it – the ones we don’t like to see because their bodies bother our sensibilities.

As a nation, we want the government to protect our public health. Look at the outcry over Ebola and the CDC handling of it. But diabetes is going to kill many more people, including children, than Ebola ever will in the United States. But we don’t mind that our government panders to industry and its wealth instead of keeping us safe. If kids went to school and drank water that was contaminated, there would be a public outcry. But they go and eat Pizza Hut – being told by industry that it’s a vegetable – and we do nothing.

So am I fed up? Yes. Have been for a long time. And I’m inclined to write another letter to legislators the next time health standards are up for debate.

See the documentary no matter what you weigh and you will learn something. But especially consider it if you are a “normal” weight and think you’re immune to health problems from your diet. Because you aren’t. None of us are.


the real threat of antibiotic resistance

It’s been awhile since I wrote about the kinds of food issues that get me hot under the collar, for lack of a better phrase. My time for reading up on current issues is severely limited in the summer, for a lot of reasons, but primarily the amount of time spent dealing with vegetables and also running like it’s a part time job in marathon training.

But at the end of July, the federal Second Circuit Court of Appeals
overturned two rulings in cases which had directed the FDA to stop the routine use of certain antibiotics in healthy animals unless drug manufacturers proved the safety of such use. (Source, Majority Opinion, Dissenting Opinion)  

This means that even though the FDA admits that the use of antibiotics in healthy animals to promote growth and weight gain contributes to antibiotic resistance in humans, they can’t do anything to stop producers and commercial livestock companies from using subtherapeutic drugs for healthy animals. They issue voluntary guidelines, which are about as effective as me calling Cargill’s customer service department and asking them to stop using antibiotics in healthy animals.

Here’s the facts.  

  • 2 million people in the U.S. alone are infected by antibiotic resistant bacteria each year
  • 23,000 people in the U.S. DIE from these infections each year, in addition to the many who die from illnesses complicated by antibiotic resistant infections
  • Leading health organizations from across the nation and the worldleading organizations and not just wacky health food hippies – have spoken out against the use of antibiotics in livestock. To name a few – the World Health Organization (WHO), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Medical Association, American Society for Microbiology, American Academy of Pediatrics. 
    • The Director General of the WHO: “Things as common as strep throat or a child’s scratched knee could once again kill. A post-antibiotic era means, in effect, an end to modern medicine as we know it. The problem arises when drugs used for food production are medically important for human health, as evidence shows that pathogens that have developed resistance to drugs in animals can be transmitted to humans.”

This isn’t fringe science. There’s no real debate in the scientific community that this is a major public health problem. We are running out of antibiotics that are effective in treating many serious infections, and it will change the face of modern medicine if we can no longer stop common infections.   

But our own government organizations – the ones that are tasked with protecting the health of Americans – won’t stand up to industry and force them to reduce and eventually eliminate their reliance on subtherapeutic antibiotics. None of us want to revisit the world of our ancestors, where a scratch could easily kill you.

So what do you do? Beyond making public comments when they are open and supporting legislation that would push for stricter regulations?

Stop eating meat that comes from animals raised with antibiotics. 

I realize that I’m blessed to be able to buy meat from local farmers who do not use subtherapeutic antibiotics in their feed. But I can tell you right now that if tomorrow, my sources were no longer there, I’d give up meat altogether.

More and more suppliers are producing meat that’s antibiotic free, and prices are coming down as demand begins to grow. If you do one thing to change your diet to support health as well as a better food supply – do this. Save antibiotics for when you have a real infection – and not just when you’re having dinner.    


Real Life CSA: week 6

In this week’s share, we have the appearance of one of my favorite obscure vegetables, plus the return of one of my favorite items of all time (that I almost ate in the car on the way home).

We always eat up potatoes as a side dish at some point in the week. Last week, I roasted them with oregano, thyme, paprika, garlic powder and salt and they were quite delicious. The romaine lettuce will go in salads, and most likely so will the green onions. It’s hard to tell since I didn’t remove the bags on the items this week, but these green onions are really vibrant and long. I might make some spicy kale chips this week too – it’s been awhile since I made them.

I have a slight addiction to this honey puffed corn from Clarion River. It typically doesn’t last long in the house, so it’s likely gone by the time you’re reading this. 

Fiddleheads are fern tips – a delicious treat that you don’t find everywhere. I’ve had them at restaurants a few time, but have never cooked them myself. Another benefit to sourcing produce from a CSA? They tell you when there are particular things you should know about a vegetable – like the fact that fiddleheads need to be fully cooked so as to avoid stomach distress. I recall seeing fiddleheads a few times in the grocery store for sale, and nowhere did they mention this fact in the display. 

We’re soaking up the rhubarb while it lasts. Mark took last week’s batch and made homemade frozen yogurt with it. Not sure what we’ll do this week, but perhaps my dream of a tart will come true.

I also have to mention that after last week’s debacle with ruining the ramps, I was able to redeem myself with my second batch. At the suggestion of an Instagram follower (yes, Instagram is good for more than just showing photos of your cats or your plate), I found a recipe for ramp pesto. And it was amazing. (I used this recipe from Food 52.)

First, you clean the ramps. The recipe suggests you can blanch the leaves, but I didn’t bother.

I toasted the walnuts on the stove, and combined them in the food processor with the ramps.

Add a good deal of Parmigiano-Reggiano to the mix.

Blend the living crap out of it in the food processor, adding olive oil slowly through the feed tube. And then you get this loveliness, which we spread on top of garlic bread and ate as a side to our vegetarian bolognese pasta dinner.

I usually eat pestos pretty sparingly because I’m not a huge fan of basil – I only like it in moderation. But I think I need to be open to more pestos, because this was fantastic. And I could breathe a sigh of relief because I didn’t ruin our last ramps. Hooray!

What are you enjoying from your CSA this week?

fat freak out: why fat isn’t always bad and fat free usually is

One of the interesting parts of the rationale for the proposed nutrition labels is that “calories from fat” will be eliminated as a category, since the type of fat is more important than the amount. This is actually a huge departure from the mentality that our country has had for years – that fat is bad. We’ve been fat-phobic for generations, with a myriad of “fat free” and “low-fat” labels slapped on every food product for miles.

So why have we not been any healthier as a population as a result? That’s obviously a larger question than I can answer here, but there are several reasons why “fat free” and “low-fat” options are not always the way to go.

First, taste. I mean, have you ever tried to eat fat free “cheese”? I can’t even write cheese without the quotes there because it’s obviously some laboratory science experiment when cheese doesn’t melt and tastes like silly putty. Blech.

More important, though, is nutrition and health. When items need a label to tell you their healthy qualities, they usually aren’t that healthy. This is why they don’t put a “fat free” label on apples. You typically see the label on dairy products and packaged foods of one kind or another. Products that need to be “health washed,” like fat free cookies or chips are ones you should stay away from in general, so there’s no point in eating the fat free variety. A fat free Cheez-It is still a Cheez-It. There is also research that shows that a hormone produced by fat cells can help send satiety signals to your brain. So when you binge on a whole bag of fat free cookies and justify it by saying “they were fat free!” that could be part of the problem.

Your body needs fat to function. It helps to absorb vitamins – fat soluble A,D,E and K, specifically. It contains things like omega-3s and omega-6s, essential fatty acids that help with brain function and mood (and which you can only get from food). Low-fat or fat free diets also lower your HDL (referred to as “good cholesterol”), which your body needs to be high to help fight heart disease. 

There’s a gentle balance to a healthy diet between carbs, fat and protein. Usually if you drastically reduce one, you jack up another. (Hence the crazy popular diets like Atkins or South Beach.) Most fat-free snacks are insanely high in carbs, which have their share of issues as well. Sometimes when you cut out fat in dairy and meat, you are also reducing your protein, especially if you don’t make up for it in other sources.

As a side note, I find it interesting that people freak out when I say I drink whole milk. But that’s so fattening!, they say. They then go on to tell me they drink 2% milk. Well, whole milk is 3% fat. Not 100% fat. And more studies are showing a correlation between whole dairy products and reduction of body fat. Not that you should go nuts with the whole fat dairy. Or some red meats, which can be high in saturated fat.

Choosing good fats, like poly and mono unsaturated fats and limiting saturated fats (and not eating any trans fats, which you usually find in processed foods) is the key. I use real butter, not margarine. (Really the only thing margarine is good for is a lubricant to help you remove a tight ring from your finger or grease up the bottom of a sled.) I just don’t use it all the time. You don’t get high cholesterol by eating a tablespoon of butter or having a serving of whole milk or three ounces of steak. The key, like many things in life, is balance and moderation.


nutrition labels get a makeover

Recently, the FDA announced proposed changes to the nutrition labels that appear on food packaging. It was announced as part of the Let’s Move campaign and billed as a public health initiative. These changes are the first since the labels were introduced in the 1990s.


I’ve always thought the most ineffective/deceptive part of the nutrition facts label was the number of servings, and by the same token, the calorie count. Did you know in a pint of Ben & Jerry’s there are 4 servings? I mean, who measures out a half cup of ice cream? Not many people. And in a 20-ounce bottle of soda, 2 servings? Often the bags of chips you get at sandwich shops to accompany your meals are two servings. 

So the new labels aim to address this issue, among others – the primary goal being to allow consumers to more quickly choose what’s healthy. (Ironically, the nutrition facts label is a separate thing from ingredient lists, which the FDA also regulates. For someone to truly quickly choose what’s healthy, they need to know a little something about the ingredients too, but that’s a separate issue.)

The proposed new labels will do a few things, but the first big change is the layout. Calories are much more prominent, as are the servings per container. Companies will be required to make serving sizes more realistic instead of artificially making them smaller so that calories per serving appear smaller. Ice cream servings will be one cup, and 20-ounce sodas will be one serving. If a package is truly two servings but is assumed that it could be eaten in one serving (possibly like snack bags), it will require a dual label. Basically the labels will reflect what someone does eat instead of what he/she should eat. Maintaining a better diet helps one prevent gallbladder disease and other ailments.

The proposed labels will also require a new line under the carb category that says “Added Sugars.” This is really important, since we know for sure that Americans, and children in particular, consume way too much added sugar. (Watch Jamie Oliver’s TEDTalk where he shows you with an actual mound of sugar what kids consume in a year. Crazy.)

Potassium and Vitamin D will also be added, as public health officials find both to be deficient in the typical American diet. Potassium contributes to lowered blood pressure and Vitamin D contributes to bone health. Vitamins A and C will be voluntary listings.

Calories from fat will be removed, since science has shown that the type of fat is more important than the amount

A 90-day comment period will be held, and if no changes are made, it will take a few years to implement the changes. Industry will push back and want to make revisions – that’s almost inevitable.

But regardless of what happens, the general consumer needs to be more educated about what these items even mean, and how to combine that knowledge with facts about the ingredient list to determine what is a “healthy” product. Honestly, the more you have to do math and detective work to figure out if something is healthy, the less likely that it is. The proposed new label will not fix all of America’s dietary problems, but it’s a great start!

yoga mat sandwiches: real threat or hype?

You might have heard the phrase “yoga mat sandwich” tossed around lately. After a prominent food blogger/activist started a petition to get Subway to remove a chemical called azodicarbonamide from its breads, the issue went viral.

Azodicarbonamide is a chemical foaming agent, used in yoga mats and other plastic items to make the item spongy, light and strong. And apparently, bread at Subway. It supposedly “makes bread rise higher, stay soft and form an attractive crust.”

But it’s not just Subway making “yoga mat sandwiches” – according to a follow up study by the Environmental Working Group, azodicarbonamide actually appears in at least 500 processed food products made by a large number of companies. The World Health Organization has found that there are health risks to workers who are exposed to azodicarbonamide, but no one has done studies on its health effects in humans who ingest it.

So here’s the problem. It’s fine for these bloggers and activists to try to get the word out about what’s in our food. I agree with that wholeheartedly, and to some degree, talk about that in this space. But ok, Subway is now removing that chemical from its bread. But what will they put in its place? Bread that’s just made up of flour, yeast, salt and water? Doubtful. 

It’s not an effective overall strategy to get one company at a time to remove one ingredient at a time from one product at a time. What we need are comprehensive regulations and overhauls of the food industry in general, so that the FDA does not approve additives for food use in the first place with no scientific evidence as to whether or not they can threaten human health. We need a policy that considers chemicals to be dangerous for food until proven safe, with effective, third-party science.

So go ahead and stay away from processed foods with “yoga mats” in them – but don’t believe that the removal of that one chemical from a food makes it healthy and/or clean. Processed foods are processed foods. Don’t buy into the hype that industrial food companies are prioritizing public health by removing singular additives – even in the face of increased public awareness, they are still prioritizing profit.

Grocery Cart Compare: Whole Foods v. Giant Eagle, week 2

Week 2 of my data gathering experiment was similar to last week, again with a few pleasant surprises. (For some background on this project, check out week 1 here.)

This week was also a bit odd for us with the contents, since we were having people over Saturday night and thus bought some extra things that we wouldn’t usually have around the house. 

Item Whole Foods Giant Eagle
Manchester Farms whole milk 3.99 4.70
Fresh onion dip 2.99* 1.50 *Made fresh in-house/no preservatives
Organic Beef Broth 3.69 2.99
Jambon (deli) 11.99/lb* 11.99/lb *No hormones or antibiotics
Roasted turkey breast (deli) 12.99/lb* 10.49/lb *No hormones or antibiotics
Catfish filets 7.99/lb N/A
Nature’s Rancher bacon 5.99 4.99
Organic carrots (2 lb bag) 1.79 2.58
Organic green leaf lettuce 2.69 3.49
Organic romaine lettuce 2.69 3.49
Conventional cucumber 0.89 1.49
Organic diced tomatoes 1.49 1.69
Organic tomato sauce (8 oz jar) 0.99 2/3.00* *Muir Glen on sale, 15 oz jar
Organic tartar sauce 2.99 N/A* *Conventional only, 2.19
Conventional butternut squash 1.29/lb 1.79/lb
Organic fresh sage (1/4 oz) 1.29 2.99* *2/3 oz, price per oz cheaper
Organic baby spinach 1.99 N/A* *Conventional only, 2/$6
Yogurt pretzels (bulk) 5.99/lb 6.99/lb
Organic paprika (bulk) 12.99/lb N/A* *Conventional only, bulk 15.96/lb
Organic barley (bulk) 1.49/lb 1.79/lb
Trail mix (bulk) 5.99/lb 5.99/lb
Organic garlic 5.99/lb 9.96/lb
Organic yellow onions 1.19/lb 3.99* *3 lb bag
Conventional lemons 0.79 0.79
Conventional blood oranges 5/$4 5/$4
Organic tortilla chips (12 oz bag) 3.99 2.99* *8 oz bag
Cape Cod kettle chips 3.19 3.79
Bakery sourdough 4.49 4.99* *small loaves 3.99, large loaf 5.99 – avg
Conventional cherry tomatoes (US greenhouse) 4.49 3.99* *Mexican, artificially ripened

I was happily surprised to see Giant Eagle beat Whole Foods when it came to bacon and that Giant Eagle carries a brand that is hormone and antibiotic free. Also Giant Eagle was having a good sale on Muir Glen organic tomatoes, which beat out Whole Foods’ generic ones. The fresh herbs were also cheaper at Giant Eagle, which was strange since the produce is generally entirely cheaper at Whole Foods (which the produce person at Giant Eagle told me flat out). 

The milk is from a local farm that supplies stores regionally, and I was surprised to see such a price difference – likely because of volume. 

Probably the biggest impact this comparison had this week is to remind me that we have a pork belly to cure to make our own bacon, and we have soup bones in the freezer from which to make beef broth. I need to plan better to be able to make some of these things at home, which makes them even more affordable than either store can carry them. At least we’ll be making a stewing chicken this week, and can make stock from the bones. (Look for a how-to post about making your own chicken stock using the crock pot, coming up soon!)


Congrats to Donna C, who wins the copy of Omnivore’s Dilemma and Food, Inc. from the Next Gen House anniversary giveaway. Thanks to the few and the proud who entered!