Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Told You So

During the week just past I have learned or perhaps re-learned much about about trusting my inner voice. It always comes through with truthful, loving guidance when I settle myself and am able to quiet the "committee" of voices in my head. These are the voices of external factors such as subconcious scripting from the past, quibbling as they struggle for ascendancy and promotion to the light of consciousness. Sadly, some of these voices are invited in through the internet, texting, "tweeting", and e-mailing. They come inadvertently when we let our friends in through these windows on the world.
These voices must be periodically shushed in order to attend to the far deeper "heart voice". This voice, in its kind and loving way, gives inerrant guidance once the committee voices subside. It tells us when we are overbooked. It knows when our commitments have gotten out of hand, like so many helium balloons we must keep within our grasp or risk losing to the blue sky forever. Listen and the voice will softly remind you that you are losing sleep, eating badly, not honoring your loved ones, dozing at the wheel.
At our house, we have been away from our internet service intermittently for nearly a week. (Our main computer was on sabbatical without us, it seems)Gradually, we are catching up with all of our correspondence, bill-paying, social networking. Something I noticed about the lack of outside contact derived from my Blackberry or e-mail and internet was the anxiety I felt initially at being disconnected. The sense of isolation weighed heavily like a physical burden for the first day or two.
Apparently, something in me missed some of my "committee voices". At the same time, I'd be lying if I claimed that I didn't have a secret joy at having an acceptable excuse to being checked out of the loop for a time. After the initial discomfort ebbed a bit, I realized none of us were in any immediate physical or emotional danger. And another thing surfaced.
I heard my inner "heart" voice. It reminded me that it caring for ourselves and those close around us isn't a function of being on three different computers around the house, paying no attention to one another. It's more concerned with looking at each others' faces as we share dinner or wash dishes together. So in the past few days, it's been cool to spend some extra time with my husband and with my son, and I had a great day doing a museum trip with friends. And, yes, I'm several days behind on this series. But I kind of think the voice of the heart might be as or even a little more important than the food of the heART. Anyway, I know it'll wait.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Reconciling Sunday

Since I stopped serving the Presbyterian Church I have been worshiping alongside my husband at the United Methodist Church of Davis. One thing I have enjoyed is finding a way to volunteer which uses my artistic gifts which I have employed, happily, in the area of worship art. As a cradle Presbyterian I have been raised with the idea that the table in the front of the church is not an altar, but a communion table, and the only thing that belongs on it is the Lord's Supper.

As a non-denominational seminary student, I was exposed to other ideas. I recall chapel services in which 7 lanterns representing 7 stars and 7 candles representing 7 cities of the Revelation to John were part of the altar arrangement one week. I recall other still life arrangements from flowers to musical instruments to paintings on easels to pitchers and bowls which evoked foot washing. I can tell you of churches which eschew every other object but must have two candles: one for the Old Testament, one for the New Testament. There are churches which use incense and candles, there are those who post holy icons. How one dresses a church for worship is as different as how one takes biblical authority and interpretation.

I was having a discussion with my husband just this evening at the community theater here in town, where we were attending son Sean's play, "Fairy Tales: Politically Correct". Summer in Davis isn't a dressy time of year. Come to think of it, no time is. You're dressed up in Davis if you're wearing your clean pair of jeans. I think it's rather sad, for how we present visuals whether they are how we dress ourselves, how we dress our tablescapes, or how we dress our altars in church say so much about what is underneath.

Now, I understand the argument that when one dresses casually, one can be comfortable and feel natural. Maybe that also means relaxed, and content in one's own skin. I get that, and God knows I love me some jeans most of the time. But I think it's a shame that we seem to have forgotten that some occasions and some places are worthy of our best attention and respect. The manner of our dress and comportment convey those sentiments, and can even help us to step up a bit to the occasion.

I agreed to dress the altar in church to help signify that our presence there and our focus on the table are worthy of attention and respect. I am proud to be part of a congregation that welcomes all into the presence of God, and on Reconciling Sunday our worship space will be dressed for the occasion. I am also proud of my fellow Presbyterians for taking a constitutional step which has been long in the making, by passing Amendment 10-A to the Presbyterian Book of Order. I look forward to hearing my Methodist pastor tomorrow as he preaches a sermon entitled, "All Means All."

Now it remains for us to continue to take the steps needed to make sure we are not only dressing the part, we are doing the part of making the church a place where all of God's children are truly welcome. Wouldn't you just love to see everyone around that table? I know I would.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Off the Shelf

It's not often that I get excited about weeknight convenience cooking, and for good reason. Seldom is it "clean" of added sugars, food starches, and additives so it doesn't often sit right with one or the other of us. Another reason is that it is not often beautiful when considered in the light of the design elements I so want to employ in our food presentation. Colors are often weak, textures (especially of vegetables) leave much to be desired, and often, taste is mediocre.
That said, there are those weeknights on which no one in the house is either available or motivated to cook a masterpiece in three courses. On those nights it's important to have a few good stand-by ingredients sitting on the pantry shelves or tucked in the freezer to whip together at the last minute. Sadly, I've had some of the same old pantry ingredients on my list of must-haves for years. No, they're not the exact same things-after all, I learned about the F.I.F.O. method of inventory control back in my banking days, and freshness dating of food is something I take seriously. But we all tend toward the familiar, and you can do so much with ingredients you understand and trust.
To mix things up, I've enjoyed making a point of trying different products at in-store demonstrations, new product launches, or with coupon promotions. Lately, the stars kindly lined up and within the same week I read a recipe for Thai chicken in green curry sauce AND tasted Trader Joe's eggplant curry AND discovered World Foods Green Curry Sauce on the shelf of our local supermarket. So, this evening, when I had a leftover grilled chicken breast in the fridge and these other wonderfoods in freezer and pantry, we had a quickie Thai dinner in under 20 minutes. It wasn't as lovely as the picture here, but at the end of a frustrating day I vote for taste and texture.

To get the best of both worlds, convenience and freshness, I started with the trusty rice cooker and set it up to cook a cup of jasmine rice in 2 cups of water. While it was doing its thing, I got busy on the curried chicken:

1/2 red onion, roughly chopped

10-12 sugar snap peas, washed

1 C. mini carrots, sliced into "coins"

1 Tbs. canola oil

3 Tbs. green curry paste

1 14-ounce can coconut milk (light is fine)

1 C. cubed, cooked chicken meat

Heat a 9- or 10-inch skillet on medium/high heat. Add oil and swirl to coat. Add onions, stirring constantly until they begin to release their fragrance, about 1 minute. Add carrots and pea pods, stirring constantly, continuing to cook about 5 minutes. Reduce heat to medium. Add remaining ingredients and heat through, about 5 more minutes. Serve with the rice.

The eggplant comes right out of the freezer and is done in the microwave in a total of about 5 minutes. This meal is so tasty and is on the table in under 25 minutes. Now, that's beautiful on nights like this.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Sabbath Time

Today, Sunday, is Pentecost. It is the time when the Christian world celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit to the realm of humanity to comfort, advocate, and accompany us in the absence of the ascended savior.

Today also happens to be the first anniversary of my marriage to the remarkable Dan Ray.

Taking a day off from the blog; thanks for watching this space, and tomorrow will have a new installment!

Blessings, all.

Friday, June 10, 2011

N.A.M.I. Yolo County Sunflower Art Competition

I am saying good-bye to my painting, "There is Room for All in the Garden" as it sold this evening at the N.A.M.I. show. This little pic is from Dan's cell phone as he had me pose next to it with the blue ribbon. I was so honored and delighted!

There were many wonderful pieces of art and highlights of the evening were a performance of her original Sunflower Song by ceramics artist and musician Heidi Bekebrede as well as interesting conversation with other artists, N.A.M.I. clients, and folks from the community.

There was a TON of delectable snacks available; I limited myself to bottled water, fresh fruit, and a couple of macadamia nuts so that I could take Dan out for dessert afterward at Bistro 33 here in town, which is where we went on our first date over four years ago. I feel like we duly celebrated!

The painting's purchaser is a woman who is well known and very respected for her work in the community and I couldn't be happier knowing it is going to a good home.

Some Like It Hot

This week I'm trying to focus on sharing those secret weapons that help us to manage our Eating Clean plans with beautiful food and delicious tastes and aroma. Today's secret weapon:


My love affair with tea goes back, if family legend is to be believed, to the evening my mother went into labor with me in a Chinese restaurant. She and my father were out to dinner with my grandparents, and the story goes that her belly was pressed right up next to the table, and suddenly all the dishes and silverware began rattling. I was born the next day.

Since my first taste of china tea, again in a restaurant with my grandparents, I've been a fan. My family has used tea as a "panacea for all ills", as Louisa May Alcott once wrote of it. If stomach flu strikes, we make tea. If a child comes home with a bad report card, we make tea. If earthquakes, floods, or fires threaten, well, you get the picture.

In between meals, one of the toughest things for dieters or fans of Eating Clean to determine is the difference between hunger cravings and the cravings of thirst. The two feel similar and we are olften fooled into thinking we are hungry and need a snack or meal when what our body truly longs for is rehydration. Simple water, in that case, fulfills the need and is indeed the answer to most all of our bodily demands. Remember all those films in health class in which we had to learn what percentage of our bodies were composed of sea water? Yeah, me neither. Percentages have been debated since I was in 7th grade.

The thing that is true, and professed by increasing numbers of dieticians, weight loss doctors, and clinics, is that we need rehydration in quantities not thought of in past decades. The minimum we are told to consume, it appears, is 8 x 8 (ounces, that is-64) or 8 glasses of 8 ounces of water a day. The standard bottle of water is a tad over 16 ounces-so we ought to drink 4 or more of those babies each day.

A thing many of us have found hard to swallow is that we simply don't like drinking that much water. It's good to know that lemonade and other non-carbonated drinks will suffice. Another way to do it is through the venerable tradition of tea. OK, on our first day here in Davis on which the temperature exceeded 95, who wants tea?

The answer is, surprisingly, a lot of us. Brewed from natural leaves and teabags, many of the iced tea pitchers at better restaurants and friends' kitchens are filled with teas brewed fresh starting with pure water (I don't know if you can include Davis tap water. It's kind of chewy)poured over and steeped with all kinds of varieties of flavorful and healthful leaves from all over the world. Oddlyenough, there are many of us who even crave tea hot at odd times over the summer. Tea at elevenses on a weekday morning seems gentler and more civilized, somehow, than yet another Starbucks. Tea at 4:30 in the afternoon seems positively British.

All things considered, given the practicalities of our mobile family lifestyle and long commutes, we end up our days with growling stomachs in the afternoon while we attempt to stave off the snack attacks that strike while we await our late dinner hours. Tea as a coping mechanism is the single best thing, in my opinion, that the British contributed to modern clean eating.

Of course I'm not talking about tea with cookies, scones, buttered sandwiches, and so on. The lifestyle in the British Isles that birthed this eating style also included a whole different take on daily living than we experience now. I am talking about the acknowledgement that we need several small meals throughout the day, not three big meals with no in-between meal noshings.

Today, when the weather reached 95, I was happy to pour and enjoy a couple of tall glasses of cold green tea over ice. The prize in the Cracker jack box is that, in addition to perking us up on either a cold and dreary or a hot and energy-wrenching day is that green tea may actually assist weight loss. At least that is what I'm reading.

It's nice to know you can pick up a gallon bottle of tea at the supermarket, but a less pricey way is ever so easy. Here are the two favorite ways we do it at our house:

Old Hippie Sun Tea

6 regular size tea bags, any flavor*

Pure water

A 2-quart jar (such as a large pickle jar or sun-tea jar with valve) EXTREMELY clean

Plenty of time

A back patio or porch

Fill the jar with water, add the tea bags, affix the lid securely, and set out on the patio in the morning, the earlier the better. Does not require direct sun; ready in about 4 hours. NOTE: If the teabags are left in too long, the tea will be bitter. *My favorite is Good Earth Original, followed by Stash Chai Spice. Another good combo is regular black tea with 3 or 4 whole cinnamon sticks added at the beginning of the brew time.

Short - Cut Ice Tea

4 tea bags or 2 heaping Tbls. loose tea in tea ball

Kettle full of pure water

Heat-resistant pitcher

Boil the kettle on high heat until it whistles or, if using a pan, until it reaches a full, roiling boil. (The British swear that the tea's best flavor can only develop at full heat.) Pour the hot water over the tea bags in the heatproof pitcher, and let steep for about half an hour. Add ice to fill pitcher. Chill. Note: Spice combinations can be added before the water is poured in. Combine spices in a tea ball or cheesecloth bundle, or tea sacks available through such retail outlets as Peet's Coffee and Tea. Another flavoring possibility is herb or floral bundles steeped in with the tea. Mint or lavender are good.

Hot or cold, steaming or shivering, tea is beautiful and adds so much grace to a daily clean eating plan that it can never be called a diet beverage.

Real Snacks, Real Age, Real Beauty

It seems Dr. Oz is everywhere throughout the media, the internet, and now I've even found some of his advice to include in my blog. From his site, www.realage.com, here are the good doctor's suggestions for 8 healthy snacks which can help blood sugar and a number of other issues. Check out the beautifully prepared and photographed low-calorie, heart-healthy noshes - I may have to set up a pear and apple combo like the one shown just so I can paint it -find it here. Be aware that there are ads on the site but you can skip if you just want to see the slide show. The food wranglers have really produced some tremendous little food still lifes. Wouldn't you want to eat healthy with choices like these?

Throughout the time that I've been writing, I have been duty-bound to record my calories and assemble beautiful little smidgens of food to satisfy the eye as well as the appetite. These are some of them. Hope you enjoy and that they'll fuel your imagination to get creative with the snackage in your own life!!!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Out of Sight, Out of My Mind

Dan and I are 3 days shy of celebrating our first wedding anniversary and we couldn't be happier (oh, all right maybe if we won the lottery) but there have been some major adjustments for both of us over the last year. Most of them are due to just the normal differences in the way two different people are used to doing various things.

For example, he has a very different style of making the bed than I have. We found out a long time ago that we do very well ignoring the fact that he pulls the sheets down for a deep border beneath the pillows while I tend to pull the hem of the sheet way up close to the headboard. But that's OK because we reached a compromise months ago. Whoever gets out of bed last is the one to make the bed, and the other one doesn't criticize how it's done.

Buying and storing food is a lot different for us. I have a very organized system for the pantry and the refrigerator and freezer based upon years of homemaking. The spices are alphabetized and the fridge shelves are dedicated to their contents: dairy and deli items, condiments, breads, etc. Produce in the produce drawers, please, and leftovers on the top shelf. Laugh if you must. It's not that I'm rigid or some kind of control freak that I insist on the fridge staying organized. It's so I can FIND things when I'm cooking. Even more importantly, I need to be able to FIND things when I'm SNACKING. Do I sound strident? It's because...

One of the biggest reasons people fail at weight loss or diet control is being unprepared for the snack attack that comes from nowhere. You know what I mean. There you are, minding your own business, when WHAM!!! Suddenly you have visions of Hershey bars dancing in your head

and you need a snack NOW. At times like this, your clean food can't be stuck up on the top shelf behind the Oreo's.

There are many ways to deal with this but one strategy that was mentioned to me lately by my friend Gary is to keep your safest snacks available, within sight, and make sure they're the handiest ones around. Plan how you are going to eat them, what dish you will serve them on, and where you will sit instead of giving in to half the bag of potato chips standing at the kitchen sink or a fistful of cookies as you're charging out the door! Make it as easy or even easier to access beautiful food. Keep the celery sticks, pre-cut and pre-cleaned, right in plain sight so you spot them the minute you open the fridge. Display that beautiful ceramic dish your best friend made for you on the kitchen counter; fill it with cherries. My personal favorite vegetable for snacking is the sugar snap pea, available in local Farmers Markets but also pre-packaged in the produce section of all supermarkets.

Another way to deal with snacking is to just accept that it can be a healthy way to eat. More and more doctors and dietitians are recommending five mini-meals a day instead of three hearty ones. It helps stabilize blood sugar throughout the day and keeps up our energy level. The way to make it work for you is to determine the number of calories you want to consume over the course of the day, and allocate 100 - 150 of them to midmorning and midafternoon snack times. It also helps us control those impulses when we're tempted to reach for something we don't really want to eat. We can say to ourselves, "No, I don't want that donut at the meeting this morning - I'm going to hold out for my sweet, juicy apricots instead."

Finally, keep plenty of ammunition on hand. Things I always have in the house include reduced fat string cheese, almonds and pistachios, fresh vegetables, and nonfat cottage cheese. An indulgence I've discovered recently is wine marinated herring. I know that may sound weird, but for 50 calories it's kept me out of the cookie jar more than once. Some people swear by sugar-free Jell-o or pudding, but my sweet secret weapon is Trader Joe's No Sugar Added Milk Chocolate bar. At 120 calories per serving, I can include some a few times a week and feel great too. What are YOUR favorites to keep up your sleeve?

If you have any tried-and-true strategies to defeat a snack attack, I invite you to leave a comment to share with other readers.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Presentation: The "Ta-Dah!" on the Table

Food as the primary subject for still life has been known to artists since the first cave painter recorded the first successful hunt, and has come right down through history through every era. The form, line, color, shape, and texture of food has been a source of fascination and an outlet for creativity for all humans. Wall paintings such as this one from a villa in Pompeii show that the beautiful presentation of food has long been considered one of the characteristics of fine living. Pick up any magazine like Sunset, Martha Stewart Living, or Bon Appetit and you'll be barraged with professionally staged food settings, photographed for maximum appeal.

Much goes into merchandising the table in these mags. We, however, can make our table at home beautiful, appetizing, and meaningful without benefit of professional food wranglers. In an age when most families don't sit down at the same time (mine included) due to all our commitments we can, if we are intentional about it, make the meal a beautiful sight and a touchstone for our own family culture. The familiar objects tucked away from older generations or a few slightly lost objects from childhood evoke connections among diners and shouldn't be left solely for Thanksgiving or Christmas use. Creating an inviting still life only takes a few minutes and isn't a matter of ordering costly floral arrangements or new dishes.

First, consider the contents of your china cabinet. Is there a funny old kiddie dish your grandma used to serve you when you were little? Are there three or four chipped crystal goblets you wouldn't actually want anyone to drink from? Is there a silver teapot you'd use if you didn't have to polish it? What about those odd color napkins that don't match any tablecloth in the house? Although we may not realize it, these objects represent our own unique family story. Pull them out of the china cabinet and dream up ways to use them beautifully to present beautiful food.

For example, how about sunny cherry tomatoes piled in that little Beatrix Potter china bowl? Or melon cubes stacked in those crystal goblets, topped with vanilla yogurt, as a focal point at each person's place? Or the silver teapot, tarnish and all, as a "vase" to hold whole-grain breadsticks?* And things don't really need to all match perfectly any longer, unless the Queen's

expected for dinner. So why not set a basket on the table filled with all different colors of fabric napkins?

One of the most delightful social events we've been to was my brother Ken's wedding to his longtime ladylove, Val. For the reception, they spent weeks transforming their garden and yard into a magical place, where flea-market chandeliers hung from the trees and yards of tulle wound around and through the shrubbery. The total Alice-in-Wonderland effect was perfectly captured in the table settings. Flea market finds of china teacups and saucers were stacked on plates and wrapped in tulle at each place. Tucked into each cup was a touching note and a monogrammed packet of flower seeds for each guest to take home-along with your teacup and saucer, each of which was absolutely unique! Here at home, I relive the joy of that day every time I take out my teacup and saucer for my breakfast coffee.

You don't have to break the bank for a beautiful table, either. Think color! Everyday tablecloths, placemats, and napkins can be changed out frequently depending on what you're serving. Look for them at yard sales, flea markets, and thrift stores. (Check for stains and tears) Retro looks from the fifties and Mad Men '60s can be fun, Asian is always good, and nothing beats old linen or lace. Try a fifties print tablecloth with pink dishes or a bright red cloth with black Asian bamboo placemats and white porcelain dishes. Combinations are limited only by imagination, and low-calorie food will taste a lot more satisfying if our eyes are happy.

Speaking of being HeARTistic, I love doing things with flowers and enjoy the unconventional. For instance, with the cracked crystal goblets-Line three of them up in the middle of the table, fill halfway with water, and float a camellia or open rose in each. No flowers in bloom? Slip a twig of shrubbery, herbs, or berries into the napkin at each place setting. Need color? A fresh monster strawberry on the side of the plate perks up the whole tablescape.

I wish you many happy "Ta-Dah's" at your HeART healthy table. Enjoy! It will be a different day tomorrow, so make the most of the "today" you have today!

*If the inside of the old teapot is yucky, stick a clean glass down inside it to hold the breadsticks if you really don't have the time to polish.

Seriously, Take This to HeART

We are one week into this series on HeART-healthy "Eating Clean". On a personal note, I've noticed a couple of things over the course of the week, and I hope you'll share what you've noticed for yourself as the time has gone by.

One: Paying attention to the presentation of my meals and my family's meals has been fun and has given me another outlet for my creativity. It's also helped me notice and put to use some of the dishes and glassware we don't use very often, BUT an even better thing it has done is help us connect with our culture and family history. We have learned a great deal about each other's
relatives, influences, and context eating on the placemats from Aunt Jean or sipping from the teacups we got at Ken and Val's wedding.

Two: The writing discipline keeps me accountable to all my own best habits and tips. I have been keeping my food diary, recording what I eat and my calorie counts, and paying close attention to the tools I've learned from doctors, friends, and some of my favorite wisdom such as Julia Cameron's "The Writing Diet". For instance, as I write this, I am using one of my doctor's favorite tools, the "more" timer. ("More" on that later) One of my joys is that I've lost 2 pounds this week!

Three: Eating Clean has very rapid results. In the first three days of eliminating processed flour and refined sugar, your tastes change and your cravings fade away. A piece of fruit tastes much more yummy than before, when its sweetness was overshadowed by that of refined sugar. Also, I experience unpleasant reactions to foods I don't want to be eating. For example, on Sunday we ate brunch at church and I had half a bagel. Having been sugar-free and gluten-free for quite a while now, I shouldn't have been surprised that I spent the whole afternoon sleeping it off like a hangover.

Okay, the "more" timer just went off, so I'll take the opportunity to share this tip from my doc. She advised me to serve myself half of what I would previously have considered a normal plateful. When I first started doing this as a means of portion control, I actually dished up a "normal" plateful and then removed half the food, back to the pot. That made for a messy, unartistic presentation, so I have learned to measure and switched to smaller plates. The next step is to eat slowly, enjoying the aroma, taste, and textures of the food. Once finished, I set my kitchen timer for 30 minutes. When it goes off, I check in with how I'm feeling. If I'm still legitimately hungry, I eat a little more, guilt free.

The power in this tool comes from the fact that I can indeed eat more if I'm hungry later. I'm not limited if I am truly hungry, but it has to be "clean" food, that provides real nutrition. It's not "If I'm still hungry I can have a bowl of ice cream". So try the "more" timer. You might be surprised that, usually, by the time 30 minutes has passed, your tummy has told your brain that it's not hungry for more!

Next week I start summer school every morning and teaching a weekly art and writing workshop for N.A.M.I. clients. I will still be busy painting, decorating the church every week, homemaking, and being wife, mother, and grandmother. It strikes me that planning ahead for Eating Clean will be more critical than ever! Next blog: How to plan ahead to keep the diet healthy. Be sure to share your comments and tips.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Specialty of the House

It's Monday evening and there is little on TV we want to see at our house. So, one thing that helps us when we want to ignore media on a chilly, damp night is lighting every candle in the house, and, well, if it's Monday, watching House. On Fox. One of the only two Fox shows we ever watch. Just House walking gimpily around the hospital, the playground, the pre-school, or the parking lot.

The curmudgeonly Dr. House, played hunkily by Hugh Laurie, is about as far removed from Laurie's former BBC roles in such Jane Austen productions as Pride and Prejudice as Michael Keaton's Batman role was from Mr. Mom. But TV is what plays in the living room while the dishes are being washed and the leftovers are put away.

There are houses in which life may be more sublime, but not houses where we can be more at home.

I am grateful for those moments in our home in which the Specialty of the House includes dinner on Dan's Aunt Laura's embroidered placemats, Dori's Mema's antique plates, Dan's Grandpa's silver, and Dori's Grandma Marshall's crystal. Add to that the fact that we have fresh food to eat and a solid roof over our heads, our Specialty of the House seems to be:. blessing

Sunday, June 5, 2011

You Say Po-TAY-to, I Say Po-TAH-to

When I paint food still life, I like to include a lot of appealing colors, just as I would in any painting. A recent venture that illustrates this tendency is my sunflower painting, "There is Room for All in the Garden". I used a saturated palette inspired by Kandinsky which gave the painting verve and great warmth. During my 30-day self-imposed Lenten discipline of painting my dinners every night, I tried to make sure there was enough color to keep the eye and this artist interested. I don't like brown paintings, and I don't much like brown food, either.

You see before you the one exception: The humble potato. This one is a great big Idaho baker, brown as dirt. Others are red, yellow, gold, pink, and even purple. Most of us, though, if we're being honest, have grown up with one that looks like this.

Now, when Vincent VanGogh wanted to use the potato in his art, in his famous rendering of "The Potato Eaters", he used almost a monochromatic brown palette which evoked the humble status and uninteresting lives of the peasants. Look closely and you realize that he's gone even further, and the people themselves sort of look brown and uninteresting, like the potatoes.

So potatoes have gotten a rather sad reputation. It's no wonder our culture has tried to make them more interesting by deep-frying them, saucing them, drowning them in chili, and otherwise adding unwanted saturated fats and calories. It's too bad, because a whole potato, baked or roasted with its skin on, is a beautiful food. A medium-size 5-ouncer comes equipped with 110 calories, -0- grams of fat, and 26 grams of carbohydrate. It contains 4 grams of dietary fiber, and is a good source of vitamin C. (Source: www.CalorieKing.com)

On the other hand, Frito Lay peels them, slices them thin, and processes them in hot oil (sunflower, canola, or corn according to the package ingredients). By the time you eat 15 of the chips, so much of the surface area of your serving has been exposed to the deep-fryer that you're loading up 160 calories, 90 of which are from fat. You can say po-tay-to or you can say po-tah-to, whichever you prefer, but you can't say that they're beautiful food any longer. In fact, it's somewhat of a question whether they're still even vegetables by this point.

Anyway, I suppose since one point of this series is to wonder aloud about what our food is doing to sustain us and enrich our lives, I feel thankful for the humble brown potato and its hidden inner beauty. It certainly has a place in a healthy diet! But it's worth remembering that we pay a price every time we drive through and super-size our fries or eat half the bag of chips. I bet you really can't eat just one! Of course, there's this piece of logic from my husband Dan: A serving of potato chips once a week isn't going to kill you...


Saturday, June 4, 2011


Monounsaturated fatty acids, or MUFA's for short, sound like they belong in a chemistry class, not on a blog about art and food. Yet it makes perfect sense to include consideration of fats in any discussion of food, and it makes even more sense to include MUFA's in the discussion of beautiful food.

For quite some time now, we have been aware of the dangers to our hearts of saturated fats. These are the kind of fats that come primarily from animal sources. (Think bacon, butter, lard, and cream) They are generally solid at room temperature. The problem with including too much of them in the diet is that they contribute to health issues such as high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, risk of stroke, and hypertension.

MUFA's on the other hand, while still fats and still high in calories, show evidence of having a beneficial effect on health provided we don't overindulge and remember that we shouldn't have more than about 20-35 percent of our daily calories from ANY kind of fat.

Here's what the Mayo Clinic has recently said about these friendly fats:
"Consuming monounsaturated fatty acids may help lower your risk of heart disease by improving associated risk factors. For instance, MUFAs may lower your total blood cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels. MUFAs may also help normalize blood clotting. And some research shows that MUFAs may also benefit insulin levels and blood sugar control, which can be especially helpful if you have type 2 diabetes."

And here's why they have a place in any discussion of beautiful food: Not only do they help do good things for our health and energy when added to the diet in place of saturated fats or trans-fats, they're beautiful to look at, to cook with, to taste, to crunch, and they improve the "satisfaction" quality of even the most calorie-conscious meal. That's because they are found in:

  • Avocadoes

  • Canola oil

  • Nuts (Almonds, cashews, pecans, macadamias)

  • Nut butters

  • Olive oil

  • Olives

  • Peanut oil

  • Sesame seeds

  • Dark chocolate
Now if you have always thought these products were on the taboo list for dieters, let me assure you, your diet just got more beautiful. Here are some ideas:

Chop up 4 pecan halves and sprinkle on top of a salad instead of cheese or crumbled bacon.
Dress up a grilled filet of chicken or white fish (snapper, cod, halibut, tilapia, etc.) with a spoonful of olive tapenade during the last minute or so of grilling.
Experiment with different dark chocolates and find one that you really enjoy. When a sweet tooth attack strikes, have an ounce and really enjoy it.
Stir fry using only MUFA oils like canola or peanut. They're stable at high heat, and you can add a tablespoon of sesame oil to the pan. Then sprinkle sesame seeds on top before serving.
Substitute olive oil for butter when making a sautee. Keep a few different kinds of oils on hand and get to know their flavors.
Cut an avocado into chunks and add a couple of tablespoons to a fruit smoothie or mix them into a fruit salad. They add beautiful color to a salad and velvety "mouth-feel" to smoothies.
Dip fresh, washed, and dried strawberries into melted dark chocolate and let cool. Great dessert!
And, lastly, a tip from my friend Gary, who suggests making guacamole (good use of avocados) with part mashed peas, to raise the amount of fiber and reduce the calorie count!

So, before plopping that spoonful of butter into a hot saute pan, think about how MUFA's beautify us froom the inside out, and reach for the olive oil instead! (Or the peanut, or the canola....)

Friday, June 3, 2011

Susan's Beautiful Breakfast

The above pic was taken by my husband's cousin, Susan Evans, while she was in Barbados. That's right, Barbados! She is an amazing woman, a bicyclist, entrepreneur, professional tennis instructor, and, now, a surfer. While teaching tennis at a Caribbean resort, she found time to spend considerable time surfing. She also takes folks on breathtaking bike adventures. Dan and I have had an inordinate amount of vicarious fun enjoying her Facebook pictures and imagining ourselves off to the islands instead of slogging to work every day.

I wanted to publish this picture and Susan gave me permission to boost it from her site. Now, imagine a breakfast like this looking up at you some morning when you can barely open your eyes and you think you need a short stack and some bacon to fortify you for the day ahead. Look at the sweet green of the honeydew, the warm gold of the pineapple, the mellow peachy tones of canteloupe. Notice how they contrast with the deep ruddy blush of the grapes-don't the colors just make it pop right off the picture plane?

That's good color design, and even better plate design. A little lean protein, some interesting tea or coffee, and wherever it is you find yourself awakening, you could be having this breakfast from the islands, stoking up pure energy for a day of surfing or bicycling or tennis...and this kind of presentation isn't complicated or difficult!

Try doing this kind of delicate arrangement to feast your eyes and lift your spirits for yourself. To combat these last few gray days of dreary weather, this will perk you up better than the heavy carbs we crave. But wait, you say-I only have time for a bagel and cream cheese! No, coax yourself clean, I say! Cut the fruit the night before, and when serving use a beautiful or unique dish that you usually only pull out for company. Add a scoop of low fat vanilla yogurt or a slice of diet toast with a little almond butter, and voila! You're ready to hit the surf.


Thursday, June 2, 2011

So Much Easier Than the Food Pyramid

What a thrilling day for artists! What a thrilling day for foodies! Today, the famous Food Pyramid has been replaced with the MyPlate!

What a thrilling day for clean eating! We have finally pried Wonder Bread and other pseudo-foods posing as the cornerstone of dietary health out from under the foundation of the Most Stable (and boring) of all artistic compositions: the Pyramid. So long, farewell, auf weidersoehn, good-bye! Those of us who have struggled long and hard against the domination of refined wheat-based food producers in the interest of clean eating are happier tonight.

Something to consider: What ancient structure has endured longer than any other human-built piece of architecture? The PYRAMIDS. What compositional shape forms the most visually static framework for a picture (and we see it in even some of the most famous paintings of history like the Mona Lisa) What also happens to be the most boring form in which to organize a painting? A PYRAMID. And how unhelpful and unhealthy we now know it to be as a model for eating today.

The great thing that has replaced it is the MyPlate. You will notice MyPlate's circular composition, the circle being synonomous with eternity. It is balanced; yet suggests an internal assymmetry. The colored divisions selected remind us of the basic building blocks of all the best paintings-namely, the color wheel. Even the little blue circle representing dairy off to the right reminds us of that lasting modern graphic icon, the mouse who lives in Orlando and Anaheim. (You know I'm right about this-so it's just one ear. No analogy is perfect.)

As much fun as I can find to poke at both of these models, I am grateful for the movement in our country to try to bring awareness to the state of the American diet. As we retire the pyramid, we admit the shortcomings of a diet based heavily on overprocessed grains and accept the salubrious effects of a diet rich in vegetables and fruits, as represented by the plate.

Eating clean fits smack into the MyPlate model-there is no "wiggle room" as there once was on the bottom tier of the pyramid to hide a Twinkie or a slice of cheesecake unnoticed amid 7 or 8 camouflaging "bread and cereal" products. So in keeping with the eating clean thread for the month, can we see the beauty in the bowl (er, plate) of the beholder? Can we get excited about lean and clean foods, foods that come more directly from field, stream, garden, or tree? Can we say we won't subsidize trash foods with tax exemptions?

I certainly hope we can. Our lives and the lives of our children and grandchildren hang in the balance.

News Flash!

This is not today's installment of "The HeART of Food"! This is just because I'm bursting to tell how delighted and honored I am to have my painting, "There is Room for All in the Garden", awarded first prize in my category, Professional Artists, in the N.A.M.I. Sunflower Art Show!

This is a 16"x20" oil painting which shows an exuberant flower bed of diverse colors, forms, and lines, calling to mind the diversity of our community.

The Davis Art Center is host to this fantastic show, which supports mental illness awareness and advocacy. Please go and see the show which runs to June 23rd, and join us for the Artists' Reception on Friday, June 10th from 6:30 to 8:30.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

This is Not a Bowl of Cherries

As a young adult I never had a weight problem. I could order a full meal of steak, baked potato, and a couple of cocktails and still want a piece of pie when the dessert trolley rolled up. Part of the reason was that I was young. I was also much more active - weekends at the park, the golf course, or the beach. Weeknights after work there were games of volleyball, softball, or a jog around the neighborhood. At 100 pounds, I could kill off a pitcher of beer and a medium pizza all by myself after a night of volleyball.

After my kids came along, I walked around the neighborhood with dog and stroller or took the little guys sledding in winter, swimming in summer, and playing at the park year-round. We knew all the best playgrounds in the county!

When I became a single mother, buying and preparing nutritious food that would both fit into my budget and that my kids would eat was a nightmare. I can still recall stocking the pantry with sale items only to have one or the other boy announce he was "off" that particular food. Cooking every night from scratch after a long day at work was out of the question, but convenience food meant overloading on ingredients that none of us should eat.

"Eating clean" is the term I learned from the book "The Writing Diet" by Julia Cameron, author of "The Artist's Way". She uses it to describe eating in such a way that one eats mindfully, eliminating those substances such as sugar and fat that weigh us down physically.

When I think of clean eating, for me it means taking charge of food, neither vilifying nor glorifying it, but appreciating its ability to provide nourishment, promote health, beautify my life, and sustain energy. It also means paring down my food just as I would a painting: in the composition of a painting, I consider line, shape, color, form. If something doesn't add to the overall quality of the painting, it needs to be eliminated in the interest of the whole.

In diet, what is truly beautiful can be conserved. The nutritional essence of whole vegetables, fruits, sustainably farmed poultry and meat, whole grain products, and dairy. Consider cherries, for instance. They are in season now, and pretty affordable. They are so stunning that I am reminded of Luke 12 wherein Jesus said:

"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your
life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. [23]For life
is more than food, and the body more than clothing. [24]Consider the ravens:
they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God
feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds!"

Just think how true this is-this gorgeous food is so plentiful it grows on trees! Right out there in the open where anyone can see it, the birds can eat their fill, and there is more than enough for me! We don't have to labor in cherry mines, we don't have to fish in the deep blue sea for it. It just grows, right there, on TREES.

When I took this picture, I thought for a moment that these were so amazing, how could I bear to consume them? And then I realized: How could I not?

Food this beautiful comes as a gift, whether we've purchased it with money or it's fallen over the neighbor's fence free into our back yard. And at only 30 little calories for a serving like this, I can say yes over and over and over again.