Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Actions Speak Louder Than Words No Matter How Loud Your Words

Actions speak louder than words. I’ve run in to this truth several times this week. I think it’s a fitting motto for those of us who claim to be attempting to live life in harmony with the earth and our bodies. We can say all the pretty, socially acceptable things we want, but when it comes down to brass tacks, we are what we do.

I do believe that actions speak louder than words. In fact, I’m staking my parenting success on those words. My kids may say really (really) mean things to each other and to me. They may call each other awful names, threaten to hurt each other, and make all manner of snide comments about one another, but when they are out in the larger world (i.e. not at our house), I am relieved to see that they treat people kindly. They don’t throw things at people or slam doors. They don’t call people that annoy them “idiots” or make sarcastic comments. They swallow their frustration and their pride. And it always surprises me, though it shouldn’t by now.

They may scream things at me that will haunt me for days or tell me that I am the meanest mother in the world (or lately a “freak”), but when I observe them with other authority figures like teachers and coaches, they are respectful and obedient. They even seem to work hard to secure their praise. I’m not saying that my kids always treat me like the trash waiting to be dragged to the curb, just that for every nasty word they scream at me, there are thousands of kind words used on others (and occasionally me).

While I don’t appreciate being the verbal punching bag, and there are certainly consequences when it happens (apparently that’s what makes me a “freak” since other parents would never take away screen time or force their children to apologize), I am grateful that it appears my children are learning the lessons I am trying to hammer home. Their actions speak louder than their words. They may yell at me, but they will still complete their weekend chore. They may say they hate their sibling, but they will still share their after-game treat with them. They may scream that the homework is stupid as they settle down in the bean bag chair to get it done.

This motto has not been easy for me to embrace. I think words are important. I think they are powerful and dangerous and tricky. So I admit to overreacting to some of the words that come out of my children’s mouths. The learning curve on this one hasn’t been steep for me, but I’m getting there. Slowly I’m learning to be quiet and wait and see what they actually do. Sometimes they just need a safe place to vent. I do the same thing with my animals. If anyone ever put a hidden camera in our barn, they would deem me a lunatic. I talk to the animals, compliment them, and ask them questions. But sometimes I curse them, call them names, and complain to them. It’s a chance to vent. They listen to my ramblings with practiced indifference and it’s refreshing. I don’t have to own up to anything I’ve said because no one’s going to call me on it. Animals have only actions to communicate with, no words. I understand them most of the time. I know exactly where they stand and don’t have to try figure out why they said what they said.

As a parent, it’s difficult not to call my children on the things that come out of their mouths. I find myself letting some things slide and then blowing up over other things. And sometimes it feels like the kids are really feeling around for the limits. “I can say this and I don’t get a reaction, so how about this…”

When I flip the motto around and apply it to myself, I’m grateful. I truly hope that my actions are speaking louder than my words. I may be so angry I shake, but I will still feed my children a healthy meal. I will still do their laundry and drive them where they need to go and tuck them in at night with a quiet song and a hug. The millions of actions that I have done for my kids speak volumes. Hopefully enough to drown out the times I’ve said harsh things out of pride or been cruel in my effort to get my point across.

Sometimes it’s helpful to take a breath. I’m learning to say, “There will be consequences for this. I don’t know what they are yet, but there will be.” And then walking away instead of saying something I’ll regret later. It’s a nonstop juggling act this parenting gig. How much patience before you have to step in? How much do you tolerate before you have to act? Should you say something or let them figure it out on their own? I don’t think any of us get it right every day, or any given hour for that matter. I guess the best that we can do is the best that we can do. Take a deep breath. Be quiet. Let the words settle before you spring to action because those actions will always speak louder than any words.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Wonders of Grape Seed Oil

That glass of wine is good for you, right? That’s what the research says. Isn’t it wonderful when science proves your bad habit is actually a good one? Gotta love that. Recently I’ve discovered another product of the wine industry that’s even better for you – grape seed oil.

I first learned of grape seed oil at a wine festival in Virginia. I was with an old friend (who was driving) and truly enjoying the fine selections of Virginia wines, so I didn’t necessarily appreciate all that the chef was explaining at the grape seed oil tasting. I just know it tasted delicious. I bought several bottles of natural grape seed oil and garlic-infused grape seed oil.

Once home I found that the oil was even better when you have all your senses about you. It’s got a clean, nutty taste that works wonders in salad dressing. Grape seed oil has a higher smoke point than olive oil, so cooking with it was a pleasure. Veggies sauteed in the oil were divine and lemon infused grapeseed oil made a baked chicken heavenly. Dipping bread in any of the infused oils quickly became a family favorite treat.

But then I started snooping. I needed to know if the things I had heard in my happy state at the wine festival were true. Great news – they are true and then some. Here’s what I learned.

The benefits of grape seed oil have been enjoyed for thousands of years. Ancient Greeks and Egyptians not only consumed wine for their health, they used the sap from grape vines to make a salve and the leaves to treat all kinds of ailments. Mostly consumed in the form of wine, the real benefits of grapes can be found in the seed.

Grape seed oil is made from squeezing the oil from the seeds. Something wonderful from the waste product of another industry – this is good. When buying grape seed oil, be sure you pay attention to the method in which it was made. Look for expeller pressed grape seed oil. Most of the grape seed oil you might buy in the grocery store has been chemically processed like other oils. This process destroys many of the beneficial properties found in the oil. It also wreaks havoc on the flavor.

Expeller pressed grape seed oil is bright green. That threw me at first because I thought some kind of dye had been added, but nope, that’s the color. Bright green – just like the seeds of the grape.

So how is grape seed oil good for you? It’s a poly-unsaturated fat (remember it’s the saturated fats that are bad for you). Fats should be eaten in moderation. That said, grape seed oil has Omega 6’s and is not the kind of fat that raises your cholesterol. Grape seeds are stuffed with vitamin E, flavanoids, lenoleic acid, and OPCs (oligomeric proanthcyanidin complexes) – all proven antioxidants. It can easily replace olive oil or canola oil and is equally healthy for you.

If you’ve been reading the papers as you fill your wine glass, you know that wine is good for your heart (again, in moderation. Too much wine will offset any potential benefits, particularly if you get behind the wheel). The same benefits are concentrated in grape seed oil, since most of the beneficial elements in the wine come from the grape seed extract present in the wine. Here’s an abbreviated list. Most of my findings come from a recent University of Maryland study.

• Grape seed extract is sometimes used to treat health problems related to free radical damage, including heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Studies done, mostly with animals support these uses.

• The flavanoids found in grape seed extract (same as the ones found in wine) seem to lower “bad” cholesterol. Research is in the early stages, but the findings are promising.

• A study using healthy volunteers found that grape seed increased the levels of antioxidants in the blood.

• Animal studies showed that grape seed extract reduce blood pressure substantially.

• The antioxidant compounds found in grape seed oil may also help protect the skin from premature aging. Is that why Mediterranean people’s skin looks so good?

• Test tube studies found that grape seed extracts may have prevented the growth of breast, stomach, colon, prostate, and lung cancer cells. Antioxidants, like the ones found in grape seed extract may reduce the risk of developing cancer. Studies also found that grape seed extract may help prevent damage to human liver cells caused by chemotherapy.

• In a double-bind, placebo-controlled study breast cancer patients who took grape seed extract daily following surgery had less edema and pain than those who took the placebo. So grape seed extract, found in grape seed oil is helpful in reducing swelling and pain.

Grape seed oil, therefore, is at its worst a delicious oil to cook with, and at its best a cancer and heart disease deterrent, that can help reduce swelling and improve the condition of your skin. Wow – that’s a win-win.

Personal Note:

Most of the grape seed oils I found in the grocery store are chemically processed. So I went back to the company that was selling the grape seed oil at the wine festival. Turns out it’s a direct sales company along the lines of Tastefully Simple, but the food is all natural, and free of preservatives, MSG, and food dyes. My kind of company. Discovering that there were no reps in my area, I signed up.

I was hesitant to mention this information here. I’m very sensitive to my reader’s trust. I don’t want you to ever think I’m selling you a bill of goods. However, after talking with several people about my dilemma, it was pointed out to me that friends share information about where to buy the best products with each other. So consider it like that. I’m your friend telling you that here is one source for grape seed oil – me.

You can buy through my website or you can become a “culinary club member”. To be a culinary club member you pay a one time fee (not yearly) of $25 and then you can order the products through my website for 20% off and not have to host a party, attend a party, or badger me (not that I mind). You can also choose to host a party and earn some free product. You know the direct-sales drill. I’d be happy to speak with you about Wildtree. I’m hoping this little venture will help fund my daughter’s upcoming experience as a Student Ambassador with People to People. I will leave a permanent link on my blog’s home page.

I hope you won’t take offense and will continue to trust me as a writer sharing her ideas, knowledge, and honest experiences. I turn down several offers a month for free products from companies that would like me to print their spiel or write my own wonderful review that will convince you to buy said treasure. I don’t do it because this blog is not about selling things. Can you tell how much I stressed over posting this information on Wildtree? OK, I’ll stop. But now you have the information. Do with it what you wish.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Winter Fantasy Gardening

This is a dangerous time of year for the home gardener. A time when you can gamble untold fortunes on the lure of glossy ideals thrust upon you on a daily basis by the US mail. The seed catalogs are piling up. It’s that time of year. Despite my commitment to canceling every possible catalog this year (catalogchoice.org – great site!), I’m still being tempted by the possibilities.

One of my annual rituals used to be curling up with a hot mug of tea, sharp pencils, graph paper, and a stack of glossy seed catalogs to sketch out the gardens for the coming year. I loved the powerful, albeit delusional, feeling of control as I assigned each square foot its allotted vegetables for the year. My plans were usually grand, and I was ridiculously proud of my neat little diagrams, confident the fantasy would play out come June. It never did. Really. Never. I’m not a very anal gardener. As much as I would like to be organized and as much as I would like my garden to replicate those neat graph paper creations. Just didn’t happen. Oh, the seeds wasted, the money gone, the hope denied. But now I’m much smarter and my gardens, while still pretty much a free-for-all-plant-on-today’s-whim-or-whichever-seed-packet-I-remembered-to-bring-with-me kind of thing, are bounteous.

So if you are marking up the seed catalogs and planning the garden of your dreams, let me share a few lessons learned.

1. Plant what you eat. It doesn’t matter how beautiful the purple radishes look in the glossy catalog, no one in my house will eat them. Waste of space. Think about what you actually eat and plant that. Plant more of what your family actually eats and less of what you are the only person who will appreciate.

2. Buy seeds strategically to save money. Plant the vegetables that cost the most when you buy them at the store. Fancy red peppers cost an arm and a leg at the store – plant lots of them. Many heirloom tomatoes can’t be purchased at the store – plant them. As much as I love homegrown potatoes, I won’t be devoting half my garden to them this year, since there are five or six local farms that offer organic potatoes at reasonable prices that taste amazing.

3. If it doesn’t freeze well, only plant what you can eat. I love sugar snap peas. Love them. So I devote ridiculous amounts of garden space to them. But this is silly because a) we can never eat all of them and b) they don’t freeze or can well. Much is wasted. Maybe this year I will heed my own advice. Same goes for carrots. I always plant several big rows and they are a HUGE pain to weed. And in the end a good number of them rot in the ground before we can eat them. The horses are the beneficiaries of this mistake each year.

4. Check the seeds you have before placing your order. The seeds you used last year are probably fine for this year. Just sow them a bit heavier. If they are stored properly, seeds keep for years. A lot of seed companies sell seed packets with hundreds of seeds in them – more than you can possibly use. Save them for the next year or split your order with a friend.

A few definitions that may be helpful:

Hybrid” - this is a seed that has been developed by cross-breeding several plants in the interest of developing things like “disease resistance”, “early harvest”, “high yield” which are all good things. However, when commercial seed companies do this they are focused on performance features sometimes at the expense of taste. Also, you can’t save seeds from hybrids – they can’t reproduce themselves, what you wind up with is a shadow of the former plant or basically one of the strains used to create it.

GMO or GE” – These are genetically modified or genetically engineered seeds which means they were altered using molecular genetics techniques. For example, corn is developed with a pesticide engineered in to it to help it kill certain pests. When you are planting hundreds of thousands of acres this can be financially beneficial. It is a little frightening though, as seeds become more and more genetically identical we put ourselves at risk for disaster should some type of challenge prove too much for that particular seed. Never mind that technically you are eating pesticide.

heirloom” – I wrote last January about how much I love heirlooms. Heirlooms are seeds that have been saved and passed down by individual gardeners. These seeds must be “open pollinated” meaning they can reproduce themselves. They provide the most variety and security. That said, heirlooms will vary in their ability to thrive in certain climates, so choose heirlooms that grow in your area. If you plant heirlooms and select seeds from only your best plants, you’re doing your own genetic modification on a much smaller scale. I think this is cool as you are developing your own heirloom seeds!

organic” – Most seed companies carry a line of organic seeds these days. Regulation can be spotty, so if you’re serious about organics, you may want to look for the USDA seal. You’ll pay dearly though. Organic seeds are produced entirely through organic practices by a certified organic operation.

Here are a few of my favorite seed companies:

Landreth Seed (these guys are local, so they’re almost always my first choice)

Pinetree Seed (these guys have great environmentally friendly attitudes and they sell seeds in more realistic sized packets for the home gardener)

Johnny’s Select Seed (going to try these guys for the first time this year, but I’ve heard good things)

High-Mowing Seeds (these are all-organic guys and the seeds are sold at my local natural food store. There’s something to be said for not having to pay shipping and being able to buy your seeds NOW)

There are lots of seed companies out there. When selecting yours, pay attention to where the seeds are coming from. If you’re growing in upstate New York, you might not do so well with seeds developed in southern California. If you’re buying non-local seeds pay attention to the zones specified for each seed. You can find your zone at the National Gardening Association’s site: www.garden.org/zipzone.

Also, if you’ve never ordered from a company before, I wouldn’t order EVERYTHING from them. Be sure you can trust them before you trust them with your entire garden. Seeds are relatively cheap, so it’s fun to try out a few newfangled plants and a new company or two each year. Keeps the gardening exciting. (of course excitement is relative)

Winter fantasy gardening is still one of my favorite ways to pass the time. Don’t let my “be realistic” nonsense squash your happiness. If you think that orange turnip looks amazing, you buy that seed. To heck with eating, sometimes we garden just because we can.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

I Hate Diets!

My favorite jeans are feeling a little snug this week. I think, no, I know, the holidays were too much fun. I reveled in the homemade truffles, infused oils, my weakness for good wine, cooking with my hubby, and so many meals out, I think I overdid it. How about you? Are you as grateful as I am for the big sweaters of January?

I hate diets. They make me grumpy and resentful. Besides, I like food too much. So I’ve got a plan. It’s my own diet created in the wee hours of the morning as I ran on freezing cold, dark roads this past week. A few miles in and my mind really gets cranking. I become pretty much invincible. That’s when this plan was hatched. So you’ll need to keep your perspective as you read this. But mostly you have to open your mind to the distinct possibility that it can be done.

I’m calling it the 2-ingredient diet. The original diet was 1 ingredient, but then the sun came up and it dawned on me (so to speak) that cheese and butter have two ingredients, and while I know I could make both cheese and butter, I don’t want to. And then there’s wine – grape juice and yeast. Some things we can’t do without.

So he are the 2 rules for 2 Ingredient Diet:

1. Eat only things that have 2 ingredients or less. Orange – fine. Pop Tart – nope. Cheese – good (as long as it isn’t processed) Macaroni & Cheese – nope (unless you make it yourself – including the pasta!).

2. No processed food unless you process it yourself. Ahh! Here’s the brilliance of this plan! You can eat ice cream, bread, cookies, and anything else you can make yourself using ingredients with no more than 2 ingredients. I’m already pouring over recipes for crackers and I ordered a tortilla maker so I can make tortillas, chips, and burrito shells.

Simple, huh? I figure even if I can’t stick to it exclusively, it will slow me down, make me think about what I’m eating and more importantly, what goes in to what I’m eating.

After my second child, I had some serious weight to lose, so I signed up for Weight Watchers. Great program and it worked for me because it was flexible. You could save up points (I stock piled mine for the Orioles games each weekend). This made nothing off limits. I want the 2 Ingredient Diet to have an element of this. Plus, I know there are certain foods I can’t make myself, and I just might not be able to function without them. So I created the exclusion clause. Gone are my idealistic days of youth, nowadays I’m all about reality. And no one will join me on this diet if I don’t provide a little slack.

You can exclude 2 foods from the rules. Now, if you really want this to work I wouldn’t recommend you exclude Reese’s Cups and cheesecake, but there are probably foods that could be diet-busters for you. One of my exceptions is going to be Trader Joes Tomato and Red Pepper soup. I love this soup and this time of year, it’s unreasonable and unaffordable for me to make it. That will be next summer’s project, but for now it’s one of my exceptions.

I haven’t decided on the other exception yet. I’m thinking maybe pasta, but then I remember that my mom gave me her old pasta maker last year and I have yet to try it out. I’m only one day in to this diet, so I’m saving my other exception for emergencies.

The other problem with the 2 Ingredient Diet is eating out. How can you eat out? Very few options. Could be tough, so I’m allowing one meal eaten out each week.

The diet started off great yesterday until I fixed a salad for lunch and opened the fridge for a dressing. I counted not one, but five store-bought dressings that only I will eat. (the kids stick to that gnarly Hidden Valley Farms Ranch Dressing and NOTHING else) Now my Scot-Irish heritage (or my depression era raised mother) have instilled in me that you don’t throw out useful things. So…here’s another clause in my 2 Ingredient Diet. (I’m all about flexibility). If it’s already opened and/or it will expire soon, you can finish it off. So once those dressings are gone, I will stick with the ones I make (which I usually like better anyway). Same with the trail mix and black licorice. No one else will touch those.

Yeah, I know my diet isn’t very strict. And yeah, I know I won’t lose ten pounds this month. But my goal is to feel better, eat better, and fit better in to my jeans. I’m not going to judge my success by the scale. That’s a dangerous way to live.

In case you’re curious how the 2 Ingredient Diet works out, I’m going to add a box to my blogsite with regular updates, including recipes for processed food you’d be surprised you can make yourself. Santa brought me a book filled with recipes for things like pop-tarts and ritz crackers. That could be a fun challenge – can there be a way to make pop-tarts “healthy”? I’ll share my successes and failures and observations periodically on the side bar of my blog.

So, are any of you game for the 2 Ingredient Diet?? I’d love to hear from you and you don’t have to “go public,” you can e-mail me directly if you want. Tell me what you think, what works, and even if it all sounds crazy. Maybe it is. But I’m sure we’ll learn something about who we are and the food we eat. And hopefully, we’ll find ourselves feeling better and looking better by spring!