Healthy Thursday

Is anyone else grossed out by cooking chicken? Here is a lovely organic chicken that I washed inside and out with cold water, salted and peppered, and about to stick into the oven to cook. In two hours, it will be beautifully browned and the skin will be crispy. The juices will run clear and the meat thermometer will register right at 185 degrees. Perfect. 

We will enjoy tender, warm pieces of this chicken along with a medley of cauliflower, broccoli, and asparagus roasted in olive oil and sparingly sprinkled with seasoned salt and pepper. 

Mike and I are trying to stick to a ketogenic diet plan and this meal should fit the bill. 

Honestly, mashed potatoes and homemade gravy would have been delicious with this chicken. Or perhaps a nice dish of hot egg noodles. Also, a crusty, toasty loaf of French bread would round things off nicely. 

No, those things are not on the list. We will stick with meat and the vegetables grown above the ground. We will eat chunks of cheese and olives stuffed with garlic and avocado melted into scrambled eggs and walnuts and pumpkin seeds. 

That raw chicken sitting here on my counter looks a little bit disgusting but it was so very good. It also provided plenty of leftovers, enough to make a nice stir-fry this weekend using a bag of frozen riced cauliflower. 

If you can get past the initial unpleasantness of something, you may find that given the right temperature, the right timing, and the right accompaniment, delicious and lasting changes can be made. I’m counting on it. 

National Cheesecake Day

Cheesecake, shmeesecake. What’s the big deal?

When I was a girl, then a teenager, and even a young married woman, I knew very little about cheesecake. I’m actually not sure I had had cheesecake.

Cheesecake is one of those words that for me had negative connotations. I liked cake and I liked cheese but I could never marry the two in my mind. All I could envision was a slice of American cheese somehow inserted into sweet cake. It felt incongruent. It just didn’t jive.

When I discovered the truth about cheesecake and ate cheesecake, well, it all made sense. 

The first “cheese cake” may have been created on the Greek island of Samos. Anthropologists excavated cheese molds there which were dated circa 2,000 B.C. Cheese and cheese products had most likely been around for thousands of years before this. 

In Greece, cheesecake was considered to be a good source of energy and there is evidence that it was served to the athletes during the first Olympic Games in 776 B.C. Greek brides and grooms were also known to use cheesecake as a wedding cake. The simple ingredients of flour, wheat, honey, and cheese were formed into a cake and baked—a far cry from the complicated recipes today.

A little history about the cream cheese. In 1872, a New York dairy farmer was attempting to replicate the soft, French cheese Neufchâtel. He instead accidentally came up with an “unripened cheese” that was heavier and creamier. Thus, modern commercial American cream cheese was developed. Three years later, cream cheese was packed in foil and distributed to local stores under the Philadelphia Cream Cheese brand. 

Of course, no story about cheesecake would be complete without talking about the New York style cheesecake. The classic New York style is served with just the cake – no fruit, chocolate or caramel is served on the top or on the side. This famously smooth cheesecake gets its signature flavor from extra egg yolks in the cream cheese cake mix. 

As much as I like New York things, I do not want New York style cheesecake. If there is something that can be added, then add it, baby. A couple of my oh so favorites are raspberry swirl chocolate cheesecake, dulce de leche caramel cheesecake, and chocolate hazelnut crunch cheesecake. Have mercy. 

As divine as those sound, and are, no cheesecake is complete unless accompanied by a steaming cup of coffee with cream. If I can’t get the coffee, I will pass on the cheesecake. That is truth. 

When my boys were young and we made chocolate chip cookies at home, they would always make sure we had plenty of cold milk in the refrigerator. If not, they didn’t want the cookies. 

Once you’ve experienced the perfect complement, nothing else will do. 

Tastes Good/Made Bad

I read an article in Prevention Magazine about how some of our favorite foods are made. Sometimes ignorance is bliss. Sometimes I do not want to know how some things are made. I just want to eat Oreos dipped into my hot coffee and hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil. Well, this article slanted my thinking. 

First, coffee creamer. I have written previously about my coffee love. I do not use sugar but I do use cream and it has to be just the right color. I do not like straight black coffee. All three of my boys drink it that way. I may just not be man enough and I’m totally fine with that.

We all know what a stellar job the food industry does at packaging items to appeal to our senses. The packaged food industry is a trillion-dollar business and they will do whatever it takes to get the color, texture and flavor right.

Coffee creamers are at the top of the list for swaying us, at least the coffee drinkers among us. They look and sound so amazing; sugar cookie, almond joy, Irish crème, pumpkin spice, Cinnabon. Plus the TV commercial of the lady (with perfect hair and Audrey Hepburn slim pants, classic sweater set and ballet flats) curled up cozy in front of her fire drinking hot coffee with these delightful creamers, well it’s pure marketing genius.

The article stated that though these flavors are tempting, in addition to all of the added sugar (or high fructose corn syrup, more likely), these also contain a lot of oil—specifically hydrogenated oils. Plainly put, these are industrial fats known to be extremely unhealthy. 

Another item mentioned in the article is jelly beans. I do not really care for jelly beans, but oh my, when  I was a kid, I loved them. They are shiny and cute and brilliantly colored. Just looking at them made me feel happy. Well, I’m not happy anymore. 

Jelly beans are often coated with shellac. This shellac is, yes, a relative of the same topcoat you use for your home manicures. Shellac is also used in insulation, sealants, and varnishes. And one more fun fact. Shellac is a resin secreted by the female lac bug found on trees in the forests of India and Thailand. It is processed and sold as dry flakes then dissolved in alcohol to make liquid shellac. Um, gross. This needs to be reported to the Easter Bunny right away. Unless he is in on it, which would be a whole other story.

Lastly, shredded cheeses. Most of us have heard that it is better to buy a block of cheese and grate it ourselves, just like our mothers did. One of the rules of thumb with shredded cheeses is that if it sticks together, chances are, it is better. The non-clumping agent known as cellulose is more familiar to us when we call it what it actually is—wood pulp. Instead of giving us what we pay for and want, which is more cheese, companies fatten up the bags by adding wood shavings. 

If I have ruined your dinner tacos piled with shredded cheese or taken away your coffee joy or tainted your Easter dreams, I apologize. 

We all want truth until it starts messing with the things we love.

Vanilla is a Dark Horse

Vanilla Ice-cream gets a bap rap. I have been guilty, in the past, of participating in the bad rapping. 

My husband is a picky eater. A few months ago we went out to a wonderful Italian restaurant. It took me 15 minutes to submit my order because I could not decide between the three entrees I had narrowed down. When I order food, it is like being at the NFL Draft. 

When the server asked my husband what he would like, he ordered four sides of mashed potatoes. Yes, really. I was a bit frustrated by that, which I really should not have been. But, OMG, how can you order a plate full of mashed potatoes with all of these ridiculously delicious Italian food offerings?!

He also is the one to order a vanilla ice-cream cone at the top ice-cream spot in the city. That kind of thinking is so beyond my comprehension that I am befuddled.  

But I have learned, through time (why must wisdom always involve aging?), that it is perfectly okay to be “a plate of mashed potatoes and vanilla ice-cream cone kind of guy”.

Today I have spent some time thinking about vanilla ice-cream. That is not a statement you often hear. 

Vanilla ice-cream is actually pretty amazing. Here is why. 

It is simple. It has fewer ingredients than other ice-cream, which in the food world, is a good thing. So it is great all by itself. 

However, the really great part is that it can be dressed up. Vanilla ice-cream is like a fresh sheet of paper or an artist’s blank canvas. How fun is it to pour chocolate syrup into vanilla ice-cream and stir it up? I used to do that as a kid. 

And how fun is it to make a trifle in a beautiful glass bowl with layers of pure white vanilla ice-cream, layers of brownie chunks, layers of beautiful red strawberries and layers of whipped cream with chopped pecans?! And truly, it is nothing but delightful to drizzle caramel topping over mountains of vanilla ice-cream. 

If I had to classify myself as ice-cream, I have come to the conclusion that I do not want to be mocha chip (one of my favorites), or rocky road or moose tracks or peachy crunch, I want to be vanilla. 

Vanilla is flexible and knows how to adapt. Vanilla can be an introvert or an extrovert. Vanilla knows it is amazing all on its own and has weathered the storm. It can handle anything and still remain true to its roots, literally.  

Vanilla ice-cream knows how to be a classic yet also knows how to doll it up for a night on the town. 

Yep, I want to be vanilla.

Horseradish is not made from Horses

One of July’s ‘National Month’ tributes is National Horseradish Month. 

When I was a little girl, I remember hearing adults talk about horseradish. I could not wrap my head around what in the world that could be. I felt sure it had something to do with horses and I wanted nothing to do with it.

I grew into a hearty eater. I am a passionate eater. There is very little food that I do not like or have not tried. Growing up in a somewhat simple life, we normally stuck to the basics when it came to food. “Basics” meaning pot roast, (real) mashed potatoes and gravy, fresh vegetables, salad, dinner rolls. To most people, that sounds heavenly. To me, it became old hat and I was eager to branch out and try new foods I had never tasted.

It was about 15 years ago that I got my first taste of real horseradish. Yeah, I had tried that stuff that comes out of the pumper at Arby’s but…not quite the same.

I cannot remember the details of whose wedding we were celebrating, but it was enchanting. The reception was held at a beautiful historic building in the city. It was so lovely; the china, the crystal, the chefs in tall white hats carving tender roast beef served with, yep, freshly made horseradish. It was divine and I was hooked. 

Horseradish (Armoracia rusticana) is a hardy perennial plant of the mustard family. It is native to southeastern Europe and western Asia. Horseradish is known for its pungent root. The root is grated and then mixed with water, vinegar, sugar, and a pinch of salt. Pretty simple. 

Hats off to National Horseradish Day. If you haven’t tried it, I strongly encourage the plunge. You will not be disappointed. As an added bonus, your sinus congestion will be cleared immediately. 


Healthy Thursday

A few weeks ago on one of our drives to visit my father-in-law at the Ohio Veterans Home in Georgetown, my husband and I ran through the McDonald’s drive-thru. I wanted coffee. He wanted a Big Mac.

When I reached into the bag to pull out the Big Mac, this little card was inside.

As noted on the sheet, McDonald’s wants to make it easier for parents to select balanced meals for their kids. They are evolving their nutritional standards for Happy Meal offerings. There are now only two options for Happy Meals ~ a hamburger meal and a 4-piece Chicken McNuggets meal. 

Where is the cheeseburger meal you may ask. Apparently the Cheeseburger Happy Meal does not meet the new nutritional criteria. However, they are quick to note that you can add cheese to your Hamburger Happy Meal at no additional charge. Okay then.

And what about the Mighty Kids Meal? Well, it is no longer available. But…you can still request six Chicken McNuggets by adding two to your 4-piece McNuggets Happy Meal order for an additional charge. Wait, what? So the Mighty Kids Meal is not available per se, but you can still create it by mixing and matching and adding an additional charge. Ah, now it makes sense. Kidding.

And lastly, chocolate milk is no longer on the menu. Stop crying, kids, your mom will buy you a toy later at Walmart, to soothe your angst. McDonald’s is quick to note that they are reformulating the chocolate milk to reduce the amount of added sugar, so hopefully it will make a return. Crisis averted. 

In spite of my snarky remarks, I applaud McDonald’s for their attempt to keep kids healthy as they grow into (hopefully) healthy adults. 

My concern is what are the parents ordering for themselves as they ‘choose’ healthier options for their kids? Newsflash, parents, your kids are watching. 

The best option we can give our kids and grandkids is making better choices for ourselves and have them take note. 

Just sayin’. 

Flying Hotdogs

I read in USA TODAY about a woman who is recovering from facial injuries she suffered when she was hit by a flying hot dog. The woman was sitting behind home plate at a Philadelphia Phillies game on Monday night. 

For years, the team’s mascot, Phillie Phanatic, has been launching a giant hot dog at the home games. Unfortunately, this time the errant hot dog hit Kathy McVay of Plymouth Meeting, PA. “It just came out of nowhere, and hard” McVay told Philadelphia TV station WPVI. 

The woman was unable to catch or deflect the projectile because of an injured shoulder. She was struck just below her right eye with enough force to knock off her glasses. She was sent for a CT scan to make sure she didn’t have a concussion. She told the station that she was not planning to take any legal action.

The Phillies apologized and offered her free tickets when she is ready to come back to the ballpark. 

The funniest part of this story is the headline in the newspaper:

Phillie Phanatic’s wayward weiner hits woman in the face, causes injuries

Sometimes the older you get, the funnier things are. Perhaps it was not so funny to Kathy McVay, but hopefully she was a good sport about it and simply asked for a side of sauerkraut. Done. 

Quiet Eye

I was flipping through the pages of a textbook that Noah is using for a summer school class. It is called Motor Learning and Performance, written by a couple of sports psychologists. I happened onto a chapter discussing the quiet eye. 

The quiet eye is a term first proposed by Professor Joan Vickers of Calgary University. It refers to a gaze behavior observed immediately prior to a movement in aiming tasks. An example of this is during a basketball free-throw. When a player prepare for his shot, he generally pauses with his eyes steady on the target before initiating the movement of the shot. The final pause when the gaze remains steady is defined as the quiet eye. Similar gaze behavior is seen in other aiming based tasks such as archery, darts, golf, football, hockey and other sports. 

Theories as to why the quiet eye is so effective as a trait of an expert performance appears to be based around the increasing processing time. When more time is taken to view the target before initiating the movement, more information can be processed sub-consciously about the target and what is required to hit it. 

The implications of this process are significant in the medical community, as well. The theory is that if QE training can improve the performance of athletes in various sports, can it also be used to teach more efficient gaze behaviors in the training of surgeons?

The other question is, can QE training improve the motor skill of children, particularly those with motor coordination problems?

Over the next few years, research will try to answer these questions. 

I’m not 100% on this, but I’m pretty sure I experience quiet eye when I am making a donut purchase. My eyes are steady on the target before I initiate the movement of my hand toward the subject. I then take final pause as my gaze remains steady. Suddenly, just like Inbee Park, I sink the putt and acquire the prize of chocolate-covered glaze on my lips. Victory!

A lot of money and research has been put into the theory of quiet eye. I proved that theory years ago without even knowing it. 

National Donut Day

Donuts have become a problem. It used to be there were only a few varieties; glazed, cake, chocolate and maybe in specific seasons there would be a specialty one like pumpkin.

But wow, has the donut world changed. Now, donut shopping is a little like buying shampoo. There are so many choices! The colors and names pull you in…”buy me, buy me”, they beg.

This morning I hit Holtman’s Donuts, a true donut-lovers dream. A line of people led to the door from the parking lot. And they just kept coming. Holtman’s have the typical donuts but they also have chocolate bacon donuts and Crunch Berries topped donuts and Fruit Loops donuts and one of my personal favorites, red velvet donuts. I had one of those this morning. I could have eaten six more. 

National Donut Day started in 1938 as a fundraiser for Chicago’s The Salvation Army. Their goal was to help those in need during the Great Depression, and to honor The Salvation Army “Lassies” of World War I who served donuts to the soldiers. 

In Chicago and other cities, National Donut Day is still a fundraiser for The Salvation Army. In 2017, the organization joined with Russ’s Market, Super Saver, LaMar’s Donuts, Hurts Donuts and Krispy Kreme to raise funds. 

The bottom line is that buying, and most definitely, eating a donut today is your patriotic responsibility. It is the right thing to do.

National Donut Day. Finally a day I can really sink my teeth into.

Not so Healthy Thursday

What is it about traveling that makes us think calories don’t count? We are en route to New Haven, Connecticut for our oldest son’s graduation from Yale. We are quite proud indeed.

When I am on a road trip, I find myself eating things that I would never (or rarely) eat at home. 

Our first stop was when we were still in our city. On the way to the highway, we went to Panera for lunch. I got a healthy big salad, with apple, not baguette. Good choice.

Once I leave my own town, game’s on. I sense a food freedom. 

By Wheeling, West Virginia, I was eating chicken nuggets doused in sweet and sour sauce and drinking oh so sugary raspberry lemonade.

In New Bedford, Pennsylvania, we stopped at one of those center island one-stop-shopping places on the Pennsylvania turnpike. It was a beautiful building; large gray stone with white trim and white railings. We filled the car with gas and purchased a large cup of deep fried dough balls, rolled in cinnamon and sugar. 

We have now checked into a nice hotel outside Harrisburg. It is late but I made a cup of hot green tea in the hotel lobby and we shared a cinnamon roll that we warmed in the small microwave in our room. 

The framed pictures on the wall in our room are advertising everything Hershey, PA, which makes me crave chocolate. Sigh. 

Tomorrow I will do better. Boiled eggs for breakfast, sans bacon and biscuits. Grab a few pieces of fruit from the hotel breakfast bar and I’ll be good to go. 

If I can avoid the always tempting packages of caramel cremes and bags of salty Funyuns, I will make it to New Haven in time for something really healthy, like a large New York style pizza with everything. 

Eating on the road is certainly not a calorie-free zone. And once in a while that is okay. We are on a celebration trip. When I get home, I will get back onto the healthy eating train.

When you are 60 years old, that train takes a little longer to board but the trip is always worth it.