Archive for July, 2010

Bottled Water = No No

O.M.G is all I have to say. Everywhere I go, everyone I see, drinks bottled water. I am pretty frugal so I usually fill up a water bottle with tap water and drink that. I’ve never noticed bottled water tasting “more pure” or tasting “fresher” or “cleaner” like some people like to say. Even though I pass on the bottled water, I never really thought anything of it. My husband, who likes to spend money, likes to purchase 1 or 2 bottles of water a day. To irk me? Maybe. But anyways, not until I read about tap water vs. bottled water did I realize how messed up we are for even selling or buying bottled water!

Yes! 🙂

No! 😦

Here are the facts:
Tap water is regulated by the EPA; who have standards.
Bottled water is regulated by the FDA; who do not have standards.

To not have standards mean that the water you may be drinking right now was not filtered, disinfected or even tested before hitting the store shelves. You may be drinking in bacteria much higher than the bacteria found in tap water. And you paid for it.

Here’s even more annoying facts:

In 2007 both Pepsi (Aquafina) and Coke (Dasani) admitted that their bottled waters were actually just tap water. That’s cool, you’re buying back your very wn public resources for at least a 700% markup! Now you must be feeling really great huh!? I don’t know how I missed this in 2007 but I am glad I know now. Better late than never!

Also, I don’t need to remind anyone that bottling water is a waste. It requires a whole lot of energy, which ultimately is carbon, to pump, bottle and transport them. And although plastic bottles are recyclable, many people don’t recycle, (90% according to sources–way higher than I expected!) and when this happens it takes 1,000 years to break plastic down. Wowza.

After finding out this information, the first thing I did was tell my husband. WIthin less than 5 minutes he agreed to fill up a bottle each day of our lovely tap water and never purchase another bottled water from the gas station. He’s smart. That’s why I love him.

So here’s to our tap water! Raise your glasses! Cheers!

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Just Say No!

My parents were never the healthy type. I grew up on ramen noodles, fast food, and pop. My parents never restricted how much sugar we had or caffeine so my younger brothers and I always got to drink pop. It didn’t help that my parents also drank it and always kept it in the house. It was like orange juice or milk for us. We had it during car rides, at lunch, at dinner, for snacks, as treats, etc. Not only that but I acquired a taste for coffee at 7 years old because my dad let me try it and I was hooked. We would be at Slumberland looking at furniture and I would be the one and only kid in the whole damn building with my own cup of coffee from the free coffee machine. I have no idea what my parents were thinking.

So not surprisingly once I was able to “care” for myself, I was purchasing a French Vanilla coffee from the gas station each morning, and guzzling Red Bull throughout the day. I would have Red Bull at my 7 am class and still be drinking Red Bull at my 6:30 pm class. Disturbing. Even my drink of choice was vodka Red Bulls. I had always heard that pop and caffeine was bad for you in excess, and pop being bad in general. I really didn’t know much about it, nor did I care.

After years and years of drinking pop and coffee I finally decided that it had to end. I was jittery when I didn’t have it, and I would be craving straight black coffee at 2 in the morning. I also was getting headaches, feeling like sluggish poo, and getting f-a-t. Why was this happening?!

My research shows that the number one bad thing about pop is that it is almost all sugar. And they don’t use sweeteners because high fructose corn syrup is more affordable. Well that’s great for them, but for us that means no nutritional value, but lots and lots of calories. If getting fat wasn’t bad enough, pop will dissolve your tooth enamel from the high sugar content and leach calcium from your bones (because of the high levels of phosphorous). Diet pop isn’t going to save you anymore pain,  since the aspartame-sweetened pop produces methanol. This is slowly poisoning your body folks. And there’s also the fact that these sweeteners are actually 5 hundred times sweeter than sugar, meaning that your organs will suffer.

As for caffeine, which can be found in pop and everyone’s favorite-coffee…it’s debatable. But only because a little caffeine is good for you. It stimulates your heart and gets blood pumping. So it’s actually recommended to have some caffeine (although I still don’t have any at all) but it is dangerous when you have too much. Why? Mostly just because it is addictive. (I know about that! My husband goes to Starbucks 7 days a week!) And quitting it can be just as bad as quitting say cigarettes or alcohol. The withdrawal symptoms (which I have seen my husband go through so I can vouch are true) include flu like symptoms, migraines, fatigue, mild depression, nausea, vomiting, and in women it can make you have worse PMS. Worse? Lord.

Now it has been over 5 years since I have had a pop and 4 years since I had coffee. I can’t even eat too much dark chocolate before I get the “caffeine high.”  I can honestly say that if I have a coffee at 10:00 am, I will not be able to sleep that night at 10:00 pm. My husband could be my alibi. I seriously cannot handle caffeine. But now that I have kicked it, I find that I don’t even need it. If I have it, it just messes me up all day. I feel like an anxious fool all day, then lay awake with my heart beating fast and mind racing for most of the night. For many people out there they may think this sounds terrible. How can you have done this to yourself? Trust me, it’s for the best. I never crave pop or caffeine. I never miss it. I save tons of money. It has made me drink more water. I am more hydrated. I’m healthier. I’ve lost weight. I sleep better. I almost never get headaches. And I actually have more energy. Quitting pop and caffeine was one of the best things I have ever done for my body. Anyone out there can do it. Just say No!

Gelatin Vs. Agar

I usually don’t consume gelatin or anything like that because I find it to be gross but many vegetarians, even some vegans and most every day people will eat it because it virtually is nothing. Just gelatin right? Low calories and tastes good! Well do you know what gelatin is? Gelatin happens to be a collagen in animal’s tissues, skins and bones that has been boiled and combined with acids. And it’s usually from cows and veal’s cartilage and tendons. Now what’s even nastier? Most commercial gelatin, (think Jell-O) is pig’s skin. Pretty gross right? That’s why I don’t eat it. But don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind the taste. And also sometimes I need that consistency in a dessert recipe. So what can we do? What do we turn to? Agar!

Gummy Bears = Boiled Pig Skin

A lot of vegans already know about agar but for anyone who doesn’t (which is mostly everyone) it is a substitute for gelatin for recipes requiring it. What is agar?  It is a gelatin like substance derived from red algae, which is seaweed. Sound gross? It’s not. Seaweed’s consistency is actually really similar to gelatin. Almost the same as Jell-o but a bit tougher and less floppy. The Asians have been using this for years to get gelatin like desserts. I have tasted it myself and think it’s just like Jell-o. But I’ve also tried seaweed too. (My mom served us seaweed all the time growing up!)

Gelatin

Agar

More benefits of switching? Algae is fat free, low calories, high in calcium (more than milk), high in iron (more than eggs), and can remove radioactive and heavy metals from your system (think Mercury). So it’s pretty cool that you can have your dessert and health benefits too! Can gelatin do this? Gelatin is known for it’s protein (since it is from meat after all) so studies (although I don’t know how extensive) have shown that it can promote stronger nails and hair.

So for any ladies out there wanting to get stronger nails and hair, you could eat gelatin or you could take a multi-vitamin! You can still make signature recipes too…Agar Shots, Agar Cakes, etc. 😉

You can find agar at health stores, Trader Joe’s, or supplement shops.

When is it safe to NOT go organic?

When it comes to fruits and vegetables it seems that going organic sometimes means going more expensive. So how do you know when it’s really important to go organic and when it isn’t? Well think of the things you eat in it’s entirety, like grapes, apples, strawberries, spinach, salad, etc. These things can have left over pesticides accumulated on them. Even if you wash them thoroughly (which is all about what you can do), it’s a safer bet to just buy these things organic. To know that they were never sprayed with chemicals is just reassuring.

When it comes to things that you don’t eat in it’s entirety, say bananas, lemons, oranges, etc. you can definitely go conventional if its easier on your wallet. Although it’s probably best to try to get everything organic, I know that that’s not always practical.

Now I want to address potatoes because lots of people think that these are just fine conventionally and to an extent they are. They are fine conventionally grown if you plan on peeling off all the skin anyways, like to put into a soup or making fries, but ideally you should be getting potatoes organically. Why? Because the skin is very nutritious for you and you should be eating it! In the skin alone there are many nutrients (like vitamin C) and a lot of dietary fiber. Also when you leave the skin on, it preserves a lot of the nutrients in the potato that usually wool have escaped during the cooking of the potato. So when it comes to potatoes you may want to consider leaving the skin on, and buying them organic to get the safest potato. I know I love to eat my whole baked potato, even though my husband thinks I’m nuts! But really it’s so good! When you bake the potatoes, lightly drizzle some olive oil on the skin and a dash of sea salt and voila! Yummy potato skin that’s also good for you!

Dumping Dairy

Dear Dairy,

Sometimes I wish I was lactose intolerant so I could pass on you, but since I am not, I have allowed myself to fall in love with you. Now that I have tasted your cheeses, creams and milk – it’s true to say that you have made me weak and my willpower is shot. I want you to know that I’m slowly going to leave you. I don’t like where you come from, and I don’t want to support you. I also don’t like the affect you have on me.

Yours truly,

Just Me

As you can see I am trying to break up with dairy. Dairy is a constant struggle for me since I grew up on macaroni and cheese, whole cow’s milk and ice cream. My parents never didn’t buy us dairy products. Like many other American children, I consumed some sort of dairy in every meal. But now I know where it comes from and also how bad it is for my body. Therefore, as much as I think I love it, I need to let it go.

But don’t we need dairy? Actually the question should be why don’t we need dairy? Let me count the ways.

First off, do you know why you and I are addicted to dairy? Because milk contains a protein called casein and once this protein breaks down it becomes a morphine. It makes you feel happy and relaxed. Is it any surprise to you that cheese has the most casein? Hmm. No wonder why we live in a cheese world.

As you have learned through my post, Holy Cow!!, milk is only produced when a cow has just given birth to her babies. Just like us humans. So it makes sense that humans are really only meant to drink their mothers milk…and only when they are young. I feel as though back in day people started drinking cows milk to replace their mothers milk, to keep getting the nutrients that they once got in the beginning of their lives. Well nowadays we have so many other ways of getting nutrients that we really don’t have to drink milk at all. There are other ways to get our calcium, despite what the industry wants you to think. (It’s not the doctor’s paying for those Got Milk? ads!) We are conditioned to think that we need milk. A baby only needs her mother’s milk at the beginning of life, and that should be the only time she needs any milk.

Now how about the idea that drinking milk slims you down? Umm. Come on people. Remember the ads they were showing us last year or the year before, of the hour glass shaped glasses of milk? And remember how they were telling us there was a connection to drinking milk and weight loss? Well the Dairy Council was sued by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, and the Dairy Council withdrew all their ad campaigns and had to issue a statement saying that they meant milk would aid in weight loss along with calorie restriction. Restrict your calories and lose weight? Well duh.

Now how about the years and years of people saying milk prevents osteoporosis? It’s not the milk. It’s the calcium. What else has calcium in it? A whole lot of stuff. Peas, greens, soybeans, almonds, sesame seeds, sea vegetables, are just to name a few. And they have way more calcium than dairy! Get this, there is 20 mg of calcium in one serving of butter. 118 mg in one serving of whole milk. There is 1,160 mg in a serving of sesame seeds! Crap. Just toss some into your salad and you’ve got your calcium for the day!

Lastly, dairy isn’t just bad for us. It’s bad for our planet. Dairy cows create greenhouse gases when they burp, which contains methane, and the more methane, the higher our chances of global warming. Also since these cows are pumped with antibiotics and growth hormones their waste also contains these toxins, which seep into our earth and water supply. Residue of antibiotics that were used in animals have shown up in river and soil samples far from where they originally came from. It also has been found in drinking water supplies. Nice!

So Dear Dairy,

I’m going to let you go. Slowly but surely our relationship will be over. For good. When I gain all the strength I need, you will be kicked out of my life once in for all. Thanks for the good times.

Yours truly,

Just Me

The Substitute Teacher

So you already know I am frugal. So today I attempted to make a cheap vegan cupcake. I love doing things as cheap as possible, but due to my laziness I also love it when they are easy on top of it! A lot of vegan cupcake recipes I have read involve too many ingredients for me or involve too much time. I found a very simple way to make vegan cupcakes and what is great about them is that they cut so many calories, cholesterol and other bad things that anyone, vegan or not, will appreciate them! On top of that it took close to no time at all to make! I’d say the whole thing, including baking time only took 20 minutes.

My helpers and also taste testers were the two lovely children that I nanny. These two kids do not eat anything. They don’t consume enough nutritional food in their diets and also have way too much sweets. They are beyond picky and do not have any variety in what they eat. In my eyes? Perfect taste testers!

(This is my assistant. The midget was very excited for the frosting.)

To be as simple/lazy as possible I used whatever I could that was already in the house. And you can do that too. I think if I were to become some cupcake artist I would probably look into more natural ingredients and find different products. But as I’ve said this was made without any additional purchases! Very frugal!

To begin with we used:

Betty Crocker Gluten Free Cake Mix (Yellow) -We had this in the pantry and I decided this would work just fine. It also happens to be vegan! The original recipe on the back of the box requires a full stick of butter, vanilla and three eggs, and those are the things that I substituted in my version. Whole Ground Flaxseed -Any brand will do. This replaces the eggs by being a binder in the mixture to keep the cake from crumbling. It’s also full of great things that I will mention later on. Hungry Jack Lite Syrup -If I had my choice I would have gotten organic maple syrup but since we had this I went for it. At least it is Lite! Organic Unsweetened Apple Sauce -You can really use any brand of apple sauce. Canola Oil -If you don’t have it, vegetable oil will work too. We had Pillsbury Creamy Supreme Vanilla frosting which is deadly but I cut the servings in half and saved 75 calories per cupcake. And this brand is vegan!

Here is the recipe!

Ingredients:

Your box cake mix.

3 tablespoons of ground flaxseed mixed with 3/4 water (The general rule is for every 1 egg in a recipe = 1 tablespoon flaxseed ,mixed with 1/4 water.)

1/2 cup applesauce.

2 teaspoons canola oil.

2 teaspoons maple syrup. (Acts as a binder.)

2/3 cup water.

  • Heat oven to 350 degrees and grease your pan (for cake) or use paper baking cups for 12 cupcakes.
  • You can hand beat the cake mix, water, flaxseed mixture, maple syrup, canola oil and apple sauce until all the lumps are gone. Pour into your pan.
  • Bake! Remember to test your cupcakes with a tooth pick to make sure it was cooked all the way!
  • Frost!

Hard at work!

12 cupcakes: roughly 20 minutes. 9” round pan: roughly 43 minutes. 9” x 9”: roughly 35 minutes. 8” x 8”: roughly 38 minutes.

Easy isn’t it? And the great thing was they were super healthy! In this version the cake mix itself contributed less than 250 calories per cupcake and 0% cholesterol. The serving of frosting I cut in half, saving us 75 calories. Here’s a whopper; If we had used the stick of butter that would have been 810 calories and 92 grams of fat! Since we used applesauce and a dash of oil we only had 130 calories and 10 grams of fat! Holy smokes. When we substituted the eggs we saved 330 calories and 1020mg of cholesterol! Using the flaxseed we only had 90 calories and 0 cholesterol! As if that wasn’t good enough flaxseed contains lots of fiber, (only 4 grams of flaxseed is equal to 1-1/2 cups of oatmeal! Only 4 grams! We used 20 grams!) lignans, (which are natural antioxidants! Its like we ate 30 cups of broccoli!) and omega-3 fats. Not only did the flaxseed have no cholesterol but it also has been proven that flaxseed lowers harmful cholesterol already in your body. How super is all that?

Test taste results:

(My Diego and Dora gave me an A+!)

The kids knew no different. They loved it! Both kids devoured their cupcakes! I also liked it. This cake was a little more dense than a regular yellow cake, so it almost tasted like a muffin. I think next time I would even get rid of the frosting altogether and use an organic strawberry or raspberry jam! Try it for yourself or come up with another variation! It’s fun!

End result:

Other pictures:

Flaxseed + Water should look like this. Kind of gooey and clumpy.

Diego and Dora had to have sprinkles.

 

Tofu Wars

Although I try to limit my soy intake (substituting rice milk for soy milk, for example) I still have a special place in my heart for tofu. Tofu is definitely an acquired taste and most people think they don’t like it even without trying it. For all of us tofu veterans out there, we know how tofu can vary in texture and taste based on how it is cooked. Because we know this, we enjoy lots of tofu! The common folk are missing out!

When I am actually using my kitchen (rare!) I sometimes like my tofu sautéed in sauce with veggies, or baked in the oven with soy sauce, or in a broth served soup style. But my talents usually run dry after these recipes. So what’s a girl with no cooking skills to do? Eat out of course. You already know, my husband and I are professionals when it comes to eating out. I have tried tofu from almost every place that serves it in the Twin Cities and have found many different varieties. I have to say only a handful of places really stand out to me, in good and bad ways. Although I could list many places from all over, I’m going to keep this restricted to common places that most people already dine at. This is to help the tofu lovers out there as well as the people out there who are nervous about trying it.

The Good

P.F Chang’s – I absolutely love this restaurant. I loved it when I ate meat and I love it now that I don’t. They have an exclusive menu of vegetarian options and even a gluten free menu. They have three tofu dishes to choose from, one being my favorite tofu dish…ever.

Buddha’s Feast: This is a vegetable medley with five-spice tofu served with steamed or fried rice. This is not my favorite, although still good. I originally ordered this because I love spicy food but the tofu was too soft for me. I do enjoy soft tofu, but in this dish I would have preferred it to be a bit thicker to resemble meat in this dish. C

Buddha’s Feast

Ma Po Tofu: OMG. This is my favorite tofu dish of all time. The tofu is crispy on the outside, silken on the inside and in a yummy sichuan vegetarian sauce with steamed broccoli. I order this a little too much. Actually this is the only thing I order at P.F Chang’s now, ever since I first tried it. Only complaint? Sometimes when you get it take-out, the sauce sits at the bottom making the dish towards the bottom extra salty. A!

Ma Po Tofu

Coconut Curry Vegetables: This is stir fried veggies with the same crispy silken tofu with peanuts in a vegetarian coconut curry sauce. This sounds really good, but unfortunately I cannot tear myself away from the Ma Po Tofu. Opps. Someone else will have to grade this one for me!

Coconut Curry Vegetables w/ Tofu

Big Bowl – Good old Big Bowl. It’s becoming as commonplace as Leann Chins (which does not serve any meatless dishes! Grr…). Big Bowl is a favorite of mine as well since they serve all natural, organic and fresh foods daily. I always get a ginger beverage there and it’s so fresh and good every single time. Hmm. Like P.F Chang’s they also (just started to) have a gluten free menu. Perks! Of course they have bountiful options for vegetarians but my focus here is tofu!

Noodles w/ Kung Pao Tofu & Spinach: A-mazing. I love this dish which consists of wide wheat noodles, little pieces of tough tofu, blackened chilies, roasted peanuts and a sweet and spicy sauce. Really if you like kung pao anything, you’re sure to like this. The tofu in this one is good because it’s small and a little bit tougher, really mimicking meat. The tofu also really soaks up the sauce, acting as a sauce sponge making it even more yummy. A

Noodles w/ Kung Pao Tofu & Spinach

Vegetable Pad Thai with Tofu: Good good good. For anyone out there who isn’t familiar with pad thai, it’s Thailand’s signature dish made with fresh lemons, herbs, big rice noodles, basil, eggs, sprouts and peanuts. It’s a really refreshing dish that seems light when eaten but still fills you up! The tofu version comes with medium texture tofu and fresh asian vegetables. (Think bok choy.) It’s a really tasty meal, especially for lunch. A-

Vegetable Pad Thai w/ Tofu

Yellow Curry Vegetable with Tofu: This dish is fried or steamed rice with bok choy, green beans, seasonal veggies, soft textured tofu and yellow coconut curry sauce. I have to say this one isn’t my favorite. But it doesn’t really have to do with the tofu, but the sauce is a bit runny for me. It resembles soup more than sauce in my eyes. But if you’re fan of curry, be my guest! The yellow curry is a bit sweeter and they also offer Thai Green Curry instead which is spicy! C

Yellow Curry Vegetable w/ Tofu

Jasmine Deli: Most of us that grew up in or around Minneapolis know about Eat Street…the amazing strip of Nicollet in Minneapolis filled with food for every type of taste bud possible. You will find authentic Asian restaurants, Mexican Restaurants, gourmet breakfast diners, fresh vegetable markets, etc. It’s a foodie’s heaven. jasmine Deli is on this strip and is most commonly known for their pho (a Vietnamese soup as common as the chicken noodle) and banh mi (Vietnamese subs made with French baguettes) but their tofu should not be overlooked! On this certain day I was looking for a place that offered vegetarian pho (a blog will come later about this) but something else caught my eye on the menu. Tamarind Tofu. So I asked the owner about it and he told me just to try it. I shrugged, said what the hell and ordered it. And thank goodness I did. This is a phenomenal dish for the little Jasmine Deli! Here is an appetizer portion of fried and baked tofu in a tangy tamarind sauce. The tofu looks and tastes as if someone fried it to get it to be the texture it is, then baked it afterwards to make the extra crisp outer layer then smothered it in this sauce that’s both sour, tangy and sweet. It’s almost citrusy but is not the typical sweet and sour sauce. Hmm hmm. I ended up eating that, a veggie pho and ordering another portion of Tamarind Tofu to bring home. A

Tamarind Tofu

The Bad

Noodles & Company: I hate to rip on Noodles, since I do like their pastas but the tofu here can definitely be passed. I had the misfortune to try this, not once but twice, and not liking it either time. For whatever reason the tofu here is really tough and chewy. Not like a tough piece of steak but like a dog’s chew toy. It virtually has no flavor and seems to have been fried so much on the outside that no moisture or sauce can even get soaked up into it. My sister in law had her first tofu experience at Noodles, and now her tongue doesn’t trust it anymore. It’s a shame because almost anyone’s tofu is better than Noodles. D-

Doesn’t matter what kind of noodles you get. The tofu stinks.

The Ugly

Benihana’s: This is a great restaurant. Not too pricey for what it offers, good entertainment, great for kids, delicious…Here’s the thing though. It’s only delicious because everything is smothered in butter. If you want to get something healthy, or something without meat, it’s not going to be pretty.

Spicy Tofu Steak: The description says: tofu, scallions and cilantro grilled in a spicy tofu hot sauce. Sounded good. Tasted bad! The tofu in itself was, get this, slippery. This was no steak. It was uber soft and slimy, had little to no taste (it isn’t marinated before hand, which you see when the cook pulls out the cold tofu straight from the container and plops it onto the grill), and has seriously no texture to the point where I after a few bites it was like tofu slushy in my mouth. Now, the sauce. How disappointing! It was not a sauce. It was a spicy soy sauce, without the spice. Total waste of money in my eyes and something I wouldn’t eat again even if someone paid me. F

Spicy Tofu Steak

Hope this somewhat helps you tofu newbies out there. Get out there and try your first piece!! At least try it at the restaurants, instead of buying it and attempting to cook it! Hopefully you won’t be disappointed!