Thursday, September 25, 2008

Warm and Wonderful

Fall is in the air! I actually needed a sweater yesterday and this morning. My office is always a little icy, so I keep a cardigan there, but today called for one right out of the door. I’m certainly not complaining. The days are pleasant here and I’m looking forward to a temperate autumn.

The crisp air did, however inspire me to make a very cozy Roasted Cauliflower, Leek, and Garlic Soup that came out rich, creamy, and at a mere 70 calories per cup. Read on…

Cast of Characters

1 head of cauliflower, cut into florets
1/2 head of garlic, cut so that the cloves are exposed
3 leeks, (white/light green part only) sliced thick
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup skim milk
3 bay leaves
A few grinds of black pepper
1/2 tbsp. sea salt
1-2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
Fresh parsley, basil, or basil puree for garnishing

Preheat an oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and place a baking sheet (lined with aluminum foil if you have it) on the middle rack.

While the oven/baking sheet are heating up, toss the cauliflower, leeks, and garlic with the oil, salt, and pepper. Once the oven is preheated, spread the mixture onto the baking sheet and roast, stirring occasionally for 25-30 minutes or until the cauliflower is lightly browned.

Remove the vegetables from the oven and set the garlic aside. Pour the other vegetables into a large saucepan (this is where that aluminum foil comes in handy!) and add the chicken broth and bay leaves.

Once it’s cool enough to handle, (about 5 minutes) squeeze the garlic out of its paper and add it to the soup. Discard the paper. Bring the soup to a boil and then reduce the heat and cover the pot. Simmer for 15 minutes or until the leeks and cauliflower are very tender.

The next step has several options. You can use either an immersion blender, countertop blender, or a food processor to puree the soup. I used my countertop blender and did it in two batches. Once pureed smooth, return the soup to the saucepan and stir in the milk. Taste and add seasoning if necessary.

Serve warm with a basil or parsley garnish. I can’t emphasize enough how much more flavor those vegetables have just from the roasting. Refrigerate for up to 5 days or freeze for up to a month. My batch is frozen into 5 small containers for afternoon snacks or as a side dish alongside roast chicken breast or pork chops.

What popped into my head upon tasting this was that you could make this a healthier substitute for mashed potatoes by using a lot less liquid, (say 1/2 cup chicken broth and 1/2 cup milk) and then processing to your personal desired consistency.

This recipe was adapted from Clean Eating Magazine’s most recent edition. Since they only publish 6 times a year, it included a special section on how to make a clean, healthy Thanksgiving meal. I was a bit doubtful at first, but after tasting that soup I can honestly say it would compliment a roast turkey excellently. Maybe I’ll bring some to Thanksgiving dinner this year…

I’ve been making so much soup lately that my freezer is absolutely packed to the brim. Consequently, I’ve been eyeing pressure canners on Amazon and waiting for a good sale. I have a hot water canner (great for tomatoes and fruits), but without pressure the water can’t get hot enough ensure the destruction of scary bacteria that could spoil low-acidic foods. I have nearly two cases of mason jars waiting to be filled and it would be a shame if they were left so lonely.

Plus, who doesn’t want a cupboard full of homemade soup? Living in Boston made me realize the importance of having a well-stocked pantry. I don’t know about you, but going to the store when the temperature is in the negatives isn’t my idea of a fun time. I think I’d rather curl up on the couch with some warm soup/stew, Joe, and Dioji. That sounds much better.

Okay, enough out of me for today. I hope everyone is having a great week—it’s almost the weekend! Joe and I have errands to run on Saturday (and I have schoolwork), but Sunday will hopefully be full of football and relaxation. Hooray!

Ciao for now, friends!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Catch a Falling Star (Cookie)

I’ve been thinking a lot about a concept called “clean eating” lately. Clean eating simply means consuming food in its most whole or natural state, or as close to that as you can get. It dedicates itself to the idea of mindfully planning healthy meals that satiate the body with nutrients, rejecting over-processed and refined foods. The result is a nourished body that maintains the glycemic balance I mentioned in my earlier post, “Are You Addicted?”

Some simple ways to head in the right direction:

-Replace refined white sugar or artificial sweeteners (Splenda, this means you!) with natural sweeteners like agave nectar, raw honey, grade-b maple syrup, 100% fruit juice, fruit pulp, stevia, or sucanat.

-Replace white flour with whole wheat flour (whole wheat pastry flour for more tender baked goods), or other milled whole grains. This not only benefits you nutrition-wise, but there are so many flavors to discover! Try nut flours, buckwheat, brown rice flour, spelt..etc..etc. The list goes on and on. Many of these are available in local organic markets, but if you can’t find them locally try Amazon or

-Replace soda and sugar-laden juices with 100% fruit juices and (more importantly) water. Not a fan of plain water? Try sparkling water with a dash of fruit juice for a fizzy drink fix.

-Enjoy the whole produce section. Seriously, how many times have you passed up some different leafy greens in the produce section because you didn’t know what they were or how to cook them? I know I’ve done it. Visit a website like for some unique recipes on how to incorporate a variety of fresh vegetables and fruits into your diet. (I particularly like the format of their magazine because they denote which recipes freeze well—great for those of us with limited time during the week!)

I’ve come to a point in my journey where I’d like to try not to focus on numbers so much and instead listen more to my body. Do I feel full? If I feel hungry, is it head hunger or real hunger in my stomach? I’m still logging my food because I need to keep tabs on protein/vitamins. Also, reaching that kind of intuitive state is going to be difficult for me, and frankly I have a lot on my plate right now with school and work. It’s a goal I’ll reach someday, but I think it will be a slow transition. Who knows, though? Maybe meditating on it and learning to center myself will benefit me all around.

Now, you can’t possibly think that I would dare show you a picture of delicious star cookies without sharing the recipe! (I’d never be so cruel.) Those tasty morsels are my new treat. I’d advise freezing them in bags of 4-5 cookies each for easier portion control. I call them Whole Wheat Pie Crust Stars because they taste more like a lightly sweetened buttery pie crust than a sugar cookie. All I know is that they go great with cup of hot chocolate almond milk.

Whole Wheat Pie Crust Stars

1/2 cup rolled oats
3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/4 tsp. sea salt
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tbsp. cinnamon
1/4 cup butter
3 tbsp. blue agave nectar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. almond extract
1/4 cup low-fat buttermilk
1 tbsp. fructose
1 tsp. cinnamon

Preheat an oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit

Mix the fructose and teaspoon of cinnamon in a small bowl and set aside.

Combine the flour, oats, salt, baking soda, and cinnamon in a bowl and mix thoroughly. Using a pastry cutter or the tines of 2 forks, cut in the butter until the mixture reaches the consistency of coarse cornmeal. Some pea-sized pieces are fine. Add the agave nectar, extracts, and buttermilk and mix until a stiff dough forms. If it’s too sticky, add a small amount of flour. Roll the dough into a ball and chill in the freezer for 10-15 minutes.

Roll the dough out to 1/8 inch thick on a lightly-floured board and cut into desired shapes with cookie or biscuit cutters. Lay the cookies on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and sprinkle the fructose/cinnamon mixture over them. NOTE: Fructose is nearly twice as sweet as sugar, so use it very lightly. A tablespoon was enough for 40 star cookies.

Bake the cookies for 9-10 minutes or until the edges are just golden. Move immediately to a cooling rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Variation: Instead of cinnamon/fructose, try heating some all-fruit preserves until somewhat liquefied and drizzling them over the baked cookies. This works really well with spiced-apple preserves. It becomes an apple pie cookie!

The yield depends on the size of your cookie cutters. My small star cutter made about 40 cookies at 28 calories a piece. Not bad for a little treat! I bet crumbling 3-4 of them and adding them during the last 2-3 minutes of churning some protein ice cream would make a killer cookie ice cream.

Well that’s all from me today. I’ve got a lot of schoolwork, but I’m really glad I had some time to share my thoughts here. I really enjoy writing and hearing from all of you who try the recipes. Thanks for continuing to inspire me. Ciao for now, friends!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Celebrate Your Freedom to Read

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson/Peter Parnell

Harry Potter (Series) by J.K. Rowling

Beloved by Toni Morrison

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

I wanted to take up some space on my blog today to get the word out about an event I feel is extremely important. Considering the impact that the upcoming presidential election could have on censorship, it’s crucial to remember the principles of freedom guaranteed to all citizens by the Constitution.

The books listed above represent a tiny sample of the books that have been challenged or banned in the United States from 2007-2008. Other titles challenged in the past have included Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, and Shel Silverstein’s poetry volumes, A Light in the Attic and Where the Sidewalk Ends.

Every year since 1982 the American Library Association, the Office of Intellectual Freedom, and countless publishing and bookselling organizations have sponsored Banned Books Week. This event takes place from September 27 to October 4th this year and reminds Americans not to take our freedom to read for granted.

“Banned books week celebrates the freedom to choose or the freedom to express one’s opinion even if that opinion might be considered unorthodox or unpopular and stresses the importance of ensuring the availability of those unorthodox or unpopular viewpoints to all who wish to read them.” (ALA Website)

Although hundreds of books are challenged every year, most are not banned due to the efforts of librarians and concerned citizens who recognize the importance of upholding this essential freedom of choice. The ALA reminds us, “Imagine how many more books might be challenged—and possibly banned or restricted—if librarians, teachers, and booksellers across the country did not use Banned Books Week each year to teach the importance of our First Amendment rights and the power of literature, and to draw attention to the danger that exists when restraints are imposed on the availability of information in a free society.”

There are many ways to support banned books week, such as checking out a favorite challenged or banned book from your local library or supporting local librarians if you hear about a challenge in your area. Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper reminding readers to support the free exchange of ideas and materials. For other ways to celebrate your freedom, click on the image below.

Remember, “closing books shuts out ideas.” Support Banned Books Week!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Are You Addicted?

Hello, my name is Neen and I am a recovering sugar addict.

For years I both knowingly and unknowingly consumed large quantities of refined white sugar and high-fructose corn syrup (how did that end up in canned soup???) which contributed to my eventual rise to 280 lbs. Foods like my beloved cinnamon scones from Au Bon Pain, fluffy white bread, muffins, white rice, white potatoes, ice cream, juices (with added sugar), pastries, and most baked goods are problematic to the human digestive system.

According to Dr. Francine Kaufmann, professor of Pediatrics at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California and Head of the Center for Diabetes, Endocrinology and Metabolism at Children's Hospital Los Angeles, “the human response to ingestion of carbohydrates is an evolutionary relic from Paleolithic man. In short, our bodies are designed to work based on slow digestion and absorption of complex carbohydrates and a gradual release for energy in lean times. Essentially, our bodies have not responded to modern lifestyle and eating habits. Any spikes in blood sugar provoke an insulin response as a survival hormone to capture extra calories and store them as fat” (Cunningham, Kilara and Merolli 2).

In other words, if you’re looking to live a healthy lifestyle and maintain a normal weight, rapid spikes and drops in blood sugar are not what you’re after. Think about kids on Halloween night or Easter morning (1 lb. chocolate bunny anyone?). A sugary snack provides a short period of hyperactivity and then leads to an eventual crash. Your blood sugar is that little kid.

But don’t get depressed. There’s a solution, and I promise that it’s doable and won’t leave you longing for that fluffy white bread. In fact, quite the opposite happened in my case. Once I recognized how those spikes and drops in my blood sugar really made me feel, I realized that I didn’t want to experience that anymore. Starting my day off in high school with a Pop Tart (or two) made me feel wide-awake and ready to go during my first two classes. By third period, I was toast and craved more energy. In contrast, starting my day off now with a serving of high-protein, high-fiber cereal (specifically Kashi Go-Lean) leaves me with a satisfied pouch (stomach for those of you without re-routed digestive plumbing) and a steadier stream of energy. When I do feel hunger in between meals, it can usually be tamed by a few swigs of water. If not, I reach for a protein cupcake or Glucerna mini snack bar.

I digress. The solution I propose is one that diabetics are somewhat familiar with and is commonly referred to as “glycemic management.” The glycemic index ranks carbohydrate containing foods according to how they affect blood sugar levels within two hours of digestion. “The glycemic index separates carbohydrate-containing foods into three general categories: (1) High Glycemic Index Foods (GI 70+), which cause a rapid rise in blood-glucose levels; (2) Intermediate Glycemic Index Foods (GI 55-69) causing a medium rise in blood-glucose; and (3) Low Glycemic Index Foods (GI 54 or less), causing a slower rise in blood-sugar” (Cunningham, Kilari and Merolli 1). For instance, a french baguette has a glycemic index of 95 while apples have a glycemic index of 38. Don’t fear spaghetti either, its glycemic index is only 41. Have some that’s been enriched with protein and it goes down to 27(

By eating foods with a low impact on blood sugar levels, glucose is released slowly into the bloodstream and the demand on the body to produce insulin is reduced. This, in turn prevents the cycle of spike-crash-crave from occurring. Other benefits exist as well. According to a study published in Diabetes Care, following a low glycemic diet has been shown to help prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes and reduce the risk for coronary artery disease (Temelkova-Kurtschiev et. al, 2000).

All of that sounds really exciting and wonderful, but you’re probably wondering where to turn in the grocery store. For starters, seek out foods that are high in fiber, like multi-grain cereals (avoid those with suspiciously high amounts of sugar) and cruciferous vegetables. Fiber digests very slowly and thus, foods containing high amounts of it usually have low GIs. Most vegetables, fruits, and 100% fruit juices are low on the GI chart, but carefully read the labels on any dried fruit you might buy. Many companies add sugar or high-fructose corn syrup to dried fruit to make it more shelf-stable, thereby increasing the product’s GI. Beans and lentils of all varieties are great, and most milk products (including unsweetened or low-sugar yogurt). If the thought of unsweetened yogurt grosses you out (it does for me!) use a low-impact sweetener like blue agave nectar or a medium impact sweetener such as raw honey or grade b/c maple syrup to add flavor. Or just throw it in a blender with a handful of fruit. Instant deliciousness. Nuts and seeds are also your friends, but once again they’re often abused in some prepared forms. Specifically, many peanut butters are high in sugar, so either find a place that lets you crank your own (Whole Foods does this and it is so much fun) or look for all-natural peanut butters.

This all comes back to being aware of what you put into your body. A properly fueled body is a well-oiled machine prepared to get the job done (whatever yours may be). By maintaining steadier blood glucose levels, weight management becomes easier and risks for later health problems decline. In short, be nice to your body and it will be nice to you.

I hope this little lesson hasn’t bored you to tears or scared you away from my blog forever. I just really wanted to share some of the research I’ve been doing lately. Who can resist when granted access to thousands of journals via a university library? I’d been longing for that student perk again, haha. Anyway, I hope that everyone has a fantastic weekend. The Steelers play the Browns on national TV Sunday night so I think you all know where I’ll be!

Ciao for now, friends!


Cunningham, S., Kilara, A., & Merolli, A. (July-August 2006). Managing glycemic response: the rapidly rising popularity of glycemic index (GI) has opened the doors to many food industry innovation opportunities. Nutraceuticals World , 9, 7. p.82(3) Retrieved September 12, 2008, from Culinary Arts Collection via Gale:

Glycemic Index Food Chart and South Beach Diet. Retrieved September 12, 2008 via:

Temelkova-Kurktschiev, T., Koehler, C., Henkel, E., Leonhardt, W., Fuecker, K., Hanefeld, M. (December 2000). Postchallenge Plasma Glucose and Glycemic Spikes Are More Strongly Associated With Atherosclerosis Than Fasting Glucose or [HbA.sub.1c] Level. Diabetes Care, 23, 2. p.1830 Retrieved September 12, 2008, from Health and Wellness Resource Center via Gale:

Monday, September 8, 2008

The Promised Pies

After living in England for a summer, I had a new found love for a particular portable food: the Cornish pasty. Whoever devised such a great way to use leftovers was certainly a savvy housewife. Tradition claims that the pasty was created as a way for tin miners to eat their lunch without having to return to the surface. A simple device, the pasty is nothing more than dough with a filling inside that’s then folded over, sealed, and baked. The traditional filling includes diced steak, onion, and potatoes, but today’s modern pasties are filled with a variety of sweet and savory options.

In an attempt to be a responsible WLS patient abroad, I limited my pasty eating to a bite here and there to try the various types. After watching a Good Eats episode titled “A Pie in Every Pocket,” and having a craving for a Pop-Tart the other night, I decided it was time to create a WLS-friendly pasty. I modified Alton Brown’s dough to get rid of the simple carbohydrates and add some much needed protein. Here’s what I came up with…

Apple Protein Pasties

Cast of Characters

3.5 oz. whole wheat pastry flour
1.25 oz. soy flour
2 scoops vanilla whey protein powder
1.25 oz. vegetable shortening
1/3 cup milk (I used skim)
1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. kosher salt
1.2 tsp. cinnamon

Combine all of the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Using your fingertips or a pastry blender, cut in the shortening until the mixture has the consistency of cornmeal. Add the milk and mix until everything comes together. Turn the dough out onto a floured board and knead 10-20 times. If it is too sticky to knead, add a small amount of pastry flour.

Roll the dough out to about ½ inch thickness and cut out rounds using a 2 inch biscuit cutter. The dough should yield about ten of them. Roll each round out to about 5-6 inches in diameter and stack them (with wax paper in between) in the refrigerator for at least an hour. I just used some that I made last night, so it does keep overnight as long as it’s covered and cool.

Now it’s time to contemplate filling. I was really hankering for apple-cinnamon so I used some apple pie filling that I canned last fall. I’d recommend using homemade or all-fruit preserves and fillings as often as possible simply because it helps control the sugar content better. You could even use unsweetened applesauce and add some spices for a similar flavor. The possibilities are endless. Replace the vanilla protein powdered with unflavored for savory pies. Try a spoonful of leftover chili or some pizza sauce, cheese and finely diced pepperoni.

Once the dough rounds have chilled, mix together one egg and 2 tsp. of water. This egg wash will help seal the pies and keep them from coming apart in the oven.

Place one heaping spoonful of filling on one half of the round. Do not overfill---it will make a mess in the oven. With your fingertip, paint egg wash around the edges of the same side. Fold over the other half of the dough, pressing gently to remove any excess air. Crimp the edges with a fork to seal. Using a paring knife or kitchen shears, pierce 3 small vent holes in the top of each pie.

Bake the pies in a 350 degree oven for 20-25 minutes. Keep an eye on them after about 20 because soy flour browns very quickly.

Yum! Each dough round is 125 calories, 5 grams of fat, 13 grams of carbohydrates, and 7.5 grams of protein. The final product will depend on the filling you choose. With my apple pie filling, the total was about 150 calories. I had one at tea today and warmed it up for a minute in our toaster—it was heavenly. Wrapped in plastic wrap, fruit pies will keep for about a week. Meat pies should be refrigerated. For long-term storage, place the unbaked pies on a cookie sheet in the freezer. Once they’re frozen, put them in Ziploc bags and store. They can go straight from the freezer to the oven, but will take slightly longer to cook, maybe about 30 minutes.

So there are the pies, as promised. I hope you have a chance to enjoy making them, because they make a great quick lunch or snack. As for me it’s back to reading for school, so ciao for now friends!

Save Room, (later tonight) There's Pie!

Hello all! Sorry for the hiatus. Last week was the first real week of graduate classes. I’m still trying to master the balance between working during the day and taking some time in the evenings to check in on my class discussion boards. I’d prefer to make my schedule somewhat regimented, but I don’t want to over think it at the same time. At any rate, this semester is somewhat of an experiment, and hopefully I’ll learn what I can and can’t handle in terms of a workload.

This weekend was full of good things. Saturday night we went to Wolftrap to see Les Miserables with Joe’s parents. Fortunately, the remnants of hurricane Hanna dissipated in time for the performance (it was at an outdoor pavilion) and we ended up with perfect evening weather.

The production itself was very good. Les Mis is one of my favorite shows, so there were lots of particular scenes/songs that I was looking forward to. The cast did not disappoint. The gentlemen playing Valjean and Javert had near-perfect antagonistic chemistry. Vocal-wise, I felt the strongest players were the actors portraying Valjean, Javert, Enjolras, and (surprisingly) Marius. I’m not usually a fan of Marius’ character as the love-struck student. If an actor isn’t careful, the role can come off as fickle (in my opinion), but that wasn’t the case. In fact, the song in which he eulogizes his friends, “Empty Chairs At Empty Tables” was my favorite solo vocal performance of the evening. As for ensemble numbers, they were all well done, but “Do You Hear the People Sing?” and “One Day More” were outstanding. They’re both those kind of big ensemble numbers that get your adrenaline going.

Going to the theatre is somewhat bittersweet for me at times, and Saturday night was no different. There is still a part of me that wishes I’d stuck it out as a theatre major and tried to make my name in New York City. I miss performing a lot, and hearing the songs that I used to sing in voice class makes me nostalgic for it. Saturday night particularly made me remember performing “At the End of the Day” (another Les Mis ensemble number) with my group voice class when I was about 13 years old. I couldn’t help but smile when I thought about that group of people. It still makes me chuckle remembering that we only had one boy in the class, so he and I always ended up singing tenor in the group numbers to balance out the sopranos.

Thinking about that in conjunction with what I’ve been learning in my Information and Society class really helped me to get a better grasp on the concept of how things link together through a common thread. As humans, we categorize and organize facets of our lives in order to create better wayfinding methods. By wayfinding, I mean the things we use, know, and do in order to get from one place to another. For instance, the Folger’s main webpage has many links to the various current exhibits, publications, and visitor information. Each of those subpages has links to more specific subpages and a link back to the main page. In navigating those links (like watching road signs) we essentially follow a path that leads to the information we seek.

Now, what does this have to do with thinking about my past theatre experience? Well, haven’t you ever gotten lost in your thoughts, or had a conversation go off on a tangent only to step back and think, “Wait, how did I/we get here?” In my case, thinking about that group performance made me realize how much the Pittsburgh CLO became the “main page” that “linked” me to many of my future theatre endeavors. It was someone in that group of people that told me about CLO’s choir, which I joined and performed with for a while. Then, someone in the choir told me about auditions for Bye Bye Birdie, which I went to and ended up performing in the following summer. That experience led me to finally taking private voice lessons…and so on and so forth. It wasn’t until after I’d followed the path to the end of high school that I realized I was doing a sort of historical wayfinding to understand how I’d ended up where I was.

And to be honest, it made me feel better. It made me remember why I’d made the decision to pursue English as a major in college and why I’d decided that the performance life wasn’t for me. I still felt the happy nostalgia, but the lingering pang of regret was gone. Finding the information I sought brought resolution, as does any fruitful research (hopefully).

Once again, I find myself thrilled to have this blog. Now writing here is even keeping me thinking about the concepts I’m learning in school. Since I haven’t updated in so long, I decided that I’d make something extra special and tasty to share. Unfortunately, the pictures are at home, so you’ll have to wait just a little longer. Like the title says, “Save Room, (later tonight) There’s Pie!” and tonight I promise to post a recipe for Apple Pocket Pies that I promise is delicious and full of whole grains and protein.

I hope everyone had a wonderful weekend and that your Monday isn’t too terrifying. Ciao for now!