Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Best Diet in the World: Eat Your Veggies!

Spoiler: Great salad, salad dressing mix and Caesar salad dressing recipe links can be found at the end of this post.

What is the healthiest diet for humans? There are certainly a lot of choices and opinions out there, and rarely do they agree.

I grew up in New Jersey (the Garden State) during the '60s. There were plenty of vegetable stands on the outskirts of town, and I still hold those as my standard for farmers' markets. Nothing fancy, simply just-picked fresh produce, locally and organically grown, at reasonable prices. Apples came with spots, tomatoes with a few cracks, other veggies and fruit were a little misshapen--distorted even. That's what real food looked like. No wax coatings. No cukes looking like they were pressure-formed at a plastics factory. Lots of flavor. What could be wrong? That was nature.

I've been a human for a long time. As a kid, we ate a lot of vegetables whether we liked it or not. We ate some meat and some carbs. When I was a kid, food was simple. You ate what your mother--or the school cafeteria--provided. Back then, we were all pretty healthy and very few of us were over weight.

But, avert your eyes for a moment (or 50 years) and everything has changed. Increasing incidences of allergies, diseases, diabetes, high cholesterol, blood pressure, obesity--you name it. Change is not always for the good. And better living through chemistry should not necessarily apply to our food.

My thought is, we were crafted from the very elements of our planet and so logic states that our bodies should be in perfect harmony with the nutrition provided by our mother Earth. Our bodies are these amazingly self-sufficient bio-organisms that grow, heal and repair themselves without any conscious effort. We truly are indigenous to our planet. We began here, we belong here and everything we need to perpetuate our species is here -- naturally. But... then something went terribly wrong.

Onions at Heavenly Harvest
We humans have been messing with mother nature for about 200 years. We have introduced chemistry into every phase of our lives. Chemical manufacturers have been messing with our food via genetic modification, pesticides and mass production. Greed has reduced the quality of our food via "factory production" of animals and vegetables. Special interest groups, such as corn farmers (high fructose corn syrup, GMO corn), animal feed manufacturers (a pellet for every animal, causing Omega 3 deficient foods), cane sugar farmers, dairy farmers (hormones and antibiotics), pesticide producers (Roundup-ready GMO corn and soy) have shamelessly degraded the quality of our food, all for the all-mighty dollar. We make cosmetics, soaps, lotions, shampoo and cleansers from petroleum that leach through our skin and end up inside our bodies. Not to mention the special interest groups-- oops, I meant government agencies--such as the FDA and AGA, misrepresenting and omitting information regarding health issues, studies and statistics.  Add to that pharmaceutical companies pumping dollars into schooling, research and other incentives for the training of doctors and we end up with biases and omissions of information up the wazoo. And for some reason, not many of us have a clue of what's going on. Somehow we've been brain-washed to implicitly trust government agencies, doctors, statistics and studies. How did we become so gullible?

A-hem, so back to diet. There's Atkins (low carbs, high fat and protein). Paleo, which takes us back to caveman days when humans ate what they could forage -- occasional lean meats, mostly greens and maybe some seeds, nuts and rare fruits. There are vegetarians. Vegans. Betty Crocker. Who, exactly, is right? If you look at our teeth, an indicator of what our natural diet should be, it's pretty much a mish-mash. Our front teeth are perfect for nipping off bite-size bits of food. We have incisors, reminiscent of canines, meant for tearing meat. We also have molars, designed for grinding grain and other foods. Hey, we're omnivores!  So, apparently humans are built to eat just about anything. But I have to admit that every BODY is not the same. Our ancestors came from different parts of Earth, and most likely adapted to whatever was available to eat in the areas where they lived. So, that introduces another element. We're all borne of Earth, but our bodies have adapted to local food availability. That's a thought worth looking into. My heritage is Eastern European. For for some reason, my body responds best to a lot of veggies and protein. Carbs tend to bloat me and make me put weight. People indigenous to the polar regions flourish on lots of fish and whale. People from Asian countries do best with a lot of fresh seafoods, raw veggies and seaweed.

Just an example of what's available at Heavenly Harvest
The one single thing I've found in common with all the diets and cultures I've studied is raw fresh vegetation. Not one diet I've heard of has ever said that vegetables are bad for you. Even the diets that insist on lots of proteins in the form of meats and dairy products do not deny that animals that forage naturally on grasses and other plant materials are superior in nutrition to those that are fed pellets. Naturally grazing animals have a much higher Omega 3 content (which is an essential fat that is key to our health) than those fed an unnatural diet. And we've all heard that you are what you eat--and what you eat eats.

Today I drove half an hour to Wheat Ridge to shop at a produce store, Heavenly Harvest Produce

The start of a new salad. Parrot not included.
So, moving on to this week's new recipe: My son, who will be 17 this month, became a vegetarian early this winter. It has been a little extra work for me to cook for my husband and I (plus all the animals) and accommodate my son's requirements as well. But not a big issue. We do a purely-salad night 1-2 times a week. Most teens have very few positive things to say about their parents. Recently my son said I make the BEST salad ever (he also said I was a really good driver "for a woman"). He has loved salad for a long time and usually orders it in restaurants, but our at-home salads are so much more nutritious, creative and deeply satisfying. I call my salads "Kitchen Sink" salad, as I toss everything I need to use up in the fridge into the kitchen sink for rinsing. My salads are never exactly the same, and are usually prompted by an excess of odd amounts of veggies in the fridge that need to be used, plus leftovers from the last couple of days.

We love Italian dressing, but have been a bit turned off by the contents in store-bought dressings--even the organic ones. There are always ingredients that we can't pronounce or identify, and we don't need that. So the recipe for this post is Kitchen Sink Salad and my All Good Ingredients salad dressing mix. Follow the link for a great healthy and satisfying salad and dressing -- and eat what your body NEEDS you to eat. Feel good that you're not only eating what is healthy, but what tastes good and satiates your hunger.

I've also added two Caesar Salad recipes -- one is the more traditional zesty dressing, and the other doesn't have the typical raw egg in the dressing.  Graze and mangia!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Water2Wine: The New Urban Vintner

Spoiler: A link for my absolute favorite pasta recipe, Pasta Puttanesca, can be found near the end of this post.

Okay, okay, this was so much fun!

Last July (2011) our next-door-neighbor asked to borrow our car for a few days. He runs fireworks stands yearly and his vehicle, towing a trailer of merchandise, broke down at the worst possible time. For us it was a no-brainer: we didn't need our second vehicle for anything and were glad to help. It was not a big deal for us.

Apparently it was for our neighbor! After the 4th of July crush, he returned our vehicle and added a gift certificate for a case of wine at Water2Wine, a business where you can not only purchase and taste wine, but make your own. Being a small franchise, they have a few locations across the country.

Green Concord Grapes
When I was growing up we had loads of Concord grapes and one year my mother decided to make wine. I was pretty young at the time and so missed most of the action. All I remember about the process was bottles of fermenting wine in our basement exploding and spraying wine everywhere. Our basement was damp, so I remember clearly the smell of wine and mold. Unpleasant enough to make me not want to attempt wine-making myself.

We (my husband and I) went to Water2Wine together a few months after we received our gift certificate. It's a small but attractive store in a strip mall not far from home. We read a list of the types of wine we could make, sampled a couple, and settled on one specific variety: a Chilean Carmenere. We made an appointment for our wine-making experience.

Herban Farmer Wine
On wine-making day we were led to the wine-making room. There was a large glass carboy containing some filtered water, a bag of wine concentrate and some yeast. Our mentor did the mixing for us, said they would take care of whatever needed to be done between "now" and bottling day, and gave us a schedule for the approximate date we needed to return to bottle our wine--about 6 weeks away. We were given the choice of picking a pre-designed label or making our own. Since I'm a graphic designer we decided I'd design our own label. I emailed the label to them, they sent me a proof and that was that.

We made an appointment for bottling day. Some people invite friends, bring food and make it into a wine-tasting event. We decided instead to go over (my husband, I and our 16 year old son) ourselves.

We were led to another room to bottle. Clear instructions were given to us. My husband took over the job of syphoning the wine from the carboy into wine bottles. My son took the job of corking the bottles. I applied labels and sealed the corks with heat shrink seals.

Pasta Puttanesca
It was so much fun! Did I say that already? The owner's wife asked us if we were hungry. There's an Italian restaurant a couple of doors over, and she offered to place a take-out order for us so we could eat and continue to bottle and sample our wine. She placed our order for take-out and delivered the food to us. We worked, dined and (with the exception of our son) sampled our wine. Happy work! I'd like to share my absolute favorite pasta puttanesca recipe, the photo at the left showcasing our very own wine.

The whole wine-making process was educational, entertaining and satisfying. We now have lots of bottles of delicious wine. We gave some to our gracious neighbors and have many more to gift, enjoy and share.

I have to say that Water2Wine is a terrific experience and great franchise if you're so inclined. I totally recommend that you search for a Water2Wine in your area and make some wine yourself. They take out all the guesswork and chance for error--and make wine-making so easy! Cheers!