Shaved Fennel Salad

Hey hey,

For years I have seen people on cooking shows make fennel salads and it all looks so fun and different, but I had never done it before.  UNTIL NOW.  I was surprised at the taste – it’s a little bit sweet, but still yummy.  It definitely added a unique flavor.  Kinda fun to try and I want to do it again with a different dressing.

Oh and don’t mind the photos- I went a little overboard with the feta cheese. 🙂


Shaved Fennel Salad (original recipe from

  • 1 medium-large zucchini, sliced into paper thin coins
  • 2 small fennel bulbs, trimmed and shaved paper-thin
  • 2/3 cup loosely chopped fresh dill
  • 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice, plus more if needed
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more if needed
  • fine grain sea salt
  • 4 or 5 generous handfuls arugula
  • Honey, if needed
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted (I used almonds)
  • 1/3 cup  feta cheese, crumbled

Combine the zucchini, fennel and dill in a bowl and toss with the lemon juice, olive oil and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Set aside and marinate for 20 minutes, or up to an hour.

When you are ready to serve the salad, put the arugula in a large bowl. Scoop all of the zucchini and fennel onto the arugula, and pour most of the lemon juice dressing on top of that. Toss gently but thoroughly. Taste and adjust with more of the dressing, olive oil, lemon juice, or salt if needed. If the lemons were particularly tart, you may need to counter the pucker-factor by adding a tiny drizzle of honey into the salad at this point. Let your taste buds guide you. Serve topped with pine nuts and feta.

Serves 4 to 6.



From the Garden: Sauteed Veggie Pasta

We’re back We’re back We’re back We’re back We’re back!!!!  We took a red-eye flight from New York back home, and less than 48 hours later we drove 10 hours to San Diego.  We are finally home and I am officially sick of traveling.  I came home to find a beautiful, humongous garden bursting with fruits and veggies in our backyard (our landlords have amazing greenthumbs).  We have plums, pumpkin, watermelon, tomatoes, tomatillos, zucchini, corn, carrots, beets, cucumbers, peaches, etc. etc.  I am in heaven.   There is so much food I literally cannot pick it and eat it fast enough.  Tonight I had no plan for dinner, so I just went out to the garden and picked what was ripe and then tried to figure out what to do with it.  I ended up with zucchini, tomato, corn, and cucumbers.  I put some olive oil in a pan, added garlic and onion, and sautéed the zucchini, and tomato til they were nice and flavorful.  Meanwhile I boiled some pasta, and added corn on the cob for the last 2 minutes.  I threw it all together with some salt and pepper, tossed in a few sun-dried tomatoes and sprinkled some parmesan cheese on top and we had a perfect meal!  For some reason I never think to put veggies over pasta, but it totally works.  Such a yummy meal and we got so many veggies in!  I also sliced up the cucumber and cut up some honeydew.  Man I love summer.  What am I going to do when all this yummy produce is gone?

Book Summary – The China Study, Part 1 Continued

Chapter 4:  Lessons from China

  • In the early 1970’s a survey was conducted in the entire country of China, which revealed that cancer was geographically localized.  In some areas, cancer rates were 100 times the rates of the lower areas (in the U.S. we see at most 2 to 3 times, so 100 times is enormous).
  • Why?  This was the beginning of “The China Study.”
  • In the USA, 15-16% of total calories comes from protein (80% of that protein is animal protein), and in rural China, only 9-10% total calories come from protein (only 10% of that is from animal sources).
  • The Chinese are consuming an average of 2641 calories, with 14.5% fat, and Americans are consuming 1989 calories with 38% fat.   The Chinese eat higher calories, less fat, less protein, less animal protein, more fiber, and more iron.
  • Diseases of Affluence (Nutritional Extravagance): Cancer, Diabetes, Coronary Heart Disease
  • Diseases of Poverty (Nutritional Inadequacy and Poor Sanitation):Pneumonia, Ulcers, Digestive Diseases, Tuberculosis, Parasitic Diseases, Rheumatic Heart Disease.  Notice no cancer!
  • One of the strongest predictors of Western Diseases (diseases of affluence) is blood cholesterol.
  • Lower blood cholesterol levels are linked to lower rates of heart disease, cancer, and other western diseases.
  • Many prominent heart doctors have never seen a heart disease fatality among their patients with a blood cholesterol level below 150.
  • Nutrients from plant-based foods are associated with decreasing levels of blood cholesterol.
  • There is a lot of confusion among scientists regarding questions with dietary fat – how much, what kind, Omega-6 or 3, what kinds of oils are okay, etc.  When details are studied in isolation, results can be misleading.  We need to look at how networks of chemicals behave instead.
  • Only 2-3% of all cancers are attributed to genes.  The rest are strongly influenced by diet.
  • There is an interesting relationship with dietary fat and breast cancer.  Higher fat can influence early menstruation, high cholesterol, late menopause, and higher exposure to female hormones.  This can extend the reproductive life from beginning to end by 9-10 years.  This extra decade of exposure to hormones can greatly influence a woman’s risk of breast cancer.
  • A large survey in China revealed that the average age of a woman’s first period was 15-19 years old.  In America, the average age is 11.
  • The more colorful your produce, the higher antioxidant levels, which shield you from free-radicals (cancer-causing agents).
  • Again, the benefits do not lie in an individual nutrient or mineral, but in the whole food.
  • Don’t reach for a vitamin.  Eat it in a fruit or vegetable instead.
  • The Atkins diet reaks havoc on your system.  Don’t do it.
  • The low-carb diet craze is unfortunate.  Carbs are our friends.  Just make sure they are from fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.    Many people think they are eating a healthy vegetarian diet by eating lots of pastas, highly processed crackers and chips, white flour, etc.  This is the reason carbs have gotten a bad rap.  That is the stuff that puts on weight and doesn’t add nutritional value.
  • Chinese are more physically active than Americans.  Their calorie intake is 30% higher, yet their body weight is 20% lower.
  • They are eating the right foods (plant-based protein, fruits, vegetables, whole grains) and riding their bikes!

Granola Grocery Shopping On A Budget

I’m not ashamed to admit that I am a tight-wad.  Sometimes I look back on things and think, “Wow, was it really important that I saved that $15 and opted out of lunch with my friends?” Or something to that effect.  Anyway, there is of course a healthy balance, but I am pretty frugal.  So naturally I don’t like to spend a lot at the grocery store.  It’s no secret that eating healthy costs a bit more than it otherwise would.  It used to make me so mad as a college student that my options for spending a dollar on lunch were either one orange, or a couple tacos at taco bell.  It’s a major issue that has a long way to go before it gets better, and unfortunately we just have to kind of swallow the cost.  When I got on this health kick, I had to decide what I thought was most important.  Did an extra $20 mean that much more to me that I would give up our current and future health?  In my case, no.  And you have to weigh the cost yourself.  I’m not here to talk anyone into anything, or to judge, or scold.  I am merely offering what has worked for ME, in hopes that it might help someone out there.  You have to do what works for YOU and your unique situation.  When you are ready, you will know.

Anyway, I am not sure what others spend per week, but my plan has changed over the past few months.  When we lived in NY we spent about $80 per week, but we only had 2 adults (and The Mr. ate on the company a lot), a toddler, and a nursing baby.  But NOW, I feel like I live with three teenage boys.  We eat a LOT of food.  I mean, a LOT.  Sometimes I will go to the store, and by the next night I feel like all the food in our house is gone.  Our current food budget hovers between $350 and $400 for a family of 4.  Honestly, I don’t know if that is good, bad, or average, but that’s what we spend.  It gives me enough room to buy mostly whole ingredients, lots of organic, and tons of produce, and not feel guilty about it.  There are times when I pay more, if we have company, parties, special occasions, etc. I’m still trying to adjust the budget and the process I use, but so far, these are my philosophies.

+ Eat in Season:  In the past I would flip through cookbooks trying to decide what sounded good to me, and then make a list and go shopping.  After shopping at farmers markets and Bountiful Baskets this year, I discovered that produce in season tastes significantly better than off-season…and it’s cheaper!

+ Shop the sales:  Before making a menu, I look at the grocery store circulars or online to see what specials they are running, and then try to look up recipes that have those as the main ingredients.  This is a big time money saver.

+ Go vegetarian:  We try to eat meat only once a week or less.  So far, it’s been working great.  The hardest part is finding menu ideas, but once you get going it gets easier.  This week we’ve had 5 dinners all with vegetables as the main course.  I’m learning so much about foods I’ve never even touched in the past, and discovering a whole new world of flavor.

+ Shop the Perimeter:  Not only are the healthier foods in the perimeter grocery stores, but it saves money too.  Produce, Grains, Dairy, etc. – It’s mostly food in its natural form.  I do venture into the middle to get some things like peanut butter or maple syrup, but for the most part, the processed stuff I loved in the past I am learning to make from scratch.

+ Use What is In the House:  There is nothing I hate more than throwing food away.  Not only do I feel bad about wasting it, the cheapskate in me is crying that it wasted my money.  At least once a day I am looking through the fridge and the pantry seeing what is about to go bad.  Once a week or so we have a random last-minute dinner that was made from something about to spoil.  Tonight it was breakfast burritos with veggies, because my peppers and potatoes and tomatoes were all about to bite the dust.  I’ve found that if I always have a few items on hand, I can whip up several last-minute things (see below).  I also take an inventory before shopping, in case I have something I need to use up, and then try to incorporate that into a menu that week.

+  Keep several items on hand:  I usually try to keep the following items in the house for last-minute meals.

  • chicken or vegetable stock
  • limes and lemons
  • a variety grains
  • rice
  • tomatoes
  • tomato sauce
  • pasta
  • coconut milk
  • a large variety of spices and herbs
  • oils and butter
  • peppers
  • onions
  • garlic
  • frozen veggies

Most basic recipes won’t ask for more than that, and if they do, you can usually find a way to manipulate it.

Only plan 4 meals:  This is my best kept secret.  We always have leftovers, and we eat it the next night.  Even eating this way, one of my planned meals usually ends up spilling over to the next week, because I didn’t end up making it.

+ Rice and Beans go a ridiculously long way:  I make rice and beans once a week as a rule.  It goes a long way, and we usually have leftovers for the next 2-3 days.

That’s pretty much it.  I try not to go back to the store the rest of the week, and in the event that I ran out of food or had one of those crazy hectic days (anyone?) I use my list of emergency meals:

  • pancakes or waffles
  • burritos (you can always put something into a burrito).
  • spaghetti
  • grilled cheese
  • stir fry (from frozen veggies)

That’s it for my tips in frugal healthy grocery shopping.  Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and a wonderful weekend!


Processed Foods Defined

I’ve been writing a good deal about this stuff since my 30-day challenge, and I’ve gotten some questions about what my definition of a processed food is.  It’s a complicated question, but here is the process I go through and my philosophy on it all:

1.  Eat food as close to its natural form as possible

The less steps from natural form to your house, the better.  Like if you buy whole wheat flour, it has gone through two steps when the wheat germ was removed and the wheat kernels were ground into flour.  Would I like to buy my own wheat kernels (or better yet grow it in the backyard) and harvest and grind it?  Yes, but it isn’t possible at the moment.  I have to take second best.  More thoughts on the matter:

  • Example:  Corn Chex – What is the natural form?  Corn.  It’s had to go through many many stages to get made into that waffled square, even though it is considered a “healthy” cereal.  Many things were added, many things taken away, many things altered.
  • Example:  Produce –  This is a seemingly easy one.  Obviously an apple’s original form is an apple.  But then think about this…Was it an apple picked from an orchard just a few miles from the store, or was it an apple genetically-engineered to grow larger/faster, sprayed with toxic chemicals, picked green, and ripened on a truck?  Kinda frustrating isn’t it?   This is why I love farmers markets and backyard gardens.
  • Dairy products:  This kind of falls in the same boat as produce.  What is the natural form of cheese?  milk.  Pretty good in my book.  But now I am starting to think about what KIND of cow it came from and what that cow ate, and how it was raised.
  • I don’t have a farm so i am forced to buy some packaged things.  Even buying something very close to its natural form, like peanut butter has to be processed and packaged at a plant.  Which brings me to my next point.  When you have to buy a processed food (meaning bought in a package of some sort) make sure that…

2.  The ingredients on the label are real foods.  No additives or preservatives or things you cannot pronounce.

  • Example:  Bread – Do you know the ingredients of homemade bread?  Flour, Yeast, Salt, Oil, and Honey or Sugar.  Compare that with Sara Lee’s 100% whole wheat bread.  Water, Stone Ground Whole Wheat Flour, Wheat Gluten, Cottonseed Fiber, Yeast, Brown Sugar, Salt, Vegetable Oil (Soybean Oil, and/or Cottonseed Oil), Yeast Nutrients (Monocalcium Phosphate, Calcium Sulfate, Ammonium Sulfate), Dough Conditioners (May Contain One or More of the Following Mono and Diglycerides, Ethoxylated Mono and Diglycerides, Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate, Calcium Peroxide), Honey, Wheat Bran, Wheat Protein Isolate, Sulfiting Agents, Vinegar, Natural Flavor, Soy Lecithin, Guar Gum, Sucralose, Cornstarch, L-Cysteine, Sorbic Acid, and Calcium Propionate (Preservatives).  Wow.  This would be considered a “healthy” food by most people.  But what exactly are we consuming?  To be honest, I am not really sure…
  • I think you get the idea here.  Packaged, boxed items that are considered “food”  but that contain mostly manufactured ingredients.

During this challenge, I’ve been trying to make from scratch a lot of things I would normally buy like bread or crackers.  We have all felt wonderful during these last several days.

I’ve made an executive decision, however.  The challenge will now be shortened due to the holidays.  I love the challenge, and I am going to do it again, several times (join in!), but there are just too many traditions that I want the kiddos to be able to participate in, i.e. gingerbread houses, hot chocolate, and candy canes.  It’s the holidays!!  No, we won’t go crazy, and we will continue to limit the processed foods, but a little indulgence this time of year is okay in my book.  You understand.  SO having said that, our last day will be this Friday.  It will have been a 2 week challenge (a very AWESOME two weeks).  Looking forward to the next one.

Fried Green Tomatoes?

The only bad thing about autumn is the end of the gorgeous summer produce, especially in our garden outside.  I loooooove working in the garden.  Most people dream about their big fancy future house – the layout, the big bedrooms, the decor, the special features, the tree-lined driveway, etc.  Although I do dream of a big fancy kitchen, I mostly just dream about a future garden.  Nerd alert!  I am so excited to plant all kinds of yummy fruit trees and vegetables and to take care of them like they are my little babies.  For now it’s just a dream, but there IS a nice garden outside where we are currently living.  It’s gotten pretty cold here so we had to salvage what we could from the tomato plants.  Green, green, and more green.  All I thought you could do with them is fry them or toss em out.  BUT my friend came to the rescue when her mother-in-law (the master gardener) said to just put them in a sunny window and they will turn red all throughout the winter.  I was SUPER skeptical.  But I gave it a try anyway.

What in the world??? It totally works!  Here is a picture just a week later.

Look at those red babies!  And I didn’t even have to do a single thing (except take these tomatoes out of Tornado’s mouth every 3 seconds).  I can’t wait to use these bad boys up!  It makes me wonder about tomatoes in the store though…well all produce, actually.  Do they pick everything really green and then ripen them up in a window somewhere before they ship them out?  Probably.  It’s okay though.  In a few years I will have a little garden of Eden out back, and that’s where you’ll find me growing my own bright red tomatoes.  Until then, I am so glad I learned this trick!

The Great Debate

Organic vs. Non-organic.  It’s the million dollar question.  Non-organic produce is prettier and bigger and doesn’t have bugs in it. BUT it’s been sprayed with poison.  Organic produce is usually more expensive, smaller, uglier, and often has little worms or bugs, but no toxins.  The scary thing for me is that we don’t know what kind of damage pesticides are doing to us. Are they causing cancers or other physical and mental ailments?  We just don’t know…  There are lots of differing opinions out there and it is an evolving issue in that pesticide regulations and FDA regulations keep changing and we keep finding out more.  I’m reading Dr. Weil’s book right now (on my sidebar) and he is all about whole foods, so I was curious to see what he said.

On page 58: “What about pesticide residues? Should [we] be worried? In a word, yes.”  He goes on to explain about the heavy chemicals and poisons that are sprayed on crops and that we still don’t know the long term effects of them.  Although washing produce, even with soap or special pesticide removers (don’t waste your money) gets a little bit off the outside, many chemicals are sprayed on fruits and veggies during germination so it gets into the roots and into the flesh of the produce.  In this case there is no amount of peeling or washing that can get it out.

The good news is that many fruits and veggies are considered “clean”  in that the pesticides can’t get through the thick skins, or they are not sprayed while growing.  You might have heard of the “dirty dozen” and the “clean fifteen.”

Here they are:

Dirty Dozen (as in try to get these organic if you can)

  • Apples
  • Bell Peppers
  • Celery
  • Cherries
  • Imported Grapes (U.S. grown is ok)
  • Nectarines
  • Peaches
  • Pears
  • Potatos
  • Raspberries
  • Spinach
  • Strawberries

Clean Fifteen (limited exposure to pesticides)

  • Onions
  • Avocados
  • Sweet corn
  • Pineapples
  • Mango
  • Sweet peas
  • Asparagus
  • Kiwi fruit
  • Cabbage
  • Eggplant
  • Cantaloupe
  • Watermelon
  • Grapefruit
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Sweet onions

The summer is so amazing because of all the local farmers markets and fresh produce stands.  Local produce really does taste so much better. There is an organic farm just a mile from my house and their peaches are like candy.  I seriously couldn’t get enough and neither could my kids.  Grocery stores get lots of their produce from California or Florida or a million miles away, so they pick it before it’s ripe so it doesn’t spoil during the truck ride.

Here is a regular tomato from the grocery store:

And one from my garden (no spray):

Look how RED it is. I can guarantee you it was 10 times tastier.  And better for us.

Bottom line: Do what you can.  At least try to steer clear of the dirty dozen. Buy local or grow your own when possible.  Don’t stress about the rest.

The end.