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Archive for April, 2008

Brief Absence

Because of upcoming exams, presentations, and papers, I will not be writing anything here for about a week.  You can expect a new post on Monday, May 5.  Thanks!

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Best Hummus Ever

Before I get back to talking about buying non-toxic mattresses, I thought I’d pass on another favorite recipe.  We can’t get enough of this Middle-Eastern dip around our house.  Even though the recipe makes a big batch, the two of us usually polish it off within 48 hours.  It’s really, truly delightful.  The lemon juice and garlic give this version extra zip.

Since I’m allergic to gluten, I eat my hummus on all kinds of vegetables–carrot and celery sticks, cucumber slices, wide strips of red and yellow bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, and even giant black olives.  I’ve also seen hummus served with corn chips before.  That can be fun too, for a change.  Or, if you aren’t cursed with a gluten allergy, feel free to indulge in soft, warm pitas or crunchy pita chips. 

I think a platter of hummus and fresh veggies makes a great welcome snack for guests arriving from out of town.  After dropping off their bags, they can sit down with a drink and munch a bit while I work on dinner.  I also like to take the hummus and veggies combo when asked to bring an appetizer to parties where I know there won’t be much I can eat.  The veggies provide me that nice crunching, munching sensation, while the garbanzo beans offer protein, and the tahini and olive oil give me heart-healthy fat.  Besides, the other guests love it too.

[Edited: By the way, this recipe, when served with vegetables, makes a great snack for those with blood sugar issues or for people battling Candida.]

 

Hummus

( from Gourmet magazine, August 1998 )

2 cans (15 oz each) chick-peas, rinsed and drained (also known as garbanzo beans)
4 large garlic cloves
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2/3 cup well-stirred tahini, toasted or raw (also known as sesame seed butter)
2/3 cup water
5 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon sea salt

1.  In a food processor, puree 1/2 cup of the chick-peas with the garlic cloves until the garlic is finely minced. 

2.  Add the rest of the ingredients and process until very smooth.  That’s it!  The hummus can be served right away or refrigerated for up to 3 days and served chilled.

 

If you’re preparing the dip for a special occasion or if you simply want a lovely presentation, consider adding the following garnishes.  I especially love the pine nuts and cumin seeds.

1.  In a blender or small food processor, puree 1/4 cup packed fresh flat-leaf parsley with 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil.  Pour mixture through a fine sieve set over a bowl, pressing hard on solids.  Discard solids.  Set the parsley oil aside and do not refrigerate.  (Olive oil solidifies in the refrigerator.)

2.  In an oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit, toast 1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds and 3 tablespoons raw pine nuts, stirring occasionally, until nuts are golden (about 10 minutes).  Remove from oven and allow to cool.

3.  Before serving the hummus, drizzle the parsley oil over the top, then sprinkle with the toasted pine nuts and cumin seeds.  Finish with a few springs of parsley.  Beautiful!

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After suffering for many months with daily pain and intense trouble sleeping, my husband and I finally made the plunge and bought a new bed.  It was a difficult decision for us, considering the expense, but we are so thankful now.  It has made a huge difference.  Our back pain has declined to almost nothing, we sleep more soundly, and when we lie down at night, we don’t groan in agony.  We actually feel comfortable as we drift off to sleep.  What a relief!

I’m writing about this here because we made some unusual choices in buying our mattress.  My parents have had a Tempurpedic for years, and since I’ve always slept really well on it, that was the first direction we went.  I started doing research and calculations.  My MD/ND, however, suggested that we consider an alternative to memory foam.  As it turns out, memory foam is a petroleum product with tons of side effects.  Who knew? 

Many people experience headaches because of Tempurpedic and similar products’ fumes, and the compounds in these mattresses can cause birth defects, sexual malformation (in infants), and all kinds of neurological and immune system issues.  Since I already have some chemical sensitivities and lots of headaches, and since we’d like to co-sleep with our infants when we have kids, we decided that memory foam simply wasn’t worth the risk.

Next, we looked into “normal” mattresses.  Unfortunately, the same issues appeared, partly because many mattresses now combine inner springs with memory foam, and partly because of the chemicals used as flame retardants.  Mattresses are required by law to be flame retardant, and boric acid, a known reproductive and developmental toxin, is the chemical of choice for this purpose.  

So what are the alternatives?

Fortunately, an organic, non-toxic mattress market does exist.  It’s important to do your research and be sure you’re buying from a reputable company, but if you’re careful, you can find a truly superior product that’s better for your body and the environment.  When going organic or nontoxic, you have a few choices:

1.  Futon-style mattress: This is a simple, pallet-style mattress consisting only of organic cotton or wool stuffing and an untreated wool casing.  There are no springs in this kind of mattress.  This is, obviously, the cheapest option.

2.  Traditional inner-spring mattress: These are just like the ones you’ve slept on all your life, except that they’re padded with organic cotton and cased in wool. 

3.  Organic latex mattress: Our personal pick, this is the closest natural equivalent to memory foam.  These mattresses are made of latex foam from rubber trees and cased in wool.  Incidentally, these are extremely popular in Europe.

You may have noticed that all of these mattresses are cased in wool.  That’s because wool is naturally fire-resistant.  By using untreated wool, organic manufacturers can avoid the nasty flame retardant chemicals, while still meeting the government’s safety requirements.

In all cases, you simply must ask lots of questions and do your research to be sure that you are truly buying a toxin-free mattress.  Buying a latex mattress, in particular, can be problematic.  Mainstream manufacturers are starting to pick up on the latex trend, and they sell “natural” ones in major stores.  Don’t fall for it.  These are not natural mattresses.  Ask where the company gets its rubber.  Ask exactly how it’s prepared.  Ask what’s in the casing (fibers and chemicals).  Ask whether they use any glue and, if so, exactly what kind.  Sure it’s a headache up front, but it sure beats 10 years of headaches from a toxic product.

I’ll post more tomorrow on our final decision–which companies and products we chose and why.  Stay tuned!

[Edited: To read the follow-up post, go here.]

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Why I Love My Mother-In-Law

Have you ever seen an apron this cute? 

Queen Of Everything

My mother-in-law gave this apron to me a couple of weeks ago during her visit.  With no provocation whatsoever.  No birthday.  No holiday.  No anniversary.  No reasons for apology or making up.

She did it just because.

And that makes me feel really special. 

Besides, I have a secret penchant for aprons.  I don’t know why, but I just adore cute aprons!  I never actually buy them for myself.  What, after all, could possibly be my justification?  That I need yet another piece of pretty cloth to absorb splatters and spills?  What could be more superfluous?  Fortunately, none of that matters when someone else buys one for you.  Then you simply get to enjoy yourself, free of guilt.

Now I find myself making excuses to put it on.  Yesterday, for example, I slipped into it before…folding clothes and dusting.  No, my clothes don’t generally get too dirty doing those kinds of chores, but darn it if that apron didn’t make me feel better!  I felt downright chipper.  

Hmmm…I think I’ll go put it on again, seeing as I’m a little sidetracked from this afternoon’s goal of tidying up our home.

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Busy Day Mexican Chicken Soup

As much as I enjoy cooking, I have those days when I’m just too tired or too busy to put much time into dinner.  If I’m not prepared for these occasions, this can mean a trip to a restaurant.  That gets expensive in a hurry, especially if I still attempt to eat healthfully.  Or, I might scrounge around the house for something…shall we say…less than ideal nutritionally. 

It is so much more realistic when I have a plan for these inevitable occasions.  No, this recipe might not have a perfect nutrtional profile, but it’s not too shabby.  And it’s a heck of a lot better than just throwing my hands into the air and giving in to whatever.  The ingredients are common and can be kept in the house at all times.  Better still, it’s SO fast and SO easy, it almost doesn’t count as cooking at all. 

Oh, it happens to be tasty too.  Very, very tasty.  I’ve been making some version of this soup for years, and I still love it.  My husband really enjoys it too.  I just give myself all the broth and make his bowl more chunky (like stew).  That way he gets full, even though it’s soup.  Another filling option would be to serve it over brown rice, but that would add to the prep time. 

 

Busy Day Mexican Chicken Soup

1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium green bell pepper, seeded and chopped (other colors work too)
1 can Rotel tomatoes (diced tomatoes with green chilies)
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
2 cans chunk chicken breast (use cooked fresh chicken breasts if you have more time)
2 to 3 cans chicken broth, depending on how soupy you like your soup
1 teaspoon chili powder, or more to taste (I like more)
1 teaspoon cumin, or more to taste (I like more of this too)

Step 1: Put all ingredients into a pot, bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until veggies are tender.  This won’t take long at all–just a few minutes.

Step 2: Uh, that’s it!  Serve with chopped fresh cilantro.  (Tortilla chips and cheese are good too, though not at all healthy.)

Note: If canned chicken breast creeps you out, just keep some cubed cooked chicken breast in your freezer and throw some into the soup as needed.

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Post Coming Soon

I’m sorry I didn’t post on Sunday or Monday, but I promise to roll one out today.  So please do check back later.  Also, I have very good news: my digital SLR is on its way!  That means the addition of photographs to the website very soon.  I’m so excited! 

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I arrived home from school today with no ideas for dinner.  I’ve been recovering from a visit from my mother-in-law (which was great, by the way), studying for 3 exams, and revising a paper this week.  As you can imagine, menu planning has been low on my list of priorities.  Fortunately, after poking around in the pantry for a while and visiting my recipe box at www.allrecipes.com, I decided to give a particular recipe for lentil soup another try.  The first time around, I wasn’t very impressed.  Tonight, though, dinner was great!  I made a lot of modifications, so I think it’s fair to say that what I’ve written below is “my” recipe. 

It’s a great way to sneak in those amazingly healthy dark, leafy greens, while also benefiting from the protein and fiber in red lentils.  If you’ve peeked at my other red lentil recipes, you already know that they are the easiest kind of lentil to digest, and with these spices, they are even kinder to the tummy.  As always, if you are especially sensitive, consider soaking your lentils for at least 12 hours, then dramatically reduce the amount of liquid in the recipe.  Diabetics, hypoglycemics, vegans, and health-conscious people, this recipe is for you!

 

Spicy Red Lentil and Kale Stew

1 to 2 tablespoons virgin, unrefined coconut oil (or ghee or extra virgin olive oil)
1 large onion, chopped
4 large garlic cloves, minced

2 cups red lentils, rinsed and drained
2 large tomatoes, seeded and chopped
6 cups water
2 teaspoons dried basil
1.5 teaspoons ground cardamom
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper, according to your heat preference
1/2 teaspoon curry powder

3 to 5 cups chopped kale
1 tablespoon high-quality sea salt

In a Dutch oven or a wide and deep saute pan, heat the oil over medium heat.  Add the onion and garlic and saute until very tender. 

Stir in the lentils, tomatoes, water, and all the seasonings.  Bring to a boil, then cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 35 minutes.

Toss in the kale and salt, combine thoroughly, and cook for 10 more minutes.

Adjust seasonings and serve.

NOTE: If you do not have kale, I’m sure that other dark, leafy greens would be delicious as well.  Collard greens, Swiss chard, and spinach would probably make good substitutions.  Also, canned diced tomatoes work just fine in place of the fresh ones.

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