Showing posts with label cooking. Show all posts
Showing posts with label cooking. Show all posts

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Book Review: The 3-Day Reset by Pooja Mottl


Title: The 3-Day Reset
Author: Pooja Mottl
Publisher: Seal Press
Publication Date: April 29, 2014
Source: copy received for honest review through TLC Book Tours

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

Eating healthy can be a struggle. It’s hard to pick broccoli and brown rice over hot, cheesy pizza, and 21- or 28-day diets often ask you to cut out different foods all at once, leaving you feeling deprived.

In 3-Day Resets, Pooja Mottl outlines 10 different ways to change your cravings and start eating whole, healthy foods—foods that are also delicious—three days at a time. Each reset takes 72 hours to complete and consists of three simple steps, which means you’ll be able to stay focused on healthy eating.

“Awareness” resets target your consumption of certain ingredients like sugar, wheat, and salt.

“Discovery” resets teach you new ways to drink beverages (including tea) and eat chocolate, yogurt, and chicken.

“Change” resets shift how you view eating breakfast, salads, and take-out.

Packed with delicious recipes and nutritional information to support why you should eat whole foods like quinoa instead of processed, frozen, or packaged foods, 3-Day Resets will set you on the path to healthy eating… and help you stay there for good.


My Review:
This book review is going to be a bit different than my others.  You may remember my "teaser" post about this book back in May.  Since then, I've read the book and actually tried one of the resets for myself--because what better way to review it, than to actually do it??  As a result, I'm going to take you through my experience with the 3 Day Reset that I tried (sugar!) and let that frame my commentary on the book.  I will detail one full day of the reset, and then summarize the other two (for length's sake!).

Just to remind you what this reset entailed: cut out ALL refined sugar for three days.  The purpose is not to have you give up processed sugar for the rest of your life.  Instead, it's meant to show you how your body can react (in positive ways) to less refined sugar.  According to Mottl, your taste buds should start to better appreciate the natural sugars in things like bananas, apples, etc. and make you less inclined to jump for candy, cookies, etc.  Plus, it will just make you more aware of what everyday foods contain sugar, because you'll be more conscious of it.  Mottl actually suggests using an 80/20 rule after the reset (eat without refined sugar 80% of the time, while the other 20% is your wiggle room).  In this day and age, it's very hard to subsist without any refined sugar EVER, and I'm glad the book acknowledges this.

Okay, so...3-Day Sugar Reset: GO!

I actually started this reset on May 27--the day after Memorial Day.  Why?  Because I ate TOTAL AND COMPLETE CRAP for the entire Memorial Day weekend.  What better time to reset my eating habits?  I topped it off with some pizza and wings for dinner on Monday night, then had 2 bite size pieces of Hershey's chocolate for dessert before saying siyonara to refined sugar for 3 whole days.

Let's talk for a quick minute about shopping for this reset.  I wanted to make a couple of the recipes that Mottl suggested (namely 2 desserts that do not include refined sugar), so I went to my beloved Wegman's to pick up the ingredients the night before.  This included dates, raw honey, Sucanat, coconut milk, and cacao powder.  It took me FOREVER to find them...I was going totally insane in the "Nature's Marketplace" area of the store for almost 45 minutes.  But I did find them, and now that I know where they are, hopefully they will be easier to find again,  Even though this was a total pain in the butt (and not at all something I could have done with the kids--thank goodness I was alone), I am glad that I got better acquainted with this area of the store.

Tuesday, May 27: I woke up at 5:30am to do my morning run.  Normally, I down 1/3 of a Clif bar and a bunch of water before a morning run, but the label on the Clif Bar said it contained organic cane syrup and a few other things that sounded an awful lot like sugar, so I skipped it (still not sure if that is OK for the reset or not?).  I ate some raw almonds instead.  Seemed to do the trick!

Breakfast was rough.  I normally eat a bowl of oats and honey cereal that is decidedly FULL of sugar.  Today, I switched it up and made scrambled eggs (for both me and Small Fry), topped with cheddar cheese, plus some strawberries on the side.  I was even super good and did away with the ketchup I normally dip my eggs in (has high fructose corn syrup).  I also had my morning cup of coffee, which I sweetened with Sucanat (dehydrated whole cane sugar) instead of table sugar.  I honestly didn't notice a flavor difference at all.

I had a peach for my morning snack.  This was a wake-up call, because normally I grab a pre-packaged cereal or granola bar when I am out and about with the kids, but that wasn't going to fly today.  Had to really make a conscious effort to avoid them!  Also, so hard not to automatically finish off Small Fry's snacks when he doesn't finish them.  It's amazing how much more conscious this made me of the things I absentmindedly stick in my mouth each day.

Lunch, another tough one.  I usually make a sandwich of some kind, but our bread has brown sugar in it!  So instead, I made this really yummy southwestern bean salad that I found a recipe for at Wegman's.  It was delicious, filled me up no problem, and made enough to have more tomorrow.  Score.

Afternoon snack: raisins.  I wanted chocolate in the worst way after lunch!!  This was definitely the hardest time of day for me to resist the sugary stuff.

Dinner, my husband was making chicken quesadillas, but the tortillas (and the taco sauce) had sugar in them.  So, he set aside my portion of the chicken and I put it on top of a big salad instead.  Which I dressed with oil-and-vinegar instead of my usual bottled balsamic vinagrette.

After dinner, I decided to try one of Pooja's suggested refined-sugar-free desserts.  I made a strawberry mousse, which consisted of strawberries, avocado, cacao powder, Sucanat, and coconut milk.  Throw it all in the blender and DONE.  It was SO GOOD.  My husband agreed, though Small Fry totally hated it.  Which made me a little sad, because I think when he heard "chocolate" and "dessert" his palate was totally expecting a Hershey's-type flavor.  I think he would have enjoyed this if he wasn't so accustomed to the processed sugar of regular chocolate.  Oh well.  Something to work on.

Day One: COMPLETE!

I won't give you as detailed of an analysis with the other two days (this post would be tooooo long), but I'll summarize it like this: the reset was good because it made me SO much more aware of how much sugar I eat on a daily basis (hint: way too much).  It also pushed me to start reaching for healthier snacks during the day, because that definitely showed itself to be my sugar-weakness (moreso than meal times).  That is a change that I was able to make long-term (still doing that now, a month later).

However--I found that a full switch to no processed sugar (even at an 80/20 ratio) was very difficult for me.  I think a lot of it is lifestyle--rushing around all day with two kids, one of whom is a VERY picky toddler (hi, the only vegetable he will willingly eat is a carrot, and that's only because Sven eats them in Frozen), makes it hard for me to avoid a lot of processed sugar.  If I'm being 100% honest, I just don't have it in me right now to research and try a bunch of new dinner recipes, which is what would have to happen for me to really follow this lifestyle change.  However, because the reset made me more conscious of the sugar issue, I am making a better effort to avoid the sugary "extras" in my meals (salad dressings, sauces, etc.).

Another thing to note: I didn't find that the reset turned me off to the overly-sweet nature of table sugar (as Mottl had said might happen).  My first day after the reset, I ate an Oreo expecting to feel nauseous afterwards.  But you know what?  I didn't.  It was good.  Oreos will always be good.  So that part definitely didn't happen for me...haha.

After reading through the rest of the resets, my guess is that (at least for me), my results would be similar.  The bottom line is this: I think that The 3-Day Reset is a great way to make you more conscious of your eating habits.  Even though I have not sworn off sugar for good, my reset made me more aware of the high amount of sugar I ate on a daily basis, and as a result, I have definitely made changes to my snacking habits.  That's a change that has been helpful and sustainable for me.  I also learned two new great recipes for desserts that I have occasionally turned to at night for something sweet, instead of my usual ice cream or cookies.  However, a lifestyle of 80% no sugar/20% sugar (recommended after completing the reset) is difficult for me to sustain--you will need to make a very conscious effort to do so, and I think if you combine this change with some of the other resets, you're going to find that your diet needs a major overhaul.  I think it would be a possibility if I was single, and had lots of time to grocery shop and avoid the foods in these resets (sugar, wheat, salt, etc), but I'm not and I don't.

Even if the results were not 100% for me, I definitely recommend giving The 3-Day Reset a try!  It helped me make some important changes to my diet, and its important reminders about eating whole foods have stuck with me long after I finished my reset.

As always, much thanks to Lisa and TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour!
Check out the other blogs on this book tour HERE.  And connect with Pooja Mottl on her websiteTwitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Book Review: Cooked by Michael Pollan


Title: Cooked
Author: Michael Pollan
Publisher: Penguin
Publication Date: April 23, 2013
Source: borrowed from the good ol' public library

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

In Cooked, Michael Pollan explores the previously uncharted territory of his own kitchen. Here, he discovers the enduring power of the four classical elements—fire, water, air, and earth—to transform the stuff of nature into delicious things to eat and drink. Apprenticing himself to a succession of culinary masters, Pollan learns how to grill with fire, cook with liquid, bake bread, and ferment everything from cheese to beer.

Each section of Cooked tracks Pollan’s effort to master a single classic recipe using one of the four elements. A North Carolina barbecue pit master tutors him in the primal magic of fire; a Chez Panisse trained cook schools him in the art of braising; a celebrated baker teaches him how air transforms grain and water into a fragrant loaf of bread; and finally, several mad-genius "fermentos” (a tribe that includes brewers, cheese makers, and all kinds of picklers) reveal how fungi and bacteria can perform the most amazing alchemies of all. The reader learns alongside Pollan, but the lessons move beyond the practical to become an investigation of how cooking involves us in a web of social and ecological relationships. Cooking, above all, connects us.

The effects of not cooking are similarly far reaching. Relying upon corporations to process our food means we consume large quantities of fat, sugar, and salt; disrupt an essential link to the natural world; and weaken our relationships with family and friends. In fact, Cooked argues, taking back control of cooking may be the single most important step anyone can take to help make the American food system healthier and more sustainable. Reclaiming cooking as an act of enjoyment and self-reliance, learning to perform the magic of these everyday transformations, opens the door to a more nourishing life.


My Review:

You've all heard me wax poetic about Michael Pollan in the past.  I find his nonfiction works about food to be endlessly fascinating.  If you've never read any of his stuff, probably his two most well-known books (other than this one) are The Omnivore's Dilemma, and In Defense of Food.  The Omnivore's Dilemma takes a close look at where our modern-day food comes from: everything from our organic (or is it?) produce, to the Cheetos in Aisle 5.  It's eye-opening (and somewhat disturbing) for sure.  On the flip side, In Defense of Food is about how we decide what to eat.  What does the American diet consist of, and is it really good for us?

I highly recommend reading those two books before jumping into Cooked.  Cooked is a great follow-up because as Pollan states in the intro, it bridges the gap between those other two subjects: he already wrote about where food comes from, and what we choose to eat, but what about the way that food gets to the table?  How do we prepare it...and why?  That's what Cooked attempts to examine.

The book is divided into 4 chapters: Fire (grilling/barbecue), Water (braising/pot meals), Air (bread making), and Earth (fermentation, such as pickling and beer brewing).  Pollan argues that lot of our meals these days are ready-made by corporations: frozen dinners, boxed cereals, instant mashed potatoes, etc.  What people define as "cooking" these days is iffy at best...and I'll admit it, I say that I "cooked" dinner on a night when I boiled up a pot of pasta and threw a glop of Ragu on top.  Is that really cooking though?  Wouldn't cooking be a more apt description if I made the noodles, or crushed up the tomatoes for the sauce?  Pollan attempts to get back to the basics with these four methods of cooking--methods that a lot of us have outsourced to the food service industry in the last 50-ish years.

I was enthralled by every chapter, but unexpectedly, the one that got most of my attention was the last  (Earth, or fermentation).  I honestly thought this one would drag a little bit for me.  I'm not particularly interested in pickling, and I'm familiar with brewing already because my husband has done it, so I figured I wouldn't glean much from that section.  However, Pollan includes a deep discussion about how "fermentos" (a subculture of fermenters that believe in using natural (ie not sanitized) fermentation processes to make things like sauerkraut, pickles, cheese, etc) are adamant about the health benefits of their products.  In the world of antibacterial hand soap and throwing out any cheese with the smallest dot of blue fuzz on it, many of us have lost the "good" bacteria in our GI tracts that we need in order to digest things well and ward off infections.  He makes some really great, well-researched points, and I found myself reading half the chapter aloud to my husband ("listen to THIS part, OMG you will thank me later for enlightening you!").

The book as a whole will make you feel smarter, while also providing some entertainment.  Pollan found a person (or several people) in each chapter to help him try his hand at their cooking techniques, often with unexpected results.  (And often with delicious results...prepare to feel voracious after reading.)  His personal experiences, paired with the historical and scientific information he has gathered, makes for an excellent read.

Have I hooked you yet?  Cooked is an awesome nonfiction pick for anyone interested in the food they prepare.  At the very least, it will inspire you to look at your oven in a whole new way.  You do have to be prepared for some history lessons, as well as some food science, but they're mixed so seamlessly into the rest of the narrative that I doubt you'll be bothered.

Now then...off to perfect my braising technique.

Have you read any of Pollan's books?  What did you think?

Thursday, April 25, 2013

(Cook)Book Review: Weelicious by Catherine McCord



Title: Weelicious
Author: Catherine McCord
Publisher: William Morrow
Publication Date: September 18, 2012
Source: borrowed from the good ol' public library

Summary from Goodreads:

Every parent knows how difficult it is to get to get kids eating happily and healthily. Catherine McCord has the answer: Weelicious. Creator of the wildly popular blog Weelicious.com, Catherine, who honed her cooking skills at Manhattan's Institute of Culinary Education, strongly believes in the "one family/one meal" idea--preparing a single, scrumptious meal the entire family can sit down and enjoy together rather than having to act as "short order cook" for kids who each want something different. In Weelicious, she offers dozens of recipes and tips for creating quick, easy, healthy, and fun food that moms, dads, and young children of any age will absolutely adore--from the most persnickety infants to the pickiest grade-schoolers.

My Review:

When I started this blog, I never thought I would review a cookbook.  Mostly because I don't read cookbooks--I may look through them for a good recipe now and then, but I don't read the intros or pour through all the recipes or anything like that.  Also, let's remember that I am, for the most part, utterly hopeless in the kitchen.

However, after continuous battles with Small Fry (aka World's Pickiest Eater), someone mentioned Weelicious to me and I decided to read it, back to front.  Because I'm willing to try anything at this point.  I had never been to weelicious.com, but I knew about it and had heard a few raves.  Catherine McCord is supposed to be the guru of curing Picky Toddler syndrome, and I hoped she could help me out.

Small Fry cheerfully dismantles the Huevos Rancheros I made for him.  Mother is not pleased.
The philosophy of Weelicious is that you should get your kids involved with food/cooking in your house as early as possible.  You would hate it if you never got to choose what you ate for a meal, right?  If it was just plunked down in front of you three times a day?  That's what most kids experience with their parents (something that never occurred to me before, but yes, I'll concede that point).  Catherine McCord suggests fixing this dynamic in a few ways.  For example, letting your kids assist with grocery shopping, or press the button on the food processor, or choose between two different meal options for dinner that night.

McCord does NOT advocate the philosophy that a lot of other parents have suggested to me:  hiding vegetables in other food (like making brownies but mixing carrots/broccoli/whatever in the batter).  She says that this is deceitful and that we should treat our kids with more honesty than this method suggests.  Okay, I get that too, and I'll admit I've tried this a few times (rarely with favorable results anyway).  I also like her reminder that just because YOU don't like a food, doesn't mean your kid won't--so add variety to their diet by letting them try everything.

Also (I know, I'm recapping everything for you here, but there is so much to share!), McCord has a section debunking the "my kid only eats chicken nuggets!"-type myths.  Your kid only eats those things if you make them available.  I will admit I have totally fallen into this trap before, with things like mac n cheese and fish sticks.  The book reminded me that Small Fry WILL eat other things, as long as I don't resort to these easy options every time he gets persnickety.

Before the recipes, McCord has a large section that talks about the importance of buying organic as much as possible, something that I understand and believe in, but I continue to maintain (despite McCord's claims otherwise) that it is near-impossible to feed a family affordably if you buy all organic.  However, I like the spirit of her message and I do think it's good to keep it in mind as much as feasibly possible.

So what about the recipes?

Well, I made a point of trying quite a few of them during my 4-week loan of the book from the library. Some went over GREAT with Small Fry--others, not so much.  He was a particular fan of the Stuffed French Toast, as well as the pasta with Sun-Dried Tomato and Basil Pesto (which is REALLY FREAKING DELICIOUS and easy to make).  Hubs and I loved the Shrimp Tacos, but Small Fry was not a fan (picked out all the shrimp...sigh).
Stuffed French Toast = NOMS
Some of the recipes were okay, but lacked flavor, in my opinion--the Brown Rice and Veggie Casserole was good, but a little bland.  Same goes for the Slow Cooker Apple Streusel Oatmeal, and the Oatmeal On The Go Bars.  They were good, but in McCord's quest to keep extra sugar out of the recipes, you get kind of a bland outcome.  I ended up adding some brown sugar to the streusel oatmeal, and topping the oatmeal bars with some raspberry preserves to liven them up.

Overall: Weelicious did not completely cure Small Fry's finicky food preferences.  He still picks everything green off his plate with brain-surgeon-like precision.  And I don't necessarily think that all of McCord's suggestions for rehabbing your kid's eating habits are as easy as she makes them sound.  However, this did give me some great suggestions for how to include him in the kitchen, and add more variety to his diet.  I've been really good about not running to the mac n cheese every time he throws a fit, and that alone is a win for me.  I'd say that if you have a picky eater in your household, Weelicious is worth a perusal--you might find a few new, healthy go-to meals for your kiddos!

Other reviews of Weelicious:
Reading For Sanity
Fed Up With Lunch
Cafe Johnsonia

Do you have any favorite cookbooks?  Or really smart ways to get my son to eat green things?

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Well-Read Redhead's 2013 Resolutions

Happy 2013, readers!!  Here's hoping for a fun and exciting new year!

It's time to review my resolutions for 2012 and see how I did.  These were the resolutions that I posted on my old pre-book blog.  Many of them are not book-related, but hey, that just means you get to know me a little better.  Who doesn't want that, AMIRIGHT?

The Well-Read Redhead's 2012 Resolutions: Pass or Fail?

1. Read at least 50 books: PASS!
According to Goodreads, I hit 59 books this year (not including kid books).  Sa-weet.

2. Run a 5k and a 10k: PASS!
I ran a 5k (with my personal best time for the course at 28:10) in June, and a 10k (first time ever, time of 57:17) in September.

3. Keep up with Small Fry's baby scrapbook through his first birthday: mostly PASS!
When I'm not reading, I'm scrapbooking.  I created Small Fry's own first-year scrapbook, rather than buying a pre-printed one at the store.  I'm happy to report that I only have 5 pages left (out of like 40 pages, I am not joking, so this is a big deal).  I am hoping to finish them in January, which means I will have it done only 6 months after his 1st birthday.  **pats self on back**

4. Be a level-headed momma: semi-PASS?
On the spectrum of anxious people, I am somewhere between your mom and this SNL skit:
And motherhood is an easy place to ride the anxiety train, which is why I set this goal for myself.  I think I did just okay with this resolution.  Being a mom has its inevitable stressful times (OMG SMALL FRY, NO MORE FOOD ON THE WALL, FOR THE LOVE), and overall my crying-freak-out episodes were pretty spread out.  I think I managed so-so.  Could be better.  Will continue to work on this.

5. Do as many fun family activities as possible: PASS!
I am obsessed with finding fun activities for the three of us to do, especially because I am home with Small Fry 2 days a week in addition to the weekends.  I think I did pretty well with this.  We did a Music Together class, as well as swimming lessons.  We did a really fun family vacation to the Outer Banks, and lots of good weekend activities like apple picking, playing at the park, farm trips, playdates, library story time, etc.  Small Fry is at a fun age and I want to keep active with him as much as possible!

6. Attempt to complete the 52 Weeks to an Organized Home Challenge: mega FAIL!
Yeah, this sounded like a great idea last January.  Three weeks in, I had a clean pantry and junk drawer and I was DONE.  I should have seen that coming...52 weeks of organizing?  Was I insane?

And now...

The Well-Read Redhead's 2013 Resolutions
both book-related and not

1. Read at least 60 books, and complete the challenges I signed up for.
If I did 59 this year, I think this is an attainable goal.

2. Mix in some varied content with my book reviews.
I started this blog mainly for reviews, but I want to mix it up a little more this year.  Some discussion posts, interviews, etc.  Still mainly reviews, but with some fun stuff mixed in.  (Feel free to email me if there is something specific you'd like to see!)

3. Manage my computer/phone time better.
Ever since I started the blog, I've found it increasingly easy to check my email, sift through my Google Reader, edit a review, etc. at random times of day...yes, sometimes inadvertently cutting into family time.  Which I don't want.  So I'm going to be better about making specific computer/iPhone time, rather than doing it randomly throughout the day.  Damn you, technology, for being so accessible.

4. Eat (and cook) with more variety, and more healthfully.
I am a horrible cook.  Like, really horrible.  Which I know is weird, because I am a bit of a foodie and love reading about food.  I just can't make it myself.  My parents' favorite story is when I was 12 years old, and I called my mom at work to ask her what boiling water looked like.  (I was making mac n cheese and had literally no idea.)  Things have not gotten much better since then.
My husband's cooking skills have carried us up to this point, but I need to do better here.  Especially because Small Fry seems to be becoming a picky eater.  I really want to be able to make a wider variety of (healthy!) food for him, so that he isn't stuck eating the same things over and over.  This is going to be an insanely hard goal for me, but I'm going to try to both become a better cook, and add more variety to our diets.  Pray for me.

5. Print photobooks of our past family photos.
I used to print actual prints and put them in photo albums, but I haven't done that in years.  I would like to print photo books from 2009 on, but I haven't taken the time to sit down and choose the pictures.  Really want to make a dent in that this year.

6. Work on my upper body and ab strength.
Every past year, my workout goals have been about running.  But I'm in a good groove with running now, so my new goal is to focus on strength.  I just started 30 Day Shred, and it showed me how spaghetti-like my arms have become.  Plus, my abs never really recovered their strength after Small Fry was born.  So these are two areas I want to work on this year.

Okay, that's it!  You heard 'em here first.  Now, what are YOUR resolutions for 2013??
 
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