So, yes, that is a picture of my children in a moment of pure delight. No, we did not inspire this delight by saying, “Smile and say ‘Hooray for vegetables!'” They’re great kids and they usually eat fruit and vegetables quite willingly, but I would have to suspect that aliens had taken over their little bodies if the thought of eating vegetables actually made them this happy. Still, as I say, to varying degrees, each of my three kids is a reasonably agreeable fruit and veggie eater. And when I hear from other friends whose kids would rather eat a green Lego than a green vegetable, I feel pretty thankful. Recently I had a conversation with one such fellow mom. For awhile now she’s been wracking her brain to think of effective ways to get her little ones to eat anything but bread and cheese. Since I’m studying nutrition (and since we’ve had our share of healthy food struggles in our house, too) I tried to give her some ideas to implement. I figured it I shared my thoughts with her, I might as well share them on the blog as well. Some may seem obvious, and they may not work on every kid, as every child is different, but I’d say they’re worth a try!
1. Start early. This one is especially for those parents with really little ones. Even from their first meals, kids are getting acclimated to what’s “normal” eating in your household. Start with fruits and vegetables as a given at every meal.
2. Be a good example. As a parent, you set the tone for the way your family eats. Why should your kids eat healthy foods if you don’t? Model what you want to see in them.
3. Fun presentation. This may be the most effective one for my kids. They go BONKERS for fruit slices on skewers, “ghosty bananas” (half bananas with two chocolate chips for eyes), or their names written with carrot sticks. Entire studies have been conducted on the effectiveness of fun presentation for getting kids to eat well. There are a million ideas at your fingertips on the Internet. This also correlates with…
4. What’s in a name? This takes a little creativity but can make a difference. What would your kid rather eat: vegetable soup or Swamp Soup? (Maybe even Swamp of Dagobah Soup if your kids are Star Wars fans.) How about Green Mountain Salad instead of spinach salad? This works on adults, too, by the way, which is why we’d rather order Hand-Tossed Tuscan Kale Salad than just a kale salad.
5. Dipping sauces. Here’s another element of fun, plus a measure of perceived control for kids. If a child can make her own decision about which condiment accompanies her veggie–Ranch? barbecue sauce? ketchup?–she’ll feel more autonomous. In the presence of ketchup, my kids can’t help but make every long cylindrical food item into a Darth Maul light saber (ketchup on both ends). Just make sure they eat the actual vegetable, not just the sauce, like a certain 3-year-old in my house.
6. Variety of preparation. Your kid doesn’t like raw beets? Neither do I. Different preparations appeal to different people. Since kids often gravitate toward sweet tastes, roasting vegetables to bring out their inherent sweetness may please their palates. Sauces, honey, bread crumbs, cheese, and other toppings can go a long way to make vegetables more appetizing for little ones.
7. Not just for dinner (or lunch). In our house, the general trend seems to be fruits at breakfast and lunch, vegetables at dinner. It’s an unspoken cultural rule that serves no real purpose. There’s no reason why fruit can’t turn up on the dinner table, or why vegetables can’t make a cameo at breakfast. And don’t forget snack time! Apples with peanut butter, sweet peppers with hummus, or fruit smoothies can pack fruit and veggie servings in when they go missing at mealtimes.
8. Mix, don’t hide. While I don’t agree with the idea of hiding fruits and vegetables in kids’ foods, I do believe serving them incorporated into mixed dishes can help them go down easier. Casseroles, quiches, and pizzas are great items to pack with veggies.
9. Offer choice. “Would you rather have carrots or peas tonight?” “Would you like strawberries or apples in your lunchbox?” Every kid likes to choose for himself, as evidenced by the chorus of “I want the blue plate, not the pink one!” and “I want waffles, not toast!” that reverberates through my kitchen on a daily basis.
10. Keep trying! Remember that even adults have personal taste preferences. So your kid isn’t a fan of carrots. That’s okay. There are plenty of other fish in the sea…or vegetables in the produce aisle (and fruits!).
If you’ve spent any time looking around this blog, you may have noticed that I don’t feature a whole lot of meat recipes. In fact, I don’t even have a category for beef or other red meat here on the Love Letter because I’ve never blogged about a red meat dish. Vegetarian mains, yes, frequently; chicken, yes, occasionally; pork, yes, here and there; chocolate desserts, yes infinity. So why the lack of lovin’ for America’s standard fare, red (or other colored) meats?
After giving it a lot of thought, I’ve made a concentrated effort in the last year or two to whittle down our family’s meat intake (including beef, chicken, and pork) to approximately 50% of our meals. It started even longer ago than that, around 2009, with a New Year’s Resolution to eat more fish and beans–one of the few resolutions that have ever actually stuck. From there, it’s become a consistent commitment that when I sit down to plan six dinners a week, three of them will be vegetarian. (Breakfasts around here are pretty much always vegetarian, and lunches also end up being about 50%.) For awhile I’ve wanted to elucidate my reasons for doing this, even if just for myself. So here’s my little manifesto. I’ll call it “Health, Earth, Worth,” since each of my reasons for half-time vegetarianism falls into these categories. I hope it inspires you to consider whether you might go moderately meatless, too.
There are a number of health risks that improve with a vegetarian or even semi-vegetarian diet, but let’s focus on some of the biggies that face the average American.
Cancer: You’ve probably heard that a plant-based diet is considered protective against numerous cancers. I only recently realized how many cancers are affected by high levels of meat consumption. According to this report, cancers of the esophagus, stomach, lung, breast, brain, bladder, mouth, prostate, and colon, as well as leukemia have been linked to high levels of of meat intake. Looking at this list, I have to go, what other cancers are even left? (Kidding…but seriously, look at that list.)
Hypertension/Heart Disease: Studies have consistently shown that a vegetarian diet lowers risk for heart disease. It’s pretty simple. The saturated fat and cholesterol inherent in a meat-heavy diet is a proven pathway to hypertension and coronary heart disease.
Diabetes: Though we may not always correlate diabetes with meat consumption, there is a connection. Even someone who only goes semi-vegetarian has a 24% reduced risk of developing diabetes (compared with an even higher 46% reduction in lacto-ovo-vegetarians).
I’m not even going to go into the stuff about antibiotic resistance and hormones in our food. I’ll let you look those up on your own (and possibly cause yourself an epic freakout).
Emissions: Global warming, pollution, loss of biodiversity…cows? Did you know that one cow’s annual output of methane–the gas that largely responsible for global warming–is equivalent to a car burning 235 gallons of gasoline? According to this Ted Talk by Mark Bittman, after energy production, livestock is the second highest contributor to atmosphere-altering gases, even more than transportation.
Land Degradation: The World Health Organization says livestock production is a major source of this environmental process in which an inordinate amount of land is used for grazing. The expansion of livestock-grazing land is also a major cause of deforestation world-wide.
Water Shortage: 8% of global human water use goes toward livestock production, and water used for animals is the “largest sectoral source of water pollutants,” according to the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization. In the desert Southwest where water shortages hit close to home, I have to say this is troubling.
Everyone who doesn’t want more money, raise your hand. Okay, great, we’re all on the same page. You don’t have to be a budget analyst to realize that meat is expensive–significantly more expensive than plant-based foods. For our family, I’m happy to cut costs by swapping meat for vegetables, dairy, and whole grains. As many others before me have noted, limiting your meat consumption allows you the luxury of paying a higher price for better quality meat when you do buy it.
So now that I’ve given you my reasons for reducing meat eating (and aren’t they convincing? yes? yes?), let me quickly address the other side of the coin…
Why I’m Not a Full-Time Vegetarian
Because I don’t wanna be!
Haha, The End.
Just kidding. My reasons for not committing to full-time vegetarianism are somewhat selfish, but also partly (I believe) founded in dietetic science. The boil down to convenience, nutritional adequacy, and taste preference.
Convenience: Like I said, selfish. But also not selfish. Meat is a way of life in the U.S., and I never want to be the one person in the party who makes everyone else bend over backwards to accommodate my diet. As an American with mostly non-hippie friends, I feel meat is inevitable in my life.
Adequacy: Yes, I know plenty of vegetarians get all the vitamins and minerals and nutrients their bodies need. But I realize that consuming adequate amounts of Vitamin B12, Vitamin D, protein, etc. on a purely vegetarian diet would require an additional level of awareness and effort I’m just not ready for, especially since I cook for 5 people.
Taste: The thought of giving up hamburgers, chicken pot pie, and pulled pork forever brings me sincere sadness. Food is one of life’s greatest pleasures and I believe we are entitled to enjoy it. I happen to enjoy meat, in moderation.
So what say you? How’s about resolving to reduce your meat intake in this beautiful new year? I believe you can’t go wrong in giving it a try!
Three days ago my husband Anthony and I returned from what was hands-down the most incredible vacation of our ten years of marriage–and probably of our entire lives. I can only describe our six days on Oahu as The Apex of Vacation. We went as a celebration of our tenth anniversary–July 16th, if you want to send us a card next year ;)–and if everyone could look forward to a trip like this, maybe more marriages would make it to ten years, because it. was. fabulous. Like Tom Selleck’s Magnum, P.I. mustache fabulous.
Some of the highlights:
We had the good fortune to know an excellent travel agent who booked us at the Moana Surfrider, the oldest hotel on Waikiki Beach (built in 1901), which oozes turn-of-the-century charm:
And in six days, we got to see so much of the island of Oahu and did several once-in-a-lifetime activities, like a helicopter ride,
swimming with dolphins,
an off-the-beaten path tour with a guy who seriously needs his own TV show, stat,
and hikes to Moana Falls
and Diamond Head.
All in all, it was a spectacular trip and I wish I could send all my friends (especially the ones with kids) on one just like it.
But this wouldn’t be a food blog post without a few words about the food of Oahu! It seems that Hawaii is not a destination people seek out for its cuisine in particular, but we did enjoy some great food while we were there. (Though we may have been a little influenced by the scenery that accompanied it. And I’m not talking about all the beach bodies…but whoa, the beach bodies.)
I’m not sure that we ever exactly ate “traditional” Hawaiian food, but that seems difficult to define, anyway. Wikipedia says there are five distinct styles of food that make up Hawaiian cuisine, representing Polynesian, Asian, and European influences. That being said, we did have some meals that match what I would envision when I think of “Hawaiian food.” At one beachfront lunch at Turtle Bay Resort on the North Shore, Anthony had a firm white fish (I can’t recall the name of the fish–I know, get with it, food blogger!) with vegetables and a purple sweet potato coulis. Who knew sweet potatoes came in purple?
I, like the big fat American I am, ordered the barbecue pork sandwich and fries (but it had a bun made of taro, a native Hawaiian tuber! So it squeaked into the Hawaiian food category.)
Then there were the several farmers’ markets we came across. The tropical fruit was stacked in vivid piles of greens, reds, yellows, and oranges, putting my husband the tropical fruit enthusiast into deliciousness delirium. I think he dropped 30 bucks on fruit in a matter of 15 minutes.
One farmers’ market also featured gobs of pastries, coconut peanut butter (MUST try to make at home–it was to-die-for), and this guy juicing sugar cane.
While we were in Hawaii, one of my goals was to try sushi. Here at home, I’m a very cautious sushi fan…cautious not necessarily for safety’s sake, but rather because I’m just not sure I can convince myself I like it. (Also I refuse to eat imitation crab.) We have one locally owned sushi place in Tempe I absolutely love and compare all other sushi places to. So far nothing has come close. I figured Hawaii would be the place for really top-notch sushi, though, with their water-water-everywhere-and-lots-of-fish-to-eat setup. You’re not gonna believe me when I say that I still prefer Sushi Kee in Tempe, Arizona to a highly reviewed sushi place in Honolulu’s Chinatown. But there you have it.
At least I live close to Sushi Kee, not 2900 miles away. Much easier access. P.S. When you go to Sushi Kee, get the spider roll.
Next, it wouldn’t be a tropical vacation without the requisite umbrella-topped fruity drinks. I don’t think I’ve ever had a cocktail at lunch before, but when we ate at Shore Bird, a veritable institution on Waikiki, it seemed like the time to break my own taboo. (Plus, the mai tais were $3.50. Come on.) A mai tai is a rum-based cocktail flavored with fruit juice like orange or lime–a recipe I really must remember to look up, because it was delicious and super refreshing.
Finally, a tiny Hawaiian language lesson: have you ever snickered reading the words “Pu Pu Platter” on a Chinese menu? (I have not. You’re all so immature.) Well, “pu pu” is Hawaiian for appetizer, usually a mix of meat and seafood finger foods. Now you don’t have to worry about what will show up in your takeout…and how many napkins you might need. As a matter of fact, Anthony and I enjoyed quite a bit of pu pu (pu pus?) during our stay, because our hotel package included access to the Moana Surfrider’s “Beach Club,” a fancy secret room that provided breakfast and a heavy-apps dinner. It was an awesome way to minimize expenses on eating out and the food was quite good.
So, my friends, Hawaii is an extraordinary place and I am so thrilled and thankful to have traveled there. And happy to be home again where I can do my own cooking in my own kitchen with my own family to feed. (Just wish someone else would keep doing my dishes.) 😉
So, obviously, this is a blog about food. From its title, that’s probably pretty clear. But sometimes it’s nice to jaunt off on a little side trail that has something to do with another area of interest frequently paired with diet–like, ohhh, let’s say exercise. To maintain good health, I try to exercise regularly, usually by doing yoga, running, or dancing around my living room like a Britney Spears backup dancer slash insane asylum escapee. Each of these activities is enjoyable in and of themselves, but I would be LOST were it not for the music that accompanies them. In fact, one of the main reasons I look forward to exercise is that, as a music lover, it’s my chance to physically jam out all the feelings music evokes. (Which is why I highly recommend getting a treadmill in your garage so you can bring out some Beyonce dance arms while you run. Much less embarrassing to do in your garage than at the gym…not that I would know… Also in your garage you can run in mismatched Halloween socks and your rattiest tank top from high school. Again, not that I would know…)
I’m always on the hunt for great music to work out to–the stuff that gets me singing along loud and busting my best moves. (Like “The Badger.” Available upon request.) The search for body-rocking, soul-jiving workout music must not be uncommon, either, as I frequently see Facebook friends post asking for the same thing. Since replying in their comment thread with a 40-song playlist would probably come off as a bit excessive, I’ll just post it here. Below are:
–24 songs to majorly rock out to (hardest phase of your workout)
–9 songs for medium speed (like a comfortable jog)
–6 songs that are low-key enough to warm up with but still definitely get you moving.
As far as I know, these are all available on Spotify. I hope they get you grooving like they do for me! Happy exercising!
Serious Jam Playlist (Intense Workout)
1. Hey Ya! by OutKast.
Probably the best workout song of all time.
2. Don’t Stop by Foster the People.
Listen to The People! Don’t stop!
3. Can’t Stop Running by Todd Rundgren.
No better song to keep you running.
4. Girl by Beck.
Beck sounds like he uses a Random Lyrics Generator, but hey, the music’s fun!
5. Shake Me Like a Monkey by Dave Matthews Band.
Killer song for cardio.
6. Djobi, Djoba by the Gipsy Kings.
7. Hummingbird Heartbeat by Katy Perry.
If I were stranded on a desert island with only one artist to work out to, I’d choose Katy Perry every time.
8. Waking Up in Vegas by Katy Perry.
Not that that would ever happen.
9. Birthday by Katy Perry.
But if it did, totally Katy Perry.
10. Video Killed the Radio Star by The Presidents of the United States of America.
Anyone else associate this song with the soundtrack to The Wedding Singer?
11. Classic by MKTO.
Not to be confused with Vlasic by PIKL.
12. Home Run by Geoff Moore and the Distance.
Digging deep on this one, a CCM song from 1995. Cheesy but a lot of fun.
13. What I Like About You by The Romantics.
14. Love Letter to Japan by The Bird and the Bee.
A lively introduction to The Bird and the Bee, if you don’t know their stuff.
15. Canadian Idiot by Weird Al.
You’d be surprised how many of Weird Al’s songs are compulsively danceable.
16. Hit Me by Dirty Loops.
This Swedish band is a-ma-zing. Look them up.
17. Here It Goes Again by OK Go.
Remember their famous treadmill video? It’s a sign that you should get on the treadmill to this song.
18. Crazy in Love by Beyonce and Jay Z.
If these two can’t make you dance, you are made of stone.
19. Good by Better Than Ezra.
Classic ’90s jam.
20. I Love It by Icona Pop.
There’s a clean version available on Spotify, FYI. Where she’s a “90’s chic,” not a “90’s you-know-what.”
21. You Make My Dreams by Hall & Oates.
A great feel-good song that has held up over time.
22. Tonight, Tonight by Hot Chelle Rae.
I don’t know who the heck these guys are, but “there’s a party on the rooftop, top of the world.”
23. Out in the Twilight by Tally Hall.
Tally Hall has got to be the most talented, least appreciated band I know of.
24. Call It What You Want by Foster the People.
Another Foster the People one to round out the list.
26. My Name is Jonas by Weezer.
Weezer is a must for any workout playlist. Too bad none of their songs are longer than two minutes.
27. Girls Chase Boys by Ingrid Michaelson.
Get to see her in concert later this month–super excited!
28. What Is Life by George Harrison.
A beast of a moustache was not the only thing The Quiet Beatle could pull off. The man could also jam.
29. Every Heartbeat by Amy Grant.
This is still a really fun song, provided you can get over the 1991 drum sound.
30. I Want You Back by the Jackson 5.
For some reason, this section of the playlist has a lot of ’70s stuff…
31. I Know What I Know by Paul Simon.
See above. Also, as an aside, I once had this song in my head for ten days straight.
32. Feelin’ All Right by Joe Cocker.
Okay, end of the ’70s streak! (Though it was probably the best decade for music in the 20th century, just sayin’.)
33. Rock and Roll by Eric Hutchinson.
A boppy, poppy little tune.
34. Ready to Run by the Dixie Chicks
Especially good to run to, for obvious reasons.
35. Party in the CIA by Weird Al.
Remember what I said about Weird Al?
36. Weight of the World by Chantal Kreviazuk.
Love this song for its free-and-happy feel.
37. Five O’Clock World by The Vogues.
Also known as the theme song for The Drew Carey Show.
38. Inside and Out by Feist.
Probably listened to this song 70+ times since getting this album for Christmas.
39. The House That Jack Built by Aretha Franklin.
Had to include a little Queen of Soul.
40. Eyes on the Prize by Sara Groves.
A song about keepin’ on keepin’ on.
41. Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go by Pomplamoose.
Super fun cover of Wham!’s 1984 hit.
Whoops, how did we get to 41? Guess I threw in a freebie. Anyway, for next time, back to your regularly scheduled program: FOOD!
When you think of the city of Seattle, what comes to mind? The Space Needle? Frasier? Getting soaking wet 300 days a year? Grungy flannel-clad bands of the early ’90s? Or maybe you, like I, think of coffee. My bet is that most Starbucks customers (which is to say, like, 98% of the First World) has at least a back-of-the-mind knowledge that Starbucks began in Seattle–as well as the other successful coffee chain Seattle’s Best. (I know, that one came as a surprise, right?)
This past week I had the fantastic opportunity to join my husband on a business trip to Seattle. He had a tech conference to attend during the first two days of the week, so I was left to my own devices in an unfamiliar place, which I actually really enjoy. As an enthusiastic coffee drinker in a city with approximately 8 million coffee shops per square mile, a run-in with coffee was pretty much inevitable. But I definitely did not foresee the extremely exhaustive experience I ended up having!
My original plan was to register for one of the many food tours of the city. Years ago my husband and I went on a food tour of New York City, which made a huge impression on me (and my thighs–dear Lord, that was a LOT of food). But when I began checking in to food tour prices, I discovered they were higher than I was prepared to pay. Another tour with a slightly more budget-friendly price was Seattle By Foot‘s “Coffee Crawl.” I made the snap decision to register online late Sunday night for the next morning’s tour.
The tour was scheduled to begin at something called The Hammering Man, not far from Pike Place Market. I had a few moments of genuine concern when I scoured all four corners of the intersection and didn’t see a coffee shop called The Hammering Man. And then I looked up:
Behind The Hammering Man’s colossal foot stood a trim 50-ish guy with a pageboy cap and a sleek messenger bag. If anybody was giving a Seattle coffee tour, it had to be this guy. He introduced himself as Ed and said I was the only person to register for that morning’s tour–woohoo, a private tour for the price of a group tour! Yes, please!
Our first stop was the highly urban, metal-and-chrome Caffe Lladro. “Lladro” means thief in Spanish, and as Ed explained, there’s a reason behind this name. The shop’s founder was working for another coffee shop when he decided to strike out on his own in 1994. He opened Caffe Lladro directly across the street from his former employer, taking several recipes and company secrets with him. Twenty years later Caffe Lladro has 14 locations, while the other coffee shop has given way to a Starbucks. Ouch.
As for the actual coffee, my visit to Caffe Lladro included a sample of a Kenyan single-bean light roast brewed in a Chemex coffee maker, which looks like a laboratory beaker with a trendy belt.
Not being a fan of light roast coffee, this one was not my favorite, but I did appreciate that it was organic, fair trade, and shade grown. In terms of coffee ethics, it doesn’t get much more virtuous than that.
Our next stop was Caffe D’Arte, a family-owned coffee shop on 2nd Avenue and Pine. This shop has the distinction of being one of the only roasters to roast its beans over an alderwood fire. When Ed handed me a sample and asked me to smell it, I immediately caught a whiff of campfire smoke. Definitely a unique tasting experience! The barista then came over and poured this gorgeous work of latte art before my very eyes.
Up next on the tour was Ghost Alley Espresso. Founded by the daughter of longtime Pike Place Market vendors, this place has history coming out its ears. It sits nestled under the Market on the way to the Post Alley, home of the infamous Gum Wall, where thousands of people have stuck their used gum to create a disgustingly colorful attraction.
The entire interior of Ghost Alley Espresso only has about 100 square feet of space, with a single table for seating and creepy decor befitting its name. The founder apparently has a special place in her heart for the supernatural happenings around the market. Her book on the ghosts of the market is for sale on the shop’s narrow shelves. On our stop here, I sampled the Salted Nut Latte, which was a perfect balance of nutty and sweet. Highly recommended!
After Ghost Alley, Ed and I hunkered down for the longish walk in the blustering wind to Intrigue Chocolate Company. Here we met Aaron, the ebullient truffle chef behind this tiny chocolate-dedicated kitchen that doesn’t even have a storefront. I’ll tell you what: it drives me nuts when people throw around the term “artisan” like it’s a credential you can download off the internet, but Aaron is what I would call a true artisan–a worker skilled in a trade done by hand. He gave me samples of several of his uniquely flavored truffles: pineapple habanero, stout beer, ginger and rose, mint, and prune. This is as close to Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory as it gets in the real world. So interesting to taste the richness of chocolate mingled with unexpected flavors like pineapple and ginger. Along with the truffles, I sampled a cold-brewed iced coffee concentrate Ed said has three times the caffeine of hot brewed coffee. Yeah, I was definitely getting wired by this point.
The last stop on the tour was the elegant, Italianate Caffe Umbria in Pioneer Square. Aesthetically, this shop was by far my favorite, with its mosaic tile vases, marble countertops, and wrought iron light fixtures. (I like to pretend I’m in Europe whenever possible.) The drink sample here was as tasteful as the shop itself: a classic espresso shot topped with sweet whipped cream.
And with that, the tour had come to a close. Looking back on my four days in Seattle, I have to say this tour was probably the best thing I did. It’s not every day you get to traipse around a new city with a personal coffee chauffeur, and I thoroughly enjoyed the drinks, the company, and the information. With a galloping heart and twitching eyelid, I said goodbye to my excellent guide Ed and headed out to explore more of the city. And believe it or not, I did not have any more coffee for the entire rest of the day.