Have You Been Fooducated?

A few weekends ago, my sisters were in town and with a lot of help cooking (and watching the kids), my kitchen churned out Mochi Dumplings, grilled chicken marinated in this sesame-ginger vinaigrette, Love U Madly’s PB&J crepes and Kale Confetti Salad. By Sunday evening when my little sister missed her train back to NYC and my older sister, niece and nephew were still hanging around, my refrigerator was bare. My sisters giggled, surprised, as I took two packages of Perdue Turkey Meatballs out of the freezer.  I added the meatballs to Trader Giotto’s Three Cheese Pomodoro Pasta  Sauce and added fusilli. I defrosted some green beans and sauteed them with some seasoning. I was slumming it but the naysayers marveled at the tasty processed meatballs and how fast I turned out a really yummy meal for 10.

Later, that night, I had to text my sisters,”DON’T EVER BUY THOSE MEATBALLS.”

Their teasing had pushed me to find out more about possibly the only processed meat I’ve served to company.  I used one of my favorite iPhone apps, FOODUCATE (also available on the web and on Droid), to see if the turkey meatballs were as harmless as I’d always imagined after eating them a few times at my mother-in-law’s house (she’s a fabulous cook often called upon to feed the masses congregated at her lake house).

I used my phone’s camera to scan in the meatballs’ barcode (you can also type in its name or UPC code). In an instant, I got this report:

Here’s what Fooducate told me:

OVERALL GRADE: C (when you tap the grade, a pop-up tells you that products in this category (sausages and hotdogs – UGH! I thought turkey was something else entirely!!) score between a B- and a D.

CALORIES: 180 per serving (average for the category)

Below the grade, Fooducate gives the product’s highlights – good, shown by a check mark in a green circle (none here!), neutral, shown by an i for information, and bad, shown by an exclamation point in a red circle. For the meatballs, there are seven bits of information, which are abbreviated on the home screen, but tapping on the screen brings you to a few digestible (for your brain that is) sentences on each, which I’ll summarize below.

  1. Salty! Has over 20% of the daily max. Enough said! The additional detail tells you how much sodium we should have in our diets and how most of us could cut back.
  2. Contains MSG / Equivalent. Fooducate provides names other ingredients that may mimic MSG in providing flavoring and possibly causing allergies to those sensitive to MSG.
  3. For dieters: FoodPoints value is 4.  Here, the fewer points the better. The more familiar you are with the app, the more meaningful this becomes.
  4. Heavily processed product. It’s worth giving you the whole blurb here from Fooducate: “When was the last time you prepared something with more than 35 ingredients in it? If you’ll take a look at the ingredient list you’ll discover many new words to add to your vocabulary. Many of theses ingredients are required to increase the shelf life of the product and improve the flavor that disappears when food is not fresh.”
  5. Learn about corn syrup, found here.
  6. Natural Flavorings added. By “natural,” the manufacturers don’t mean bee’s honey and beet coloring…it may be better than artificial flavoring, but it likely contains glutamates or animal products.
  7. Learn about mechanically separated meat. SPOILER ALERT: IF YOU DON’T LIKE MOVIES LIKE FOOD, INC. and FORKS OVER KNIVES, STOP READING RIGHT NOW. Fooducate tells us: “Mechanically separated meat is manufactured by passing bones leftover after the initial cutting through a high pressure sieve. The resulting paste goes on to become the main ingredient in many a hot dog, bologna, chicken nuggets, pepperoni, salami, and jerky.”

Here I was naively thinking I was feeding my family lean turkey meat (albeit a little processed) and turns out I was pretty much feeding them hot dogs. I should point out that my 5 and a half year old has NEVER had an actual hot dog, though he’d had plenty of these meatballs before he turned vegetarian.

A click on the app allows you to see healthier alternatives (Trader Joe’s frozen turkey meatballs get a B-), though in this case, you can bet I’ll make my own meatballs from now on (Perdue ground turkey breast gets an A).

I’ve had Fooducate for a few months and I use it multiple times during every supermarket trip. I often get stumped in the cereal and bread aisles, trying to find a low-sugar cereal my kids will like, or a bread that is soft enough for lunchbox enjoyment but not loaded with soy fillers, oats/seeds that bug my kids or empty carbohydrates.  The other day I spotted Kashi’s new Honey Sunshine Cereal in Whole Foods. The white box with cheerful yellow lettering was inviting. 20 grams Whole Grains! 5 grams fiber! Sounded terrifically healthy. We like Kashi’s Heart to Heart in our house, but sometimes it seems a bit too crunchy (so much harder than cheerios) for the morning.

I scanned in the UPC.

If you recognize my kitchen counter here, you're right. I brought it home, despite its so-so score.Here's what you learn from Fooducate:

It scores a B-, in the category of Cold Cereals ranging from A- to D+.  This product fared decently, especially for me, as I was seeking something low-sugar to start my kids off with in the morning; the green check indicating “less than 1.5 tsp of sugar. Nice.” A little soy lecithin (soybean extraction that helps the ingredients stick together) and some natural flavors though. Guess we are better off with the Heart to Heart (or Kix or Cheerios) and maybe we will try the Cascadian Farms Honey Clusters next time.

Next up, yogurt. We eat a lot of Chobanis and Fages, all which score As and A-s, even the honey and fruit flavors. My kids are often tempted by the characters on the labels and the squeezers, like Trader Joe’s Squishers.

Verdict: A little more sugar, but not terrible for a snack. The first suggested alternative is actually another Trader Joe’s product, which I appreciate while in the TJ’s dairy case.

The Fooducate website asserts that it is not funded or influenced by food manufacturers, supplement companies, diets, or any sort of magic pill.  The free version, however, does have some advertising and sponsored messages, though you can upgrade to an ad-free version for $3.99. In two months, I have received just two messages on the free app, one from  Yoplait Trix (which scores a B) and a coupon from Larabar (B- for most flavors).

So far, I’ve found shopping with Fooducate to be a quick, helpful guide to resist really good marketing and making more nutritious choices. It certainly seems aligned with Clean Food eating. On the Fooducate FAQ, to the question “Why doesn’t any food get an A+, Fooducate writes, “If you grow it in your backyard or buy directly from a farmer, give yourself an A+.”

From the Fooducate Website:

Fooducate is a team of parents, dietitians, and techies. We realize that at the supermarket you have very little time to analyze food labels and extract the information that is important to you. We’d like to help you make better choices for you and your family.

You get to see the stuff manufacturers don’t want you to notice, such as: excessive sugar, tricky trans fats, additives and preservatives, high fructose corn syrup, controversial food colorings, confusing serving sizes and more.

Hitting the Reset Button

 

Does it get any better than this?

Take this sand dune, add five close friends, who live within five miles of each other and haven’t finished a single conversation with one another in five years…likely on account of the 11 young kids they raise between them.

Add absolutely NO agenda, except an hour for each of us with an extraordinarily talented massage therapist, armed with strong hands, orthopedic guidance and a lovely collection of life stories.

Add some awesome food & drink, including a local sandwich shop with serious flair (not to mention adorably cute owners).

This was a girls weekend of the very best kind. Two days, no kids, no laundry. Minimal planning (once the date was finally set amid business trips, bachelor parties, tennis matches, St. Patty’s day parades, etc.), traveling and cooking, although we learned that a pretty sweet margarita can emerge from dumping these three ingredients in a pitcher:

Despite our best intentions, there was no exercise. Except us exercising a weekend of freedom – decadently sharing stories and laughter, napping at leisure and learning more about each other than we ever could in the hushed whispers of toddler music classes, the chaos of preschool pick-ups and drop-offs and the distracted moments of playdates.

My friends have some adorable traditions with their kids: Carrie plays Go-Fish with her daughter over lunch every day and when she is away from her girls, she slips each of them a quarter to pocket and cherish until she comes home. Natalie rhymes excessively with her three, especially to help them remembers things, like their home address.

We love being moms. But we agree it is hard. We doubt ourselves endlessly. We feel guilty for not being as accomplished/relaxed/ disciplined/impulsive/creative/organized/tidy/put-together/environmentally-friendly/caffeine-free/WHATEVER as we imagine other mothers are, for not measuring up to those voices in our heads, which may or may not be the accurate expectations of our mothers/sisters/fathers/husbands.

Though we found we were hilariously different from each other in some ways, we ALL want to always have a clean kitchen counter ALL of the time AND also be game to drop everything, any time of the day, to lie on the floor and play legos with our kids. And some of us really hate playing legos. No matter what we choose, it seems we can’t fit it all in – that we often feel we are choosing a load of laundry over our kids, or kids over husbands, everything over ourselves.  In feeling stretched-thin and worn, we sometimes get angry at our kids, when they are the farthest thing from the real problem. We hate yelling at our kids even more than we hate playing legos.

As if she was lounging with us over Ten Sandwiches, my sister Kim chimed in on a Saturday morning Facebook post, with this nugget from Sassy Radish (I don’t know who this is either, but I like giving credit): “[I]f we had a friend who doubted us as much as we, at times, doubt ourselves, we wouldn’t even speak to that person… Who wants to be friends with someone who undermines and second-guesses her?”

I have long considered my sisters to be one of my life’s greatest blessings (mom and dad, you too…and of course, THEM). Thankfully, in my mommy life, I can add to the list the many friends I have who rarely doubt or judge me, who champion me against the voices in my head. Some of them never even read this blog, but still, I know, they believe in it a hundred percent.

One of us (NOT ME) had never been apart from her children overnight. In convincing her to join us (and threatening to kidnap her if she didn’t), we repeated a few philosophies you should tell your brain (or anyone else questioning you) when planning kid-free time:

  • We cannot teach kids how to take excellent care of themselves if we do not take excellent care of ourselves.
  • What better example of friendship can we model than by making time for our friends and our friendships.
  • This is good for everyone – obviously for the moms, but also good for the kids to feel independent, to know that other adults love them and can take care of them, that they can be safe and have fun (and even fall asleep) without their moms.  And good for the husbands to take a turn at 48 hours alone with the kids.
  • It’s only hard until you walk out the door. The minute you’re gone, you’re wondering if you can extend your stay.
A few other details…

While we were gone, everyone at home survived. Go figure. Elizabeth marched in her St. Patrick’s Day parade without her mom at her side. One took a nap on the couch, one didn’t nap at all. Noah, the recent graduate of Nana Bonnie’s Esteemed Potty Training School did pee through three pairs of pants in ten minutes, though he did sleep through the night for the first time in a month. One dad made his kids a lovely lunch of grilled turkey burgers and green Thin Mint smoothies, another had a steak dinner awaiting his wife’s arrival home.

On the reading list: Still Alice (Lisa Genova), Talk Nerdy To Me (Vicki “The Only Thing Hotter Than Naughty Talk is Nerdy Talk” Lewis),  and Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids (Bryan Caplan)… Reviews forthcoming if they are any good, not many pages turned this weekend.

On the screen: We watched half of The Help. It was a good half. Someday we will see the rest.

On the nightstands: My sister Kim has also taught me the importance of the weekend swag bag. I skipped the bags, but left a few indulgences for my guests: a fun magazine, Vitamin-Schtick chapstick, H20 and a jar filled with a favorite treat all dolled up with a fancy knob (jar tutorial coming tomorrow).

The weekend went way too quickly but we’ll do it again. How could we not?

 

Thank You Very Mochi

During a rainy afternoon at our family reunion in Rye, NY last summer, I noticed there was a “Healthy Gut” cooking class on the hotel’s weekend schedule and the presenter was offering free cookbooks to the first 20 attendees.  I was curious about the class and definitely interested in the freebie, but I took my kids to see a movie instead, reasoning “hey, this isn’t Canyon Ranch – what are they going to teach me?” and “the cookbook is probably a handout from the hotel’s chef.”

Ten minutes into Kung Fu Panda and halfway through a brown bag of stale popcorn, a mom entered the movie room with a thick bright green cookbook atop her stroller. I passed my popcorn to my four year old, my one-year-old to my husband, and bolted down the hall to find the cooking class.

At the time, I had never heard of this cookbook or its author, but I knew I wanted it.

Sadly, I was Attendee #26 and they really were out of cookbooks. Happily, I tried my first raw kale salad there and was hooked. I’ve always eaten healthy foods and lots of veggies and good grains, but this world of soaking lentils and sprouting quinoa felt totally new. A few googles later, I was surprised to find that Terry Walters, the author of this beautiful best-selling “seasonal guide to eating close to the source” went to my high school, lives one town away from me and best of all, makes lots of local appearances and teaches cooking classes at her home.

Terry Walters, in her kitchen, showing the class her article in the March 2012 issue of Yoga Journal magazine.

I attended my second cooking class with Terry yesterday. I learned new words like mochi, teff, tempeh and ume and how to use them in sentences, like “I cannot wait to go to Whole Foods today and buy a few kinds of mochi to try with the kids” (really, this is true), “Is this regular teff flour or the ivory?” (ivory is preferred but harder to find) and “I could eat almost any vegetable drizzled with flax oil and ume plum vinegar, which Terry calls the ‘macrobiotic version of butter and salt'” (I’m not entirely sold on this one yet, but check back with me).

Terry cooks and chats effortlessly, sharing bits about herself and her journey and encouraging her “students” to share as well. In this way, the food and the experience – is nourishing to body and soul, just as Terry intends. There’s no judging or pretense, no musts or have-tos, just guidance on how to include more balanced and wholesome, close-to-the-source foods in your diet.

If you can get to one of Terry’s classes, GO! If not, check out the books and give some recipes a try. I’ve been working my way through both books and can report that the recipes contain relatively few ingredients and are so expertly written that you will get them right. In one recipe in Clean Start, the directions have you “massaging” oil into kale leaves. I don’t know why (Terry said something about breaking down the leaves rough texture), but it definitely works! And, I’ve made tofu a hundred different ways, but I never managed to truly glaze it (like the way Whole Foods glazes it), until I read Terry’s tip that a nonstick pan will prevent tofu from glazing.

Here’s yesterday’s menu and my quick reviews:

Spicy Thai Tempeh with Cashews (awesome for me, spice would have to be toned down for Them), served with Asian Greens with Flax and Ume (I added the dipping sauce from the dumplings below and was in heaven)

Aromatic Basmati Rice with Cinnamon and Cumin (umm…I will be ordering this rice cooker ASAP):

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Teff Cookies (my kids fought over the one I brought home and begged for more)

The star of my lunch (yes, I ate all of the above for lunch) was our “appetizer” of Mochi Dumplings with Dipping Sauce, which I’m convinced could be a hit with just about anyone.

In Clean Food, Terry tells us Mochi is made from pressed brown rice, easy to digest and “warming and strengthening.” Mochi is sold in blocks (often near the tofu section), in different varieties, among them the sesame garlic used in this recipe, cinnamon raisin which reportedly makes a yummy breakfast for kids with cream cheese or maple syrup, and plain, which can be stuffed with pizza and veggie fillings.  The rule in Terry’s house is that you can have mochi, as long as its stuffed with at least 1 protein and 1 veggie.

Mochi Dumplings with Dipping Sauce

Ingredients (10-12 Dumplings)

For Dumplings

  • 1 block mochi cut into 2-inch squares
  • 1 TBSP extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 1 carrot, grated
  • 1 TBSP fresh ginger, grated
  • 1 cup cabbage, sliced thin
  • 1/4 cup shitake mushrooms, sliced thin
  • 1 TBSP tamari
  • 1 TBSP mirin

For Dipping Sauce

  • 2 TBSP tamari
  • 1 TBSP toasted sesame oil
  • 1 tsp brown rice vinegar
  • Toasted sesame seeds and chopped scallion to garnish

Instructions

Preheat over to 350 F.

Slice mochi into 2 inch squares and place on parchment-lined cookie sheet.

Bake for 10-12 minutes or until squares puff and lightly brown. Remove from oven and set aside.

Prepare sauce by whisking together tamari, toasted sesame oil and brown rice vinegar. Garnish with sesame seeds and chopped scallion and set aside.

In nonstick skillet, saute onion in olive oil until soft. Add carrot and ginger and saute one minute. Add cabbage, mushrooms, tamari and mirin. Saute 3-4 minutes more or until all ingredients are soft. Remove from heat. Slice open mochi puffs, stuff with filling and serve with dipping sauce.

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Who Is Them?

I keep laughing at this grammatically challenged post title.  Just to be clear: the “them” in Love Them Madly includes my two sons but it also extends to the one I loved madly first and foremost: my husband, Scott.

A long overdue thank you to our friend Leah from high school. Had she never had a slight crush on Scott our senior year, I might never have started spying on him in our English, Calculus and Econ classes. Had she never gone on spring break and found another crush, I might never have had a chance.

Scott turned 35 this week, which means we have now spent more of our life together than apart. Quite a bit to celebrate, but the day was somewhat uneventful in a family with two young boys, school vacation and a new blog. I’d feel badly for not celebrating him wildly, but I have three things to counter the guilt:

1. I had the foresight to throw him a fun surprise party when he turned 27, when we lived in Boston, had tons of grad-school friends and no kids.

2. A bunch of neighborhood dads had a nice celebration for him, complete with beer, chicken wings, Jax and Doritos and EVEN some presents, like a hacksaw and liquor (hopefully, these won’t be used together).

3. Scott thinks birthdays are just like any other day.  And really, all he needs to start his day off right is oatmeal, berries and yogurt.

We enhanced his usual breakfast a tad by combining his favorites into birthday pancakes.

Wholesome, healthy and sweet – just like Them.

A Million Berry Pancakes

by Love Them Madly

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 15 minutes

 

Adapted from the Whole Grains Council and Quaker Oats.

Ingredients (16 pancakes)

For the Pancakes

  • 3/4 cup (90g) whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup (40g) oats (quick or old fashioned, uncooked)
  • 1/4 cup (30g) toasted wheat germ of flax seed meal
  • 2 TBS granulated sugar
  • 1 TBS baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 1/3 cups (320 ml) fat-free milk
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 2 TBS vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup (75g) dried cranberries
  • 1 1/2 cups (220g) fresh or frozen blueberries, thawed and drained, or any combination of chopped strawberries, raspberries and blackberries

For the Berry Topping

  • 1 jar (10 ounces or 285g) blueberry or blackberry fruit spread
  • 1 TBS lemon juice

Instructions

For the Pancakes:

In large bowl, combine flour, oats, wheat germ, sugar, baking powder and salt; mix well.

In medium bowl, combine milk, egg and vegetable oil; blend well.

Add to dry ingredients all at once; mix just until dry ingredients are moistened. Gently stir in cranberries. (Do not overmix.)

Heat griddle over medium-high heat (or preheat electric skillet or griddle to 375°F or 190°C). Lightly grease or spray griddle with nonstick cooking spray. For each pancake, pour a scant 1/4 cup batter onto hot griddle; quickly top with 8 to 10 blueberries. Turn pancakes when edges look cooked.

For the Berry Topping (we just used syrup this time!):

In small microwavable bowl, heat fruit spread and lemon juice on HIGH (100%) for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally, until melted and smooth. Pour over pancakes.

Nutrition Information (Serving Size: 2 pancakes):

Calories – 245, Calories From Fat – 35, Total Fat – 4g, Saturated Fat – 0.5g, Cholesterol – 0mg, Sodium – 230mg, Total Carbohydrates – 48g, Sugars – 28g, Dietary Fiber – 4g, Protein – 5g.

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Bridge to Bridge

After a recent business trip to Pasadena, my husband and I tacked on a kid-free weekend in San Francisco.  We’ve visited SF a few times, so we had no real agenda for our weekend, which somehow resulted in us deciding to walk from the Bay Bridge across the Golden Gate.

Our view of the Bay Bridge from our friend's apartment as the morning fog disappeared.

You can leave the kids at home, but it doesn’t mean you don’t take them everywhere.

What fun my five-year-old would have had climbing this bow!

The Ferry Building is an attraction in itself with dozens of gourmet cafes and shops. Visit on a Market Day and you'll feel doubly blessed

   Avocado, tomato, mozz and egg at Gott’s Roadside Tray Gourmet, paired with coffee from the famous Blue Bottle. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We picked up a fantastic S’mores Kit at Recchiuti that we brought home for the kids. Twenty-three bucks is a pretty penny for eight s’mores, but the handmade marshmallows, gourmet grahams and bittersweet chocolate made for a happy and decadent reunion at home.

We met Zach Houston, the Market Poet who wrote us a halfway decent poem in a matter of minutes on an odd topic of our choosing.

Lovely to have time to shop leisurely and check out the variety of fruits and veggies, not to mention the quirky signs.

Who doesn't feel cosmetically challenged every once in a while?

Strolling along the Embarcadero, you’ll pass some awesome establishments like this organic cafe we ate at one night.  A veggie burger on the East Coast is not even related to the kind you find here. This is the real deal, made from lentils, mushrooms, beets, cashews and bulgur.

We happened upon a cute chocolate factory, TCHO, with lots of samples and daily tours.  A bit further down is Fisherman’s Wharf and then the modest climb through Fort Point, the Presidio and Golden Gate Park.  At almost two miles long, Golden Gate Bridge itself is pretty magnificent, especially when viewed from the Marin Headlands (admittedly, my cousin met us on the far side of the bridge and drove us to see this vista).

Not a bad way to cover 9 miles and spend a few hours.

The following day we walked a bit more at Lands End Trail. Two picture perfect days in SF.

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