Thursday, November 24, 2011

Grandma Helen's Pumpkin Chiffon Pie

Thanksgiving always makes me think of my Grandmother Helen. She loved to cook. No, she loved to cook for others. She didn't make fancy things, she didn't try out new recipes with strange ingredients, or look to follow trends. She made traditional recipes - casseroles, pork chops, macaroni and cheese, and pies, always pies. With traditional, family recipes and comfort foods at the center of attention, Thanksgiving was her holiday to shine.

Every Thanksgiving my Grandmother and her two nieces, more like sisters as they were close in age, would cook. Everything. My Mom always handled the bird and was the gracious host (no small feat) but all the cooking was done by my Grandmother, Ruth and Janet. I remember the hum of the kitchen before the meal, pots clinking, oven doors opening and closing, instructions being given for stirring the gravy, and laughter, always laughter. A few years ago my Grandmother passed away and Ruth and Janet moved far away and we were left to figure out new Thanksgiving routines and traditions. That first Thanksgiving without the three of them was tough. I remember my Mom turning to the new generation in the kitchen (myself, my sister and sister-in-law) and asking "How do you make the gravy?" We all just stared at each other with blank expressions. Someone gave it their best shot but it was a far cry from what we knew.

Since that first year on our own, we've figured out how to put together a decent Thanksgiving dinner. We've assumed new roles and taken over favorite recipes. My sister has mastered the mashed potatoes (and I dare say they are as good as Ruth's!), my aunt does the cranberry mold with aplomb, my sister-in-law handles the greens, my Mom stilll handles the bird, and Ryan makes a mean stuffing (his recipe is decidedly updated from Stouffer's, but I think Grandma Helen would have liked it). And I have taken over the task of making the pumpkin pies. Not just any pies, Pumpkin Chiffon is what Grandma always made and what we're all forever biased to prefer.

This pie is no simple task, as I've learned about pretty much all of my Grandmother's recipes. I wish I had learned them straight from her. I had the chance to learn a few recipes from her (the most amazing Snicker Doodle cookies - have to post those soon!) and a few others. But all of her recipes are a bit of a mystery because she didn't really follow them to the letter. She would add a pinch of this here, a pinch of that there, and when you asked her why or how much, she would just shrug and say you just have to know what it needs. Not my style of cooking or baking. I'm a scientist, after all. So with all of her recipes it has taken a lot of practice and do-overs. I think I've finally got this pie recipe down (as I type this I am nervously waiting for the pumpkin mix to 'mound' slightly!). I'm still working on her Christmas fudge recipes. I'm going to keep trying because she made the best fudge I can remember.

So here is my Grandmother's Pumpkin Chiffon Pie, with as many notes as I know to include to make it fool proof. If you try it out at your next holiday gathering, you won't be disappointed. Family recipes, even those that require a little extra TLC, are well worth the effort.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Two gallons of red wine a day keeps the doctor away

Here is a post to help you enjoy an extra glass of wine this Thanksgiving. Salute!

I love red wine. And I really love the idea that red wine might actually be good for me. Unless you've been living under a rock, you're probably heard mention of the potential health benefits of red wine. Those health benefits are thought to be due to a compound found concentrated in grape skin called resveratrol. Despite all the hype and promise - the ability to protect against obesity and diabetes, to improve an individual's exercise capacity, and even to extend lifespan - the benefits of resveratrol have only been demonstrated in rats and mice. Until now.

The first human study demonstrating positive health benefits of resveratrol was just published in the journal Cell Metabolism. This study, performed by a group from the Netherlands, appears promising. Eleven obese, but otherwise healthy, men were recruited to take either a placebo or resveratrol treatment for 30 days. After the initial 30 days, the subjects waited 4 weeks, for what amounted to a washout period, and were then assigned to the opposite treatment (this is called a crossover study design). Neither the subjects nor the researchers knew which treatment was being given at any point of the study (referred to as a double-blind study). To obtain the dose of resveratrol given in this study (150mg/day) from red wine, would require drinking more than two gallons of red wine a day (!).  No adverse effects of resveratrol were seen after the 30 day trial.

The metabolic changes observed with resveratrol in humans were very similar to what has previously been shown in animal models and cells. To spare you the details, resveratrol treatment for 30 days resulted in improvements in glucose control, inflammation, liver function and showed enhanced energy utiliziation by muscles. All of these changes suggest resveratrol has the potential to protect against obesity and type 2 diabetes, much like endurance exercise training or calorie restriction.

Why is this important? Do we really want a pill that mimics exercise and diet and eliminates the need for us to live a healthy lifestyle? In my opinion, nothing will come close to replacing exercise for overall health benefits. But, while we all know that exercise is good for us, very few of us manage to fit exercise into already busy lives at a frequency or intensity that is necessary for profound health benefits. And given the dire predictions that by 2020, 83% of men and 72% of women will be overweight or obese, something has to change. While the state of semi-starvation known as calorie restriction has shown significant health benefits and a demonstrated effect on lifespan extension in animal models, its potential to catch on in the general public is low. Calorie restriction demands a decrease in daily calorie intake of about 30% - far more than is currently recommended for weight loss. There are die-hard proponents and practitioners of calorie restriction out there, and they will swear that the body adjusts to the diet and they feel energized and better for it. They are probably right. But if you ask me, they look hungry!

Perhaps the most important reason researchers keep searching for the evasive exercise pill is because there are many individuals that are incapable of exercising to the degree necessary to improve their health - the frail and the elderly, individuals with neurodegenerative diseases, or the morbidly obese. They need an option, perhaps in the form of a pill, to jump start their metabolism and give them a chance for a healthy lifestyle. Resveratrol just might be the pill to do it. It has come closer than any other compound so far.

So, feel free to pour a glass (or two or three) of red wine and enjoy!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Group runs

I remember the day I brought home my Bob jogging stroller like it was yesterday. Bright shiny and new, cheerful in orange, ready to hit the pavement. The Bob is the stroller of choice for runners and I felt like I had joined an exclusive club - sort of like how people that drive Minis all wave at each other on the road (they really do, there is even a set wave you exchange by just lifting your palm up while still holding the top of the steering wheel). We got the Bob towards the end of my maternity leave when I really needed to get out of the house. I was itching to get back in shape and the Bob was my ticket there. It was spring time and the parks and running trails were calling me.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Weekend in pictures

We had a nice relaxing weekend. We gave Roxie a bath on Saturday and had brunch at Succotash. Charlie is crazy about pancakes these days and can eat a surprising amount! Here is a pic from Saturday brunch:

Check out more pics from the weekend here:

Can't believe it is the week of Thanksgiving. How is that possible? I will be posting Grandma Helen's Pumpkin Chiffon Pie recipe soon!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Roasted Brussels Sprouts - guest post on The Fresh Fridge

We are big fans of the food blog The Fresh Fridge. Local to Kansas City, Megan posts some great healthy and easy recipes. Check out our guest post on Ryan's Brussels Sprouts recipe and other tasty recipes on the Fresh Fridge:

Rroasted Brussels Sprouts with Cranberries and Hazlenuts

Thanks Megan!

Chana Masala

We've been on an Indian food kick lately. Spicy, fragrant, and filling - perfect for chilly fall nights. We're completely hooked on Kansas City's new Chai Shai restaurant for a quick fix. But this recipe for Chana Masala is easy to make at home and is currently on our menu list about every other week. If you've never made Indian food at home, this is a good place to start.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Weekend recap in pictures

Our weekend included a Veteran's Day Parade in Leavenworth (the biggest west of the Mississippi), some volunteering and hanging with Elmo.

Check out the pics here!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Bread

Fall is one of my favorite seasons. After a long, hot and sticky summer, I look forward to the chill in the air, seeing bursts of colors in the turning leaves, carving pumpkins, and wearing sweaters! And I love the kitchen to be filled with the smell of cinnamon and pumpkin. This pumpkin bread recipe has become a new seasonal favorite in our house. It is easy to make and utilizes simple ingredients. Plus, it combines pumpkin and chocolate, a perfect combination for fall baking.

I recently made this recipe with Charlie's class at school. They have been talking about pumpkins and using them for different activities in class. Baking with 12 two-year olds is a little different than just baking with Charlie! It was really fun -  I will post some pics of my adventure soon. This recipe isn't real spicy and I think that makes it very kid friendly. Plus, there are lots of chocolate chips! 

Friday, November 4, 2011

Running for two: the controversy and the facts

These days everyone is running a marathon. From the unofficial kickoff of the fall marathon season in Chicago in early October, to the ING New York City Marathon this coming weekend, almost a quarter of a million people will complete the 26.2 mile distance. With so many people conquering this once formidable distance, why should the youngest runner to finish yet, a 39 week baby in utero – draw so much attention? If you haven’t already heard, Amber Miller, aka “The Marathon Mom”, ran the Bank of America Chicago Marathon at 38 weeks 5 days pregnant and then delivered her baby girl just hours following the race. This mom and, by all accounts, her very healthy baby have generated a lot of attention, and not all positive.

Despite abundant evidence that exercise during pregnancy is not harmful for mother or baby, Amber Miller was openly criticized and attacked for putting her unborn child at risk by running a marathon. A veteran of eight marathons, three of them while pregnant, Amber’s actions were called “reckless,” “stupid,” “selfish,” “unfair,” and “ridiculous” in online reader comments to the news story. Some said she should be locked up. Others compared her to a crack addict, an alcoholic, or a smoker endangering her child for her own selfish wants. Even elite and experienced runners are not immune from the criticism. Paula Radcliffe, mother of two and current world record holder in the women’s marathon, won the 2007 ING New York City Marathon only 10 months after the birth of her daughter Isla. She has said of running through her pregnancies: “You feel like saying, I'm not sick. There's nothing wrong with me. I'm just pregnant. Even people I know really well will come up and say, "Are you still able to run a bit?" And then they'll see me on the track and say, "Should you be doing that?" 
There is a longstanding debate on the safety of pregnancy and exercise. However, extensive research demonstrates no adverse outcomes for mother or baby, no adverse effects on fetal growth or size, and no increase in early pregnancy loss or late pregnancy complications as a result of moderate regular exercise during pregnancy. Rather, the untold story is that numerous benefits of regular exercise exist for both mother and baby. Maternal benefits include increased fitness and decreased pregnancy weight gain, reduced muscle cramps and swelling, overall improvement in mood, and reduction of gestational diabetes and hypertension. The exercise benefits for baby include decreased fat mass and improved stress tolerance.

Perhaps the most compelling reason for women to stay active during pregnancy - new research shows that women who voluntarily maintain their exercise regimen during pregnancy continue to exercise over time at a higher level than those that stop. Over time they also gain less weight (7.5 pounds vs. 21.8 pounds), deposit less fat (4.8 pounds vs. 14.7 pounds), have increased fitness and a lower risk for cardiovascular disease than those who stop exercising during pregnancy.
Not a marathon, but a 5K race
one week before Charlie was born
In an era when more and more overweight and obese women are becoming pregnant, limiting pregnancy weight gain and losing the weight post-pregnancy are critical health priorities. Scientists are just beginning to understand how maternal health can impact not only fetal health, but also disease risk throughout adulthood for both mother and baby. For example, research shows that gestational diabetes puts both mother and baby at greater risk for developing type 2 diabetes later in life. With this dire evidence of the negative consequences poor health can have on future generations, greater emphasis should be placed on positive lifestyle change during pregnancy.
Running a marathon while pregnant is not for everyone. Even running while pregnant is not feasible for many women due to other risk factors, increasing size, or levels of discomfort. But the extreme example of Amber Miller completing a marathon at 39 weeks pregnant brings this important issue to light and will hopefully encourage people to start viewing pregnancy differenty - as a period to enact positive lifestyle changes that could benefit both mom and baby in a big way. And maybe then, a pregnant woman accomplishing a remarkable physical endeavor like a 26.2 mile race could be cheered rather than jeered.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Halloween with Pooh and Piglet

Winnie the Pooh and Piglet

Charlie definitely enjoyed Halloween more this year. We went to several houses on our street and he walked right in the front door at most places, ready to settle in and stay awhile! Iz was still down with a cold but she was her usual easy and cheerful self in spite of that. I'm just glad I got costumes on time and with very little stress this year. Maybe I'm getting better at this holiday...? No, probably not. Just got lucky this time.