Confessions of a Busy Mom

The truth is that sometimes you just order take out for a meal.

To balance out all my posts on healthy eating I want to write this confession saying that sometime you are just too sick or tired or both to cook anything. So, you go out or order in.

It is a rule, by which people try to live: “pay it forward,” and it applies brilliantly to a healthy diet. Meaning, there is no need to be a 100% vegan or vegetarian. The research shows that as long as you keep a ratio of 95%-to-5% (with the animal product of 5%), your diet is super-healthy. So, on my bad days I like to tap into my allotted 5% of unhealthy reserves.

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Europe

 

What worries me most is the frequency with which I experience respiratory-related problems that are directly caused by the low air quality here. Being a teacher, my throat is my weakest spot: if I get slight cold symptoms, I lose my voice easily. To prevent it from happening I run to a doctor who is happy to prescribe me 5-6 different pills. IMG_20140611_121615Taking that many meds often makes me feel uncomfortable. So, to strengthen my throat I have gone to some lengths, including taking voice lessons and completely changing the diet. In other words, I took control of any controllable factors. However, the result is negligible. I get sick almost monthly in Korea. However, it is not the case in any other parts of the world that I happen to be, which inevitably brings me to the only conclusion – air pollution.

Asia

Asia

There are only a few places that monitor air quality

There are only a few places that monitor air quality in North America

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World data

People in the US are still debating if Global Warming is real. They have that luxury of fact-denial because so far they have never needed to wear masks outside. But this is the reality for the entire Asian continent. Of course, even in China there are those who think air pollution is a good thing because it “brings a nation together,” but being sick is a lonely and terrible business. Wearing a mask feels like a punishment in winter, and a torture in summer. IMG_20140417_114821Besides, I really wonder how effective a mask can be at keeping micro-sized dirty particles at bay… Soon enough the pollution will spread (no country has a glass dome over it), and a few places with clean air will become unaffordable for the majority. Still, if you choose to ignore the facts, data, real examples from around the world about the imminent danger of air pollution (aka Global Warming), on which side is it safer to err: (a) make some adjustments in daily habits to clean up air just in case or (b) leave the shit up in the air and hope for the best?

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Healthy Eating Tips for Busy Moms

This is my 1 million dollar invention, and I am happy to share it with you! But not without a story…

As the story goes, anytime my mom, who learned to cook pasta in the South of Italy, would visit me in the US and after tasting any brand of a store-bought tomato sauce, she would lovingly call it “ketchup.” I thought my mom turned into an unnecessarily picky Italian housewife, but then I visited Italy and tasted Italian pasta with tomato sauce…

 

The secret of amazing Italian pasta sauce – is to use only tomato juice, olive oil and salt. In August-September families in the south buy about 50-100kg of tomatoes, put them through an industrial-size grinder and then boil the crushed tomatoes with added olive oil and salt. The result is almost sweet and watery sauce “sugo” that they bottle and share between the family members. Even store-bought sugo will be of a clear red color without any spices! Why? Wait for it……because depending on the pasta type, the person who cooks will add the “correct” spices to customize sugo to the pasta shape. Plain boiled sugo made from ripe tomatoes has a very neutral taste. IMG_0191

So, I recreated the sugo process at home. As a result, I have not used a store-bought tomato pasta sauce from a jar for over a year now, which means I control sugars, additives, food coloring, and preserving agents. There can be a dozen of variations, but this will start you off. Total prep time is 10 minutes.

1. Add pasta in a boiling water (100 gr per person). Let it boil for 10 minutes.

IMG_01922. While it is boiling cut 2-3 tomatoes with some onions and fresh herbs.

3. Blend it all together with a teaspoon of salt. IMG_0194

4. Drain water from pasta, return the pasta to the pot and add fresh sauce to the pot.

 

IMG_01955. Variations by season. In winter I boil sauce; in summer I don’t.

6. Variation by taste. Try adding either red or yellow bell pepper. The color change is terrific! Or experiment with herbs. Have fun!

7. Variations to make it healthier: add blended Flax seeds or other seeds.

 

Healthy Eating for Busy Moms: Breakfast

Kids healthy breakfast idea is….pancakes! If only I could reasonably take credit for inventing pancakes 🙂 No, I can not. However, I can share my “busy mom”  version of homemade pancakes. Yes. Homemade. I simply do not trust hydrogenated and dehydrated ingredients in store-bought pancake mixes, especially when there is another way to make pancakes super-fast every morning.

IMG_0219Are you worried that homemade pancakes may be not healthy enough? Well, let’s compare them to pop-tarts, morning cereals, yogurt and other store-bought-and-factory-made breakfast options. Carbs are present in all, but in homemade pancakes you can control sugar levels, and you can use organic dairy ingredients. Besides, this is kids breakfast, not a supermodel’s meal.

Bad news: the recipe that I paste below is difficult, and you must follow it exactly. Good news: this batch lasts 3 days in the fridge. So, you can feed the kid for 3 mornings. My husband is making a batch the night before while I do the bed-time routine. Often he doubles the recipe, and it lasts 5 days. We do not keep batter longer than that. Even though it does not spoil (we have tested it daily during the past year), pancakes become less fluffy with each passing day. So, take your pick: you can just make fresh batter every 3 days.IMG_0218

Here is the pancake recipe, exactly as I make it:

First, place 2 tablespoons of butter in a pan on the stove and turn it to halfway between “Lo” and “2.”

Second, take two eggs and separate them with your hands into two bowls (yolks in one, whites in the other).  Add a heaping tablespoon of sugar and some salt (no more than 1/4 teaspoon) to the yolks and mix them well with a fork.  Then beat the whites until they stiffen a bit.

Then take 1 cup of flour and put it into a large bowl.  Add 1 and 1/2 teaspoons of Baking Powder and 1/2 teaspoon of Baking Soda.

Put the egg yolks and 1 cup of milk into the bowl with the flour and use the whisk to mix it together.  Keep an eye on the butter, it should be melted by now and you can turn it off.

Then add about 1/3 cup of sour cream (or plain yogurt) and mix.

IMG_0217Then pour in the melted butter and mix while you pour… or just pour it in and be sure to mix well.

Then dump in the egg whites and mix well.

Put the pan on the stove and turn it on to about 4… let it heat up first before you start making the pancakes.  This way the pancake will not stick as much, although the first one will stick a little bit no matter what.  There is no need to add oil or butter to the pan…

 

 

Healthy Eating for Busy Moms: Breakfast

A healthy breakfast option for adults is a smoothie. IMG_0206No, not from a store or a cafe, but homemade. Why? You will cut on unnecessary sugars and add foods high in energy, which will help you to last until lunch. Obviously, no one has time in the morning to peel fresh fruit, so consider my prep tricks.

IMG_01971. I buy 4-5 pounds (2 kg) of fresh strawberries at a farmer’s marker on Friday. I wash all berries, clean the leaves, and divide between 5 plates. First plate we eat same evening fresh 🙂 Second plate I leave in the fridge for breakfast. The remaining plates of berries I freeze. Depending on how much berries you buy and how many people are going to have a smoothie – you will have to divide berries into your portion sizes. IMG_0198

2. First thing in the morning – take 1 plate of berries out of the freezer, leave it to thaw for 10-15 before blending it.

 

3. Add flax seeds. Find your portion. Mine is a modest teaspoon.

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4. Add bananas. I use 2-3 for 2 people. Bananas make smoothie sweeter.

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5. Add oats. I use about a cup for 2 people. Oats will give you energy. Do not use any Kellogg’s sugary invention, but just grain. If a smoothie gets too thick, add water.

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6. For variations try adding other types of berries.

 

 

Healthy Eating for Busy Moms

Veggie soup is my go-to dish, especially in summer. How fast do you think you can make a fresh veggie soup? As fast as it takes you to peel and chop the veggies because soup really cooks itself. Let me show you my classic veggie soup in 3 easy steps.

Carrot, Potato, Celery, Red Cabbage

Carrot, potato, celery, red cabbage

Step 1. Peel and cut veggies you have in the fridge. DO NOT use any broth from the store. Why do you want cane sugar, canola oil, molasses, carrot concentrate, added flavors, or dehydrated onions??? Just take your fresh onion, carrot, etc. and forego dehydrated cane syrup or powdered flavors.

Step 2. Put tougher veggies in the pot first. Cover with water no more than 1 inch above the veggies. Salt generously. Leave it to boil for 5-6 minutes.

Add water just barely to cover veggies

Add water just to barely cover the veggies

Tender veggies and herbs

Ripe tomatoes, green onion, parsley

Step 3. Add the tender/fragile veggies and herbs. Leave to boil for 2 minutes. Turn off the heat. Let it cool a bit before serving.

To experiment with taste try adding one or all of the following: oregano, olive oil, a bit of lemon juice or apple vinegar, more salt :), pepper, sour cream. Try different veggie combinations: broccoli, peas, zucchini, pasta, red beans, and what not. It will always be a new experience and taste for your family.

 

Healthy Eating for Busy Moms

Secret #2 – precook what you can, especially grains and even pasta. In my student years I got to work in expensive restaurants. Do you think you are getting all “just-made” meals there??? On a Saturday night during the dinner rush??? Busy moms are allowed to run their kitchens like expensive restaurants.

saladDay 1. Cook orzo pasta (or any small pasta) al dente. My husband cannot eat raw bell peppers, so I add chopped one into the boiling water for 2 minutes to make it tenderer. Drain, run cold water through it, and add olive oil. Put in the fridge. You can store pasta without sauce about to 48 hours. (Process takes 10 minutes)

Day 2. Chop your favorite veggies for salad. Add pasta from the fridge. Do not forget to sprinkle with seeds and nuts! Being vegetarian (vegan) means that you look for iron, magnesium, and protein in plants. So, seeds are your new best friends: they have true vitamins, minerals, oils, and taste. (10 minutes)

Healthy Eating for Working Moms

I have just translated my blood work results, and my plant-based diet really shines. For example, the “bad” cholesterol went down from 220 to 89 and so on. I shared with my dear friends some revelations of how amazing one can feel after adjusting just a few of eating habits, but everyone says in unison, “I am too busy for that.” So, I want to share some of my personal tips for those who honestly would love to try eating healthy, but too busy to cook from scratch.

IMG_0183Secret #1: During the transition stage – plan your meals ahead. Before your new way of cooking becomes automatic, try to “schedule” 3-4 days of meals ahead, and those dishes that take long time to cook – try to precook. For example, this is how I make hummus from scratch.

Day 1. Pour water onto Gorbanzo Beans before the day is over. Leave it to soak till tomorrow. (2 minutes)

Day 2. Put the pot with the beans onto the stove. Forget about it while it’s boiling for 30-40 minutes. Put in the fridge till tomorrow. DO NOT pour the water out. Keep it!

Day 3. Take the beans out and blend all hummus ingredients. Decorate and clean up. (10-15 minutes).

Cherry Blossom 2014

It is official: our third spring is in its full bloom. Very few things surprise us here anymore. But the novelty and awe of cherry blossoms never fail. This is the best and most beautiful sight to behold. The only difference is that nowadays we are seeking places with very little crowds, which is a science-fictional state for Korea.

Blue and Pink

How did we end up with two teams: pink and blue, aka boys and girls? The history of this tradition is very short, because it didn’t take off until the 1940s. According to the Smithsonian magazine, “color dictate wasn’t established until the 1940s, as a result of Americans’ preferences as interpreted by manufacturers and retailers.” However, this newly acquired tradition of buying children either pink or blue merchandise mandates much more than just dress codes in our society.

Experts say that children become aware of their gender between the ages of 3 and 4, with the full awareness hitting them by the age of 6 and 7. A quick look around a toy store in the developed world shows who sets the trends of gender conventions, who reinforces gender expectations, and how little choice parents have if they want to protect their children from being the subjects of sophisticated and pervasive gender messaging. Before our children learn their letters, numbers and shapes, they know that a female is someone with long hair, cute nail polish and a pink dress, while boys are the car experts, first responders, doers, and savers. Why do we parents allow marketing giants tell our children who they are and how they should act?

Take a look at the toy store choices in the slide show below. Follow the blue and pink color-coding scheme to see personal and professional expectations that toy manufacturers are setting for your children.

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Foliage 2013 at Seoraksan National Park

I never liked Fall: brown leaves, rain, and chilling wind – everything seems to be decaying and dying. Yet, Fall in Korea is a joyful breath of fresh air that lasts well into November. The best place to enjoy the foliage is somewhere away from the hustle and bustle of the city… However, you pay a price for the opportunity to see the dramatic beauty of Fall by having to share it with thousands of other pilgrims who also came to pay homage to Nature. And that is a very heavy price… These pictures were carefully cropped to cut out the multitudes of hikers so that nothing would distract you from the real un-doctored colors of the season.