Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Be Here Now

Who is your favorite historical hero?
I don't know that I could pick just one, but names like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Harriet Tubman, Abraham LincolnMother Teresa, and Susan B. Anthony come to mind. As I sit and review my short list, I pause to consider why, exactly, we consider these men and women heroes. We could say that we admire them for the things they did, or at least attempted to do. Of course their actions are ultimately what defined their lives and made them famous, but I think the reason why they are heroes goes even deeper than that. To me, the real reason why these men and women are heroes is because, despite the insurmountable odds, they each had a passion to, first, save lives and, second, to help their brothers and sisters live better lives by working to ease the yolk of oppression.
So how about you? Are you a hero?
Today there are 27 million slaves in this world, many of them right here in the good ol'US of A. Some interesting facts:
  • That's more slaves than the peak of the trans-Atlantic African slave trade
  • Human trafficking is the fastest growing and second largest illegal industry in the world (after drugs, before illegal weapons sales)
  • The average investment for a slave owner in the 1800s was equivalent to $40k. The average slave today costs $90. (That's what I pay for my iPhone each month).
  • 80% of trafficking involves sexual exploitation. 19% is labor related.
  • 70% of victims are women and 50% are children
  • Victims are usually from economically vulnerable areas
This an emergency.
I've been passionate about ending human trafficking for four years now and I can't tell you how TIRED I am of talking about it and having people bringing up the African slave trade and how they're still upset about that. (Interesting to note, it's usually men and they usually bring it up when I bring up sexual exploitation.) Granted, I understand and agree that it was a horrible and dark point in history, but the reality is that the African slave trade, along with other atrocious human rights violations of the past are just that: in the past. We all like to think we would have stood up to Hitler or signed the 13th amendment, but right now there are men, women, and children suffering and dying as slaves and for us to bemoan the past is not only hypocritical, but allows these injustices to continue through our ignorance and inaction.
And then I found this website and my heart for joy because this is exactly what I've been preaching for years now:
We live in an exciting time in history.
With the power of the Internet and our ability to interact with the global community you and I actually have the power to do something about human trafficking in our daily lives:
Whether it is educating yourself,
whether it is speaking out against it,
whether it is learning who makes your clothes and who harvests your coffee and only supporting suppliers with transparent supply lines and fair trade practices,
whether it is joining (or starting) a local awareness and advocacy group,
whether it's devoting your entire life to the cause,
whether it's alleviating and eliminating contributing factors,
whether it is educating vulnerable populations,
whether it's a letter/email your local representative,
whether it's the small choice or a huge sacrifice to end the demand,
whether it is financially supporting abolitionist groups:
Whatever it is that you do, if YOU have the passion to save lives and to help others live better lives, you can do it.

Just show up.
Just speak up.
Just be here now.
So again I ask:
Are you a hero?

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Cheese Fondue Date @ Home (without a fondue pot)

I worked for The Melting Pot for a grand total of six weeks while working another job during the day to make ends meet after college. I realize this makes me sound like a drama queen, but it was one of the most miserable six weeks of my life. I left the downtown restaurant between 1AM and 3AM every night and apart from being exhausted beyond what I could handle, we'll just say that the restaurant didn't really mesh with the way I wanted to live my life. ALSO, I spilled three drinks in three separate people's laps and that was just really bad.

All that to say, I did get one awesome thing out of working there:

A general idea of how most of the meals were prepared and made!

So this Valentine's Day JL and I, on our quest to be debt free, chose to forgo the crowds and price of a fancy night out and have a fancy night in instead for a fraction of the price.

   * 3 oz. vegetable broth
   * appx. 1-2 oz. fresh spinach, chopped
   * appx. 1-2 oz. artichoke hearts, chopped
   * 1 Tbsp. chopped garlic
   * 2 1/2 oz. Butterk√§se cheese (Boar's Head sells it)
   * 2 1/2 oz. Fontina cheese
   * 1 tsp. grated Parmesan cheese
   * a small amount of flour
   * dash Tabasco sauce

Full disclosure, I found this recipe here and went with it because it's pretty dead on.

Prep work notes:
1. SHRED the cheese and coat it on flour before adding it to the pot. Trust me. Also, keep some extra flour ready just in case.
2. Have all of your shredded/minced/chopped and correctly measured ingredients ready to go BEFORE you start cooking. Once the cooking process starts it happens VERY quickly.

Now, as you read in the title, I made this version without a fondue pot. While I don't recommend it over using a fondue pot, it works just fine! I actually have two fondue pots but I had a party at a friend's house and the heating elements are lost (le sigh).

So, instead take a deep pan (I used a 9" pan with a 2" lip) and fill it half way with water. Place some sort of silicone or metal object (make it flat!) in the pan to make sure the fondue pot (I used a 6" sauce pot) is heated by the water and NOT the heating element. I used silicone cupcake liners and they worked like a charm with no burning on the bottom of my pot.

In the pot, heat the vegetable stock (or if you want to be really authentic, use a dry white wine) until it steams, but don't boil it. Add ingredients one-by-one, saving the cheese for last.

Add flour as needed until cheese is thick enough to coat a small piece of bread without dripping. If it's too thin, just use more flour. If it's too thick, just add more stock.

And… viola!

We ate ours with tortilla chips, french bread (freeze it the day before using it and let it thaw IN the fridge), raw carrots, raw cauliflower, raw broccoli, and a granny smith apple.

I turned off the heating element on the stove but left the water there for reheating as needed during our meal and thankfully only needed it once.

Hope you enjoy!

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Other Sweet Life: Why I Gave Up Sugar

Everyone's been asking me about my decision to go sugar-free, but because it takes a while to explain, I thought I'd share online. Please comment below if you have any questions and I'd be happy to help!: 
Why I Tried a Sugar Free Diet:
For those of you know me personally, I deal with some pretty obnoxious allergies. 
I hear you saying, "Allergies? Really? So you sneeze a little bit more than than the average person?" But when I say I have obnoxious allergies I mean I've had to take sick days from work in the Spring, I deal with food allergies on a daily basis, and my animal dander allergies reached the point where just being around a dog caused insane amounts of sneezing, puffy eyes, and extreme difficulty breathing. Over the Christmas break when I visited my family and our little dachshund I had to take three, yes, THREE, Benadryl (among other drugs) to begin to feel any relief. My allergies were getting worse and worse and I was constantly drowsy from the medication I was taking so, ultimately, I decided that some thing had to give.

A few years ago my dad was diagnosed with Type II Diabetes, which required quite a bit of medication to manage. However, by managing (and all but entirely eliminating) his sugar intake he was able to lose a ton of weight and manage and maintain his health issues without the use of medication. No insulin, no nothing. This always impressed and intrigued me, but I never imagined that taking sugar out of my diet could mean allergy relief until I stumbled upon this article on diet and allergies

It's About the Immune System:
Furthermore, someone once explained the immune system to me like a trash can. Your "trash can" can only hold so much and by spending time and energy digesting foods that cause inflammation (i.e. sugar, ultra processed foods, and gluten) the immune system is so focused on dealing with that that it has difficulty functioning properly. Thus, the immune system experiences overflow issues, like allergies, etc. While I have absolutely no idea if this is scientifically accurate or not, it seemed to make sense to me, so I did some more investigation.

I started doing a bunch of research and found these books to be the most helpful resources:

I didn't learn anything earth shattering, in fact most of it was simply common sense, but I did learn something very interesting: 

Turns out the problems is not all sugar:

The Problem is Fructose
In my research I found that the human digestive system hasn't changed all that much since the days of hunters and gatherers. If you think about what early humans actually ate, very little of it included fructose because every now and then someone might come across a blueberry bush and eat their fill, but it wasn't a part of the daily diet of the migratory human. As a result, when we eat things like protein and even complex carbs our stomach's send a hormone to our brains that tell us we are full--not so with fructose. This sugar can be ingested in large doses without telling our brains it is present; thus, we can eat large amounts of it without feeling full so not only does this excess turn straight to fat, but it makes our systems work overtime to try to process it. 

Turns out the human body is only created to digest about 10 grams of sugar a day.

To give you an idea of how out-of-wack our societal intake of sugar is, check out the amount of sugar in foods most of us consume on a daily basis:
One can of Coke: 39 grams
Two tablespoon of ketchup: 3.4 grams
Small McDonald's Cone: 20 grams
One ounce of BBQ Sauce: 8.4 grams
One banana: 17 grams

Breaking Free from my Addiction:
Now, if you're anything like me before I started reducing my intake, sugary treats are a part of your daily diet. I associated sweet treats with rewards and I, like most Americans, saw nothing wrong with treating myself to a Starbucks, pack of gummy bears, or a cookie here and there. But when I did the math and realized the amount of sugar ingesting was adding up to an absurd number, I thought I'd cut back... but that wasn't so easy.

When I only kind of gave up sugar I found myself craving it constantly. But when I made the commitment to totally give it up for eight weeks, I experienced a huge change in my body. I didn't feel as bloated, I started eating more natural foods (instead of "reduced fat" versions that are often filled with sugar to replace flavor), and noticed a major improvement in my allergies.

After the initial eight weeks, I started to diversify my veggie intake to make sure I'm getting the nutrients I need, but I'm limiting my fruit to one piece or two servings a day. The good news is I'm well past the 90-day mark and I'm eating better, feeling better, and I have VERY few cravings!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Ch...Ch...Changes on the blog

After a lot of deliberation, I decided to streamline my blog and rename it!

With the new name comes a new Facebook page! Please click to like to get my posts on your feed!

I hope you like it! Please let me know what you think!