Imagine Your Way to a Healthy Eating Lifestyle

The next step in the Imagination series . . .

You may have heard of Nutrition Action.  It’s a great newsletter that has really opened my eyes to what is actually inthe processed foods we so merrily munch.  A recent article was particularly interesting.  It  pitted the Top 10 Super Foods against the 10 Worst Processed Foods, providing the nutritional lowdown on each entry.  Here’s an abbreviated version:

Super Foods vs. The Worst Foods

*From Nutrition Action Health Letter: http://www.cspinet.org/nah/10foods_bad.html

As usual, I lapped up the dirt on all the fat, salt, calories and chemicals in foods like Marie Callender’s pot pies, Campbell’s Soups and the Olive Garden trio plate.   But I could only do that because I had imagination, i.e., I can look at the list of 10 Super Foods and imagine a dozen alternatives to the Top 10 Worst that are not only scrumptious but health-giving as well.  I don’t have to depend on Marie, Campbell or Olive for food, flavor and comfort at end of the day.

For a lot of people, however, those foods are a main source of food, flavor and comfort, so it isn’t so fun to read the dirt on processed foods.  Lacking the imagination to free ourselves from that trap, we look at the Super Food list and think, “Oh great, a dinner of salmon with spinach and brown rice plus fat-free milk to drink.  Oh great, crispbreads with oranges for snack.  Oh great, frozen butternut squash steamed with kale for lunch.”  Faced with that kind of lineup, it’s hard to imagine healthful eating as anything but dismal!

But what if the Super Food list were enhanced by a little imagination.  Take a look my Super Food meal list from the past couple weeks:Super Food Imagination List

What you will gather from this list is that we face a  translation problem.  Each of the plain old super foods on the list actually translates into a delightfully delicious dish!  But we often don’t know this–and very often can’t even envision it.

Hence the need for need for revving up the imagination.  If 2012 is your year to begin a healthy eating lifestyle, here’s a good starting point:  Envision the Super Foods as the basis for hundreds of incredible meals that beat the heck out of Marie’s pot pies.  You may not be able to picture those meals, and you may not fully believe that statement, but can you at least:

  • Imagine a world where healthful meals are as good, satisfying and comforting as a bowl of Haagan Daz or Cold Stone.
  • Imagine eating foods and feeling really good–not guilty–about what you’ve eaten.
  • Imagine that you could experience incredible health by eating deliciously delightful meals.

What you need to know is that these imagined scenarios are all true.  I can say this with complete confidence because I’ve been in this wonderful world for many years and it only gets better and better.  I hope you’ll join me this year–starting with just a leap of imagination.

Ready for the next steps:

Kitchen Tip: Making Produce Safe to Eat

Water Photo

By willg photos (c) all rights reserved

Water Wins Again

Just about the time salmonella and E. coli fade from the headlines, it seems like some new contamination case surfaces, putting us right back on edge about the safety of our food.  Remember the outbreak of listeria in last summer’s cantaloup crop?

Fortunately, in one of our Whole Kitchen series, CSU Extension Agent Ann Zander shared a surprisingly effective weapon in the food safety wars:  running water.  No need for fancy washing solutions or time-consuming procedures, she explained, just wash produce in running water.  Surprising as it might be, Extensions Service research showed that plain old water worked as well as commercial washing solutions–and for a lot less money!

  • The key, however, lies in washing the produce under running water.  So it’s great if you’re saving water by scrubbing produce in a bucket of water.  Just be sure to give it a final rinse with a healthy dose of running water after scrubbing.
  • The same goes for lettuce, spinach or any of the leafy greens that get washed in a salad spinner. Remove the spinner from the washing bowl and rinse the greens thoroughly under running water before spinning dry.

Steeping back to a bigger picture view on this topic, isn’t it amazing that plain old water is our best friend when it comes to safe produce?  Really elevates the stature of this seemingly common resource that we so take for granted.  What you should know, however, is that this seemingly plentiful resource is actually becoming scarcer by the day.

Although it is fundamental not only to our healthy existence but also our very survival, water is increasingly being siphoned off for things like:  washing spinach multiple times so we can have a conveniently packaged product; serving as a disposal stream for antibiotics, hormones and other pharmaceutical waste from our bodies; and most recently as a primary ingredient in oil and gas “fracking.”

What happens to our public water is a good issue to watch.  It would be ironic indeed to have plenty of oil for cars and lots of natural gas to heat our homes, only to run short of pure, clean water for drinking, growing food, cooking–and safely washing produce!

Want to learn more about the crucial role of water and how to protect this treasure?  Check out the upcoming conference:   The Downstream Neighbor, January 27-29, 2012 in Denver.

Recipe: Winter Squash Patties

About this time of year, most of us have some winter squashes kicking around, waiting to be used up before spring.  Here’s a great way to put them to good use.  Simply roast up a double batch for dinner one night and then, a couple nights later, you’ll be set to make patties.

Two Recipe Formats for Your Convenience  While this recipe is written in the usual detailed form, it is first written in an abbreviated format that shows how simple cooking can be with a few healthy cooking basics under your belt.  No need to struggle through a lot of details if you already know how to roast squash, saute aromatics, fry in a healthful amount of oil and so on.  With the “details struggle” eliminated, presto!  Healthy cooking becomes easeful and enjoyable.  Interested in  this kind of cooking?  Join one of our Whole Kitchen meal making classes where we learn helpful “cooking Legos” that can be mixed and matched to make hundreds of easy, delicious, wholesome dishes.

Basic Recipe Offers Lots of Room for Innovation  This recipe is also what we call a “recipe basic.”  The advantage of a good recipe basic is that it can easily be varied to make 10 or 20 recipes.  E.g., this recipe can easily be varied into an Indian style dish by substituting Indian for the savory spices called for.  The patties can also be topped differently for variety.  See below for a couple suggestions.  Learning to customize and vary recipes is another skill we learn in our Whole Kitchen meal making classes.

What Kind of Squash to Use  While any of the winter squash will work, the sweet flavor of kabocha and butternut make a very nice dish.  Acorn and carnival can be fairly dry and bland, so if you must use some up, try to mix in some of the more flavorful varieties, like the kabocha, butternut, delicata or dumpling.  Also, be sure to adjust the seasonings depending on the flavor (or lack thereof) in your squash.  Stronger flavors and more salt can help perk up a unexciting squash.

Squash Patties (Abbreviated Version)

Saute aromatics until onion is lightly browned and celery is tender but still a little crunchy.  Then saute garlic, herbs and spices for another minute or two.

  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 med onion, diced to 1/4”
  • 2 large stalks celery, diced to 1/4”
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp. rubbed sage
  • 1 tsp. dried leaf thyme
  • 1 tsp. marjoram
  • 2 shakes cayenne pepper

Mix sauteed aromatics with the following in a large mixing bowl:

  • 2 cups lightly packed, roasted squash pieces, roughly 1” square
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 1/4 cup dry, whole grain breadcrumbs (plus 1-2 Tbsp. additional if needed)
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Form mixture into 3″ patties, adding an extra tablespoon or two of breadcrumbs if mixture is too runny.

Fry patties in olive oil, then serve with one of the optional toppings, as desired.

  • 1-2 Tbsp olive oil, as needed for frying
  • Whole Berry Cranberry Sauce (optional topping)
  • Salsa (optional topping)

Makes 12 to 15 patties to serves 4 as a main dish, 6 as a side dish

The “Unwritten Code:”  These are the kind of healthy cooking basics we learn in Whole Kitchen meal making classes that make healthy cooking not only easy but delicious:

  • How to heat a pan and saute in minimal amounts of fat for magnificent flavor
  • What kind of pan is good for sauteing:  size, shape, kind
  • The order in which to add ingredients
  • How to bring out the best flavor of garlic, herbs and spices
  • How to avoid burning them
  • How to roast squash for best flavor
  • How to easily cut and seed hard winter squashes.
  • How to quickly remove the flesh of a roasted squash
  • How to adjust spices to make a dish perfectly suited to your tastes
  • How to modify a dish for variety

Without this unwritten code, recipes must be more detailed (and still don’t cover all the tricks and tips for the most flavorful cooking!)

Squash Patties (Detailed Version)

  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil, plus an extra teaspoon for garlic and spices
  • 1 med onion, diced to 1/4”
  • 2 large stalks celery, diced to 1/4”
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp. rubbed sage
  • 1 tsp. dried leaf thyme
  • 1 tsp. marjoram
  • 2 shakes cayenne pepper

Saute Aromatics and Herbs  Heat oil in a large saute pan over medium heat until fairly hot but not smoking.  Add onion and saute about 5 to 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until just becoming translucent.  Add celery and continue cooking and stirring about 8 to 10 more minutes, until onion is lightly browned and celery is tender but still a little crunchy.

Push vegetables to sides of pan.  Into the open center of pan pour the additional teaspoon of oil and warm.  Add garlic to warmed oil and cook another minute.  Add spices and cook just another minute or two, then stir everything together and remove pan from heat.

  • 2 cups lightly packed, roasted squash pieces, roughly 1” square
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 1/4 cup dry, whole grain breadcrumbs (plus 1-2 Tbsp. additional if needed)
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Make Squash Mixture  In a large mixing bowl, lightly mash squash pieces with a large fork, leaving a little texture.  Make a hole in center of squash, add eggs and beat well.  Add breadcrumbs and salt and pepper along with vegetable-spice mixture, then stir well to combine everything.  If possible, allow to sit for 15 to 30 minutes for flavors to meld.

  • 1-2 Tbsp olive oil, as needed for frying
  • Whole Berry Cranberry Sauce (optional topping)
  • Salsa (optional topping)

Form and Fry Patties  When ready to form patties, stir squash mixture thoroughly, adding an extra tablespoon or two of breadcrumbs if mixture is too runny.  Form mixture into 12-15 patties, about 3” in diameter, and lay on a couple dinner plates.

Heat a large, heavy-bottomed saute pan or griddle over medium heat, then brush with oil and continue heating until a small amount of batter sizzles when poured onto pan.  Lay a single layer of patties in heated pan, being careful not to crowd them.  Cook 3 to 5 minutes per side, until golden brown on both sides and cooked through, then remove to a plate.  If desired, keep in a warm oven.  Repeat, using more oil as necessary, until patties are all cooked.

Serve  Serve patties on a platter, with a topping or two on the side, if desired.

The Toppings:  While a ready made cranberry sauce or salsa can be served with good results, this dish can go gourmet by serving with our Cranberry Fig Relish or Orange Tomatilla Salsa.   Email for the recipes.

Make as an Appetizer  Make 2” patties for a healthful appetizer that doesn’t rely on the usual blend of bread and cheese for good taste.

How Good Imagination Leads to Healthy Eating

It’s tough to adopt a new lifestyle if you can’t at least hold it in your imagination.

Unless something very unusual happened this year, a good number of us reiterated resolutions having to do with “eating better.”  Would you like to end this year having actually taken significant steps toward a lifestyle of wholesome eating?  Then commit to use your imagination more.  Here’s the thinking behind this improbable connection:

1.  If something is fun, we have no trouble doing it, right?  Think about the things you have no problem doing on a regular basis.  Going to lunch with friends.  Watching TV.  Hiking.  Spending time with the kids.  Ordering pizza on Friday nights.  Notice something about all these activities?  They’re fun.  And because they’re fun, they make their way into our lives pretty easily.

2.  So if good eating were fun, we’d have no trouble doing it regularly, right?  Reaching that conclusion doesn’t take a very big leap of logic, but it may well test our version of reality.  How many people really believe that good eating can be fun?

For example, a recent Wall Street Journal article about online calorie trackers began this way:  “Eating healthy can often feel like a chore.”  The article writer cited no authority or study for that opening line.  Presumably the chore-like nature of healthy eating is such common knowledge that it no longer requires substantiation.  Hence the need for imagination.

We have been conditioned to believe that healthy eating is the opposite of fun–not to mention boring, tasteless and overwhelmingly difficult.  Under these circumstances, it’s hard to believe that healthful eating can be a natural, easeful and enjoyable part of the day.  But can you at least imagine it!

Can you imagine, right now, that the world of wholesome, healthful eating is a world ripe with luscious foods, creative engagement, fun and friends?

Imagining doesn’t require any radical or frightful belief changes.  Just a playful opening of your mind and heart to a new way that could open so many doors for you.

So resolve this year to imagine–and see if reality begins to follow!

“Your understanding will drop in as deeply as your mind is open to it.”

–Byron Katie  in Ode, December 2011

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