My smoothie coordinates with my sweater and scarf today. Yes, I am a big dork.
The lovely red color comes from beets. The smoothie also contains frozen bananas, frozen blueberries, and tahini (for protein and calcium).
Thank you to Linda for the beet suggestion on the Food For Thought Radio Show. I love beets, and they’re one of the World’s Healthiest Foods. They contain powerful nutrient compounds that help protect against heart disease, birth defects and certain cancers, especially colon cancer.
Beets are unique in their rich combination of betalain pigments. Both betacyanins (red-violet pigments) and betaxanthins (yellow pigments) can be found in beets. Betanin and vulgaxanthin are betalains that have gotten special attention in beet research.
Beets are also an excellent source of hearth-healthy folate and a very good source of the antioxidant manganese and heart-healthy potassium. Beets are a good source of digestive-supportive dietary fiber, free radical scavenging vitamin C and copper, bone-healthy magnesium, and energy-producing iron and phosphorus.
I love tofu, but I haven’t always felt this way. I had to fail at tofu many times before I learned to prepare it in many tasty ways and appreciate its versatility.
Lance always liked tofu in miso soup, but I give credit to Scrambled Tofu for fully recruiting him to Team Tofu. Dave will eat it too, usually with seitan chorizo in a burrito. If you are skeptical about the taste, texture, or mere idea of tofu, try the scramble. The texture and taste are very similar to (and in my opinion, better than) scrambled eggs. If you don’t like it, we’ll help you eat it.
Tofu can be used in a lot of ways. It can take on a “meaty” when grilled or fried. As a nutritious, low-fat, and cholesterol-free source of complete plant-based protein, it can stand in for meat in sandwiches, stir fries, kebabs, soups, stews, casseroles, or just eaten on its own.
One of my favorite tofu preparations is to simply slice and grill extra-firm tofu on my Breville Panini Press. I marinate the slices on a cutting board with a simple mixture like tamari, sesame oil, and a few drops of liquid smoke. The oil isn’t necessary for my press because it’s nonstick, but if you’re grilling this outdoors, you will want to start with a very clean and well-oiled grill grate and use some oil in your marinade. It’s fun to skewer larger chunks of marinated tofu and grill them kebab-style.
I like to let Lance blend his own spices and use them on his food. He gets to know flavor and spice, and a sprinkle of “Lance’s Special Seasoning” works like magic to get him to eat all sorts of vegetables. Tofu is the perfect “blank canvas” to let him test new flavors. Getting your kids used to a wide range of flavors at an early age is likely to make them more adventurous eaters. They might even turn into better cooks – and be more likely to eat a larger variety of healthy foods throughout their lives.
You might end up with a kid like Lance who asks for the Frank’s Red Hot, sriracha, Cholula, and Tabasco. But I digress! Back to tofu. Wanna try some?
It can be intimidating to crack open that odd little watery plastic tub and pull out a wiggly block of… whatever it is. Tofu is simply coagulated soy milk that forms a curd – a bean curd.
If you’re new to tofu, it helps to have some bean curd background.
Tofu comes in two types: “regular” and silken. Regular tofu is just soy milk that’s coagulated (like cheese) to form curds, which are then pressed into blocks. It’s firm and slightly brittle, almost like cheese. This type of tofu is most suitable for slicing, crumbling, or cubing. This is the variety you want for frying, baking, grilling, skewering, stuffing, simmering, or scrambling. Regular tofu comes in varying degrees of firmness, from medium to super-firm. I have found that the extra-firm is the most versatile, but use what your recipe suggests.
“Silken” tofu is made with a different process, resulting in a smooth and more gelatinous texture. Silken tofu is more suited for dishes in which the tofu is pureed to a creamy consistency. I use silken tofu in recipes, and it’s a key ingredient salad dressings, sauces, and yummy vegan desserts like Maple Pecan Pie and Vegan Chocolate Mousse.
Silken tofu is usually packaged in aseptic cartons which do not require refrigeration, so it might be located in a different section of the store than regular tofu.
Tofu must be drained and (usually) pressed. If you’re using regular tofu (not silken) the first thing you want to do is pour off the water in which the block of tofu was stored. Then you need to press out some of the water that is still in the block. Pressing helps the tofu absorb more of your marinade and gives it a firmer texture when cooked.
A simple pressing technique is to slice the block into pieces about 1/2 inch thick (or however thickly you want it sliced to grill, fry, or bake). Place the slices on a clean white dishtowel (not terry cloth) or paper towels, and press the slices firmly but gently with another towel to blot out the excess water. I’ve found that my favorite kind of tofu from Common Ground Co-op (pictured above) doesn’t contain a lot of water, so I can get by pressing it in this manner.
You can also set the block of tofu on a cutting board, and slice it in half so you have two flat rectangles. Place a clean dishtowel (or several paper towels) on top of the tofu and top with another cutting board of flat plate. Weight the plate down with a few books or heavy cans, and place it in a sink or area where the water can drain off. You can press it for as long as you’d like, but it should usually be pressed for at least a half hour if you really want to remove a lot of water.
Regular tofu can also be frozen, right in its little pack of water. Freezing will change the texture of the tofu, making it more spongy and crumbly. I’ve made tofu taco filling with frozen tofu, and it looks just like ground beef taco filling.
When your tofu has been pressed, you’re ready to…
Marinate it! Tofu is very bland. If you’ve tried it straight out of the box and said, “I don’t like tofu” then you need to try it again and add some flavor. Tofu takes on the flavors of the marinade or sauce in which it’s cooked. I will eat it plain because I like the taste if it’s very fresh and extra firm, but I usually marinate and cook it.
There are a ton of tofu marinades out there, if you search for them on the web. (Here: five basic marinades to get you started.) You don’t need to look for a marinade that’s specific to tofu either, you can use your favorite marinade meant for meat. I’ve marinated tofu with steak sauce, and it tastes great grilled on a sandwich. The longer you leave your tofu in the marinade, the stronger the flavor will be. And if you have leftover marinade, you can always throw it in a hot pan and reduce it to a thick sauce to top your tofu.
Cook it correctly. My favorite ways to cook tofu are scrambling, grilling, dry-frying, and simmering.
Scrambling tofu is quick and easy. There are lots of recipes for it on the web and in cookbooks, but the scrambled tofu recipe I follow most often is from Savvy Vegetarian. I vary the vegetables I toss into my scrambles, but they always contain tofu, onion powder, garlic powder, black pepper, white pepper, turmeric (for yellow color and “mustardy” flavor), tamari or soy sauce, and nutritional yeast. Sometimes I don’t even measure ingredients, I just eyeball and season to taste.
Grilling tofu is easy on an indoor or outdoor grill. I like to add a little liquid smoke to indoor grilled tofu, but it’s not necessary for outdoor grilling. As stated above, keep your outdoor grill clean and oiled to avoid sticking, or use a nonstick grill basket. You could also use one of those baskets meant for grilling fish, so you could turn all your tofu slices at once. I haven’t tried this, but it seems like it would work.
For the texture and flavor of tofu used in Chinese restaurant dishes, dry-fry your extra-firm tofu, then add a marinade. Dry-frying removes a lot of the water from the tofu as it cooks, and it results in a crispy, chewy exterior. It will really soak up the flavor of a marinade. And it’s a great low-fat way to prepare tofu, which is already a relatively low-fat food.
I like to simmer cubes of super-firm tofu in Indian dishes to simulate the texture and flavor of paneer. We eat a lot of Indian food that we make at home, and tofu is a good way to add protein to our dishes. I cut the tofu into 3/4 – 1 inch cubes and add it near the end of cooking. Stir the pot gently to avoid breaking up the tofu cubes. I’ve also had success placing tofu cubes in to-go containers when dividing the leftovers out into lunches for the week. I just ladle warm sauce over the tofu cubes, and they marinate in the refrigerator and during reheating. By the time I eat the dish later in the week, they’re infused with flavor.
Tofu cubes are also a great addition to curries and soups. We love miso soup made with small cubes of tofu, and curries with tofu cubes cut about the same size as the veggies.
But is tofu good for you? I’ve heard that soy is bad, causes cancer, will “turn you gay”, etc. There is a lot of conflicting information circulating around about the healthfulness of soy, but many of the arguments against soy consumption are based on sketchy evidence, or from studies hand-picked to show a desired conclusion. Many articles warning about the alleged dangers of soy are put forth by individuals or organizations who have economic interests in promoting a meat-centric diet. It’s important to scrutinize the scientific methods and funding sources behind all nutritional recommendations, especially for or against specific foods. I’m talking about animal products too. There’s plenty of research out there! For me, the most consistent and strongest conclusions point to the health of a vegan diet.
(I am not a doctor, so it’s important to talk to your doctor if you have specific questions of adverse reactions to soy, because there are some medical conditions like goiter in which soy should be avoided.)
Thankfully, most reputable studies show that whole soy foods can be a healthy, beneficial part of a well-balanced diet. The key is to consume soy in its less-processed forms – such as tofu, tempeh, miso, edamame, and soy milk. Fermented and sprouted soy products like miso, tempeh, and sprouted tofu are living foods with active enzymes which make them easy to digest.
I try to avoid highly-processed soy protein isolates. They are present in a lot of highly-processed vegan meats and cheese substitutes. And because soybeans are among the most highly-genetically-engineered food products, I always buy organic soy foods.
Some of the most long-lived people in the world, the Okinawans, eat soy every day in the form of miso and tofu, and not processed soy products. It can’t be said enough: eat real, whole, unprocessed foods whenever possible. (For more information on Okinawans and other long-lived populations, read The Blue Zones by Dan Buettner.)
I hope you’ve learned something about tofu. It’s nutritious, versatile and easy to keep on hand in your refrigerator (regular-type) or pantry (silken). I hope you also learn to love tofu, if you don’t already. It will love you back.
The guidelines were developed under the premise that by removing servings of potatoes and so-called “starchy vegetables”, schools could serve more green vegetables and other “nutrient-dense foods”. But the reality is that, while we’re spending time banning and limiting whole, natural foods, we are still feeding kids plenty of processed, food-like substances like chicken nuggets, hot dogs, Pop-Tarts, and margarine. Do we really expect a side-dish crackdown directed at a natural food to make a dent in this epidemic?
If the USDA wants variety, shouldn’t the potato have a place? Potatoes are rich in nutrients like vitamin C. In fact, one potato contains more vitamin C than an entire head of iceberg lettuce. Shouldn’t we look at how often potatoes are served — and the ways in which they’re adulterated before they reach our plates? (See shaped and formed potato-like substance, right.) There are certainly other starchy carbohydrate sources such as sweet potatoes, quinoa, and wild or brown rice that supply energy, fiber, and nutrients, and are more nutritionally-rounded than the white potato. But do schools serve them? Can they afford them?
Perhaps is would be more productive for the USDA to classify the white potato as a starch, and specify that it be served alternately (not in addition to) other starches such as rice or bread. This would accomplish what they say is their goal: to make more room on our children’s plates for a variety of colorful vegetables and fruits. This is the right direction.
This singular starch ban fails to address a basic premise behind the problem of obesity: if you’re not looking at the diet as a whole, you’re missing the big picture. Japanese people, for example, consume large quantities of starchy white rice. Yet their rates of obesity are 3.2% versus the U.S. rate of 30.6% – we’re number one, and Japan is number 28. (Source: NationMaster.com.)
So let’s give the potato its place. I’ve prepared (and packed in lunches) many healthy, filling meals with a baked potato as a base – topping them with chili, salsa and black beans, broccoli, or fajita vegetables. I don’t eat them every day, and I don’t choose the most enormous potatoes in the store. I moderate my own variety, and I’m sure our schools can do the same.
Thanks to my friend Dana who loaned me her old hybrid bike, I was able to participate in the annual Bike to Work Day. I haven’t been on a bike in at least five years, but I LOVE IT! The round trip is about 13 miles, with some great paved trails and nice neighborhoods. If I didn’t have to climb a highway overpass right out of our subdivision, this would be pretty much perfect.
How can you not start your day right with these spectacular early-morning vistas?
The stream crossing was a little muddy in the picture above. One other crossing was underwater. Not wanting to get my borrowed “oxen” wet, I elected not to ford it.
What a great day! Even with a cold, missing GUs, forgetting my special playlist, nearly missing the start due to traffic and porta-potty lines, and 25 mph winds… I did it!
Official time: 2:34:44, an improvement of about 25 minutes over last year. Yay!
I started out slow, on a slight downhill. The spectators were great and I felt very relaxed. My conservative pace was rewarded, as I was far enough back to see the leader of the full marathon, Jose Muñoz, loop around back to Green Street behind the pace car. He looked amazing, and he won the race. Anywhere from mid-pack back is a big, fun, sweaty party.
You do the running, we’ll do the drinking!
Girl’s sign: “Don’t stop.” Guy’s sign: “That’s what she said.”
“It’s all downhill from here!”
6.5 miles to beer
A guy just ahead of me stole Elvis’ sunglasses near the local strip joint, then taunted him to come after him. Ha! (Yes, the course goes past a strip club, yay.) I was passed a lot in the first miles, but at least I could read the back of their shirts. It seemed like many of the people with super-tough stuff written on their shirts were walking later in the race, or being passed. I didn’t have a witty shirt, but I did have a good strategy.
However, despite planning, the unexpected happens. I still have trouble drinking from cups on the run, so I walked some of the later aid stations. I felt good even on “hills” around Stone Creek (with headwind!), but I was really looking forward to the GU at mile 6.5… and then I missed it! I think I was too busy waving at my parents on the other side of the road. (Note to self: bad parent placement.) I looked down to see… empty packets. Ugh! Thanks to passing some friends, I made it through the next mile, but then started feeling “wobbly” as I approached the sunny park trail section of the course. I was running out of fuel, and felt weird enough to contemplate picking up half-finished GU packets, jelly bean packets, etc. When my legs started feeling wobbly, I knew I needed something right away. Thankfully, a volunteer at the medical tent handed me a bottle of Gatorade, and it brought me back. The take-home lesson: always carry an extra GU or something else for energy!
From the park, I just kept going. I remembered how sunny, hot and humid it was last year, how difficult it felt, and how much I walked. I felt good, and wanted to enjoy the experience. I ran up “hills” to get through them quickly, played the “just run until insert point here” game, and ended up running it to the end. My faster miles were toward the end, which is how I usually run. I even kicked it up around the stadium in the last half mile and finished strong.
Feel it, fight it, finish it! I can’t wait for next year. Oh wait, I won’t have to, because I signed up for the Chicago Half Marathon on the day I turn 35. Take that, mid-thirties!
I can’t believe I won a GRAND PRIZE in the Brooks Running Haiku Contest – my choice of any pair of Brooks shoes! My poem was one of the top 5 out of more than 600 entries! Here it is:
soft flakes morning breaks footfalls grace the sea of white cold run warms the soul
I love winter running. I wanted to capture the feeling of heading out into fresh snow. I find the quietness comforting as the snow absorbs much of the resonant sound. I love the feeling of knowing that. despite what many would consider inclement weather, I was out. I got it done. The rest of my day is set.
I expect to receive this spiffy new pair of Adrenaline GTS 11s in shiny RED sometime soon.
I’m running in the GTS 10s right now, and they are definitely my favorite shoes. I did 8 miles in them on the first day without any problems.
In other running news, it’s go time again! We’re just a few days from the 2011 Illinois Marathon, where I will run my second half marathon. It’s actually my first time running this distance, since last year I walked part of it. The humidity was oppressive and temps were warmer than expected in 2010, and I had just had an egg-sized cyst surgically removed from my neck about 6 weeks before the race. Despite this, I had a lot of fun. Although I walked, I completed it.
This year, I’m looking forward to running the entire race. If the weather is favorable (as in NOT 90+% humidity like my last 3 runs!), I would like to finish under 2:20. That’s pushing it, but is is a race.
I had a really fantastic 11+ mile training run a week ago on the course, where I was able to remember how I felt along the way last year, and process how much better I feel this year leading up to the event. Let’s see what unfolds!
Today is my last day on the SNAP Challenge. I look at food a little differently. $5.00 for a coffee drink? Really? The 5 Dollar Footlong… that’s 2 meals, right? (What about breakfast?)
Breakfast today was on the run, with a little convenience food. I would not have eaten the relatively small breakfast pita at this price (nor would I have bought them unless they were 30% off) had I not had so much money left over for the week. It was not a good choice for the price… not filling at all. I also ate a slice of wheat bread with peanut butter. No fruit or vegetable.
muesli breakfast pita: .49
1 slice homemade wheat bread: .08
1 tbsp peanut butter: .09
Breakfast total: .66
Lunch was a near repeat of last night’s dinner, Spiced Cauliflower.
1/2 head cauliflower: 1.00
onion, garlic, spices: .17
1/2 tsp olive oil: .08
red pepper chutney: .32
wheat bread: .08
1/2 cup applesauce: .16
Lunch total: 1.81
I’m fortunate to have a microwave and refrigerator at work. If I didn’t have these resources, what would I bring? I think I would be more tempted by convenience foods. I can’t believe the amount of pre-portioned, over-packaged food in the store. I appreciate the time it saves for a busy family though, especially if you had to plan all these costs per serving like I’m doing, and using my own containers. But they’re still outrageously expensive, and the amount of waste is outrageous too. My son just started Kindergarten, and I recall the outlay for reusable lunchbox containers.
And what would happen if I forgot my lunch? I couldn’t run over to the cafe for a $4.75 hummus wrap like I normally would. Or order Jimmy John’s with the rest of the office.
Speaking of Jimmy John’s, that’s what the rest of my family had planned for dinner before we were to leave for a weekend road trip. Not for me. I carefully calculated the money I have left over for the week: $4.50 for today + $1.31 surplus for the week, subtract breakfast and lunch, and I guess I could go without the apple I brought for a snack… equals…
Not enough – $3.37 left. Short of the $4.45 I would need for the Vegetarian, hold the cheese and mayo to make it vegan. (Do you think a person on this budget would throw away the cheese?) It’s worth noting that a “Plain Slim” is $3.25 (bread + cheese and meat), so I guess I could buy that, throw away the meat and cheese, and eat a plain loaf of (very expensive) bread.
My dinner was a taco salad, and it was a lot better than a plain loaf of bread.
2 cups spinach (not baby or organic): .83
1/2 cup Chipotle Black Beans: .16
1 cup iceberg lettuce: .21
1/2 cup frozen corn kernels: .12
1/4 cup salsa: .31
1 cup vanilla soy milk: .50
apple (afternoon snack): .60
Dinner (and snack) total: 2.73
Day 6 total: $5.20 (up $ .64 for the week)
Did I get enough nutrients?
I used the free tool at Sparkpeople.com to track nutrition information for the last 6 days. Here’s a summary.
I did not eat enough calories to sustain a 33 year old woman of my height and weight, resulting in 1.5 lbs lost since the beginning of the challenge, despite exercising less this week.
Fat is low, but I believe the recommended guidelines for fat in a diet are too high, so I’m ok with this.
I never met my calcium requirement during the week. I usually eat more broccoli, cereal, and tofu than this.
Plenty of fiber here, thanks to a big effort to get plenty of fruits and veggies.
Iron and carbohydrates are low on most days.
Sodium looks great. Probably from a low amount of processed food.
Protein is ok, but could be a bit better on some days.
If I had been eating more calories, most of these numbers would have improved.
I learned a lot on this challenge. I’m glad it’s over, because I was hungry all the time. I did my best to eat good food, but I think I needed more of it. I have a new appreciation for being able to choose my meals at will.
The planning time it takes to get by and eat healthfully on such a small budget is intense. It was difficult at times to get a variety of fruits and vegetables. But I think there are many healthy foods are not more expensive, if you’re willing to do some cooking and shop around for deals. It matters what is available in your area. And it seems that luck sometimes helps, too.
Planning seems to be getting easier, but still takes so much time. I miss strawberries and red peppers. I have a stack of recipes I can’t afford to make. I do have some money left over again today, but we have plans to go out on Friday night. I might want a coffee drink, or to eat at a restaurant. But I don’t think I’ll have quite enough for that, especially for vegan options. (WHY is a salad more expensive than a burger?)
I baked some whole wheat bread last night, from frozen loaves I bought at a 30% off sale – which has turned out to be quite the windfall. It might not be less expensive than an ordinary store-bought loaf, but it’s probably less than the $5+ sprouted grain loaf that I usually get. I added some peanut butter and a cup of store-brand organic vanilla soy milk for protein. The cup of black coffee was free at a work meeting.
Lunch was leftover scrambled tofu with Chipotle Black Beans I cooked up over the weekend. With 2 sprouted grain tortillas, some lettuce, and a bit of guacamole, it made a nice taco salad. Plenty of protein and fiber kept me full until dinner.
2 sprouted grain tortillas: .44
scrambled tofu: 1.00
1/2 cup black beans: .16
1 cup iceberg lettuce: .21
1 tbsp guacamole: .13
Lunch total: 1.94
I wonder if my meals reflect the American average. I don’t think so. The proportion of processed foods is low. I did some batch cooking last weekend, which takes more time than a busy family often has. I wonder about the quantity, and how it compares with the average. Would it keep a construction worker going all day?
The other two people in my family have different tastes, and I think their meals are more typical of the American diet. I priced out an example dinner, similar to what they ate tonight:
It’s close in price to my own dinner, below, but it’s more processed, and I’m sure it contains fewer vitamins and minerals. All of the above items were on sale. We purchase condiments in large containers and refill smaller bottles. Spices are usually purchased in bulk at a local ethnic grocery store. I save a lot of money this way. My dinner:
1/2 head cauliflower: 1.00
onion, garlic, spices: .17
1/2 tsp olive oil: .08
red pepper chutney: .32
wheat bread: .08
Dinner total: 1.98
I still have “extra” money, but I was full tonight, so I’m not using it. I’ve been craving the Indian Spiced Cauliflower dish, which happens to be relatively inexpensive. Would the average person be satisfied with a big plate of cauliflower? I would expect more hot dogs.
Day 5 Total: $4.17 (+ $ 1.34 for the week)
Fruit/veggie servings: about 7
Although I like a challenge and I found this interesting, I do not take this experience lightly. It has opened my eyes and my heart. Approximately 1 in 10 families in Illinois experience food insecurity. It could be a friend, a neighbor… even yourself.
There but for the grace of God [or what/whomever you believe in], go I.
After last night’s dinner, and small surplus of change, I was feeling good about Day 4. I noted in the morning that since the challenge began, I’ve lost 1.5 pounds. I thought this might happen based on daily calories. I’m getting the healthful food I normally eat (naturally low in fat and calories, donuts not withstanding), but I’m reducing the quantity, adding fewer condiments, etc.
Breakfast today was more of the same: oatmeal. Still good, still keeps me going through the morning. I added some (non-organic) grapes for an extra serving of fruit and felt quite full all morning. (Grapes are one of the most heavily sprayed crops, so I normally buy organic grapes or none at all.)
oatmeal, 1/2 cup: .08
applesauce, 1/4 cup: .08
raisins, 1/8 cup: .08
1 cup red grapes: .60
Breakfast total: .84
Lunch was leftover vegetarian split pea and lentil soup from yesterday, pretzels, and cantaloupe. Tasty and filling. Bean or lentil-based soups are great – easy, freezable, and plenty of protein.
2 cups lentil soup: .50
1 cup cantaloupe: .24
Lunch total: .86
Dinner was a chance to clean out the vegetable drawers, as it usually is on nights when we pick up CSA produce. Out with the old, in with the new. I feel as fortunate as ever this week to receive such a bounty. But using prices I would pay for these items in a store, I can’t eat some of them until the challenge is over (baby bok choy!) Dinner was eggplant ratatouille (eggplant is more expensive than I realized), with sauteed zucchini and tomatoes, served with couscous and topped with nutritional yeast (a good source of protein and B vitamins). It was my most expensive dinner so far, but with the surplus from yesterday, still within my budget. And I managed to fit in 10 servings of fruit and vegetables for the day!
1 cup couscous: .64
1 small zucchini:.50
1/2 of a medium eggplant: .98
chopped roma tomato: .32
olive oil: .04
nutritional yeast: .52
Dinner total: 3.00
Day 4 total: $4.68 (+ $ 1.01 for the week)
Fruit/vegetable servings: 10 (yay!)
My kitchen is not a mess. It is a celebration of expression.