28 things I’m grateful for

It’s been a minute since my last blog, and today, like many of you, I’m using my blog and social media outlets to channel my gratitude. I believe that no matter who we are, what we do, where we are, what we blog about, what we post on Facebook or Twitter, and where our lives have taken us, we should use the channels available to us to express gratitude… Why not right? The more gratitude we share in cyberspace and in person, the better this world may be.

28 things I am grateful for:

1. This probably tops many parents’ lists. I am grateful for a healthy, happy and spirited child because it must be damn hard being the parent to a chronically or terminally ill child.

2. Parenthood. And my parents. They’re still with us, and they continue to demonstrate the rigors and joys of parenthood, despite me and my sister being all ‘grown up’. Parenthood is  a lifelong commitment, but when you have it, it’s a blessing because for many, being a parent is still a dream.

3. Food. Yes an obvious one today. It’s not just about being grateful that I can eat mindfully, not just for nourishment. I am in a position where I can choose food that, as much as possible, is ethical and mindful of our earth’s resources. It’s outrageous that in this day and age of food abundance, we continue to have so many hungry people in our country and our world? Isn’t it an injustice that a limited number of corporations are lining their pockets and governing the food and resources in our world? Food is a right, a necessity, a giver of life… not a privilege, intellectual property, or harbinger of greed and destruction.

3. Trees. They help is breathe. Plant more and protect those with deep roots and aged stature.

4. Children, because they remind us to stop and absorb. They remind us grown ups that we learn from them.

5. A home. Not just a house. A home. A place that offers physical shelter, as well as shelter from all the crazy stirrings life has outside our doors. A home. Because everyday awful things happen and people lose their homes just like that. Because everyday people have nothing to go to to rest their heads and souls. A home is where the heart truly is.

6. Coffee. Because without it I wouldn’t have written this…

7. Red wine. Because without it there wouldn’t be my need for coffee 🙂

8. Marriage. It isn’t always pretty. It isn’t what most of us believe we signed up for. But it is being with another person who loves you and also doesn’t always love you. Sometimes that kind of honesty is hard to find. I am grateful my husband works hard for us, and that for most things, he gets me. Marriage is a construction sight. Everyday it needs work. But if honesty, integrity, respect, and humor are some tools you have, you’ll be ok. You don’t have to stay if it’s too bad, but you shouldn’t have to leave because you’ll find another… Marriage is off limits to our desire for consumerism, where we dispose and replace.

9. Family. Because every member whose blood I share has the absolute and unconditional willingness to just embrace me no matter what. That loving loyalty is unbreakable.

10. Laughter. I am grateful that I can laugh at myself, or just be silly. Comedians should be given Nobel Peace Prizes. Really. The laughter they induce us can be enough to tear down barriers so that just for that moment, we are unified in laughter.

11. Water. Clean drinking water. That comes out a tap. In my own home.

12. My country of origin, South Africa. Because growing up during Apartheid, following the treacherous transition to democracy, witnessing out first democratic elections, and meeting Nelson Mandela in person, all made me aware that no country boasts perfection and that it really can take one man to create an evil system and then one man to bring this to its knees. South Africa is hope. It made me strong, proud, and grounded. It reminds me that I am still very privileged compared to many in our world. Being ungrateful for who I am, where I have come from, and what I have would be a disgrace to my home country.

13. Opinion. Because without it you have no definition of self.

14. Being a mom. Motherhood is not parenthood. It’s a rite of passage that defines a woman. It breaks and makes her. It’s a bond with a child that can never be broken. It’s tears and joy. It’s realizing you screw up even when you do your best. It’s being more than a mom, more than a mother. It’s realizing that you are the first teacher your child has, the first source of infinite love, and that after all your hard work, after all your love, your child truly doesn’t belong to you… they belong to our world. And that dear moms and mothers is our job. To set our children free to flourish.

15. Sugar. I love it. I love sweet treats. No need to give it up. Just don’t drink it!

16. Music. It takes you away, it sets the tone and it bookmarks all those precious memories.

17. Perfume. For the same reasons as music except one difference. You get to wear it.

18. Books. Nothing beats flipping through pages. Or losing yourself in a bookstore. Or admiring each cover as a work of art.

19. Old furniture. It’s made better, it tells a story and it has survived generations. The bonus? It often costs less than new furniture. Have you ever smelled a freshly oiled antique oak piece? Not replicable in new furniture.

20. Education. It infuriates me that so many beautiful young girls and women struggle to access education. It infuriates me that they’re ‘held back’, ‘sold off’ or intimated for trying. To have had access to education so freely is an incredible gift. I thank my parents for honoring my right to education.

21. The bush veld, at dusk or dawn. Anyone who has been in the bush or on ‘safari’ in Africa will understand. The smells, sounds and sights of elusive animals roaming freely is a primal reminder of how incredible this planet was, before we screwed things up.

22. My smell of my son. He’s no longer an infant but he has his smell and I just love it.

23. Hardship. Whether it be mistakes or rocky paths, hardship is good. And how we handle it is a reflection of our character. We need that reflection. It too defines us.

24. Rain storms in the summer. That smell just before the rain hits the hot tar and earth. And knowing that the rain offers life, allows our nature and food to flourish. How incredible our planet is in taking care of us.

25. Friends. They are up there like family.

26. Photos. Snapshots of happiness, joy, laughter, reality, beauty, and stories that need to be told.

27. Being who I am. I’m learning to be more honest with myself. I’m learning to keep learning about myself. It doesn’t matter whether people get me or not. I’m letting my heart guide me, my mind will counsel me. I’m learning to trust these instincts. The bottom line is be a good person, do the best you can, and accept yourself. You’ll never be perfect in your own eyes,  let alone others, so why bother? But there are no excuses to not be better. We can always be better.

28. Reality. Because the reality of all this is I cannot be grateful for strictly 28 things. I am grateful for my life. While I have some control of it, I also have no control of it. That dichotomy of reality is a beautiful thing. I am grateful for it.

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Happy Thanksgiving

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Food-parency

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Food has been making the headlines again, but not quite in the light we would hope.

We’ve learned that here in the U.S. we’re eating 8 foods banned elsewhere in the world. Within a few days, the list had evolved into 11 chemicals in our food. And when this list features growth hormone-infused milk and bromated flour breads, you’re left wondering how two innocent foods have become so adulterated.

And believe it or not… your pantry may house some frauds. That’s right. Certain food items and ingredients have a decent market value, so counterfeits are fast becoming the norm. Don’t you remember the honey debacle? Well vanilla, cocoa and sugar join its ranks. And unfortunately, this may impact the organic industry too.

Unfortunately less desirable practices impact major food industries too. Kelloggs is in the headlines regarding its labeling of certain products like Pop-Tarts. If it says ‘made with real fruit’, it’s not. Turns out General Mills had a similar issue a couple of years ago with its fruit roll ups. You would’ve thought that this earlier stern tap on the knuckles would’ve jolted the industry to cut dubious labeling… but no, this keeps happening and it’s impacting consumers the most. After all, if it’s going to say ‘made with real fruit’, consumers deserve to know the truth before they or their children eat these products.

By now you can’t help but feel fear and angst at the thought of going to a supermarket, but don’t panic. Here are some simple strategies to improving your food literacy for food-parency:

1. Most HIGHLY processed foods are likely to be loaded with ingredients you can barely pronounce, so check the ingredients. But there are some safe havens. For example cereal choices like oatmeal, cream of wheat, grits or muesli are better if you really want to stay clear of artificial colors and ingredients at breakfast.

2. The candy, snacks and soda aisles are havens for anything artificial. These foods shouldn’t feature in your daily food choices AT ALL.

3. If in doubt… make your own. Yes, this means you’ll need to set a little bit of time aside to find easy recipes and cook, but the more control you have over your food, the better it’s going to be for you. After all, I doubt you have tartrazine or bromated oil in your pantry.

4. Follow food blogs (like this one!) or major media outlets via social media. This helps you keep up with any food developments, recalls, food illness outbreaks etc.. Being engaged makes for a well-informed consumer.

5. And finally, air your grievances with the food industry. If you don’t like what you see, or believe you are being misled, tell them, even rally up the troops of you have to (try online petitions). The food industry has to respond. If they don’t, they lose their consumer base. And to date, their track record isn’t too hot so they’re going to need to make some fundamental changes on all levels (labor rights to food transparency) to survive the age of enlightened consumers.

So the next time you’re at the supermarket, you’ll be able to discern the friends from foes and still enjoy a nutritious and delicious life!

Stay hungry my friends,

Jessica Avasthi MS, RD, LD

Minding My Peas & Food

Celebrate Dad by Celebrating Seasonal Food

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Fathers’ Day is just around the corner… and so is your farmers’ market. Sure, dads like their gadgets, household tools, and ties, but sometimes a good feast (or good cocktail) is the way to his heart too, and if done right, it can be good for his heart.

I’ve been experimenting with fresh berries and peaches, because my hubby has a sweet tooth (and so do I), and currently both are in full swing here in Georgia. The hidden beauty of these seasonal fruits is that they’re packed with great taste and nutrition. Strawberries and blackberries owe their remarkable colors to anthocyanins, powerful antioxidants that keep your body in fine tune, preventing any number of health issues from cancer to cardiovascular diseases. How about peaches? Low in calories, peaches are a good source of vitamins A and C, both important in promoting immune health. So how about a few ideas to turn these fruit into tantalizing treats dad won’t turn his nose up to?

IMG_1597First on my list, breakfast. I adapted a Hugh Acheson recipe for super easy blackberry compote, a great topper to my buckwheat and buttermilk pancakes:

Compote: Add 1/4 a cup fine sugar and 1/4 cup muscadel wine (mine is from my home country South Africa) to a pot, bring to a gentle simmer to dissolve the sugar. Add about 3 cups blackberries, toss and heat for about 1-2 minutes. Add a dash of orange zest, stir and tip into a cool glass or ceramic bowl.

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Pancakes: In a bowl mix together 1/2 cup buckwheat flour, half cup all-purpose flour, 2 tablespoons ground flax-seed, 1 tablespoon sugar, 1 teaspoon baking soda, pinch salt, 1 egg and 1 and 1/4 cup buttermilk. Makes about 6 to 8 three inch pancakes.

Second, get a dessert ready. For this, I adapted a Jamie Oliver recipe to come up with slightly healthier peach and rhubarb cobbler.

Peach filling: I sliced 6 peaches and 2 large stalks of rhubarb into an oven proof dish. Stir in 1/2 cup fine sugar, 2 tablespoons bourbon (I love cooking with this!), scraped vanilla beans from one pod, zest of a lime, and freshly squeezed juice from an orange. Bake at 375F for about 20-30 minutes, depending on the peach ripeness. You want your peaches tender, not mushy. Remove from oven, add a little water and stir in any fruit stuck to the sides of the dish.

IMG_1605Cobbler: In a food processor, grind up 2 tablespoons pine nuts and 1/4 cup walnuts. Then add 1 cup self-raising flour, 1/4 cup sugar, pinch of salt, and 6 tablespoons chilled and diced butter. Put processor on pulse until you reach a bread crumb consistency. Add a sprinkle of water to be able to work this dough into a ball. Add a handful of unsweetened craisins. Add dollops of this on top of the baked peaches and rhubarb. Bake at 350F for about 30 minutes until the dough is just golden, and serve with fresh whipped cream or vanilla ice-cream. Both are sublime!

And last, you have got to have a great summer cocktail ready for fathers’ day! I’ve been working on something similar to a strawberry daiquiri, using tequila (what we had in the house) instead of rum. Put about 1/2 pint of fresh strawberries into a blender or juicer, and add 1 tablespoon agave. Add a handful of fresh mint, a couple of large fresh basil leaves, juice from half a lime, and a generous measure of chilled tequila. Blend, add to a cocktail shaker, add a handful ice and you’re set. And rim your glass with sugar. Healthy, packed with summer flavor, and one that will bring a smile to his face.

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I hope you enjoy these as much as we have. Fathers’ day arrived early in our household!

Stay hungry my friends,

Jess Avasthi

Ditch the soda. Date real food.

photoI love food and I love to eat it. The experience of eating is something I cherish every day. And I consider myself pretty lucky. I get to eat really good and wholesome food. And I make time to cook or bake or just make food. Yes, it’s not always easy to be this connected to food daily, but my and my family’s health takes precedence. I believe farmers are our farmacists, and that good food is farmacy. My kitchen is an apocathery from which healing foods to sustain longevity are created and eaten. And being in the field of nutrition, I must practice what I preach. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not perfect. Who is? But we can always be better with our food choices.

So let’s take a can of soda. Sodas, especially sugar-sweetened ones, are getting a lot of press these days. Do I drink soda daily? No. Do I drink this on absolute occassion, yes, but I mean absolute… like MAYBE once or twice a month. I don’t have anything against soda other than it’s not food. It doesn’t offer me any nutritional benefit and is loaded with sugar. That’s right – If I’m going to have that soda, give it to me straight, no ‘diet’ please. Artificial sweetners aren’t in my little black book of nutritional go to’s… (I know what you’re thinking…food snob… I concur completely.)

Besides, by now you may be aware that a can of sugar-sweetened soda contains 140 calories thanks to voluntary labeling by industries like Coca-Cola (in the same breath, I’m no fool to their marketing ploys and public health tactics that fall short of anything sincere and concrete). Still, 140 calories, not too bad. Small change compared to the average calories we consume daily.

But based on all my years of experience in nutrition, who can honestly stick with just one can a day? Or one can per meal? Unfortunately for many, one can is one can too short. We love sugar too much. And drinking this is easy for very little reward. What I would like to propose is to eat these calories instead. Yes, EAT.

You’re eating but you’re constantly hungry right? You really want to shed a few pounds but they’re clutching on? You want to feel a little more energized, and you want this energy to stick around rather than come in ebbs and waves throughout the day? Sound familiar?

How about this – ditch the can and actually eat something? And I mean eat REAL food. You’ll get far more nutrients, and greater satisfaction. Your stomach will be happier that you’re not fooling it with pseudo-satiety thanks to all that soda carbonation, and your brain will get super excited to see real food in all its glory for you to nosh. Eating is SO much more exciting than drinking out a can (and environmentally-friendlier too).

I turn to these snacks daily, so why not give them a try? You can always pack these in a small cooler for the road, or keep a stash of ingredients in your work refrigerator. While it may take a few minutes to get these together, if you’re in the office, it will likely take you the same amount of time to walk to the vending machine, find enough quarters, bang on the machine for your coins to go through or the can to be released, and then walk back to your desk. For bigger bang for the buck, 140 calories gets you:

– One cup sliced apples and a tablespoon almond butter for dipping (145 calories)
– One medium banana, chopped and topped with 1/2 6oz tub plain non-fat Greek yogurt and a sprinkle of roasted coconut (155 calories)
– A strawberry and blueberry (berries are in season) almond milk smoothie (1/2 cup each fruit, 1 cup milk) (125 calories)
– 4-6 chopped dried apricots topped with 1/3 cup cottage cheese and drizzle of local honey (150 calories)

– 6 wheat/ grain crackers with 2 tablespoon low-fat cream cheese (or local goats cheese if you desire) topped with cherry tomatoes (coming to a farmers’ market near you), fresh basil (grow your own in a pot) and splash of balsamic vinegar.

So ditch the can and date some food! You’ll feel great and your body will love you for it.

Stay hungry my friends, and when you eat, do so mindfully.

Jessica Avasthi MS, RD, LD

Minding my Peas & Food

Goldelicious Granola

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Granola. Who doesn’t love it? Of course, most granolas can run high in added sugars and fats, but there are ways to be sure you get healthier versions of these. And I don’t know about you, but of late, I’ve grown a little tired of ready-made granola. Either they don’t taste all that great, or they’re too costly. So I’m making my own. I’ve tried and tested a few recipes but have finally developed a custom-made version for my liking. And the beauty of granola is you can custom-make it to your liking too. This recipe delivers a crunchy delight that doesn’t cost a bunch, doesn’t take much time to make, and makes enough to fill two quart mason jars. And the bonus… it’s pretty healthy. So why not give it a try?

3 cups steel cut oats

2 generous tablespoons coconut oil

1/4 cup wild honey

1/4 cup wheat germ

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

1/4 cup chopped pecans

1/4 cup pumpkin seeds

1 tablespoon white sesame seeds

1 generous tablespoon dessicated unsweetened coconut

Mix these together and spread out on a parchment paper-lined non-stick cookie tray (use one with sides so that the granola doesn’t spill out). Bake for 20-30 mins at 375F, until slightly golden brown (stir around at least once halfway through baking so that the browning is evenly spread). Remove and allow to cool.

Add dried fruit (use unsweetened versions):

1/4 cup craisins

1/4 cup chopped dried apricots

Mix this with the baked granola, fill up the mason jars, and if you have a little extra that won’t fit into the jars, juts go ahead and eat it right there and then. Absolutely sublime with plain low-fat greek yogurt and any fresh fruit (ripe bananas make this almost a desert).

I recommend keeping the serving size about 1/2 cup. For this the estimated nutritional information is:

200 kcal, 5g protein, 9.5g fat (2.5g of this saturated fat), 0g cholesterol, 22g carbohydrates, 3g fiber and sodium, pretty much negligible.

A few things I want to point out:

1. Add 1/2 cup of 0% fat plain Greek yogurt (I’ve referred to Fage here), and all you’ll add is 65kcal, 4.5g carbohydrates, and 11.5g protein. This kind of yogurt is rich, creamy, and packed with protein to make you feel more satisfied, a good way to keep cravings and munchies at bay. Plus you’ll be bumping up your gut-friendly bacteria thanks to the live cultures, also known as probiotic, in yogurt. While we’re still researching all the potential benefits of consuming probiotics, research is promising for many areas of health, including managing inflammatory bowel disease to eczema in children.

2. Coming in a 3 grams of fiber per serving, I consider this a good source of fiber. Fiber can also make you feel more satisfied. And let’s not forget – oats are a great source of soluble fiber, a prebiotic that your gut-friendly bacteria can ferment and thrive on. Really, a healthy and happy gut needs both pro- and prebiotics. They work hand in hand towards keeping you healthy.

3. And yes, a word on fat. This granola is high in fat, but it’s the healthier kinds. For example, walnuts offer omega-3 fatty acids known to boost heart health and reduce inflammation. Almonds are also great for heart health and are a good source of Vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant that keeps your cells free from damage, healthy, and in check. And why did I use coconut oil? Have you notice all the buzz around coconut oil of late? Honestly, the main reason why I used coconut oil is for the lovely flavor it imparts when the oats and nuts are roasted. I have used other oils (canola, safflower, even peanut) but I wasn’t sold on these. A few things I want to mention about coconut oil. I used a pressed virgin coconut oil version. The kind you most typically see in highly processed and packaged items is not very healthy. Whereas virgin coconut oil MAY offer some benefits related to the structure of the saturated fats (metabolized more easily, not deposited in your arteries as much as animal saturated fats, may lower bad cholesterol), the jury is still out on the evidence supporting this.

In a nutshell (in honor of all the nuts in this recipe!), making anything homemade is often better than buying it ready-made. You can select your own ingredients, adjust recipes to suit your taste and health, and enjoy the process from scratch to finish!

I hope you enjoy noshing on this granola!

Jessica Avasthi MS, RD, LD

Minding my Peas & Food