Easiest Weeknight Pesto Pasta

Easy pesto pasta

Do you practice Meatless Mondays? We generally do, which means the dinners I prepare for my family on Mondays are vegetarian. I can easily get in a rut because there’s only so much time and bandwidth I have to dedicate to dinners on a busy Monday night.

Enter pesto pasta. I’m not even talking about homemade pesto (although in the summer when I’m swimming in basil, I certainly will make a homemade pesto!) I’m talking about a good quality jarred pesto sauce, a simple noodle, and a few other things to help create a little more excitement. Pasta is exciting!

Here’s what you do, and it’s so easy it’s ridiculous. 1. Boil any type of pasta you have. I am partial to Banza noodles, which are made from garbanzo beans so they are naturally gluten free but also high in protein and fiber. They also have 25% fewer carbs for people who are counting. 2.When there are about two minutes left in cooking time, add in about a cup of frozen peas to the water. 3. Drain everything and throw into a large bowl. 4. Add as much pesto as you’d like, and sprinkle in as much shredded or grated parmesan that looks good to you. 5. Grate some fresh pepper and salt over the top and you have yourself a pasta that’s a *tiny* bit fancier than spaghetti and marinara sauce. If you have any cherry tomatoes, you can slice them in half and sprinkle them in there. Throw some fresh shredded basil on the top if you have it, but don’t worry if you don’t.

Reader, I make this dish on the regular, and my family likes it. It feels hearty and healthy but is also so easy it’s ridiculous.

A friend once told me she felt overwhelmed by all the nutrition advice out there, so she didn’t even bother making dinner anymore, opting for takeout because she felt like she just couldn’t win. This penne pasta is the thing for anyone who feels that way. Or for people like me who have a nutrition certificate and *still* feel overwhelmed sometimes. Feeding your family shouldn’t be full of strife and confusion. A jar of sauce and a noodle is infinitely better than drive-through food. It doesn’t have to be rocket science.

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Thoughts From The Sick Bed

Even the healthiest people get sick. I fell ill with the flu 10 days ago and am just now getting out of bed and starting to feel better. My doctors tell me if I hadn’t received the flu shot, I would very likely be hospitalized with complications.

I do “everything right”. I get a lot of exercise, I take my supplements, I eat very healthy, I get 8-9 hours of sleep a night, I meditate, I enjoy lots of nourishing relationships. Sometimes, even with all of that, you just get sick.
I’m telling you this because a lot of holistic nutritionists and wellness practitioners sell people on this notion that if you just do all the “right things”, you will be invincible. That if you just cut out all sugar, or go gluten free, or go vegan, or go paleo, or any number of other things, you won’t ever get sick. That is nonsense. We are human and human bodies sometimes break down, get sick, or get injured.

Someone from my cohort yesterday told me not to eat any fruit whatsoever and stop all my supplements because they “feed the pathogen”. This is such utter nonsense. When I asked for studies to back up her claims she went radio silent. It makes me angry that someone out there is peddling this psuedo-science.

Bottom line: be careful when seeking wellness information and guidance. Look for real, honest-to-goodness scientific studies and papers to back up any claims. If something doesn’t sound right, follow that instinct. And if you ever have any questions, reach out to me. I like nothing better than to provide science based wellness advice.

In the meantime, I’m following doctor’s orders to rest. I’m going to eat lots of fruits and vegetables (they are full of vitamins and minerals, fiber, vitamin c, and other anti-inflammatory compounds). I’m going to get acupuncture today, and I’m staying hydrated. Sometimes, time is the best medicine.

Food Waste: America’s Dirty Little Secret

peppers and veggies

I was cleaning out my fridge yesterday and came upon several fruits and vegetables that had gone bad. I threw them into the compost bin (we are lucky that our progressive city provides curbside compost pickup) feeling terribly guilty. And for good reason. According to the US Department of Agriculture, Americans waste 150,000 tons of food a day, the equivalent of 1 pound per person per day. Those with the healthiest diets, the ones that contain lots of fruits and vegetables, are the worst offenders. That would be me.

Not only is this offensive to the people in this country who struggle with food insecurity, it’s also horrible for the environment. All the water, pesticides, soil and other materials it takes to grow vegetables and raise animals are being wasted at alarming levels. If your city doesn’t provide composting services, and the huge majority doesn’t, all that food waste is going into a landfill which releases methane, a harmful greenhouse gas.  Hello climate change.

Add to all of this the fact that only 4 of the 10 larges supermarket chains have plans in place to address waste in their own stores, and we have one very big problem.

I wrote over the summer about my plan to make each day of the week unique. On the list  I will add taking stock of our food situation on weekends so that I can plan ahead for the week to use the food that needs to be consumed soon. My husband pulled a Larabar from the back of the pantry for a snack this weekend and it had mold growing all over it. Turns out it expired in 2017. Larabars are expensive and we ended up having to throw away two boxes of them. To say I felt ashamed of that is an understatement. They are a nutritious source of calories and they could have been donated to our local food shelf if we weren’t going to eat them in a timely manner.

Ever since I watched this Oprah episode on food waste way back in 2008 I have thought about the food we waste. Did you know Americans make up just 5 percent of the world’s population but use 25 percent of the world’s energy resources?

I, for one, am just tired of the waste, and I’m ready to make some changes. One thing we do well in our house is eat leftovers. We love them and more often than not we eat at least 75% of the leftovers in our fridge. But I am going to start freezing what we don’t eat instead of finding them in the back of the fridge when it’s unsafe to eat them. I’m going to insist we finish one type of snack food in the pantry before we buy something similar. And I am going to stock back up on these reusable BPA-free GreenBags that I used to use all the time until we ran out. They keep fruits and veggies fresh much longer.

What haven’t I thought about? Is there something you do that helps reduce your household’s food waste? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

 

Should You Drink Celery Juice?

celery

A friend reached out to me recently asking if she should be drinking celery juice. She had read about all of the health benefits and wanted to know if I recommended it and if she should jump on the celery juice bandwagon.

Have you heard about this newest trend? The actress Busy Phillips (whom I love for her honesty on social media about all kinds of issues ranging from parenting to body image and more) posted in January about her commitment to drinking it every day. She said “Apparently it’s supposed to do all of these wonderful things for you and something with Gwyneth Paltrow and I don’t know but I’m on board,” she said, laughing. “So now I’m drinking celery juice. It’s really good.”

Ok, back up a second. Gwyneth Paltrow’s website Goop has received all kinds of press regarding her health advice, much of which is not supported by science. In fact, there has been such a backlash that she recently committed to hiring a fact checker for all the claims her website makes. This article is an absolute must read for anyone who follows Gwyneth Paltrow’s advice or even is a little interested in her Goop empire. It’s titled, “How  Goop’s haters made Gwyneth Paltrow’s company worth $250 Million”.

This is all to say that even as a holistic nutrition consultant (with a healthy dose of skepticism for any outlandish claims), I wouldn’t necessarily recommend drinking celery juice. Why? First of all, it’s very very bitter. Why punish yourself? Secondly, no one food is a magic bullet. Yes, celery is a very healthy veggie with fiber, folate, vitamin K, and potassium. It’s a powerful antioxidant. But so are a lot of vegetables. What I would recommend is eating celery in its whole form so that you do get the fiber along with it. Put it in a green smoothie so you get some other flavors and nutrients in there. Eat it with some peanut butter for a healthy snack that contains the magic trio of fats, carbohydrates, and protein. And if you really want a green juice, combine it with some other green veggies so you are mixing your nutrients instead of focusing on just one source. I like the Suja Uber Greens Organic juice which has cucumber, celery, grapefruit, green chard, spinach, parsley, mint tea and more. I buy them from Costco for a reasonable price and when I feel like having a green juice I reach for one of those. They have only 5 grams of sugar per bottle, which is important to note because a lot of green juices contain fruit juices and up to 48 grams of sugar per bottle.

My final thoughts on the matter: be wary of outlandish health claims. While drinking celery juice won’t hurt you, I don’t believe there is anything magical about it. If it makes you feel good, have some celery. But if you are suffering trying to choke down a glass of celery juice, give yourself a break and eat it with a healthy dip instead.

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Giant Scallions

This summer I am in a CSA share with my good friend Shawn. In case you didn’t know, CSA is short for Community Supported Agriculture. You buy a seasonal “share” from a local farm and each week you receive a box of produce (or cheese or whatever that farm specializes in). If you want to learn more and find a farm near you, click here. Anyway, we both have families of three so our boxes get split up very evenly and it’s a nice way to try new fruits and veggies. For instance, in yesterday’s box there were a smattering of gooseberries, which I had never tried. That was fun.

Also in yesterday’s box were the most gigantic scallions (also known as green onions) I have ever seen. One of these scallions probably equals four or five store-bought scallions. I got very excited because I adore green onions in any format. In fact, when I was a child, my grandma used to serve them raw on her veggie plate at her annual backyard BBQ and I would gladly gobble them up. I pity the fool who smelled my breath after that.

scallions
Giant scallions from the CSA

Onions are a powerful source of antioxidants and are part of the Allium family (along with garlic). They are rich in anti-cancer compounds called phenols and flavanoids. They are also rich in alliinase which is believed to be heart protective. They are anti-inflammatory and overall a very healthy food to add to your regular diet.

I got a little overwhelmed with the size and quantity of the scallions yesterday so I asked on my Cultivate Wellness Facebook page for cooking ideas and got some great ones. I thought that I would compile and share some of them here so you, too, can be empowered in your scallion cooking journey.

How about Tessa’s idea to make some Afghan Dumplings with Lamb Kofta and Yogurt Sauce?

Maria says “My favorite way to cook green onions is in a cast iron skillet with olive oil, salt and lemon pepper! I do it on a medium/high ( depending on your stove) you want the onions to break down and get a little char! It’s about a 10 min cooking time.”

Lara suggested adding them to a batch of cold Potato Leek Soup (I can get on board with that! Plus we got potatoes in our box this week, too).

Allison wrote that she was using her CSA scallions to make a Minty Orzo Salad with Grilled Beef. That recipe isn’t available online but here’s one that looks ah-mazing.

Sally used her giant scallions to make Crab Cakes. I do love a crab cake.

Molly likes to make Smitten Kitchen’s Spicy Green Onion Slaw recipe, which looks absolutely delicious. I love a slaw in any form.

How fun that so many people participate in a CSA?! At least a couple of the readers who chimed in with ideas got their giant scallions this week too. I love that.

If you have a favorite scallion/green onion recipe, please leave it in the comments! Happy cooking!

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LIFE HACK: An App For People Who Have Trouble Staying Focused

forest

I have a problem. I try to do multiple things all at the same time which leaves me feeling agitated and depleted. Why sit and peacefully watch t.v. when I could also scroll through my emails on my laptop (is what my brain constantly tries to tell me)? What’s the problem with reading emails while watching t.v., or scrolling through your Instagram feed while walking the dog, or trying to reply to a text while also have a conversation? Well for one thing, when we multitask, nothing is ever done really well. It also leaves our brains feeling fried and for many of us we wind up feeling on-edge and irritable. I have also started to notice a link between how much time I spend mindlessly online and the amount of energy I have to do other tasks. Being online literally drains me.

According to this Time Magazine article, trying to multi-task, especially with electronic devices, can hamper our attentiveness, mindfulness, and ability to learn. In fact, higher amounts of technology use has been linked to mental health problems in adolescents. It’s no wonder, with kids constantly seeing images of “perfection” on their peers’ social media feeds. I have found that the more time I spend on social media (as a 43 year old), the more agitated and anxious I get as well. This article does a good job of explaining why that is. One positive of technology use in adolescents is that more frequent texting appears to help reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. perhaps because they are reaching out to real friends and connecting rather than perceiving that everyone else has perfect “Insta worthy” lives.  Read the article to find out more.

So, what am I doing about this problem? I found out about an app called Forest, and have been using it for a few days. So far it has really made a difference. You can plant virtual trees and set a time for how long you want to focus on a task without looking at your phone. When the time is up, your tree has grown. By planting trees and growing trees, you earn virtual currency to use towards buying and planing a REAL TREE through Trees For The Future. The app costs $1.99 for iPhone and it’s free for Android.

This might be the sort of thing where I use it for a relatively short amount of time to rewire my brain and seal in a new habit. I’m perfectly ok with spending $2.00 for that life hack!

P.S. I wrote this entire blog post without checking email, reading my texts, or inexplicably ending up shopping on Bananrepublic.com. WIN!

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Life Hack: The Daily Dozen App

I recently discovered an app I really think is great called The Daily Dozen. On it is a list of foods you should be eating every single day, with spaces for a checkmark next however many servings of that food you should be having. For instance, there’s three spaces next to beans, one space next to berries, and two spaces next to greens. You can check in to the app throughout the day to keep track of the “superfoods” you’re eating and over time, hopefully you’ll have trained yourself to put the healthiest foods first in your diet.

There’s a section for grains on there, and I think that’s important to note. A lot of people avoid grains these days because they believe they are inflammatory or cause weight gain. Here’s what I know about whole grains (I’m talking about things like brown rice, oats, and barley here, not Froot Loops with “whole grains”). Eating whole grains is associated with lower risks of diabetes, heart disease, and high cholesterol. Read here  for more information on whole grains and heart disease. Read here for more on whole grains and blood pressure. And read here for more on whole grains and other foods that lower cholesterol. If you are trying to avoid grains in the short term, I support that. Sometimes avoiding a certain food for a month or so can help reduce inflammation and de-sensitize you to that particular food. Then you add the food back in in small amounts to ensure your sensitivity is gone. There are doctors like Dr. David Perlmutter (author of The Grain Brain) who have profited mightily by telling people all grains are bad for you, but I really don’t subscribe to that thinking at all. I *do* believe we Americans have too many grains in our diet, and that most of those grains are of low quality and low nutritional value (think a slice of white bread or a bowl of sugary cereal). However, whole grains have many proven health benefits.

Back to the app. What I love about this new tool is that it also includes things like spices, flaxseeds, and Vitamin D. These recommendations are all rooted in science and have been proven to be beneficial for one or more reasons.

Daily Dozen was created by Michael Gregor,  M.D., who is the founder of NutritionFacts.org and has a podcast called Nutrition Facts with Dr. Gregor.

I think it’s a great daily tool you can use as a fun challenge to clean up your eating habits and add some solid nutrition that will help reduce your risk of disease. Win/win!

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