Sunday, April 25, 2010

In Which I Opine About Snacking

This morning I received a message from a friend whose children are in the same baseball league as my own. She was asking for ideas about healthy snacks for after the games, as her team assigns one parent each week to bring a snack and she has been disappointed with the offerings thus far. I gave her some suggestions based on what my own kids eat, though mentioned that I wouldn't even bother with snacks except for the fact that AlmondBoy's metabolism is such that he has got to eat about every hour or so or ends up feeling very sick.

I've been thinking a lot about snacks lately. Whenever I am out with my kids for extended periods or when we are going some place where we'll engage in lots of physical activity, I bring healthy snacks and water. But it seems to me as though the snacking habit has really gotten out of hand, culturally speaking. I feel like a snack should be a small, healthyish something to tide over an empty stomach until mealtime. Not a pacifier. Not a bribe. But all too often I see bored children placated with empty calories to keep them quiet and, as someone who fought an uphill battle towards healthy eating, it worries me to think about what kind of eating habits these children are learning. And I feel pretty strongly that Munchkins or "fruit" gummies are not what growing bodies need after 1.5 hours of t-ball practice.

My kids don't get to eat in my car because cars are for traveling. They are not mobile cafeterias. We do not eat in front of the television. There are no Dunkaroos or Fruit Rollups in our house. And I don't say this to brag in some kind of mommier-than-thou competitive way. It's frequently a pain in the ass to be That Mom. People think you're weird or judgmental or Amish. There are times I honestly wish I didn't give a crap about corn syrup and partially hydrogenated oils and food dyes and corn agribusiness and the two dozen other things that give me the occasional headache at the grocery store. But the fact is that these things matter to me. Weight, health, and nutrition matter to me. I'm hoping to spare my own children many of the issues I have faced by not instilling bad habits which they'll have to learn to break on their own. I'm hoping to spare them the dubious distinction of membership in the growing childhood obesity problem in this country.

I love food. In particular, I love beautiful, delicious food. I try to prepare myself three meals a day and then I sit down to eat and enjoy them. I find that I am more mindful of my eating this way, that I enjoy what I put in my mouth. That respecting my food equates to respecting my body. I am trying to pass this on to my children, this idea that eating should be both for sustenance and pleasure, but not just for something to do. By constant snacking - especially snacking on empty calories - food becomes part of the background noise. It becomes an expectation. We eat when we are bored or lonely or happy or sad. We eat for something to do, and often it's when we're already being entertained. (I'm looking at you, movie theaters.) And as more of us have our butts parked in front of the computer (hi!) or the 4,382 channels on the TV or the Wii or let the kids play with [current trendy electronic device], we're doing less and less to burn those snacks off. By constant eating we take our bodies out of their natural rhythms. We don't learn what it means to feel hungry and instead, we eat right through those hunger cues. And by not knowing what hunger feels like, it becomes very difficult to learn what satiation feels like. There is no "clean plate" rule in our house for that very reason. In addition, many people also think they are feeling hunger when they are, in fact, thirsty.

I don't think snacking is completely evil by any measure. I always have a high-protein something after the gym or I don't feel very well. But I do think that getting children established in a routine where all outings and activities include something to munch isn't a great idea. And as I said, my son has to eat constantly or he loses weight so I certainly know that there are kids who really are hungry all the time. But I do suggest that we all try to be more mindful of what we're putting in our kids' bodies and in our own bodies, particularly between meals. I try to pack healthy, filling calories like full-fat cheeses, cashews, fresh fruit or vegetables, boiled eggs, etc. And I urge everyone to take a look at this article.

Friday, April 23, 2010

In Which There Is Stuffed Cabbage

I love stuffed cabbage. It's a great all in one dish and has lots of wonderful flavors and textures going on. It also always makes me think of my grandmother, because it is a specialty of hers. However, my grandmother makes a sweet version and the members of the Marzipan household prefer a tangy one. It's a little time consuming, but not at all bad if you break it down into steps. The rice, sauce, and cabbage can be prepared the day before. I like to make extra rice to serve on the side because the sauce is so delicious.

Stuffed Cabbage

1 Savoy cabbage, leaves stripped off
1 pound ground turkey
1 pound very lean ground beef
1 1/2 cups cooked brown rice
1/3 cup plain nonfat Greek yogurt or sour cream
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 red onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Tangy Tomato Sauce

a 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes (preferably Italian flavored)
1 cup chicken broth
3 bay leaves
Freshly ground black pepper to taste


Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

Add the cabbage leaves and cook, until tender, about 4 minutes. Drain the leaves into a colander in the sink and run under cold running water. Set aside.

In a large bowl (I use my Kitchen Aid with the paddle attachment) place the meat, rice, yogurt/sour cream, pepper, and 2 teaspoons salt and mix together very well.

Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring, about 7 minutes. Stir in the paprika and allspice and cook, stirring, about 2 minutes more. Add the onion mixture to the beef mixture and mix until well combined. Season with pepper to taste.

Lay the cabbage leaves on a work surface and blot dry with paper towels. Now take a look at the back side of your leaves. See that thick ridge at the base of the leaf? Trim it nice and flat with a very sharp knife. This way your leaves will lay flat on your work surface and not split. Just make sure you trim the ridge, not slice a hole in the leaf.

Starting with the largest leaves, place about 1/2 cup of the beef mixture in the bottom center of each leaf. (You should have enough for 10 very generously filled rolls.) Roll the bottom of the leaf over the beef mixture, fold in the sides, and continue rolling forward until completely closed. Repeat with the remaining leaves. If you need, you can make little patches with smaller leaves if the big ones tear.

Arrange the rolls seam side-down in a 9-x 13- x 2- inch baking dish.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

In a medium saucepan, combine the tomatoes, broth, and bay leaves. Bring to a boil and season with pepper to taste. Fish out the bay leaves, then pour over the cabbage rolls and cover the baking dish tightly with foil. Bake for 1 hour.

Remove the foil from the baking dish and continue cooking until lightly browned and cooked through, about another 30 minutes.

Cut open and devour.

AlmondGirl approved!

Friday, April 9, 2010

In Which There Is Steak Salad

There's a certain self-congratulatory pretentiousness inherent in calling oneself a foodie and so I'm reluctant to use the term, but I do love good food. The problem with loving good food is that it tends to get expensive and so if one has a weekly grocery budget to which one likes to adhere, one must stretch those ingredients however possible. And when one of the people one feeds is a 6'5 man with a proportionately large appetite, that can take work.

Last night we had steak salads for dinner. Salads are one of my favorite things to eat because of the fact that they are bulky and filling without being heavy. They're endlessly variable and provide an excellent way to make the most of pricey and/or calorie-dense foods. Steak salads are a always a hit around here and they are a great way to showcase some really high-quality ingredients. No dressing needed. All items shown were purchased at Wegman's

The components of last night's salads were Wegman's organic spring mix, Wegman's perfect portions of organic grass-fed sirloin, sauteed mushrooms and red onions, St. Agur (one of my absolute favorite blue cheeses), walnuts, and dried cranberries.

To begin, I sprinkled the steaks with kosher salt and seared them on the grill. While they were cooking, I sliced the mushrooms and red onions, then cooked them until caramelized in a pan sprayed with Pam.

When the steaks were done to our taste (we eat them rare at the Marzipan household) I let them sit for about 5 minutes, then sliced them.

Assembling the salads was a snap. Bed of lettuce, saute mix and steak so the juices would run down, then top with cheese, nuts, and cranberries.

Detail of the tastiness:

For dessert, the kids had some Pocky that I picked up from Han Ah Reum and Mr. Marzipan and I had rock glasses full of Traderspoint Wildberry Yogurt. It is amazingly creamy and rich and heavenly, and contains only a few more calories and far less sugar than that godawful stuff stabilized with cornstarch and gelatin. And such lovely packaging! It's in a glass bottle with this pretty label.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

In Which I Have No Shame

I love sale shopping. I always feel faintly stupid when I pay full retail for an article of clothing, as though the store has bested me in an ongoing and elaborate battle of wits. I'm the slow-moving lady who peruses the shelves and stocks up on twenty bottles of clearance SPF 75 in October. I have a beautiful red satin evening gown that I love in part because it's beautiful and sexy but largely because I got it marked down from over $300 to $23. I haunt consignment shops and the Goodwill. (Really - you would not believe these fabulous Diesel jeans I picked up for $4.25.)

It annoys/amuses my husband at times I think. We sometimes have conversations like this:

Him: I like your shirt. Is it silk or something?

Me: Thank you, yes it is. I got it on clearance for $3.

This is in part because I do not cut corners on my food because I am a snob and therefore need to economize in other places. But I kind of get a rush from it, like a treasure hunt.

So today I was at Target, perusing the end caps as per usual (very good deals at the Owings Mills store, locals) when I found a shelf with about 30 packages of the store brand "personal warming gel" marked way down. This gave me pause. I recently attended one of those Very Special Grown Up Toy parties at a friend's house. The toy lady was raving about the benefits of such ointments and how they were the most glorious substances on earth and how unless you were a nun or a masochist, you should have an ample supply.

And there, in Target, I remembered her enthusiasm. I also remembered that she encouraged me to hold about a dozen different kinds of vibrators to the tip of my nose and that I had something called "The Dolphin" buzzing in my face when my friend's husband got home, but I can forgive. It had been a long time since I made such a purchase, but I had a vague idea that she was correct.

It was on sale, you guys. And so I bought discount generic personal warming gel. I feel like it would be awkward to remark upon the price if Mr. Marzipan likes it though.