Could Whole30 Help My Migraines?

I get migraines. Lie in bed all day, can’t think, light-and-sound-sensitive, pounding migraines.

Since elementary school, I’d get such bad headaches that I couldn’t eat, deal with small amounts of lights or noise, and would occasionally throw up.

I always found a way to deal with them. I’d use pillows and blankets to cover the lights and would always carry a bottle of Excedrin Extra Strength Migraine.

Last year, however, the Excedrin stopped working. I visited doctors and tried different medications. But I’d still get migraines once a week for 24 hours or more.

But as I battled these extreme headaches, my best friend and fellow migraine sufferer stumbled upon something that actually worked. She found a non-medication route that took her from three migraines a week to zero. Those results sounded great! So I decided to give what she was doing a try – The Whole30 eating plan.

Is the Whole30 the Cure to Migraines?

The Whole30 is a “short-term nutrition reset” developed by Melissa Hartwig in 2009. She noticed that certain food groups could potentially cause problems with certain people. Therefore, she suggested that people try cutting these foods out of their diets for 30 days. Then you’d slowly introduce these foods back into your diet to help you determine the cause of the migraines.

While on the Whole30, you eat real, whole foods including moderate portions of meat, seafood, and eggs, vegetables, fruits, natural fats, and herbs, spices, and seasonings.

You avoid eating:

  • Sugar. Whether it’s real or artificial, it is out for 30 days.
  • Alcohol. In all forms, even for cooking.
  • Grains. Think of all forms of grains, even the gluten free ones, and say goodbye.
  • Legumes. This means beans, peas, lentils, peanuts (no peanut butter), and soy.
  • Dairy. Cow, goat, or sheep – it doesn’t matter. All types of milk products are out.
  • Carrageenan, MSG, or sulfites. If these ingredients appear in any form on the label of your processed food or beverage, it’s out.

There are a few exceptions to these rules and additional rules that are important to note, for those check out the full program rules here.

But is Whole30 Really Healthy?

Before I go any further, I have to stress that this story is based solely on my experiences. Excellus BlueCross BlueShield, the sponsor of this blog, does not endorse this diet.

The diet does include a lot of healthy stuff, and removes many unhealthy things. The diet focuses a lot on vegetables, for example, and bans sweets and junk food. Many of the avoided foods in the Whole 30 plan have also been recognized by medical professionals as common triggers of migraines, including MSG, alcohol and certain dairy products.

The concern? The diet also eliminates foods that are great sources of important nutrients, including beans and whole grains, said Amanda Shanahan, a registered dietitian with Excellus BCBS. These types of foods, for example, are keys to digestive and heart health, she added.

“Fortunately, this is only supposed to be a ‘short-term nutrition reset,’” said Shanahan. “But individuals should consult with their personal physician and/or registered dietitian for guidance before tackling new diets, such as Whole30.”

How to do Whole30 on Campus

I live on campus and have a meal plan.  Therefore, my first step was to email the culinary service to figure out what I could and couldn’t eat on campus.  My second step was to go grocery shopping to get snacks and food to eat in case I didn’t have time to eat on campus. After a long trip to Wegmans, and after reading every label trying to find a compliant salad dressing, I picked my start date and was ready.

Eating On Campus

I usually eat on campus for two meals a day: lunch and dinner. I also have a very busy schedule so I don’t always sit in the dining hall for both of those meals. I’m often running to cafés on campus to grab food to eat in class or at work.

In the dining hall I ate:

  • Grilled Chicken. Available at both lunch and dinner, this was one of the first things I asked about when I emailed the culinary service.
  • Salad. There’s a great salad bar with different greens and tons of raw vegetables. I did avoid the salad dressings since I wasn’t sure of its ingredients.  This was a great spot if I needed something fast or just wanted to add raw veggies to a meal.
  • Stir Fry. I’m lucky to have a stir fry station where you load up a container with all the vegetables you want, choose to add chicken, steak, crab, shrimp, or tofu, and then its grilled in front of you. The only Whole 30 compliant sauces were Tabasco and Frank’s Hot Sauce.
  • Fruit. Always choices for fresh fruit.
  • Hard Boiled Eggs. Available daily. I might eat them alone or add to my salad or stir fry.
  • Grilled, cooked, or steamed vegetables. The Vegan/ Vegetarian Section. I made a habit to start checking this section of the dining hall knowing that the vegan foods would be dairy-free and could possibly be complaint with the eating plan.

A typical “Whole 30-approved” dining hall meal

From the on-campus cafés I ate:

  • The build-your-own-salad option with grilled chicken or hard-boiled eggs. Of course, no salad dressing.

Secrets to sticking with the Whole30 diet

I learned that the key was to bring in my own extras. I might bring my own dressing to add to salad, stir fry or on top of grilled chicken.  Or, I’d bring guacamole or salsa to also add on top of the grilled chicken.

I challenged myself to try new foods and found some that I liked, such as parsnips and tilapia.

The dining hall staff was extremely helpful. One day I had a question about whether I could eat something, and found myself talking with the head chef and two sous chefs. They explained how they prepared the dish. The head chef even gave me his cell phone number so I could text him when I had a question.

Challenges to the Whole30 Diet

One huge challenge was walking into the dining hall and being surrounded by food that I couldn’t eat! Passing by the pasta station when I craved a big plate of pasta with blush sauce was torture!

Another big challenge was the Whole30’s limited food options.  I often felt frustrated going to the dining hall or the cafes.

My favorite part of the Whole 30 Diet

The best part of doing the Whole30? The excuse to cook for myself! I love to cook, but it’s hard to cook when you live on campus. Lucky for me I have a boyfriend with who lives off campus, hates to cook, and will gladly eat anything I make. We made a lot of marinated chicken with veggies and potatoes as a fast and easy meal but also explored new recipes. A few of our favorites were crockpot beef and broccoli with cauliflower rice, spaghetti squash with ground turkey and marinara sauce, and almond crusted tilapia with baked potatoes.

Whole 30 and Grocery Shopping

Grocery shopping is a challenge. But I quickly got really good at reading the ingredient list on every label to see if it was compliant with Whole30. I learned that nearly everything has sugar in it. I don’t get why it’s necessary to add sugar to things like salad dressing or marinara sauce or even chicken sausage. But I can confirm there is sugar in most of these products.  Soybean oil is also in most everything, and that’s another item you can’t eat!

Some of my favorite things to buy when grocery shopping were:

  • Larabars. The bars are made from two to six ingredients and are sweetened by dates. They are great for on the go and became a big part of my breakfast. But be careful. Only certain flavors are Whole30 approved. My favorite Larabars were the lemon and cashew cookie ones.
  • Salad dressing. The three dressings I always had on hand were:
    •  Annie’s Lemon and Chive Dressing (bought at Wegmans). A favorite marinade for chicken and a topping for seafood stir fry
    • Trader Joe’s Tuscan Italian Dressing. Another favorite chicken marinade, great on salads and any type of stir fry;
    • Primal Kitchen’s Caesar Dressing (bought at Wegmans). Great on salads.
  • Dried Fruit. My favorite was Bare’s dried apple chips. The plain and cinnamon chips are both delicious. I mean “eat a whole bag in one sitting” delicious.
  • Hint Waters. I got tired of drinking regular water. Naturally-flavored water like Hint saved the day. Again, be careful because not all flavors are Whole30 approved. My favorite “approved” flavors are cherry and watermelon.
  • Guacamole. The brand Wholly Guacamole is approved and makes individually packaged 2 oz. minis, which are perfect to carry around to put on top of grilled chicken or turkey burgers.
  • Unsweetened Applesauce. The perfect after-dinner snack, especially when everyone is eating dessert around you. I typically bought Trader Joe’s brand, but you can also buy Motts or generic brands.

Whole 30: My Results

If you can believe it – I made it through the 30 days without straying from the plan!

I only had two migraines during the time! Both migraines were after stressful days so the cause could be attributed to that. I also lost 13 pounds. The weight loss was something I didn’t expect since I didn’t work out at all that month.

Overall, I was pleased with the results. Even though the 30 days have ended, I will continue with some of my new eating habits. I’m now an expert in avoiding sugary foods and a wiz at finding healthy snacks and making veggie-heavy dishes.

I’ll continue to work with my doctors on treatment options for my migraines. I also want to see if certain foods trigger my migraines. So I will slowly add these foods back into my diet so I can see if one of them is the reason for my headaches. In general, keeping a food journal can be helpful for those with chronic migraines because it can help to identify potential food triggers.

I don’t want to eliminate all these foods forever, especially since many of them – such as beans and whole grains — are the building blocks to good health!

Snack Your Way to Your Summer Weight

Healthy snacking might sound like an oxymoron. But there are a lot of benefits to snacking – especially if you want to shed a few pounds in time for swimsuit season.

If you snack on the right foods, you tend to consume fewer calories throughout the day. You’ll feel fuller longer and be less likely to overeat or reach for unhealthy foods.

In addition to looking good poolside or at the beach, individuals who stay at a healthy weight reduce their risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, osteoarthritis, and some cancers.

Here are a few tips:

  1. Rather than snacking on cookies or chips, have a handful of raw almonds. A serving is 23 almonds. Put a serving of almonds into individual snack size bags and leave them in key locations such as your desk, purse and the beverage cup holder in the car. Almonds are heart healthy and a protein-packed snack!
  2. Pair a small amount of cheese with whole grain crackers. The protein in the cheese will keep you from feeling hungry.
  3. Try one of my favorite snacking recipes – Cookie Dough Hummus! This recipe is delicious on a piece of toast and as a snack with apple slices, baby carrots or graham crackers. Check out the recipe at the bottom of this story.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also offers the following healthy snacking ideas:

  1. Try three cups of air-popped popcorn instead of oil-popped popcorn. You’ll consume 73 fewer calories.
  2. Avoid the vending machine. Pack an eight-ounce, nonfat, no sugar added yogurt. That’s 82 fewer calories compared to a package of six peanut butter crackers.
  3. Consider packing vegetable sticks and fresh fruit, “nature’s fast food.”
  4. Substitute a sugary 12-ounce can of soda with a bottle of carbonated water for 136 fewer calories.
  5. Instead of chocolate sandwich cookies or other sweet snacks, eat a bowl of berries or a juicy peach.
Print Recipe
Cookie Dough Hummus
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  1. Put the beans, peanut butter, maple syrup and vanilla into a food processor. Blend ingredients until smooth. Once blended, mix in chocolate chips.

For more healthy snacking ideas, visit fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org.

Sage Advice: 7 Tips for Your Herb Garden (Recipes Included!)

I’d rather be cooking than gardening, but there’s something about growing and using my own herbs that’s satisfying to the soul and palate and a treat for the senses. Once planted, they grow quickly–sometimes, it seems, right in front of my eyes. In the morning, I do some tactile and aromatherapy as I touch and smell the herbs.

Growing your own herbs can be daunting to the novice gardener. Here are tips for first-timers:

  1. Start small by growing plants in containers. After you bring the plants home from the farmers’ market, garden center or hardware store, repot them in larger containers with good potting soil.
  2. In upstate New York, wait until Memorial Day to grow them outdoors. If we do get a frost or the threat of one, it’s easy to cover the containers with a blanket or move them to the garage. The animals don’t get to my deck where I grow them in containers, but they do get to my neighbor’s garden in the ground.
  3. Check the website herbgardening.com for a wealth of information for growing herbs—from anise to watercress—inside, outside, in containers and even hydroponically.

Here are more tips from Pamela Shade, a horticulturist and curator of the Robison York State Herb Garden at the Cornell Botanic Gardens in Ithaca, New York.

  1. Don’t tuck your herbs into a shady corner of your yard. Most culinary herbs require full sun and a minimum of six hours direct sunlight daily.
  2. Fight root rot and fungal diseases by providing plants with well-drained soil. Add several inches of compost to improve the soil quality of heavy, wet, clay soil.
  3. Because herbs need room to thrive, allow plenty of space between plants for good air circulation and to encourage maximum growth. For example, basil plants should be spaced at least 12 inches apart.
  4. Don’t over-fertilize as this will decrease the flavor of the herbs.

Not all herbs are the same, since some want to be raised in certain ways. Shade offered the following advice:

Some herbs can be started from seed indoors during the winter and spring. These include thyme, a perennial, (February); parsley (March); basil and marjoram (early April).

Other herbs are best grown from seeds directly planted into the garden. They include anise, dill, caraway, cilantro, cumin, fenugreek and mustard.

Longing for lavender or sage? It’s best to purchase plants from a reputable nursery since they take a long time to grow into mature plants large enough to transplant outside into the garden.

Now that you’re an herb-growing expert, you can start cooking! Herbs are a flavorful and calorie-free addition to any dish. Here’s how I use some of my favorite herbs:

  • Basil. Good in pesto or in a tomato and fresh mozzarella salad, on pizza and in marinara sauce. Basil is wimpy and turns limp at the first sign of cold weather. Freeze pesto in ice cube trays, remove to a freezer bag, and take out as needed for a winter treat that reminds you of summer’s bounty.
  • Chives. Excellent potato or cauliflower salad. (See recipe below)
  • Mint. Add to hot or cold water for flavor. Chew on mint leaves instead of gum or candy. Mint is a take-charge herb that spreads far and wide. Grow it in pots to contain it. If you plant it in the ground, cut the bottom off a pot and plant the cylinder in the ground to damper mint’s urge to roam.
  • Parsley. A must for tabbouleh. Hearty parsley lives up to its name. I’ve brushed snow off it and welcomed it to the warm indoors. (See recipe below)
  • Rosemary. Tasty with roasted potatoes or on pork.
  • Sage. Good with eggs or chicken.
  • Tarragon. Transform leftover chicken to chicken salad.
  • Thyme. Delicious in bean salads, vegetables and with meat.

There’s nothing like harvesting your own herbs and savoring their smell and taste firsthand. To paraphrase an old saying, the scent of the rosemary stays on the hand of the giver. Share your abundance with friends and co-workers. You’ll both be glad you did!

Print Recipe
Roasted Potatoes and Cauliflower with Chives
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  1. Cut the potatoes to ¾ inch cubes. Place on a jelly-roll pan and toss with the oil, garlic powder, rosemary, paprika, salt and pepper. Roast the potatoes in the middle of a preheated 450°F. oven, turning them occasionally, for 15 minutes. Add the cauliflower, toss the mixture well, and roast 10 minutes or until the cauliflower is tender and golden in spots. Toss the vegetables with chives and serve topped with a garnish of whole chives.
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Tabbouleh
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  1. Place bulgur in a heatproof bowl. Pour boiling water over, then cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let stand 15 minutes. Drain in a colander, pressing on bulgur to remove any excess liquid. Transfer bulgur to a bowl and toss with remaining ingredients until combined well. Enjoy!

Buffalo Chicken Sweet Potato Bake

Buffalo chicken. Is there anything better? I’d submit to you that there is not. However, it is generally not a nutritional practice to eat buffalo chicken wings and dip on a regular basis. That is, until I discovered this casserole that’s equal parts nutritional and flavorful. This is our family’s go-to recipe for any event or occasion, and great for feeding a crowd or freezing for later.

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Buffalo Chicken Sweet Potato Bake
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You'll need:
Additional toppings:
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You'll need:
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  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Heat 1 tbsp of olive oil or ghee, and add the bell pepper and onion. Season with salt and pepper, and saute until soft, about 3-5 minutes. Remove from heat.
  3. In a bowl, mix hot sauce of your choice (6 tablespoons get you a "mild" heat, 4 tablespoons is good for kids, 8 tablespoons is for your heat lovers!), with 1 tbsp of olive oil or ghee, 1 tbsp of paprika, 1 tsp of garlic powder and salt and pepper. Stir in the raw chicken to coat, then add the sweet potatoes. Then stir in the seasoned bell pepper and onion. Mix together in a baking dish, and bake, covered at 350 for 40 minutes. Stir occasionally.
  4. At 40 minutes, remove and add the crumbled bacon and stir in the greens. Cook for another 10 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through and the sweet potatoes are fork tender. Remove from the oven and top with the green onions and another swirl of hot sauce.
  5. Serve with assorted toppings. Pairs nicely with a cold beer!
Recipe Notes

Make it vegetarian: Use firm tofu or tempeh! Pat your tofu dry, then dice. Meanwhile, heat 1 tbsp of olive oil in a skillet. Season your tofu with salt, pepper, paprika and garlic powder. When the oil is hot, sear the tofu until browned on each side. Stir into the baked sweet potatoes, vegetable and sauce mixture with 10 minutes left.

Weeknight hack: Use rotisserie chicken to reduce your cooking time!

18 Fabulous Fiction Books for 2018

“Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth.”

This quote from Albert Camus is why I love fiction. Reading about other peoples’ made up lives, I learn something about myself. Fiction transports me to other times, places and events. Yet, universal truths about the human condition are true for all. For convenience sake, I’ve linked these 18 favorites of mine to Amazon, but you can find them at other sites, including my favorite, the library!

Double Jeopardy

  1. “I Know This Much Is True” by Wally Lamb

I didn’t think Lamb could beat “She’s Come Undone” (how could a man know so much about being a woman?), but he does with his second book. Both were #1 New York Times bestsellers and both Oprah Book Club selections. Like the best of fiction, “I Know” made me abandon reason and stay up reading into the wee hours despite having to work the next day. This tale of two brothers, one who has schizophrenia, begs the question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

  1. “Cutting for Stone” by Abraham Verghese

With so many books and so little time, I rarely read the same one twice. This was an exception. The second reading held me as spellbound as the first. Ethiopian, African and American cultures and politics intertwine across decades in the telling of Marion and Shiva Stone’s complicated relationship. Written by a medical doctor, the book not only intrigued me with the twin brothers’ storyline, but also taught me about the plight of many poor Ethiopian women; some suffered female genital mutilation and often vaginal fistulas, making them outcasts.

Dysfunctional Families

  1. “The Poisonwood Bible” by Barbara Kingsolver

Another great read with a history lesson. The setting is Belgian Congo in the late 1950s. Although I had a hard time getting into “The Poisonwood Bible,” once I did, I couldn’t put it down. Told by each of the four daughters and the wife of a misanthropic missionary, the different points of view offer a unique perspective on the times and religious beliefs.

  1. “Olive Kitteridge” by Elizabeth Strout

I couldn’t quite put my finger on the title character. Olive is by turns harsh and uncaring,  then compassionate. She’s one tough cookie, especially with her son and husband, a softie. HBO made this Pulitzer Prize-winning novel into a “true to the book” miniseries starring Frances McDormand, Richard Jenkins, and Bill Murray. I rarely watch movies twice; this was an exception.

A Difficult Life

  1. “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” by Mark Haddon

“The Curious Incident” involves a teen boy in England. On the autism spectrum, Christopher is a math wizard with few social skills. When he discovers a neighbor’s dog murdered with a pitchfork, he decides to play Sherlock Holmes. Christopher sees the world in black and white, sometimes to comic effect, with a touch of sadness. The Syracuse Stage play of the same name was an amazing production. It was also true to the book, which always makes me happy.

  1. “Icy Sparks” by Gwyn Hyman Rubio

Set in eastern Kentucky, Rubio’s first novel captures the sad and touching life of a young girl with Tourette Syndrome in the 1950s, when little was understood about the inherited neurological tic disorder. The book chronicles the orphan’s growing up among misguided adults and children and her acceptance of her condition as a young woman. She’s one of those fictional heroines who makes you want to stand up and cheer.

  1. “Left Neglected” by Lisa Genova

Neuroscientist turned author, Genova sheds light on a number of neurological diseases in her well-researched books. You may be familiar with “Still Alice,” Genova’s account of an accomplished college professor who has early onset Alzheimer’s disease. Left neglect is the result of a stroke or traumatic brain injury. The condition can affect either side of the brain. In “Left Neglected,” a young suburban mom learns what it means to live without awareness of one side of her body–and more.

Mystery/Thrillers

  1. “The Good Daughter” by Karin Slaughter

I’m a fan of Slaughter’s “Will Trent” series, but with her latest publication, the author outdid herself. If gruesome details bother you, then skip Slaughter’s books. But if you like well-written legal thrillers, then check out this cold case thriller that deals with a young female lawyer’s horrific past, her troubled family relationships, and small-town secrets.

  1. “In the Bleak Midwinter” by Julia Spencer-Fleming

In this first of a series of mysteries set in the Adirondacks, Spencer-Fleming sets the stage for the thorny relationship between the Episcopal church’s new priest, the Rev. Clare Fergusson, and the Miller Kill’s chief of police, Russ Van Alstyne. The author creates a cast of memorable characters that appear in subsequent novels. I can’t wait for the next installment, where I hope she resolves the cliffhanger in #9.

Mystery With History

  1. “Alice’s Tulips” by Sandra Dallas

Dallas’s books may appeal more to women, often centering on the social network of the past known as “quilting bees.” In this book that takes place during the Civil War, Alice is a new bride who lives with her formidable mother-in-law while her husband is off fighting for the North. Alice soon finds herself accused of murder, and so the mystery begins.

Love Story With History

  1. “The Sandcastle Girls” by Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian, like Wally Lamb, writes with wisdom about women (“Midwives”). In “The Sandcastle Girls,” I learned about  Armenian Genocide during World War I. The narrative weaves between past and present for Elizabeth, a wealthy American who volunteers to help Armenian refugees in Syria, and Armen, a young Armenian engineer. It’s a love story set in the background of man’s inhumanity to man.

More Than a Mystery

  1. “Leaving Time” by Jodi Picoult

Although some dismiss Picoult as a “chick” author, she researches her subjects in depth. There’s always a backdrop to the main character’s story that deals with current social issues. In “Leaving Time,” Picoult enlarged my knowledge about elephants and their culture. At the center of this tale is Jenna, whose mother studied grief among elephants. Jenna is determined to find her mother, whose sudden disappearance has never been explained. Did she abandon Jenna or worse?

Coming of Age

  1. “Ordinary Grace” by William Kent Krueger

Middle-aged Frank Drum recalls the summer in New Bremen, Minnesota, in 1961, when several deaths rocked the small community. “Ordinary Grace” not only deals with the crimes and their effect on the townspeople, but also Drum’s family dynamics. Many have compared it to “To Kill a Mockingbird,” especially with the similarities between Atticus Finch of “To Kill a Mockingbird” and Drum’s father, the town’s Methodist minister.

  1. “Snow in August” by Pete Hamill

Set in Brooklyn in 1947, the story involves the unlikely friendship between an 11-year-old Catholic boy and a lonely rabbi from Prague. From the rabbi, Michael learns the mysteries of the Kabbalah, and the pre-teen introduces the rabbi to the joys of baseball. Terrorized by an anti-Semitic Irish gang, the unlikely duo is rescued by a miracle, otherwise known as a golem.

Fiction by Female Authors

  1. “The Robber Bride” by Margaret Atwood

Although I enjoy Atwood’s dystopian fiction, including “The Handmaid’s Tale,” I remember “The Robber Bride” for its depth of characters–four women who met in college. Twenty years later, three of them gather for the fourth one’s funeral, but is she really dead?

  1. “The Story of Arthur Truluv” by Elizabeth Berg

Berg had me at “Talk Before Sleep,” and since then, I’ve read every book she’s published. Although a few have fallen short of the author’s elegant writing and in-depth knowledge of human nature, her latest one does not disappoint. The story of an elderly man who visits his wife’s gravesite every day, a rebellious teen he befriends and their relationship with Arthur’s spunky senior neighbor lady makes for a quick, pleasurable read.

Out of My Comfort Zone

  1. “Angle of Repose” by Wallace Stegner

Shout out to my local library in Marcellus, New York, which sponsored a Pulitzer Prize-winning book club. The moderator introduced our suburban group of readers to books that often took us out of our comfort zone. “Angle of Repose” was my favorite. Lyman Ward, who lives alone despite a crippling bone disease, is the focus of this story within a story. Ward explores the life of his pioneering grandmother, who, with her engineer husband, struggles to raise a family in the hardscrabble west in the late 1800s.

  1. “Interpreter of Maladies” by Jhumpa Lahiri

Preferring novels to short  stories, I had enjoyed reading Lahiri’s “Namesake.” My book club selected this collection of nine stories, some set in India, others in the U.S. Although she considers herself American, Lahiri features her ancestry prominently. Her characters, however, transcend borders and cultures, with their feelings of love, loss and other universal experiences.

Homemade Sauerkraut is Easier Than You Think

I’m mostly Irish and German and my wife is mostly Polish and Irish. Thus, explaining why we make our own sauerkraut seems indulgent, but here I go anyway. I love sauerkraut with my hot dogs and Reubens, and she loves to use it to make pierogi and kapusta. We both love it with some kielbasa. And like most everything else food related, it tastes better when it’s homemade.

Whether or not you have a genetic predisposition for pickled cabbage fermented in lactic acid bacteria, read on, as I share with you my family’s recipe for sauerkraut. This recipe comes from my mother and stepfather, who passed it on to my wife and me.

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Sauerkraut Recipe
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  1. Wash and then cut the heads of cabbage into pieces small enough to fit into the food processor. Using the appropriate blade for 1/4-inch slices, process one head of cabbage and place the result into the fermentation crock. Sprinkle a little salt on the cabbage. Massage the cabbage vigorously with your hands to bring out its moisture (this process forms the brine). Do this for 10-15 minutes with each head, using the rest of the salt. Let it sit for one hour.
  2. The next step is to pack the salt and cabbage mixture down into your crock. The brine should cover the kraut completely. If there is not enough brine to cover the cabbage, you need to massage the cabbage some more. When you are done packing, spread a sheet of cheesecloth across the top so that, later, when a layer of scum or moldy residue appears on top, you can easily remove the cheesecloth, rinse it off, and replace it. Then place the fermentation weights on top of the cheesecloth; these weights will keep the cabbage submerged in the brine. Finally, cover the crock with a top. We have wooden fitted tops with handles, while my stepfather uses a flat piece of plywood and a brick. Either will work.
  3. Allow the cabbage to ferment for approximately three weeks at room temperature. Feel free to give the cabbage a taste after one or two weeks to see how it's going, but try not to open the crock repeatedly. When you think the kraut is done, transfer it to quart-size freezer-style zip-lock bags and freeze them.
  4. With the sauerkraut in these bags, it is so easy to, say, pull a couple of bags out, run them under hot water for a minute to loosen the kraut, put the contents into a crock-pot with two kielbasa, sit it on low for 5.5 hours, and you will have a delicious dinner waiting when it's done!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

A Sweet Family Activity: NY Maple Weekends are Here!

It’s just about time for my favorite family activity. As we anticipate our annual tradition of visiting a local maple farm, I can’t help but recall a favorite childhood memory.

I remember adding maple sugar to fresh snow to make a sweet treat (don’t worry, scientists say eating small amounts of snow usually isn’t harmful). Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House in the Big Woods” was a childhood favorite of mine and I copied this trick that Laura’s grandmother taught her. My daughter recently read the story and it will be great to re-enact the experience with her–especially given our upcoming trip to a “sugar house.”

With New York’s Maple Weekends starting soon, upstate New Yorkers can visit a maple farm and start their own family traditions.

Packard Valley Farms

Shevah (r) and her daughter making memories at a local maple farm.

Every spring, New York State Maple Producers Association coordinates events at the “sugar houses” at about 160 farms and museums. This year it will be March 17-18 and 24-25, 2018. Find a place near you!

Most places have hands-on demonstrations of how syrup is made, fresh syrup tastings, and experts on hand to answer questions. Many also have pancake breakfasts complete with—you guessed it— local syrup.

My family loves these maple weekends. This fun family activity signals the beginning of spring, even if there’s still snow on the ground. The highlight for my 9-year-old-daughter is sampling fresh syrup, maple butter, and, of course, maple candy.

Making maple syrup

I also love seeing how syrup is made and how natural the process is. While upgrades have been made over time, the basic process has remained the same for centuries. Native Americans in the northeastern United States and Canada were known to make syrup, and today New York is a top syrup producer.

Really, anyone can do it. The process involves very simple, classic steps:

Phase One: Find a sugar, black or red maple tree, drill a hole for a tap, add a bucket under the tap and let gravity work its magic.

Phase Two: Boil! It takes about ten gallons of sap to make 1 quart of syrup. Farms have huge vats for this process. And don’t forget to filter the syrup once boiled to remove sediment.

Phase Three: Pour into a sterile bottle and cap. Keep unopened containers in a cool place for up to two years. Once opened, store in the refrigerator for up to a year.

Phase Four: Enjoy!

You may notice syrup comes in different colors. Some have rich hues of brown or amber or gold. There’s a reason for this! A syrup’s color and flavor correlates to when the syrup was made; sap from later in the season is often darker in color and typically has a stronger flavor.

More than Pancakes

Maple syrup isn’t just for breakfast.

You can bake with it, using syrup in place of the sugar.

If you’re replacing sugar with maple syrup, you’ll want to use about ¾ cup of syrup for every cup of sugar and decrease the amount of liquid in your recipe by about three tablespoons.

Maple syrup can also be added to ice cream, BBQ sauce, fudge and kettle corn. Some of my favorite food magazines, such as Epicurious  and Food and Wine , are full of inspiration.

Visit the Excellus BlueCross BlueShield Pinterest page for other tasty recipes for baking with maple syrup. (Don’t forget to view the recipes at the end of this story!)

“Just remember, maple syrup is basically sugar so enjoy it in moderation,” said Patricia Salzer, registered dietitian, Excellus BlueCross BlueShield.

A local tradition

If you’re a Maple Weekend newbie, here are some of my favorite places to consider:

  • Cumming Nature Center in Ontario County. Part of the Rochester Museum and Science Center (RMSC), the tour focuses on the science of syrup making. This is a big place, so leave time to explore the extensive trails after breakfast.
  • Genesee Country Village and Museum in Monroe County. I’m a sucker for period costumes. You can experience syrup making in the 19th century. During maple sugar weekends, the museum is an especially attractive family activity with free admission for kids 18 and under.
  • Packard Valley Farms in Wayne County. This has been a favorite family activity for the past few years. There is a petting zoo and a hay ride up the road to a restaurant serving breakfast all day!
  • Schoff’s Sugar Shack in Ontario County. This family business uses modern techniques for making syrup. Instead of a tap and bucket, they use tubing to carry the sap into a pipeline.

Other farms to consider include:

Enjoying a Family Activity at Packard Valley Farms

Enjoying a fun family activity at Packard Valley Farms.

Try these (syrup-y) recipes

Print Recipe
Smoky Maple Marinade
Servings
Ingredients
Servings
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Whisk all the ingredients together.
  2. Use the mix to coat your favorite protein. For chicken, pork or beef, marinate one to four hours. For tofu or seafood, marinate for up to one hour.
Print Recipe
Maple Hash
Servings
Ingredients
Servings
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Brown the meat in butter or olive oil. Once browned, remove the meat from the pan.
  2. Stir in the sweet potato and onion, scraping up the meaty bits off the bottom of the pan. A splash of water, apple cider or apple juice on the bottom of the hot pan will help this process and add a nice flavor.
  3. Saute the sweet potato and onion until soft, about 10 minutes. (Speed trick - you can soften your sweet potatoes by throwing them into boiling water on the stove or in a microwave safe dish until fork tender).
  4. Once your sweet potatoes are fork tender, stir in the diced apple. Stir this around until the apples get soft, about four to five minutes.
  5. Once your veggies are fork tender, stir the sausage back in. Add the cinnamon, maple syrup and salt and pepper to taste. Cook together about three to five minutes or until everything looks happily married.
  6. Enjoy! It’s delicious on its own or with a fried or poached egg on top.

Tasty Winter Squash Bake with Feta

There are a few dishes in my cooking rotation that I can make in my sleep. This winter squash bake with Feta cheese is one of them – thanks to my sister-in-law who first made this dish for us a few years ago. It’s evolved to take in estranged vegetables, like that last head of broccoli or a handful of spinach. You can swap out any vegetable you like, make this vegan or vegetarian. It’s easy to make ahead, freeze, is great comfort food and travels well. Even the pickiest eaters in our family will eat this one. Enjoy!

Print Recipe
Winter Squash Bake with Feta
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 40 minutes
Servings
people
Ingredients
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 40 minutes
Servings
people
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 425
  2. Heat your olive oil and brown your sausage. Once browned, remove the sausage.
  3. Add another swirl of olive oil to the pan drippings. Stir in garlic, onion, bell pepper and broccoli. Cook for two minutes.
  4. Stir in the squash and coat with the oil mixture in the pan. Add oregano, thyme, red pepper flakes, and salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Stir in the spinach and squeeze some lemon juice on top of it. Stir for just a moment until it wilts.
  6. Combine the vegetables and sausage in a baking dish. Swirl in a little olive oil, a squeeze of lemon juice and some more salt and pepper.
  7. Cover with foil. Bake for 25 minutes or until the squash is fork tender. Once it is, or slightly before, remove foil and add feta cheese.
  8. Bake for another 5 minutes or until the feta is bubbly and delicious. Serve with some crusty bread!

What You Might Not Know about the Festival of Holi

It’s almost spring! For me, that means it’s almost time to celebrate Holi, the Hindu celebration marked by a festival of colors.

Different parts of India have different traditions to celebrate Holi, a festival that falls this year on March 1. Holi marks the arrival of spring and the victory of good over evil.

A Two-day celebration

I’m originally from the state of Maharashtra in the western part of India. Growing up in this region of India, Holi was a two-day celebration. My mom would start the first day by making a big feast. The highlight of the meal was always the dessert “Puran Poli,” a sweet flatbread filled with lentils, sugar, cardamom, and nutmeg. The dessert is topped with “ghee,” also known as clarified butter. Later that evening, we’d have a neighborhood bonfire.

A Festival of Colors

The big “festival of colors” happened on the second day of Holi. To celebrate the coming of spring – we’d throw colored powders at each other while the kids would spray each other with water guns filled with colored water.

The author with her family as they celebrate Holi.

Celebrating Holi in Upstate N.Y.

Now I live in Clarence, N.Y., and haven’t lived in India for almost two decades. I still make my favorite Puran Poli dessert. I’ve included the recipe below.

My family and I attend the temple at the Hindu Cultural Society in Getzville, N.Y., where we celebrate the festival with our local community by throwing colors. Everyone from kids to adults enjoy this fun event.  We wear traditional clothing during the festival.  Despite what you might see in the Bollywood movies, we’re not wearing white clothes during the festival.

The one thing I miss about celebrating Holi in India is just how big the festival could become. Everyone celebrated Holi where I’m from. Here, we celebrate at the temple with only 100 to 200 people. It’s still fun and meaningful, but definitely not as big!

Print Recipe
Puran Poli
Prep Time 2 hours
Servings
Ingredients
Prep Time 2 hours
Servings
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Wash the chana dal 2-3 times. Add 5 cups of water along with the dal in a heavy-bottomed pot. Let the lentils cook on medium-low heat for an hour, stirring a few times. Remove any white foam that may rise up.
  2. Drain all the water. Add sugar, nutmeg powder, cardamom powder, and saffron. Mix well, and cook stirring frequently for 10-15 minutes on medium heat.
  3. Cool down the cooked dal for 10 mins. Blend it to a smooth consistency with a hand blender or food processor.
  4. Knead soft, pliable dough with 1 cup of whole wheat flour, salt, and oil. Let the dough rest for 30 mins.
  5. Start making balls for the dough and the stuffing, which should be of the same size.
  6. Put a heavy griddle on medium-high heat. Roll the dough by using the dry wheat flour that is kept aside for rolling. Make a 3-4 inch diameter circle. Put the stuffing in the middle of the rolled dough and then gather all the sides of the dough on top of the stuffing to enclose it. Roll the bread softly using more dry flour. Gently put the rolled bread on the heated griddle. Cook evenly on both sides to a perfect golden brown color. Serve with ghee on top.

I Stand – A Lot. But why does it make others uneasy?

I have an odd habit that’s good for my health, but seems to make others uneasy.

I have a tendency to stand, even when asked to sit.

You might not think this is odd. Especially since sitting too much could put us at risk for serious health issues, including heart disease and diabetes.  This is true for people who even exercise regularly.

But my tendency to stand seems to create a lot of confusion.

Stand Whenever You Can

Whenever I walk into my hairdresser’s, for example, she always says, “Take a seat.”

But I don’t. I stay standing.

I stand when I read the paper, wait at the doctor’s office or nail salon, fill out papers or read something on my phone.

The other day a friend and I were waiting for another friend to go for a walk. While we were waiting, my friend asked if we should sit. I said, “No! We’re about to go for a walk! We’re not sitting!”

My new approach to standing

But I may need to take a slightly different approach to my standing habit.

My hairdresser, for example, said my standing while waiting makes her nervous. I’m making it seem as if I’m impatient, that I need to be helped right away.

That makes complete sense. It’s probably why I get all these odd looks whenever I’m asked to sit, and I don’t!

From now on, when I’m asked to sit, I may say, “Thank you, but I’m just better off standing.”

Maybe that’ll lessen everyone’s uneasiness? But we do need a culture shift. If people stood more, fewer people would ask why I’m standing!

Other ways to stand more

If you need more tips on how to stop sitting so much, read “Is being healthy as simple as standing up?”

I’d also love to learn more about any ideas you may have on ways to stop sitting so much! Please add your thoughts to the comments section below.