Thursday, August 23, 2012

Well-Cultured Living: Yogurt, Three Ways

Usually, I like to do things around here This American Life-style: each week, I pick a theme (or nutrient) and bring you a number of recipes or information on that theme.  But today's post is going the way of a spotlight episode, where I focus solely on one glorious foodstuff without which my mornings would be  all too bleak, my calcium intake dramatically lower, and my beneficial gut flora much less populated.

Yes, ladies and gents.  It is yogurt, this magical substance of which I speak.  I've been nursing this addiction for a good four years now.

There are reams of studies dedicated to understanding and quantifying the beneficial effect of yogurt consumption on the human body.  In the nutrition world, probiotics are without a doubt the new black, and everyone wants a piece of this.  Why, exactly?

1. It's easier than pie to digest (or a tall glass of milk, for that matter).  Yogurt is a godsend for those who have a hard time processing the sugars or the proteins found in milk.  For one, the live bacteria in yogurt work to break down lactose into its two more easily digested building blocks, glucose and galactose.  Those same bacteria also happen to break down casein, the main milk protein, making the proteins found in a big tub o' the good stuff easier to absorb for some people than those found in milk.

2. It cleanses the colon, sans spontaneous sprints to the water closet.  If lactobacteria are the super-star family of bacteria analogous to the Jackson 5, then acidophilus is definitely their Michael.  Together, these tiny organisms promote the population of healthy flora in the colon while sweeping it clean of potentially carcinogenic bile compounds.  As a bonus, yogurt is high in calcium, clocking in at around 30-40% of the recommended daily intake for adults.  And as it just so happens, consumption of calcium is negatively associated with colorectal cancer rates.  One study even found that ingesting 1,200 mg a day of the stuff lowered the risk of colon cancer by as much as 75%.

3. It optimizes nutrient absorption.  It's a good thing there's so much calcium and B-vitamins in yogurt, because the culturing process makes these nutrients much more bioavailable - or ready for absorption and use by your body.

4. It grants you immunity better than Jeff Probst.  Consumption of moderate amounts of yogurt every day has been associated with a higher level of interferons, disease-fighting proteins, as well as their infection-roundhousing counterpart, white blood cells.  This is great news for those who ride public transportation often, work with the young or elderly, or just like to exist in the outside world more generally.  Too bad fewer sick days means fewer excuses for an all-day Survivor marathon.

5. It keeps the fungus among us at bay.  This includes the yeast responsible for the eponymous vaginal infection as well as other fungi, like malassezia, which may cause inflamed, flaky and itchy skin in areas like the scalp.

6. It's a prime vegetarian protein source.  A one-cup serving of yogurt has around 1/5 of a person's daily protein needs all by itself.  Moreover, these proteins are more easily digested than most.

Just imagine the possibilities if you combined a cup of the good stuff with a couple spoons of nut butter!  ...Well, we're going to do just that.

To nourish:
Peanut Bogart
Serves 1

3/4 cup nonfat plain yogurt (use Greek if you prefer for an extra protein boost)
2 tbsp nut butter of choice 
1/3 cup blueberries
1 tbsp or more of cinnamon
sweetener, to taste

Combine all ingredients in a bowl, and stir until well mixed.  Enjoy with a steaming hot cup o' joe or some OJ.  Bonus: not only are cinnamon and yogurt a dynamic duo when it comes to fighting nefarious fungi, but cinnamon can also help stabilize the effect of yogurt's sugars on blood glucose levels alongside the healthful fats and fiber from the nut butter and blueberries.  It's a big bowl of WIN.

The low-down: 336 calories, 25 g net carbs, 7 g fiber, 18 g protein, 461 mg calcium (46% of daily requirement!)

To shine:
Nourishing Yogurt Hair Masque

If you thought yogurt's power-packed combo of proteins, probiotics and lactic acid was only good for putting into your mouth, you thought wrong.  After all, protein is what hair is made of (and a lot of other things too).  But as hair is continually exposed to the chemical agents in shampoo, hair dye and swimming pools, microscopic holes in the hair shaft can start to form.  Treating the hair with proteins from yogurt can help fill in these gaps, rendering the hair shaft stronger and more resilient (and as a bonus, it will also hold onto hair color longer!)

So many of the compounds we expose our hair to on a regular basis are alkaline (have a pH higher than 7) - and this is especially true in the summertime.  The ammonia in permanent hair color, the chorine in swimming pools, the salt in seawater or in your beachy waves-inducing salt spray, all possess a pH that hovers above the neutral zone.  However, the pH of hair (and skin) is naturally slightly acidic, so it only makes sense that repeated exposure to basic elements might send your hair's natural state out of whack.  The acidic components found in yogurt and lemons help restore the scalp's natural pH balance, helping to ease dry or flaky skin, as well as add shine and moisture restoration to limp, weary locks.  And what a better time to introduce this fix-all formula than the end of summer to help your hair bounce back from a season of sun, salt, and swimming?

Excuse me, is this where I audition for the Garnier commercial?  
1 cup plain yogurt:
           for a strengthening and revitalizing masque, use non-fat
           for shine, lustre and moisturization, use full-fat
           for a little bit of both, use low-fat
1 tbsp almond or coconut oil
1 tbsp color-enhancer
           for a brighter blonde with sunny highlights, use 1 tbsp lemon juice
           for a richer, velvetty brunette, use 2 tbsp cocoa powder + 2 tbsp honey (to make sure blondes don't have more pH-balancing fun, choose the least processed, lightest-colored cocoa powder you can find - cocoa becomes more basic as it is processed)
Saran-Wrap or an old-timey shower cap
A face rag or towel for drippage control
Time: the more, the better!

Select the ingredients recommended for your desired outcome and mix in a bowl.  Place a towel over your shoulders and carefully spread the good stuff around the front, sides and back of your hairline, working toward the ends of the hair.  Once all hair is well-saturated, twist into a bun on the top of the head and cover with Saran Wrap.  The wrap will not only protect from spills once your head heats up the yogurt into a liquidy state, but it will also trap that heat and optimize the masquing process.


...and after!
Leave on for as long as desired, or as long as you can.  Wash out with your regular shampoo once or twice, and let naturally dry.  Style as usual and enjoy your revitalized locks!

To glow:
Yogurt Lemon Cream Dream Facial

By this time, you're likely sitting alone, avoiding all human contact as the pungent odor of fresh yogurt wafts through your nose.  But speaking of your nose, I think your face is getting jealous of all that attention - so you may as well appease it with a face masque to complete your head-to-toe dairy-aisle makeover.  The proteins in the yogurt will plump up your mug, while its lactic acid helps slough off dead skin that can dullen your skin tone and texture.  And like hair, the natural pH of skin is slightly acidic.  The alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) and vitamin C in the lemon juice restore your skin's natural pH while fighting hyperpigmentation - or the dark spots that arise from the dermatological woe trifecta of acne, aging and sun damage - and working to noticeably brighten skin tone and improve elasticity.  

2 tbsp plain yogurt - whichever type you used for your hair masque
1/2 tbsp lemon juice

Mix both ingredients in a bowl and apply carefully to a dry, clean face.  For a one-two punch, apply the facial about 20 minutes before you intend on washing out the hair masque.  Use warm water and a gentle cleanser to rinse your face, and don't forget to finish with a liberal dose of face lotion and sunscreen, since AHA might make your skin more prone to sunburn for a while.

Question of the day: what is YOUR favorite way to eat yogurt?  I just had mine for lunch yesterday in a Green Monster smoothie: 1/2 cup yogurt, a cup of milk, one banana, a peeled kiwi, a handful of blueberries and about three cups of spinach - it tasted so decadent, I couldn't shake myself to realize how nutrient-packed it was!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Fuel-up Fridays: Turning Manganese

After the past two Fuel-up Fridays focused on big, bad macronutrients fiber and protein, it may seem strange that today we're taking a closer look at a trace mineral - one that comes in such small quantities, in fact, that there's only about 15 mg of it in an entire human body.  But I believe that in the world of nutrition, there are no parts too small to devote at least devote a blog post to.

One immensely powerful piece of wisdom that anyone who has ever faced a life-changing illness in their lifetime can tell you is this: we tend to take the millions and billions of microscopic interactions that happen every day to make our bodies work the way they're supposed to for granted - until, of course, that one little thing stops working.  That one little factor that's supposed to control cell replication goes MIA, or that one little enzyme that's supposed to process certain foods we eat is suddenly kaput.  And while we can't control everything our bodies do (or don't do), we can appreciate the health we have today, and all of the millions of micro-level events that let us enjoy the life we live.  One way to appreciate those tiny but all-powerful functions is to learn more about them and to choose the fuel that will maximize the output of those tireless molecular workers.

If your only remaining thought is something like, "Why start with manganese?  There are so many incredible trace elements to explore in the big world out there!" then I concede that you have a point.  Confession time: manganese gets a default as my favorite micronutrient out there.  In my vivid dietary imagination, he's shaped like a tiny peanut, but he tastes like a chickpea and he's got a heart made out of nutty-tasting roasted tempeh.  Yeah, that little buddy is my kind of guy.

Awwww, isn't he the cutest?

All bizarre and somewhat anthropomorphic representations of elements aside, manganese plays an integral role in several of the body's vital chemical interactions.  

1. It helps put good things to use.  Many of the benefits of manganese have to do with its role as a coenzyme: as a chemical that works in tandem with an enzyme and which makes the enzyme's main goal - namely, of changing one compound into another - possible.  (See last week's post on proteins for a few examples of enzymatic activity).  Manganese specifically aids the enzymes needed for proper use of biotin, thiamin (vitamin B1), and vitamin C.  It also aids the metabolism of foods into energy, helps repair wounds and damaged tissues, and plays a vital role in the building of strong bones. 

2. It helps take out the trash.  In another reprise of its award-winning role as coenzyme, manganese supports the function of the enzyme superoxide dismutase (SOD), which zaps free radicals and prevents inflammation and cell damage caused by oxidation.  Because tissue damage and inflammation are primary suspects in the development of cancerous cells, the role of manganese in aiding antioxidative activity against these cellular demons cannot be understated.  

3. It helps shuttle other vital minerals to where they're needed.  Proper absorption and transport of minerals is necessary for healthy skin, bones and cartilage so you can shine from the inside out.

4. It promotes (glucose) tolerance.  Though more research is needed on this subject, it is widely agreed that manganese helps the body process sugar in a way that keeps levels of blood glucose - and the fat storage, emotional roller-coaster, and energy swings that come with it - under control.

5.  It's a systems administrator.  Due to its role in the building of nervous tissue, the effects of manganese are seen in the maintenance of a healthy nervous system.  Similarly, because manganese plays a part in the development of sex hormones, it helps keep a smooth-running reproductive system, aids fertility, and may even alleviate PMS symptoms in women.  

Though manganese may be small, you definitely don't want to live without it around to help a brother/enzyme out.  And while it's fortunately pretty easy to get enough manganese simply by eating whole grains, legumes, leafy greens and fruits, the typical American diet high in white and "wheat" carbs and low in anything the color green may contribute to a suboptimal level of even this trace nutrient.  As always, here are a few recipes that pack a manganese punch (and taste pretty damn good, too!).  There's even a mouth-watering, flourless and vegan dessert to try.

Overnight Peanut Butter Brownie Oats
Serves 1
Adapted from Kath's recipe here

1/3 cup raw old-fashioned oats
1/3 cup milk (I use Almond Breeze Unsweetened Vanilla almond milk - 40 calories and 1 net carb/cup with a hint of sweet vanilla!)
1/3 cup plain nonfat yogurt (can use Greek yogurt if you like)
2 tbsp peanut butter (smooth or chunky - your preference!)
1 tbsp cocoa powder - if you really wanna go for the brownie flavor, use Dutch cocoa processed with alkali
Some sweetener, to taste

The night before (or at least 3 hours before) you plan to sow your wild oats, combine the oats, milk and yogurt in a jar or other airtight container.  (If your peanut butter consumption rate is anywhere near mine, this is a great use for an old washed PB jar!)  Simply seal and stick in the fridge.  When it's time to reap what you've sown (sorry), mix in the peanut butter and the cocoa powder and enjoy!  Try substituting the cocoa powder for a tsp or two of cinnamon for a snickerdoodle twist.

The low-down: 350 calories per serving, 19 g net carbs, 7 g fiber, 14 g protein, 3.4 mg manganese (171% of daily requirement)

Nutty Hummus Sandwich
Serves 1
Invented by Adam LaMotte

2 pieces lite bread
2 tbsp hummus
1 oz (about 3 tbsp) Spanish red-skinned peanuts

Toast both pieces of bread.  Then, spread one tbsp of hummus on each piece.  On one piece of hummus-toast, sprinkle the peanuts, ensuring that they cover the area uniformly.  Slap on the other side and enjoy!  For a spicy twist on my old favorite, throw in a couple of wasabi peas.  As my good friend Mr. Gump would say, "you never know what you're gonna get!"

The low-down: 330 calories per sandwich, 21 g net carbs, 8 g fiber, 16 g protein, 1.5 mg manganese (75% of daily requirement)

Maple-Roasted Tempeh Encrusted in Pistachios
Serves 2
Adapted from Vegangela's recipe here

1 8oz package tempeh
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 tsp curry powder
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1/2 cup shelled pistachios, chopped

Preheat your oven to 400˚F.  Line a baking sheet with tin foil and lightly oil it.  Cut the tempeh into two equal pieces, set them on the foil, and lightly sprinkle salt and pepper.  

In a bowl, stir maple syrup, curry powder and mustard together.  Spoon half of the mixture over the tempeh, and then sprinkle with the pistachios.  Spoon the remaining mixture over the nuts.  

Let bake for 15 minutes.

The low-down: 510 calories per serving, 36 g net carbs, 16 g fiber, 29 g protein (!!!), 3.9 mg manganese (195% of daily requirement!)

Deep-Dish Cinnamon Roll Pie
Serves 8
Adapted from Chocolate-Covered Katie's recipes here and here

For the pie:

1 cup old-fashioned oats
2 cans garbanzo beans (chickpeas), drained and rinsed 
1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
2 and 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
3 tbsp almond, coconut or canola oil
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 and 1/2 cups sweetener (Splenda granular works great)
2 tbsp cinnamon

For the vegan cream cheese frosting:

1/4 cup silken tofu
4 tbsp vegan cream cheese
1/4 tsp pure vanilla extract
3 tbsp non-dairy milk
sweetener to taste

Preheat your oven to 350˚F.  Blend all pie ingredients in a food processor until smooth.  If you didn't really spring for the big bucks on a processor like me, you may need to intermittently scrape down the sides of the bowl while blending.  Pour into a lightly oiled 9" pan or pie tin.  

Bake for 35 minutes.  While pie is baking, blend all frosting ingredients in your re-washed food processor until very smooth.  

Once the pie is done, transfer the frosting into a microwave-safe bowl and zap for about 30 seconds.  Slather the whole hell outta the thing in warm drippy goodness.  Enjoy free of guilt.

The low-down: 216 calories per slice, 22 g net carbs, 7 g fiber, 7 g protein, 1.9 mg manganese (95% of daily requirement)

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Changing Gears: Transition to a Fall Wardrobe with Pieces You Already Own

The sun is still beating oppressively down the sidewalk on my street every late afternoon, the cravings for chilled-to-the-bone guava-infused kombucha remain at their height, and my maxi dress and dark-wash cutoffs are still on maximum rotation in my wardrobe.  But by the look of the check-out aisle at my local Stop and Shop, you'd think it was already time to find "392 pieces that'll make you fall for fall."  At least this perpetual case of fashion time-warp is better than the Christmas craft ideas that have been creeping up on Pinterest since mid-July.

Truth is, the twilight of freedom, recreation and rejuvenation that is the end of summer has long known one cure and one cure only: new clothes.  In my childhood, as I inevitably sunk into a yearly sullen depression as the Alaskan midnight sunlight began to wane and the fireweed blooms crept slowly to the tops of the stalk, my mother administered the one antidote that was sure to work: we would go shopping for new school clothes today, she informed me.  But I wouldn't be able to wear any of those shiny new garments until the first day of school.

Within minutes, you bet I had my calendar marked for labor day.

Strangely, for a season which plays such an elegantly aging foil to the juvenile playfulness of spring and the nubile sensuality of summer, in the fashion world autumn is the epitome of newness.  Collections of rich jewel tones and cool neutrals, spicy pumpkins and ravishing cranberries; the perennial arrival of scarves and knits and riding boots; the refreshing notion of wearing layer upon layer of crisp denim.  Prim hemlines.  Authoritative blazers.    Fuzzy-wuzzy lush cashmere blanket-sweaters.

As a first-year grad student next month, I'm one of the lucky few of my recently graduated friends who has the chance to continue the tradition of a new wardrobe to match my fresh set of pencils and virgin pink pearl eraser.  However, I'm not so lucky to be living without the anxiety-inducing threat of thousands of dollars of student debt, so it's not just the cashmere that's out of question according to my budget this year.

Luckily, using a few timeless pieces in combination with still-hot trends from this summer, anyone can create a look that eases into fall as gently as a crisp golden leaf floating down to a still blue lake - without breaking the bank.  Here's how.

Straw hat, chambray blouse: GAP
Yellow beaded tank: Target
Geode pendant necklace: American Eagle
Coral round-toe flats: Old Navy
Striped skirt: Brass Plum
1. Simmer down spicy summer tones with cool blues.  To keep you warm as the thermometer starts to dip while simultaneously cooling down your color palate, try adding a classic chambray button-up over your favorite bright-colored tank, or experiment with Oxford-worthy back-to-school stripes in combination with a pop of citrus hues.  Don't be afraid to keep some of your favorite summer finds, like a beach hat or southwestern print, in rotation during the warmer parts of fall.

An accent of golden jewelry rings in the warm metallic tones of autumn, but an unexpected twist of turquoise and citrus keeps you looking fresh.

Blue lace shift dress, chunky jewelry: H&M
Black satin-y ruched blazer: Charlotte Russe
Leopard-print flats: Target
Nail polish: NYC In a New York Minute in 232 Lincoln Center
2. When things get shifty, don't be afraid take a walk on the wild side.  The shift silhouette, reminiscent of '20s flapper girls and '60s mod mistresses, has made a huge comeback this year, likely thanks to the popularity of sartorially rich dramas Boardwalk Empire and Mad Men.  And just like these shows, the shift dress has staying power that is sure to last all through the upcoming season.  Whereas before we have embraced this versatile style to indulge in the breezy, relaxed fits of summer weather, however, it's time to embrace the crisp contours that fall is known for.  Throw on a snazzy ruched blazer to add shape and intrigue in contrast to the shift's traditionally straight silhouette - or use a cinched belt if you really wanna throw a curveball - and accessorize with bold, chunky statement jewelry or animal print kicks to make a home run.  Top it off with one of this season's most sought-after nail tones, a deliciously deep and velvety espresso.

A bold jewelry set, wake-'em-up nails and fierce footwear: it's a wild combination.

3. Tone it down with brown.  Hot pinks and flirtatious florals were all the rage for summer 2012, but there's no need to give up on your new skinnies just yet - the floral trend has staying power and Pantone has named "Pink FlambĂ©" 17-1463 as one of their top hues for this fall.  To make a smooth transition to cooler temps and rich scenery, use classic neutral pieces like a brown belt for floral bottoms to match camel-toned kicks.  The trick is to keep the pop of bubblegum pink as an accent that will make your earth tones anything but boring.  Adding a dark midnight hue to earth-toned articles will also bring your flowers down-to-earth.

Floral pants, neutral ring set: H&M
Navy v-neck tee, brown belt: American Eagle
Pink and white pearl necklace: Forever 21
Brown loafers: Old Navy
Nail polish: NYC Long Wearing Enamel in 111 Fuschia Shock Creme

Though Beck is seldom wrong about anything, I highly refute
his assertion that beige is the color of resignation.  At least not when combined with a daring dash of blazing pink!

Black leggings: Target
Breezy tangerine blouse: boutique
Earrings, scarf, orange ring: gift
Green polka-dot wedges: Payless
Nail color: NYC In a New York Minute in 221 Spring Street
4. Get lost in the Tropics with an Amelia-worthy scarf.  Light, flowy, resort-inspired tops are a perennial summer favorite.  But you don't have to tearfully shove your favorite warm-weather blouse into the musty depths of your closet just to prove to people you know what month it is.  Adding a middle-weight scarf will add functional warmth as well as sophistication to your look.  Rather than trounce around in autumn rain in your worn-thin gladiator sandals, trade them for some prim pumps in a cute color that will catch eyes and add a spring to your equinoctial step.  Layer the whole thing over simple leggings that will balance out the volume on top while shielding your legs from cool night winds.  Paradise is what you make of it, baby.

And just your luck, tangerine is the official "color of the year" according to the all-knowing gods of color at Pantone, so if you've got some favorite Vitamin C-rich pieces from seasons past, keep them alive straight into clementine season!
5. Add a timeless touch to your of-the-moment piece.  Stud-spangled and military-inspired pieces were all over the runways this season, and their versatility and eye-catching textures will ensure that they play a big role in fall 2012.  One surefire way to transition a look from a hot summer trend to a timeless fall favorite is to mix in a few pieces that harken back to history.  For instance, if those hot-right-now T-strap booties have gathered just a tad bit of grime from the proprietary grass/mud/patchouli mixture at your hometown summer concert series, swap 'em for some sensible yet stylish flats that infuse your edgy attire with a more classic, work-ready feel.  These and other vintage-inspired pieces like a chain necklace, a wide Bake-lite bangle or two, and dark hose to match the longer, darker nights ahead, will give you a look that's made to last.  To polish off your sartorial time machine, paint your nails an ever-chic nude or deep velvety red hue and swipe on some cat-eyed liquid eyeliner.
Studded navy dress: H&M
Chain locket necklace, red plastic bangle: gift
Leopard-print flats: Target
Nail colors: Confetti Long-Wearing Color in 043 Heartthrob and
NYC In a New York Minute Color in 228 Chelsea

6. Take your look to the woods.  Fall is prime huntin' season in many parts of the country, but if you're like most Americans after a summer of vacations, staycations and daycations, you've probably got little monetary means left to go on a successful hunt for new wardrobe elements.  With natural earth tones and some warm tights and booties, however, you can easily soup up a favorite summer dress.  The trick is to keep eyes away from dead-giveaways like breezy eyelets by squeezing the trigger on an earthy cardigan and ornithological accessories, like a blinged-out owl ring or a feathery necklace.  And while a real hunting trip often entails an uncomfortable amount of boredom, waiting and shivering, you can keep your fashion quest interesting by mixing the feminine appeal of a dress with a pair of functionally fierce boots.  To keep you warm from head to toe, add a pop of bright colored tights inspired by the great outdoors - like an ocean blue or woodsy green - and tie it all together with the talons painted to match.

Black eyelet sundress: American Eagle
Brown booties, leopard-print cardigan: H&M
Bejeweled owl ring: Forever 21
Nail color: NYC Long-Lasting Color in 140 Empire State Blue
Woodsy footwear can take you from the beach to the forest in five seconds flat - and they'll keep you warm, to boot!

7. Rock out with your frock out.  You didn't think I'd write an article on updating summer pieces for cooler weather without addressing the ubiquitous maxi dress, did you?  While it may not seem so at first, the length and natural feel of the maxi-dress can actually serve to make it into a summer-fall crossover piece extraordinaire.  But while overdosing on so much boho that kombucha streams from your pores is acceptable in warm, carefree summer, the goal when autumn arrives is to shoot for a look that is equal parts Sid Vicious and Jerry Garcia.   Layering a pleather bomber jacket over a maxi adds warmth and coverage to the bare-skin summer look; combine this with a few nostalgic rock-'n'-roll jewelry pieces and your favorite Ray-Bans (or their respective knock-offs) and you're set.  Rather than try to hide your maxi's tell-tale bright summer color scheme, utilize it to keep you feeling perky even when the temperature drops and the sun threatens hibernation.  To do this, add a few matching accent pieces like bright, light footwear or fun rainbow hand jewelry.  Tie the whole look together with a cool neutral nail tone that is just enough "rock" to pull the whole look out of a summer daze for good.
Tribal print maxi dress, coral espadrilles, brown bomber jacket: Target
Sharktooth necklace: Payless
Blue and coral bangle set, large hoop earrings: H&M
Nail color: Sally Hansen Hard as Nail Xtreme Wear in 4860-61 Grey Area
8. Star in your own spaghetti western.  If summer is all about nautical themes, breezy lightweight knits and Mediterranean hues, fall is the time to shine for everything Western and equine.  If your boatneck sailor tee makes you feel as though you're lazing on the French riviera, why throw such a good thing to the bottom of your drawers for re-emergence 9 months later?  Instead, dare to mix prints and marry your Euro-stripes with a flirtatious and flowery voluminous skirt and some wild western classic pieces (after all, if all of those straightshootin' outlaw cowboys never gave a second thought for the rules, why should we?)  For brisk morning trots to school or work, layer a distressed denim jacket and trade in your summery Sperries for hardy cowgirl boots.  To lasso the look together, take cues from your floral piece and incorporate fun, bright accessories that liven up your neutral and denim elements.  

Floral skirt: J.C. Penney
Striped boatneck tee, ankle boots, canary crossstrap bag: H&M
Distressed denim jacket: GAP
Nail color: Sally Hansen Hard as Nails Xtreme Wear in 4860-27 Mellow Yellow

This post is dedicated to Helen Gurley Brown, 1922-2012.  Foxy trail-blazer of fashion, pioneering sexual revolutionary and fierce feminist icon.  You will be missed.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Fuel-up Fridays: Protein, the Building Blocks of Life

Here's an interesting thought experiment to start your weekend off right: close your eyes for a moment and think about the word protein.  What do you see?  Is it the third tier on the '90s food pyramid, a cartoonishly simplified array of chicken legs, whole dead fish, assorted nuts and legumes?  Is it a pumped-up beefcake sweaty from his lateral-raise reps and downing creatine?  Or maybe, if you've spent more time with your nose in a chemistry book than staring on the back of cereal boxes in your lifetime, it looks a little bit like a long chain of these babies:

And if you're really the hotshot labgeek, you might be thinking of something similar to this: 

Whoa there, easy with the ribbon there Ms. Raisman!

Whatever happens to come to mind when you think about protein, chances are that what you're envisioning is very real, in a tangible, comprehendible way.  Protein looks like a molecule, or a complex ribbon-y compound, or a bulging bicep, or the hunk of chicken in your sandwich.  Protein isn't just stuff; it's the stuff that helps make other stuff.  It's literally the building blocks of stuff, or at least alive stuff.  But funnily enough, the word protein existed far before anyone knew that it could actually be defined by a specific chemical formula. Coming form the Greek root protos-, meaning first, all 19th-century chemist Gerhard Johan Mulder really knew about the thing was that it was in some way essential to life - it was the initial ingredient necessary to help everything else build from the ground up.  Protein was part of every living thing in the observable world, so Mulder figured it must be something really special - at least, theoretically.  

And it is.  It so is.  Protein gives your body its shape and integrity, not to mention its ability to move, dance, pick up things, blink, drive, and just about everything else you do in the physical world.  Protein repairs your tissues when they're damaged.  Protein is a vital part of your immune system - it helps your immune cells divide and conquer dangerous microbial invaders.  And proteins help make the body's hormones, or chemical messengers, and enzymes, which provide the integral service of transforming some molecules in the body to other molecules that you need to function (like the ones that provide energy to your cells, or help you break down the food you eat, or perhaps most importantly, help process and correctly dispose of consumed alcohol).  

Needless to say, it's vitally important to get enough protein in your diet.  And while the omnivores among us tend to have a pretty easy time getting their daily recommended amount (about 56 grams a day for males and 46 grams daily for females - more if you're an extremely active athlete), vegetarians need to be super-conscious that every meal includes at least a decent amount of protein, on the order of 15-20 grams in or so, to keep bodily functioning at its prime.  The less processed sources of protein for vegetarians include nuts, legumes, dairy products, quinoa, and soybeans (edamame).  For foods a little higher from the ground, try vegetarian meat analogues like seitan, textured vegetable protein, and my personal favorite, tempeh.  Although moderate consumption of soy products can't hurt you, tempeh is especially great because the way it is fermented gets rid of the pseudo-estrogens that naturally occur in soy and may disrupt the hormone systems of those who are sensitive (and if anything's gonna make you more sensitive, its estrogen.  Am I right, ladies?  ...No?)

Enough of that.  Let's get down to business.  I present to you four scrumptious recipes that are sure to pack a vegetarian protein punch without laying on the calories or refined carbs.  Cheers all around!

Banilla Protein Pancakes
Serves 2 (about 3 medium pancakes each)
Adapted from Julie's recipe here


1 1/2 cup old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup fat-free cottage cheese
1 very ripe banana
1/4 cup milk
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg

Good to the very...

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and blend.  Heat up a skillet with 1 tbsp of your oil of choice, and pour batter onto griddle.  Cook for approximately 2 minutes per side.  Top with your choice of syrup, butter, or fresh fruits!

...last bite.

The low-down: 360 calories per serving (not including toppings), 50 net carbs, 8 g fiber, and 20 g protein (43% of recommended daily intake for women; 36% for men).

Totally Metal Power Biscuits
Makes 10 fist-sized rolls
Adapted from Kelly M's recipe here

6 eggs (or 3 tbsp egg replacer with 12tbsp water)
1/3 cup applesauce (I used Musselman's Lite, at only 50 calories per serving)
1 cup soy flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
several pinches of rosemary or herbs of choice

Preheat the oven to 400˚F.  Mix together all ingredients in a mixing bowl.  Divide the dough into ten pieces, and place on a lightly greased and floured cookie tray.  Bake the rolls for 17 minutes in the oven.  The results are dense, eggy, and really stick to your sides.  Enjoy with the next two delectable meals, or as part of a small protein-packed sandwich...  or on their own!

The low-down: 82 calories per roll, 3 net carbs, 2 grams fiber, and 9 grams protein.

Spaggity-Squash with Spicy Mockinara
Serves 2
Adapted from Carole Raymond's recipe in Student's Go Vegan Cookbook
1 cup textured vegetable protein (TVP) - I recommend Lightlife Smart Ground, which can be found in the vegetarian section of almost any supermarket.
2 tbsp olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 1/2 cups water
One 6oz can tomato paste
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 1/2 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 cup pitted, sliced black olives
1 medium spaghetti squash

Pre-heat your oven at 375˚F.  Take the squash and pierce it several times all around with a sharp knife.  Place in a glass baking dish that has been filled with about 1 inch of water.  Cover with aluminum foil, and bake for about an hour.
While the spaghetti squash is baking, take 1 tbsp olive oil and fry the onion and garlic in a saucepan until the onion is translucent.  Add to a large pot, along with water, tomato paste, soy sauce, oregano, thyme, red pepper flakes, and olives.  Bring the mixture slowly to a boil, and use the remaining 1 tbsp of olive oil to fry up the TVP.  When the mock-meat is done, add it to the boiling sauce mixture.  Cook the sauce uncovered for 15 minutes at a steady boil, stirring occasionally.  Reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook for 3 more minutes.  

While the sauce simmers down, take out your fully cooked spaghetti squash, being careful while it's piping hot, and cut with a sharp knife straight down the middle, navel to navel.  Gut the squash and take out the seeds.  Place each half of the spaghetti squash on a dinner plate, and cover with the delicious spicy sauce.  

The low-down for spaghetti alone/with two fist-sized power biscuits: 290/424 calories, 39/45 net carbs, 28g/32g fiber, and 23g/41g protein (50%-89% recommended daily intake for women; 41%-72% for men).

That's Some Sweet Pot...of Chili
Serves 3
Adapted from milkfreemom's recipe here

One 29oz can black beans
One 6oz tomato paste
1 cup vegetable broth
1 medium onion, chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp chili powder
1 tsp oregano
2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium sweet potato, peeled and cut into bite-sized chunks
1 cup TVP crumbles

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium low heat.  Add onions and cook until they are translucent.  Add the garlic, and cook for another 2 minutes.  Add the tomato paste, chili powder, cumin, and oregano and cook for about 2 minutes, stirring constantly.  Add the black beans, broth, and sweet potato chunks.  Cook for about 5 minutes.  While the sauce is beginning to cook, use the remaining tbsp of olive oil to cook the TVP in a frying pan.  Add the TVP to the chili and cook, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are soft and the chili has thickened.

Metal Power Biscuits: everything they touch turns to rock.

The low-down for chili alone/with 2 fist-sized power biscuits: 337/500 calories, 37/43 net carbs, 14g/18g fiber, and 23g/41g protein (50%-90% of daily recommended intake for women; 41%-73% for men).

Keep on growing.