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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Third Plague

Two days ago, as I saw the mid-March snow/hail through the window, all I could think about was the exact moment in which I would cross the automatic doors, suitcase and children in hand, and feel the first waft of Floridan air welcoming us right out of the Ft. Lauderdale airport. The palm trees, the ocean scent, the seniors sporting pink bermudas and orange tans. The slower pace of life, the sunny days. I couldn't hold my excitement to celebrate Passover, the Holiday of Freedom. It felt good to look forward to a bright future soon approaching.
The weekend kept going its normal course, no spring on sight, but everything else was OK. We took the kids to their respective Sunday classes, birthday parties, and for once, I thought I would start packing early, which would be a first in this household (so proud of myself!).
Then...the news hit. Lice were found happily partying on our friends' heads. I first felt deep pain and empathy for them. Then I realized how much we enjoy spending time with all the members of that clan and a dark cloud of worry invaded me.
Our plane tickets to Florida--where we will be staying at my brother and sister-in-law's-- are for later this week. We certainly have to get them something for hosting us, but I realized lice wouldn't be such a well appreciated gift.
I called Licenders, we hopped into a cab with no time to waste and submitted our heads to the super powers the clinician saviours. After about three and a half hours at the National headquarters of lice elimination under a lighted magnifying glass, our hair had been smothered in a magical baking soda and Pantene conditioner potion, combed thoroughly in every direction, washed, and oiled. As more horrified parents kept bringing their kids in, we kept learning more details about the disgusting creatures. While I was getting combed through (it almost sounds like a beauty treatment), my son got extremely bored. He hid and twirled under his brand new extra large undershirt (we had to get three of those, that according to my plan, my husband will inherit once they are washed and dried at high heat for 30 min). Then he pushed, pulled, and navigated through the site while I frantically screamed at him from my chair not to touch anything, as everyone in there had lice. Finally, and after two of the clinicians had decided where they would be having dinner later and discussed their friends and the bars they liked, my nits were gone. I signed the bill authorizing them to charge us the same amount of money I would have got after selling 15 million pounds of mesquite-chocolate chip cookies--note to self: I'm in the wrong profession! And with our cute new lice killing kit in hand, that at the moment felt like a goodie bag, we returned home.
While thinking of the next step, I reported our ordeal to the school nurse, and then I got in touch with the moms of the kids my children had played with during the week. I felt I was doing the STD call: "sorry...last week was lots of fun, but guess what? I might have passed you something!" It did feel embarrassing and I felt guilty. However, I decided it was the right thing to do, and that I was innocent. It's true there are some things you can do to prevent the pest, unfortunately, nothing is fool-proof. I'm extra careful. I always send my son and daughter to school with oiled hair after brakes, she knows her hair needs to be tied when in school (which might have saved her this time from getting the bugs), no sharing of head stuff, etc... I'm tracing back to see if I could have changed anything, and no. I can't. I just need to accept it just happened.
I was doing pretty well emotionally, taking it all very philosophically, until I realized that I had to keep doing comb throughs to my son and to myself for the next ten days. That's when the after-shock came and when I had an epiphany: Of course the Egyptians wouldn't let the Jews out of their land after G-d sent them lice, the third plague! They needed their slaves badly to do all the combing and get the six legged (I learned that while at Licenders) bugs plus eggs off their scalp one by one! Why pay fortunes for professional treatment if you can get your Jewish slaves do it for free? I have to say, this year I did learn lots about Exodus...

That is all I concluded while inspecting the cute Licenders goodie bag. I was actually holding an instrument of torture! Yes, I'll be completely, 100% nit free, because due to my stress and panic, I'm about to tear off every single strand of hair on my head with the help of my brand new little metal uber sharp comb. I'm blindly scratching off my scalp so deeply, that the scene looks like a cannibal-preparing-dinner documentary in the Discovery channel. So, I keep telling myself that the good news is there will be no bugs left!

Yes, many ideas have popped into my head throughout this unpleasant process. I wanted to drink Tequila shots all night long, or have an anti anxiety-antidepressant-Valium cocktail, or sleep and pretend nothing had happened, or cry bitterly and loudly for 3 hours, I wanted to scream, and to shave my hair off. But I've decided I have to pull myself together, and to think that it will pass. A couple more comb throughs, pepermint, neem and tea tree oils. More load fulls in the drier and much less hair in my head. But it will pass and I will not let it ruin my life. I just won't! And to me, this is the difference between being a slave and being free, and I choose to be free, but it's costing me a lot!
Happy Passover, if you celebrate!

Since I thought this post may leave you all itchy and with no desire to cook yet, I just wanted to make some recommendations for eating during Passover. Don't go for those foods imaginatively and scientifically created in a factory with magical non-chametz ingredients, like chocolate cream cake with no chocolate, nor cream and with a beautiful neon hue that nature has never seen. Watch the amount of sugar you eat! Go for real foods: fruits, vegetables, nuts, herbs, olive oil, fish, chile peppers, spices, eggs...there are many options. My local supermarket carries certified almond and cashew butters with no sugar added, there's nice dark chocolate, pure maple syrup, silan, quinoa and why not try celeriac or kohlrabi? Spend most of your shopping time at the produce section. There are thousands of options in there. Ah! And lastly, Mexican mangoes are back, so attack!!!

I've curated the following list of recipes and/or links of things I like to have around and eat during Passover. Instead of reaching for the fake pareve creamer for Passover, use coconut milk or cashew cream. Some recipes are mine and some others collected from sites and blogs I love. I hope you find them helpful

  • My great grandmother's charoset:

  • Quinoa Recipes:

  • Cool salads:  (omit mustard if making during Passover)

  • Almond milk:

  • Coconut milk:

  • Cashew Sour Cream:

  • Cashew Cream:

  • Clean, delicious dessert. Omit vanilla to make it during Passover:

  • Best ever allergy-friendly dessert (unless there's a chocolate allergy)

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Embracing Brassica

I think the most helpful comment I ever heard about raising children wasn't written in any book or explained by any expert. A friend once said to me: "kids are loonies." And with no disrespect to the children in our lives, it's true. One day they love something, the next they throw a tantrum because they don't like it. They want to wear long sleeves in the summer and refuse to wear a coat in a freezing afternoon, they are emotionally attached to stinky blankies that they don't allow you to wash. They believe they are pirates, ballerinas, princesses, dinosaurs, and they dance in front of the TV when a fury monster tells them to. And it's all charming, until we get to the dinner table and what they devoured last week, they refuse to try today. They throw their food, they cry, they run away, and there you are chasing them with a spoon full of the super healthy food you've been preparing for the last 4 days while they were asleep. They much rather eat the contents of their nostrilss than the wonderful soup Jessica Seinfeld told you to serve.You make promises, threats, you spend 5 million dollars in super cute table mats, and plates, and ergonomic forks, you sing songs, your make up stories, you cry, give them stickers, break all your rules and turn into a juggling monkey. 
And now you think I'm going to give you the solution, right? Nope. Kids are loonies, remember?
However, it's tried and true that getting kids involved in the cooking process helps them get to eat the food. 
I've also found it successful to introduce kids to foods with fun names (trumpet mushrooms, graffiti eggplant, dinosaur kale, cuties), to talk about their shape, the sound they make when we chew them, their color or any interesting fact I find or know about such food. And some times, I mention certain nutritional qualities and the part of our bodies that they can help, protect or strengthen. I love telling them where a certain food originally came from, and since they have world map place mats, it's fun to find the country in the map. 
Another good habit I started a while back and which has been incredibly successful--especially with my youngest who eats NOTHING-- is always placing plain crunchy (raw or briefly cooked) vegetables cut into sticks or coins in a bowl in the center of the table. Somehow the fact that they are not on his own plate appeals to him and he eats them as finger food.
Lastly, I try to pick my battles, and one worth fighting for (or actually, offering) is the brassica one.       

The name might not ring a bell, but I'm sure (and truly hope) you've met many of the family members. They can be a bit stinky, they come in all sizes and many colors, some of them have a bite; and they all should be frequented way more than most of us would think. 
The brassica vegetables, also known as cruciferous or cabbages, are amazing sources of nutrients and phytochemicals. They are more than superfoods, they are ultrasuperduperfoods. They are a huge family and come in varieties of all sorts, as leaves, flowers, seeds, stems, roots and even spices. No more suspense, I present you, the brassica dynasty:
  • Arugula
  • Bok choy
  • Broccoli (florets, rappini, etc)
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cabbage (all kinds, such as Napa, red, Savoy)
  • Cauliflower
  • Collard greens
  • Daikon radish
  • Horseradish
  • Kale
  • Kohlrabi
  • Land cress
  • Mustard greens (and seeeds)
  • Radishes
  • Rutabaga
  • Shepherd's purse
  • Turnip
  • Watercress  
They are so healthy, that we should aim to eat 1 1/2 cups of brassica 4 to 5 times a week!!!

So...what's the big deal?   
Just for starters, there's no other group of vegetables with higher concentrations of vitamin A (as carotenoids), vitamin C, folic acid nor fiber. 

Their vitamin K--a potent antiinflammatory-- content (especially in kale and collard greens) is also notable, so is the amount of manganese.  

The abundance of antioxidants, including the above mentioned, plus plenty of other phytonutrients, and  the presence of a group of phytochemicals almost exclusive to brassica, called glucosinolates- turn these vegetables into invaluable allies against the risk of developing many kinds of CANCER. 

And that's not even all. Their protein content is not that shabby either. OK, they are not chicken, but 3 cups of brassica will cover 25% of our daily protein requirement. 
They are also decent sources of ALA omega-3s, which also support our body's anti-inflammatory response.
Lastly, for all of those detox juicing plan fans, brassica  help support our body's detoxification system. However, by eating the whole vegetable, you also get the benefits of its fiber content and the digestive support properties that fiber offers.

Summing it all up, due to their ANTIOXIDANT, ANTI-INFLAMMATORY and DETOXIFYING qualities, serving brassica vegetables is a battle we should all pick in disease prevention.

Cooking Tip:

I try to serve raw cruciferous vegetables as often as I can, and my children like them. The leafy ones are easy to turn into salads, so are radishes and Brussels sprouts when shaved or sliced finely.

Kohlrabi has been this winter's surprise, as my son has been happily munching on it cut into thin strips.

When cooking brassica, in order to take maximum advantage of their phytochemical content, it's best to allow them to sit after chopped or cut for about 10 minutes before cooking, to make the protective compounds become more available to our bodies.

It's also better to steam them for a couple of minutes (baby bok choy steamed for 2 minutes is a local favorite in our household) or to cook them at low temperature into a soup; rather than cooking them for a long time over a very hot flame or in a very hot oven. However, I do love roasted cauliflower with its golden brown spots!  
Some people dislike the bitter taste of some vegetables of the brassica family, in those cases, the milder ones (cabbages, mainly) are recommended, but I also suggest pairing them with flavorful dressings, sweeter fruits or vegetables and roasted nuts or seeds. Soups are good alternatives as well, because the heat is not so high. The addition of umami flavors such as miso, soy sauce, nutritional yeast, etc, is a good thing to keep in mind as well.

Last night I went to my friend Kim Kushner's new cookbook The Modern Menu's presentation. This amazing chef, instructor and hostess, who proclaims "not to be a healthy chef," is actually wrong. She is a healthy chef and her book, a 5-year-long labor of love, is to attest for that. 

By balancing flavors of her Moroccan heritage, a childhood in Montreal, life in New York City and influences that span from the Mediterranean to the Far East, The Modern Menu is full of healthy food for the body and for the spirit. Kim just makes you feel at ease no matter what. Did I mention beautiful photography by Andrew Zuckerman? Her food is simple, but very well thought of, her flavors comforting but interesting at the same time. There's no fuzz, just straightforwardness, deliciousness and lots of plant-based recipes. She makes you feel good about the food you're cooking and eating. To me, that's being a healthy chef!
Here's a brassica recipe from The Modern Menu. If you wanted to make it kosher for Pesach, just substitute the sunflower seeds (which are kitnyot) for toasted almonds or other nuts, use honey instead of maple syrup, if you can't find one that is kosher certified for Passover.

Recipe by Kim Kushner from The Modern Menu Gefen Publishing House
  • 4 bulbs kohlrabi
  • 3 cups shredded green cabbage
  • 1/3 cup dried cherries
  • 1/4 cup salted roasted sunflower seeds
  • 1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh dill
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons pure maple syrup
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • Juice of 2 lemons
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Using a sharp knife, remove the long stems and greens from the kohlrabi. Using a peeler, trim away the thick green skin until you reach the light green to white  part that is free of tough fibers. Shred on the medium holes of a box grater or in a food processor fitted with the shredder disk.

Combine kohlrabi, cabbage, cherries, sunflower seeds, and dill in a larger serving bowl. In a small jar with a tight fitting lid, combine the olive oil, maple syrup, lemon zest, lemon juice, garlic, salt and pepper. Shake to thoroughly combine. Pour the dressing over the salad and toss to coat well. Let sit for about 20 minutes before serving.
Photo taken from the actual  book

Serves 6 to 8.