Archive for the ‘Nutrition’ Category

If you’re looking for a pretty side dish for brunch, a fun preschool snack, or something for the kids after school, try these simple pear cups with cheese cubes!

Breakfast on the patio, anyone?

Breakfast on the patio, anyone?

Pear Cups with Cheese Cubes

1 organic pear per two people (Tip: if your pears are not quite ripe, put them in a paper bag with a banana overnight and the ethylene gas will help ripen the pears)
blocks of cheddar cheese and colby jack cheese (or substitute your favorite hard cheese, or this would even work well with Brie or cottage cheese too. If you use Brie, spoon a little honey mustard on top and the combination will taste like heaven and look pretty too!)


Preparation Time:
5 minutes for each set of two pair halves (Note: try to prepare these cups just before serving. I made mine about an hour before serving and that was fine, but any longer and the pear will brown and the cheese might get soggy from the pear juice).


Rinse and dry the pear. Slice it in half vertically (from stem to bottom). Cut out the core and a little bit extra in the center to create a pear “cup.”

The pear cup, ready for cheese cubes.

The pear cup, ready for cheese cubes.

Cut up the cheese blocks into small cubes and arrange the cubes inside the pear cups, piling the cheese as high as possible. Serve ASAP but you can refrigerate them for an hour or so before serving if desired. You can either eat the cheese and the cups separately, or enjoy them together for a tasty treat!

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Monday meant back to school for my kiddos and that meant back to “work” for me. Three or four weeks per year I bring the snack for the preschool class. What compelled me to be on the list for the week after winter break I don’t know. Thank goodness I put it on my calendar and remembered! I even researched a healthy, fun snack that was inexpensive and easy to prepare. It turned out so cute I’m thinking of serving it for the next kids’ book club meeting for my 2nd and 5th grader and the rest of the moms.

Cucumber Cups with Ranch Dressing and Carrots for Dipping

Ingredients for 30 cucumber cups, 2 each for 15 people:
5 large organic cucumbers (you want to leave the skins on)
1 large bag of at least 60 organic baby carrots (you could use regular, peeled and cut carrot sticks)
1 bottle of organic or homemade ranch dressing

melon baller or similar scooper

Prep time:
20 minutes

Rinse and scrub the cucumbers. Slice off the ends of the cucumbers. Cut them into 2-inch sections, about 6 sections per cucumber depending on the size. Use a melon baller to scoop out the center of each section, creating a “cup” for the ranch dressing. Reserve the scooped-out cucumber to use in a salad or cucumber soup.

Step one: cut a two-inch section of cucumber and scoop out the center, leaving a cucumber "cup."

Step one: cut a two-inch section of cucumber and scoop out the center, leaving a cucumber “cup.”

Into each cucumber “cup,” pour a small amount of ranch dressing and add two baby carrots or carrot sticks.

These fun dipping cups end up looking like rabbit ears or sushi.

These fun dipping cups ended up looking like rabbit ears or sushi.

I knew I had a hit on my hands when my 8- and 10-year-olds wanted to help me make — and EAT — these before school. The preschool kids loved them too. When I asked my 4-year-old if the class liked them, she said they loved them. “Everyone ate 2, or 3, or 4, or 5! I had the most!”

If you’re looking for other healthy snack ideas, check out:

Ants on a Log
Four Fun Pirate-Themed Snacks

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Recently we played Name That Fruit. Now it’s time for Name That Vegetable:


I’ve started a new game with my husband. When he goes to the grocery store for me, I challenge him to buy me an interesting new fruit or vegetable. This one stumped me for sure. Thankfully it came with a Melissa’s brand tag that explained:

Malanga is a tropical tuber used in Latin and African cooking. This starchy tuber has a nutty flavor. It can be prepared like a potato: sliced, diced or mashed. It is a great complement to spicy sauces or served with meat.

The label said a single 3-ounce serving of malanga has 91 calories, 23 grams of carbohydrates, 3 grams of fiber and 1 gram of protein.

“My” malanga came all the way from Ecuador. I felt a little bad about that — it’s not exactly shopping locally — but I felt good about trying something new. I baked it like a potato and ate the insides. The tag was right about the nutty flavor. Later in the week I ate some roasted chestnuts and the chestnut meat reminded me exactly of the flavor and consistency of the malanga insides. It’s more dense and flavorful than a potato. I have a feeling I’d love it if I hadn’t grown up on white potatoes. As it is I thought it was interesting, if not delicious.

“Malanga” is the Spanish-speaking name for this tropical vegetable, but some cultures call it eddoe or Chinese eddoe. In the Urdu and Hindi languages of South Asia, it’s called arvi.

Have you ever tried a malanga? What’s the strangest thing you’ve eaten lately?

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Part of what I love about getting a weekly box of organic produce from a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm is that it forces me to cook with vegetables that are in season, meaning that they are grown locally, taste better and are fresher than those in the grocery store.

The fennel bulb, lounging by the pool

The fennel bulb, lounging by the pool.

The fennel bulb, stalks, leaves and seeds are all edible. If you don’t have access to a CSA or farmers market, you can buy fennel in the grocery store for around $2.00-$2.50 a bulb (in California expensive prices — yours might be cheaper!) depending on the size, and it’s readily available in autumn through early spring.

When I got fennel in my weekly farm share haul, I wasn’t sure what to do with the licorice-scented bulb. Fortunately I had also recently come across this book at the library used bookstore for $3.

Vegetarian Planet

It’s Vegetarian Planet: 350 Big-Flavor Recipes for Out-Of-This-World Food Every Day by chef Didi Emmons, and even as a non-vegetarian I love it! I spent one evening by the fire marking all the recipes I want to try and I flagged much of the book! (On a fennel note though, I do feel the need to disclose that the Carrot Fennel Soup recipe in the book was not a hit — it had nice orange color and was flavorful but the strong fennel taste was not a favorite in my family. I found I enjoyed the leftover soup served cold better than hot.)

Quick Vegetable Stock Recipe

Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
Total time: 40 minutes

2 carrots
1 tomato
1 fennel bulb
1 large onion
8 garlic cloves
10 cups water

Roughly chop the carrots, tomato, fennel bulb (if you wish you can chop the whole thing — bulb, stalks and leaves) and onion. Crush or mince the garlic. Put the vegetables in a stock pot with the water, bring it all to a boil, turn down the heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Strain the vegetables out and you should have about 8 cups of vegetable stock. Vegetable stock freezes well. What I don’t use right away I like to store in portions of 2 cups each in the freezer. I find that fresh vegetable stock is easy to make and less expensive than store-bought (especially this quick version — Vegetarian Planet also has a recipe for Basic Vegetable Stock that takes a little longer and requires more ingredients).

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As I mentioned yesterday, the nagging injuries in my left shin and right groin had put me in a bit of a funk. Show me a runner who deals with injury well and I’ll call her a liar. I aspire to handle injury with grace, but as my husband can attest, that remains a mere aspiration. In fact, half the reason I started this blog was to have someone else (a community of someone elses, in addition to my patient husband) to talk to about running and injuries. Along with running my mouth off (ha ha), I’ve put in place a Happiness Plan. I told myself, “Quick, think about the things that make you happy. Make a list! Put it into action!”

1. Exercise six days a week. Five workouts of running, swimming or cycling, and at least two of weight training. One full day of rest and one day with only strength training. [Note that I have stuck with this plan for the last week, running 20 miles, biking for 50 minutes, and doing several strength training workouts].

2. Get outside for half an hour daily or more. This is a must for me. I am a terrible homebody and my natural tendency is to stay inside, preferably curled up in bed with a good book. At the same time, I recognize that I am happiest when I am out of doors, and if I make the effort to get outside, I’m richly rewarded.

A gorgeous winter (?!) day in Southern California. This was my view on my 50-minute bike ride through the park on Sunday.

A gorgeous winter (?!) day in Southern California. This was my view on my 50-minute bike ride through the park on Sunday.

3. Keep a “to do” list. Each day do the one thing that’s bugging me most (often the very thing I least want to do). Then knock out as many of the others as possible.

4. Keep up with the laundry (that includes putting the clean clothes away!) With five people in the family, including three little girls who love to play dress-up and a few athletes who often go through two sets of clothes and a sweaty towel a day, that adds up to a lot of laundry. If I do two loads a day, I can keep on top of it. A clean house = peaceful mind.

5. Focus on nutrition. Two fruits and seven vegetables per day. Ten 8-ounce glasses of water or other liquids (and that does not include alcohol!) That might sound like a lot of water (and I do know it’s possible to over-hydrate) but I can tell you that it is so dry here in Southern California that I often get headaches if I do not drink enough water. Add on turning on the furnace in winter and it is super dry here even with the rain we’ve been getting lately.

And if you think eating your veggies is a strange part of a Happiness Plan, check out this article from three days ago that confirms that eating more veggies and fruit can make you happier.

The more vegetables you eat, the happier and more satisfied with life you are. In fact, in one survey, eating seven to eight portions of vegetables was more strongly associated with happiness and overall well-being than employment status. On the whole, the paper concluded that well-being peaks at seven daily servings of fruits and vegetables, but the surveys also showed that people who ate just five servings a day (the amount that the USDA recommends) were as happy–or very nearly so–as people who ate higher amounts.

Love it, but I don’t need a study to tell me that I feel better when I eat better. (Note that the study cannot confirm whether happy people eat their veggies or eating veggies makes people happy. I’m not sure it makes a difference to me — I want to be a happy vegetable eater either way!)

On the whole, my Happiness Plan seems pretty basic and straightforward. I would argue though that it takes living with intention to stay on track with the Happiness Plan, and that’s exactly what I intend to do.

Do you have a Happiness Plan? What are the must-do items on your list? In addition to the five things on my list above, I’d add the one thing I take for granted: spending time with family. The happiest times of day for me are the times I spend snuggling my youngest in the morning before school, or reading to the girls at night.

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What kind of weirdo has thoughts on celery, and goes so far as to think anyone else would like to hear those thoughts? Me of course. Stick around, especially if you’re not a fan of celery.

1. You must buy organic celery for the best flavor and to reduce pesticide consumption. For years my husband hated celery. He didn’t like the taste, and even thought he might be allergic to it due to some odd reactions he would get if he ate it. Then we started getting organic celery in our CSA farm share box, and he loved it! It’s no wonder. Celery is #2 on the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen list of the 12 vegetables with the most pesticide residues on them. Organic celery might not have more nutrients in it than conventionally grown celery, but it has a lot less pesticide and a lot more flavor!

2. Do the strings in celery bother you? Peel them! No, I don’t mean you should spend your lunch hour painstakingly picking out each little string in your celery stick. If the stringiness of celery offends your delicate taste buds, then get out a vegetable peeler and peel the outside curve of the celery just like you would peel the skin off any other vegetable. I learned that little trick from watching chef Emeril Lagasse teach someone how to make celery more tender and appealing. Personally the strings do not bother me and I am way too lazy to take the time to peel celery, but I can totally see doing it if it would help a picky eater in my family enjoy another green vegetable!

3. Dress up your celery. Sure you could eat celery plain or dip it in some dressing, but I like to fill the inside curve with peanut butter and top it with a line of raisins. Crunchy, salty and sweet — it’s the vegetable version of a chocolate-covered pretzel. Around here, we call it Ants on a Log, but you could also stand those little raisins on end and create yet another pirate-themed snack — Pirates Walking the Plank!

Pirates Walking the Plank

Weigh in with this weirdo celery lover. Celery: yay or nay? Peeling: necessary or not?

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Name That Fruit

You get a nutritional gold star (not to be confused with a nutritious gold star, which I’m pretty sure does not exist because even though the super-rich like to decorate their food with edible gold flakes, such flakes don’t provide any nutritive value), if you can name this fruit:

Mystery fruit #1

These beauties came in my CSA box from Tanaka Farms the other day. I had no idea what they were until I looked up the delivery list for the week. I thought they looked like some kind of pear, but some of them were more round than pear-shaped. My first clue should have been the yummy smell of the ones that were starting to ripen and turn yellow:

Mystery fruit #1 pic 2

Can you guess? (This reminds me of a story my mom tells of the time she gave her dad a present when she was a little girl. She was so excited when she handed him the gift, she said, “Guess, but don’t guess hankies!”)

So, guess, but don’t guess Asian guavas! Yup, these fragrant fruits are organic Asian guavas. My husband and my 4-year-old gobbled them up at dinner yesterday. According to Trethowan Organic Farm, here’s how to eat them, and the benefits they provide:

Don’t peel them, just remove the seeds. Not only do they possess an exotic flavor, they have a long list of health benefits: Guavas are low in calories and fats but contain several vital vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. They are an excellent source of Vitamin C, Vitamin A, and potassium. Guavas are also a good source of B Complex, Vitamin E and K.

What new fruit or vegetable have you tried lately? Have you ever tasted an Asian guava? I tried a bite of Asian guava but I’m not a huge fan of guavas. I would definitely remove the seeds and then blend these up in a smoothie. Or, you know, save them for Mike and my youngest girl, who devoured them like they are the nectar of the gods.

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My kids and I love to pick apples in the fall. I find that children are far more likely to eat well if they are involved in the selection, growing, and/or harvesting of their own food. In keeping with that belief, one of the first things my husband and I did when we bought our house was to plant four apple trees to complement the existing avocado, nectarine, feijoa (pineapple guava), pomegranate, loquat, lemon and lime trees on our lot. Now I know what you’re thinking: apple trees in sunny SoCal? Yes, it’s true. You can grow apples even in the moderate climates found here in Los Angeles, Orange County and the rest of Southern California.

Did you know that there are over 8,000 apple varieties grown around the world, and several of those are “low-chill” varieties that can be grown in temperate Southern California? “Chill hours” is a term that refers to the number of yearly hours a climate has below 45° F (7° C). Most varieties require 500-1,000 chill hours, but there are low-chill varieties that can thrive with 500 or less. For greatest success in Southern California, the University of California Cooperative Extension has the following advice:

To ensure successful apple production in mild winter zones of Southern California, select from the following varieties that need less than 300 hr. of chilling: Beverly Hills, Gordon, Tropical Beauty, Anna, Dorsett Golden, and Ein Shemer. Gala has recently proven itself in Southern California except for the lowest chill areas near the coast. Recent U.C. variety evaluations in Irvine, CA determined that the best flavored apples were Fuji, Anna, and Gala. Gala was superb. The most vigorous growers were Pink Lady, Gala, and Jonagold.

Right now on my trees I have some gorgeous, tiny Galas:

Gala apple on the tree

One tiny Gala treasure

and big-but-not-so-pink Pink Ladies:

Pink Lady apple on the tree

Not-yet-blushing Pink Lady

Earlier in the year, we harvested the Annas and Dorsett Goldens. Tip: Most apples require cross-pollination from different varieties that flower at the same time. So, for best success, choose apple varieties that are low-chill and bloom at the same time, and plant them within 50 feet of each other. I always buy organic (and local when possible), and thus get my bare root fruit trees from Peaceful Valley (I have no affiliation with them, I just like ’em!)

While I was out looking at the trees, I took some other pictures in my yard. While we might not have traditional fall “color” in SoCal, we sure have some colorful beauties:

Southern California fall flowers

Clockwise from top: Bird of paradise, red hibiscus, white hibiscus, red “carnation” hibiscus, plumeria

Do you grow any of your own fruit? Have you had good luck growing apples? My own trees are not that big yet, but we’re getting more and more apples each year.

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Recently my family had the opportunity to visit “our” CSA farm, Tanaka Farms in Irvine.

Tanaka Farms

Sunflowers, corn, and thousands of pumpkins!

Our first stop was the wagon ride, which took us to see the pumpkin cannon. Yes, that cannon really fired a small white pumpkin cannonball over the fields and onto the empty hillside beyond.

Pumpkin cannon

The pumpkin cannon. If you click on the photo you can see the bananas growing in the grove!

Next up was the watermelon patch. Only in Orange County would you see this:

watermelon patch

Golfers on the driving range behind the watermelon patch

After the ride we stopped at the CSA table for a snack prepared especially for CSA members: kale and apple salad in agave dressing, squash and onion stir fry, and watermelon slices. Thus refueled, we walked through the corn maze and out to the u-pick vegetable patch.

picking radishes

That’s either a leg or an arm, picking radishes. I’m going with arm.

The crops in the u-pick vegetable patch included radishes, carrots, onions and green beans for $2.99 a pound. With the three girls helping, we managed to pick six pounds!

picking onions

I should have worn some farming overalls to pick onions

Don’t worry, we also picked pumpkins, three for $7.75 each. That’s a pretty good price considering I paid $7 for the pumpkin I bought at the grocery store to make pumpkin curry soup and whole wheat pumpkin muffins, although I saw jack-o-lantern pumpkins at Trader Joe’s for $2.99 today — a much better deal than Vons!

Have you ever been to a u-pick farm? We’ve been to so many over the years I can hardly name all the things we’ve picked — blueberries, strawberries (organic at our old CSA, South Coast Farms in San Juan Capistrano), cherries, apples (organic at Apple Starr Orchards in Julian), raspberries, tomatoes, and now all kinds of vegetables at Tanaka Farms.

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Fall is my favorite season. Correction: fall in the midwest is my favorite season. In California, winter is my favorite season. Why? Because the first week in October, we had “fall” temperatures topping 100 degrees. Just makes you want to turn the oven on to bake some pumpkin muffins and turn on the stovetop to simmer some pumpkin soup, right? Seriously, though, I couldn’t wait any longer for the temperatures to drop. Regardless of the temperature outside, this happened. This:

got smashed into this:

Pumpkin guts

which then got scooped out and baked at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for an hour, peeled and blended into this:

Pumpkin puree

Ten cups of that, to be exact. Yes, I magically turned a $7 jack o’lantern pumpkin into $10 worth of pumpkin puree. (Tip: don’t be like me. Buy the more flavorful, less watery sugar or pie pumpkin instead of the jack o’lantern pumpkin meant for carving. The puree will taste better and certainly be more suitable if you plan to bake a pumpkin pie.) I also turned this (plus two tablespoons of butter and some salt):

Raw pumpkin seeds

into one cup of yummy

Roasted pumpkin seeds

after just 40 minutes on 300 degrees F (toss/stir after 20 minutes).

With the pumpkin puree, I made this amazing pumpkin curry soup from According to Kelly and these dessert-like whole wheat pumpkin muffins from Shut Up and Run. Both were a hit with my family. Only the four-year-old didn’t eat the pumpkin curry soup “because it was too ficy [spicy].” The 7- and 10-year-olds ate their entire bowls and thanked me for making it, so you know it’s a good recipe! In fact I foresee making more soup and muffins ASAP with the seven remaining cups of pumpkin puree I now have waiting for me in the freezer.

What’s your favorite fall recipe? Feel free to leave a link in the comments.

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