Raising a Lil Foodie

I’ve already mentioned how important to me it is for Jai to grow up loving food as much as I did. But teaching Jai to love food isn’t the only important thing. It’s also teaching him how to love the process of making food and learning to be open to the variety that food has to offer.

Food is one of those universal languages, like math, where it is an important form of communication that transcends language and cultural barriers. I found that my introduction to new cultures wasn’t from media, but taking an evening to try a different ethnic food. One of my fondest memories from undergraduate was spending late nights ordering Indian and watching Bollywood movies with my Pakistani roommates.

Food is tangible, hitting all of the senses, and doesn’t allow for an abstract appreciation of another culture, but an immersive appreciation. I can teach Jai all I want about his Indian/Portuguese/Puerto Rican/Irish/Italian heritage, but it will become more real when I make him dishes from each culture. It grants him a connection to his heritage that he can appreciate until we get an opportunity to visit these countries ourselves.

So including food as part of Jai’s education is important to me, so much so that I want to raise him to be a foodie. How millennial of me.

When I talk about raising a foodie, I understand all the negative connotations: it sounds so pretentious when a parent says “Quinoa is such a foodie. We raised them to love kale, microgreens, and only the finest truffle infused rapeseed oil.”

I am not looking to raise a kid who only eats gourmet ingredients. I want a kid that will look at a new dish and try to deconstruct it to see how it was made, if only as a mental exercise during mealtime.

More than anything, I want him to appreciate all the food placed before him and appreciate the work that goes into getting it there, whether at home or out at a restaurant. Read More


My Love of Cooking (& Baking)

Every superhero has an origin story.

My superpowers reside in the kitchen. I am not going to put on false humility about it: I am a great cook and baker. Are there people who are better? Absolutely, and I am not going to be joining any competition shows because I know there are plenty of people who are better than me. But I am good.

Growing up, cooking and baking was an act of love for my mother. Every meal contained a lot of passion, care, and flavor. Seeing her work in the kitchen was inspiring and made me want to be like her. When I grew up, I wanted to have a family tied together by my cooking just like we were with hers.

What follows is my introduction to the art of cooking (& baking) and how I fell in love with it as a hobby.

A Childhood Introduction

My childhood home was centered around the kitchen as the main gathering place – for eating, cleaning, and chatting. Many hours were spent there – most of the time with my mom working and me just watching her prep, assemble, and make. I would stand behind the stove and chat about my day at school while she made dinner or dessert.

I absorbed all that she did while I watched her work. Many times I was asked to stir something while she moved onto the next step and other times I felt comfortable enough to ask her questions: how can you tell the candy is ready? why does the temperature of the oven matter? what does a clean knife mean after inserting it into the cake?

I never saw her get discouraged in her work. Frustrated, yes. But not discouraged. If a dish didn’t work out quite like she wanted, she never threw in the towel. She would look over the recipe and realize that most of the time it was written badly. Her cookbooks are littered with marginalia to direct her future self on how to make the recipe a success. 

I didn’t stay on the sidelines either. My real introduction occurred when my mom had me help her as a toddler, with my first project using cookie cutters for a batch of Christmas sugar cookies. I would press the cutter into the dough and many times the dough would come out with the cutter, stuck. I would pull this dough out of the cutter and pop it into my mouth. I think out of a potential batch of 24 cookies, we successfully made 18. It was my earliest experience as a quality control tester as well.

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Recipe Friday: Gluten-Free Pizza Crust

For the first Friday of Foodie month, I asked Michelle Melton, of Michelle Melton’s Photography, to share one of her favorite weekend recipes. She graciously shared her thoughts and recipes for gluten-free pizza packets (for convenience) and a favorite gluten-free pizza recipe.

Enjoy!


Mixes: Convenience in a box

When baking, there is nothing like a box mix for convenience.  Even after I had mastered more complicated baked items from scratch such as pies, yeast breads, and pizza crust, I still enjoyed the results I achieved from box mixes. If I was short on time, the helpfulness of just adding a few wet ingredients to the mix and then popping it in the oven was always tempting.  Whether it was pancakes for breakfast or a cake for a celebration, if I was in a hurry, I’d reach for a mix.   And mixes can make the gluten-free diet easier to manage.

My first exposure to a gluten-free diet was about 10 years ago.  Although I was familiar with celiac disease from textbooks and nutrition classes, I never knew anyone who had it. Celiac seems to be like other diseases that don’t have outward or visible symptoms; the casual observer would never know that a person has it.  This was not the case, however, for my friend of mine.  From the time I met her several years before, the one thing you could not avoid noticing was her dermatitis-ravaged skin.  Her face and neck were especially affected; she was constantly scratching.   Doctors assumed it was eczema and prescribed medications to soothe the symptoms but nothing rid her of the flare-ups completely.  Then in the spring of 2008, when we met for lunch,  the woman sitting across from me was not the friend I had previously known.  Clear-skinned and relaxed she explained that a doctor diagnosed her with celiac. It wasn’t eczema at all but a flare-up of the disease.  Once she became gluten-free, her dermatitis was under control. Needless to say, I was amazed.

I began to investigate (sort of toe tipping into the water) gluten-free recipes to see if a diet change would make managing my Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis easier.  Since gluten sensitivity causes inflammation, I was curious if at least reducing gluten in my diet would ease the stress on my thyroid. Ten years ago, however, the problem was every gluten-free recipe called for a different flour blend.  There was little overlap; one blend would not give the same results when used in a different type of recipe.   At the time, I tried making the flour blends that the cookbooks recommended but they required so many ingredients and the taste left a lot to be desired so eventually I gave up.

In recent years, it has become economically advantageous for some companies to cater to the gluten-free diet.  First, only specialty grocery stores carried mixes and already baked products but now major chain stores carry them as well.  I liked the convenience of mixes because I no longer needed a specific flour blend for every item I wanted to bake.  In some cases, the taste was still an issue but I found my favorites and used those often.  While we were not totally gluten-free, these new offerings made it easier to include gluten-free snacks and baked products in our diet.

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Healthy Eating Reset

It’s been several months since my last diet reset, so it is time for a small one to refocus my eating habits. I’ve behaved myself these last four months with a few slip-ups here and there. Surprisingly, no major lapses into unhealthy eating. Just an occasional meal every few weeks or so.

I ate the occasional mammal but stuck close to fish and chicken for my meat-based proteins. Dairy started to trickle in which is not good, though I will cover that in more detail in Friday’s post. Because I am focusing on wellness this month, I want to do a minor three-day reset where I watch my eating habits a little more closely and recommit to eating healthy.

This reset won’t be as serious as the last one and because it’s only three days, it shouldn’t be boring, nor will I feel hungry throughout the three days.

Eating Habits During this Reset

This won’t be a strict “track everything I consume” sort of reset, but a “this is what I will avoid and make do with what’s left.”  Hopefully, it will stay interesting because of that. Nothing sucks more than kick-starting healthy eating with boring dishes and feeling super hungry.

What this reset will entail:

  • Plant-based, no animal products of any kind
  • No sugar substitutes, this includes maple syrup or honey
  • No salt, but plenty of other spices
  • No gluten
  • No caffeine beyond green tea

Three days is not enough time to fully reset bodily cravings but meant as a way to give my body a 72-hour break from problematic foods.

For instance: I am a salt lover. I got that from my mother.

Salt is a complicated issue when it comes to healthier eating. Salt is good for you, but in excess, it can be problematic. I don’t eat a lot of junk food, but when I sit down to eat I will add a lot of salt to the dish throughout the meal. Beginning the process of lowering my need for salt will be good for me because I am worried I consume salt in excess.

I also find that while I may have cut sugarcane out of my diet, I still find other ways to satisfy my sweet tooth: honey, maple syrup, and coconut sugar are all alternatives that don’t leave me feeling bad. Returning to eating fruits as a means to satisfy my sweet tooth will be a good thing and lowering my desire for sweets overall. I don’t plan to cut these alternative sweeteners out of my diet, but to lower my need for them.

Exercise Habits During this Reset

Because I am not doing an extensive reset I am not going alter my exercise habits as much as I did in January.

I will probably do a gentle yoga flow today and Friday but my normal 45-minute run tomorrow. If I find that’s too strenuous, then I will just turn it into a 45-minute walk.

I don’t anticipate this being an extremely note-worthy reset, so I probably won’t reflect back on it anytime soon. I will be doing a run-down of my current health conditions on Friday and may include some final thoughts or feelings about this reset at the end of the post.

If anyone is thinking about beginning a healthier eating routine, doing a slight reset like this is a great way to get started. It’s quick, easy, and isn’t super oppressive. It’s a fantastic way to dip a toe into the healthier eating pond without feeling overwhelmed.


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“Leftover” Quinoa Stuffed Peppers

Quinoa is a power-protein seed and a favorite in our household.  But with any sort of “grain,” you can make too much of it by accident for a recipe or find that you have boring leftovers that need sprucing up.

I am a person that can’t have the same thing too many nights in a row, so when I have extra quinoa in the refrigerator, something needs to be done with it to make it interesting again.

With that in mind, below is a delicious vegan recipe I came up with to handle extra cooked quinoa. It’s also a fantastic make on its own – no need to wait for leftover quinoa.

Leave a comment with your thoughts and modifications to the recipe below.


“Leftover” Quinoa Stuffed Peppers

LeftoverQuinoaPepperspin

 

Serving Size: 6

Ingredients
3 large red peppers, sliced lengthwise and de-seeded
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 small white onion, finely chopped
1 Tablespoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt (omit if you are making low sodium)
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1 (14.5 ounces) can diced tomatoes, drained and juice reserved
1 Cup vegetable broth
1/2 Cup cooked quinoa
1 (16 ounces) can vegetarian refried beans
Large handful from 1 (5 ounces) package fresh spinach
1/4 Cup Nutritional Yeast (optional)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Using 1 Tablespoon of olive oil, coat the bottom of a 9 x 13-in glass baking dish and arrange the peppers with the skin down.
  2. Roast peppers in the preheated oven until tender for about 30 minutes. Dab the excess liquid that collects in the peppers with a paper towel. Leave the oven on.
  3. While the peppers are roasting, use the remaining olive oil, heat skillet over medium heat and cook the onion until translucent and softened. Add garlic, cumin, salt, black pepper, and chili powder to the onion; cook and stir until fragrant (about 1 minute).
  4. Mix in tomatoes, vegetable broth, and cooked quinoa to the onion mixture; stirring occasionally. Cook until everything is heated through (about 6 minutes) and some of the liquid has cooked off.
  5. Stir in refried beans and cook until the beans incorporated into the mixture (about 3 minutes). You want this to have a thick consistency (not too soupy), but you also don’t want it to be too dry, so allow to simmer for a few minutes or add in reserved tomato juice to get the desired consistency.
  6. Add in spinach, stir until it just wilts. Remove from heat.
  7. Spoon the mixture into the roasted red peppers, top with nutritional yeast.
  8. Bake in the oven until the pepper gets crispy around the cut portions, about 20 minutes.

 

Notes

  • To reduce the spice level, use only 1/4 teaspoon of chili powder.
  • To increase the spice level, add a chopped, deseeded jalapeno to Step 4.
  • Add in 1 Cup of frozen sweet corn to step 5 with the refried beans to get a sweet contrast.
  • To make non-vegan version: substitute chicken broth and a shredded Mexican cheese blend for the vegetable broth and nutritional yeast respectively. Add any chopped leftover chicken as well.
  • Leftover white or brown rice will work as a nice substitute for the quinoa.

Nutrition Facts
Serving size: 1 pepper half
1 Serving: 170 Calories; Fat: 6 g; Sat. Fat: 1 g; Protein: 7 g; Fiber: 7 g

Bonus Recipe – Vegan Nachos

This recipe will leave you extra filling for 3 more peppers. If you don’t want to make another batch:

Ingredients
Leftover quinoa stuffing
1 (4.5 ounces) chopped green chilies, drained
Tortilla Chips
Vegan cheese good for melting (or shredded Mexican cheese blend)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 F. Line a baking pan with parchment paper and top with a layer of tortilla chips.
  2. Mix in green chilies to the quinoa mixture.  Just before putting into the oven, sprinkle a layer of the stuffing and top with your favorite vegan cheese.
  3. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the cheese has melted. Serve with your favorite salsa.

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Photo Credit: Michelle Melton Photography