Looking back at two years of healthy living

In late summer 2011 I wrote a blog post explaining the life events that lead Oliver and I to start consciously living and eating the way we do. A few days ago I reread the post and was reminded (and surprised) of the things I had been struggling with. I still craved salty, crunchy, addictively snackable Goldfish and I was sad to have given up my beloved Honey Bunches of Oats. At the time it was hard to imagine a future in which I preferred oatmeal for breakfast and didn't miss cheddar flavored crackers.

Two years later, abiding by our family standards for heart healthy eating now comes effortlessly. Our meals are real food, high in fiber, low in sugar with an occasional major splurge (everything in moderation, even moderation). I don't think about fat or calories and I really enjoy a great trip to the gym. My blood pressure is healthy and according to a recent "dunk tank" hydrostatic test I'm 25% body fat - which is fine by me.

Oatmeal has completely replaced cereal for weekday breakfasts. Once a week Oliver cooks up a big pot which we reheat by the bowlful every morning. My favorites come and go: Last month I liked my oatmeal with a dollop of fresh ground YDFM peanut butter; this month I'm loving sweet coconut flakes sprinkled over yellow raisins and walnuts. And like the true Louisianan he is, Oliver continues to cook up Monday/Wash Day pots of beans for lunch. Black beans, red beans with andouille, pinto beans, chick peas; it changes week to week just like the oatmeal. 

Beans and oatmeal, couldn't be simpler: high in fiber and really really cheap. Even if you include the box of chicken stock, bags of raisins, etc. the cost of healthy, tasty breakfasts and lunches for two adults for an entire workweek comes in under $15. That's amazing. $15 is three boxes of sugar cereal. It's two sandwiches at a deli. It's a pizza!

Our exercise routines have changed the most. We no longer go to the gym together but we still go an average of 3 times a week. (Oliver prefers to work out during the day and I usually can't make it until late in the evening.) I'll spend 30 minutes on the elliptical (level 10/rolling hills) and then 15 to 20 minutes on weights (focusing on either legs or arms - I'm pretty bad about skipping core workouts). 

I also have a new perspective on the addictiveness of many packaged foods. It seems blatant and intentional and it worries me that most people aren't even aware that they're hooked. Breaking the addiction requires completely giving up those foods for long enough that you stop craving them. As you replace those fake foods with real foods your taste buds slowly to start reset themselves. With enough time you start to notice just how strange and unreal those fake foods taste. For me, it meant finally appreciating delicious fresh fruit and losing interest in corn syrupy candies and cakes. I never ever imagined that was possible for me - but hey, slow and steady wins the race, right?

Happy Summer my friends. XO

Learning to cook: white beans

I've realized that if I'm ever to survive a week on my own without Oliver then I need to master a few of his many bean recipes. After we posted the black/pinto bean recipe I said I wanted to follow it and try for myself. But Oliver insisted that we do not eat the same beans two weeks in a row and I was going to have to try another. So white beans it is!

Unlike the black beans, the white beans are not vegetarian. Ham hocks are used for flavor. Like the black beans, I soaked them all day before cooking them. Oliver also had me toss in a bit of tasso he'd picked up in Louisiana. I think two meats are redundant and make the meal less healthy - but he is the chef so I didn't argue.  

After the beans soaked for 8 hours I drained the water and placed them in our big pot along with some ham hocks from YDFM. I then covered the beans with several inches of boiling water and set the burner on high. After a few minutes of boil I reduced the heat and left the pot to simmer while I prepared the "holy trinity" of celery, green pepper and onion. They were diced*, browned in our cast iron and added to the pot. Another hour of simmering (to reduce the liquid and break up the beans) and I was done! 

I had planned to eat the beans solo - but according to Oliver white beans are always eaten with rice. (Apparently I have even more to learn then I suspected). So for lunch the beans were served over rice, with a sprinkle of parsley and a bit of homemade hot pepper vinegar. 

Successful completion of my 3rd cooking lesson! Hooray! Anyone have requests or suggestions for the next one? I'm not sure where to go from here.

*So far, using the giant knife for chopping is my only cooking complaint (read: paralyzing fear). I'm terrified of chopping off a knuckle. But I'm keeping at it with faith because of the old "practice makes perfect" adage. 

Bean Recipe

Beans are a staple of our food habits. Oliver usually makes one big pot, once a week, and we'll eat it as lunch or a dinner side everyday. It's cheap, it's very healthy, it's delicious and it's filling. A big bowl of beans never leaves me hungry. The following is Oliver's "recipe" for black or pinto beans. The measurements are more "guesstimates". You can top them with Greek yogurt, siracha, cheese or whatever fits your mood.

What you'll need:
2 onions, chopped fine
3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 Tbsp cumin, toasted and ground
1 Tbsp coriander, toasted and ground
2 Tbsp chili powder
1 large can or 2 small cans of stewed tomatoes, undrained
4 cups stock
1 lime or some vinegar (cider or pepper)
salt/pepper/cayenne/Worcestershire/ hot sauce
1 pound of beans (give or take)
Some fat, generally olive oil

Soak the beans for 8 to 12 hours to cut some time off of the cooking.  After soaking, some people say to drain the water for the sake of flatulence. Some say not to drain for the sake of vitamins. I drain for the sake of flavor.  Why cook in water when you can cook in stock?

What to do: In a large pot, saute the onions until translucent. Add the garlic, cumin, coriander and chili powder and heat until aromatic.  Add the stewed tomatoes and cook down to a mush.  Add the beans and stock and enough water to cover everything by an inch or so. Add some salt*, pepper, and cayenne to taste and bring to a boil for ten minutes. Cut the heat to a simmer**, cover and cook for an hour or two stirring regularly and adding more water and adjusting seasonings as needed.  Beans are done when they tell you, not when a timer beeps. Add lime juice or vinegar, Worcestershire and hot sauce in the last few minutes.  Coll them and eat them three days later, that’s when they are best.

*Salting makes beans tough is a myth.  Acid however does slow things down.  That’s why they go in at the end.
**The more vigorous the cooking the more the beans will break up.  If you prefer your beans to be less like beans and more of a mush you can crank up the boil.

What's for lunch? You guessed it - beans!

Admittedly not a gorgeous photo - but that was made up for by the deliciousness of these red beans and rice. A Louisiana dish if there ever was one. Knowing this weekend will be an all out eat-fest I'm doing my best to eat light and healthy now.

Over the last couple of months we've cycled through pinto beans, lentils, black beans and red beans. I really don't know what Oliver will come up with next. But it also doesn't matter - I like all the beans!

Speaking of beans... I LOVE this painting of beans and lentils by my favorite new Parisian artist, Lucille. Click over to her blog to check it out: click here! There seems to be no end to her wonderful watercolors, collages and drawings of food. Super inspiring.

What's for lunch? Black Beans!

While this may not be the prettiest lunch I've ever eaten it was exactly what I needed to get through a rough day at the office. Working to meet a deadline meant no lunch break, no time for a snack and then staying two hours late. The good part? I never got hungry. Oliver's homestewed black beans and tomatoes kept my mind focused and my belly full for eleven straight hours of work. Thank goodness for fiber!

Even so, I am ready for today to be over. That means a short post tonight so I can move on to cuddling up next to Oliver and watching a Netflix (Bridesmaids). Good things are in the works though. The etsy shop is set to open this weekend, Oliver is currently cooking a delicious smelling vegetarian curry and I have a very exciting cholesterol update to share!

What's for lunch? Pinto beans!

In an earlier post I explained my weekday breakfast goal is to eat a cereal high in fiber, low in sugar and made of real food ingredients. My goal for weekday lunches is just as simple: beans or greens. Beans means a bowl of homestewed black or pinto beans. Greens is a salad of spinach or arugula (depending on the season).

It's true what the kids say: beans, beans they're good for the heart. So today I'll highlight a few of the reasons beans make the MVP list of heart healthy eating.

1. Beans are an excellent source of cholesterol-lowering, heart diease preventing, fiber! In fact "a cup of cooked pinto beans provides 58% of the recommended daily intake for fiber". 
2. That same cup of beans fulfills 23% of a body's daily need for magnesium. What does magnesium do for the heart? It "improves the flow of blood, oxygen and nutrients throughout the body. Studies show that a [lack] of magnesium is...associated with heart attack". (Full article here: WH Foods)
3. One cup of pintos also provides 73% of the recommended daily intake for folate. Top 5 Health Benefits of Folate (Folic Acid) listed here
4. Besides, your colon just loves pinto beans! My Dad would refer to them as "roughage". (As in, "You need to make sure you're eating enough roughage".)

Beans! The more you eat the better you'll feel. Beans, beans - well maybe not at EVERY MEAL - but how about four times a week? Your body will thank you (but your significant other may not).

Side note: A pot of stewed beans is a very cheap meal that requires four hours of stewing and returns many days of eating. We purchase our dried beans in quart containers from YDFM. Costs about $2.50. Stewing them is a day long process. (Historically stew day coincides with wash day, Monday, and the left over meat carcus from Sunday's meal). A big pot will make more then enough for Oliver and I to eat Tuesday through Friday as lunch. By Saturday we're both tired of them and what's left tends to be thrown out. Picking up a bag Vigo beans and rice at the grocery is a tempting alternative but high sodium content counters some of the health benefits.