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Tuesday
Apr062010

Cowboy Calzones

Did you know that homemade calzones are as easy to make as pizza? Roll out dough, stuff, fold, bake! You can make perfectly sized portions and fill them with whatever suits your craving. Have a variety of cooked lean meats, cheeses, and veggies ready and let your family personalize their own creations. Leftovers make a scrumptious, portable no-leak sandwich for the office. Try this downright delicious recipe by a mildly successful blogger named Ree Lol modified by Christina to cut out some of the fat—yeeha!

Tuesday
Mar302010

My Hero Naked Chef

What could possibly tear me away from Celebrity Apprentice? Flipping channels during a commercial and catching Jamie Oliver (aka The Naked Chef) stare down the piercing glares of five cafeteria workers. In his new show, Food Revolution, Oliver's mission is to save the children in a West Virginian town from a life of health problems where almost half of the adults are obese and deep fryers are the prized cooking appliance. Oliver is known for cooking with raw, fresh ingredients. He admits to not even using supermarkets, instead seeking out specialist growers, organic suppliers, and farmers. The title Naked Chef doesn't refer to his fashion preference, but to the simplicity of his cooking style.

Oliver's cooking shows have always intimidated me because of the all-fresh ingredients. I wouldn't call his cooking style "simple"; the rustic nature of his ingredients suggests simple or basic living, but the actual recipes are the kind you have to read through a few times before understanding. The fact that he never uses supermarkets automatically means that he and I are from different planets. His food philosophy is more an inspiration, like Martha Stewart evokes, offering a lifestyle that I can take an idea or two from rather than trying to emulate completely.

That said, I declare Oliver as my hero because he's taking a stand on a gargantuan problem, even if he's a one-man army. He has the tough challenge of meeting USDA's strict menu Oliver deconstructing a raw chickenguidelines while coming within budget for a fresh-food menu, and teaching the town's kids and adults some basic cooking skills. He could lose the demeaning quips like asking one of the lead cafeteria cooks how long she'd been a "lunch lady." But I saw his concern where most of the school's food staples were not just processed but loaded with artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives. A daily diet so processed that many of the kids couldn't tell a fresh tomato from a potato. Food processing, which includes freezing, canning, and salting—anything that prolongs the shelf life of fresh food or alters it to reduce harmful bacteria or increase convenience—doesn't have to be unhealthy unless it's also full of saturated fat, salt, and artificial enhancers. Flash-frozen produce and pasteurized milk are examples of healthful processed foods.

I didn't mind the pizza slices on the kids' breakfast trays but I did cringe as they ate that along with sugared cereals floating in pink (strawberry) milk. School food needs tweaking to offer more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and healthier vending machine choices. I don't believe schools' menus of overly processed foods are just from budget contraints but that more creative thinking and use of local resources are needed. Schools should set a high standard of offering nutritious foods. I will continue to tune in, eagerly hoping that Oliver's "seed of change" will take place.

You can view missed episodes online at Hulu and ABC.

Tuesday
Mar232010

An Ode to the Gym

Fonda flashbacks It's one of the top places you'll find me other than home, the office, or the supermarket. I admit that hesitantly for fear of sounding shallow because of 80s flashbacks of supersvelte women in leg warmers doing endless leg lifts. But the gym scene has evolved, and it's no longer just about the exercise.

I've often dragged my butt to exercise class deflated after a grueling workday or dealing with difficult family issues and left with a clear head and hope for lighter days. With my pregnancy, exercising regularly before and after delivery gave me stamina and the physical and mental health to have a near-effortless experience. 

I've made unexpected connections through the gym. My longest friendship since living in Boston is still going strong because, despite career and life changes, we attend the same gym. A Haitian woman attending my Zumba class thanked me afterward that, for an hour, she was able to take her mind off of family members still missing from the earthquake. A cancer patient and Zumba fanatic who had seen me for nutrition counseling recently passed away, leaving me with a greater ache than I expected. 

I've been lucky to find classes that, amidst sweat flying in every direction, induce pure exhilaration. Obviously not everyone feels that way; some equate the gym with going to the dentist. But, for most of us, exercise isn't really a choice. We need it to control our weight as we live in dietary extravagance, we do it to feel better about our bodies, and we reap the physical and emotional benefits it almost always offers. You can spend peanuts on a great exercise routine with just a few DVDs (even borrowed from the library) and finding a safe walking route. But many of us choose a gym because it's year-round and we know deep down that having to pay a monthly fee can be a major motivator to keep us going. The choices are vast: YMCAs offer affordable monthly rates and have some of the best Zumba classes around. All-women's gyms remove the various distractions men may cause (not meant to sound sexist but you know exactly what I mean!) and often offer childcare. A growing number of clubs are affiliated with medical centers if you have a disease condition that needs extra addition or personalized training.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's most recent exercise recommendation is two hours and 30 minutes of moderate-level exercise each week (can be broken up into 10 minute chunks) and muscle-strengthening exercise at least twice a week. Or, if you're up for the challenge, one hour and 15 minutes of vigorous exercise weekly, like jogging or biking on hilly terrain.

Some kindly advice from a gym rat: Do make exercise part of your lifestyle but don't be too militant. Take a day off when you need it and don't feel guilty. Be on an endless search for instructors who inspire you and don't waste your time or money on a gym that you dread going to. Most importantly, have a sense of humor: check out these blogs for a good chuckle!

Eat.Sleep.Play.Repeat: Thoughts While Running on the Treadmill

Cranky Fitness: First Time at the Gym? How Not to Make an Ass of Yourself