Friday, August 13, 2010

Milk and Hormones Don't Mix!

I'm pretty disturbed about the stuff that I'm reading about milk these days. Dairies are using growth hormones to increase milk production in cows. The FDA says its safe, although several nations have banned the use of these hormones. What's interesting is that the cows that are given these hormones have a 50% higher instance of fetal loss, ovarian cysts, infertility, etc., according to a study by the Center for Food Safety. I just can't imagine none of this would filter down to us.

I don't consume that much milk myself, maybe a 1/2 cup with cereal here and there. But I think about my kids! My 21 mo. old drinks about 24 ounces a day or more. There is a recent news story in Time Magazine about the early onset of puberty of girls in China, with fully developed breasts and vaginal bleeding, even in infants and toddlers. Tainted formula may be to blame, as these children tested for abnormally high hormone levels. While I am sure the standards for food safety are much lower in China, I still can't stop thinking about what the risks are of ingesting even smaller levels of growth hormones here in the US.

I think what really bothers me the most is that I would love to buy organic milk all the time. But at $6.00 a gallon its just not affordable for someone like me who goes through at least 3 gallons a week. Sure, I could buy organic milk at the cost of cutting out something else. But I just think that Americans should be entitled to food and drink that we can trust will be healthy and good for us. I know organic products are more expensive because they are made by smaller operations that aren't subsidized by the government...but it just seems backwards to me!

I finally did bring myself to watch Food, Inc. this past weekend. I was aware of a lot of the issues on a general scale, but not to the extent as described in the movie. I have to say I was profoundly affected by it. Corporate involvement has changed the way we eat, by "engineering" our food in such a way that creates more profit. Feeding chickens hormones that make them grow faster so they can produce more supply, giving them bigger breasts because Americans prefer more white meat. And don't even get me started on the beef. You'll have to watch the movie, or even better yet, read the book if you really want to know the truth. I just want to get back to the basics. My plan will be to grow most of my own vegetables, or support local farmers. The money I save on growing my own can go toward the purchase of organic milk because I just won't buy a cow! I have greatly reduced the meat consumption in our household, partially for financial reasons, partially for health reasons. I would like to find a local farmer that sells beef and poultry. I didn't think there would be so many, but if it interests you, check out this site: Eat Wild to find one near you.

I'm not standing up on a soapbox giving any lectures because I'll be the first to admit I'm not qualified in any way, shape or form. I just think most people don't really realize where the food they eat comes from and how its made. All of us lead very busy lives and probably don't even have time to think about it. Knowledge is power and I just don't think anyone out there would truly prefer NOT to know.

What are your thoughts about chemicals and hormones in our food supply? How do you feel about eating locally grown food?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Black Beans in the Crock Pot

I know, its still summer and I'm talking about the crock pot.  Well, here in Northern CA the weather had been a bit cool for the last week or so. With school about to start soon, and the foggy mornings, I was starting to fear that summer was truly over! Turns out warmer weather is on tap for the rest of this week so I'll get some pool time in with my family.

I do usually associate the crock pot with the fall and winter months. I love to make stews, chili, soups...and have started to branch out and experiment with some other non-typical crock pot fare. But this summer, after going back to work full time in an office, I have really struggled with dinner. My husband works most nights so its usually just me,  my preschool-age son and toddler. Sometimes the kids are really hungry if I end up stuck in traffic and I'm racing to throw something together quickly. I really want to start using my crock pot now that summer is coming to an end and the barbecque will be used a little less. This way, the kids can start eating right when I get home instead of having to wait.

Tonight was the first time I have used my crock pot since last winter. I decided to make a simple side dish of black beans which can accompany more than one meal this week, and my husband can take some to work with him. Black beans are really good for you. They are full of fiber, protein and antioxidants. And they are so easy to make!

If you are on a budget, the smartest thing to do is buy dry beans in a bag. Not only are you saving money by doing this, but saving yourself from all the sodium typically associated with canned food. All you need to do is soak your beans over night in a large bowl with twice the volume of water as beans. The next morning just drain the water and pick out any that have split open, remove any "rocks" or otherwise disfigured looking beans. Now if you are short on supplies, you can honestly make these with nothing but water. Just put the beans in the crock pot, set it on the low/8 hr setting, cover the beans with water up to 2 inches over the bean line, cover and walk away.

Knowing that is all that is required you can pretty much add anything you like to your beans, and unless it is something off the wall you can't mess them up. Here is what I did, based on what I had in my pantry:

1 chopped yellow onion
1 small can of diced green chiles
swap out 2 cups of the water I put over the beans in the crock pot with chicken broth

Set, cover and walk away.

In the past I have also swapped out the 2 cups of water with a Mexican beer such as Negro Modelo or Dos Equis. I have also added cooked bacon or chopped, cooked ham to taste. Another tasty additive - chopped fresh tomatoes. Can also be yummy served with some Monterey Jack cheese, a dollop of fat free sour cream and a few sliced olives sprinkled on top. Enjoy!

Friday, August 6, 2010

Carpe Diem!

Ok, its Friday! I want you to really ENJOY your weekend. Don't wait until tomorrow, start enjoying today. Too often we get fixated on finances, rushing our children from here to there, running errands, planning meals, not to mention succeeding at our jobs outside the home and dealing with stress related to that...we forget to  appreciate our children's laughter, how brightly the sun is shining and how fresh the air smells and the new veggies growing in your garden.

You may be wondering what I put in my Cheerios this morning. I'm just a little affected (ok, a LOT affected) by some recent deaths and illnesses around me. I have been under a lot of stress over the last 2 years because of this horrible economy...and when I've had some moments of clarity I've said, "At least I have my health." But I am realizing more and more health is not something to take for granted.  There are people who seemingly do all the "right" things - work hard all their lives, stay out of trouble, eat right, exercise,  treat their loved ones well - and they seem to get the raw end of the deal. They unfairly get terrible illnesses or have unfortunate accidents and get taken from us too soon.

 When it's your time to go, it's your time and there is nothing you can do to control it. A lot of the time, you don't see it coming. That's why you have to live every day like you could go any time. Not to do anything crazy. Just make sure the people you love know you love them. Make sure you have said all you need to say. Make sure your affairs are in order - stop putting off doing a will!  But mostly, stop obsessing about all the bad stuff. Half of the things I dwell on won't matter when I'm gone. Traffic, being late, did so-and-so like their gift, was dinner cooked too long. Really - wouldn't you rather spend your time relaxing in the sunshine and watching your kids play, or meet a close friend for a drink? Hug a loved one, read a good book, leave the dusting and vacuuming for another day, and have another glass of wine or an extra helping of dessert simply because it tastes good. :)

Thursday, August 5, 2010

I'd Rather Take 5 Seconds to Read the Label than Pad My Booty

I never used to want to take the time to read labels. I figured if I exercised enough and ate moderately healthy that was enough. Well, that probably worked ok when I was 25, 30...well now I'm 40 and...not so much. Gone are the days when I'd buy frozen Healthy Choice meals on a regular basis because they were under 300 calories, and well after all the word "Healthy" was right there in the title!! Pay no mind that the sodium milligrams would be enough to keep your tropical fish going in a fresh water tank!

My latest favorite thing to eat as my mid morning snack at work is Greek yogurt. When comparing labels I was shocked to find that across several brands, any "flavor" that had fruit on the bottom were at least 16 grams of sugar. Maybe everyone has a little different threshold for sugar grams, but in all honesty when I tried these yogurts I felt that they were too sweet. Rather than immediately stirring the fruit into the yogurt before eating it, I would dip my spoon in vertically and take just a little dab of the fruit to slightly flavor the yogurt. After the fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt supply that I had purchased was gone, I went back to the store. This time I came back with a very large container of  Fage plain Greek yogurt.  I actually took it to work and put it in the refrigerator, so I don't have to worry about having to bring an individual serving size yogurt with me every day. I just bring a hand full of fresh blueberries or strawberries in a container with me to the office in the morning. Now I don't have to worry about over indulging in some fake-tasting high fructose corn syrup soaked fruit. The fresh stuff isn't just better for you, it tastes better! The 20 grams of protein per serving will keep you going until lunch time too. You also gotta love the fact its 100% natural.