Time to Soup Up Your Diet

Gotta love Monday mornings. I just had chicken-barley soup for breakfast.

Here’s why you should make — and eat — more soup.

Soup Is Nutrient Dense

Chicken-barley soup
Chicken-barley soup

When I was a kid, my Nana came over every Sunday for a mid-day dinner that my mom would make (roast beef, ham, roast chicken, pot roast, etc.). Supper was my dad’s job, and he often made soup by emptying all the week’s leftovers from the refrigerator into a pot and “doctoring” it up with fresh ingredients. His results were so tasty that my Nana once declared, “I like the suppers better than the dinners.” (Not a wise move in terms of mother-daughter relations.)

What my father knew is that you can pack a lot (and hide a lot) of healthy ingredients into soup, and it can still taste good. Scientists even study the chicken-soup-for-a-cold connection. Who am I to argue?

Soup Is Convenient

I telecommute for my day job. That means no corporate cafeteria. So when it’s lunch time, I walk down from my attic office (aka “the tower”), take the dog for a walk, and start scrounging around for something to eat. Since my husband works from home as well, I usually have two mouths to feed. Oh, and sometimes three, since our youngest daughter arrives home from her packed lunch-less high school schedule around 2:30 famished.

Heating up soup is super quick. Follow it up with an apple and peanut butter and we’ll all make it to dinner without becoming homicidal. (Okay, I am actually the only one who gets homicidal with hunger.)  I sometimes take a container of healthy soup with me to NJ on business, and heat it up for lunch or dinner.

The Days (in the Northeast US anyway) Are Getting Chilly

Soup and autumn are a great combo, especially with the wonderful squashes that will soon hit the local farmer’s markets: Delicata, butternut, and buttercup are my faves. What’s better than a brisk breeze coming through the still-open windows while a simmering soup on the stove fills the house with warm smells of yumminess? Perhaps only a cinnamon-y apple crisp in the oven.

Try These Soups

Here are a few suggestions to inspire you. No, they’re not exactly recipes. Who needs exact directions for soup? Go for it. Be creative! That’s another reason to love soup.

Chicken-Barley: I never let a chicken carcass go to waste. I turn it into soup. (Tip: I once heard Gourmet editor Ruth Reichel say you should never boil ingredients when making stock. Simmer!)  Take meat off the bones, then throw in lots of peppercorns, a bay leaf, celery, onions, garlic, and carrots and simmer. After a while, strain the bones and vegetables out of the broth. Toss the bay leaf, put the veggies back in, and zap it all with an immersion blender. (This last step isn’t required. I do it because someone in the family used to object to carrots. Another avoided celery.) Throw in barley, cook for 30 minutes or so. Then add back in the chicken, season with salt and pepper, and yum.

Lima Bean Soup
Lima Bean Soup

Lima Bean: Our local vegetarian restaurant Bloodroot serves a number of lima bean soups, depending on the season. This weekend I was too lazy to go upstairs to find their cookbook, so I tried to approximate my favorite version from memory. I sauteed onions and garlic in olive oil (until almost caramelized), added a bag of frozen baby lima beans, salt, pepper, sage, and about a quart of vegetable broth. Brought it to a boil, then simmered for 30 minutes or so. Added Bragg’s Amino (you could use regular soy sauce), a tablespoon of tomato paste, juice of a lemon, and basil.

Ginger Squash: Roast a variety of squashes in the oven. When cool enough to handle, scrape the flesh into a pot with vegetable (or chicken) broth (not too much — you can always add more). Add fresh ginger (at least an inch or two, peeled). And a peeled apple or banana, too. Ground cumin and ground chipotle are good additions, too. Simmer. Then blend. Season with salt and pepper, and some lime or orange juice. Serve with cilantro on top. If you want a more dramatic presentation and dose of dairy, add a dollop of sour cream or yogurt.

What are your go-to soups?

Diana Nyad: Kickass Woman #2

Within seconds of publishing this week’s blog (“In Defense of Walking“), a CNN alert popped up in my email announcing that Diana Nyad had just completed her 100+ mile swim from Cuba in about 53 hours. At 64 years old. No shark cage. Fifth attempt. I don’t think there is any commentary I can add but Wow. Woo-hoo. Way to go. Congratulations Diana Nyad.

Let’s all get out of our metaphorical shark cages and do something great.

Here is Diana’s inspiring 2012 TED talk about why she was compelled to try this swim.

In Defense of Walking

Bluff Point State Park
Bluff Point State Park

Jim and I were walking along the trails at Bluff Point State Park in Groton, CT when I mentioned my idea for this post. He replied, “I didn’t know that walking needed defending.”

A lot of my friends walk as their primary exercise. This post isn’t for them. It’s for those of you who are exercise snobs or, like me, fall in and out of love with walking. As anyone who gives me 5 secs will learn, I’m proud of working out with Insanity (billed as the “hardest workout ever put on DVD”) and p90x, among other programs. I’ve occasionally been known to challenge teenage boys to push-up contests. I used to be a runner, not a jogger.

However, I think walking was my secret weapon in the battle of the bulge (aka my muffin top) last year. I lost about 20 pounds when I watched what I ate, completed DVD workouts six days a week, AND walked for about an hour 3 to 4 times a week.

low section view of three people walking

Why Add Walking to Your Routine?

According to an MNN story (“5 Ways Walking Is Better than Running“), walking may be just as effective as running in relieving stress, high cholesterol, and diabetes.  You can also do it practically anywhere without much equipment. A decent pair of shoes and you’re ready to go.

It’s low impact. That was really important for me. I wanted to burn extra calories, but knew my body could not withstand much more pounding than I was already giving it. If you want to create a fitness regiment with walking at the core, check out this workout plan in Fitness magazine.

Rest stop in the Texas wilderness.
Rest stop in the Texas wilderness.

It’s social… or not. I really like walking with friends and family (two- and four-legged). I like the companionship and talking about things we never seem to have time to discuss. At the same time, I love the “inside-my-head” time that solo walking provides. I write leads to articles, craft grocery lists, muse about things at work or home, or just enjoy being outside.

You can see things. I love early morning walks because I notice things that I don’t see during the hustle and bustle of the day. In our neighborhood the turkeys sometimes gather in the park or walk down the sidewalk in more-or-less single file.

You can go places. Let’s not forget that walking is how humans got around for centuries. You may choose to walk with a sense of purpose to the store. You can opt for a hiking excursion. (WalkCT.org, for example, lists trails by difficulty, policies, and amenities.)

Don’t Just Walk

While walking might help you de-stress, keep your weight in check, get you outside, and take you places, you’ll need to add a few things to your routine to support your overall health. Strength training and core conditioning are important. So is exerting yourself enough for your heart to reap the benefits of cardiovascular exercise. And of course, watching what you eat. Food is your body’s fuel. But that’s another blog topic.

Mulan: Kickass Woman #1

Hua_Mulan_Goes_to_WarThis post is dedicated to my girls, who are gearing up
for a new school year. 

A little context: Kickass women are characters or actual people who do extraordinary things. They are the individuals I think of when I need a little something extra to motivate me to get out of bed, pop in the workout DVD, and push play. I’ve got a very subjective list of kickass women to feature on a semi-regular basis.

First up: Fa Mulan, the main character in the Disney animated film

Does This Uniform Make My Butt Look Fat?

The story isn’t exactly new: Young woman masquerades as a man and goes off to war. In fact, Disney apparently based Mulan in part on the legend of Hua Mulan*, who served as a soldier in place of her father in 1st-Century China.

In the Disney version, I like how Mulan fails miserably at being the dolled-up, marriage-eligible young woman she is expected to be to bring honor to her family. It’s just not who she is. I like that she excels when she is true to herself — smart, strong, collaborative, and compassionate — even though she is dressed like a man. She gets the man in the end, too, even though she wasn’t looking for one.

Did They Send Me Daughters When I Asked for Sons?

On the surface, the message of the girls’ fav song from the film (“I’ll Make a Man Out of You”) is not exactly a feminist treatise. (For a great critique of the movie, check out this blog from the The Body Pacifist.) I don’t care. I don’t even care that the song is sung by Donny Osmond. That’s because Mulan turns out to be the best man of the new recruits. She perseveres, blending brains with brawn. She saves the emperor with the help of her fellow soldiers.

When the song pops up on one of our MP3 players in the car, we turn up the volume and sing along. What woman does not want to be “Swift as a coursing river, with all the force of a great typhoon… With all the strength of a raging fire, mysterious as the dark side of the moon”?

The trick is becoming a swifter, stronger, mysterious you. Keep exercising, eating healthful foods, and accepting help from your friends to live your best life. I know… Just like the movie’s plot, this is an ancient message.

I’m going to try to do a better job heeding it. So I can be ready to take on whatever the world throws my way. Mulan-style.

*Hua Mulan image from Wikipedia — Artifact on loan courtesy of the Dwight Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum, Abilene, Kansas.

Food for Thought: Vegan Before 6

In true Masarech fashion, I like my steak rare, cool in the middle. I usually opt for the fattier ribeye over the cuts-like-butter filet mignon that my dad loved most. Hold the steak sauce. Just some salt and pepper, and I’m in heaven.

I know this is not the type of insight you expect from a blog dedicated to healthy lifestyles.

Relax. I keep my steak splurges in check. You should, too. There continue to be studies like this one that link health issues to red meat consumption.

I have another reason to skirt steak:  I’m married to a vegetarian. Jim is informed and eloquent on the subject, especially when it comes to the impact that the meat industry has on our environment. (Here’s his widely distributed article, “So You’re an Environmentalist … Why Are You Still Eating Meat?” and a 2004 speech he gave to the Vegetarian Society of Hawaii on the same topic.) While never a vegetarian, I kept a vegetarian kitchen for more than 10 years. Our New Year’s Day open houses continue to feature a vegetarian spread since we have so many veg friends. I don’t disagree with most of arguments for not eating animals. It’s just not my thing.

Eat Less Meat

Despitevb6 my love of cow, pig, chicken, fish, duck…. I do try to eat a diet that is primarily plant-based. One approach that intrigues me is Mark Bittman’s: Eat vegan before 6pm. In Food Matters, Bittman describes how he lost weight, lowered his cholesterol and blood sugar, and eliminated sleep apnea this way.  In VB6, he goes into more detail. (Both books contain recipes.)

You don’t have to keep to Bittman’s schedule (I don’t), but why not start to consciously add vegan meals to your day? (Reminder: vegan means no animal flesh, no dairy, no eggs.)

Ideas to Get You Started

  1. Summer is the perfect time to try this approach, as farmer’s markets are overflowing with local vegetables and fruits. Roast a variety of vegs with EVOO and S&P. Don’t leave out the tomatoes!
  2. Microwave just-picked corn on the cob. It doesn’t really need any butter! It’s sweet and crisp.

    Thai Cabbage Salad
    Thai Cabbage Salad
  3. Pick up one of those bowling-ball-sized cabbages and experiment with salads. No mayo required.  Try this cabbage salad with peanuts. Or one of our favorites: Shred cabbage, carrots, and onions. Then mix with lime, a sprinkle of sugar, sesame oil, cumin, siracha, lots of cilantro, S&P, and a splash of oil or coconut milk.
  4. Roast chick peas with EVOO, S&P, garlic, and red pepper flakes. Sprinkle with fresh lemon and parsley when done. Serve over pasta or brown rice or toss them into a salad.
  5. Try almond milk with your cereal. Or as August brings cooler mornings, make oatmeal with blueberries, which will soften and explode. Dust with cinnamon, sprinkle with walnuts. You won’t miss the milk.
  6. Explore some of the great sites that are dedicated to vegan cooking. I like Karma Chow and My New Roots these days.

Why Yoga? Reason #1

Sunday is yoga day. Why?

I Don’t Want to Turn into the Tin Man

I could easily become super stiff and even more creaky.

My exercise routine can be pretty intense. This week I completed the new Focus T25 workouts. Loved them. Great overall cardio. Intense leg and ab work. Not a whole lot of stretching.

My work can be pretty intense, too. I spend every day sitting at my desk. Typing. Talking on the phone.

Yoga with Cooper. He does a better downward dog.

I try to remember to stand up and put my arms above my head and stretch, but…. you know. This week I did a down-and-back trip to Princeton, which added 5 hours of drive time to that day. Sitting. Tightening up my shoulders and neck.

After hours I surf eBay for cheap designer clothes or pay bills. Sitting. Typing. Then there’s this blog and my independent Team BeachBody coach activities. More time online. Sitting. Typing. Throw in an occasional TV show. Sitting…. Get the picture?

An hour of yoga forces me to straighten up and elongate my body. It stretches my hamstrings. Opens up my back and shoulders. When I’m done, I swear I stand taller.

If you’ve never done yoga, take some classes before popping in a DVD. A teacher can help you learn how to do the poses correctly. Years ago I found Yoga for Everybody in Fairfield. The teachers there provided a great foundation.

So find a yoga studio or dust off your Rodney Yee DVD. Don’t let your joints freeze up.

How to Build More Vegies into Your Diet

You know that you should eat more vegetables. Stop making excuses.

Plant a Garden

Me — with a prize-winning tomato in 1963.

My dad was an organic gardener before it was in fashion. He was proud of the heat at the center of his compost, learned about companion planting, and made it impossible for me to eat a tasteless out-of-season tomato without wincing. Every summer we had tomatoes, peppers, and corn plus whatever vegetables and fruits captured his fancy. Cantaloupe was a big hit one year.

I used to have a vegetable garden. Organic of course. I would plant my tomatoes on Mother’s Day instead of Memorial Day (my dad’s approach). I would intersperse dill  and nasturtiums as decoy plants for cutworms and use marigolds to repel pests. There were always multiple varieties of basil. Lettuce, kale, cilantro too. By August, most years, the weeds would overtake the smaller plants, but everything tasted great (if I harvested it before it rotted.)

Join a CSA

Patti Popp of Sport Hill Farm with one of the hens who lays organic eggs.

Gardening took more work than I was willing to devote to it. Thanks to our friend Bob, we learned about Sport Hill Farm, an organic farm in Easton, CT. They offer a CSA program: Community Supported Agriculture. The idea: You share the risks and rewards with a local farmer. As a member you buy shares (providing money up front, which helps the farmer’s cash flow). Every week from early June through mid October, you pick up your share of the harvest. The CT NOFA site lists CSA programs. It’s too late to join one for this summer but not too early to get on a list for 2014.

With a CSA, you get what you get and don’t get upset. There are two tricks to eating seasonally like this: figuring out how to cook vegetables that you never encountered or never would buy on your own… and not wasting any food before the next pick up. I learned about garlic scapes, baby bok choy, and the different varieties of kale. I’m not a huge fan of eggplant, but I’ve learned to appreciate dark purple, light/striped purple, and even white varieties. Over the years I have perfected a ratatouille recipe based on  Melissa D’Arabian’s E-Z-P-O-T approach.

Visit Your Local Farmer’s Market

Farmer’s Markets remind me of malls — in a good way. They serve as a social meeting place, offer one-stop shopping, and usually have at least one vendor selling something that you can eat right away. Nearly every town and city in CT hosts a market at least once a week. Here’s CT NOFA’s list. Look for farmers who offer organic produce and try to skip the luscious sweet treats of local bakeries. Many farmers accept WIC and SNAP payments, making healthy food more accessible to lower-income customers.

Eat More Kale!

I am old enough to remember when kale was a lowly garnish. Cheap, too.

When working in my college dining hall, I carefully placed kale along the stainless steel wells of lettuce, sliced cucumbers, shredded carrots, red cabbage and other salad bar fare. I placed cherry tomatoes, twisted orange peel slivers, or bright red cinnamon apple rings carefully in the corners for additional color.  At the end of the meal service the kale was tossed into the garbage. This wasn’t a solitary cultural mis-step or food fashion faux pas on my part (just following orders, ma’am). I often saw similar displays of kale in the crushed ice of fish counters.

A Nutritional Powerhouse

Thirty years later, kale wears the coveted superfood label. It’s trendy, too. I’ve seen it at the finest restaurants and recently was offered kale coleslaw at a corporate cafeteria.

Kale pairs high fiber, beta carotene, vitamin K, vitamin C, and calcium with low calories. Everyone (including WebMD) seems to be touting its antioxidants, which apparently help block the growth of cancer cells.

An Acquired Taste?

Lacinato and regular kale in a CSA delivery
Lacinato and regular kale in a CSA delivery

I happen to love kale. When Sport Hill Farm was starting its CSA, I would beg for the kale that no one else wanted. When our friend Vincent had an over-abundance of kale seedlings one year, we took them off his hands, growing different varieties in our backyard (trouble-free), harvesting well into the winter.

Alas, many people actually dislike kale. My health-conscious friend Kathryn recently described it as “bitter and inedible” in a social media thread. Friend and Eco Chick founder Starre Vartan’s quickly jumped in to offer advice: “The key is baby kale! Baby lacinato kale isn’t bitter. Just slice it up really thin and toss with your regular salad greens, or throw it in a blender when you are making a smoothie.”

Although I agree with Starre that lacinato kale is most palatable, I’ll eat any form of kale! If you need more convincing, try the Eco Chick recipe for kale chips or some of my favs below. Just do it. Eat more kale.

Turning Your Kale Frown Upside Down

Make Kale Chips, courtesy of Starre and Eco Chick (which contains tips on choosing kale).

My standby preparation is to shred kale with a sharp knife, sauté it with garlic and red pepper flakes in olive oil, then season with salt, pepper, and lemon juice. Do not overcook! (I don’t know why so many people want to blanch it first. Blah.)

Smoked Trout - Kale - Leftovers Hash
Smoked Trout – Kale – Leftovers Hash

I also like to throw shredded kale into leftovers to create hash.

Portuguese Kale and Potato soup is awesome, too. Bloodroot has an excellent vegetarian recipe, although I admit to sneaking in sausage sometimes when Jim’s not around.

Finally, although raw kale is not my thing, I encourage you to try a recipe that my friend Ed (who eats but does not cook!) told me about on My New Roots. I love this Roasted Sesame Winter Slaw. It’s vegan. I use kale instead of cabbage, or sometimes mix the two.

“You have to age, but you don’t have to rot”

I heard about Younger Next Year for Women: Live Strong, Fit, and Sexy – Until You’re 80 and Beyond from my friend Martha. I downloaded it to my e-reader and started checking out its advice: Exercise, watch what you eat, don’t be a hermit, and so on. Not exactly new news.

Then I read: “Biologically, there is no such thing as retirement, or even aging. There is only growth or decay.” Hello! V8® moment. I never thought about it that way. I always saw being fit as a nice to have — to show off in a road race or a tailored suit. Now it was no longer optional.

Authors Crowley and Lodge were re-assuring, however: “You have to age but you don’t have to rot.” All right then. I can work with that!

Do serious aerobic exercise four days a week AND serious strength training two days a week… for the rest of my life? Wow. That sounded intimidating. In talent management we’d call that a “stretch goal.” But I’m trying. It’s hard some days, especially if I don’t squeeze in an early workout and the day goes in an unexpected direction.

Younger Next Year is refreshing. I’m a sucker for lines like “do some damn thing every day” and “you can dog it some of the time.” It’s worth a read whatever your age. Because decay is not a generation thing. It’s not a case of “Now you’re 50 (or 60 or 70), and you need to watch out…”

If you are an adult, and your body is not growing it is decaying. Choose growth!