Tips and Tricks

How to reheat Alfredo sauce

I’m probably the only one who wasn’t aware of this trick until recently, but I thought I’d share anyway! Don’t you hate it when you order some awesome fettuccine alfredo at a restaurant, but when you take the leftovers home, the sauce separates into a buttery mess in the microwave? Well, there’s any easy solution: warming it over low heat on the stove top instead. When you reheat in a saute pan instead of the microwave, the ingredients in the sauce don’t separate, and you get to keep your creamy, cheesy Alfredo just as it should be: fattening and delicious.

Have you ever been to the place this dish was invented — the original Alfredo in Rome? If you’re planning to visit Italy any time soon, it’s a must-see. They make the dish right at your table and serve it piping hot. And then you die and go to heaven. No really, it’s that good! And interestingly, in Italy the recipe doesn’t include cream. Same goes for carbonara, in case you were wondering! (Adding cream to pasta is a very American invention).

Hope you all have a lovely week, and that you’re making the most of these waning summer days 🙂 It goes so fast…

Baby & Toddler · News · Pregnancy

Why don’t doctors talk to pregnant women about toxic chemicals?

I recently read something that I think most mamas would find disturbing.

Boston Globe via iStock

Acoording to the Boston Globe, reducing pregnant women’s exposure to environmental toxins was recently deemed ‘critical’ by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists to prevent birth defects and other fetal health problems. But a recent survey of more than 2,500 physician members of that group found that fewer than one in five ask pregnant patients about any exposure they have had to unsafe levels of toxic chemicals.

“It’s not surprising that they’re avoiding these discussions,” said Dr. Alan Woolf, director of the pediatric environmental health center at Boston Children’s Hospital, who was not involved with the study. “Very few doctors feel comfortable in their knowledge of this issue to discuss it.”

A 2011 study found that pregnant women are exposed to at least 43 chemicals known to affect fetal development including pesticides, polychlorinated biphenyl (PCBs), and phthalates that interfere with hormones.

For this reason, ACOG recommended last year that its physicians “identify specific types of exposure that may be harmful to a developing fetus” during the first prenatal visit. Doctors should be asking about workplace exposures — such as chemicals used in a lab or factory — and whether a patient lives in an older home, which could contain harmful lead paint, or has undertaken do-it-yourself home renovation that involves toxic agents. (And a Huffington Post story about this study pointed out that many women are at increased risk for exposure during pregnancy precisely because it’s a time when many families move or undertake renovation projects to prepare for baby’s arrival.

Yet half of the obstetricians-gynecologists surveyed in the new study said they rarely take this kind of environmental health history.

“Doctors told us they have so many more pressing issues to talk about,” said study leader Naomi Stotland, an associate professor of obstetrics-gynecology at the University of California, San Francisco. “Their patients may be cigarette smokers, drink alcohol, or eat fast food every day, which they need to deal with first.”

But those who serve highly educated populations often find themselves flummoxed by questions from pregnant patients about which cosmetics, cleaners, and sunscreens to use.

You can read the rest of the article here. In it, doctors went on to say that they don’t want to “stress their patients out” by mentioning environmental exposure issues, and that there are other concerns they’d rather focus on — such as getting more women to eat the “good” kinds of fish that are free of mercury. But some of the things that should be no-brainers during pregnancy, like avoiding aerosol room fresheners or antibacterial soaps and products containing triclosan, just aren’t on most women’s radars.

Here’s a helpful guide to avoiding environmental toxins at home. You can also visit the Environmental Working Group website for more resources.

On one hand, I can see the doctor’s point of view on this. Americans do seem to be riddled with so much extra anxiety around pregnancy and childbirth, and to be seen as adding to that — especially when so many patients deal with poor working conditions, food choices and home lives that are beyond their control — must be stressful for OBs. But I think lots of people aren’t worried about the issue of environmental toxins because they assume the government is protecting us from harmful ingredients, when the reality is quite the opposite. As consumers and as parents we have to be so careful about what we bring into our homes and bodies, and our income level shouldn’t preclude us from being empowered to make educated choices. It sounds to me like the doctors in this study who suggested enhanced training to equip OBGYN’s to discuss toxic exposure are right on the money.

How about you — did your doctor ever discuss this with you? What do you do to avoid contaminants in your food, cleaning products, home life or workplace?
Baby & Toddler

Feeding toddlers

I’m back to feeling human again now that Georgia has resumed her status as a Baby Who Sleeps Through the Night. She even had a sitter Saturday night (Hi, Marty! a.k.a Grammy) and went down great for her. Hallelujah! Mom and Dad can go out on dates together again!

Now that we’ve gotten over that hump, it’s time to tackle the other stress of moving from infancy to toddlerhood: what the heck do you feed these kiddos? Well, a high school classmate of mine hit on a genius way to figure this out. Take pictures of their lunches every day, share online, and create a viral community to inspire other parents.

5 layer dip (Wholly Guacamole, tomatoes, smashed black beans, plain Greek yogurt, shredded cheddar cheese), vegetables to dip (yellow pepper, red pepper, partially steamed broccoli, carrots, cucumber), whole wheat pasta salad, blackberries, raspberries and strawberry heart, and 1% milk.

Tomorrow’s Lunch is a blog and Facebook page that shares what Maggie, my high school classmate and a Registered dietitian in Boston, makes for her two kids every day. It’s a model of variety, nutrition and fun, lovingly arranged:

avocado & chicken salad sandwich (yellow, orange & red tomatoes, red onion, a little lemon, cheddar cheese) in the shape of a bear, cucumber cups with edamame hummus and red pepper, grapes, strawberries, blueberries, and nectarine suns, pear/spinach/mango yogurt, 1% milk.

I hope she keeps this up, because it’s genius.

Me? I’m stuck with an almost-one-year-old whose main food groups are cheese, cheese, and more cheese. I leave her with fresh food every day, and she’ll eat it…as long as cheese is served alongside. Some of her other favorites are strawberries, peaches, mangoes, nectarines, bananas, pineapple, zucchini bread, naan, rotisserie chicken, meatloaf, lasagna, cheddar slices, mashed potatoes, sweet potato, avocado (and guacamole!), applesauce, pancakes and bagels with cream cheese.

When she was teeny, we gave her bland things at first — organic whole grain oatmeal, prunes, mashed pears, pureed squash, etc. — and then moved on to letting her sample our “big people” food at dinner and on weekends, while sending her organic packaged food to day care and with the grandparents. We loved Earth’s Best, Ella’s Kitchen, Plum Organics, Happy Baby, and some Gerber organics.

Ella's Kitchen
Some of Georgia’s staples: cereal, curry and fruit/veggie puree.

Let me tell you, that organic baby food ADDS RIGHT UP. But there’s so much crap in some of the brands out there, it’s worth it to hunt for coupons and shop in bulk when things go on sale. You really have to be discerning with nutrition labels, and luckily Mark really took to that, so he weeded through to find the options free of corn syrup, juices, added sugar and salt, GMOs, etc.

Why organic? Because in order to meet that label, the crops can’t be genetically engineered, treated with pesticides, exposed to radiation, or produced with antibiotics. You can read more about this on Consumer Reports, which has a great guide to buying and making organic food for babies, who are at greater risk from exposure to the chemicals, practices and contaminants found in conventional growing methods. We already bought all organic produce for ourselves, so any time Georgia had homemade purees, we knew it was safe.

Around 9-10 months, she got sick of eating mushy food and became very curious about what we were eating. So, even before she could pick things up herself, we started letting her play with shredded chicken, bits of turkey meatballs, pizza crusts, ricotta, ziti, chunky soup, chopped fruit and hummus from the table. Now, she can put bread, cheese and baby cookies into her mouth and gnaw on them, which lets her feel independent and helps her teething as well. If your baby is teething all once like poor Georgia, we highly recommend this fashionable teething jewelry for mom, and putting frozen fruit into one of these fun contraptions for baby to suck on. Cold watermelon slices are working great for us lately, too (and luckily comes out easily in the wash).

(psst: If you bought a bunch of pouches and have a lot left over, Earth’s Best has a quick guide with tips on using up purees creatively — pancake topping? quick-bread filling? — that is adorable and helpful). We managed to only hang on to the pouch purees that she likes holding by herself now, so we didn’t really have to waste any food. Holding the spoon is still a work in progress for Georgia, so I try to give her thick things to practice with — mushy avocado is a favorite — to minimize the mess while still letting her work on mastering a spoon.

So far, she’s still open to trying lots of different foods, although certain things — red meat and anything too spicy — haven’t gone over too well. She also is pretty picky about what type of sippy cup she’ll use, so we have rotated through every option out there to keep giving her a chance to make up her mind. So far, the Ikea cup with handles seems to be the most promising. And pretty soon we’ll be transitioning her from formula to real milk (although by real, I hopefully mean an alternative to cow’s milk, if her pediatrician gives us the green light. I’ll keep you posted).

My baby is growing up! It’s sad, but it’s also exciting, because with new growth comes a new ability to be adventurous, both in food and in exploring the rest of life. Which is pretty awesome.

***

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CSA · Recipes

Salad-spiration

Gotta tell ya, the heat zaps my appetite. Mark doesn’t like soups, which are my usual go-to for muggy nights when I don’t feel like eating, much less cooking. Things like gazpacho shooters, Sweet Potato Soup, and Fennel-Potato Soup with sour cream on top, Creamy Cauliflower Soup: yum! refreshing! But lately, I’ve been having a few light, creative salads instead. Start with your favorite greens and add a few of my favorite toppings, and you’re good to go. Some of my top combos:

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Greens topped with chopped tomatoes, taco strips, avocado, shredded cheese and cilantro, with creamy dressing such as Newman’s Southwest or Trader Joe’s Cilantro.

Avocado kale salad, shown with Lemon Pappardelle & Sweet Sausage. (Click image for recipe)

Kale, torn by hand and rinsed/dried, mashed with two ripe avocado and drizzled with two organic lemons. Excellent topped with watermelon, chicken, feta, tomatoes, parmesan, or walnuts.

Simple Caesar: 1/2 cup olive oil, juice of 1 lemon, 1 tsp mustard, 2 diced garlic cloves, squirt of anchovy paste (optional) and a splash of Worcestershire sauce (also optional). Whisk, and pour over chopped romaine lettuce. Top with freshly grated parmesan and homemade croutons if you’re in the mood.

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My Chipotle knockoff! I take kale, avocado, corn, pico de gallo, black beans, shredded cheese and a light vinagrette and toss it all together. Optional: add grilled chicken. By avoiding the sour cream and fatty dressing (not to mention the side of chips and guacamole) this stays refreshing and healthy.

The last one, I don’t have a good picture of. It’s a strawberry jam salad tossed over spicy arugula, and it is to die for!  I blogged about this when I was first getting started, so my photos are horrendous, but the result was delicious.

You take a green with some bite, like arugula, and match it with something tamer like mesclun mix to cut the sharpness (unless you really love straight arugula). Then you make a dressing out of olive oil (3 TBSP), balsamic vinegar (1 TBSP), and strawberry jam (2 tsp) plus salt & pepper, and mix into the greens, then top with fresh strawberries, goat cheese and almonds. I’ve always wanted to try tossing some mint on there, too! If you do that, let me know.

What’s your go-to salad for summer? Sometimes I just pick up a bagged version from Trader Joe’s or Target and space it over a few days, especially when I’m by myself for dinner while Mark is on nights. Luckily, these days he’s home fairly often in the evenings, and Georgia is over her 10-month sleep regression (as in her age, not the duration!) so we can even spend time together after supper. And you know what’s crazy? Even when she’s sleeping right upstairs, I still miss her. Because she’s awesome, and I can’t believe she’s only been around a little less than a year 🙂

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My BFFL! (that’s breast friend for life)
CSA · Recipes

Bowties with Kale

I adapted this from the Pioneer Woman’s recent Kale Pasta Salad post. Like hers, mine tastes good cold or warm, as a main meal or as a side; unlike hers, mine adds roasted tomatoes, almonds in place of pine nuts, and kale that cooks a bit longer so it’s not as rough on my tummy. I also use copious Pecorino instead of shaved Parmesan cheese, because I just love that salty flavor! If you like kale, this will be a great addition to your arsenal of recipes featuring the leafy green.

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Bowties with Kale

INGREDIENTS

  • 3 cloves garlic, minced (PW uses more)
  • olive oil for the pan
  • 1 lb. bowtie (aka farfalle) pasta
  • 3 tbsp almonds, chopped (optional)
  • 1 bunch kale
  • 1 can fire-roasted tomatoes (approx. 14 oz.)
  • pecorino cheese, grated (I used a lot)
  • to taste: salt, pepper, balsamic vinegar

DIRECTIONS

Put on the pasta to boil. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil over medium heat and crush both the nuts (if using) and the garlic cloves.

Cook nuts, adding garlic after a few minutes so it doesn’t burn, then add the kale ripped into small pieces and stir, cooking over medium heat until it wilts to the desired level.

Add can of roasted tomatoes to the pan, reduce heat to low, and cook, stirring, until combined (just a few minutes). If desired, add a splash of balsamic to the pan for flavoring, and season with salt and pepper.

Drain the pasta quickly and add to the pan with the kale mixture, reserving a splash of the cooking water if it’s too dry. If it’s really too dry, you can always add a splash or two of almond (or regular) milk to the pan.

Top with tons of shredded cheese — I used pecorino, my favorite — and serve warm OR let cool and have later! This tastes good cold, as a main dish, or as a side. I think if I made it again, I’d add more garlic, but otherwise this came out just right.

I didn’t try giving this to Georgia because it contains nuts and is also just a bit too fiber-filled for her system, but I will when she’s older. Thanks to Georgia’s Nan for sharing all that yummy kale with us from her CSA!!

Baby Milestone Update

Because I know you’re wondering. We can now:

  • Stand, and pull self up to standing
  • Bend down to pick up a toy with one hand
  • Hold mom’s hands and walk around house
  • Cruise from coffee table to couch and back
  • Point with both hands
  • Pick things up pincer-style
  • Feed self with hands (short list of acceptable foods)
  • Crawl. Finally!

Things we refuse to do?

  • Feed self with a spoon
  • Put self back to sleep at 1 a.m. (this is a horrifying new problem)
  • Soothe self while teething without intervention from mom, dad or Tylenol
  • not scream in the grocery store
  • behave properly around the cat’s tail

I think I’m just getting a taste of the toddler years. So far, it’s exhausting!

Did you like this recipe? Share it! And if you just love kale, check out my cheesy kale pasta bake, kale chips and satisfying kale salad with avocado-lemon dressing. I just love that last one because you simply tear up the kale, mash a whole avocado into it by hand, then coat with a couple of fresh-squeezed lemons. Creamy and delicious!

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Holidays · Tips and Tricks

Five Foodie Things

Happy Fourth of July week, everyone! Mark is going to be working on the Freedom Trail this holiday weekend, so we are staying close to home for BBQs and relaxation. Georgia’s day care is also closed this week for summer vacation, so we have some small excursions planned (if the Hurricane stays away, that is). I’m so glad the hot weather has come to Boston finally! (Mark, not so much).

What else am I excited about this summer? Well, for starters, Edible Boston’s Summer Edition is out:

The place where I work got featured in a nice piece in Edible Boston’s spring issue, which was hugely exciting for me! I always pick this up whenever I can find it around town, so to get a clip in there was tops.

2) Second, Special K and Morningstar Farms both just came out with tasty new breakfast sandwiches that are reasonably healthy, vegetarian, and easy on the budget, which I’m trying to watch better, especially with G in day care. I like the Special K one best, in particular their two vegetarian options (pepper jack egg & cheese with veggies, and deluxe egg & cheese). I buy them at Target; I’m sure they are widely available elsewhere, too.

3) Have you heard about this new Kickstarter campaign for Saladshots? These are basically like those portable squeeze pouches of baby food or applesauce, but for salad dressing. The flavors sound awesome: mint basil, citrus ginger, rose petal, and more. They are gluten-free, kosher, low sodium, and use only agave sweetener. If I can find these, I am going to try them!

4) Dunkin’ Donuts just came out with a frozen coolatta  version of the Arnold Palmer, one of my favorite summer drinks (see the other one here). I’m sure this is a sugar bomb, but I am dying to try it. I might spend too much time at Dunks. (At least one Dunks store in the Greater Boston area also started delivering, which is brilliant but pure trouble).

5) Speaking of beverages, can you guess what alcohol is making a comeback, according to BostInno? Personally I wasn’t aware this ever went away. It’s always been my trusted sidekick, especially for summer.

Finally, I’m on a campaign for Big Gay Ice Cream to come to Boston. They expanded to Philly. Talk about the least cool place on the planet! What do they even have there? The Phillies? Whatever. A river no one can even pronounce? Whatever! Come to wear it all started, the only cold-weather city where people eat ice cream outdoors all year ’round. I basically stalk Big Gay Ice Cream on Twitter whenever I accompany Mark to New York for auditions, and I’d love to be stalked in return. Gauntlet. THROWN. 

Enough with that other city. come to MINE.

Are you still looking for something to do on the Fourth?

Boston Vegetarian Society is hosting a holiday picnic at Winslow Farm, a loving sanctuary for abandoned and mistreated animals, from 12 to 4 p.m.  in Norton, MA (south of the city). Like No Udder will be providing vegan soft serve ice cream, and the cost of admission ($10 for adults, $5 for children 11 and under, free for kids younger than 2) will benefit the farm’s veterinary care and food costs. A worthy cause!

Karolina, an alpaca rescue living at Winslow Farm.

Have a great holiday everyone 🙂