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April 18, 2011

Interview with Gwyneth Paltrow

One of my favorite people in the world, Gwyneth Paltrow, has a brand-new, beautiful and truly easy-to-use cookbook on shelves now called My Father’s Daughter.

Full disclosure: Gwyneth is a friend—I know firsthand how naturally comfortable she is in the kitchen. But somehow reading her book, and then cooking her recipes, gave me even deeper insight into a person whose values I already know to be wholesome and grounded.

From a practical sense, the recipes in her book are accessible, healthy, not-so healthy, simple, fast, flexible and most of all delicious—a must for anyone who loves to prepare delicious, effortless meals. But more than just a collection of recipes, the book has a warm and bright approach to food and families, and a touching spirit, epitomizing her relationship with the true love of her life, her father, the late Bruce Paltrow. And it all comes from the heart and soul of a fabulous cook, an incredible mother/wife, devoted friend, and true world-class lover of fun and food.

In the book’s moving introduction, Gwyneth shares with readers why she wrote this book and makes clear hers and Bruce’s shared ethos about cooking and enjoying meals with loved ones: “Invest in what’s real. Clean as you go. Drink while you cook. Make it fun. It doesn’t have to be complicated. It will be what it will be.” I am adopting this creed. It’s so relaxing, isn’t it?!

She may be a movie star, Glee star (LOVE!) and a country singer with the most incredible voice, but she is a lot more than that to me and her legions of friends—many of whom she has known since elementary school. After watching Gwyneth in our little “interview” together and picking up a copy of My Father’s Daughter, I know you will fall madly in love with her too.

Posted by do it Delicious
Category: Personal Thoughts, Products We Love

March 7, 2011

I’m an Eatie. Are you?

Last Saturday night, Jerry and I went out for dinner with our best couple friends. As a treat, we decided to go to a new “it” restaurant—one that had a magnificent review in an esteemed paper. When we got there, we were impressed by the ambiance. The room was lovely—exceptional flowers dotted the tables and beautiful dogwood branches were elegantly placed throughout. A very proper maître d’ greeted us, and a sommelier came to take our wine order. The items on the menu were meticulously described, and it was hard to choose—so much so that we decided to share all of our dishes—appetizers and main courses.

All of the elements were in place for a memorable meal.

Then the food began to arrive. To call it fancy would be an understatement. There was foam, there were architectural elements, and there were animal parts none of us had ever tried. The food was prepared in very special and highly considered ways that are difficult to describe.

We all suddenly felt a little low class for this joint.

Our little group prefers a more low-key, rustic type of food—the kind that is not precious in any way.

Despite the design and display of food at this restaurant, none of us loved our dishes the way you want to when you are getting dressed up and entering into an atmosphere that suggests such greatness.

When we got the bill, we were in shock. Yes, we fully understand and respect how labor intensive it is to prepare dishes so delicately and how much training it requires to be capable of doing so. But, when we compared the cost to our level of enjoyment, the numbers just didn’t make sense to us. And it was then that we came to a revelatory conclusion: WE ARE NOT FOODIES.

This was a major admission on our part. We love food, and we like to think of ourselves as open-minded and adventurous eaters. But the cult and fetishization of fancy food is simply not us, and we are comfortable with that. As my husband—who has coined a phrase once or twice in his life—eloquently said, “We are not foodies, we’re EATIES!”

YES! We are EATIES!!! Simply put, we just love to eat good food that is not complicated, overwrought, and over thought.

This realization gave me new insight into my approach to food preparation. I have written two books aimed at offering food solutions for families. The first emphasized ways to blend healthy vegetables into kids’ favorite meals, while the second one expanded the concept of good family meals by adding in grains and other nutritious supplements. Both books were best sellers, but more importantly, both resulted in a massive outpouring of feedback from parents who were ecstatic to find simple approaches to feeding their children better—and craving more.

Many foodies and other food puritans (many of whom have never cooked a meal for a child) don’t like the approach of turning vegetables and other nutrients into invisible ingredients. Which is fine! Not every tactic is right for everyone. Some have children who have loved whole vegetables from the time they started eating solid food. Mazel Tov! Believe me, I tried it their way for years, but when dinner becomes stressful or when your child has never eaten anything that was grown fresh from the ground, it’s time to try something else.

So I set about solving my own problem, and it worked. My kids now eat salad every night, and loads of fresh veggies. And since I started sharing my experiences and recipes, I have been overwhelmed by the reaction from people who are grateful to have seen a green vegetable enter their child’s body for the first time—especially from the many highly sensitive or autistic kids who need their vegetables pureed.

But when Jerry said, “You are an Eatie,” I realized suddenly who I am, professionally. Just because I write books and make videos about food, doesn’t mean I should be categorized as a foodie. I am really just a schlep who came up with a way to feel better as a mother in how I feed my extremely picky eaters. It’s okay that some disagree with how I feed my family vegetables, but it’s working for us.

Families that have food issues—big or small—that’s who I’m focused on. As an Eatie, I am dedicated to simple, basically prepared fare that is delicious, wholesome, and affordable. I hope you will join me in our Eatie Club. We are accepting new members.

Posted by do it Delicious
Category: Personal Thoughts

February 28, 2011

Why all the hate, Twitter?

Did you watch the Oscars last night? I did. Admittedly, the show dragged on a bit but there were some nice moments and a couple of great acceptance speeches.

I also did something I had never done during an Academy Awards broadcast: monitor my Twitter-feed. Last year at this time, I was a Twitter-phobe, but I took the plunge last fall—and have really enjoyed it since then—so I was looking forward to hearing the reactions of the Twitter-sphere to what was happening at the Awards last night.

Unfortunately, the tweet-stream during the Academy Awards resembled what my young children tell me about the bullies at school. Too many of the tweets were nasty and personal—and not in a clever or satirical way. Just plain mean. I know I’m late to the social media dance, but as the night wore on, the ugliness, insults and nastiness left me depressed, tired and disappointed. I had to log off.

Believe me, I’m not naïve to the culture of celebrity ridicule. And I get that mean-funny/funny-mean is part of online culture. But today I started to wonder, what is it about the internet and social media that gives these torrents of venom such comfortable homes? Why do otherwise smart and sensitive people create some of the most obvious and tacky insults when they are online?

Twitter is a highly efficient mass communications platform—anyone can sign up and be an instant broadcaster. I’ve generally found Twitter to be a civil place within the digital realm. Twitter has helped unite movements for human and political rights, and it has become a vital platform for expression in suppressed societies.

But more often recently, I am seeing it used for the primitive self-indulgence of cheap insults. And the same way that Twitter can accelerate a positive movement, like in Iran and Tunisia, it can also quickly and exponentially multiply a toxic atmosphere of cynicism, apathy and negativity.

Shouldn’t there be a wall between the snarky things people would normally whisper to a spouse or close friend—or just think to oneself without saying—and broadcasting them to the world on Twitter? Shouldn’t that require a filter and a little more thought?

As my grandmother always said, it’s easy to be mean. Kindness requires generosity and an understanding of the human condition—and lots of self-awareness. Reading Twitter last night, it felt like we were going in fast reverse toward becoming an evolved people. It seems as though people have lost their self-control and are indulging their egos in a way that makes me uncomfortable. So many people ask me to get Jerry on Twitter. But I would be hard pressed to convince him to be part of a realm that’s starting to feel more and more like a rampaging mob.

When I mentioned all of this to friends today, some told me to simply unfollow the people I didn’t like. But here’s the thing: I followed them in the first place because I thought I DID like them. And I think there’s a good chance that these are actually good people who say mean things because that’s the club mentality on the internet.

Am I crazy for wanting to change that mentality? Or should I just unfollow all the people in my feed who add hate into the atmosphere?

Posted by do it Delicious
Category: Personal Thoughts

February 14, 2011

The Shake Up

Last Saturday, after enjoying 4 (freezing) hours in Staten Island watching my son Julian play baseball, my friend Jen and I took him and her son Jake for pizza. We drove straight to Rigoletto’s—my favorite neighborhood pizza joint that I have loved since 1993. We were all famished after 4 hours of very intense baseball, and pizza seemed like the perfect relief.

Rigoletto’s offers many pizza variations—I especially love the Viva (sliced fresh tomato, fresh mozzarella and fresh basil) and the Padova (fresh tomato and artichokes). But you know those moments when you are so hungry that you cannot make a decision? I was having one of those, so I went for a straight-up plain slice, as did Jen, and we got the boys 2 slices of pepperoni each (they were having no such indecisiveness.) Then I went looking for the red pepper and oregano, with which Julian and I both like to top our slices, and some napkins.

I assumed by the time I got back, my pizza would be cooled enough to take a bite. And, rather than take one of those test bites that tell you the food is too hot before you commit to it, my better judgment was clouded by insurmountable forces. The cold day, the sheer hunger and the anticipation of the top-of-slice bite (that first crunch of the crust, the tomato sauce and cheese) all ganged up on me, telling me to just go for it and take a big bite. Big mistake. 

The pizza was so hot that I severely burned the roof of my mouth. Like scalded it. Completely. The searing pain diminished the extreme hunger, and I sat there with tears in my eyes (not the good kind) watching everyone else enjoy my favorite pizza.

When I tried to eat something later that evening, I nearly clung to the ceiling in pain. I had done such a number on my mouth. Who knew hot cheese presented such a risk? I tried to skip dinner because everything hurt. 

But I am not a “skip a meal” kind of girl, so I took the advice of a highly informed nutrition genius who suggested I try a Vega Complete Whole Food Health Optimizer. I always dreaded the idea of drinking shakes, but for the next few days, out of painful necessity, my Berry or Chai Vanilla Vega shakes became my main source of sustenance. They are sugar, gluten, dairy and soy free, and full of protein, fiber and antioxidants. The canister also says this shake provides 100% recommended daily intake of vitamins and minerals, Omegas, enzymes, probiotics and phytonutrients. All the things we are supposed to eat, right?

I started getting into it—adding Chia seeds, cinnamon, ginger powder, cardamom and blueberries. I began to feel electrified with energy. I didn’t crave caffeine or sweets. I forgot to drink my daily morning coffee (that’s never happened before) and I even began to wake up before my daughter’s alarm rings (and wakes everyone else up but her.)

So, now I am in a quandary. I fully believe our vitamins and nutrients should come from eating nutritious, wholesome foods, but I have not felt this good in years. It makes me wonder if the healthful foods I’m eating have enough nutrients or if I’m eating enough of them. Take a look at this chart I found on Vega’s website:

Should I continue this experiment of incorporating the Vega shakes into my already balanced diet?

This requires more investigation on my part…

There are other products that are less expensive, but Vega was recommended to me as the best one because of its nutritional profile.

This product is not recommended for young children.

This is not a paid endorsement of Vega; I have no relationship with this company.

Posted by do it Delicious
Category: Personal Thoughts

January 24, 2011

A Late Start

Since the holidays, I had adopted the lazy habit of making pasta every night for dinner. At first, it wasn’t a problem—in fact, it was great. We were all trying different nutritious sauces, getting a good mix of protein and vegetables, and enjoying the kinds of meals that your body craves in winter.

Slowly but surely, however, our pasta-filled January led to bad habits. Jerry started to notice that, while maintaining a disciplined exercise program and being pretty careful about his eating, he was putting on weight and not feeling so svelte. Worse still, my kids started to crave and ask for plain pasta and no longer wanted to eat vegetables. I started to panic! I had come so far with our vegetable intake and now I felt like I was taking 10 steps back.

It happened in just a few weeks—and almost imperceptibly. In fact, it wasn’t until I sat down and really looked at exactly what we’d been eating the past few weeks that the problem became obvious. What started as a desire for hearty meals had turned into an unhealthy food crutch.

So, I’m making some adjustments. I’m making seasoned black beans instead of pasta, quinoa instead of rice, and using more avocado and less animal protein. I’m making changes that are more nutrient dense, less processed, and less based on white flour options. The composition of our plates is looking different these days as well. For example, tonight the focus of our meal is a quinoa avocado salad with a Sriracha (spicy!) vinaigrette, raw veggies (one less thing to cook!) and just a bit of chicken will be on the side. Whole-wheat pasta is an improvement—it’s more wholesome and sometimes less processed than white flour based products—but better still are substitutes that comes from the ground, like legumes (beans!) and whole grains (quinoa! barley! farro!)

I’ve also consulted a food bible—Michael Pollan’s Food Rules, a plain-sense book about healthy eating habits. “The whiter the bread, the sooner you’ll be dead,” it states.

“This rather blunt bit of cross-cultural grandmotherly advice (passed down from both Jewish and Italian grandmothers) suggests that the health risks of white flour have been popularly recognized for many years and, as far as the body is concerned, are not much different than sugar. Unless supplemented, it offers none of the good things (fiber, B vitamins, healthy fats) in whole grains—it’s little more than a shot of glucose.” In other words, all this pasta was being processed as sugar in our bodies.

It makes sense that Jerry wasn’t feeling so great. This is why my kids were craving “plain” pasta as well: plain pasta does not challenge the taste buds a bit, and once the body gets used to abundant glucose, it craves it even more.

I keep Food Rules by my bed. Open any page and you are reminded of how simple it can be to make healthy changes. Mr. Pollan’s tips harken back to a time when we didn’t mess up our bodies so much by eating foods that are technology based. It’s full of quick, easy-to-remember tips. Here’s another favorite: “If it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don’t.” I love that. Such a simple and powerful message—the kind that can empower you to make small changes that will eventually add up and keep you living longer, leaner and stronger.

For now, I am just going to acknowledge that I got a late start to my new year’s resolution of cooking with more whole grains and more veggies, and be grateful that I know how to get us back on track. I am attempting to get my family eating more like our ancestors (and what I resemble most in the morning—a cavewoman.) I am foraging for things at the market that were found on bushes or tress, growing in the ground, living in the fields and swimming in oceans or lakes. I hope my often finicky family goes for it.

Posted by do it Delicious
Category: Personal Thoughts