My Favorite Christmas Gift (Orange You Glad?)

Citrus Fruit Gift BoxMy favorite gift is one that disappears. Eat it, drink it, burn it, rub it on the skin, throw it away like a withered bouquet.  Just make it go.

Tops on my list is a box of seasonal fruit, straight from the farm. Aromatic and soooo delicious; it’s peak season for citrus fruits: red grapefruit, clementines, Cara Cara oranges, Meyer lemons. Super foods, as they say. I really mean it.

That’s what told Joan Wickham on a sweaty scorcher of a day last summer. Joan is the manager of advertising and public relations.for the Sunkist Growers. We met at The Capital Grille on E 42nd Street during her visit from Los Angeles. Sunkist a citrus growers’ cooperative of 6,000 members from California and Arizona. They are the largest fresh produce shipper in the United States.

Citrus Gifts

Joan presented me with a mesh bag of variegated pink Eureka lemons. (Sunkist calls their Pink Variegated Lemonsvariety “Zebra”.) It has green and off-white stripes on the outside and a pink flesh inside. Sporadically, pink lemons are available winter through mid-summer. They are a perfect garnish for cocktails. Look for them where Melissa’s Farm Fresh Produce is sold – and in fine bars. The variegated pink is a mutant variety first discovered on an ordinary Eureka lemon tree in a Burbank home garden around 1930.

As for my favorite Fresh Citrus Gift Box, California citrus can be ordered from farms such as Shields Date Garden and Pearson Ranch and, of course, on Amazon. To guide your choice, Sunkist makes a varietal chart of all the California citrus fruits available by month.

Lékué Citrus MisterAnd here is citrus gift, that doesn’t disappear, but gets a pass for being so darn practical and cute. It is the Lékué Citrus Mister I saw demonstrated at several cooking events this year. Just pop the mister right into the fruit to spritz salads, seafood, cocktails, your hair, the room, and more. The gadget is so much fun to pass around the table.

My citrus gift to you is this recipe for Grapefruit Avocado Salad, my favorite winter salad. It was first served to me at the Zuck’s dinner table and now, I make it all the time. Add pomegranate seeds to dress it up for Christmas and spritz the avocado to stay green.

Your thoughts: What’s your favorite holiday gift?

Have a Complicated Halloween

Halloween Letter Fargo MomDid you see the Halloween letter from Anonymous Mom? She is handing it out instead of candy to overweight kids. Her stand against childhood obesity made the media outlets. Too bad she doesn’t know that shaming doesn’t work. Weight prejudice seems to be socially acceptable now and will become more so when healthcare costs are transparent. But back to today and the conflicts Americans have about Halloween candy. Check out yesterday’s Tweets:

  • How to talk to your kids about Halloween candy.
  • Watch out for these common (and gross!) ingredients in Halloween candy.
  • Don’t get caught giving petroleum, GMOs, and trans fat to little children.
  • Artificial dyes linked to M+Ms.
  • What it takes to burn off your Halloween treats.
  • Food Allergies: Could Halloween Kill My Child?
  • 7 Terrifying Facts About Halloween Candy!

Danger! Danger! And still, the kids return with their sacks full.

A few years ago, I was asked to write about the “healthiest” Halloween candy. What could I say? “Give out candy that won’t get eaten.” Dum Dum Lollipops, wax lips, and candy buttons stuck on paper tape. Nobody eats those. Pencils, stickers, and temporary tattoos, All good. As you can image, my Dietitian’s Guide to Halloween Candy wasn’t well received. The comments tell all.

Realistically, Halloween night is a free-for all. Everybody eats candy. That goes on for another day or two, but sooner rather than later, candy is rationed to one piece at lunch and another after school. Some is shared with grown-ups or relegated to the freezer or traded with a friendly dentist for cash. (Just don’t dump candy on the Food Bank because needy people need real food!)

I’ve stated my feelings about junk before in Eat Only the Junk Food That You Make. But homemade doesn’t fly on Halloween because of hidden razor blades. Oy! Razor blades, artificial dyes, barbs from Anonymous Mom. Halloween is complicated.

Your thoughts: What is your Halloween candy plan?

Confessions of a Wheat Germ Lover

Wheat GermA brief interaction on Twitter led Kretschmer Wheat Germ to me. They are considering me for a “Happy Wheat Germ User” feature, but needed to know more first.

Wheat Germ and Me

As a nutrition-loving baby boomer, it seems like I have always known about wheat germ. Along with soy protein and non-fat dried milk, it was part of Cornell Bread, a staple food developed for wartime rationing in the 1940s (well before my birth!) My first encounter with a regular wheat germ eater took the form of a woman from Switzerland I met in my late teens. She ate wheat germ for breakfast mixed with avocado and honey or as part of muesli along with yogurt. I like to add wheat germ to recipes for pancakes, muffins, veggie burgers, and meatballs. My favorite Wheat Germ Bread is from Jane Brody’s Good Food Book via Kretschmer Wheat Germ a long time ago.

The Original Super-food

As a registered dietitian, people complain to me about feeling stiff-achy-and-punk. Their children are listless and their parents are falling apart with inflammatory diseases and cancers. To them I say, “You really ought to be eating wheat germ!” Wheat germ is LOADED with B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, folic acid), vitamin E and essential fatty acids, the minerals iron, magnesium, manganese, calcium, copper and zinc, plus protein and phenolic compounds. Wheat germ is the nazz! In fact, the germ is the richest part of the wheat kernel, which is why white flour is a problem: the germ (and bran) is tossed during in processing. Such a sin.

An Image Problem

A “germ” is a seed, bud, spore, or embryo, the basis of all new life. A plant germ is highly nutritious because it has the nutrients to support future growth.  A “germ” is also a microorganism, especially one that produces disease. People today don’t seem to know that one germ has nothing to do with the other. Wheat germ needs a re-branding campaign. I can help with that.

Here are three good wheat germ recipes from my recipe files at Calorie Count:

Your thoughts: Do you eat (and enjoy) wheat germ?

A Fire Escape Herb Garden

Image

Fire Escape Herb Garden in August

Fire Escape Herb Garden in August

Naysayers, I know it’s illegal. But, in case of fire, toss the pots and run.

Everyone else, I thought you might like to see what can grow in a 3′ X 3′ space fire escape in the city.

This year, there is spearmint, chives, flat parsley, lemon grass, Italian oregano, culinary thyme, rosemary, Genovese sweet basil, spicy globe basil, morning glory, nasturtium, euphorbia, a dwarf Japanese maple tree, and self-seeded red-orange impatiens and a heirloom black cherry-tomato. The mint and chives reappear every year.

At the risk of sounding like Martha Stewart, I love cooking with fresh herbs. Yum, flavor! Yippee, disease-fighting antioxidants! And a way to use less salt. Here’s a little Guide to Using Fresh Herbs from the Cooperative Extension offices at the Universities of Nebraska and New Jersey (Rutgers), your tax dollars at work.

At my place August means it’s all-pesto-all-the-time (add a little lemon to keep it green) and Insalata Caprese, as well as mint syrup in beverages, rosemary vinegar, and assorted herbs in every salad, stew and roasted dish.

Your thoughts, How do you cook with fresh herbs?

Hey Brooklyn, What’s in Your Lunch Bag?

brooklynlicious_tote_bagMary:     Why am I doing this? No one begins a TV career at my age.
Brian:    Not so. There’s Judge Judy.
Mary:     Okay. That’s true.

For what it’s worth, that conversation took place on July 10th outside the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. It’s three subway stops from my home.  While the cameraman filmed, I asked regular people on the way to work to let me peek into their lunch bags. It was spontaneous and unrehearsed. You get what you pay for.

“Brian” is Brian Vines (BTW: He drinks half portions of soda at the movies now) of Brooklyn Independent TV. He called to ask what I though about developing a pilot based on what Brooklynites eat for lunch. (Actually, the cameraman’s wife, a Brooklyn foodie, thought the idea would make a good show.) I told Brian to add a few questions to put the lunch choices in context, and suddenly, I was the one asking the questions.

One week later, Amy Sarah Clark from the Prospect Heights Patch posted this on my Mary Hartley RD Facebook timeline:
“I saw your piece at the BRIC media thing today, it was fantastic! Congratulations!”
(Translation: “BRIC media thing” had to do with an event, presentations, and the pilot.)

Really? Sweet! Thanks you! Maybe I should see it. Maybe you should see it too.     

Mary Hartley, RD Asks Brooklyn, “What’s in Your Lunch Bag?”  

Those Brooklynites couldn’t be healthier! Everybody carries produce and no bacon was found. Brooklyn should show the rest of the country how it’s done. As for me, I could be a correspondent, like Ross the Intern. I will even prepare for pay.

Your thoughts:  Do you agree that the lunch idea would make a good show?

One Way to Raise a Great Cook

Little Liza's Cookbook

Liza’s Personal Childhood Cookbook

As I recall, this is the time of year that gave rise to “Cook ‘Til You Drop”, the cookbook my daughter, Liza, made when she was six or seven. I can’t remember. The book,  including title and cover art, was entirely her idea.

Every year, when the raspberries ripened around the first of July, we’d say, “Where’s that Raspberry Cheesecake Parfait recipe?” Since it was the old days, the early ’90s before the Internet, that meant searching through a huge stack of Cooking Light magazines until we found it. Liza, having much less to do than I and forever the Martha Stewart, thought it made sense to preserve her favorite recipes in a self-adhesive photo album. We photocopied only her besties to make Cook ‘Til You Drop.

From that time on, Liza has always kept a personal recipe book. Perhaps it’s a reason why Eliza Hartley in the Kitchenshe is a fabulous cook today.

Here are two summer favorites from Cook ‘Til You Drop:

Your thoughts: Did you cook as a kid? Do you cook with your kids? What do you make?

Rethinking Soda at the Movies

soda at the MoviesSince I choose to do those things that amuse me most, I find myself in lots of crazy places. A few weeks ago, I was a guest on Brooklyn Independent Television’s show, Intersect, talking about Mayor Bloomberg’s sugary drink limit with host Brian Vines and fellow guest Andrew Rigie of the NYC Hospitality Alliance. At minute 23:05, I talk Brian Vine out of thinking big portions of soda at the movies are a bargain. Here is our conversation:

BV:   I was just at the movies two weeks ago and split a, what had to be a 60-ounce something, between the two of us. The thing was gone, and this was the debate we had afterwards, that if the mayor would have had his thing, we would’ve had to buy two drinks – and I believe in my health, but I more than that, I am cheaper than I am healthy – so we would have had to buy two different drinks to get the same thing, but we wouldn’t even be allowed to buy the thing if this law passed. So it hits you in the pocketbook because cheap food is usually bad food…
MH:   That’s not food. DON’T CALL THAT FOOD!
BV:   What is it then? It’s empty calorie things….
MH:   It’s empty calorie stuff. You cannot compare….
BV:   Cheap drinks. It’s enjoyment. It’s cheaper though….
MH: Well, for instance, I’m a fun gal, but one thing about me is I do not order anything at the movies. I have unhooked the idea that sitting in a movie means eating. Talk about cheap! I’m not going to that concession stand. I’m not buying any of that stuff!
BV: It’s relative. (laugh)
MH: So let’s get it all straightened out, okay, and that’s what the dialogue is about. It’s testing those ideas people have: “I need my soda!”  Well, why do you need your soda?
BV: Thank you for unhooking me, because it’s not cheap. Soda isn’t cheap at the movies.

Your thoughts: Will Brian Vine quit drinking soda at the movies?

A Bad Week for Fake Nutrition

Ask Me About Girl Scout CookiesThe food industry is on to “nutrition” as a buzz word, and it’s already out of control. “Functional Foods,” foods with a function to deliver nutrients they don’t normally contain, were on my radar twice this week: first, in the form of a new Girl Scout cookie, MANGO CRÈMES WITH NUTRIFUSION™, that DietsInReview.com asked me to see, and second, in VITAMIN WATER that is nutritious – or not –  as Stephen Colbert explains.

 MANGO CRÈMES WITH NUTRIFUSION™

The Girl Scout bakery invented a new cookie, sans the trans fat and preservatives, pumped up with (only) 15% of the RDI (Reference Daily Intake) for vitamin B1 and 5% for vitamins A, C, D, E, and B6  – no mind to the hundreds and hundreds of other nutrients we need – and called it “a delicious new way to get your vitamins!”  Not so fast. Those cookies have as much sugar and saturated fat as other cookies, and as an aside, they are mango-less, but since they are made with the dehydrated juice of cranberries, pomegranates, oranges, grapes, and strawberries, I can’t complain. Just don’t say cookies are health food. Say, “Hey, we’d like you to try a new cookie and support the Girl Scouts.” That will suffice.

VITAMIN WATER

The Coca-Cola company is defending its Vitamin Water product against deceptive claims. Colbert connects the fake nutrition dots. How bad can it get?

Your thoughts: Are you confused by fake nutrition claims?

We Need to Talk About Pizza

Pizza sliceFist bump

Today, I’m on a mission to simplify the challenge of reducing sodium intake in America. I am inspired by the Heart Association’s (AHA) sodium awareness campaign, the Sodium Swap Challenge, launched this week. AHA wants us to know about the “Salty Six” – bread and rolls, cold cuts and cured meat, pizza, poultry, soup, and sandwiches – common foods that are loaded with sodium – and then they ask us to cut back at the rate of two foods per week to change our acquired taste for salt in 21 days.

Kudos to AHA for a noble effort. Excess salt is associated with high blood pressure, a modifiable risk factor for stroke. And because sodium holds onto excess fluid, it can make us puffy and bloated. (Stop right there!) On average, Americans eat 3,400 milligrams of sodium a day; however, the dietary guidelines recommend less than 2,300 mg and only 1,500 mg if you are 51 or older, have a cardiovascular condition, or are African-American.

First I Look at the Pizza

Back to simplification. Bread sales are down, as are canned soup sales, but the pizza market is growing. Cheese consumption has quadrupled since the 1950s. That’s because it’s on the pizza. The average American eats 10 pizza pies – 23 pounds of pizza – a year; 94 percent of us eat pizza (at least) once a month; 41 percent eat pizza (at least) once a week. Kids ages 3 to 11 prefer pizza over all other foods.

Pizza is the go-to food for busy people. People who wouldn’t dream of dinner at McDonald’s think nothing of ordering a pizza or two. Do they know that a Big Mac with medium fries has 1310 milligrams of sodium, while the same weight of pepperoni pizza has 3249 milligrams?!! One pizza meal has enough sodium (and saturated fat) for two days.

Pizza is an amalgam of bread, cured meat (36% of pizzas are pepperoni), cheese, and tomato sauce, four top sodium foods from the Centers for Disease Control’s Top Sources of Sodium in the Diet, a better list.  To simplify sodium reduction, pizza-eating families and singles should look to pizza.

I’m glad we talked.

Your thoughts: Do you know anyone who eats too much pizza?

My Thoughts on Sarah Palin’s Diet Book

Mary Hartley as Sarah Palin

Yesterday, ABC News asked me for a quote about Sarah Palin’s new diet book. (The quote was not used.) I guess Palin’s book will be out soon, even though last October, People magazine couldn’t say if Palin had a contract or when the book would be published.

According to several news outlets, Palin said her book advocates “a balanced approach to weight loss” focusing on “self-discipline as we still eat our beloved homemade comfort foods.”  Of me, the ABC writer asked, “Is it OK to indulge once in a while?” and “Is this a good approach to weight loss?” To the first question, I answered, “Yes; only a control freak would not indulge once in awhile.” To the second question, I said, “Dunno.”

I do say this: Never take nutrition or medical advice from a celebrity.

Sarah Palin is no authority on diet and fitness, but she does have a loyal following and enough gawkers to sell a book. And then there’s the diet-crazed crowd. Get that book on the shelves by January 1st.

Sarah has lost some weight since she was a household name in 2008. She espouses a low-carb-, lean-protein-style diet, and so I presume that will be her focus. She drinks a “skinny white-chocolate mocha” for breakfast, and so I guess that is her indulgence. For decades, Sarah has been a distance runner, which accounts, in part, for her trim physique.

Without reviewing what Sarah actually eats, I cannot say whether her diet is wholesome and balanced. There are countless routes to a balanced diet. For instance, an Inuit does not eat like a Bantu, yet both native diets are correct.

I’m glad Sarah is happy with her own eating style, and as long as she meets her daily requirements for protein, carbohydrate, essential fats, vitamins, minerals, and other compounds with nutrient-like activity (know and still unknown), it doesn’t really matter whether she focuses on low-carb or low-fat. That’s because total calories matter most when it comes to weight control.

The Palin family’s food choices don’t have to be yours. Every individual needs to find his own style in terms of personal preferences, resources and “life-style.” (Not my favorite term)  For me, moose stew doesn’t work, and I doubt if Sarah has tried my Portuguese Kale Soup.

Your thoughts: Would you read Sarah Palin’s diet book?