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Finally, a Purpose for Ridiculously Tiny Crockpots!

As a person who can never turn down free kitchen gadgets from friends who are moving or trying to get rid of clutter, I have assembled a collection of those 16 ounce “Little Dipper” crockpots for ants that come free with the normal size crockpots.  Each time I accept another free tiny crockpot, it is wrapped in the original packaging, which means that my friend never used it in all the years they had it in their possession.  Despite this, I get visions in my head of an amazing Mexican-themed dinner party with several flavors of homemade cheese dip being kept warm in the little baby crockpots, all snuggled in a row.  Well, after 2 years of storing a family of tiny crockpots still in their original packaging in my cabinet, I have finally come up with a daily use for them – making oatmeal!

My husband leaves for work pretty early and I always want to send him off with a warm breakfast (especially during the winter when it gets down below 70 degrees here in Honolulu at night – freezing!) but there’s no way that this pregnant lady with a toddler is going to get up early enough to make something fresh for my hard working honey.  He really loves oatmeal and it’s actually quite a healthy and filling breakfast if it’s prepared properly by soaking before cooking to reduce levels of phytic acid (a nutrient blocker that makes grain difficult to digest).  Here’s what I do:

  • Place 1/4 to 1/2 cup of oats in the crockpot and add twice as much water.  I like to use steel cut Irish oatmeal but just get whatever you can find at the store that seems the least processed.  If you are a gluten-free person make sure the oats are labeled as “gluten free” because many times, oats and gluten-containing grains are processed on the same equipment so there is cross-contamination.    Gauge how much you soak based on how much cooked oatmeal you want – using 1/4 cup of oats will expand to about a cup cooked, and 1/2 cup will expand to about 2 cups.  If you have time, let this soak for a few hours.  I like to put this on before I make dinner since I’m in the kitchen anyway.  Once in a while I don’t have time for this step so I skip right to the next one and my husband seems to survive okay!
  • After the initial soak, dump out this water and then add about 3 parts of water to 1 part of soaked oats.  You can also add a dash of buttermilk or whey if you have it to help make the oats even more digestible.  I add a pinch of Celtic salt at this stage to increase the mineral content, and a dash of cinnamon so the kitchen smells warm and comforting when my husband wakes up to eat.
  • Plug in your tiny crockpot and let cook overnight!
  • In the morning, mix with any toppings that make you happy to be awake: butter from grassfed cows, coconut milk, minimally processed cow’s milk or cream, chopped raw nuts, raisins, dried cranberries, raw honey, shredded unsweetened coconut, chopped dates, apple sauce, protein powder – whatever your heart desires.  If you’re more of a savory person, you can also mix an egg and some bacon or sausage in for a salty pudding reminiscent of a big hairy Irish man.
  • Fill crockpot with water to soak so it’s easy to clean up and use for the next day, unless you’re like me and have several tiny crockpots that can be switched out so there’s no hurry to clean up the used one and it can just sit on the counter taking up space and waiting to be washed.  Not that I ever do that.

If any of you readers out there have uses for tiny crockpots (other than cheese dip, I figured that one out already) please share them in the comments section!  I love finding new and exciting uses for all my kitchen gadgets.

December 7, 2011   2 Comments

The Health Benefits of Capers

Nothing says “I’m better than you” like cooking with capers.  Most people either love or hate the flavor of those salty little green pellets, but no matter what, if you serve them at a dinner party and someone complains about it you can very aristocratically say “That’s okay, not everyone has refined enough tastes to enjoy the delicate nuances of capers” while gracefully adjusting your tiara.  This is especially helpful when the dinner party consists only of you, your  husband (who does not appreciate capers, by the way), and your toddler.  Here are just a few of the health benefits to justify cooking like a princess:

  • Stachydrine, a phytochemical found in capers, has been found to be a “potent anti-metastatic agent” in regards to prostate cancer and seems to work at the genetic level to keep prostate cancer cells from reproducing.  So you are actually cooking with capers to keep all the prostates at the dinner table healthy!
  • Bioflavonoids from capers have been found to inhibit NF-kappa B activation.  Who cares?  Even if you don’t, the drug companies do.  NF-kappa B is a major target for drug research because this factor has been found to be chronically activated in disease states such as cancer, arthritis, asthma, atherosclerosis, inflammatory bowel disease, and even acne.
  • Extracts from caper plants have been found to lower blood pressure by relaxing blood vessels.  Of course, if your hypertension is due to salt sensitivity then eating salty capers by the bucketful is probably not the best option.
  • The anti-arthritic components in capers seem to be most concentrated when extracted into alcohol.  This justifies cooking any sort of protein (fish, chicken, lobster) in a white wine, butter, and caper sauce!
  • Capers are a rich source of rutin, a bioflavonoid that is sometimes taken in supplement form to prevent and treat varicose veins.
  • Capers have been found to have “important antimicrobial, anti-oxidative, anti-inflammatory, immunomodulatory and antiviral properties“.  This study firmly proves that if I left anything out in my list above, you can use the 6 degrees of Kevin Bacon game (health version of course) to relate whatever ailment your dinner guest may have to something that capers can help with.

December 5, 2011   1 Comment

Man Meat: Foods to Increase Testosterone

I realized today that I’ve been writing so much lately about pregnancy, babies, and women’s health that I better balance it out and write about something manly lest this become a girls only blog!  Here are a few foods that balance testosterone levels and help to keep a manly man the way nature intended – you guessed it – manly.

  • Butter: Yes, I am famous for going on and on about the health benefits of butter and allowing my toddler to eat slices of butter like they’re candy but there’s a reason for that.  Butter from healthy cows that have been fed grass instead of grain is rich in CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), the only trans fat found in nature and one of the most manly fatty acids out there.  In fact, if you take a break from reading this blog and do a search on CLA I bet you will come upon a host of bodybuilding websites, and what is more manly than a bunch of overly tan men, greased up with Crisco, dancing around on a stage and posing in tiny underpants?  But back to butter.  It contains CLA, which helps to balance levels of insulin, estrogen, and testosterone.  And this is why it’s a popular supplement for bodybuilders.  Butter also contains activated vitamin A, which is necessary for production of testosterone.
  • Grassfed beef: This is another great source of CLA and also a wonderful way to get plenty of protein and zinc – two precursors needed for testosterone production.  Please note that I am making a distinction here between grassfed meat and butter and regular commercial meat and butter.  Sadly, commercial cows are raised in feedlots, fed grain that lowers their levels of CLA (cows get CLA from the fermentation of grass in their gut done by bacteria that are killed off when feedlot cows are fed grain and antibiotics), and in some cases are even given doses of synthetic estrogen to make them grow faster and produce more milk.  These factors end up having the opposite effect on testosterone and they are the reason that foods containing saturated fat have such a bad reputation these days.
  • White button mushrooms: Aromatase is an enzyme that turns androgens (man hormones) into estrogens (lady hormones).  This is most important in the development of hormone dependent cancers, which is why foods that have anti-aromatase activity are heavily studied so that drug companies can figure out how to make drugs with the same activity.  White button mushrooms are one of the foods that you will find in these studies, though I suspect that most mushrooms have the same benefits (white buttons are just the cheapest, so probably they are the easiest to study in large amounts – that is purely my speculation though).  If you’re going to go off the deep end on eating mushrooms, make sure that you cook them first (in grassfed butter!).  Eating raw mushrooms in large amounts can expose you to a toxin inherent in mushrooms which is broken down when they are exposed to heat.
  • Cruciferous vegetables: This includes broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, bok choy, radish, turnip, and watercress.  Cruciferous vegetables contain sulfur-based compounds including one called I3C (indole-3-carbinol) that help to balance hormone levels and detoxify excess estrogen.  These compounds are widely studied for their anti-cancer effects, and when I worked in a clinic we used to give men a supplement containing these sulfur-based compounds to help them with urinary frequency problems.  Some of them came back reporting an increase in function in the “love area”, which I’m guessing would be due to a balancing of their testosterone levels!
  • Pumpkin seeds: Rich in zinc (another important nutrient for balancing hormone levels), pumpkin seeds also contain phytochemicals that are especially nourishing to the prostate.  The two studies I read found that pumpkin seed oil effectively reduced prostate size in cases of BPH (benign prostatic hyperplasia – also known as an enlarged prostate) that were caused by hormone imbalance.  And for all you coconut lovers out there – I found a study from Cuba that showed coconut oil to have the same benefits on BPH!

Ladies – I know the focus of this blog was more on men, but keep in mind that testosterone levels are important for women too!  In fact, testosterone is the single most important hormone related to sex drive for women.  So you may want to re-read this blog with that in mind :).

July 6, 2011   2 Comments

The Nutrition of Pie

For some reason, since adding the Ask Jessica feature to my website I have gotten an inordinate amount of questions regarding the nutritional benefits of pie.  I don’t know what it is about my website that attracts so many over-the-top pie lovers, but I’m thankful for the business!  Even if some of you are creepily serious about your pie questions.  Here’s one of my favorite pie-related questions so far.  And honestly, if I get any more questions about the nutrition of pie I’m going to have to open up an entirely new page on my website because it seems that my readers care way more about pie than they do about any health topic I could write about!

Q: What kind of pie should I make? Fruity, nutty, chocolatey or custardy?  Please assume all ingredients are organic, if that helps.

A: Each type of pie you have listed has its own benefits, so why don’t I help your decision making process by listing them out below.

  • Fruity: Fruit pies contain (you will never guess) – fruit.  And fruit, being a natural produce item, has plenty of health benefits depending on which type you use.  Blueberries have been found to contain antioxidants that protect the brain, cherries contain natural pain relieving compounds and may help promote a good night’s sleep due to their melatonin content (especially tart cherries), and apples have been shown in some studies to keep those pesky doctors away (and they also contain trace amounts of chromium, a mineral that helps to balance out the insulin your body is releasing in response to a huge slice of sugary pie).  The downside to fruit pies is that they normally require the use of cups and cups of sugar.  I have found that adding a pinch of salt and a few tablespoons of lemon juice helps reduce the amount of sugar you need to make the pie tasty.  You can also try substituting xylitol (natural sugar from birch trees) for all or part of the sugar in your recipe.  Just make sure that you work your way up to it – lots of xylitol in one sitting eaten by people who are not used to it may cause loose stool due to its laxative effect and may also cause a runny nose or general unwell feeling since it kills off excess yeast in the body, leading to detox reactions.  From personal experience, I have to warn you not to make a pure xylitol apple pie for your husband without telling him lest he dominate the ENTIRE pie in one sitting and then blame you for his explosive diarrhea the next day at work.
  • Nutty: Nuts contain healthy fats and also protein, both of which are very beneficial.  The downside with nut pies is that they require even more sugar than fruit pies to make them taste like a pie and not a 1970’s granola bar.  Most nut pie recipes (such as pecan pie) also require the addition of corn syrup which is not an ideal sweetener due to the fact that it mostly comes from genetically modified corn and if you have ever researched the subject or have seen the documentary King Corn, the idea of corn syrup would just give you the heebie jeebies.  You could try substituting stevia and/or honey for the sugar and corn syrup but I don’t know if that would crystallize properly.  At any rate, if you must make nut pie try using sucanat or another form of natural cane sugar that still contains the trace minerals and look for organic corn syrup, which actually does exist (Wholesome Sweeteners brand makes a variety).
  • Chocolatey:  I can only assume you are referring to a chocolate pudding type of pie here?  In that case, I would have to point to chocolate’s antioxidant properties which are highlighted over and over again especially in women’s health magazines since most writers rightly assume that the majority of women are addicted to chocolate.  My theory on this is that women especially crave chocolate because it is a source of magnesium (the mineral that balances out calcium levels) and most of us get a lot of calcium since we live in fear of bone loss but not quite enough magnesium to balance this out since there is not much press on the subject.  Magnesium is found in green vegetables, so somebody should start paying celebrities to pose for ads of them with green vegetable moustaches to bring more light to the fact that magnesium is just as important as calcium.  But back to your pie – the nice thing about pudding pies is that homemade pudding contains milk compounds and starches that have been shown to improve quality of sleep.  But if it’s chocolate pudding, the caffeine naturally present in chocolate may affect this a bit.
  • Custardy: Custard pies are made from eggs, the whites of which are an excellent source of protein and the yolks of which are an amazing storehouse of B vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, and healthy cholesterol.  To get back to your original question, if I were to decide your pie fate I would pick a custard pie simply because eggs are so incredibly good for you.  Custard pies also contain milk, which may give you some of the milk pudding effect listed above.  And I would think that stevia, xylitol and/or sucanat would blend seamlessly into a custard pie.

June 13, 2011   2 Comments

Update on the Battle Against Stretch Marks and Hints for Losing Baby Weight

A few days ago I turned 30!  And I’m excited about being 30 for reasons I will explain in another post if Mr. Milk stays asleep long enough for me to enjoy some birthday week blogging.  Last year at this time I was very pregnant and wrote a blog on stretch marks.  I must admit here that I did not escape from pregnancy stretch-mark free – I do have a few souvenirs around my midriff to remind me that my little daredevil baby decided not to “drop” (the term used to describe when the baby moves from kicking you in the ribs constantly to a lower position in your pelvis which makes you waddle like a penguin and is usually a sign that they baby will be born in the coming weeks) until 8 hours before he was born.  So, rather than the gradual drop that most women get to enjoy a week or two before labor, I experienced rapid stretching of the skin as my little boy planned his great escape from my uterus which will cause some stretch marks no matter how much lotion it rubs on its skin.  But they are fading with time (and liberal application of coconut oil) so there is hope.

Stretch marks and all, I’m pleased to share that I’ve been happily sporting a bikini since my first trip to the beach a couple months after the boy was born.  And somehow I’ve managed to lose the baby weight well enough that I don’t have to wear my son as an accessory to explain to other beach goers “it’s baby weight, so stop wondering if I’m still pregnant”.  Don’t get me wrong – I’m no Heidi Klum – but I was able to get back down to my pre-pregnancy weight pretty quickly without turning into a fitness freak mom.  Here are some things that helped me, hopefully they can help you too!

  • If possible, breastfeed.  Breastmilk contains about 20 calories per ounce, and with Mr. Milk drinking an estimated 40 ounces of milk daily I’m burning 800 calories extra calories a day doing nothing but sitting on the couch!
  • Eat lots of healthy fat.  The term “lots” may mean different things to different people (gauge it by how you feel when you eat healthy fat) but to me this is about 6 tablespoons of extra fat daily in the form of butter, cream, coconut oil, avocado, and olive oil on top of a base diet of foods rich in healthy fat such as fatty fish, eggs, shellfish, organic cheese, and grassfed meat.  Eating healthy fat helps your body to get rid of extra fat pounds and has the added benefit of making sure your baby is getting all the good brain fats from your milk.
  • Eat enough protein.  This helps your body to build muscle mass, repair from birth, and keep your hormones at healthy levels to prevent postpartum depression.  A good general marker is to eat the number of grams that is equal to half your body weight in pounds.  For example, a woman who is 120 pounds should eat about 60 grams while someone who is 160 pounds should eat about 80 grams a day.  If you are under more stress or are very active you may need more protein to help conserve muscle mass.  Also, if you have kidney problems then you may need less protein (ask your doctor).  To give you an idea of the protein content of foods, an egg contains 7 grams of protein, a large chicken breast or hamburger patty contains about 30 grams, a 3 oz. piece of fish contains about 20 grams, and a cup of beans contains about 15 grams.
  • Eat small meals all day (and night, if you’re up and you’re hungry).  This one is easy to do with a newborn because unless you have a live-in nanny or your mom lives next door you probably won’t be sitting down to three big meals a day for a while!
  • Drink lots of water.  Again, amounts vary but drink enough that your urine is light yellow (even if it is fluorescent from vitamins) and your milk (if breastfeeding) flows freely.  It’s easy to mistake thirst for hunger and overeat the wrong kinds of foods as a response.  I have found that drinking out of a huge cup or quart-sized mason jar with a straw helps me drink enough water through the day to keep up with demand.
  • Take the baby for walks.  This was especially helpful for me in the weeks after Mr. Milk was born because I needed to get out of the house!

So that’s it!  It’s not rocket science but it worked (and was about all I could handle as a new mom figuring out how to care for my new creature).  If any of you have tips for losing baby weight please share them in the comments section!

September 27, 2010   3 Comments

Breakfast Ideas for the Time Challenged

The other day one of my most entertaining friends sent me a photo of her breakfast.  Yes, kind of a weird thing to text to someone first thing in the morning but considering my profession it made sense.  Here is her masterpiece:

While looking at the above photo, I – in my crabby and unshowered state – stood in the middle of my not-clean house and realized that while Mr. Milk had already had about 2 gallons of breakfast I had broken my own rule of eating something containing protein and/or fat (yes, even if it’s just a piece of cheese or a handful of olives hastily grabbed out of the fridge with one arm while holding a small, drooling human with the other) within an hour of waking to get your metabolism going for the day.  Rather than remedy this by eating something healthy immediately, I decided to reply to her text with the following snarkily-composed photo of what I was eating for breakfast .

Don’t ask me why those items were in my house to begin with (and I promise I didn’t actually eat, drink, or smoke them for breakfast), but all joking aside I am sure that at one point in most of our lives we’ve sacrificed a healthy breakfast in the name of not having time.  So, here is my quick list of quick breakfast ideas!  Please feel free to expand on this list with your favorites by posting them in the comments section.  Alternatively, please also feel free to post the most nutritionally devoid breakfast you ever ate because that makes for entertaining reading for me :)

Quick ideas that take 5 minutes or less to prepare:

  • Hard boiled eggs, peeled the night before
  • Smoked salmon and cream cheese (or butter) on a thin slice of bagel or a piece of sprouted or gluten-free toast
  • Smoothie made with coconut milk or whole milk organic yogurt, coconut oil, frozen berries, and some banana, mango, pineapple or papaya for added enzymes
  • Whole milk organic cottage cheese with fruit that was prepared the night before (see my friend’s photo for artistic placement of fruit)
  • Fried egg sandwich on sprouted or gluten-free toast (melt butter in a pan, put toast in toaster, crack eggs into pan, put lid on pan, run around house looking for car keys and by the time you find them the eggs and toast will be done)
  • Fried eggs (prepared as above) with sliced tomato (grain-free alternative but not friendly to eat in the car)
  • Soaked oatmeal with assorted raw nuts and seeds and a little honey (soak rolled oats overnight in water in the pan you will use for cooking, in the morning drain this water and add new; soaked oats cook as quickly as “quick oats” and are much easier to digest which makes them a better choice if you like to include some grain in your diet)
  • Warm soup in a thermos (this was one of my favorite breakfasts on cold winter days in Iowa…haven’t yet tried it here in Hawaii)
  • Handful of raw nuts

And my baby’s awake from his nap…so the list stops here!  Don’t forget to add your favorites to the comments section so others (including me!) can benefit from what you’ve figured out.

July 19, 2010   15 Comments