What's For Dinner?

This whole No Sugar thing we're doing has had more impact on our lives than I anticipated it would. Once you start reading ingredient labels to look for sugar, you notice all the other crap that's jammed into most of our packaged foods too. It's kind of startling (and disturbing) how so much of our processed "foods" contain ingredients that seem better suited to a plastics factory or chemical laboratory.

After watching the documentary Food, Inc., I looked around on Netflix for similar "Big Food" related documentaries and found The Future of Food - another really eye-opening film centered mostly around the almost extinct seed culture in our country and the increasing prevalence of genetically modified food. Scary stuff. Even scarier that companies aren't required to label products containing GM ingredients here in the U.S. like they are required to in European and Asian countries.

Thus, in addition to sticking to organic and local produce, we are also purchasing far fewer processed, packaged foods from our grocery stores and looking for "No-GM" labels provided by ethical food companies on the packaged foods we do buy.

As you can imagine, eating out at restaurants has become almost non-existent for us as well - especially at chain restaurants (which we rarely patronized anyway).

As a result, we have been preparing and cooking 3 meals a day, 7 days a week for the past 5 weeks. Well, okay, there have been a couple of restaurant meals at local restaurants where we can easily assess ingredients - but really, only like 3 times since we started the No Sugar experiment.

All of this requires planning, and time, and effort. It's exhausting. But in a good way. Breakfasts are usually handled by Daniel because as much as I'd like to be, I am simply NOT a morning person by any stretch of the imagination. He makes a variety of things throughout the week like oatmeal, or eggs, or toast. Sometimes fruit or cold cereal is involved. This morning, for instance, he put egg, cheese and bacon on half a piece of toasted whole wheat pita bread. And a little almond butter on a banana. We may not be eating refined sugars but that doesn't mean we are deprived of good tasting whole foods.

I typically cover lunches and make them directly after dinner the night before. Lunches very often include dinner leftovers, or a sandwich, fruit, carrots, chips, nuts...whatever suits my fancy at the time. Daniel's lunch today consists of a roast beef sandwich (on sprouted whole grain bread, with lettuce, cheese, and horseradish), a cup of vegetable chili, a Granny Smith apple, and corn chips.

Dinners are almost always a team effort, and it's an enjoyable endeavor cooking together every night. Except for Mondays. Mondays I'm on my own because Daniel has class until 9:30 pm. In the past, I would've maybe stopped at Wendy's or Taco Bell on my way home from work so I wouldn't have to cook for just me. Or I would've gone home and had a bowl of cereal, a couple of cookies, a Lean Cuisine, or whatever.

But not lately. Lately, even when on my own, I come home and I cook dinner. Just for me. So, last night I came home, snuggled the kittehs until they demanded their daily treats, and then pulled out vegetables, beans and spices, and got to chopping.

The vegetable chili I made is a recipe I love mostly because it's highly versatile, really delicious, and easy peasy. It does, however, take time to chop everything (unless you have mad knife skills - I do not have mad knife skills). Onion, bell pepper, serrano pepper, garlic, zucchini, carrots, and mushrooms all have to be chopped. But then, it's just throwing things in a big pot and letting it cook for a total of about 35 minutes.

Here's the recipe:

Vegetarian Chili - adapted from Emeril Lagasse

2 tablespoons canola oil
1 1/2 cups chopped yellow onions
1 cup chopped bell peppers
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 to 3 serrano peppers, stemmed, seeded, and minced, depending upon taste
1 medium zucchini, stem ends trimmed and cut into small dice
3-4 carrots, chopped or sliced
2 cups fresh or canned corn kernels (about 3 ears)
1 1/2 pounds portobello mushrooms (about 5 large), stemmed, wiped clean and cubed
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespooon ground cumin
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
3 cups cooked beans, or canned beans, rinsed and drained
1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes with juice
1 cup vegetable stock, or water

In a large, heavy pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions, bell peppers, garlic, and serrano peppers, and cook, stirring, until soft, about 3 minutes. Add the zucchini, carrots, corn, and mushrooms, and cook, stirring, until soft and the vegetables give off their liquid and start to brown around the edges, about 6 minutes. Add the chili powder, cumin, salt and cayenne, and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes and stir well. Add the beans, and vegetable stock, stir well, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes.

I put cheese on top, because...well, because I love cheese. And scooping up the chunky chili with blue corn chips is very tasty.

The corn chips we got at Whole Foods. They are Garden of Eatin' brand and claim to be organic and without any GM ingredients - there are like 3 ingredients, corn, oil and salt. They are really crunchy and salty and delicious.

I even had dessert with my dinner last night. Raisin date bread with real butter. The bread we found at a little country Amish store in Nolensville. The kind of town where if you blink while passing through, you'll completely miss it. It's a good trip from our house, but totally worth it. This bread is moist and delicious and contains no refined sugars - just dates, raisins, and apple juice. And it's made with whole wheat flour.

Planning is most definitely the key to cooking and eating well. We grocery shop once a week and buy the things we'll need to make our three meals a day for the upcoming 7 days. Yeah, it takes a little forethought, but it's really nice to come home and know what you're having for dinner. And that it will be real food.


You Can See the Stars in Nashville

You'd never guess it, being in the "Fly Over" zone and everything, but little ole Nashville gets quite its share of celebrities living in or visiting the city.

Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin were recently here for a few months. She was, apparently, filming scenes for an upcoming movie

Gwyneth has a website called GOOP, where she is posting about her stay in Nashville. Quite a few of her favorite Nashville highlights are straight from our very own East Nashville neighborhood like Marche, Margot, The Turnip Truck, Ugly Mugs, Olive & Sinclair, and Drew's Brews. Check It Out

I am not one of those people who is obsessed with celebrity sightings, and Nashville kind of has a reputation for being chill about its celebrity residents and visitors.

Anywho, it's nice to know our little city made a positive impression on our latest famous visitors.


Enough To Make You Sick

Have you guys seen the documentary Food, Inc.?

I'm always late to the party, so I JUST saw it for the first time last night (another Netflix pick - I love Netflix!).

And WOW. What a rough movie. Superbly done, fascinating and thought-provoking, but very hard to watch at times. By the end of the film my eyes were red and puffy, mascara was running down my cheeks, snot was dripping from my nose, and I was FURIOUS!

I mean, we hear all the time (especially lately) how wrong and horrible Big Food is. And I've always nodded my head in agreement and then went to Kroger and purchased my Purdue boneless, skinless chicken breasts for dinner. Years ago I read Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation and Fat Land by Greg Critser and more recently, Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food. Daniel and I saw the documentary Super Size Me a few weeks ago, and I just finished the companion book written by director/producer Morgan Spurlock, Don't Eat This Book. I actually felt pretty educated compared to a lot of folks.

We try to buy organic and local as much as possible and be conscious consumers, but DAMN, a lot of the information delivered by Food, Inc. was totally new to me. It's incredible how our government values corporations over human beings. The horrific daily injustices being suffered by the animals, workers, farmers and consumers of these Big Food corporations is disgusting and infuriating.

Daniel and I talked about that movie all evening and found ourselves still discussing it this morning at the breakfast table and on our way into work.

If you've seen this film, what are your thoughts? If you haven't, please do!



TROLOLO <--- Click Here

Have you seen this? It's on my sister's blog, Facebook, and all over freakin' YouTube. It was shown on The Colbert Report and Jimmy Kimmel Live. And it is pure awesomeness, my friends.

I don't know how this thing became viral (according to Wiki it was uploaded to YouTube in 2009), but it's a video of Russian singer, Eduard Khil, from a 1976 performance of a wordless song.

This YouTube Video explains his history and the history of the performance. Apparently the song was not originally intended to be wordless. It was titled, "I Am Glad To Finally Be Home", about an American cowboy, but was censored by the Soviet government. Hence the wordless version.

The delightfulness of the song and the performance is contagious. Eduard is still around (he's 75 now) and is tickled at the renewed interest. He suddenly has a huge worldwide fan base! There are tons of "tribute" performances on the web, including one by Christoph Waltz, the actor who won an Oscar for Inglorious Basterds. And I swear once that tune gets in your head, you'll be humming it all day long!


Expand Your Vocabulary AND Feed the World

At the same time!

I had no idea this was possible until I saw a post about it over at The Pioneer Woman.

The Pioneer Woman is a site I stumbled upon years ago. You all have probably heard of it and maybe are even fans. I like it and I don't like it. I like a lot of the content (like her photo-heavy recipes) and the info she provides regarding homeschooling interests me. BUT, her self-deprecating, cutesy style gets old pretty quick.

Nevertheless, I continue to visit every now and then and today I stumbled upon a post about the site called Free Rice.

It's totally cool, especially if you're into vocabulary (and who isn't!?). You simply answer vocabulary questions and for each correct answer, Free Rice will donate 10 grains of rice in an effort to help end world hunger. It's a non-profit organization run by the United Nations World Food Program.

And if, for some strange reason, you are not into vocabulary, you can click on the "Change Subjects" at the top right of the screen and pick a different subject to be quizzed in, like math, art history, chemistry, geography, and foreign languages.

Neat, huh? And totally addicting.

Lazy Weekend & A Milestone

This weekend was LAZY. Oh indeed it was. We had big plans. BIG PLANS! To paint the basement.

We did not paint the basement. We didn't even tape off the basement to ready it for painting. Nope.

I did, however, get my hair cut and was told in no uncertain terms that I have "resistive grays"! What the hell!?

My stylist, who is talented and someone I like, has been using a gloss to color my hair for...oh...probably about a year now, and it's always worked brilliantly. Except this time. This time, she glossed me, she stuck me under the dryer, she washed and conditioned me, she cut me, she blow dried HALF of my hair and then said, "Oh dear. Looks like you have some resistive grays." She was not happy about this at all, especially since they seemed to be concentrated right at my part.

So she asked if I had time for a "do over". I didn't want to disappoint her, so I ended up spending almost 4 HOURS at the hair salon Saturday morning. BUT, my resistive grays have been beaten into submission. At least for a while.

While I was wasting time at the salon, Daniel was busily pruning the massive amounts of overgrown monkey grass that seems to surround every inch of the perimeter of our house and yard. Fortunately, the "new toy" feel of the weed whacker hasn't worn off yet for him and he takes every opportunity to put it to use.

Let's see, what else? There was half-hearted laundry attempts. There was lackadaisical wall washing in the basement. There was tv watching. We did manage to go grocery shopping Saturday, which is the worst time to go, but we survived.

Saturday night, we went out to dinner at a local neighborhod restaurant called Mad Donna's. It was the first time either one of us had been there. Although Kelly and I went there once when it had been the old Radio Cafe (good times).

Anyway, we both enjoyed it - cool, relaxed atmosphere and creatively delicious food (I had the sweet potato enchiladas and they were really good!)

Sunday we watched our latest Netflix movie, La Vie En Rose, about the late Edith Piaf. I can see why Marion Cotillard won the Oscar for Best Actress. The story seemed a little disjointed and difficult to follow at times, but her performance as the French singer was flawless.

We did some reading. Oh, and we made this horrible lunch. For the love of god, do NOT ever make the following recipe.

Let me just say that we are both fans of Alton Brown. C'mon! He's great! Anyway, we saw one of his "recipes" and thought, "hey, that sounds interesting and healthy and has no sugar in it - let's try that! It's Alton...it MUST be delicious."

WRONG. Oh so wrong.

Basically, it involves cans of sardines that have been marinated in a mixture of vinegar, parsley and lemon juice. Once they have marinated for 45 minutes or so, you broil a couple slices of sourdough bread, then you spread some mushed up avocado on the bread and then mash the marinated sardines into the avocado and VOILA! Instant disgustingness.

And I am somewhat of a fan of canned fish products. I just couldn't endorse this. Maybe it was the texture. Maybe it was the overwhelming flavors. Whatever the cause, it did not suit our palates at all. Sorry Alton.

Also finished reading Spurlock's Don't Eat This Book this weekend. It was very accessible information. Some of it I'd read before in works like Fat Land and Fast Food Nation. A lot of it I had forgotten. And some of it was news to me!

That's about the extent of it. See? Lazy.

Oh, and this post is my 300th post on this blog. Milestone.

Happy Monday!


Religious Majority: 1, Constitution: 0

Have you heard? In a 2-1 decision, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel ruled that the "under God" addition to the Pledge of Allegiance is not unconstitutional. What!?

Here's the article.

Judge Carlos Bea justified his decision stating:

"Without knowing the history behind these words, one might well think the phrase 'one Nation under God' could not be anything but religious. History, however, shows these words have an even broader meaning, one grounded in philosophy and politics and reflecting many events of historical significance.”

Um, yeah. I call BULLSHIT.

Louis A. Bowman (1872-1959) was the first to initiate the addition of "under God" to the Pledge. He spent his adult life in the Chicago area and was Chaplain of the Illinois Society of the Sons of the American Revolution. At a meeting on February 12, he led the Society in swearing the Pledge with two words added, "under God."

In 1951, the Knights of Columbus, the world's largest Catholic fraternal service organization, also began including the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance.

In 1952, Holger Christian Langmack wrote a letter to President Truman suggesting the inclusion of "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance. Mr. Langmack was a Danish philosopher and educator who came to America in 1911. He was one of the originators of the Prayer Breakfast and a religious leader in Washington, D.C. President Truman met with him along with several others to discuss the inclusion of "under God". At the suggestion of a correspondent, Representative Louis C. Rabaut of Michigan sponsored a resolution to add the words "under God" to the Pledge in 1953.

Huh. Seems like in all cases, "under God" was not founded on politics or philosophy, but religion. Well gee, imagine that!

The Pledge of Allegiance was originally composed in 1892 by Francis Bellamy. His original version was:

“I pledge allegiance to my flag and the republic for which it stands: one nation indivisible with liberty and justice for all.”

Somewhere between 1892 and 1923, a "to" was added:

"I pledge allegiance to my flag and to the republic for which it stands: one nation indivisible with liberty and justice for all."

Then in 1924, the original pledge was changed up a bit more:

"I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States and to the republic for which it stands: one nation indivisible with liberty and justice for all."

By 1954, it had been changed a little more:

"I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands; one nation indivisible with liberty and justice for all."

And in 1954, "under God" was added:

"I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

So, why the fear of removing "under God"? Why not take the Pledge back to its original form and teach our kids the history of the Pledge?

According to the article cited above, the judges explained their decision saying,

the "under God" portion of the Pledge is not a violation of the Constitution, but a historical reflection of the Founding Fathers’ beliefs that “serves to unite our vast nation.”

Again, I call BULLSHIT.

Okay, first, our founding fathers were not religious-right Christians. No, really. They were Deists.

Secondly, while I agree that a Pledge of Allegiance serves (to some extent) to unite our vast nation, blatantly disregarding the Constitution by inserting "under God" only unites those who choose to believe in a god.

And do not get me started on the "In God We Trust" motto emblazoned on our currency...


Hold The Sugar!

Sucrose Dextrose Maltose Corn Syrup High Fructose Corn Syrup Cane Juice Evaporated Cane Juice Organic Cane Juice Maltodextrin Table Sugar White Sugar Brown Sugar Powdered Sugar Agave Syrup Maltodextrin Sorbitol Xylitol Mannitol Malitol

These are all essentially the same thing: Sugar. I used to eat all of them - often with abandon. I have not eaten these ingredients for the past 22 days.

I'm experimenting.

Highly processed sugar completely devoid of nutrients is what I've been trying to eliminate from my diet for the past 22 days. This is harder than you might think. Especially for someone like me who really didn't pay any (or very little) attention to how much sugar I was consuming.

Sugar is BIG business and in foods you would never even think it to be in, like dry roasted peanuts for example, or tomato sauce, or frozen french fries, or canned soups, or mayonnaise, or even my beloved Siggi's Vanilla Skyr (I've since switched to Plain instead of Vanilla flavored). The majority of bread products - even the whole grain, healthy organic versions - often have some form of refined sugar listed in the ingredients. I'll admit, it was a little daunting for the first week.

I also decided to make sure I wasn't simply substituting artificial sweeteners for the lack of sugar in my diet. Honestly, artificial sweeteners have always kind of scared me so it wasn't much of an adjustment. I'm just more conscious now of making sure there are no crazy chemical sugar substances in the foods I'm eating, like: Splenda, Aspartame, Saccharin, and Sucralose.

So what AM I eating? Well, I've been allowing moderate amounts of honey - like with my Siggi's Plain Skyr I'll mix some chopped raw pistachios with a drip or two of honey and a pinch of ground cardamom and top my skyr with the mixture. Or when we have oatmeal, we'll drizzle a little honey into it along with some cinnamon and then top it off with unsweetened coconut shavings and chopped raw macadamias.

I am not opposed to pure maple syrup although I haven't actually eaten any in the past 22 days. I have purchased some whole grain fig cookies that are sweetened with molasses and some of the breads we've been eating have molasses or barley malt listed in the ingredients.

Fresh fruit is still on the menu and the naturally occuring fructose contained therein. Also minimum amounts of dried fruits (although you really have to check ingredient labels to make sure there is no added sugar) - especially apricots and prunes. I also haven't eliminated the naturally occuring lactose found in dairy products. Food products sweetened with dates or pure fruit juices or fresh fruit have been consumed with moderation.

I've also eliminated refined starches like white flour, white breads, white rice, and white pasta. Although we rarely, if ever, ate white rice or white breads, our pasta was sometimes of the refined kind and we used white flour almost exclusively for baking and cooking. No more.

Things I've Discovered:

Date Sugar - It's exactly what you expect, dates. Dried dates that have been ground up to the texture of brown sugar. I had no idea this existed until recently. We haven't used any yet, but Daniel will be making my Birthday Carrot Cake with it next month.

White Whole Wheat Flour - This may not be what you think. Nutritionally it is almost exactly identical to whole wheat flour. The difference is that it uses a naturally occuring albino wheat (instead of the traditional red wheat) which is a little softer allowing for a finer, fluffier texture to the flour. Again, this is an experimental product that will be used in the Birthday Carrot Cake.

Coconut Milk - Has more fat than cow's milk, but fewer calories and ZERO sugars. We've used it to make oatmeal so far and it turned out well.

Ezekiel Sprouted Grain Bread - This is actually a pretty mainstream bread that I have seen before but just never tried. It's REALLY delicious! A great breakfast idea I pilfered from someone else's blog includes a slice of toasted Ezekiel bread spread with almond butter (we get ours straight from the grinder at Fresh Market which is less expensive), topped with sliced bananas, sprinkled with ground cinnamon and finally chopped raw macadamia nuts.

Barbara's Whole Wheat Fig Bars - Found these, of all places, at our local Kroger. No refined sugar and a couple really take the edge off of a raging sweet tooth.

It's Not So Bad - Quitting refined, processed sugar and minimizing natural sugars, while not a walk in the park, hasn't been nearly as miserable as I anticipated it was going to be.

Things I Miss:

Chocolate - I do love me some chocolate and carob is just not the same. I've heard of grain-sweetened chocolate chips but haven't found any yet, and also raw cacao, of which I am highly suspicious (for no good reason).

Cereal - The only cold cereal I have eaten in the past 22 days has been one small bowl of Grape Nuts. Now, I enjoy Grape Nuts (who doesn't!?), but I miss my Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Rice Krispies, and Frosted Mini Wheats.

Ignorance - Being able to just go the store and pick up food items without having to read the freaking ingredients. Or going to any restaurant I want and ordering whatever sounds good without having to ask (or already knowing) about the sugar content.

There are some great blogs I've found that have been really helpful and provided valuable information. Probably the best of these is My Years Without Sugar. Informative, motivational, and interesting. If you're thinking about quitting sugar, or have already quit sugar, I highly recommend checking it out.

Additionally, I just finished reading Get the Sugar Out by Ann Louise Gittleman. It was a fairly informative read. I'd say half of it was information so basic as to be almost insulting. But the other half was interesting facts and research about sugar I was unaware of.

Currently I'm reading Don't Eat This Book by Morgan Spurlock. This was the guy who produced the documentary Super Size Me (which Daniel and I recently watched as one of our Netflix picks) and the book, while not exclusively dealing with sugar, offers insight on the topic of sugar and other nutrition and food industry information. It's basically an in-depth extension of the film, and so far it's not bad. His writing style is a little hokey and comes across as inelegant, but the information seems sound and reliable thus far.

No doubt this experiment is not without its faults. I am still reading and absorbing as I go along, so any book, website, movie, or blog suggestions will be appreciated. Just keep the donuts to yourself!


Down & Dirty

With the great weather we had last weekend - sunny and high 60s - we couldn't help ourselves and spent nearly all weekend outside doing yard work. This is the first time in my life I've been responsible for a yard. Although because we have quite an extensive "yard" - an acre and a half - Daniel insists on calling it "land". But land work doesn't sound right.

Since neither of us has ever been in charge of taking care of any land, we have pretty much no idea what we're doing. As a kid I would mow the lawn once in a great while, but I never gardened or trimmed or pruned or mulched or composted or even raked leaves really. I was an extraordinarily lazy kid when it came to chores. My mother can verify.

Not only is our collective yard work experience limited, but we have (well, had, at this point) ZERO tools to accomplish any yard work we feel compelled to do.

So we went to the place we always go. The place that we find ourselves at nearly every weekend since purchasing our first home. The place that eats up cash like nobody's bidnez. Yes. The Home Depot. For better or worse, our Home Depot is a measley 3 miles up the road, which makes it ridiculously convenient.

At Home Depot we purchased a garden wagon, which if you are unfamiliar is a friendly alternative to a more traditional wheel barrow; a shovel, which one of our neighbors helped us pick out; a weed whacker, which I think is actually called a trimmer; a couple of small gardening tools, a few bags of potting soil, and one pair of gardening gloves.

We also went to Nashville Metro's Public Works facility and bought an Earth Machine. Nashville offers curbside recycling of all recyclable materials (except glass which you have to take to one of their recycling facilities), and promotes backyard composting by offering composting tools at a discount to Metro residents and free classes.

Here's what we picked up at our Public Works department:

We are now urban composters, or backyard composters. Again, neither Daniel nor I have ever composted. My family didn't compost - I don't think it was fashionable in the 80's. However, both sets of my grandparents composted...sort of. They were/are old school composters. I vividly remember being a small child standing next to my grandma as she shoveled dirt over kitchen vegetable scraps in a pile out behind her garden, next to the woods. She didn't have an Earth Machine. She just had a big ole pile of dirt and leaves and grass clippings and what-not that she would tend to. I also distinctly remember asking her what it was for and her telling me that she was making "good dirt".

My other grandparents, for as long as I can remember and still to this day, throw all of their compost straight into their vineyards where it decomposes all year long and gets tilled a few times a year. They always have, not only high yields every year, but a higher sugar count than many of their fellow grape farmers.

So, we're going to try out this composting thing. It doesn't seem too hard or even very demanding. And who doesn't want good dirt?

We have nearly three years of neglected yard work to catch up on but we definitely made a dent in the process last weekend and it felt delightful and invigorating to be outside in the sunshine taking care of our land. Renewed flower beds and tame monkey grass are on our immediate horizon and on the distant horizon I can even see, maybe, someday, our own garden full of good dirt.