Recipes to Share: Florida Fresh Salsa and Fun Drinks for Kids (and adults too!)

Salsa and Tropical Drinks for kids

Recipes to Share: Florida Fresh Salsa and Fun Drinks for Kids (and adults too!)

Note: As I’d like to start sharing more recipes on my blog here at http://www.ceoofthehome.net, I invite readers to share their ideas too if you have made similar recipe and want to add or offer more ideas through comments–happy meal-making!

The summer heat for Floridians makes fresh, cool produce an appealing choice for snacks and meals–especially for our children who can get easily overheated after playing outside during days that easily see air temperatures in the 80s-90s and humidity levels consistently over 70%. Here’s a fun pairing of fresh options for a light lunch, in-between snack or anything else.

Florida Fresh Salsa

4-6 ripe tomatoes (any kind or color you prefer–except green of course, those are generally for frying!)

1 sweet onion (I prefer sweets for milder flavor for children, purple are good too)

1 jalapeno (banana pepper or cubanelle can be substituted for those sensitive to spicy)

1/4 to 1/2 cup of freshly squeezed lemon or lime (or both and adjust amount to taste)

1/2 cup of cut fresh cilantro

Dice tomatoes, onions and pepper in a bowl, drizzle juice on top and mix cilantro in. Serve with your favorite tortilla chips, I personally love either Garden of Eating organic blue corn chips, Late July or Florida Gourmet Chips found at many of our south Florida produce stands. Note to Parents: it is advisable to serve your young children the salsa by placing it on top of each chip arranged on a plate. Tostitos brand has the Scoop chips that are perfect for little ones as well.

Non-alcoholic Tropical Drink

Crushed ice – or any ice

Kennesaw’s lemonade (or fresh lemon juice or other lemonade)

Florida orange juice

Spritzy or sparkling water

citrus wedges (lemon, lime, orange…)

colored sugar (in photo above it’s red)

This is a refreshing drink that can be manifested in so many different ways–mix the above ingredients together as you see fit in whatever fun cups you have and straws are always a hit for little ones. Garnish with wedges and top the drink with colored sugar. I’ve even used a little splash of Pom juice to help the color for visual enjoyment.

Enjoy!

R.V.S.Bean

Got Greek Yogurt?

GOT GREEK YOGURT?

from “Greek Mama Tips: An Indefinite Series by RSVB”

The Soupy Past

As a child I only ate Greek yogurt when my mother took us to her homeland or if some Greek yiayia (grandmother) had shared some of her homemade batch. I remember thinking it was like a soft but thick ice cream and I could never get enough of it. As kids my siblings and I never ate the runny sort of yogurt brands like Dannon or other yogurts on the market—Yoplait was the only one my mom would ever keep in the fridge and it was a poor substitute for that creamy paradise found on the palette by the Greek brands like Fage.

The Solid Present

I’ve been overjoyed over the past decade to notice how Greek yogurt has become popular in the American foodie mainstream. We cannot hear or read enough reports about how beneficial this yogurt is and most high-end restaurants espouse the use of it in their eclectic and unique culinary creations. Even Costco now carries both Fage in bulk as well as the rival brand Chobani for their wholesale member customers.

Practical Greek Yogurt Uses

As a wife, mother and homemaker at heart that feeds at least 7 mouths daily for dinner, I’d like to share some uses for plain Greek yogurt. My mainstay brand is Fage. If it’s not available then Cabot or Stonyfield’s Greek yogurt (formerly Oikos) is a palatable fallback. At Whole Foods there is an Icelandic thick yogurt available that is also favorable that’s called Siggi’s skyr yogurt.

Macaroni and Cheese:

• Whether you make your own cheesy mac or use an instant box with the cheese powder, I’ve personally found that substituting plain Greek yogurt instead of milk adds a delightful tang to the flavor and the creaminess of the pasta results in a yummy and well-received taste buds affair.

Mashed Potatoes:

• Substitute Greek yogurt in place of milk for either instant or from-scratch mashed potatoes. Again, a great complement to the starch of the potatoes and the texture is wonderful.

Baked Potatoes:

• Instead of offering sour cream as a side, take some Greek yogurt and gently whip it in a bowl with a soup—for garnish and flavor, you can snip some fresh dill, mint, basil or parsley. I personally favor fresh cut dill.

Smoothies:

• Most people know that this is a great way to spruce up your fruit smoothie instead of milk—I have found it’s best paired with strawberries and other berries in general. Banana is not a great mix with the yogurt–but that’s my humble opinion, it may be your favorite!

Frozen Yogurt Recipes:

• Use Greek yogurt in any recipes that call for strained yogurt unless they specifically say not to (and who in their right mind would?).

Rice:

• Except for when I’m serving an Asian-inspired stir-fry, I bring Greek yogurt to the table as an accessory for rice dishes. It is a great complement to rice in general and it can either be served plain or with desired fresh-cut herbs.

Couscous:

• As with rice, the Greek yogurt can be set at the table for diners to have the choice as to whether they want it with their couscous.

Bread:

• Yes, there are bread recipes that call for yogurt—there is a bread machine one that I love, use at least once a week and am happy to share, for 1.5 lb loaf and basic cycle setting (from The Bread Lover’s Bread Machine Cookbook by Beth Hensperger):
Ingredients: ¾ cup water, 1 cup whole milk yogurt (use Greek yogurt, even 0% fat does great), 3 ½ cups bread flour, 1 tablespoon gluten, 2 teaspoons salt, 2 teaspoons SAF or 2 ½ teaspoons bread machine yeast –place all in pan according to your bread machine’s instructions. Just check the dough after first kneading cycle to make sure it is soft enough (adding water may be necessary).

Homemade Parfait:

• My offspring have this almost on a regular basis as their 2nd breakfast: I take either frozen or fresh fruit (usually berries) as the bottom layer, I take the juices from the fruit and usually a teaspoon or so of either maple syrup or honey and mix it with about a cup or more of plain Greek yogurt (to taste as to how sweet or not you want) as the middle layer, then on top I usually put either more fruit, granola, oats (with flax seed or any other good additive), or raisin, nuts and as a treat maybe some cake sprinkles for fun—Opa! Greek parfait!

Banana Breads and Muffins:
• Since my college days with roommates that loved baking, I’ve experimented with yogurt as an additive in these batters and have found it to be a nice element akin to the “pudding-in-the-mix” cake mixes.

Pancakes:
• I have Bob’s Red Mill to thank for the following recipe that first opened my eyes to the use of Greek yogurt in a pancake batter:
Moist Yogurt Pancakes with Blueberries: 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour, ½ tsp baking soda, 1 tsp baking powder, 1 egg, 1 cup milk, ½ plain yogurt: sift together dry ingredients. Combine separately the egg, milk, yogurt and whisk. Pour liquid into flour mixture and stir until just blended. Fry on hot, greased griddle turning once. Option: fold in frozen, drained, canned or fresh blueberries or drop them into pancakes immediately after pouring on griddle. Serves: 2-3

Yiasou Until Next Time:

I hope these tried, tested and true tips are of use for you and your homestead. Looking forward to sharing more Greek mama tips in the future—yiasou!

R.V.Saridakis Bean

1997-Siblings in Greece*my siblings and I taking the Grecian plunge…

The What: Food and Money – The Tango Tangle

THE WHAT: FOOD AND MONEY  – THE TANGO TANGLE

My heart pinched inside my chest as I listened to the cashier’s announcement of the total price of my Publix grocery purchases.  “Absurd amount of money!” is the first reaction internally followed by a justification speech by the concerned mother/caretaker in me that knows it’s better to spend money on good food for my family even if it tightens the household budget in other areas.  This scenario repeats itself and the outcome is the same at least for me: I choose quality of food over cheapness and quantity any day.  What are the economic and environmental factors that any of us face today when making our food choices on a daily basis?

THE WHO

The perspective on who we’re buying food for obviously affects our choices.  Whether you’re single, married, living with roommates, with children, with elderly—all these groupings carry their respective needs, wants and overall themes.  Personally I can attest to the interesting blend of tastes I accommodate in my cooking and choosing of groceries as I have a husband, two boys under 4 years old (one an infant) and two octogenarians.  When I look around at many of my colleagues with children, it seems a majority of parents today are very sensitive to the question as to whether the produce they purchase is organic or not.  It turns out that there are some produce items that are more critical to buy organic like spinach and berries because of how porous the skin is and therefore easily absorbs pesticides.  Some websites you may find helpful for resource information:   www.organicconsumers.org , www.organic-center.org , www.non-gmoreport.com , www.healthychild.org , www.texasgrassfedbeef.com , www.centerforfoodsafety.org , www.chemicalfreekids.com , www.foodnavigator.com

THE WHY

Organic, non-genetically modified and local are some of the current buzz food words.  The term organic always makes me chuckle for a nanosecond as there’s hundreds of years of human evolution coursing through my blood that reminds me all food was once “organic” without the labeling.  It’s just that in the last century or so that our civilized societies started to meddle beyond what hybrid practices were in place already in agriculture.  It is interesting to note that recently many farmers are returning to using more natural methods in their crop and livestock management—part of it could be the increased consumer demand for organic products and another part may be that it has been found more cost-effective to use better sustainability practices on the environment when cultivating the Earth or animal stocks.  Again, my own battle is complicated when it comes to whether I buy organic, conventional or local food products.  I prefer organic but it’s not always available or cost-effective.  Local produce is desirable because I like supporting the farmers in Florida and it’s fresher with less gas emissions spent on its transport to my kitchen.  At the same time, a pint of blueberries from Peru may be farmed with the best ecological-friendly practices and taste better than the pesticide-laden ones from a few counties away.  Here are a few more resources that may be helpful:  www.farmigo.com , www.localharvest.org , www.slowfoodusa.org , http://foodnews.org/ , www.foodnavigator.com , www.environmentalhealthnews.org , www.biointegrity.org , www.localfoodswheel.com , www.greenling.com

THE WHEN

Sometimes I wish I were ignorant and just went to the store and was able to buy the cheapest of everything to feed my household.  The truth is irreversible once attained; I know what is best for my family’s situation and it happens to be a diet that contains the freshest fruit, vegetables, dairy, legumes, meats and then on to the grains, pastas and et cetera.  Making the conscious choice to use less canned products and other foods that contain more harmful ingredients in process/preservation means that our grocery bill is higher than it would be if I blindly chose based solely on cheap economics.  Not everyone thinks through what they buy when at the grocery store but it’s only a matter of time when many if not most of us will realize that how we eat is like a form of preventative medicine for our bodies.  The cost you may incur now can serve to defray future medical costs after years of eating products that can slowly sabotage your body’s ability to fight off infection and other illnesses.   Then there’s the question of the effect on our environment by our agricultural practices and that factors into many people’s choices of food economics.  Social impact in the form of “fair trade” practices is yet another factor weaving into our ethos as consumers of groceries for ourselves.  Some more websites for your personal research:  www.fairtradeusa.org , www.greenamerica.org , www.fairtraderesource.org , www.kidsorganics.com , www.rodaleinstitute.org , www.opensecrets.org , www.allergykids.com  , www.usda.gov , www.fda.gov

This blog post is woefully inadequate in addressing all the various facets involved in the economic and social challenge we face in our food purchases as the commodity prices continue to rise on a monthly basis.  I hope it at least helps in starting a conversation or a journey for information as this is an issue that will continue to grow in importance as we face upcoming agricultural changes and trade practices that can affect both the quality and quantity of our food in America particularly.

RVSB

 

WHY BOTHER? FOOD AND RELIGON FOR THOUGHT

WHY BOTHER? FOOD AND RELIGON FOR THOUGHT

As I wrestled last week with my very hyper older son while trying to hold on to my squirming infant son in our Greek Orthodox church pew during worship service, I thought: Why bother? The same question pops into my mind when in the middle of a grocery aisle with two restless little souls while trying to decide which dry food good is healthier for my family’s pantry. It seems there are a couple items I’m quite passionate about when raising our children, one rooted in spiritual sustenance for their souls and the other being physical fuel for their bodies. I’m guessing that I’m not the only mom out there in any given country that feels the same way.

WHAT’S IT ALL FOR? Sense of Incense and Icons

So back to last week: As I chased the rabbit in my mind who was screaming “why bother?”, I reminded myself to look around and remember why I do bother, along with my husband, to go through our weekly ritual of attending our Greek Orthodox church. I cannot speak for other faiths such as Jews, Muslim, Hinduism, et cetera—but in my faith, besides the obvious theological tie to the miraculous belief of the Trinity and Christ’s Resurrection…I appreciate the hope of things to come and that while we’re going through the rumble-tumble ride that life can be, we can find ways to help and love each other. There are so many things about our world and the creation beyond our atmosphere that I don’t know that I’m in awe of the God force behind it all and I’m grateful for the chance to live and participate. If I can share this with my children in a way that inspires them to embrace life, love and respect for others then I will be at peace at the end of my journey here. This can be a tough philosophy to re-enact when dealing with a temper tantrum or a tired-tot meltdown, however, I encourage perseverance if not to help you remember what’s important to your belief system in your practicing faith. My husband and I do agree that ultimately if our hearts are not in it, then it does our children no good and it would be a moot point for us to attend church if we are only bitter shells of ourselves in the congregation.

FOOD IS FOOD, RIGHT? Discerning What’s Best

The ridiculous part about this food subject is that many of in the “civilized” world have way too many choices. It’s sort of like how women hundreds of years ago didn’t have so many choices when it came to family planning but now are sort of paralyzed sometimes in whether or not to have children. When it comes to planning our family’s menu day to day, I make countless choices in the lead up to the final product that arrives on the table for the main meals and snack times. For my own crazy methodology, I like to seek out organic and locally fresh ingredients when possible. Organic and even local can mean very high prices: in those instances I may purchase conventional or just skip that type of meal until later. It helps to educate one’s self on the foods you and your family prefer to eat so as to know if you want to make a concession or not. But don’t peg me for a purist, either. I often tell family and friends that in the end there’s a reason I give thanks and pray before every meal, especially when eating out at a restaurant: I can’t control every single ingredient sometimes and as we’re finding out in recent news, I may unknowingly purchase something under a false label or omission of vital information (Google search the recent news on meat labeling for items such as poultry and pork-evidently many of those meats are injected with solutions like water, broth and other things to plump them up and they’re not currently mandated to be labeled as such). Let’s not forget-for some of us, fixing food is our way of loving our family and friends, so it’s worth the hassle even with the “bewitching hour” for parents (I highly recommend Crockpots!)

FOOD AND RELIGION, IS THAT ALL? The Countless Other Things

As a lover, mother, daughter, sister, friend and wife that I am these days, there are many other things that I strive each day to share and instill in my children. I know that I’m not perfect and many times can be hypocritical in my beliefs—sometimes even changing my views on what I thought was my solid opinion beforehand. What’s most important must be how we love each other and when it comes to our children that’s truly what they need the most is our unconditional love, all the rest of the countless other things we try to give/share with them are just the details of life that make us all unique.

RVSB

Who is Salt?

Perhaps it’s best that one of the action flicks of the summer 2010 would be entitled “Salt”.  Although the film starring Angelina Jolie has little to nothing to do with nutrition, the connotation is valid as the concerns over sodium in our American diet has the recurring headline theme in many media pieces including today’s Palm Beach Post article in the Accent section “Is Salt At Fault”.  You can find Ms. Staci Sturrock’s report online at http://www.palmbeachpost.com/health/why-salt-in-your-diet-could-be-the-783042.html

It was probably about five years ago that I really started to pay attention to the salt buzz.  I admit I scoffed at the idea of cutting down my salt intake as I am a professed lover of salty things divine such as Greek feta, Kalamata olives, other tangy cheeses, chips and the list goes on.  

Being a busy twenty-something with nothing but career-climbing and a young husband in mind, I figured that we were healthy and didn’t need to worry about salt unless we were diagnosed with something that prescribed omission of the condiment.  How very ignorant I was, the proverbial blissful existence was what I was leading.

It wasn’t until we had family that was facing health issues that demanded attention, including cutting the salt, that we finally started to examine the idea more closely.  If you get to read Ms. Sturrock’s piece, you may learn for the first time that many of our processed foods already include an incredible amount of salt and you may not recognize it in the ingredients listed.

My daily dinner menu for my family now focuses on trying to put together meals that come from the freshest possible items.  By cutting out the processed foods I have more control over just how much seasoning is used, including salt.  In the process I’ve learned some fun tricks, like how lemon or lime can help season certain vegetables like artichokes and asparagus, thus reducing the reliance on salt.

Ms. Sturrock’s article does a good job of stating statistics sourced from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as well as polling from health specialists.  She reports that the FDA is “considering a plan to place restrictions on the amount of salt that manufacturers are allowed to add to processed foods.”  Toward the end of Ms. Sturrock’s piece, Dr. Andy Larson of South Florida’s JFK Medical Center brings up another valid concern about our diet saying ” ‘are we sure that we want to single out salt when the real problem is the junk calories in the food — the processed flours and unnecessary vegetable oils that have the calories.?’ ”

My one political comment concerning Ms. Sturrock’s report would be that I’m not so sure that I support government mandates on what food producers put out on the consumer market.  As a proponent of personal responsibility, I truly believe if Americans en masse start shopping for fresher or low-sodium alternatives, companies will take notice and react accordingly to supply the demand of the consumers.  More government intervention means more tax dollars out the door and so I think we are adults that can be responsible for the choice of getting the white-caked french fries or finding another choice of potato preparation.

My husband and I have noticed how the overall reduction of salt in our diet has benefited us health-wise.  Of course we’re not perfect and there are times that we probably far exceed the daily recommended 2300 mg (a teaspoon size) of sodium–especially when eating out at a restaurant or the ever-forbidden fast-food joint such as McDonald’s (you know that’s not fairy dust on the fries).

It turns out that if you can try to weed out processed foods in your daily diet, you’ll end up tackling other nutrition pitfalls.  I’m not suggesting you go for the “raw diet” that has become quite the fad in some circles, but there are ways you can incorporate more simple ingredients.  For example, when you make pasta dinners, why not reach for a can or jar of diced tomatoes or tomato sauce sans salt and then add your own Italian flare: it can be fresh or dried herbs of your own choice and perhaps just a pinch of sea salt and sugar, voila spaghetti sauce a la your creation!

Who is Salt? I still want to watch the Jolie movie, hopefully the subliminal effect of its title will help us remember to pay a little more mind to sodium’s place in our diets so that we don’t have to halt the salt completely when we hit our sixties or seventies.

Note: For those already above the aforementioned age-group, I hope you’re mitigating your diet as needed, for more information you can check our government’s guidelines: www.fda.gov

R.V.S.B.

A Study Report You May Have Missed This Week: Link Between ADHD & Pesticides

Good Thursday to all of you!  It’s been a busy week yet again in my personal orbit but I haven’t forgotten the one little Associated Press report I read in my local paper that had been stuffed/hidden in page 7a.  This was released back on Monday, May 17th, you can Google search to find it or just go to this Time publication link: http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1989564,00.html

The title of the report simply describes it: “Study Links Kids’ ADHD to Pesticides”.  It turns out that a recent study has scientists buzzing about and clamoring for more research studies to be conducted on the possible health effects of pesticides on children.  A quote worth remembering from the study: “In the body, pesticides break down into compounds that ca be measured in urine. Almost universally, the study found detectable levels: The compounds turned up in the urine of 94 percent of the children.”

That’s right, whether or not the pesticides themselves can put our children at greater risk for health problems such as ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder) is going to be up for more debate as more research studies is needed–however, the sad and sobering truth remains that we are absorbing these chemicals into our bodies when exposed and our children being smaller are really taking a hit physically.

Unfortunately, this particular report doesn’t determine/reveal how the children in the study were exposed to the pesticides: had they eaten food treated with it, breathed it in the author or swallowed it in their drinking water?

The findings that were published on Monday in “Pediatrics” have the lead author Maryse Bouchard from the University of Montreal saying that one way we can limit our family’s exposure to pesticides is to eat organic produce when available and scrub all produce to get external residue off (regrettably, some things like blueberries and strawberries will have the highest concentration of pesticides absorbed in the fruit-so do try getting organic fresh or frozen.)

For my own family, I do try when available to purchase organic produce, but it’s not always in the store right?  That’s probably why I also try to grow in my garden items that our family regularly consumes in our weekly menus so that I can control what the plants are exposed to.  But what about rain that may fall with pollutants from the atmosphere?  We have to temper our aversion to the reality that our human society is polluted whether we like it or not.  As consumers, we still have some power play left as we can guide the market to reduce its dependence on poisons such as widespread pesticide use.  However, we must educate and arm ourselves with information as to what we want ourselves and our families to be exposed to when eating certain products.  Ultimately, you make the choice as to what path your household will consume whether it be based on environmental or cost-effective terms.

Here are a couple of helpful online resources for your own personal research needs: www.organicconsumers.org , www.organic-center.org and www.heathlychild.org, www.chemicalfreekids.com , www.centerforfoodsafety.org , www.foodandwaterwatch.org , www.ewg.org  .

RVSB

When All is Crazy: Just Bake!

I am having one of those weeks where you’re constantly running behind on everything, every day.  You know the kind where Monday starts and your mind is still stuck on third gear on the past Saturday afternoon.

Therefore, I found myself yesterday morning with my son T.A. on the stepstool beside me in the kitchen as I threw several ingredients together to make a loaf and half dozen muffins of banana nut bread.

As we all have these crazy times, I wanted to share this wonderfully simple and tasty recipe with you all and offer some notes on how I’ve adapted it to my family’s specific tastes and such.

The main recipe is from a cookbook compilation called “Mountain Morsels” put together by the Ladies Night Circle of the First United Methodist Church in Ellijay, Georgia.  I found it after raiding through my family’s cookbook collection one day when I had ripening bananas and needed a quick little recipe ASAP.

BANANA BREAD

  • 3 ripe bananas, mashed
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs, beaten

Mash bananas in a bowl.  Sift flour, sugar, salt and baking soda together. Add to bananas.  (Add eggs.) If using nuts, add now. Stir well. Put in a buttered loaf pan and bake at 350 degrees.  By Minnie Waters

My notes:  This recipe is truly simple, so much so that it doesn’t give a time for how long you should leave your bread in the oven at 350 degrees.  On average my banana bread loaf will take 35-45 minutes or so.  If you decide to pour  your batter into muffin cups, it will take a shorter amount of time, like 20 min or so…my best test method is to pluck out a muffin and subsequently slice it in half and if it looks done I proceed to eat it!

As for the ingredients list in this recipe, let me offer my suggestions for substitutions or variations if you will:

  • Instead of 2 cups of plain flour, I like to use 1 cup of unbleached flour and 1 cup of whole wheat or wheat pastry flour to beef it up a bit.
  • Instead of 3/4 cups of sugar, I like to use about a half cup of honey or 1/4 cup of agave nectar.  I have yet to try Stevia, but I grow that particular plant/herb now so I’ll get back to you in future posts.
  • For the nuts category, I like to use crushed up pecans as they lend a sweeter flavor than walnuts, almonds are fine if you have no other nuts available–of course nuts are OPTIONAL.
  • Not mentioned in Ms. Waters’ recipe is my penchant for tossing a dash of ground cinnamon and cloves in my banana bread, it’s a spice combination that goes well with these flavors and if you like them in general you can have at it.
  • As a topping for ascetics, you can always sprinkle a combination of ground nuts and spices on the top of your bread before you put it in the oven or simple sprinkle some rolled oats on top.  This makes for a great presentation if you’re giving the loaf as a gift or for your coworkers feeding trough station in the office.

I hope your week is going as smooth as possible and if you do find yourself racing just to keep up with the pace of the workload of your daily routines, just remember that you can always just bake and at least enjoy a simple but delicious treat of choice that will help distract you from that unfinished “to-do” list.

RVSB

Apple Juice and Arsenic: A Recent Story I Missed!

This past Saturday consisted of a day road trip to my Alma Mater University of Florida along with my husband and son T.A.  It was UF’s Orange & Blue spring exhibition game and basically a fun time for current students and alumni and their friend and families to hang out and say go Gators!  My son T.A. took it all in stride and even clapped in delight during the scrimmage.  However, it was dinner conversation that night with my old college roommate that affected me the most Saturday: she asked me if I’d seen the report from the St. Petersburg Times regarding the amounts of arsenic found in apple juice. What?

First, I needed to read the story written by Mr. Tom Marshall, dated March 14 and I’ve provided a link for you if you are interested as well from Florida’s St. Petersburg Times website: http://www.tampabay.com/specials/2010/reports/apple-juice/

The overview of this report is that the St. Petersburg Times decided to commission independent testing of apple juice at least 18 different  juice brands including Motts, Apple & Eve and Tree Top to name a few.  More than 1/4 of those apple juices tested reflected arsenic levels between 25 to 35 parts ber billion (ppb).  To give you and I a better explanation to compare that test result, the FDA since 2006 considers that the nation’s drinking water supply should not have more than 10 ppb of arsenic occurring.

I further discovered how ignorant I am, or perhaps how little I learned in chemistry as a teenager, because evidently arsenic is “naturally occurring” and there is no way to avoid it completely.  The same goes for arsenic in items such as our drinking water but the apple juice issue (and in the past other testing reports by others on pear and grape juice) is more sinister because the arsenic is actually applied in the groves as an ingredient in pesticide.  Great-so we parents have already become super-paranoid about all the poisons and pollutants in our food supply and then we learn that the brilliant farmers in not only China but even our own country have settled on arsenic as a deterrent rather than utilize better options.

China does happen to be supplying more than 60% of our apple juice concentrate at this time.  Other countries include Argentina, Turkey and ourselves.  Yet American control over the apple juice market happens to be less than a 1/5 of the market.  I gleaned from this article that the individual companies that produce and package the apple juice seem the ones who are responsible for testing the concentrate they receive from abroad.  Although there is one instance cited where the FDA did step in and alerted their border officials of incoming pear juice from China in 2008 only after it was Canada officials who tested and found that the juice contained between 28-32 ppb of arsenic.

If you’re wondering what our government, basically the FDA (food and drug administration) is doing or saying about this subject of arsenic levels in juice, this quote is a great summary:  ‘ “We don’t have any evidence at this point to say that we feel there’s a risk issue that you need to be mindful of,” said P. Michael Bolger, the Food and Drug Administration’s chief of chemical hazards assessment.’

Following talk of the 2008 Chinese pear juice incident at our neighboring border with Canada, Bolger then went on to say: ‘ “the FDA has found some apple juice samples with more than 25 ppb of arsenic following increased testing. But the average for those tests was 9 ppb. More evidence is needed to justify setting limits on arsenic in juice, Bolger said. “We’ve got to generate the appropriate information, because you can’t fly blind,” he said. “You have to have some good data to back it up.” ‘

Thankfully, the general consensus among scientists interviewed for this particular article did say that low levels of arsenic in our water and juices does not pose serious health threats.  Of course, if arsenic is showing up in higher levels consistently and as for our children who may drink a large quantity of juice, the arsenic rising in our body’s chemistry can contribute to cancerous conditions as well as hormonal changes, et cetera.

I invite to read this article if you have time and maybe even jump on www.fda.gov for more information.  From what I can tell in the St. Petersburg piece, there isn’t a federal standard yet provided for our juice companies to follow regarding what levels of arsenic are safe.  Some companies use the water standard  of no more than 10 ppb of arsenic allowed, but I do believe if the government espouses to protect its nation’s food supply, then a juice regulation is required.

In the meantime, use your best judgement as a parent, you always make the right choices for your children so trust that.  If you feel better about watering down juice, your kid’s dentist will applaud you.  If you want to use more organic juice products just be aware that they all haven’t stopped using China-sourced apple juice concentrate and arsenic still can occur in soil years after it was used in an orchard. 

Hopefully, through parent-pressure, we can encourage the powers-that-be to nudge the FDA on this one.   And thank you to my old college roommate for alerting me on a recent story that I missed because I’m so busy like all of you mamas and papas!

RVSB

A is for April: And 3 Other A’s

It’s amazing that we’ve plowed into April, already a fourth of the year 2010 behind us!  This past weekend I’ve been saturated in three other things starting with April’s first letter: Alithos Anesti, Agave and Aveda.

ALITHOS ANESTI!

Yesterday and for the next few weeks, Christian Orthodox all over the world will greet each not with hello, but with “Christ is Risen!”, to which the receiving colleague will answer “Truly He has Risen!”.  In my Greek language the phrase is “Christos Anesti!”, response is “Alithos Anesti!”.

It is a religious tradition that to me is infectious. We not only celebrate our belief in the conquering theme of eternal life with our Creator over death, but we continue to remind ourselves of it as we proceed in the days following Easter (or in Greek known as Pascha).

As a family we attended several Holy Week evening services and on Saturday, my husband and I were able to leave our son with his Great Aunt as we went together for the Anastisi service that begins at around 11:30pm and didn’t conclude until sometime after 2am.  He helped the priest and deacon along with the acolytes behind the altar while I served as a chanter in parts of the service.  The beautiful tones, smells of incense and general euphoria of watching the candle light proceed forth from the altar and spread from person to person until the entire church was alight was very moving.

If you are not Christian or just don’t care for Easter, please don’t be offended by my saying that it truly is the best Christian holiday in my heart.  Although Christmastime commemorates the arrival of God in flesh, the celebration of His conquering death with renewed life offers so much hope to us all.

No matter what our cultural, racial or religious differences, I do believe that most humans sense there must be more than just this physical life experience that has limitations. Easter/Pascha marks the mysterious veil of death in our life cycle with the Joy that there is Life and Love ever after in His (He, She, It…whatever) Creation Eternal. Christos Anesti!

AGAVE

Random right? I was first introduced to Agave Nectar by a beer my husband brought home one night. Was pretty tasty, didn’t think much of it afterwards.

Recently, however, in my personal endeavors to learn more about the food my family eats and how to manage our nutrition better I have come across the notion of sweetening foods with agave nectar instead of sugar or honey.  Apologies that I can’t even think of the magazine that I recently stumbled upon a quick sentence or two about agave’s benefits because of its classification as a low glycemic sweetener-so I did I quick internet search to offer some links in case you’re interested.

No joke that there is a website called www.allaboutagave.com and I found it to be quite informative and extensive in specifics that you may have questions concerning agave and its possible health benefits.  Also it turns out I wasn’t the only one on the agave mind wavelength: evidently yesterday Ms. Karla Heintz posted a blog entry about using agave over sugar at http://www.parentdish.com/2010/04/04/should-you-use-agave-nectar-instead-of-sugar/  And then for you seekers of feel-good newspaper articles, here’s one from a day ago about a Colorado man finally hitting gold with his new soda invention containing agave as the sweetener: http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/economy/colo-man-hits-sweet-spot-with-agave-based-soda-89862337.html

The common refrain is that agave is considered a low glycemic index (GI) sweetener that is therefore is slowly absorbed into the body that helps prevent the standard spike and crash that we encounter with table sugar.  Another claim is that it’s 25% sweeter than sugar so less amounts are needed for recipe conversions.

I’ve only just picked up the double-pack of Organic Blue Agave that was available at my local Costco and since used it in my morning coffee.  Definitely found that it had a lighter taste than the honey I’ve been trying to use instead of sugar in my daily cup of joe.  Couldn’t resist trying a drop of it on my finger as well and it seems to resemble a color of honey with a consistency of maple syrup but not as sticky.

If you are into gluten-free and low sugar nutrition, I recommend trying agave as it seems to be the new product becoming more available in our merchant centers.  If you’re curious for recipes containing agave, this was a fun site: www.OrganicSyrup.biz

AVEDA

As some of you may have read or heard from me personally, I have recently endured a miscarriage.  It has been a rollercoaster ride in terms of the physical, the hormonal, the emotional (not helped by the hormone frenzy) and probably the spiritual as well.

As a personal believer that all our senses are connected and can transcend even to our souls, I felt that this was a good time to take myself to a place where my physical body would be attended to so that my mental state could just relax and begin to heal.

I called my local Aveda spa that I’ve been to once before for a pedicure and manicure session that I took my mother-in-love to in recent months.  Having come across their literature before, I noticed that they had min-spa packages available for 3-4 hours that you could customize.  Given that I’m mother to a toddler, that seemed like a plausible scenario for this past Saturday.

I selected their Night on the Town package and got with that a peppermint manicure and pedicure, a light lunch, wine and tea to my heart’s desire, my hair washed, dried and put up, ending with a make-up session.  Usually I scoff at the idea of spending money on myself for such services, but having weathered one tough week as a woman, I welcomed the doting and the coddling by these generous Aveda women at Aveda’s Aspen Falls Spa in Jupiter, Florida: if you live here and would like to check them out http://www.aspenfallsaveda.com/

I’ve been loyal to Aveda products over the past decade since I was first introduced to them through a store that opened in one of my local Florida malls. Admittedly, they can be pricey, so I really tend to buy 2-3 products a year from them.  However, in my personal quest to seek the more natural, less synthetics ways to pamper or maintain my skin and hair, Aveda has come into my buying habits more often.

It seems that the company has made much headway in terms of expansion in America and has done a great job of committing to charities like those supporting clean water initiatives for those in other countries that lack it.  Their products have an uncanny way of smelling so good and even better in your mind as you read what the ingredients are and actually know what they are (like clove or bergamot oil instead of cocamidopropyl betaine?).

So, as I appreciated the light buzz after two glasses of wine along with a pedicure and manicure session, I enjoyed the sounds of Enya and other ethereal music in a quiet room with my rabbit salad and ginger vinaigrette–washing it down with the Aveda tea that is seriously addictive (sweetened by licorice root-who knew?).  I actually read through some of the Aveda product line and company information pamphlets and found that I really was glad that I was paying them for these services as they certainly served me and also contributed to a business whose practices I support.

If you’ve never walked into an Aveda store, check out their website at www.aveda.com if you’re interested in learning more about what they have and what they’re about as a company.

As for me, it was wonderful, simply awesome to walk out of Aspen Falls having been polished, catered to, a fun up-do and make-up on my face that smelled so good for hours afterwards. I was able to greet my husband afterwards on his birthday as a refreshed wife, lover and friend and go out and enjoy our Easter midnight service where we shared with our brothers and sisters in Christ that though we suffer death, there is Life.

RVSB

Wyoming Life

"God bless it and keep it wild"