Category Archives: Eating and Recipes

Pirogi Event, a Generational Connection

Rose and Sophie

Rose and Sophie

Pirogi making is a tradition in my family handed down generation after generation. In this photo is my great grandma Rose who taught my grandma Sophie, who taught me (Rose) who just taught my daughter (Sophie). Below is a photo from today.

 

Rose and Sophie

Rose and Sophie

When you look at cultural food you notice almost every culture has some sort of dumping style food. Pirogi are a staple of Polish cuisine. Like most ethnic dumplings, pirogi can be made with what you have on hand, such as potatoes, cheese, onion, beef, mushrooms, and sauerkraut. I learned to make pirogi from my grandma, who tended to use a filling of potatoes and cottage cheese. We frequently eat store bought pirogi, but on Christmas Eve I like to make them from scratch. My husband calls this day “the pirogi event.” This year there were two unique aspects to our pirogi event, first, my daughter Sophie wanted to help, and two, my son is on a wheat and dairy free diet. Here is how it went, along with some instructions so anyone can follow along. 

You will need these ingredients.

2 cups flour

2 eggs

1Tablespoon warm water

1 large or two small potatoes

½ onion sautéed

¾ Cheese (any kind)

doughWe start with the dough. It could not be easier. It is one egg for each cup of flour, and a little warm water to help get the consistency right. I put the flour right on the counter and press a spot in the center for the eggs. I start mixing it with my hands and sprinkle a little water as needed. The amount of water varies depending on the type of flour size of egg so I just keep a cup on hand- you will need it later. It turned out I had no normal flour in the cupboard so we made a batch with whole and a batch with a gluten free baking mix flour (rice flour, fava bean flour, tapioca flour). Here is a picture of the two dough balls side by side. Once the dough is in a nice ball I set it aside and cover with plastic wrap while I work on the filling.

the whole wheat dough is on the left. The gluten free is on the right.

the whole wheat dough is on the left. The gluten free is on the right.

For the filling I start with potatoes. I peeled a large potato and boiled it until soft. To keep it authentic like my grandma I did not spend much time mashing it smooth and left it lumpy. When the potato was boiling I sauteed half an onion chopped fine. I mixed the potato, onion, and cheese together. As you can see from the photo below, the first batch had cottage cheese and cheddar cheese, and Andrew’s batch and non dairy cheese made from almond milk.

potatoes, cheese, and onions

potatoes, cheese, and onions

My grandma taught me to roll the dough long, and cut off about 1/2 inch chunks. It is important not to over work the dough. Sophie and two of her friends helped me by rolling the dough into oblong shapes. We scooped the mix into the center, and played around with how much to use by trying to fit as much as possible and still fold the dough in half. By dipping our fingers into the water we sealed the dough together. They were all sorts of shapes but that is ok. It is the taste that matters. The whole wheat flour was fine to work with, but the gluten free was falling apart. I found it worked best to leave the pieces thick. It also helped to flatten the dough in my hand instead of the counter so I wouldn’t have to peal it off.

cut into chunks, fill, seal with water.

cut into chunks, fill, seal with water.

The next step is to put the dumplings into boiling water. As soon as they float, which takes only a few minutes, they are ready. I use a slatted spoon to take them out and set them is a dish with melted butter to keep from sticking. They are best fresh but will keep in the fridge for a couple of days.

When they float they are done. The whole wheat pirogi look weird to me but they taste the same

When they float they are done. The whole wheat pirogi look weird to me but they taste the same

I hope you get the chance to make these. Remember, use what you have on hand and don;t worry what they look like!

While confirming a few facts before writing this blog post I came across the photo. It shows a third generation rat fed GMO soy. Yes that is hair growing inside of its mouth. Soy what, huh?

Soy What

Somewhere in the back of my mind I knew there were mixed reviews of soybeans and soy products, but I thought “so what?” It is not like we eat that much soy. Then we found out Andrew was allergic to soy and I began to read labels. It is literally in almost everything. Here is what I have since learned about soy and why my whole family will be avoiding it.

What is soy: The soybean is the seed of the soy plant, which is in the pea family. You can eat the beans (soy beans) or the whole pod (edamame). It can be ground into soy flour or squeezed into soy oil. Soy milk is the product of cooked beans, and that can be pressed into tofu. There is also tempeh, miso and natto, made of fermented cooked soybeans. The most important distinction to be made between all these forms of soy seems to be whether or not it is fermented. The fermentation process appears to remove the harmful effects of soy, discussed below.

GMO: The scariest thing about soy is that 91% of soy that is produced has been Genetically Modified. See my earlier post on the huge dangers of GMO. Crops that have been genetically modified are sure to have higher levels of residual pesticides and disrupt the bodies digestive function. Because GMO crops can be sprayed with heavy round up they can be cheaply produced. So cheap in fact that soy has become a staple feed crop. 80% of soy is used as animal feed. So even if you avoid soy, you still get the harmful affects through the meat you eat. GMO crops are linked to increase in food allergies. One UK study found that soy allergies are up 50% since the introduction of GMO soy in the early 2000s.

soyThe Anti-Health Food: The Soy Association of North America will have you believe that Soy is a miracle food and is healthy for you. The truth is the opposite. Eating soy can actually leach nutrients out of your body. Some of the natural toxins found in soy are saponins, soyatoxin, phytates, protease inhibitors, oxalates, goitrogens and estrogens. Big fancy words for chemicals that can interfere with how your body digests protein. Tiny amounts would go unnoticed, but as I mentioned earlier, a stroll down the grocery isle perusing ingredients shows that Americans are eating more soy than ever before, probably without realizing it.

Hemagglutinin is a clot-promoting substance that causes your red blood cells to clump together and deprive your cells of oxygen. Goitrogens are substances that block the synthesis of thyroid hormones. You have probably heard about the increase in diagnosed thyroid function problems. Phytates (phytic acid) preventing the absorption of certain minerals, including calcium, magnesium, iron, and zinc which your body needs to be healthy. A compound in soy called Isoflavones closely resemble human estrogen. This is why some menopausal women are encouraged to take soy as a natural supplement. However, these compounds are known to disrupt endocrine function, may cause infertility, and may promote breast cancer in women. My naturopathic doctor suggested that even if my son was not allergic to soy, he should still avoid it due to the estrogen like affects.

The Westin A. Price foundation lists these additional harmful effects of soy.

  • Vitamin B12 analogs in soy are not absorbed and actually increase the body’s requirement for B12.
    • Soy foods increase the body’s requirement for vitamin D.
    • Fragile proteins are denatured during high temperature processing to make soy protein isolate and textured vegetable protein.
    • Processing of soy protein results in the formation of toxic lysinoalanine and highly carcinogenic nitrosamines.
    • Free glutamic acid or MSG, a potent neurotoxin, is formed during soy food processing and additional amounts are added to many soy foods.
    • Soy foods contain high levels of aluminum which is toxic to the nervous system and the kidneys.

The Fact Disconnect: Dr. Oz says soy can be healthy but also warns that soy can throw hormones “out of whack.”  On the other side, Dr. Kaayla Daniel, author of The Whole Soy Story, points out thousands of studies link soy to malnutrition, digestive distress, immune-system breakdown, thyroid dysfunction, cognitive decline, reproductive disorders and infertility. Why is there this disconnect? Because soy is a commercial product and there is a soy industry out there promoting it, wrapping it up and advertising it as a health food. According to the Soyfoods Association of North America soy food sales increased from $300 million to nearly $4 billion from 1992 to 2006.  From 2000 to 2007, U.S. food manufacturers introduced more than 2,700 new soy-based foods, and new soy products continue to appear on your grocer’s shelves. Consider baby formula, much of which is soy based. Soy formula offers no nutritional value over milk based formulas, and children with dairy allergies are just as likely to have soy allergies, but it is marketed as a healthier alternative. According to this article 25% of infants are on a soy formula.

Soy What?: So all in all, it was pretty easy for us to choose to say goodbye to soy. This is harder said than done because it is in a lot of processed foods. It can show up as it lecithin, monosodium glutamate (MSG), hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP), textured vegetable protein (TVP), vegetable gum, natural flavoring, and vegetable broth. If I had any doubts before, they are certainly gone now. While confirming a few facts before writing this blog post I came across the photo which I added to the top of this page. It shows a third generation rat fed GMO soy. Yes that is hair growing inside of its mouth. Soy what, huh?

Grocery store score...Brussels sprouts.

Five Tips to Help Kids Learn to Love Vegetables

A few weeks ago I came home from the grocery store excited from the cool produce my kids had picked out, like this stalk of Brussels Spouts. I posted on Facebook and a lot of friends were curious whether the kids would eat them. It inspired to think of some of the tricks I have used over years to get my kids to eat vegetables. Here are my top five.

1) Help them understand why they are good, specifically. My son cracked me up a few months ago when he came in from climbing on the monkey bars and was rooting through the fridge. “Help me mommy,” he said, “I’m looking for something to eat to help me climb more monkey bars.” Saying something is healthy might not have much meaning for young kids, but they may be interested to hear what is good for building muscles to climb trees, or strong bones so they can be tall enough to ride the roller coaster, or something to boost their immune system so they don’t get sick,

2) Family Rule- You Must Try It. All I require is one bite.  I can’t begin to tell you how many times I have heard the kids say they DON’T like something, remind them of our family rule to try it, and have it turn out that they LOVE it. This is not a one time thing. No matter how many times it is served they have to try it that meal. Their tastes can change or I could have prepared it differently.

3) Let them get involved. Let them pick out vegetables at the store, or help wash or cook them at home. In my house I have the kids work in the garden with me. I remember as a child going out to my parent’s garden to “get dinner.” This lets kids feel like they had a choice in their meals.

Sophie picked out this turnip because it was her favorite color.

Sophie picked out this turnip because it was her favorite color.

4) Skip the snacks. It is self evident that kids eat better when they come to the table a little hungry. I struggle with this one all the time. My oldest gets off the bus and eats a snack because he is starving. I serve an early dinner because we have soccer/dance/cub scouts/etc but now he is not hungry. It is important to manage the snack to meal ratio.

5) Cook it with a chicken. I guess smothering it in cheese would work too. Vegetables are healthiest in their rawest purest forms, but they have to be eaten to be of nutritional value. This is what we did with the Brussels Sprouts. Guess what? The kids ate them. Even little baby JP.

Roasted vegetables with chicken.

Roasted vegetables with chicken.

Andrew loved this meal.

Andrew loved this meal.

Sophie thought this was so funny.

Sophie thought this was so funny.

Special Occasion Food and Elimination Diets

Lets face it, special occasions are all about the food. For some events the food is the highlight of the day, such as Birthday cakes, Thanksgiving turkeys, and Easter eggs. Sometimes it is small things you may not even realize you associate with events, like a cold beer after a day of yard work. It might be something unique to you. My husband likes to go to the gym, because he knows he will stop for a raspberry turkey flat bread afterwards. I specifically remember drinking a NA beer with teammates after a big mission in Iraq thinking, we are drinking this beer not out of taste, and certainly not for a buzz, but out of custom. This sort of food custom brings comfort. We share meals together to strengthen our bonds. Food is a huge part of our culture.

When we learned that my son, Andrew, was allergic to 16 foods, to include wheat, rice, oats, milk, cheese, eggs, soy, coconut. bananas, yeast, and more, I didn’t know what I would cook for him. I had mastered those kid friendly meals such as macaroni and cheese and chicken nuggets, but during the elimination diet phase of his treatment I couldn’t give him most normal kid food. For breakfast is was apple slices and sunflower butter. Lunch could be a chicken breast and broccoli. Snack was a big wedge of watermelon. Dinner an ear of corn and bunch of grapes. All in all very little cooking for me and pretty healthy for him, but I longed to give Andrew those  special occasion meals. Sunday morning waffles were a treat he looked forward to all week. In our house Fridays were pizza nights.

This replaced Sunday morning waffles and scrambled eggs

This replaced Sunday morning waffles and scrambled eggs

In the beginning I called every dinner I made “dinner miracle.” Below is a picture of a “pizza” I made from spouted corn tortillas, tomato sauce, and chopped cauliflower. Andrew loved this. School lunches were the hardest because they had to travel via Andrew’s swinging back pack.

Fake pizza, featured here with a warm quinoa salad and turkey

Fake pizza, featured here with a warm quinoa salad and turkey

It was easy to stay focused on the diet for us. After three days Andrew’s eczema had cleared 100%.  After a week he stopped complaining of tummy aches. He was having an easier time sleeping and staying focused. Even a plantar wart on his foot that had been bothering him for a year went away on its own. After three months we began adding food back in to Andrews diet to see if there were foods he tested reactive to that he could actually tolerate now that his gut was healing. Our Naturopathic Doctor said it was up to us which to try first. We started with those foods that would allow us to bring back some of our family traditions. As of today, we have added rice, coconut, and yeast back into his diet. This was huge over the summer because it meant I could buy him almond milk ice cream, which contains rice syrup and coconut oil. It also means he can eat Daiya almond milk cheese. I can make quinoa pasta with Daiya cheese and call it Fake mac’n’cheese.

Recently I posted a blog about making an allergen free pumpkin pie. It was important to me do make this seasonal treat. It would often be easier for me to have Andrew eat before we go out, but I recognize that this would deprive him of the fellowship of eating with others. Depending on where we are going there may be no menu options for Andrew. Below is a picture I took of Andrew at a local restaurant patio where we were celebrating the end of my husband’s soccer season. I had packed him almond butter truffles. They totally melted and had lost their shape, but as you can see Andrew didn’t mind. He was happy to be at the table.

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Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. It will be the first Thanksgiving where we are allergen conscious, and also the first thanksgiving where I am not cooking. I am not packing any food as we head to Philly to see my in laws, but rather I am leaving it up to my father-in-law. Worst case scenario…I know for a fact my boy eats turkey legs.

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The girls in the house loved the pudding.

Frank Stallone Chocolate Pudding

My little brother, Kyle, sent me a recipe for chocolate pudding made with an avocado base. As I looked the ingredients over I thought this could go either way- really good or really bad, but totally have to blog about this recipe.

This past weekend Kyle and his girlfriend, Megan, came to visit and claimed they made the pudding and it was awesome but forgot to bring some for us.  Well tonight we made it and I loved it! So did my daughter. The boys in the house…not so much. I used less sweetener than the recipe called for and my husband wants me to try it again with “more sugar.” He likes the idea that we are eating entire avocados. Avocados are a nutritional powerhouse. They promote heart health, are naturally anti- inflammatory, help prevent cancer, and stabilize blood sugar. They are high in fiber, vitamin K, folate, vitamin C, vitamin B5, potassium, vitamin B6.

Here is how to make it yourself.

Ingredients

2 ripe avocados
2 tablespoons coconut oil (we used sunflower oil because of a coconut allergy)
1/3 cup honey
1/2 cup cocoa powder
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 almond milk

I started with super ripe avocados. These ones sat on my counter for four days. The best way to open an avacado is to slice it around and open it in half. After you pop out the seed use a spoon to scoop the insides. Get all the way to the skin. The nutrients are concentrated in the dark green outside part.

Slice the avocados in half and don't miss the dark green part.

Slice the avocados in half and don’t miss the dark green part.

I put the avocados into the baby bullet (a food processor if you have one) along with the other ingredients. I didn’t bother measuring the ingredients and found it to be a forgiving recipe. When it is mixed you have amazing chocolate pudding. It has a really smooth and creamy texture. I scooped it into sundae dishes and looked great.

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This is everything I used

My husband calls this pudding “Frank Stallone” pudding. Frank Stallone is the younger brother of Sylvester Stallone. Frank was not quite as good looking, not quite as successful, and not quite as famous as his big brother Sly. Poor Frank was in Sly’s shadow. To my husband, this pudding is in the shadow of “real” chocolate pudding. It looks like pudding, feels like pudding, but the taste is a little different.

If you are into clean healthy eating definitely make some of this pudding.

 

Keeping the kids busy with the Post-Halloween pumpkins

No Rest for the Weary

Today was a long rough day, mentally and physically. This morning I took my bi-annual Physical Fitness test for the Army, and after went immediately into important meetings and pending deadlines. Coming home I hit traffic in the city and the beltway. As I pulled in the driveway I thought “easy dinner…use homework pass…movie night.”

The kids had other plans. The kids decided tonight is the night the Halloween pumpkins become pies. As I was starting dinner, I heard banging and thumping as they rolled the Halloween pumpkins from the front porch to the kitchen counter. “We want pumpkin pie!” they said over each other. Ironically I intended to make them a pumpkin pie soon to try an experiment with flax as an egg replacement. “No, I’m sorry, it will have to wait till this weekend,” I told them. My son is dairy/egg/soy/grain free so every baked thing I make is like a little miracle. Steve jumped in to help and offered to help them scoop the seeds out for fun.

Andrew has a baggie of seeds to take to school to show his friends.

Andrew has a baggie of seeds to take to school to show his friends.

As they were pulling the seeds out, Andrew, my first grader, asked for a bag so he can bring the seeds into school for show-n-tell. Steve asked, “Andrew, why do you want to bring seeds to school?” “Because seeds are cool!” he answered.

I loved this, loved loved loved this. I love that my kids know where their food comes from, and how it got to the table, and that they are enthusiastic about it. Forget the relaxing,  I decided to seize the moment as a learning experience and teach the kids more about pumpkins. Waste not want not my grandma use to say. We made the most of our time and our pumpkins.

The kids were working together and keeping busy.

The kids were working together and keeping busy.

While I cooked dinner I let them work on the guts. They used spoons to scrape out all the seeds and slime. Seeds and guts were flying on the counter, stools, floor, and walls but I managed to make a decent dinner while they were entertained. After dinner we cut the pumpkin and steamed it.

Sophie scooped the meat from the skin.

Sophie scooped the meat from the skin.

Sophie used the baby bullet to puree the pie.

Sophie used the baby bullet to puree the pie.

We lost Andrew for a few minutes, although there is evidence on my mouse and keyboard he was in my office, so Sophie helped me scoop the pumpkin meat into a bowl. I showed her how we will use the skin in the compost and put it in the bin. We added almond milk, agave nectar, cinnamon, and a flax mix (one Tblsp flax meal to three tblsp water and let sit for two minutes) then ran the mixture through  JP’s baby bullet. At this point Andrew had wandered back and both kids were licking the pumpkin mix right out of the blender.

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Yup, those are tongue marks.

This crust is wheat free, made from hazelnut meal.

This crust is wheat free, made from hazelnut meal.

At this point I had conceded to a massive kitchen cleaning and I made a quick crust of hazelnut meal, sugar, and butter, poured the mix into the shell, then had forty minutes to get the kids ready for bed. We also used the time to take the seeds and make a tray of sweet (sugar and cinnamon) and savory (salt and old bay) snacks. Pumpkin seeds are high in protein, magnesium, and iron.

Pumpkin seeds are a super food.

Pumpkin seeds are a super food. Don’t look at my oven.

The poor kids were fast asleep by the time the fruit of their labor was done. This mama finished cleaning the kitchen and is now kicking back eating a warm piece of homemade pumpkin pie, with the added bonus of knowing that breakfast is already made. That is 15 more minutes of sleep for me in the morning.