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Monday, 29 November 2010

"Record" yourself and hold on to that beautiful-you feeling!

Thaksgiving has come and gone. I really enjoyed it this year. I made the trek into London to attend the Thanksgiving service at St. Paul's Cathedral. It was a brisk morning and my daughter and I dressed up and went for it! The service was really special.

Afterward, we took the tube to Knightsbridge and did some window shopping. We decided to spend some serious money having a balanced and healthy lunch, instead of taking a sandwich at Starbuck's or Pret A Manger or even E.A.T. These places DO have lower kcalorie, lower-fat selections, but we wanted a hot and GOOD lunch -- so we ventured into 'La Dolce Vita'. I had the most delicious Italian minestrone and then we each had a light pasta dish. We took NO bread with our meal and drank sparkling water and NO dessert. This sustained us as we walked the rest of the afternoon up and down and in and out of the fantastic shops. Harrod's has a Peter Pan theme going on for Christmas and Harvey Nics seems to have an over-the-top kitschy look.

Dinner was fantastic -- with friends -- and we enjoyed every morsel and ate EVERYTHING, but not OVER-ate.

And, now, I'm right back on track -- eating healthy,taking brisk walks in the frigid, but exhilarating fresh outdoors, and regularly going to the gym.

What helps me SO much is to keep looking in the mirror, having my daughter take snapshots of me, and keeping track of my weight and measurements once every couple weeks. I don't want to obsess, and I'm certainly not looking in the mirror or posing for snapshots, because I'm vain. It's just a way to "record myself" -- to keep AWARE that all my discipline and hard work is worth it and makes me LOOK great and feel great. I am SUPER tempted right now by all the wonderful sights and smells of all the holiday goodies around -- the aroma of mulled wine wafting from some of the pubs, the honey waffles being sold at a stall near a local church for their annual Christmas fayre, the chestnuts being roasted on an open fire by the train station. My daughter and I could've shared the roasted chestnuts -- they were dry-roasted and there's no added sugar or salt -- BUT, we had just finished lunch less than 2 hours before we passed the stall and decided to forego the temptation. We just weren't hungry even though the delicious aroma called out our names! We ducked into a beautiful dress shop and I kept looking in the mirror. This made me take stock and reign myself in.

So, keep up the great work and DO keep admiring how great you look and how wonderful it feels when your beautiful holiday clothes glide over your toned body. Enjoy every treat over the holidays, but don't lose that beautiful-you feeling! Think of THAT first before you take a goodie that you really don't need or want. And, if you do partake of the holiday fare and treats -- do so in moderation. The treats will taste better and you will still look and feel a treat!

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Homemade Cranberry Sauce Makes ALL the difference!

In, 1991, I was living in the Highlands of bonnie Scotland. I was cooking my first PROPER Thanksgiving dinner for friends we had met there, one of whom was an American.

Although I had already made a couple Thanksgiving dinners on a few previous years while we were living on the continent, it was only for my husband and me. My European husband was somewhat 'clueless' about what a REAL Thanksgiving dinner included, having only really experienced Thanksgiving once during the one year he was a visiting fellow at university in the States. And even though he has fond memories of that dinner (actually 'those' dinners as in one night he hit THREE dinners -- popular man!), he only remembers CANNED, gelatinous type cranberry sauce -- not MY homemade version -- AT ALL! Also, during those first five years I lived abroad, I was 'clueless' about where to buy what I needed to make a Thanksgiving dinner happen. We just usually had a chicken (turkeys were never available until Christmas) with stuffing (I DID make my own -- there were no boxed or bagged pre-mixes available which was a GOOD thing), normal potatoes (didn't yet know about the Moroccan market in Den Haag where sweet potatoes were available),a green vegetable (always plenty of cabbage or Brussels sprouts available and year-round to boot!),and a sauce I made using juniper berries (the berries that Dutch 'jenever' is made from). Now, this juniper berry sauce LOOKED like cranberry sauce, but didn't really taste like it. And, cranberry sauce was nowhere to be found in any shops I shopped at nor could I find fresh cranberries. (Later I found out that I COULD have bought canned cranberry sauce in a shop where 'ex-pats' frequented that stocked all kinds of 'essential' products from the States like Oreo cookies, Tide detergent, Skippy peanut butter, and , of course, Ocean Spray canned cranberry sauce and Libby's canned pumpkin). Cranberry sauce would have cost me the equivalent of $6.00/can, so good I didn't know as we couldn't afford such an extravagance -- sometimes, ignorance really is bliss! But, I also later found out that Vlieland -- one of the northern-most islands in The Netherlands is actually loaded with cranberry bogs and known for all kinds of fresh cranberry concoctions, including cranberry sauce and that they DO carry fresh cranberries, year-round! But, Vlieland was at last 3 hours and a ferry-ride away from where I lived, so I wouldn't have been able to make the journey anyway!. I did manage to make pumpkin pie, but using fresh pureed pumpkin I bought from the American Women's Club in The Hague. Ah, the good old days!!

Anyway, when we moved to Scotland, I found out I could get fresh turkeys in November from a local poultier. I also found fresh or frozen cranberries from a local shop that carried seasonal fruits and vegetables -- cranberries being one of them which were also available from end-November. So, I took the plunge and invited our minister and his wife for Thanksgiving dinner. He was Scottish and she was American. I made everything from scratch -- including the cranberry sauce/relish. I found the recipe from a very English 'Good Food' magazine which is published by the BBC. And, I have NEVER looked back. I will NEVER have cranberry sauce from a can ever again and neither will you once you make this and offer it on your Thanksgiving table. Thanksgiving dinner will not be the masterpiece it is supposed to be unless you offer this 'real-deal' cranberry sauce, no matter how wonderful and succulent your turkey comes.

Cranberry Sauce


600 grams ( about 1 1/2 lbs. fresh or frozen cranberries -- I prefer fresh)
1 cup sugar (240 g) (caster or granulated -- can be all white or 1/2 white, 1/2 light brown)
1/2 cup (120 ml) port or sherry or dry white wine -- whatever you have on hand
1/2 cup water(120 ml)
1 orange (need grated rind and juice of the whole orange, plus 2 thick slices from orange)
2 cloves
1 cinnamon stick


Wash berries thoroughly, picking out and discarding any that are crushed or brown.
Place berries in medium saucepan. Add juice of whole orange, alcoholic fluid of choice, and JUST enough of the 1/2 cup of water to JUST slightly cover berries. IF you want a thicker 'sauce' and the finished product to be more like a cranberry relish, then do not add water to 'cover' but only to come 3/4 of way up to berries. Add sugar, grated orange rind, the two orange slices, cloves, and cinnamon stick. Bring entire contents of pan to the boil on a medium high heat and then simmer on low for about 20 more minutes or until berries start to pop. Remove from heat and allow to thicken. It is now ready to serve (will be warm) or chill. You can serve chilled (that's how I like it) or re-heat gently to serve warm (how DH likes it) next to the rest of your Thanksgiving platter.

Leftover cranberry sauce/relish is delicious in plain yogurt, over vanilla ice cream, with pancakes, and with pork dishes, too!

Can be kept for up to one week in fridge.

This homemade version is fat and additive-free, high in fiber, Vitamins C and A, and is rich in potassium, phosphorus, and choline and is low in sodium and kcalories.

Enjoy and Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!!!

Monday, 15 November 2010

Pomegranate 'Parties'

I have always loved pomegranate. I remember how enamored I was, as a child, whenever my dear Dad would open up one of these round red balls, only to reveal the juiciest, most flavorful ruby 'jewels', that he'd scrape out of it's 'innards' -- much to my delight. We were never allowed to eat one in the house as the juice would spurt out everywhere. So, pomegranate-eating was often a summertime treat, when I would spend time with my Dad, on the porch at home, or on the steps at my Grandmother's house -- popping the kernels and talking about the world. I also remember how totally surprised friends were whenever we had the opportunity to share -- which was quite often as it became well-known that we always had good food and aplenty. They had never even seen a pomegranate, let alone taste one.

Now, THIS is the PLUS side of being born into a food-loving Italian family -- there was ALWAYS not just MORE than enough food in the house despite not having the smartest-looking house on the block -- but the food was the absolute BEST, TOP quality -- FRESH, HEALTHY, VARIED, INNOVATIVE -- not the typical lower middle-class fare of the day. The wealthy folks on the other side of the tracks had nothing over us when it came to our food and dining habits. AND, we ALWAYS, ALWAYS had enough to SHARE and we often would end up sharing to anyone and everyone. I'm proud to say, that even though my folks were not nutritionists, I think they probably exposed the children and families in our large neighborhood and in the neighborhoods of both my grandparents', early-on, to the benefits of a varied, balanced and HEALTHY diet of fresh fruits and vegetables to include many that these people would, otherwise, have never tried; grilled and steamed fish and poultry of all kinds, whole-grains like home-made pasta and polenta; the freshest cheeses and meats,like fresh wet mozzarella and lean proscuitto; and nuts and seeds.

This is what life is about -- finding the true 'jewels' the world has to offer, enjoying them as God intended, and sharing them with friends and folks along our way -- to make ourselves and others feel and look good and be the best they can be.

Pomegranates are an excellent source of potassium. They also contain vitamin C, pantothenic acid, vitamin B-6, fiber, and even a bit of calcium and protein. They have negligible fat and have about 100 kcals for a WHOLE pomegranate.

In the UK, I have found the neatest thing -- SEEDED pomegranate kernels found in packets. I ALWAYS have a pack in the fridge waiting to be sprinkled in my morning porridge, in salads and couscous or rice dishes, and just to nosh on when I want to have something intensely flavorful and fun. I ALWAYS think of my wonderful Dad, and folks he and we made happy along the way.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Some handy links and apps

A sampling of highest-rated health apps for your smartphone, from the Harvard Health Letter - #healthapps

One Body -- One Lord

Ok, so I grew up obese. The science tells me that this increases my chances of staying obese, even if I lose the fat for 'x' amount of time. This means,I am inevitably going to get fat again and struggle to lose it again and the vicious cycle will repeat over and over again. So,why bother? I might as well just 'give in' and eat whatever I want and just relax and not keep trying to get all this recommended blasted exercise in. Why can't I just be happy the way I am?

Because it would be wrong. It would be succumbing to the human condition. Because it wouldn't be being true to myself. More importantly, it would be turning my face away from God and His Love for me. God created me with this most beautiful body and I love Him for that. I'm thankful for that. Because my parents, out of genuine ignorance and misguided love, raised me to become obese, doesn't mean I have to continue the ignorance and misguided love. The Lord has led me to the truth about how to better nourish my body and I can do no other but follow and OBEY Him. In eating healthy and committing to regular exercise and to work for others,in my field, in whatever jobs I get or have ever done, I actually seek to obey God's greatest commandments --

'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbour as yourself' Matthew 22: 37-39

You see, getting up each day and living a healthy lifestyle is, for me, giving glory to God. Of course, I falter and relapse -- but I will never stop seeking to live His Plan for me and my body. Of course, I don't have the perfect body, even though I'm a committed Christian and pray for this blessing to be bestowed upon me. But, I must keep working at keeping my heart open to His will and disciplining myself to live His truth. That's all I ever wanted -- as far back as I can remember when I first opened my heart to God -- I think I was about 7 or 8 years old. It's EXTREMELY difficult for me, but it is through my trial that I have gotten to know God and CONTINUE to get to know God better and better and become even closer to Him, as my life goes on.

The other day, I read something that Mark Nepo, one of my favorite poets, wrote. Mark is a brain tumor survivor who has come to know and love God, deeply, through his trial. Mark wrote:

'We are not responsible for all that befalls us,only for how we receive it and for how we hold each other up along the way.'

So, for me, that's what it's about -- receiving my cup with a grateful heart and offering it up in as best a way as I can to the glory of God. And, serving others who I can 'hold up' in whatever ways I can -- again to share His Truth, His Way, His Love.

And, I am ALWAYS amazed at how, through the trial and the struggles and just when I'm about to succumb and say 'nah, I'm just going to eat what I want and forget about all this exercising and fitness stuff', God blesses me!

Not too long ago, I was in the gym, much to my chagrin, doing the step machine. I detest this exercise, but it's one of the most effective for my body. One of the personal trainers, who has an utterly perfect body, came up to me. Now, by NO means, do I have a body that looks fit and trim and 'buff', but she told me that she couldn't help but come over to tell me how fantastic I looked. She said that she often would see me on the machines, lifting weights, often race-walking outside and doing all kinds of different movements and that I radiated such a healthy, fit glow and that 'there was something about me that draws people to me'. She wanted to know my 'secret' -- how I looked so good!!!!!
She said she had asked around about me and the other personal trainers told her I was a dietitian and that, it was probably that I ate healthy. So, she wanted me to tell her EXACTLY what I eat and drink. Needless to say, I was so taken aback and felt so humbled. At that moment she asked -- in my mind, heart, and soul, came the words -- 'I eat of His Body and drink of His cup'. I actually wanted to shout this out to her and jump up on top of one of the bench presses and scream it out to EVERYONE working out! But, of course, I didn't do that. But, instead of FIRST telling her what and how I eat when I'm striving to eat healthy and follow all the 'state of the art' nutritional guidelines and studies and recommendations and what shops and farm markets sell this and that -- I simply FIRST shared with her that what I HOPED she saw radiating in me is my love of Jesus Christ and what it looks like when one is obeying His Word and living life as Christ would be living today on this earth with all that's 'out there' and around us. She and I have such a wonderful relationship now, as she shows me all the best and most effective exercises for me and I share with her everything she needs to know to nourish her body optimally. She had very bad skin, but she now includes several potent sources of Vitamin A in her daily diet and her skin has cleared up. AND, we talk about our walk with Christ and lift one another up as we strive to follow His Plan for each of us.

God loves me SO much that it has spilled over into me loving myself, too, and loving my neighbour as myself. So,I AM happy the way I am -- but I see myself through God's eyes -- THAT'S who I am! I seek to obey His Word, through His Body and Blood, which has made me whole, and healthy, and beautiful in His Eyes. I want to be and shine THAT for Him and for all the world to see!

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Nutrish and Delish -- Polenta

When you are trying to eat healthy, you really need to have easy foods/recipes that can give you variety in taste, texture, and versatility. And, YET, they need to packed with nutrients and hit the hottest button these days that assures you WILL include it in your diet regularly -- CONVENIENCE.

Polenta is one of those foods. It is as convenient to prepare as pasta, IF you choose the fast-cooking type. Regular cooking-type polenta needs to be cooked longer and more carefully as lumps can form and you can end up with a big mess of muck. Unless you ARE handy in the kitchen and plan to spend time cooking your polenta dish,I HIGHLY recommend looking for the quick-cooking type -- which will indicate on the directions that it takes 5-8 minutes to cook. Although you will STILL have to stir the whole time it is cooking, as you do with regular polenta, it is quicker and milled so that lumps form much less readily than the regular type. Regular polenta takes about 30 -40 minutes to cook through. I MUST admit, though, that IF you take the time to properly make the regular polenta, it does result in a superior flavor, texture and yields a much tastier dish. BUT, the fast-cooking is perfectly delicious and acceptable.

Polenta is basically cornmeal or maize. It is high in carbohydrate, but it is a slow-burning, complex carb and packed with fiber AND it is higher in protein than other carbohydrate choices. Thus, it is satisfying and creates a sense of fullness and sustains you. It is also high in the B-vitamins, iron, magnesium, potassium, and even has calcium.

On its own, polenta has a bland taste, but if you add small amounts of sharp cheese and olive oil, salt, and pepper and/or other herbs, it picks up these flavors very well. When you eat it next to or over a stew or a ragout of your choice or even with bolognese sauce or tomato sauce and meatballs, it can really make for a wonderful alternative to pasta or potatoes. You get a flavorful, tasty product which is extremely filling. This is an important advantage that polenta has for people who are trying to eat healthy while eating less. That is, to feel full with pasta or potatoes, you might need TWO servings or platefuls. But, with polenta, you will find yourself quite content and satiated with one serving.

I encourage you to google for polenta recipes and try them!

Here is a favorite recipe of mine:

Easy Chicken Cacciatore with Polenta


4 chicken breasts, 2 chicken legs, 2 chicken thighs (with skin)
1 large onion or 2-3 small onions, chopped or sliced
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 punnet chestnut mushrooms, sliced thickly
1 can chopped tomatoes or 4 fresh pomodori tomatoes, chopped
1 cup white or red wine
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon butter
chopped fresh parsley
oregano, fresh or dried, 2 Tablespoons
1 dried chili pepper
salt and pepper

Heat 2 T olive oil in a large iron pot or skillet. Add seasoned (salt and pepper)chicken and cook on all sides until golden, turning frequently. Take chicken out and place on a plate until you need it again. Add 1 teaspoon butter to pot or skillet. Add sliced mushrooms, onions, and garlic. Stir while cooking until softened. Add chicken back into pot/skillet and stir together lightly with mushroom/onion/garlic mixture. Add the one dried chili pepper. Now pour cup of wine in, covering whole mixture. Cover and let come to a gentle boil for about 8 minutes and then reduce to a simmer for about 10 minutes. Next, add tomatoes, and gentle boil for another 10 minutes. Season now with oregano, parsley, and salt and pepper. Let chicken simmer on low until you notice flesh starting to break apart from bone of legs. This takes about 15-20 more minutes. You can remove and discard the skin of chicken pieces quite easily at this point or you can remove and discard just before serving. Keep chicken cacciatore on very low simmer until polenta is finished.


Bring a liter of salted (1/2 teaspoon)water to a fast boil. Reduce to a rolling boil and add fast-cooking polenta. While constantly stirring, let polenta thicken while adding 1/2 cup grated parmesean cheese, 1 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, salt, and pepper, and other herbs, for example -- rosemary or tyme. Be VERY careful to keep lowering heat of pot so polenta doesn't splatter and burn you while stirring. The polenta should be soft and done to a golden mash within 6 minutes.

Serve chicken/mushroom mixture over polenta mash and sprinkle with parmesean cheese.
Serve with green salad.


Friday, 5 November 2010

Chicken Soup For the Body

There's a crisp chill in the air and 'golden grove' is 'un-leaving'. The colors at this time of year in the London suburbs are breathtaking -- golds, reds, caramels, browns, mixed in with sage, heather, and deep greens. It's also a time of year when folks start sneezing and coughing and passing it on your way, as you dash in and out of the trains,shops, and your office. So, as SOON as you feel those first wheezy, scratchy, tickly symptoms -- I GUARANTEE -- if you put together this delicious, hearty, warming, and healing stew -- you will feel much much better and probably stave off the worst.

'There's Nothing Like Home-made Chicken Soup' Chicken Soup

A small whole chicken (giblets and 'innards' removed) or cuts of chicken (with or without skin) -- can use any cuts, but preferably with white and dark meat and best to use free-range
Cabbage, any kind, whole head -- chopped into chunks
1 large or 2 medium onions, chopped into large chunks
1 clove chopped garlic (optional) -- gives a subtle flavor boost, not a real garlic taste
Carrots, 2-3 cups, sliced or chopped into bite-size pieces
Celery, 4 large stalks, chopped into bite-size pieces
3 fresh pomodori tomatoes, chopped into small chunks or 1/2 can pomodori tomatoes or can use any tomatoes, fresh or canned
Chicken bouillion cubes or sachets or can of chicken broth, if extra-strong chicken-flavor desired -- shouldn't be necessary, though
Fresh parsley(curly or flat-leaf), roughly chopped
Salt, Pepper, and other herbs, as desired, to taste(like rosemary and thyme, preferably fresh and roughly chopped, but can use dried or frozen)

Place chicken in large soup pot with COLD water, just to cover. Bring to a gentle boil, then simmer while skimming 'scum' until broth is relatively clear and chicken is cooked through (takes about 45 minutes). Remove chicken and place in large bowl to cool. Remove skin, unless skinless chicken used. Add all chopped vegetables to broth and bring to gentle boil. Can add any stock cubes, sachets, or cans at this point. Simmer until vegetables meld together and carrots are tender. You can actually add any vegetables to chicken soup, not just those listed above, but carrots, onions, and celery are vital for a good basic stock. Spinach, watercress, chard all work well in this soup. Add parsley, herbs, and seasonings, to taste. Can also add chopped chicken back into soup, if desired. Otherwise, use cooled chicken meat to make chicken salad.

A bowl of this soup counts as 3 vegetables. If you add chicken, must count meat exchange(s), depending on how 'meaty' you make it. You can also add boiled rice (remember BROWN, if possible, please!), pasta (orzo is great in this!), but must count bread/starch/grain exchange(s), accordingly. I often sprinkle a teaspon of fresh-grated parmesean cheese right before serving.

by Mary-Jo R. Overwater-Gervasio, MSc, MMSc, RD

Monday, 1 November 2010

Important Relationships and Your Weight

Last Friday was my birthday. I had some lovely surprise calls, visits, and even presents, thus, I felt cared for and special, despite the fact that it was a tough one this year as it was the first one without my Mom.
I'd have to say, my relationship with my mother was as double-edged as it can get when it comes to my weight struggle. For the first 12 years of my life, she made food the emphasis of my being -- cooking, feeding, and often, overfeeding, to show me how cared for and special I was. She made me feel that I could eat freely and almost, endlessly, because somehow when I 'turned into a teenager', I would miraculously shed my 'baby fat' and become svelte and 'normal'. When that didn't happen, she then criticized and often even scolded me for the rest of my teens into early adulthood for not being 'svelte' and a 'normal' weight. At one point, in my early teens, she put me on diet pills. This made me lose weight, but it also made me break out into a terrible body rash and made me sick. A soon as I stopped the pills, the weight piled on again. The dynamic of my weight struggle really dominated my whole relationship with my mother for so many years. It was crazy. But, it led me to find a way to break that domination and to find my own way in life, really. Once I took control of my own 'weight struggle',it wasn't really so much about all the degrees and titles I've obtained that came with the uber-knowledge of foods, nutrition, metabolism, and (patho)physiology that helped me, as it was the realization that my Mom UNWITTINGLY led me down a path that would set me up for struggling with my weight my entire life. She wasn't negligent or abusive or purposefully inappropriate -- which is what some 'experts' today are trying to proffer as reasons for childhood obesity. Although, perhaps, in some cases, this may be true, I believe in MOST cases, parental mal-influence on childhood obesity is totally unintended and only happens out of ignorance and frustration, but,nevertheless, out of love, as it did in my case. Mom truly believed that feeding me, as she did, was GOOD for me and it was the BEST she felt she had to offer. She TRULY believed that I would slim down and 'even out' once I started menstruating and physiologically and hormonally change. And, actually, she wasn't so wrong! It IS normal for pre-pubescent children to experience a surge in body weight right before the pubescent growth spurt and many children, especially females, look, and may actually BE,'chubby' right before the hormones kick in to restore the body's homeostasis to a better fat:muscle ratio. But, of course, her 'oversimplified', uneducated misunderstanding of the reality of the situation, was the crucial difference between 'getting it right' and 'getting it wrong'. But, she did everything she did out of love.
Once I realized this, it helped to re-establish my relationship with my Mom. We had a very strong, close, and loving relationship and I miss her very much. Oh, I still struggle with my weight -- but it's MY struggle, not hers. And it's EXACTLY why I do what I do -- that is -- work hard to help others become AWARE and knowledgeable and correct about how to PREVENT childhood obesity and obesity, in general. If ONE health-care practitioner would have been forthcoming in not only providing my Mom with the facts, but in guiding her to LIVE through the correct way to feed and nourish me and to get me more active and in tune with my growing body -- then, perhaps I wouldn't be struggling today.
So, look at your relationships and PLEASE -- don't hold onto anything that's holding you back any more than you need to! You have MORE information and awareness today of all that you DO need to 'get it right' and really work at it. It may be hard and it may be a 'struggle', but, if you keep at it -- you will overcome. Nobody, even my beloved Mom -- ever said it would be easy! And, anything, anything in life -- when it's a struggle -- taste that much sweeter when you reach a point when you find yourself overcoming it!