Saturday, December 31, 2011

New year, new post...

Hi there! Haven't blogged here in a little while. Mostly because my autumn was major hectic and the holidays have been busy, busy, busy. And full of awesome, non-healthy, home cooked food. Yay for holidays! But, like a lot of people, I put on a few pounds over the holidays, and now it's time to indulge in some good HEALTHY food to take them off.

Actually, I want to take off more than a couple pounds. I want to lose about 15-20 pounds next year. I'm not at a totally unhealthy place right now, but losing some weight would really help my performance at my circus pursuits. 15 pounds less is 15 pounds less to lift. And since I'm starting to do some partnered aerials and partner balancing, it's 15 pounds less for someone else to lift too.

However, in the past, I've had a really hard time balancing weight loss and activity. Don't get me wrong, I know how to lose weight and maintain it... but the only thing that has really worked is dropping my calories WAY down and quitting my exercise. If I drop my calories a little and keep exercising, I don't lose weight. If I drop my calories very low (like 1000-1200 calories) I lose weight, but I don't have the energy to keep up my normal activity... if I try to keep exercising I start catching every cold that comes along and I'm pretty darn miserably sick.

So I'm going to try something different this time. I'm going to try the Whole 30. I'm going to lean towards including more starchy vegetables, like beets & sweet potatoes, because I know I don't do super fabulous on low carb diets (or frankly any extreme low-anything diet). But I'm going to keep it really clean, no grains, no dairy, no packaged foods. It's something I can do for a month and see where it gets me.

This will mean I'm going to be posting more recipes, yay!

Hopefully this will mean I can lose some weight without suffering performance-wise. And if it doesn't, it'll be a learning experience. I'm curious too what it will mean for my burns and bruises. Aerial arts are pretty brutal. I walk around all summer showing off legs that look like they've been randomly beaten. For whatever reason, the bruises take a long time to clear up on me... I don't know if it's because of my age or if it's something missing nutritionally or what. (I've had bloodwork recently and I'm not anemic.) I use arnica gel, but they still take forever to clear. I'm curious if there's anything I can change in my diet that will improve the bruising.

Friday, December 9, 2011


This is my all time favorite Sangria recipe. I make it all the time for summer BBQs, and our friends love it. Why the heck am I posting a summer BBQ drink recipe in the middle of winter? Because celebrity chef Rocco DiSpirito posted about the alarming calorie count of sangria to his twitter. And then, his twitter followers started posting back monstrosities involving diet soda and sugar free fruit cocktail. YUCK!!!

My sangria is more of a fruit studded red wine spritzer, but that's never bothers anyone. If you want to be a party pooper and watch your calories like a hawk, then yes, it has less calories than the syrupy brandy spiked sort. But I mostly make it because it's super easy, super tasty and you can drink it all afternoon and never get uncomfortably drunk.

JJ's Sangria

2 oranges (valencia preferred)
1 lemon
2 Tablespoons sugar, maple syrup or honey
1 green apple, cut into small chunks
1/4 cup sliced strawberries, cherries, peaches, pears or other fruit
1 bottle decent but not great red wine
1 bottle San Pellegrino or lemon flavored sparkling water

The night before the party: Juice one orange and the lemon. Peel the other orange and cut it into small chunks. Put the fruit juice, sugar, fruit chunks and wine into a large bowl and set in the fridge overnight to soak. Stick the sparkling water in the fridge.

Day of party: Fill your pitcher half full of cold sparkling water and ladle in an equal amount of wine/fruit. Serve!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Salt & food reward

As I've mentioned before, since I've dropped much of the salt in my diet, I have been looking to a lot of paleo type cooking blogs & recipe books because they often (not always) are much more adaptable to low sodium cooking than more typical American fare. I'm not a die hard by any means... I've been finding that it's easier to stick with eating real natural foods if I have a balance of starches & protein. Extremism doesn't work for me, never has.

Through that route, I've come across the blog of a gentleman named Stephan Guyenet and his series on the issue of 'food reward'. His thinking is somewhat similar to David Kessler's in The End of Overeating, a book which I found fascinating if a little flawed. The more experience I have with a radically reduced sodium intake, the more I think that these guys are onto something with their characterization of American industrial food as hyperstimulating. Kessler calls out salt more explicitly than Guyenet (though I may be wrong, as I've only gotten about halfway through Guyenet's series), but I think it's a huge factor.

You see, I've always been a fairly healthy person with a bit of a compulsive eating problem. I eat (and cook) for entertainment and sometimes to soothe my emotions. I sometimes have days where I really feel COMPELLED to eat a ton of stuff that I know isn't very good for me, and often I don't even find it very enjoyable, but I keep doing it. It's never risen to the level of an eating disorder, I'll go out on a limb and hazard a guess that LOTS of Americans eat that way some of the time. For me, it's not been too damaging to my health, when I've been inactive or injured I sometimes get moderately overweight, but otherwise if I eat well and am active things are generally pretty good.

And then this Meniere's thing hit. If I prepare my own food from scratch, I keep my sodium levels low (800-1200mg) and generally avoid vertigo attacks. If I eat out in restaurants, like on our recent vacation, no matter how I try to keep my sodium down it creeps in. And, not surprisingly, I get an attack. So I've been pretty good about keeping my sodium levels low for several months now. The thing is, I sometimes still binge eat. I guide it a little bit now, I'll go for ice cream (which is low sodium) over a bag of pretzels (which are high sodium), but it's been a hard thing for me to completely stop. However, I've been using a nutrition app to track my food and I've noticed one really important change since I've dropped my sodium intake... when I do binge, I binge on far less food than I used to. I feel grossed out, bloated and done with eating after eating maybe 1/4-1/3 of the food that used to constitute a binge.

My theory is that with less salt in my diet the food reward response has begun to be blunted. Kessler theorizes that the trinity of hyperstimulating ingredients is fat, sugar & salt. The only thing that's been a solid consistent change for me is that I've cut the salt.

I'm in the planning stages for a bit of an experiment this fall about what happens if I eat a really REALLY bland & repetitive diet. Not unpleasant. Just bland. I'm curious to know if it would make a major adjustment in my susceptibility to hyperpalatable industrial foods.

*** And for the record, eating very low carb makes the binge eating worse rather than better, so it's not simply an insulin thing. That is generally why I avoid extremes in terms of low carb, low fat or low protein because eating a diet that's relatively balanced with plenty of fruits & veggies seems to be the best thing for preventing binges.

Friday, July 22, 2011

A note about sodium

This is just a sticky note for my profile.

I've been submitting some recipes lately to paleo/primal-ish sites like Chowstalker. If that's where you came from you may be wondering "What's up with all the sodium counts?" There's a lot of debate lately about how "heart healthy" reduced sodium diets really are, and whether reducing salt actually affects blood pressure on a population level. Some paleo/primal folks recommend moderation in salt intake, while others fully reject the "conventional wisdom" about reduced sodium diets.

My reasons for restricting sodium sidestep that entire debate. I have an inner ear condition that causes intermittent severe vertigo attacks. My doctor and I are currently operating under the assumption that I have Meniere's disease, however I haven't fully completed the testing for that (it is expensive and not urgent). A low sodium diet is recommended for Meniere's sufferers to reduce the amount of fluids in the inner ear. For me, it has reduced the frequency and severity of the vertigo attacks. It seems to have done nothing for the other symptoms, but I can live with those.

This blog exists largely to share how I cook. And I cook low sodium now. If that works for you great, it's been helpful to share recipes with some of my friends who have similar issues. If it doesn't work for you, feel free to add additional salt to my recipes. I won't be sad... personally, I really do love salty food, so I know where you're coming from.

I will go out on a limb here and say that if you're interested in eating from a evolutionary perspective, you should at least think about your sodium intake. NHANES data indicates that the American adults consume on average 3,466mg of sodium per day. That is similar to some of the highest sodium traditional diets in the world (Japan & Korea), while it's likely that paleolithic people consumed in the range of 600-1200mg of sodium. The largest category of foods contributing to the high intake in America is actually grain foods; breads and baked goods are highly salted, and cutting them out of your diet can cut sodium considerably. However, if you're eating a lot of bacon & sausage or salting your food to suit the modern American palate, you're probably still consuming a lot. Before you decry the "conventional wisdom" on salt, think a little bit about whether you're actually consuming a level of sodium only accessible to neolithic man. Cavemen didn't have collectible salt shakers or bottles of fish sauce and they didn't crust their meat in a salt rub before throwing it on the grill.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Cucumber Soup

We are overrun with cucumbers!

Not really, of course. Our cucumber plant is producing about 2-3 a week, which is approximately 1-2 cucumbers more than we usually eat in a week. So I've been trying to figure out how to use the extras. Today's recipe is a super easy chilled cucumber soup for one. I made it in 5 minutes this morning and it's a nice fresh complement to a lunchtime salad.

Cucumber Soup

1 cucumber, peeled and cut into chunks
2-3 sprigs parsley
1 tsp lemon juice
A pinch of dried dill
1/2 cup full fat greek yogurt

Throw the cucumber chunks & parsley into your food processor and process until they are the consistency of a smooth salsa. Add the other ingredients and pulse to blend them in. Chill until lunch. Enjoy.

50 measly mg of sodium. Plenty of cool deliciousness.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Now that's what you call kid food!

Originally uploaded by thatgirljj
If you're not a parent of a preschool boy, you may have never heard of Dinosaur Train, but it is a big deal in our house. A BIG deal. It's the only kids TV show we watch. My little man could care less about Diego or Thomas anymore, he's all about the dinosaurs. And there's nothing cuter than a 3 year old declaring "Mommy, I have a hypothesis!"

A big part of the dinosaur facts they present is about the dinosaur diet. They talk a lot about the differences between meat eaters & plant eaters. It's given my son a huge appreciation for the joys of eating "leaves." He brings his toy dinosaurs to the dinner table and asks for a bowl of leaves for them. And then there's the garden. Most of our kale and beet leaves look pretty darn scraggly, because he walks right up and takes big ol' bites out of them like a triceratops.

Now I'm not saying that Dinosaur Train is going to have every preschooler eating their greens. Mom and dad have to set a good example, and of course kids need to opportunities to see that vegetables come from the earth instead of a bag. But people who believe that children need processed junky "kid food" obviously don't have as much imagination as a 3 year old!

Let's talk salt...

So as anyone who's read this blog knows, I'm currently following a greatly reduced salt diet due to (probable) Meniere's disease. My sweet spot for salt intake seems to be somewhere in the 1200-1500mg range. This is fairly low. It's not unusual for someone eating the standard American diet to be well over 3000mg.

With that background, I give you a phenomenal interview on salt from Scientific American. Mr. Moyer is actually a old friend of my husband and I've been an admirer of Ms. Nestle's work for years. They're both fabulous. Go read it! I have a ton of thoughts.

1. It's the food supply, stupid. Notice how much Ms. Nestle refers to the salt that's added to processed & restaurant foods? That's important. In order to really reduce your salt intake to low levels you either must prepare your own food from scratch or be exceptionally careful of food prepared for you by others.

2. She makes excellent points about how challenging it is for processed food producers and restaurant chefs to reduce the amount of sodium they use in food. Once our taste buds are accustomed to all that excess salt, we have a very hard time adjusting downwards. For me, it really took a health crisis to do it; and it has not been easy. Without some kind of commitment on the part of food suppliers to reduce salt, we go into an upward spiral. Since food with just a little more salt tastes more appealing and there is no commercial downside to adding more salt, food processors add just a little more and just a little more and just a little more. And our palates slowly adjust to expect more and more salt. It's not clear to me that there is ANY biological top limit whatsoever to this palate creep.

3. When it comes to so-called "nanny state" regulations, I think sodium in restaurant food is a different beast from regulations on other dietary factors. As Ms. Nestle points out, a diner can always add more salt at the table. However, a diner can not remove salt once it's been added. Sodium is added to most restaurant foods way up the supply chain, you can't just ask the chef to leave the salt off and expect to enjoy a low sodium dinner. Reduce the sodium in the supply chain and put the power in the hands of the chef, which gives restaurant diners more options.

4. I wish I was part of the population who's blood pressure doesn't adjust in response to changes in sodium intake. I started out with blood pressure on the low side of normal, now I have real issues with postural hypotension. I don't think I could sustain the kind of super low sodium diet needed for people with renal insufficiency like Sodium Girl. The dizzies aren't much fun when you're chasing after a 3 year old. Better than a vertigo attack, by a long shot, but still.

For me personally, this all goes back to the fundamentals. I buy real, unprocessed food and cook it for my family. If I do that most of the time, it really doesn't take much effort to eat a lower sodium diet. But once I choose to join my friends at a nice restaurant for dinner, I step into a minefield. One that I don't always negotiate all that well.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Cowboy Rumaki

Cowboy rumaki
Originally uploaded by thatgirljj
Ever heard of rumaki? It was an appetizer back when I was a kid, chicken livers marinated in god-knows-what, wrapped in bacon and deep fried. Doesn't that sound just delicious?

Well, this recipe actually is more delicious than it sounds. Frankly, I've been playing around with beef liver because I know it's nutritious, and it seemed to me that there had to be a more creative approach than the same ol' liver & onions. Then, over the 4th of July weekend, we were grilling bacon wrapped jalapeno poppers, it occurred to me. An unholy alliance of liver, jalapenos & bacon. And I'm pleased to report that it's pretty darn good. The beef liver brings a heartiness that's missing from the cream cheese filling, but the jalapenos & bacon are strong flavors that stand up for themselves. Liver ain't pushing them around.

There are copious ingredient notes (and some credits) after the recipe.

Cowboy Rumaki

Jalapeno peppers
Grassfed beef liver

Cut the tops off the jalapenos, cut them in half and scrape out the seeds and membrane. If you like things hot, you can leave in a bit more of the membrane, that's where a lot of the spice is. Rinse your liver thoroughly and pat dry. If you're running a very hot BBQ or will be cooking these in the oven, briefly sear the outside of the liver, about 1 minute each side in a cast iron saucepan. If you're going to be cooking the poppers over a slower heat then go ahead and leave the liver raw. Cut the liver into chunks about 1/2" x 1/2" x 2". Cut your bacon in half, so the strips are a manageable size. Put 1 piece of liver in each jalapeno, wrap with a 1/2 strip of bacon, and pin it together with a toothpick. If you're doing them on a grill, put them in an mesh pan intended for grilling vegetables and grill until the bacon is crispy. If you're using the oven, put them on a pan and throw them under the broiler (on low) until the bacon is crispy. Enjoy.


If the whole procedure of coring the peppers and wrapping them with bacon is somehow confusing, please see these lovely illustrations from the Pioneer Woman.

GET GRASSFED LIVER! No, I'm not being a snob here. I tried working with normal supermarket liver once and it was DISGUSTING. Sliced super thin and it was slimy, slimy, slimy, like a slab of leech. Grassfed liver is firmer, less slimy and much tastier. It appeared to be actual MEAT rather than a meat by-product intended for pet food. It's also way cheaper than grassfed muscle meat, and you don't need a whole lot. One pound of grassfed liver costs me about $4 and will stuff about 32 jalapenos... that's 64 individual poppers!

As you can see in the picture, I tried a couple with cream cheese and liver. This was a failure (on texture), and didn't add to the flavor. Go ahead and skip the cream cheese. Or make some with just liver and some with just cream cheese. But don't cross the streams.

When I first got this idea, I googled "jalapeno liver" and found a very similar recipe from Kelly the Kitchen Kop. If you're trying to sneak some liver over on unsuspecting family members, you might want to give hers a try. Personally, I don't like the sneaky food approach... Cowboy Rumaki is liver, straight up, no apologies.

Bacon is a high sodium food. Oh yes it is. I continue to eat some bacon, but I restrict myself to small amounts of the lowest sodium nitrite free bacon I can find. 4 poppers have about 240mg of sodium. That's an amount that sometimes works for me, sometimes not, depending on what else I've eaten that day.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Leeks & Chicken

Originally uploaded by thatgirljj
Isn't this a lovely leek? Leeks are one of those vegetables that's awesome to grow in a home garden. They're expensive in the grocery store and when you grow them at home, you realize why. They don't actually require a lot of work, they just require time and patience... things in short supply on commercial farms. I think we started these leeks back in January, and only now are we getting some ready to harvest. However, with a little care, they are BEAUTIFUL. Clean, white, fresh and sweet.

Today I did something really simple with our leeks, a luscious dinner that took only 5 main ingredients and a sprinkle of whatever herbs you happen to have on hand.

Slow cooker leeks & chicken

2 Leeks, rinsed and thinly sliced
1 Chicken cut into parts, skin removed
1/2 Cup chicken stock
8 oz Fresh mushrooms, sliced
Butter or your cooking fat of choice

Fill the bottom of your slow cooker with the sliced leeks and add a pinch of whatever dried herbs you happen to have handy (I used sage & dill). Don't use a whole lot of herbs, you don't want to overwhelm the dish. Put the chicken parts over the top of the leeks and pour in the chicken stock. Cook for 1 hour on the high setting and then 4-5 hours on low.

When the chicken is done cooking, saute the mushrooms in the butter, until they are soft. Take the chicken out of the slow cooker and set aside. Pour all the leeks & cooking liquid from the slow cooker, into the saucepan with the mushrooms. Cook down until the leeks are falling apart and the sauce is starting to thicken. Serve the mushroom leek sauce over the chicken.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Circus stuff

One thing this blog has really never covered is my fitness shenanigans. It's mostly a food/garden blog and that's OK for me. I know a lot of people have more of a food/fitness blog, but there's one big reason I don't think I can do that.

You see, my main form of fitness is playing circus. Yes, I sometimes go to a normal gym to help build strength and from time to time I go out for a jog or do a yoga DVD. But for the past two years my main form of "exercise" has been climbing up and down 20' of fabric hanging from a warehouse ceiling. Lately I've been also learning hand balancing and partner balancing and I'm planning to get into wire walking. It's awesome. It cured my post-partum depression. I've lost a little weight and gotten a LOT stronger.

And I've met some truly amazing, truly inspiring people of all ages from all walks of life.

But it's not something I talk about much. You see, I find it really hard to talk about circus training. It's not something you talk, it's something you do. There are no rep schemes, no cute abbreviations... in fact the terminology for many of the tricks varies from performer to performer, depending on where they trained. I can sometimes explain it to myself out loud, but it really doesn't make sense to other people who aren't doing the same thing all the time. It's like trying to talk about meditation, only with more bruises and burns to explain.

Anyway... just thought I'd throw that out there. I may actually try the impossible and talk about it from time to time. But for now, here's a video from my school's showcase. Sorry for my dirty feet.

Friday, June 10, 2011


News item: I read this and my first thought was "Why on earth are the French growing corn?" Really, I'm trying to figure that out. It seems like a fundamentally bad idea, they're likely hurting not only the endangered hamsters (jeez, how do hamsters ever get endangered, they're little breeding factories), but also their own, highly respected, food culture.

North America may have an unfortunate addiction to corn farming, but at least corn has some fundamental connection to the earth and to food culture here. France? Really???

Tuesday, June 7, 2011


Ah... the garden again. My leafy green love.

So this is what our grapes are looking like about now (well, a week ago), first the Concords:

And then the Flames:

Luscious aren't they? I'm so very much hoping we actually get a crop this year. Last year, by the time it came to harvest them, they looked like this:

Yup, they were DECIMATED by the birds and squirrels. Just gone. I think we ate a handful of individual grapes and that was it. The rest of it fed the urban wildlife. We were sad pandas about the whole thing. This year however, we have high hopes. We have a plastic hawk, we have mylar ribbons, we have plenty of hot pepper to dissuade the squirrels. Fingers crossed that some of those lovely baby grapes will actually become our food for once!

(Nevermind, the fact that we may also have a fungal disease of some sort. I'm trying to ignore that for now and stick with the power of hope. Hope and sulfur.)

And for a secondary harvest from these fruity beauties, we have grape leaves! I culled them from the trimmings this spring, and following the instructions at Mama’s Taverna blanched and froze them for later use. Now I just need to get up the energy to turn them into happy little dolmas.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Update and some changes

First... I have been brewing a LONG overdue garden update. Long, long overdue. Things are busy growing and I even have a cache of photos, but just haven't got around to writing things up.

Second, I'm slowly making some other changes to my eating habits to support the low sodium thing. In short, I'm moving towards a Paleo/Primal eating style. Basically, I've found that when I eat any substantial amount of grains (particularly higher salt processed food, like bread or crackers) I find myself really struggling to stick to an appropriate amount of food. When I have bread I want more bread... and "more bread" usually has too much sodium to fit into my day. As a result, I've been ending up with lunches & dinners that look a lot like a friend of mine who's eating Paleo. A moderate portion of unprocessed meat, chicken or fish with a fairly hefty side of veggies, all of it containing some fats to prevent me from being overly hungry. And a piece of fruit, because fruit is yummy.

I'm not terribly into the idea of being all dogmatic about it. If you google Paleo or Primal you'll get many people who are fairly extremist. I'm just working with the idea because it looks like it might be a good way to sort out the sodium thing without dealing with a lot of stress and cravings. As of right now, I'm just focusing on the grains issue, and doing some studying about vegetable oils. At the moment I don't picture a future where I'll be giving up beans or yogurt, just moving the bulk of my eating in that direction.

A couple of articles from bloggers I've found helpful and interesting:
Archevore: Get Started
Hunt Gather Love: Start Here and Paleo Priority Diet

Monday, May 23, 2011

Low sodium in Vegas

Sorry I've been lagging a bit on updates, we've been very busy. A couple weekends ago we were in Vegas for a friend's wedding, and after that I got very sick with my usual Vegas ick. Damn smokers. (OK, it may have been half secondhand cigarette smoke and half my epic cocktail intake, but I'm blaming it on the ciggys.) I thought I'd do a brief write up on how I managed to stay with a reasonably low-ish sodium diet while in Sin City.

Breakfast: I packed a bag of low sodium granola. When I got my morning coffee, I picked up a small glass of milk and used about 1/2 cup with my granola. <100mg. This was my secret... if you start out your day SUPER low, you have a lot more leeway.

Lunch: Every day I had a large vegetable salad with some chicken or salmon. I asked the server to leave off any glazes or sauces, anysalad ingredients that I thought might have come from a food service can (beans, corn, water chestnuts) and all nuts (in case they were salted). Either a very small amount of dressing on the side, or liberal amounts of olive oil & balsalmic vinegar. The sodium level probably varied a lot based on the type of meat and whether it was brined or marinated, but I'm guessing the salads generally clocked in <300mg, or not much more.

Snacks: I packed my own, homemade ZERO sodium trail mix. Beyond that I did not snack at all. While I was drinking, I avoided sugary mixers and super sweet cocktails that would make me more prone to snack on other people's munchies & appetizers. I stuck to rum & diet coke and gin & tonics. Not harmless, but at least reasonably low sodium.

Dinner: Coming into dinner time, I was probably <500mg, counting breakfast, lunch and cocktail mixers. So for dinner, I ate what I wanted, just intentionally avoiding obvious sodium bombs like soy based sauces or items described as "salt crusted". If I even went up to 1000mg for dinner, I still was at a reasonable level overall.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Low sodium product review: Vital Choice canned salmon

I have made no bones about my love for salmon cakes. At this point I've done 4 or 5 variations on that basic recipe, it's a weeknight staple. My husband loves it, my kiddo loves it, and it's made with handy, dandy shelf stable canned salmon. Which makes it a great fallback when I can't get to the grocery store.

But wait... canned salmon? Isn't there a lot of sodium in canned salmon? Yes, yes there is, 306mg of sodium for a 3oz serving. Not good. However, there is an alternative. Vital Choice offers no salt added "traditional pack" canned sockeye salmon, with a mere 64mg of sodium for a 3oz serving. (Their serving size is a bit odd, so I did the math for you. Their standard "traditional pack" salmon is comparable to the nutritiondata numbers.)

But here's the key: how does it taste? It tastes EXACTLY like the full sodium version. Last year, I ordered a box of their standard variety to keep in our pantry, and the Vital Choice was clearly a taste winner over the canned wild salmon at our local grocery store. The no salt added variety shares that same rich, fatty sockeye flavor... which beats the pants off of farmed atlantic salmon (even fresh farmed salmon). And in every other way, it tastes absolutely identical to the full sodium variety.

If you order a 24 can pack you get free shipping, which makes the cost is equal to the price at my local grocery store. Full flavor, low sodium and the same price? No brainer!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Fruity Custard Pops

This post goes out to everyone with a teething toddler. My 3 year old is finally getting his last set of molars (he's been late with all his teeth), and you parents know what teething does to a kid. Their poor mouths hurt a lot, which means they don't want to eat much. The combination of pain, hunger and blood sugar swings makes them into cranky little beasts. Can't say I blame them, I'd be pretty miserable too.

I discovered the original recipe for these custard pops about a year ago and they were a big favorite last summer. I've tweaked the recipe more and more and eventually I just had to write down my variation. They're pretty tasty, teething or not... but they're a godsend when you have a sick or teething toddler who won't eat much proper nourishing food. If you're making them for a child who's not eating much, be sure to make them with full fat milk and yogurt.

Fruity Custard Pops

1 cup milk
2 eggs
1 tablespoon honey, maple syrup or sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 banana (on the brown side)
1/2 cup plain or vanilla yogurt
1/2 cup fruit puree (applesauce, freshly pureed berries or soft stone fruit... strawberries and peaches go well) or 1 jar fruit baby food

Put the milk and eggs in a small saucepan over medium low heat. Whisk regularly as it warms up, once it starts to get slightly steamy add the sweet stuff & the vanilla. After that whisk continuously until it starts to thicken. (Food safety note: I've checked with a candy thermometer, the point where it starts to thicken is around 165 degrees, which is the safe point for cooked eggs.) As soon as it starts to bubble, take it off the heat and pour into your blender. Add the banana, yogurt and other pureed fruit. Blend thoroughly until there are no more banana chunks. If it's very frothy, let it sit for a bit before filling molds. Fill your ice pop molds to about 1/4" below the top of the mold, put the sticks in and pop in the freezer until frozen. Makes 8-12 ice pops.

A few words about ice pop molds: I see these fancy, expensive instant ice pop molds are all the rage. I'm not impressed. To be honest, I'm lazy. I would rather make 8-12 healthy ice pops in one fell swoop and have them sitting in my freezer than mess around with fixing up a fresh pop every time a whining child asks for one.

However, I also don't recommend going with the cheapest ones you can find in the Summer section at your local discount store. When you try to pull the pop out of the mold, you'll often find that the stick pops right out. Cue sobbing toddler. The ones we use most are Tovolo molds, we have the ones that look like ice cream cones and some of the normal ones. They're a little more expensive, but they're sturdy and frustration free. We also sometimes use the Kinderville silicone molds, however those are a little tough for little hands to manage squeezing the pop up without squeezing it out and onto the floor. The Kinderville ones are nearly drip proof though, which is nice.

Tropical Cod with Mango Relish

IMG_7650This recipe kind of came together over a few meals. First I did the relish just scrounging things that were about to go bad in the fridge... it was so tasty, I've made it a few times since over broiled fish. But frankly, the fish was a wee bit bland, so today I got the idea to do a coconut crust... oh man it's tasty! And so easy!

As is it serves 2-3, but obviously if you doubled it to serve 6 you'd use up the whole avocado & mango. It comes to about 100mg sodium per serving.

Tropical Cod with Mango Relish

1/2 of a medium mango
1/2 of an avocado
1/2 tablespoon minced red onion
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon lime or lemon juice

3/4-1 pound cod or another mild white fish
1 whole egg
1/2 cup shredded dried coconut (unsweetened)
Coconut oil for frying

Cut the mango and avocado into roughly 1/4" chunks. Mix them with the red onion, cilantro and lime juice. Set aside so the flavors can meld.

Heat a small amount of oil to a medium high heat. Divide the cod into a reasonable size pieces. Whip up the egg with a fork and spread the shredded coconut on a small plate. Dip the cod first into the egg and then coat on both sides with the coconut. Fry the fish on both sides until lightly browned and the fish flakes in the middle. Serve with the mango relish over the top.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Low sodium bento

Bento 5/2/11
Originally uploaded by thatgirljj

I've been doing lunch bento boxes for maybe 6-8 months now. Not all the time, and they're not always photo-worthy. But this week's quasi-Italian bento turned out fairly well.

Red pepper & smoked zucchini salad: 10-20mg sodium
Low sodium meatballs: 100mg
Fresh mozzarella (2oz): 90mg
Low sodium pasta sauce: 15mg

No recipes yet, the meatballs are going to need quite a bit of tweaking before I'm satisfied with them. I used to use the South Beach greek meatballs recipe (as illustrated by Kalyn's Kitchen), but of course, that quantity of feta is out of the question these days.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Early easter lamb

Inspired by the lovely greek style infused olive oil I made yesterday, I decided on a whim to make my first attempt at cooking lamb. It's one meat that I've actually never eaten, but I know it's traditional for greek cooking, and they had it at a halfway decent price. Remarkably, it came out very good, even though it's also the first time I've roasted meat without a salt rub. Here's a rough recipe.

Greek lamb with cherry sauce

1 pound lamb shoulder fillets
2 tablespoons lemon oregano infused olive oil
A handful dried oregano
1/8 cup dried cherries
2 ice cubes of real chicken broth (maybe 1/4 cup?)
Balsalmic vinegar

Rub the lamb liberally with infused olive oil. Sprinkle freshly crushed oregano on both sides and then lightly sprinkle with pepper. Let sit for 1 hour. Soak cherries in about 1/4 of hot water.

Heat the oven to 350. Rub a cast iron pan with a light coating of olive oil. Pop it in the oven for 30 minutes. (I roasted some potatoes at the same time.) When the lamb seems done, remove from pan and allow to sit for 8-10 minutes before slicing. In the meantime, put the cast iron pan on the stove, add the broth, cherries and soaking liquid. Bring to a simmer and add a few glugs of balsalmic vinegar. Cook down to a thick sauce and serve over slices of lamb.

If you use low sodium chicken broth (I make my own from chicken bones), a 3oz portion of the lamb with 1/4 of the sauce should come out to about 85mg of sodium.

I'd show you a picture, but we sort of ate it all! ;-)

Friday, April 22, 2011


When we first planted our herb garden, I found a little potted greek oregano at our local indie nursery. It was astonishingly fragrant and I figured a greek variety might do well in our mediterranean climate. Little did I know.

That first year the mint moth caterpillars got to it. I had to hack the entire plant down to the ground and it didn't put out too much in the way of foliage. Year two, I went on the offensive, when I first noticed the moths I cut it way back and applied BT. The plant thrived. We used a bunch for fresh cooking and in early fall I cut the plant back and got 1/2 pint jar full of dried leaves. That was last fall.

This winter/spring the plant went WILD. In February I cut it back and got another 1/2 pint full of dried leaves. Now, the mint moths are on the loose, so it's time to cut it back again.... This morning I trimmed them back and got this:


Yes, that's a standard full sized colander! Holy cow... I have every expectation that I'll harvest that much again in both July and October now that the plant is established. Seriously, I'm going to be giving it away, take my oregano please! And it's the most intense oregano you've ever smelled or tasted.

Since I'm going to have dried oregano coming out of my ears one way or the other, I decided to use a little of it (like 1/3 cup chopped) to make an infused olive oil. We also had some fresh lemons from a neighbor, so I used the zest from those as well. Doesn't look that pretty, but I have a feeling it's going to taste completely amazing.


(Yes, I'm aware that there's some small chance that infused oils can harbor botulism. But the risk is primaraly from root herbs like garlic, not from leafy ones like oregano. I'll probably refrigerate it after a few days anyway, just to be safe.)

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Random update...

This week I've started seriously tracking grams of sodium. It took me a few weeks of just looking at labels and trying to figure out where it was hiding before I could really take the bull by the horns.

I've realized some interesting things. Breads have a lot of sodium, honestly I was sketched out by white bread before, this sodium thing is probably going to put me over the edge to eliminating all bread. Plain, uncured meats aren't nearly as sodium filled as I thought, but no matter how much you rinse it, a brined chicken retains a LOT of sodium. There have been some good discoveries though. Corn tortillas have a miniscule fraction of the sodium in flour tortillas. And fresh mozzarella has far less sodium than other cheeses, and can even be used to stretch a little bit of high sodium cheese in gratins, casseroles or quesadillas.

I don't talk about my work too much here, but I got sucked into a project that is actually relevant. I work in health behavior research, mostly on drug abuse issues. But because of my technical skills in survey development, I've been recently working on some nutrition research for a diabetes project. As part of this project, I've been hunkered down with the nutritional information for several fast food & chain restaurants. Sodium is not the focus of the research, but I've been scanning that part of the menu for my own interest. HOLY COW there is a LOT of sodium in restaurant foods. I knew that in the back of my mind, but looking closely at the numbers, it's astonishing. Right now I have a target sodium intake of 1200mg, many items on the Denny's menu are DOUBLE that amount. Even some of the items on the children & seniors menus have OVER 1000mg of sodium, just for ONE meal of the day!!! That is astonishing! Fundamentally, I don't want to restrict my son's sodium intake because he's healthy and active and growing well... but I also don't want to feed him junk that's been artificially pumped up with WAY more sodium than he needs. At McDonald's a basic 6 piece Chicken McNugget Happy Meal with the fries & ketchup has 870mg! The chocolate chip pancake kids meal at Dennys has a whopping 1160mg of sodium! That's crazy.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The wonderful world of sodium

1/2 cup of our standard issue bottled pasta sauce = 410g of sodium.
1/2 cup of very low sodium pasta sauce + 1oz of creamy goat cheese = 165g of sodium.

I'll let you guess which one is tastier.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Sodium and a nice new garden...

I've slowly been working my way through figuring out how much sodium is in things. Wow. This has not been easy for me, and there have been some big surprises. White bread (and related products like bagels) have a surprisingly large amount of sodium. You would think potato chips have a lot of sodium right? Well they do. But a one ounce serving of pretzels has DOUBLE the sodium of a one ounce serving of potato chips! (And who eats an ounce of either? I try, but fail!) I thought I knew a decent amount about food, but some of these numbers are really astonishing to me. Sodium has always just whizzed by under my radar.

It's really interesting too that I had the first of the severe vertigo attacks a few months after having my son when I had no energy to fix food. We were living on cold cuts, sausages, snack food and take-out salads & rotisserie chicken. Crazy huge amounts of sodium. But since I've always had low blood pressure, I never worried one whit about it until now.

A few of the basic changes I'm contemplating. I need to do this a little at a time and really make it STICK.
1. Far less bread. White bread is worse, but even the whole wheat bread packs a pretty major sodium punch. I should probably just get in the habit of cutting it out completely.
2. I need to switch my snacking to nuts and fruit, rather than salty snacks. One serving of something salty isn't bad, but I tend to overeat salty things and 2-3 servings can pack in a LOT of sodium.
3. Beans will now be prepared from dry, rather than canned. It's not too hard to do, I'm often just lazy about it. That needs to change. Especially in the summertime when we eat a lot of bean salads with our BBQ.
4. Meats... I'm going to need some help from my husband on this one, but I think I may be able to really cut back the sodium in the meats I eat. First, I found some well reviewed salt-free sausage seasoning mixes, and I'm going to use some ground meat to make a bulk sausage substitute for breakfasts & pasta sauces. Hmmm... I wonder if I can call my local meat market and have them grind me some good pork? They're usually super accomidating. Secondly, my husband just got a wonderful new smoker and he's been doing a lot of grilling. If I can work with him on a salt-free or low salt rub, then he can smoke me some meats and I can slice it up to make my own cold cuts, rather than the ultra processed ones from the market.

Things that will not change: Cheese. I'm sorry, but I just can't do it. I'd rather just eat a small amount of good cheese every day than give up cheese or search out low sodium varieties. Cheese is awesome.

In much, much happier news... a friend of mine wants me to help her start a food garden! She has a self-professed "brown thumb," but her 3 year old daughter has been asking about planting some vegetables. She was admiring our raised beds this weekend, and I offered to help her start a small garden that she could actually manage. I need to sit down with her and talk prices, but I'm thinking either self watering planters, or tapping a drip system into her existing lawn irrigation. Then we were talking about planting at least carrots & zucchini (both family favorites) as well as maybe some cherry tomatoes. Her daughter won't eat tomatoes, but mama loves them and we both think the little one might be more interested in trying ones from her own personal garden. I'm super excited to help them get started!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Well this is a depressing post

So, I'm probably going to have to take the recipes I post here in a slightly different direction. And the reason is not a good one. I have been diagnosed with probable Meniere's disease. It's "probable" mostly because my doctor doesn't want to burn through my health insurance doing a bunch of expensive tests that wouldn't change my treatment plan. My symptoms are pretty textbook. Those tests will probably get done over the next year or two, but for now, we're proceeding as if I have it.

The primary treatment for early Meniere's disease is a low sodium diet (and meds for symptoms). From what I understand at this point, it's thought to help regulate the amount of fluid retained in the inner ear. Some people take diuretics, but I have really low blood pressure already, so that's not a good idea. Later on, when I've lost considerable hearing, there are some more drastic treatments, but I'll cross that bridge when I come to it. Given the pace of medical changes these days, it could be a whole new bridge in 10-15 years. In the meantime, I'm going to do my best to stick to the dietary changes and hope it helps.

Now here's the thing. I love me some salt. Soy sauce? Cheese? Bacon? Sausage? Nuts? Pretzels? Dark chocolate covered pretzels? PASS THEM MY WAY! And it's been the one thing that I don't even consider in my cooking. Canned veggies? No problem. Feta cheese? No problem. Out of real chicken broth? Grab a can. This is going to have to change. A lot of the recipes I post here can be made relatively lower sodium... but many of the things we eat on a daily basis are more of a problem. I might make a nice roast chicken one day, but then the next we're having sausage sandwiches or ordering thai food. And I don't even want to think about the amount of salt that's thrown around when my husband barbecues some ribs or a nice tri-tip.

I think the key points to my cooking/eating are going to stay the same. I mean, if I was super reliant on boxed mac & cheese or casseroles with canned soup, I'd be in more trouble. Fresh seasonal fruits & veggies from my garden don't have excessive salt. Wild fish, pastured chicken & grassfed beef can be prepared with lower salt methods. I may even look into learning to make sausage so I can make it lower in sodium (stored in the freezer for safety.) But yeah, there are going to be some changes.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Spring salmon cakes with snow peas

Originally uploaded by thatgirljj
Don't these salmon cakes look yummy? It's an adaptation of the salmon cake recipe I've used before, replacing the red bell pepper with minced parsley & chives, and using a wee bit of mustard for extra flavor.

The dressing is a garlicky buttermilk dressing, that I came up with mixing and matching recipes. It is a little thin, but full of flavor and with no weird ingredients.

Garlicky Buttermilk Dressing

1/2 cup cultured buttermilk
1/2 cup full fat greek yogurt
1 large or 2 small cloves of garlic minced
1/8-1/4 cup minced herbs (whatever you've got)
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp white pepper

Blend thoroughly and enjoy.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Raised beds

I realized that if I'm going to be posting pictures of our garden, I should give a little history of how it got to be a booty kicking, food producing powerhouse. You see, when we bought our house, the backyard was just a flat stretch of weedy grass with a flat concrete patio. And by "flat" I don't actually mean flat, I mean very gently graded down towards our house, so that when it rained heavily, water poured down from the back of the yard, across the lawn and piled up near the house instead of absorbing into the soil. Basically, the yard was flat, boring and had drainage problems.

About a year after we moved in, we set about changing that. Now to be perfectly honest, I didn't do very much of the work. I had a toddler to deal with and was still suffering the after effects of post-partum depression & exhaustion. The design of the irrigation system was all my husband's doing, and a lot of the heavy labor was shared with his best friend, who had just gone through a rough break-up and needed some outdoor therapy. I can't speak to how economical the whole thing was because, frankly, my husband has a tendency to spend first and ask questions later. But man... the irrigation system in particular was SO worth it. Where we live, we get VERY hot, dry summers and having an automatic drip system makes it tremendously easy to get great veggie yields with little wasted water.

Anyway, here's a before picture...

The sod cutter made short work of the scroungy grass...

After removing the sod, there was a lot of digging and work on the irrigation system. Previously the yard had a 2 zone sprinkler system for the "lawn". He pretty much wiped out the entire zone for that side of the yard and tapped it for the irrigation to the raised beds. He ran PVC pipe under the area where we were putting the beds in, and then ran a pipe up the side of each of the beds with a faucet on it. That way we can turn water on or off to each bed individually. So for instance, when the grapes have all been eaten (by the birds & squirrels more than us), we can turn off the water to the bed that houses the grapes and keep the water flowing to the other beds. We then use a female hose coupling to attach the 1/2" irrigation tubing onto the faucets, and then design the remainder of the drip system to suit each bed. We can reconfigure the system as needed to fit the plant layout, although I'm trying to standardize that a bit so we don't have to keep reworking it all the time.

This picture shows the beds up & filled with soil, and the faucets for the drip system in place.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Garden time!

OK... time for a planting & photo update around the ol' urban homestead.

First of all, SNOW!!! We live in the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles, so snow is not a regular occurrance around these parts. I think we had a little hail a couple of years ago. But this year, a freak storm brought us snow. Or rather something sorta like snow. It was chunkier than snow, but softer than hail; technically, I guess it was something called graupel. But I'm going to call it snow! Here's snow in our herb garden... again, probably not astonishing to most people, but around here, it was BIG news.

In other news, today I went ahead and started planting for summer. First up, beans. We had limited success with dried beans last year, but mostly because the Little One turned off the water to the bed, and I didn't notice it until the plants were yellowing. And of course, it was when they were mid flowering, so it limited our yield quite a bit. We still had enough for a pot of baked beans, but I'm hoping for more this year. I also started beet seeds around the edge of the beans, and then started a couple Japanese vegetables (shiso and shishito peppers) in pots. I've been making a lot of bentos for lunch lately, so I wanted to add some of my favorite Japanese flavors to our garden.

Not planted, but still to come: tomatoes, eggplant and more peppers. Last year was a disaster for tomatoes. One of them had an undiagnosed virus, failed to grow beyond a seedling and infected 2 of the 3 other plants. So we ended up with one brandywine plant that produced two, count 'em TWO humongous tomatoes. They were super tasty and astonishing in size... but not very useful from the standpoint of getting food on the table every night. Eggplants have been our big winners for a few years running now. I plant a chinese variety called ping tung long and they put out and put out and put out. I'm talking 15-30 eggplant per plant stretched from July through until October. I buy them as small plants with no argument over the price because the yields make them worth every cent. Especially when compared to supermarket prices.

Being as we live in California though... I'm not just thinking about summer planting, we have veggies in the ground right now. Mainly kale, turnips & beets. I harvested a HUGE pile of turnip greens when it snowed because the tops were getting damaged by the ice. But now, they've fully bounced back, as you can see in the second picture, and I've got another pile of greens to cook up AND I have to figure out what I want to do with the roots. Hmmm... I haven't really cooked turnips much before... maybe pickled or roasted?

And then there's the beets... mmmm... I love beets! I'm so excited for them to start getting big enough to nom on.

I'll leave you with some instructions on raking from the Little One. Yes, his arms are covered with temp tattoos... don't judge, it's my low clutter solution for potty prizes.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Meal planning raises it's head yet again

We are busy, busy bees around our house right now. The Bearded One is busy preparing for a belt test in his martial arts class, and I'm busy preparing an act for an amateur circus showcase! So of course, we're living on take-out, fast food & pizza delivery, right? WRONG!

You see, I'm obsessed with meal planning. It's the secret to eating well. It allows me to plan out even a month in advance, with grocery lists at the ready. And that means we can have real, homemade food on the table, every night for dinner. In my book, that's family togetherness, right there.

So, yup, we get busy, I get planning. I'm currently trying to work out a meal plan from now until mid-April to have us covered. Right now, I'm only two weeks ahead, but by the end of this week, I should have the next month and a half of meals and grocery lists in place. Yipiee!

Tonight: Chicken breasts with mushrooms & sundried tomatoes.
Wednesday: Thai beef stir-fry.
Thursday: Salmon patties with roasted brussels sprouts.
Friday: Beef & broccoli stir-fry.
Saturday: Dinner out (I'm hoping for our favorite Scottish pub, but maybe Mexican).
Sunday: Grandma's special mac & cheese.

Oh wow... I realized I haven't yet blogged about the most important addition to our food arsenal, The Bearded One's snazzy new smoker grill. More to come on that as he gets the hang of it.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Amazing lentil salad

I just realized that I've never posted here the amazing lentil salad I often have for lunch. It's great because it's a sturdy salad that keeps well all week, I make a huge batch on Sunday and get 4 days of lunches out of it. So here it is:

Lentil & Kale Salad

(Yes, I know the idea sounds horrible, but it's actually quite good, so hang in there and give it a try.)

1 cup dry lentils
1 bunch kale
4oz fresh shiitake mushrooms
2 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tsp dried mustard
1/8 - 1/4 cup fresh herbs (whatever's in your garden, I tend to go with parsley, oregano & sage), measure them loose and then finely chop
1/2 - 1 tsp salt
Pepper to taste

Sort through the lentils and pick out any rocks, then put in a saucepan with 3 cups of water, bring to a boil and simmer over low heat for 20-25 minutes. You want them tender, but not falling apart. Drain them and set them aside to cool.

Wash the kale, remove the stems from and loosely chop it. Slice the mushrooms into thin slivers. In a large saucepan bring 1/4-1/3 cup of water to a boil, stuff all the kale into the saucepan, then throw the mushrooms in as well, cover it, and simmer for 3-5 minutes. No longer, you don't want to overcook the kale, it should still be bright green and tender.

Make the vinaigrette dressing by mixing the olive oil, vinegar, dried mustard, herbs salt & pepper. In a large bowl mix the lentils, kale & mushrooms, then top with the dressing and toss. Chill for 2-4 hours.

Monday, January 3, 2011


Wow... it's a new year! And a new post from me (for once)!

I'm not going to get all "resolutionary" or anything, but here's what I'm thinking I'd like to do over the next year:

1. Post to this blog at LEAST twice a month (come on, that's not too hard).
2. Implement a long term plan to get my family eating more sustainably year round.
3. Stretch more often! Do some stretching, flexibility training or yoga at least 5 days a week... I know that sounds like a lot, but really, I can spare 10-15 minutes every day to do it.
4. FINALLY write up the damn cherpumple post, with the youtube videos and whatnot.

What I'm reading right now: Slate's Clean Plate series

What I'm knitting right now: Still finishing the Little One's christmas sweater.

What we're eating for dinner tonight: Chicken chili made with the leftovers picked off our NYE party roasted chicken.