Monday, January 28, 2013

Baby Steps

I have a friend. Well, I have more than "A" friend, but this story is about one in particular. We had a talk last night that got me to thinking. I have some very good luck: great insurance and unique opportunities to address medical conditions holistically. But, what do you do if that isn't your lot? What if your family isn't quite on board with dietary changes, or your insurance says a big fat NO to the treatment you're so desperately looking for?
Baby steps. Take a breath, take a step back, roll up your sleeves, and do what you can for yourself-by yourself. It may not be easy, but I believe in you and I think you can make it happen.
Baby step #1- Dairy Detox
Pour out the cow milk, toss out the cow cheese (even more rapidly toss out the plastic cheese known as Velveeta, because admit it- that stuff is just gross.) Get your kids some goat milk, take a tour of Whole Foods and learn about the other types of cheese they sell- that is, of course, if your family can't live without cheese or milk. My kids can't. They both love yogurt, one can't be separated from milk, and the other has to have goat cheese in her lunch a couple of times a week. Me? I could do without it. But just in case I ever have the urge, the ONLY options in the house are options I can believe in.
Oh, and find ways around ordering pizza for a few months. The addicting (and I truly mean addicting) combination of mozzarella and sauce on a flakey crust- that smell will mess with you when you're trying to detox from killer cow dairy. Trust me, that was the hardest thing. I sometimes felt like one of Pavlov's dogs in those first couple of months off cow dairy. Every time a Papa John's commercial came on (you read that right- Papa John's), all I could think about was pizza. It's been two+ years since I had a slice of pizza, the commercials stopped triggering a salivary response long ago, and the smell of pizza now leaves me slightly grossed out. Step one complete.
Baby step #2- Rage Against the Grains
The Doc told me no gluten, which is found in a handful of grains. As I mentioned somewhere else in the archives, it messes with my thyroid. One other very good reason to rage against the grains? Wheat, rice, rye- they're calorie hogs. The way I see it is this: I have two choices- eat meals packed full of nutrient rich fruit and veggies (leaving room for several snacks in the day) or have a giant piece of bread (nearly void of natural nutrients), be hungry an hour later, and go back for more of the same nutritiously vacant food as a snack.
For many people, the idea of removing most grains from the diet leaves them wondering what else there is to eat. The fear seems to be rampant hunger- if bread, breakfast cereal, or a giant bowl of noodles aren't part of a daily diet, they think there is nothing left so starvation MUST be imminent. Wrong.
But what is there, really, besides bread and pasta? So much. How about some lightly steamed veggies, just steamed enough to make them brightly colored and super crunchy? What's that you say...your kids hate steamed veggies and your husband will only eat broccoli? They're  carb-a-holics? Easy fix, make a sauce from scratch that secretly has sweet potatoes, carrots, and squash blended in- tucked far from their field of view. Let them have their pasta if they must. On your plate? More of those steamed veggies, a small piece of fish, and a drizzle of that sauce you just fooled them with. Maybe the family will take in a little rice now and then? Great! Make it brown and make less than usual. Why less? For me, rice is a weakness. If I make a smaller amount, I feel bad taking too much because there might not be enough for the kids. Its my own little trick to keep from over indulging and over serving myself. Another option: become new best friends with quinoa. It's an easy substitute for rice. I even told the kids it was a special kind of rice and they bought it. It too can be pretty high in calories, but it's low on the glycemic index, high in protein and packed with amino acids. It works well in stir fries, fried 'rices', served on a bed of cooked greens with a piece of chicken or fish. Step two, manageable.
Baby Step #3- Go Green...and Red, and Pink, and Orange, and Blue
Fruits. Vegetables. Eat them. Every day, every night, and for snack time in between. After dinner, I prepare my breakfast and lunch for the next day. While lunch is usually a small portion of leftovers, breakfast is always fruit. I fill a glass bowl with about 2 cups of fruit and seal it up for the next day. In the summer it was mango and grapes. Now it's grapes, strawberries, and blueberries. And what about dinner? As I near my target weight I have fewer calories to consume every day, so I find myself leaning towards home prepared soups. I can control how many vegetables are in the recipe, I can assure there is no gluten, and I can be certain no dairy touches the pot. Thanks to those factors, I can also control the calorie content. Last night's thick tomato soup totaled 52 calories per cup and contained tomatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, and parsnips to name a few items.
For the family? Anyone who wanted soup got a cup and I made sure there were other options for everyone that were my version of healthy. There were several varieties of fruit, goat yogurt for the kids, and broiled fish for everyone (besides myself). It was a small amount of additional work to cut the fruit and broil the fish, but not much. I didn't feel like I was making multiple meals, if I stopped with the meal I planned on eating there wouldn't be enough calorie content for the husband and not enough variety for the kids. I think the problem we face when modifying our own diets is not making several meals, but being creative about what we're actually putting on the table. Step three, always in process.
Baby Step #4- Calorie Track
Why? Because by the time you get to step 4, you've probably started to see a difference in your body. It's hard to imagine NO change, after radically changing your diet. If nothing other than noticing a difference in how you feel, something is changing. In my own story, calorie tracking was step 1. I tracked my daily intake for a while before I took out dairy and stopped eating gluten. On the one hand, tracking my calories from the start was very rewarding. I began to see a change in weight pretty quickly. On the other hand, it was just one more thing to try and keep up with when I was already changing so much. I've been tracking what I eat, every day, since July 2011, and I've seen a loss of 42 pounds. It seems strange to some, me pulling out my phone before every meal. I found it very enlightening in the beginning and now, as I near the end of my weight loss journey, I see it as daily motivation. The enlightening part is this: I never thought I ate much in volume. Sure, I had the special occasion meals where I did eat too much and knew it, but most meals were average sized and I didn't gorge all day. What I didn't realize was how many calories even the healthy snacks brought with them. The calorie content in an avocado or a banana is shocking. They're both great snacks, but the calories quickly add up when you are trying to save 500 calories a day, the calorie deficit needed per day in order to lose one pound per week.
If you have a smart phone, there are all sorts of apps meant to track your calorie intake on a daily basis. Some are free and are very good. If you don't have a smart phone, but you do have a computer, there are free calorie tracking websites. The husband says calorie tracking is too much work. He's right, it takes dedication, a lot of dedication. That's one more reason to start tracking calories after you've become comfortable with the major changes listed above. Step four, doable if you want it bad enough.
Baby Step #5- Pre-made = Pre-packaged Problems
This is it, the last step. Well, the last step to getting started anyway. I'm saying to make it the last step, even though it might seem like the most obvious. There's a reason for that. When you start trying to do the other things: remove dairy, minimize grains (especially gluten filled grains), and consume more fruits and veggies, you start doing this step almost naturally. Take a look at the side of a box of anything. Wheat of some form, dairy in some fashion, and the only form of fruit is usually a fruit juice concentrate and even that is toward the bottom of the list (meaning it's in there, but just barely.) So, if you're being careful to follow the other steps, you've automatically cut most boxed goods already and this isn't even really a step, it's more of a companion to the others.
Onward We Go
There it is 3 must do steps, plus 2 steps to really get you going. I say do them one at a time. Little by little, and bit by bit, you'll get there. It won't happen quickly and it won't be easy. But you have at least one friend to cheer you on...Me. I believe in you, you CAN do it.

Monday, January 7, 2013

The Weekday Vegan

Way back over the summer, a friend recommended I watch a documentary called "Forks Over Knives". I had no idea what he was talking about, and had no access to the film, so I started to do a little web surfing. I came to learn the documentary is all about the research done by a few doctors; research that claims a plant based lifestyle (aka- vegan and for sure NO DAIRY) can reduce the likelihood, reverse, and/or completely eliminate a myriad of diseases that are currently running rampant in the good old U.S. of A. Diabetes? Reverse it. Heart disease? Obliterate it. Obesity? Say hello to your skinny jeans. I had to know more. I mean really, they had me at "no dairy."

I got my hands on the film and watched it with the hubs. At the time, I remember thinking how I could cut out most animal product, but wasn't sure I wanted or needed to cut out ALL animal protein. I'd already limited my animal protein to goat cheese, chicken stock, and fish of various types. I still don't know if I want to be full on vegan. What I do know and can say with all certainty: the stretches of time when I eat vegan, when I include absolutely NO animal protein in my diet, those are the days I feel the best. Digestion is crazy awesome, my inflammation is non-existent, I feel clean. That sounds like such a strange thing to say- "I feel clean," but it's true. I feel like I've taken a shower and been scrubbed down from the inside- out.

After Thanksgiving, which was completely cow dairy and gluten free, I made a deal with myself. Even though the meal was entirely safe, as far as my doctor's restrictions were concerned, I still felt a little...gross. I felt plump even though I lost weight (and really, who can say they lost weight over Thanksgiving). I felt slow, even though I was rested. I felt all around not as great as I had the week before. Enter my deal with myself. During the week, I would cook and eat a vegan diet. All I had to do was drop the goat cheese and chicken stock in recipes. Most weeks since, I've been very good. Of course there was Christmas Eve and a pot of Beef Burgundy...and there was Christmas Day and the plate of Prime Rib. It wasn't like I could stomp my feet and force a gluten free, a dairy free, AND an all animal protein free diet on the rest of the family. The gluten and dairy run them crazy enough without adding veganism to my list of dietary dilemmas.

So, every other weekday surrounding the holidays, I was great. I stuck to my plan and veggified as much as I could. Like I said, I'm not sure I need or want to be totally vegan. Sunday morning breakfasts out with the family are fantastic and who wants, or can eat, a bowl of oatmeal made with milk? Not this girl. So, eggs and bacon it is on those special days out. The rest of the time? I'm a veggie girl.

*As a special note, there are a few websites I've combed through in recent months. I've found some fantastic soups and main dishes at each of these sites. I often have to modify, as vegan doesn't mean gluten free. But, with a great base, the modifications are easy. I hope you enjoy them as well. Happy veggification to you!

The Gluten Free Goddess

Forks Over Knives

The Plant Powered Kitchen

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Sleepless Night Truth

So I have two 'best friends'.  I think every girl probably does.  You know, the one you have from way back when you were just a kid, doing stupid things and thinking you were cool.  Then there is the one you made when you grew up, maybe you met at work or the gym or somewhere else.  The one who knows about your childhood, but wasn't there to experience it with you.  (And this doesnt even begin to cover family.) Yeah...I have one of each.  And I have to be honest, meeting a best friend's other best friend is very unnerving for me.  What if she hates me?  Shouldn't I be friends with my friend's friends?  Yes, I am 36, but still a little girl on the inside.  It recently happened that I met my other best friend's best friend and what a relief it was.  We fell in love and quickly made it Facebook official- we are now friends too! Yippee! 

Over dinner we explored topics that included: why we are awesome, recipes, our favorite wines, and kids.  I've thought about our 'kid' conversation over and over again since that time.  The statement was made "no one ever tells you how incredibly exhausting it will be- not just in the beginning, but for YEARS!" I guess that's true.  You know the early days will be rough, but what about the months and even years that follow?  We all know the moms who say their kids are sleeping through the night at 8 weeks.  Lies.  I mean, maybe their kid is some sort of miracle child, but I know way too many women who have gone sleepless for too long for me to believe it is ever that simple. 

I was always of the opinion that my children needed me in the middle of the night and 'crying it out' wasn't something I could let them do.  Turns out, that wasn't such a bad thing for them.  I recently read and reviewed the book, "How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character", which seemed to completely validate why I subjected myself to sleeping on the floor every night for months.  Author Paul Tough cited research that indicated cortisol levels of children, under one year of age, who are left to 'cry it out' are higher than desireable.  That means stress people...something I loathe as an adult and made me more than my fair share of sick in my lifetime.  Is that something I could consciously let my child experience at a time when rational thought or comprehension of the environment was out of her reach?  Nope.  So I slept in my own bed for a few hours, was awakened nearly every night for 9 months in the first year and dutifully lifted my sweet curly haired angel into my arms, often falling asleep with her in the rocking chair.  On nights when I stayed awake long enough to return her to her crib, she almost always woke the second I took my hands away from her.  At that point- so wrought with exhaustion I could barely stand; I laid a blanket on the ground, found a pillow, and cuddled her near me as we slept together on the floor. 

At about 16 months old, I had a short reprieve.  Both girls were sleeping all night and I stayed in my own bed.  At about 24 months the waking started all over again.  Both girls had begun to climb out of their cribs, a sure sign that toddler beds would become part of our lives. Que the sleepless nights.  Newly installed toddler beds meant two wobbly kids were free to scitter down the hallway immediately after bedtime and all throughout the night.  And they did. I quickly became a zombie once more and recreated my make shift bed on the floor.  One night Izzy would awaken, the next night it was Lily.  Many nights I laid on the floor, weeping with exhaustion, and held hands with both girls until they drifted back to sleep. 

In retrospect, I'm not sure I would've done anything differently.  They needed me.  They needed reassurance that I was there, they were safe, and they could count on me.  But, it did go on too long.  Worn thin and constantly sick (for a variety of reasons, some loosley related to my lack of sleep) along came a terrible ear infection that left me temporarily deaf in one ear.  That was my breaking point.  I couldn't do it anymore and I firmly believed that my 2.5 year olds were intellectual enough that I could tell them why I wouldn't continue getting up every night- I wasn't healthy and needed rest to be the best Mommy possible.  They got it- sortive.  With their brains still wired to be self-serving and impulsive, they continued to get up and try to rouse me.  They knew I needed to sleep, but they were 2.5, their ids were in full swing.  So, one night the husband and I decided we had to do something drastic.  We closed their bedroom door.  We did not lock it, they were not trapped.  But they did received a clear signal that they had to stay put.  I was just deaf enough that I couldn't hear their cries, and that was absolutely for the best.  The husband made multiple nightly checks on them to verbally assure of our presence and our love.  And thanks to my temporary deafness, I slept and was excused from the guilt that has plagued so many of my friends in a similar situation. In less than two weeks, we were all sleeping through the night and, ever since, waking is only from the occassional bad dream or growing pain.

But the guilt. It's a bitch.  As I've said before, today's woman is somehow wired to believe that she must do everything and do it perfectly.  But we can't, we must let go at some point and realize that we are not harming our children because we must occassionally choose ourselves.  To any of you who fear that you are a bad mom, because you choose your own health or your own needs, let me tell you that you- you are not bad.  You must take care of yourself and the line has got to be drawn somewhere. I continued to believe that my kids needed me. For a long time, at night, the hugs were sweeter. But I also believe that somewhere along the way, waking up at 2am and pulling me from sleep happened as a habit and not so much for consolation like it once had been.  When the reason was habit, it was time for the tide had to be turned. I had to teach them self-assurance was more than a hug from mommy.

I have no scientific evidence that 2-2.5 years old is the right time to teach that skill or that at the age of 2.5 all children are able to reason and rationalize about the needs of others.  I do believe it was the right time for my kids and family.  And I know many who had very similar struggles, at the same ages, that my kids did.  And to all of those who struggled I shared my story.  I told those friends that their kids would be fine. No, I told them their kids would be more than fine...they would be GREAT.  And to you? I say tell that little voice inside to get lost and remind yourself that you do love your kids excessively, tell that voice you are raising your children to be strong and to think and to empathize with others.  Remind yourself that self-assurance is a skill they will need for the rest of their lives. And please trust...they will thrive all the more for it and you will once again feel human after a few nights sleep.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Recent Publication a MAJOR Success

If you knew me, you'd know how very much I LOVE to read...fiction.  I am always fascinated by different non-fiction topics, but reading non-fiction?  Most of the time I fall asleep before I ever begin. I sometimes marvel at the fact that I made it through college and graduate school; if it doesn't read like a "story" I lose interset.  But as I drove back to work one Monday afternoon for the twice monthly department meeting, I heard an author, Paul Tough, discussing his recent non-fiction book, How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character. That was it, I was hooked.  As I pulled into the parking lot I KNEW I had to download the book immediately, lest I forget the name and the author and miss the opportunity to change my life.  Ok, maybe it wouldn't change my life, but everything I heard the author say sounded like what I have believed as a teacher, a parent, and as a person striving to regain my own health. 

Not only did the book address the adrenal system and the dangers of having your flight or fight response swithced on almost permanantely, but it also discussed how stressors from early life events can negatively affects student performance in school, later in life.  Author Paul Tough follows the paths of several students from low performing schools, in neighborhoods that would make most of us shudder.  He spends an entire chapter examining the success of a chess coach in a low income school and attirubites her teams' success to her blatant honesty.  He revists the success of a student from Chicago Public Schools who is, by all measures, a HUGE success story in her new role as college student at Western Illinois University. And Tough doesn't stop there.  He discusses character skills, character report cards (done the right way), and talks about the downfalls of placing too high a value on ACT and IQ scores. 

Honestly, I have never picked up and read a non-fiction book 'for fun'.  I read pretty much everything I was supposed to all the way through college and graduate school.  I occassionally find myself interested in an non-fiction news article, but always something brief.  This book was not brief, but it was intensly interesting.  I absolutely give this book 5 stars on a 5 star scale.  Anyone who: is curious about what makes a person successful, has children, wants children, works with children or even knows someone else's children- you must read this book.  And don't wait until you finish whatever is on your shelf or your Kindle at the moment.  Read it now.  Pull into a parking lot and download the book.  Use that smart phone to place a hold at your local library.  Make sure you have this book in hand by bedtime. What you read will change your life, or at the very least put a new perspective on what you thought you knew.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A Little Crustless Quiche for me!

Eggs.  I love them.  As a kid I was under the impression that I hated them.  They were spongy, smelled bad, and looked weird. As an adult with a dietary plan that can be difficult to follow- they are the only reason I can have breakfast out with the family.  Admittedly, I still think 'over easy' is too drippy and slimey for me.  Poached, fried, basted and soft boiled...yuck.  I know, at 36, I should be well past issues of texture and I'm not.  But I did learn, in recent years, how protein packed and delightful a properly hard boiled egg could be.  Toss it in a salad, eat it sliced on a plate, mix it with some quinoia for an extra punch of protein.  Scrambled eggs in my asian noodles?  Absolutely. 

In the years since I realized I truly love the little oblong treasures, I would venture to say our family also became breakfast goer-outers. Back in the day my omlettes oozed with cheese, the metled strands never willing to neatly separate from the masses, leaving me struggling to eat like a lady (I should've taken the hint and given up on the dairy battle then and there!) I buttered up my English Muffin and devoured it all ravenously.  (And had the weight gain to prove it.) But beyond the casual diners we have so always enjoyed on Sunday mornings, we USED to bake a delightful, gluten filled, dairy rich quiche, sometimes for breakfast, sometimes for dinner.  We usually cleaned the pie plate, rarely having a scant crumb for leftovers.  Not so anymore.  My days of calorie counting, dairy banning, and gluten refusing have left quiche all but a distant memory. Imagine my glee when I found, on Pinterest, a crustless and dairy free quiche?

What  delightful little meal it made.  With a couple of slices of bacon and a side of avocado I felt like I was eating at one of our favorite Sunday morning haunts, with only a fraction of the calories and with certainty that my meal was dairy and gluten free.  Was it hard, not at all.  Was it fast, not as quick as a standard (and perhaps boring) scrambled egg. Was it filling, yes actually it was.  And that little fact is one thing that shocked me most.  At only 138 calories per serving (I tallied a total of 8 servings and from the pan I used and this offered a substantial slice of quiche) it was every bit as satisfying as the calorie and gluten laden quiche's from the days of long ago.

I tried the recipe last night for dinner (isn't breakfast for dinner great fun for the family?) and ate some leftovers today for lunch.  Yum.  I did alter the flour/arrowroot volume. And the original recipe left eggs looking more fried than looking like a quiche.  I'm sure, if you like your eggs looking at you, it would taste divine. The original can be seen here. I present a modified version to you now and hope you enjoy it as much as I did.  Happy eating!

Crustless Quiche Delight
1 large or 2 medium sized squash and/or zucchini, spiral cut
1/4 cup brown rice flour
1/4 cup arrowroot powder
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon organic butter
5 medium mushrooms, sliced
1 medium tomato, chopped
2 cloves garlic
1 ounce soft goat cheese
1 small onion, chopped
6-8 fresh basil leaves, sliced
4 large eggs
I used a Vertical Spiral Slicer (Google Affiliate Ad) from Sur La Table to slice the squash and/or zuchinni.  Toss the squash/zuchinni with 1 beaten egg and then with the brown rice flour, arrowroot powder, cayenne pepper, black pepper, and sea salt to create the 'crust' of this crustless quiche.  On the stove, heat and melt the butter, then add the crust mixture. (I used a fritatta pan, but a medium sized, oven safe, sautee pan would also work.)

Form and pat down the edges of the 'crust' to resemble that of a pie crust.  The underside of this crust will brown and the edges will become crisp, about 10 minutes over medium heat (checking it often to prevent burning).  Once the crust has set and browned, remove from heat and add remaining vegetables, garlic, and goat cheese- layering them on top of the crust.  Over that, pour remaining beaten eggs and place in the oven at 350 degrees for about 25-30 minutes.  I check periodically and when the egg seems solid, I call it done. 

If I could eat spinach, I would add some.  In fact, I would use whatever favorite vegetables are in the fridge at the time I prepare this dish.  Whatever you like in a quiche would also fit brilliantly in this dish.


Thursday, October 4, 2012

Fruit Fly Trap Wanted: Inquire Within

I have a fruit fly problem.  It's a big one.  Yesterday I took the last batch of nectarines out of the fridge to ripen and the bastards came out of no where.  For anyone reading who may feel the need to explain their origins- please don't.  I find them disgusting and appalling and cringe at the site of one, or 10 which seems most often the case.  And no, my house is not filthy.  It may not be showhome perfect (which I have already told you I have accepted may NEVER be happen), but it is not dirty either.  I have come to the conclusion that the fruit fly invasion of 2012 is thanks to the prolific amounts of fruit consumed in my home on a weekly basis.  It wasn't until one of my best friends (also a big fruit consumer) shared that she is having the same problem that it hit me.  It's not filth, it's fruit.

In the past week, we consumed approxiamtely: 6 pounds of strawberries, 3 pounds of kiwi, 4 pounds of nectarines, 3 pounds of plums, 4 oranges, and a cantaloupe.  I sometimes think back to days, before kids, when I bought the sorts of fruit mentioned above.  They went untouched for days and often times rotted before I remembered they were there.  Not so anymore.  Once the girls were eating solid foods, fruit became a staple for them.  As picky as they both were (and one still is) fruit was something they never turned down.  But that didn't do much to increase my own fruit intake or that of the husband.  We plodded on with heavily breaded meals, vegetables cooked in sticks of butter, and plates full of pastas- albeit with a homemade sauce.

Then the doctor struck.  No gluten, no dairy, no spinach, and butter is ok- if you aren't trying like mad to lose weight (which I was and still am, sortive).  What did that leave me?  Fruits and vegetables.  Every possible combination of fruit has been used.  I chop up a bowl for breakfast everyday and recently started doing the same for the husband.  The girls graze freely from the glass containers that store nature's candy (plastic storage is pretty much banned in our house too) and eat a bowl in their lunches everyday at school.

The only remedy I have found for the fruitfly issue, short of ditching our massive consumption on a weekly basis (which isn't really an option) is the recipe below.  It smells a little, but that is why the bastards love it.  Soon, I think we are going to start composting.  I know there has to be a way to get it done indoors, I just haven't done the research quite yet.  Until then, I keep a supply of apple cider vinegar on hand.  You never know when you might need it for a recipe or employ it as to trap for fiendish fruit flies.

Fruit Fly Trap
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup water
8-10 pumps dish soap
Pour the apple cider vinegar into a disposable cup (what else are they good for?) along with the dish soap.  Turn the water up high to create high pressure and add to the disposable cup.  There should be a nice 'froth' looking very similar to beer.  Sit the cup near the location the fruitflies seem to favor most.  If all goes well, they will zoom over to investigate and get trapped in the bubbles, leaving them to sink to the bottom. 

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Selfish Chef and Stupendous Saffron Lentil Soup

Earlier this week, it hit me.  I am in love with food and may be slightly obsessed.  Ok, let me clarify.  It's the 'can't wait to try new recipes, will slave over dinner for hours, am constantly in search of ways to turn a kidney bean into something amazing, and eagerly pack my lunch for the next day using last night's leftovers' kind of obsessed.  I admit to it, I own it, let's move on.

It wasn't until recently that I realized how much I really love doing the shopping and cooking in our house.  It was on a Monday evening and the husband was trying to help me 'take a load off" by offering to do the shopping as he heads home from work.  I think I might have had a meltdown.  The thought of abandoning my beloved routine scared the crap out of me.  No more weekly trips to Costco for fruit and then Whole Foods for everything else?  You mean, not get my favorite zero calorie- stevia sweetened iced tea as a weekly treat for a shopping trip well done?  I froze, and saw my world spiraling out of control.  That, dear husband, is one burden I find myself unwilling to share. 

In an effort to be a good man he then offered to help make the meals.  More panic.  There may have been beads of sweat somewhere on my forehead as I envisioned a mass of crusted pots and pans, but even more terrifying- an abundant use of oils!  I tried to explain that this was one more task I just could not bare to part with. Bring home the occasional Mediterranean meal from the local Pita BBQ?  Sure, once in a while.  Regularly cook ornate meals using, potentially, up to a half cup of oil and who knows how much butter?  Too much for me to handle. 

I never knew until recently (and this may sound totally lame) that vegetables can be sauteed using water.  WHAT?  Who would do such a thing?  It seems unnatural!  Turns out it works really well and the onions still get translucent and carrots still become bright orange and tender. (Thanks "Forks Over Knives" for that life altering lesson!)

Given the husband's recent interest in all things Mediterranean  related,  I decided to dabble in making lentil soup.  The recipes I found didn't make me shout and holler in excitement at the ingredients...until I found one with saffron.  Mmmm.  Saffron.  Known by many as the most expensive (ounce for ounce) spice in the world.  The brightly colored, orangey-yellow stamens of the crocus, once soaked, give off an unmistakable perfume and release a flavor as rich as their price tag.  I knew I had to give this recipe a go.  The flavor was great, said the husband, but the texture was like water.  That problem was easily remedied by tossing about half of the lentils into the blender with a little liquid from the pot.  Twenty seconds of puree later, the thickness was more to his liking and resembled a cream soup, sans the cream (because, as you remember, dairy does evil and terrible things to the body!)

The one alteration I would like to make next time, but probably won't because of the blondes (aka my 6 year old daughters), is to kick up the spice factor just a bit.  I purposely made it mild in hopes they would try it.  They did, but the rest of the pot was a little too tame for my personal taste. If heat isn't your thing, then the recipe is probably perfect as is.  If spice is what you crave, add some garlic chili paste (you can find it on the aisle with Asian foods) until you hit your favorite level of fire.  Enjoy and let me know what you think.

Stupendous Saffron Lentil Soup

2 medium carrots, chopped
1 cup chopped cauliflower
1/2 cup diced celery
2-4 cloves of chopped garlic
1/2 teaspoon freshly chopped ginger root
1 teaspoon cumin
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 1/2 cups diced tomatoes
8-10 freshh basil leaves
3 cups water
3 cups vegetable or chicken stock
pinch of saffron (a little goes a long way!)
1 cup lentils

 In a pot, combine carrots, cauliflower, celery, garlic, ginger root, cumin, cayenne pepper, turmeric, and basil leaves.  Sautee until the vegetables are transparent, using just enough water to keep the blend from sticking to the pan.

When the vegetables and spices have softened and produced a brilliant fragrance, add water, stock, saffron, and lentils.  Bring to a boil and simmer for 40-45 minutes. 

If you are happy with a brothy soup, feel free to stop here.  If you are looking for something a little more creamy, ladel the majority of lentils and a splash of liquid into the blender.  Puree for about 20 seconds and return to the rest of the recipe.  Stir and serve!  

As a rough estimate, this recipe should come out to about 70 calories per one cup serving. Worried about being hungry later?  Not a problem.  It is extremely filling and gives you the kick you need to keep going.