Saturday Brunch with Artisanal Silverware

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There is something wonderful and exciting about receiving and opening packages in the mail, especially when you are not sure what exactly the boxes contain.  I was away on film locations in remote regions of China when I was only fourteen.  My mother used to send me bi-weekly care packages from Shanghai — often times my favorite snacks such as dried plums or a can of spam, which was a luxury item back then.  I can still recall those moments of excitement and anticipation when I opened up the care packages.

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On Christmas Eve, we received in the mail a beautiful set of artisanal silverware from For Such a Time Designs!  We first saw Aly Nickerson’s lovely hand-stamped spoons on SkinnyTaste.com and coveted them for months before they finally arrived, a generous gift from Aly. Each piece of the silver plated flatware is vintage and stamped with antique metal stamps. It is absolutely gorgeous and makes eating even more fun than it already is. “Serve With Love,” “Eat Clean,” my thoughts exactly!

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Smoked Salmon Scallion Omelet Ingredients:

1 Egg + 3 Egg White (beaten)

3 stalks Scallion (chopped)

3 oz. Wild Smoked Salmon (pulled or cut to small chunks)

2 tablespoon 2% Shredded Cheddar & Jack cheese

1/2 teaspoon Dill Weed

1/2 tablespoon Olive Oil

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Preparation:

Heat a flat non-stick pan on medium, add oil, then add most of the chopped scallion. 

After the scallion softens, about 40 seconds, pour in the beaten eggs.

Add salmon, the rest of the scallion and the cheese. 

Sprinkle the Dill Weed.  Roll the Omelet.  Sprinkle with fresh pepper.

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Everyone in the house loved Yam Casserole so much that I made it for the second time this week. It is a delicious and healthy dish that is relatively easy to make.

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Recipe in December 25th post “Empty Chimney Once Upon A Time”

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Winter is coming. Stock up now!

Winter is coming

Winter is coming. Brace yourself for stressful last-minute hosting, loud drunk family friends, bone-chilling weather, seasonal affective disorder, and deep-rooted feelings of inadequacy exacerbated by the excessive commercialization of the holidays happy wintertime cheer!

Thanks Debbie Downer

No one likes Debbie Downer

Since it’s that time of the year again, I thought I’d make a list of some great gifts to give to your favorite people. Don’t get stuck in line with everyone else who waited until the last minute to buy presents! If department stores start putting up Christmas decorations in October, then who says the week before Thanksgiving isn’t too soon to start planning for the New Year?

Christmas came early for us this week when we received a wonderfully thoughtful care package from Words to Sweat By, a cute online boutique that makes adorable fitness apparel and accessories. Audrey, Angela, and I each got beautiful personalized charm bracelets, and each of us received personalized products, including motivational bracelets and a gorgeous infinity scarf. Honestly, these are the best gifts ever because a lot of them are individually handmade (the bracelets were hand-stamped! check etsy! so vintage! so chic!) and what better way to get through the cold winter days than to up those endorphin levels?

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Words to Sweat By makes great bracelets with personalized messages. You can write your own message or choose from many, including “I ❤ XC,” “Just Keep Going,” and “Lift Others Up.” They even come with multifunctional bands that you can wear to help keep your bracelet in place.

In addition to those wonderful bracelets we also received some clothing:

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How lovely! The scarf is made of 100% organic cotton so it’s 100% itch-free and cozy. Now these are some products that are so warm and wholesome that even I, a cynical Grinchypants, would want to buy for my friends and family.

Angela showed her new clothes and accessories to her fellow schoolchildren and their faces just lit up! These clothes bring out the happy, innocent youths in us all.

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PATIENCE. TRANSFORM.

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photographed by MT

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glowering with elation

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she almost cried when Angela took the bracelet back

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fashion and function all in one!!

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The wrap can be used to entertain children when necessary…

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so many uses!

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“I’m weeping with joy on the inside.”

3 Easy Ways to Stay Hydrated

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Did you know that 75% of Americans are chronically dehydrated? That’s right, you are probably dehydrated right now as you read this. Chronic dehydration can negatively impact your electrolyte balance and cognitive performance, and it can also contribute to acid reflux, digestive disorders, and other unpleasant conditions. Drink up, everyone! Here are three easy ways to stay hydrated.

1. Set a Goal

How much water should you be drinking? Well, it really depends on the water content of your food and tons of other factors. Even though we don’t all need eight glasses of water per day, I aim for that amount just in case. Besides, staying hydrated actually prevents your body from holding onto water weight and looking bloated, so drinking water has lots of benefits.

I just make a conscious effort every day to get my water in. If you’re into newfangled technology, there are lots of smartphone apps to help you drink more water, like WaterLogged and iDrated.

2. Get a Pretty Water Vessel

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I used to carry around an old metal water bottle, but I realized I wasn’t drinking much water because it made everything taste metallic and smelled reminiscent of tetanus. Also, an opaque water bottle makes it harder for you to keep track of how much you’re drinking.

This is why I really love my EcoJarz! We recently received a few EcoJarz lids and straws in the mail and couldn’t wait to test ’em out! Basically, EcoJarz lets you turn your Mason jars into really cute reusable water bottles. As you could probably guess from the name, EcoJarz are eco friendly, but the main reason why I love them is because I can keep track of how much water I’m drinking and I can sip everything through a cute reusable straw. I love straws. They’re just fun. And whenever I have lip balm or lipstick on, I love how I don’t end up getting it all over the place when I use straws. I’m rambling. But that’s how much I love EcoJarz.

3. Flavorful Infusions

In a last-ditch attempt to get Audrey to drink more water (she’d been averaging about three cups of fluid per day… yikes!) I started buying super-sweet water flavoring like Dasani Drops and Mio. Even though they helped her stay hydrated, I couldn’t help but wonder about the effect of the iffy ingredients in water flavoring. After all, we all heard about that recent study linking aspartame, saccharin, and sucralose (Equal, Sweet N Low, and Splenda, respectively) to diabetes, obesity, and other metabolic disorders. Apparently these sweeteners might negatively affect our intestinal microbiota, the enigmatic little bacterial critters living in our guts, thus contributing to various diseases. Of course, this doesn’t mean definitively that a little Diet Coke will automatically make you diabetic, but I still don’t like the idea of exposing my children to too much of this stuff.

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I’ve replaced Audrey’s very berry Crystal Light with real berries and slices of lemon. Sure, it’s not as sickly sweet as the stuff that used to go in her water, but that’s a good thing. It keeps her taste buds from getting too used to ultra-sweet stuff while providing just enough flavor to keep her interested. The best of both worlds.

Piggy Sunday

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Sunday morning.  Glorious blue sky.  Everyone in the family still slumbered while I drank my tea and looked out the window at the humming birds flitting about my little lemon tree.  I must have been a peasant in my last life.  I always wake at the first light of dawn, which is something I quite enjoy.

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These muffins are low sugar and low calorie but you will absolutely love them

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Breakfast muffins inspired by the recipe from minimalistbaker.com

2 eggs

2 medium ripe bananas

3 Tbsp maple syrup

3 Tbsp unsweetened vanilla or plain almond milk

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

1 tsp baking powder

1 cup almond meal (ground from raw almonds)

1/2 cup + 2 Tbsp oat flour (ground from GF oats)

I added 1 cup blueberries

Having put the muffins in the oven and the oatmeal on the stove I flipped the page of New York Diaries to Oct. 11th.  “At home all day — writing private letters.” —President George Washington was having another relaxing day 215 years ago today.  It amazes me that our founding father, who arguably has achieved more for America than any other presidents in history seemed to have a life.  Yesterday 215 years ago he was strolling in a Mr. Prince’s fruit garden in Flushing, which he described “The shrubs were trifling, and the flowers not numerous. “ Later on that day he had dinner with Mrs Washington, Mrs. Adams and Mrs. Smith at a tavern.

The world was smaller then, I suppose.  Unlike today’s presidents, he had no global wars to launch, no international media damage to control.  The word China connoted mostly dinnerware and the term Middle East wasn’t invented yet.     

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This is absolutely the most delicious bread I have ever had

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Almond flour zucchini bread recipe at the end of blog

As I was reading Washington’s diary, a whimsical idea came to me: why not try something the early settlers of America ate? I couldn’t find much that sound healthy or palatable, but there was an original recipe for Pumpkin from plimoth.org I found quite entertaining.  It was written by John Josselyn,  the author of Two Voyages to New England. 

John Josselyn called this recipe a “standing dish” suggesting that this sort of pumpkin dish was eaten everyday or even at every meal.

“The Ancient New England standing dish.

But the Housewives manner is to slice them when ripe, and cut them into dice, and so fill a pot with them of two or three Gallons, and stew them upon a gentle fire a whole day, and as they sink, they fill again with fresh Pompions, not putting any liquor to them; and when it is stew’d enough, it will look like bak’d Apples; this they Dish, putting Butter to it, and a little Vinegar, (with some Spice, as Ginger, &c.) which makes it tart like an Apple, and so serve it up to be eaten with Fish or Flesh: It provokes Urine extremely and is very windy.”

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Just for fun, I decided to give it a try, regardless of the warning that “It provokes Urine extremely and is very windy”.  Pumpkins are in season and they make everything golden.  So why not?

Modern version of it, of course, doesn’t take all day:

Trader Joe’s washed, peeled, cut sweet pumpkin, microwave on high with two tablespoon of water for 10 minutes.

Mash with coconut oil, a pinch of salt, 2 1/2 tablespoon xylitol, a little ground ginger and 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar.

The result was interesting, and quite pleasant — tangy, sweet.  Almost a dessert.

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For the meat eaters in the family, I made carnitas with the recipe below.  Thank God for slow-cooker.  We were so stuck in the Blue Angel traffic that we didn’t get home until dinner time.  And the carnitas was just cooking itself for me.  The aroma of the pork was so enticing that Audrey, who had been vegetarian for over a month, decided that she would allow herself to eat meat on Sundays.

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http://allrecipes.com/recipe/slow-cooker-carnitas/

Angela baked miso tofu for herself.  It’s a simple dish that she has made many times. 

Spread the miso paste on the tofu and baked it at 375 F. 

Sprinkle green onion, sesame seeds and crushed chili on top.

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Isn’t she cute?

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Hydration makes you cuter, I think

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Thank you EcoJarz for sending us your jar lids! Audrey loves ’em 🙂

Almond Flour Zucchini Bread Ingredients:

2 zucchini (grated and drained)

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup almond flour

1/2 cup oat bran

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon paprika

1/2 teaspoon guar gum

3 large eggs

1 purple shallot

1sprig rosemary

2 sprigs thyme – fresh stems removed and leaves minced

1 tablespoon olive oil

Preparation:

Pre-heat oven at 350

Grate the zucchinis and leave in a bowl.  Mix in 1/8 teaspoon of salt and let sit for 10 minutes.  Squeeze the water out of the shredded zucchini.

Saute sliced shallot, chopped rosemary and thyme with olive oil 

Mix dry ingredients, and then in a separate bowl mix all wet ingredients before mixing the dry and wet ingredients.  If the dough feels too dry, add a tablespoon of milk.

Bake for about 30 to 40 minutes.

Our Quest to Find the Perfect Snack: Vitalicious Review!

Audrey eats ice cream with a smile

Audrey eating homemade ice cream

What do you look for when you want to find the perfect snack? What criteria does a food have to meet? For me, the basic requirements are that it be tasty but not detrimental to my health. My personal favorite snack is probably the Quest bar, a portable, high-protein, low-carb, no sugar added bar that tastes like dessert. Quest bars are the best bars, hands down.

I love Quest bars but you are NOT going to find a single bar for $2.39. Sorry.

I love Quest bars but you are NOT going to find a single bar for $2.39. Sorry.

However, Quest bars are ridiculously expensive (up to $3 per 60 gram bar at my local GNC!), so if you’re looking for a somewhat cheaper and also less processed snack, I would recommend Greek yogurt. My favorite plain Fage 0% has 22 g of protein and 9 g of sugar, all naturally-occurring from the lactose in milk. Just add some fruit/nuts/seeds/spices/whatever and it’s perfect! I have Fage for breakfast almost every morning.

From the WSJ. I remain loyal to Fage.

From the WSJ. I remain loyal to Fage.

Sometimes, though, you crave cakes and cookies and brownies and you don’t want to bother putting together a health-ified batch. Or you are way too tired to cook something and you know better than to stuff your face with greasy Chinese delivery.

Product Review

This week, Vitalicious kindly shipped us a few boxes of their products. We received various flavors of VitaTops, frozen muffin tops (no, not that kind) that are lower in calories and healthier than most similar products, and a box of frozen VitaEgg flatbread sandwiches. I was super excited to try them, and the haze from the dry ice contributed to the ambiance of suspense and anticipation. Props to Vitalicious for providing an element of mystique to their frozen food!

A blueberry muffin with an aura of mystique

A blueberry muffin with an aura of mystery…

I must admit, the VitaTops and VitaEgg sandwiches don’t look very pretty when you remove the overwrap and plop them on a plate to microwave them. But after they’re heated up, they smell delicious and taste even better. The VitaTops are moist (I know people hate that word; just pretend I said “not dry”) and rich-tasting, and I would definitely recommend them.

To be honest, I didn’t like the VitaEgg sandwiches as much – it’s tough, after all, to make frozen and reheated egg whites taste good. Audrey thought they were okay though. The Vitalicious products have a lot of added vitamins, minerals, and fiber, making them a lot healthier than your average pastry, and each VitaTop has 100 kcal. However, unless you get the sugar-free version, they do have 11 g of sugar each, so don’t overdo it. Additionally, many of them are made with mostly refined wheat flour (if it just says “wheat flour” and not “whole wheat flour” or “100% whole wheat flour” then you can definitely assume it’s just white flour).

TLDR

Favorite snack staples:

  • plain nonfat Fage
  • Quest bars

If you’re craving pastries and want convenience:

  • VitaTops
  • (and I guess Quest bars again)

Pros of VitaTops:

  • delicious
  • taste like dessert, but healthier
  • lower in cals than real pastries
  • convenient

Cons of VitaTops:

  • some are high in sugar (still much less than real pastries!)
  • made with refined flour (but have fiber added in so it’s not as bad)

In conclusion: VitaTops are pretty good if you have a sweet tooth. VitaEgg sandwiches are less good.

Happy eating!

Jack’s Magic Beanstalk: Can We Trust Food Labels?

Because I am a nerd, all I wanted for my birthday was to go to Rainbow Grocery for the first time and pick out weird foods. I ended up buying low-carb bread from Julian’s Bakery (tasted like portobello mushrooms, and not in a good way), sprouted 100% whole grain corn tortillas from the Ezekiel/Food for Life brand (very inconsistent in terms of size and texture – bad quality control?), and (supposedly) high-protein low-carb pasta from Explore Asian.

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No. Just no. Do not buy this “bread.”

While I liked that the only ingredients were 100% whole grain sprouted corn with a tiny bit of salt and lime, these seemed sloppily produced.

While I liked that the only ingredients were 100% whole grain sprouted corn with a tiny bit of salt and lime, these seemed sloppily produced.

single ingredient, high-protein and low-carb pasta? seems too good to be true...

single ingredient, high-protein and low-carb pasta? seems too good to be true…

As a vegetarian, it’s really important for me to get enough protein. A lot of vegetarians become “starchatarians,” subsisting mainly on grains and starchy vegetables. That’s why I was so interested in Explore Asian pasta – it claims to have only 5 g net carbs and 25 g protein. Wow!

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Calories are approximately the same as in regular whole wheat pasta, maybe slightly lower. But look – only 17 g total – 12 g fiber = 5 g net carbs?! And 25 g protein??

I cooked the pasta and had it with some Francesco Rinaldi no-salt-added, high-potassium pasta sauce. It was actually very good and not noticeably different from normal whole-grain pasta in terms of texture. When eaten plain, there was a slight bean taste, but it was not very noticeable.

However, when I looked at the ingredient list, I was rather skeptical of the nutrition claims. The only two ingredients in each pasta were the legume (soy or black bean) and water. While it is great that the pasta has a short and simple ingredient list, it casts into doubt the supposed nutrition information.

I sent the company an email saying that “black beans have a fat:net carb (total carbs minus fiber):protein ratio of 1:47:21, but the black bean pasta has a fat:net carb:protein ratio of 2:5:25” and asking how this was possible given that the only source of macronutrients in the pasta was the legume.

This was Explore Asian’s response:

“There are many varieties of black beans and the protein and fiber content also differs from one variety to the other by the soil type, amount of sunlight vs darkness it receives and of course amount of organic compost and rainfall!! [sic] All these parameters contribute to different ratios of total carbs (carbs+fiber) to protein. The range is 1.1 to 1.5 for our product. The nutritional panel has been derived from 2 lab testing both and is accurate. [sic, sic, and sic] Enjoy the taste of pasta with the benefits of the beans!”

umm... whatever you say, bean wizards.

umm… whatever you say, bean wizards.

Um… where to start? Yes, it’s true that there are different varieties of black beans and that their nutrient contents can vary. But come on, there is no way they vary this much. A total carb to protein ratio of 1.1 to 1.5?! If the average total carb:protein ratio in black beans is about 3:1, how does this make sense? Are we still talking about black beans here?

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Nutrition info for 100 g of dried black beans – just Google “black beans” and you’ll see it on the side bar on the right.

Maybe Jack’s magic beanstalk can produce beans that have well over 300% more protein than they’re supposed to, but I doubt Explore Asian has access to those kinds of resources. A more plausible explanation would be that the nutrition panel is just wrong. If this is the case, what does it imply? Perhaps the ingredient list isn’t right either and the pasta actually contains wheat – how will be company react if someone with celiac disease eats their purportedly gluten-free pasta and experiences an adverse reaction?

I wish I had a laboratory to see what’s really going on here, but I don’t, so I’ll have to leave it at this: the nutrition panel and/or ingredient list is completely and totally… bollocks. Don’t let these food companies trick you! Honestly, I’m sure we’d all be shocked to find out how much information on our food labels is inaccurate or just made up.

Origin of My Love for Ice Cream + Halo Top Review

Maquelonne Toussaint-Samat asserts in her History of Food that “the Chinese may be credited with inventing a device to make sorbets and ice cream.” Some distorted accounts claim that in the Yuan Dynasty, Kublai Khan enjoyed ice cream and kept it a royal secret until Marco Polo visited China and took the technique of making ice cream to Italy. We should have covered this in one of the episodes of Marco Polo!

Ice cream was a rarity in China when we were growing up. I heard from other girls that you would be rewarded with a bowl of ice cream if you were lucky enough to have your tonsils removed. It was a minor surgical procedure performed without anesthesia. I convinced my mother to let me have the operation, but when I was given a bowl of ice cream to soothe my throat, swallowing hurt so badly that I gave my reward to my brother.

Nowadays ice cream is everywhere, and I have had decades to recover from my tonsillectomy so ice cream is once again a great love of mine. However, we all know how overindulgence in ice cream isn’t exactly healthy…

Product Review!

Ice Cream

Clockwise from upper left: lemon cake, vanilla bean, strawberry, chocolate.

This weekend, Halo Top Creamery (IG: @halotopcreamery) was generous enough to send us coupons for four pints of their delicious light ice cream! Unlike other ice creams, Halo Top is actually healthy, and you can eat the whole pint without wanting to go to sleep with a gigantic food baby. Here’s our review!

Strawberry

This is good. It’s what you’d expect from strawberry ice cream. It tastes like strawberries and it’s rich and creamy.

Chocolate

With a rich deep chocolatey taste, this one is reminiscent of what you’d get at Ghirardelli Square, minus the blood sugar spike and subsequent regret.

Vanilla Bean

This is great. It’s got pretty little dots of vanilla, barely visible, but it gives the ice cream this cute artisanal look. This is my older daughter Angela’s favorite.

Lemon Cake

Audrey says: “Tell them this one’s your favorite!” I’ve never had a lemon cake ice cream flavor before, but I’m telling you it’s wonderful. It kind of has a very mild hint of egg yolk taste, so if you don’t like egg yolk then you probably won’t like this flavor as much, but I personally loved it.

Nutrition

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from the Halo Top website

I usually hate talking about calories; they’re just units of energy, after all, and everyone acts like they’re evil. But in this case I think I have to bring it up because it’s honestly part of what makes this ice cream one of my favorites. Halo Top Creamery ice cream is under 300 kcal per PINT, and if you’re anything like me you will always eat the whole pint. Not only will you be able to enjoy ice cream without bursting at the seams, you’ll also get 28 g protein per pint! I think you get the idea. I may be gluttonous, but I do have some standards. I will definitely look forward to having this again in the future.

Disclaimer: Yes, Halo Top did give us coupons for their ice cream, but don’t worry, no company will ever be able to buy our opinions! We really do love this ice cream.