Cooking With My Sis

All of my siblings (except for my little sis – we miss you Madeline!) and all of Ed’s siblings, including husbands, wives, fiancĂ© and girlfriend, are in town for a ski weekend. It’s a miracle that everyone was available on the same weekend and made the trip, and Ed and I are so grateful. Hanging out with sibs is one of our favorite things to do!

My older sister Alice and I did all the grocery shopping for the weekend, and last night she made a Georgian Cilantro Sauce recipe she’s tried once before. Alice listens to The Splendid Table on NPR with Lynne Rossetto Kasper (a Minnesota native, just like us!), and heard her raving about this sauce a few months ago. So, she googled it and found a New York Times article with the recipe.

It is one of the most flavorful sauces I’ve ever tasted and can be used in so many ways – on pasta, with chips or veggies, on toasted pitas or baguettes, or even over chicken, beans, meat, fish or roasted vegetables. We plan to serve it on toasted baguettes with fresh mozzarella.


2 oz dried apricots (we used 3 oz to make it a touch sweeter)

1 cup boiling water

1/3 cup shelled walnuts

2-3 garlic cloves, halved

¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

½ tsp salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Pinch of cayenne

2 cups cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped

1 ½ cups parsley leaves, coarsely chopped

½ cup coarsely chopped mixed basil, tarragon and dill

5 tbsp walnut oil (or more to taste)

½ cup soaking water from apricots, as needed

Place the dried apricots in a bowl and pour the boiling water over them. Let them sit for at least an hour, more if possible, even overnight. Drain over a measuring cup and retain ½ cup of the soaking water. Below: Alice working hard on the sauce...

Chop garlic in food processor. Once it is finely chopped, scrape the bowl and add walnuts and process with garlic. Scrape the bowl again and add the drained apricots, lemon juice, salt, pepper and cayenne, and process to a puree. Add the cilantro and other chopped herbs and puree, stopping the machine to scrape down sides several times. Combine the walnut oil and soaking water from apricots, and gradually add while processor is running. Process until smooth. Transfer to a bowl and let sit for one hour. Taste and add salt if necessary.

I know there are a lot of ingredients, but this sauce is so tasty and so versatile and it’s actually pretty easy to make. Next time I’m going to double or triple the recipe and freeze it in smaller portions.

We gave people a taste tonight and it got great reviews – I hope everyone likes it with the baguettes and mozzarella tomorrow night. After a long day of skiing, I think it will taste great! Thanks, Alice, for helping me with all of the cooking!

Recipe: The New Cinnamon Toast

One of my favorite breakfasts as a kid was cinnamon toast. I still distinctly remember the big blue shaker my mom would fill with a cinnamon and sugar mixture. Toast + butter + cinnamon + sugar = yum!

Now, I just know too much to do that to myself. A dose of pure sugar in the morning is not good for any body, whether it comes in the form of doughnuts, sugary coffee drinks or cinnamon toast. But I have good news: the cinnamon can (and should!) stay! Cinnamon is full of manganese and has some iron and calcium as well. It helps prevent blood clotting and reduces inflammation, making it a good spice for people with arthritis, gout, and other inflammatory diseases. Cinnamon is also an anti-microbial, which means it helps stop the growth of bad bacteria inside our bodies. Bad bacteria can result from things like food allergies or digestive issues.

But perhaps the most important characteristic of cinnamon is its ability to help regulate blood sugar. When carbohydrates are seasoned with cinnamon, they spend more time in our stomach before moving into the rest of our digestive tract. This helps to prevent sudden spikes in our blood sugar, which can lead to increased sugar cravings, mood swings, and dramatic shifts in energy levels. Keeping our blood sugar under control is so important for a balanced body. Insulin resistance, which is a result of too many spikes and dips in blood sugar, is a precursor to diabetes. Therefore, if we can eat a diet that supports stable blood sugar levels, we can avoid putting ourselves at risk for certain diseases.

Traditional Chinese Medicine uses cinnamon for its warming qualities. Guess what? So do I! When Ed or I feel a cold coming on, we make up one of our “concoctions,” which is a tea containing any or all of the following: cinnamon, raw honey, fresh lemon juice, ginger, apple cider vinegar and cayenne pepper.

Another amazing food, which I am not going to talk much about today but promise to soon, is coconut oil. For many reasons, I have begun to incorporate coconut oil into my daily diet. I use it for sautĂ©ing vegetables, cooking eggs, and I’ve even added it to smoothies. Just trust me – it’s a key health food! So here’s my recipe:

The New Cinnamon Toast

Whole grain bread, preferably from a local bakery (my current favorite is Whole Foods’ Seeduction bread)

Coconut oil (cold-pressed, high-quality coconut oil… I’ll go into more detail on how to choose a good coconut oil another day, but it should be hard at room temperature)


Toast bread, drizzle with 1 tbsp of coconut oil, and sprinkle with cinnamon. Enjoy!

PS- Sorry about the bad photos – still having to use by iphone until we get a new camera!


Osteoarthritis and Eliminating Nightshades

Last week, we learned about osteoarthritis in class. I know some of you have arthritis, and thought this information would be helpful. If you don’t have it, read anyway, because chances are you know someone who does: osteoarthritis is the most widespread form of arthritis and affects 16 million people in the US! Rheumatoid arthritis differs from osteoarthritis in that it is an autoimmune disease, meaning the immune system attacks its own cells and tissues.

Osteoarthritis results from progressive wear and tear of the joints. The cartilage that covers the ends of the bones at each joint starts to wear away and this causes the smooth, easy surfaces to become worn and rough. And when these rough surfaces rub as you move your joints, it’s very painful! This occurs most frequently at the hands, knees, hips and spine. One of the warning signs is stiffness in the joints after prolonged periods of sitting or sleeping. It scared me a little to learn this, because sometimes I get fairly stiff the day after I’ve done a long run, like when training for a race. I’ve always known that runners put too much pressure on their joints, but when I was younger I didn’t seem to care. Now, I do! I’ve decreased my running and increased things like swimming, yoga and pilates to help balance out the wear and tear (but, I still love running and will do it as long as I can, just in moderation!).

Things that may cause osteoarthritis can include any one or a combination of the following: getting older, being overweight, previous joint injuries, joints that never properly formed, and continuous stress on the joints from high activity levels in sports, on the job, or otherwise. For those who are overweight, losing weight can help relieve some osteoarthritis pain. For others, try things like yoga, pilates, tai chi, and other forms of strength training. I happen to be a huge believer in pilates, so this is what I would recommend to a client suffering from osteoarthritis pain. Lengthening and stretching your body through pilates movement helps to increase blood flow, and therefore increases delivery of nutrients to our tissues and tendons. This increased circulation also relieves soreness and stiffness, and corrects our posture, which can be very healing. The muscle strengthening component of pilates helps to increase lean muscle mass and support the body more completely. My one piece of advice with pilates: stick with it. It’s a completely new way of thinking about your body, and it takes time to learn the subtle movements and find those hidden muscle groups. But over time, I promise you will become addicted!

Now for the important stuff… Nutrition

What can you eat to help with osteoarthritis pain? A healthy diet helps a lot. Focus on antioxidants (vitamins A, C and E); bioflavonoids to help strengthen collagen for healthier joints (all fruits, veggies, spices and herbs); essential fatty acids (fish, nuts, seeds); and sulfur-rich foods, which reduce inflammation and help cartilage cells regenerate quickly. Foods rich in sulfur include garlic, onion, sprouts and cabbage.

Perhaps the biggest and most important change one can make nutritionally is to eliminate “nightshades” from their diet. Nightshades include potatoes (especially if they have green sprouts on them) tomatoes, tomatillos, eggplant, sweet peppers, hot peppers, regular peppers, pimentos, paprika, cayenne, and Tabasco sauce. Tobacco is also a nightshade, so smokers with osteoarthritis pain may feel symptoms subside when they quit smoking.

What do nightshades have in common? They all contain alkaloids. Alkaloids affect nerve-muscle function and our digestion, but they also can compromise joint function in certain people. Some people are particularly sensitive to the alkaloids in nightshades, and eliminating them from their diet relieves joint pain tremendously. When the alkaloids get into the joints, they can cause inflammation and altered mineral status. They also can contribute to calcium loss in the bones, and excessive deposits of calcium in soft tissues.

I would recommend eliminating nightshades from the diet completely for a client with either type of arthritis, as well as other joint problems like gout. Try eliminating them for 3 weeks and see if you notice a difference in the level of joint pain you are experiencing. I’ve spoken with many people who have tried this with a lot of success, and some of my teachers have first hand experience with their clients as well.

By the way, check out Haute Apple Pie blog today - It's spring break week over there, and I am guest blogging about snow bunny getaways in Colorado! If you are a Pierce or LaFave sibling, please read it to get excited about this weekend! See you in Vail!


The ANDI Score

Have you guys heard of this yet? It’s starting to become more widely used so I thought I should write about it.

ANDI stands for “Aggregate Nutrient Density Index.” Nutrient density refers to the amount of nutrients (carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins and minerals) in a food related to the amount of energy (calories) in the food. However, the ANDI score focuses mainly on micronutrients, which are the vitamins and minerals. As you can probably guess, things like fruits and vegetables are very nutrient-dense foods, whereas things like gummy bears and Oreo cookies are not.

The ANDI score is based on a scale of 1 to 1000, with 1000 being the highest nutrient density possible. Whole Foods is the first grocery store to begin to label certain foods with their specific ANDI score, in an effort to help shoppers make smart, nutritious decisions.

However, there is one point I want to make about these scores: certain foods that are high in fat, complex carbohydrates or proteins are rated lower on the ANDI scale, such as olive oil, eggs or brown rice. Olive oil has a score of 9, eggs a score of 27, and brown rice a score of 41 If a shopper focuses only on foods higher on the scale, such as kale at 1000 or lentils at 104, they may not obtain the proper amount of macronutrients (fats, carbs, proteins) in their diet. This can interfere with metabolism, weight loss efforts, energy levels, and overall health. So while I do think the ANDI score system can be helpful, it is still important to be educated on what it means to have a well-balanced diet. The key, as usual, is to stay away from those processed foods! And while Whole Foods has many fresh conventionally and organically grown produce, it has plenty of processed foods in those center isles, too. Just because it comes from Whole Foods doesn’t mean it’s going to have a high ANDI score!

Here are some sample scores so you can get an idea of which foods are rated higher and lower on the scale:
  • Mustard/Turnip/Collard Greens: 1000
  • Kale: 1000 (This is why I talk so much about kale – it’s a perfect food!!)
  • Watercress: 1000
  • Bok Choy: 824
  • Spinach: 739
  • Strawberries: 212
  • Blackberries: 178
  • Apple: 72
  • Black Beans: 83
  • Edamame: 58
  • Sunflower Seeds: 78
  • Almonds: 38
  • Walnuts: 34
  • Bison: 39
  • Chicken Breast: 27
  • Salmon: 39
  • Trout: 36
  • Oats: 53
  • Quinoa: 21
  • Plain Nonfat Yogurt: 30
  • Mozzarella (Part Skim): 16
Do any of these surprise you? Some of them definitely surprised me. If we only ate those foods scored in the 900-1000 range, we’d be eating only vegetables. I think the system can be helpful when people think of portion sizes. As a general rule, we should eat more generous portions of foods with high ANDI scores, and smaller portions of foods with lower scores. But the important thing is not to completely cut out foods with low scores, because our bodies need the essential fatty acids, complex carbs and proteins.

If you are a Whole Foods shopper, look for the ANDI score signs and start to become aware of nutrient-dense foods you are buying. Hopefully other grocery stores will begin to use this information as well, because I think it can be helpful when used correctly.


Diet Analysis: Weight Watchers

Remember back in January when I joined Weight Watchers? It was required for a project I was doing in class about popular diets. The assignment was to research the diet, go on the diet for a minimum of a week, and report back to the class on why this diet is so popular and what is good or bad about it.

I concluded that Weight Watchers has some really good components and some that are not so good. The history of the diet was particularly interesting. A woman named Jean Nidetch founded Weight Watchers in the 1960s. She struggled with her weight for many years and finally participated in a weight loss program through a hospital and lost 20 pounds. She wanted to continue the weight loss but was feeling some of her old cravings returning. So, she called a group of her overweight friends and asked them to come over. They shared their weight loss stories, talked about recipe ideas, and gave one another support. The meetings became a regular occurrence, and were so helpful that Jean decided to rent out a public space to accommodate more people. She posted a few flyers, and rented out a classroom that sat 40. When she arrived, over 400 people were lined up for the meeting! She welcomed them into the room in groups of 40, and meetings were held all day long. Pretty cool, right?

Some of the positive components of the diet, based on my research, include the weekly meetings and supportive environment; healthy recommendation of about 2 pounds of weight loss per week; weight loss tools were readily available either online or in hard copy, depending on what works for you; recipe books seemed to be helpful for many; and their signature “points system” was fairly easy to use.

However, there were definitely some negatives. Weight Watchers became a public company in 2001 and, like all companies, needs to make money. They have a very strong marketing department and use this to their advantage. They advertise with phrases like “Eat all the foods you love” and “Choose any food, as long as you control how much you eat.” And while they do educate participants in meetings about the benefits of eating lots of fruits and vegetables, they also sell many branded processed foods. These include things like muffins, sponge cakes, granola and energy bars, shakes, frozen meals and soups. I attended one meeting and was shocked when, at the conclusion of the meeting, 25 people lined up to purchase things like WW branded bars, shakes and cakes. I mean, we had just spent the last 45 minutes talking about the importance of eating nutrient-dense foods!

One example I gave in class was this: Let’s say you are hungry and want a snack. You decide to have a 3-point snack. According to the food reference guide, 1 gram of almonds is 3 points. I would consider this a very healthy, sensible snack. However, 1 Weight Watchers brand blueberry muffin is 2 points and 1 Weight Watchers brand lemon cake is 1 point. So, you could ditch the almonds and have 1 blueberry muffin AND 1 lemon cake for 3 points. Most people would go for the muffin/cake combo without thinking twice! And this is a little scary, considering these are highly processed foods, and sugar is the first ingredient in the lemon cake and the second ingredient in the muffins. These foods do not support weight loss and instead they actually interfere with proper metabolism of fat and raise blood sugar levels, which will lead to cravings and possibly overeating later in the day.

I talked to a lot of people who have tried Weight Watchers (thank you to all the PWN readers who provided me with such valuable information about your personal experiences on the diet!). Most said that they lost some initial weight, but then hit a wall or even started gaining it back. There was general agreement that WW does not do enough training on how to make these habits a lifestyle after the weight is off. The emphasis is on weight loss but not necessarily long-term health. This leads to people losing weight on the diet, but then slowly gaining it back and signing up for another round of meetings. As a company, this benefits WW because their customers keep returning. Could this be why they fail to provide adequate training for maintaining the weight loss? Who knows, but something to think about.

The last thing that I didn’t really agree with was WW’s emphasis on foods labeled “low-fat,” “fat-free” or “sugar-free”. There was also not a lot of talk about food quality: freshness, organic, local, etc. As you all know, I place a lot of value on fresh, local, whole foods. Something that has been labeled as reduced fat or sugar immediately tells me it has been processed, and is therefore not a whole food. I’d rather have one of my future clients eating fresh peanut butter they made at home, complete with the fats that are in peanuts, then a reduced-sugar or reduced-fat peanut butter that is highly processed from the grocery store. WW would disagree with me. Just a difference in approach to health, but something to keep in mind.

For people who are more educated in nutrition and the importance of high quality foods, I think the WW points system can be a helpful way to track food intake and lose weight. However for others, I think the diet can lead people to foods that are not supportive of a balanced body. Overall it was really interesting learning about the diet. It is so widely used and a very successful company, and I am thankful I had the opportunity to try it out. I hope it will help me relate better to future clients and understand some of the things they’ve tried or been taught on their weight loss journeys.