Three Bean Chili Snow Day (and a bonus meal prep video)

George Lucas, “Ready for the Snow”

It’s a good weekend to make up a big pot of Forks Over Knives‘ “Three Bean Chili.” I saw the recipe handouts in the lobby of The Gathering Place and snagged one for sharing here on the blog.

Ingredients:

  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 8 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder (or to taste, if you’re a bit of a chili wimp, like me)
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  •  1-1/2 cups tomato sauce
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 (15 oz) cans pinto beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 (1 oz) can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 (15 oz) can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 (28 oz) can diced tomatoes
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • optional bunch of kale or green bell peppers, diced

Directions:

  1. Saute’ onion in a large pot over medium heat for 8 minutes. Add water 1-2 tablespoons at a time, as needed, to keep the onion from sticking. Add the garlic, cumin, chili powder and cayenne pepper. Cook for 1 minute.
  2. Add tomato sauce, tomato paste, all beans, diced tomatoes and four cups of water. Cook for 20-25 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

(I know I’ve recommended the Forks Over Knives recipe app before, but this seems a logical time to recommend it again. It’s just $4.99 up front, and new recipes are added almost weekly!)

 

Our household is leaning toward veganism, and one of our favorite sources for easy, creative, flavorful recipes to try is Rachel Ama’s Youtube channel. She doesn’t use a lot of fancy equipment or hard-to-find ingredients, which makes the whole process much less intimidating. In the video below, she whips up three delicious winter-ready recipes that could actually make the basis for a good meal prep plan this week. I’ll include links to the individual recipes below the video, but do yourself a favor and watch the video. She’s a hoot. And trust me on this: you won’t miss meat or dairy one little bit when you’re chowing down on these meals.

 

Chili Ginger & Quinoa Stir Fry

Butterbean Stew

Vegan Shepherd’s Pie

 

Paddles up!

Did you know that, for the last nine years, The Gathering Place has sponsored a dragon boat team comprised of cancer survivors and their supporters (caregiver, family, friend)? How cool is that? The team practices one evening each week during the summer, and competes in the annual Cleveland Dragon Boat Festival. (The video above was taken* at this year’s festival on the Black River in Lorain, Ohio. [*Thanks Chris Groman!])(Also, thanks Beth Bennett for almost all of the photos below!)

Dragon boat racing is an ancient Chinese sporting tradition that has become increasingly popular in the west over the last 30 or 40 years. In 1996, a Canadian sports doctor named Donald McKenzie recognized its healing potential for breast cancer patients and survivors and started a team for them, “Abreast in a Boat.” In an article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal in 1998, McKenzie explained:

“In many ways, (dragon boating) is an ideal exercise (for breast cancer patients and survivors). It is non-weight-bearing and therefore is associated with a lower risk of injury than weight-dependent activities such as running. It is safe, and with proper technique the paddler can recruit a reasonable amount of muscle mass and induce positive adaptations in the musculoskeletal and cardiovascular systems. It uses predominantly upper extremity and trunk muscles, and the improvement in strength has a carry-over effect to day-to-day activity. The training intensity can be varied simply by pulling harder.”

The Gathering Place “DragonFlys” are coached primarily by fitness trainer Michael Ciccarello and the Gathering Place’s registered dietician and physical therapist, Beth Bennett. The team(s) meets for practice on the Cuyahoga River every Wednesday evening, June through August, launching from Merwin’s Wharf in Cleveland’s Flats district. After practice, many paddlers stick around for refreshment at the restaurant, or at nearby Sainato’s. Team DragonFlys fill two boats – female survivors in one, and supporters (and some survivors) in the other – and spends the summer preparing for the annual Cleveland Dragon Boat Festival, where we finally get to race against other area teams.

At this year’s festival on the Black River, both DragonFly teams improved their 250 meter race time with every heat, and the survivor boat took home this year’s cancer division trophy! (Ok, we had the only full survivor boat in that division this year, but we earned it!) At the conclusion of the official races, DragonFly Survivors scrimmaged with the visiting Kentucky Thoroughbreasts (a team of both survivors and support staff from the organization), trading some teammates and paddling tips just for fun!

 

Dragon-boating is “serious fun.” The team works hard to develop proper paddling technique, endurance, and timing (a boat full of out-of-sync paddlers resembles what one coach memorably described as a “drunken caterpillar”), but also shares a lot of laughter and encouragement. Workouts on the river build strength, confidence, and camaraderie. If you’re struggling a bit with mindfulness or concentration, dragon boating leaves you no choice but to focus on the moment – listening to the instructions from the tiller (who steers the boat) and the count from the drummer, watching the pacers… If your mind wanders, you’re soon out of sync with your teammates and the dreaded drunken caterpillar commandeers the boat!

Don’t be shy! Fully half of this year’s team was comprised of new-to-the-sport paddlers. Some had only recently completed treatment! If you’re intrigued, continue to watch this space: some of the DragonFlys are plotting to gather for off-season/land-based fitness training and we’ll share that info here. And as soon as next year’s orientation session is scheduled, we’ll publish that here, as well.

“Are you ready? Attention please! Paddles up! Go!!!!!”

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A few articles about the Gathering Place DragonFlys:

And a couple more about our friendly “rivals,”* the Dragon Dream Team from Akron! (*just kidding about the rivalry; they smoke us every time we meet… But we have a great time!)

Step away from the “TV dinner” aisle…

(Are they still called “TV dinners?”)

If you’ve taken the “Healthy Weigh” class at The Gathering Place, or consulted with the Registered Dietician about your nutrition, or even if you just follow this blog, the results of this study in the British Medical Journal will not surprise you. But it might help you stay on the whole, fresh, unprocessed foods path when your feet are headed for the convenience aisle!

Using diet data reported by nearly 105,000 participants in a large, ongoing nutrition study, researchers found that the more “ultra-processed” foods an individual ate, the more likely they were to develop cancer. In fact, “a 10% increase in the proportion of ultra-processed foods in the diet was associated with significant increases of 12% in the risk of overall cancer and 11% in the risk of breast cancer.”

The researchers defined ultra-processed foods as “mass produced packaged breads and buns; sweet or savoury packaged snacks; industrialised confectionery and desserts; sodas and sweetened drinks; meat balls, poultry and fish nuggets, and other reconstituted meat products transformed with addition of preservatives other than salt (for example, nitrites); instant noodles and soups; frozen or shelf stable ready meals; and other food products made mostly or entirely from sugar, oils and fats, and other substances not commonly used in culinary preparations such as hydrogenated oils, modified starches, and protein isolates.”

In the “Discussion” section of their paper, the authors speculate on the reasons behind this association between ultra-processed foods and cancer. For example, ultra-processed foods tend to be low in fiber and stripped of protective micronutrients. They also contain numerous additives, some of which are suspected of being carcinogenic. Even the packaging may contain carcinogens. The authors note that more specific research is needed, but the evidence is increasingly in favor of a diet that emphasizes fresh, whole, unprocessed foods.

We all need fast and convenient meals sometimes. But they don’t always have to come out of sealed, plastic trays! I made this Thai chicken-cashews-veggies “sheet pan” dinner the other night, swapping Gardein “chicken” in place of the real stuff. It was a big hit in the household – in fact, there were no leftovers to pack for lunch the next day! (And that was a big pan!)  This week we’ll be trying Honey Roasted Carrots & Parsnips With Quinoa & Arugula.

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You’ve heard about the importance of weight management and physical activity from the Healthy Weigh class, but did you hear it from your doctors?

Despite mounds of evidence demonstrating that weight management and physical activity improve cancer outcomes, and that obesity increases the likelihood of recurrence, this information does not always find its way from scientific journals to the patients who need to hear it. To address this problem, the National Cancer Policy Forum (NCPF) of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine hosted a workshop on translating the evidence into practical information for clinical practice and community-education. This article describes the workshop, and includes a review and summary of the many studies they discussed. There’s also an important discussion of the barriers that keep this information from patients:

Several factors currently limit the ability to deliver weight management and PA programs to all cancer survivors who need them. These barriers exist at multiple levels. …[They] include factors such as high costs, lack of geographic access to these programs, or lack of knowledge or motivation of how to change health behaviors. These may be compounded by barriers at the level of the clinician, such as lack of clinician comfort with discussing weight with patients or lack of knowledge of which intervention to refer or prescribe, as well as competing demands for time in the clinical encounter. Finally, barriers at the level of the health care system and the environment present further challenges; for example, a lack of prioritization of PA, weight management, or disease prevention in general; a lack of insurance coverage for lifestyle change programs; or the obesogenic environment.

The workshop identified three challenges that must be overcome to consistently get weight management and physical activity information to patients: (1) research is needed to identify which interventions will work best for survivors of different cancer types (and given other life and health circumstances); (2) research is needed to determine how best to deliver the education/exercise interventions to patients (e.g., through the clinic, or through community programs such as LiveStrong, etc.); (3) more evidence and targeted research is needed to convince insurers to cover these programs.

(Hey, clients of The Gathering Place have access to weight management education and exercise classes for free! How awesome is that?!)

“Moosewood Restaurant Simple Suppers” – $1.99!

I don’t know how long this deal will last, so grab it while you can: right now on Amazon (and also Barnes & Noble [Nook Book format], and Google Play) you can download a copy of “Moosewood Restaurant Simple Suppers: Fresh Ideas for the Weeknight Table,” for just $1.99. Moosewood recipes are historically terrific – whole, healthy foods, predominantly vegetarian, non-intimidating. You don’t need to have a Kindle to read Kindle books; you can also put the app on your computer/laptop/smartphone. Report back in the comments below if you try some of these recipes!

Holiday Hurdles

It’s easy to get tripped up on your 80/20 path over the holidays. If you work in an office, or are visiting family or friends, chances are you’ll be confronted with a lot of sugar-laden, high (refined) carb treats and “comfort foods,” and not all that many healthy options. Don’t beat yourself up for indulging, but do try to plan ahead a little bit. Perhaps you can sip a mug of broth or miso soup before heading out. Or munch some fiber-rich veggies to help offset the hunger pangs that make those holiday treats easy to overdo.

Or contribute this healthy “mac and cheese” casserole to your next gathering! RD Beth at The Gathering Place provided the link, and said the recipe is a big hit in her family; she made it for Thanksgiving! Ten minutes prep time, 40 minutes cook time, and just 350 calories per serving. “Simple, creamy, homemade goodness,” according to Lindsay, creator of PinchofYum.com.

Why are those “comfort foods” so “comforting,” anyway? According to this article from Psychology Today (thanks to RD Beth for the link), comfort foods (which tend to be high in fat, sugar, and sometimes salt) activate the “reward” centers in our brain; that makes us feel good! That also makes these foods feel soothing when we are depressed or anxious. In addition, certain foods help us feel connected to family and traditions, which is “comforting” when we’re disconnected by distance or other kinds of separations. Likewise, certain flavors and aromas activate pleasant memories for us. And finally, we often associate “special,” sometimes unhealthy foods with special occasions. The good news is that a diet rich in fresh, fiber-filled fruits and vegetables, legumes, and other lean proteins will actually help us resist the charms of comfort food!

Another holiday tip: I’ve been making some – shall we say – less than optimal food choices in recent months because of a complicated schedule and failure to pack along smart snack foods to get me through long intervals between meals. So I have begun trying to set aside a couple of hours on Saturday or Sunday evening to practice “batch cooking.” It helps to have access to a freezer, but many batch-cooked meals and snacks can be stashed in your ‘fridge for at least a week. Here are two of my inspirations: vegan breakfasts and snacks, by Sadia of PickUpLimes, and these high-protein batch meals by Gaz, of Avantgarde Vegan. As you can tell from these links, I’m aiming for an increasingly vegan diet, but that’s just my choice. You might choose to incorporate dairy, or some lean animal proteins, but you can still use these ideas as a springboard for your own creative make-ahead concoctions!

Exercise Incentive

You know you’ve heard this somewhere before – maybe on this blog, or from RD Beth at The Gathering Place, and/or (hopefully!) from your doctors. But it can’t hurt to hear it again, from this newly published article: “Mounting evidence suggests that weight management and physical activity improve overall health and well being, and reduce the risk of morbidity and mortality among cancer survivors.” Or this one published late last year, which found that exercise significantly reduces the risk of recurrence and mortality from breast, colorectal, and prostate cancer.

If you have the option to move more and just haven’t been able to kick yourself into gear, or if you’re coming through a treatment tunnel and starting to plot your recovery, talk with your docs about how to safely increase your physical activity. Then check the activity calendar at The Gathering Place, or look for a Livestrong exercise program (specifically geared for cancer patients and survivors) near you.

Herbs and Spices

 

One of the myths or fears held by newcomers to plant-based eating and cooking is that everything will taste bland. It’s ironic, when you think about it, because the first thing most people do to their meats before, during, and after cooking is add spices of various kinds (“barbecue rubs,” etc.) to punch up the flavor! And where do herbs and spices come from? Plants!

Still, figuring out what pairs with what, and the proper amounts to use, can be intimidating. It never hurts to do a little reading before you dive in. To that end, check out these two nifty resources. CookSmart’s Ultimate Infographic Guide to Spices describes the flavor of many different spices and spice-blends, and tells you which kinds of produce and proteins they work best in or on, how they are best used (e.g., in sauces, soups, curries, etc.), and with which other spices they pair best. The three pages of infographics are available in a free download; you just have to register for an email list to get it. (From which you can, of course, unsubscribe if it proves unworthy of your time!)

The always-informative Rebecca Katz gives a nice overview of “global flavorprints,” in this article – so you can see which spices contribute to the characteristic flavors of your favorite global cuisines. She also provides a useful rule of thumb for cook-rookies, or slow learners like myself: “Spices go in at the BEGINNING of your cooking and herbs go in at the END.” Mind. Blown.

One thing I have learned is that dried spices and herbs have a “shelf life.” If you’ve got herbs and spices in your cabinet that are over two years old, it’s best to toss them and start over. (If you have a compost bin, put ’em there. If you have indoor plants to water, add the old spices and herbs to the water for a nourishing Old Spice Plant Tea :). The spouse and I did a kitchen cabinet purge and found spices that were at LEAST fifteen years old!!!) Older spices and herbs begin to lose their flavor. And a professional cook told me that older herbs absorb more of your recipe’s fluids than you realize. As a result, you won’t get a true sense of the flavor or texture you’re aiming for!

Jack of all fruits

Jackfruit image, thanks to Wikipedia Commons.

A couple months ago, I saw a pile of jackfruits at the Giant Eagle store near where I work. They looked magnificent, interesting, and a little intimidating. I moved on.  Then I came across a recipe for vegetarian pulled-“pork” barbecue, made from CANNED jackfruit, and – with a family reunion/potluck on the horizon – I decided to revisit the issue.

I’m a little late to the jackfruit party.  NPR did a story on their super-food potential a few years ago.  And I guess I should have kept up my subscription to Vegetarian Times.  For those who didn’t grow up eating and cooking with them: Jackfruit is a huge, “meaty” fruit that grows in tropical climates.  It’s loaded with protein, calcium, iron, vitamins A, C, B6, B12, and even magnesium. And it has the magical property of taking on the flavors around it – which makes it terrific in soups, stews… and barbecues!  If you’re ambitious, watch this video to learn how to prepare jackfruit yourself. Or buy it canned, like I did.  If you’re using it as a meat substitute, get the kind packed in water or brine, not syrup. Dump the jackfruit into a colander to rinse the brine, and then just pull the large chunks apart and add to your recipe.

I made the jackfruit barbecue for my family reunion so that I would have something to eat while the carnivores consumed various forms of roast beast. To my delight, several of them liked my veggie barbecue as much as they liked my dad’s pulled pork version.

And last night I made a yummy tikka masala with it, adapting this recipe to the stovetop (since I didn’t need to pressure cook the jackfruit), and swapping out the chicken for jackfruit.

As your expand your plant-based nutrition repertoire, give jackfruit a try!

Choose Wisely

If you’re like me (and maybe some dragon boaters I know) and enjoy the occasional locally brewed ale or other (alcoholic) libation, here is a reminder that – at least for breast cancer prevention – moderation is key:

A 2017 report produced by the World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research pooled data from 16 studies looking at the connection between alcohol and premenopausal breast cancer and another 15 studies that examined the connection between alcohol and postmenopausal breast cancer. The report states that women who drank one alcoholic drink per day had a 5 percent increased risk of developing premenopausal breast cancer while postmenopausal women who drank one alcoholic drink per day had a 9 percent increased risk of developing breast cancer.

Here is the latest Continuous Update Project report on cancer prevention and survival by the American Institute for Cancer Research and the World Cancer Research Fund. The “let’s get to the point” risk factor summaries are on pages 12 and 13. While alcohol consumption is implicated in both pre- and post-menopausal breast cancer, note that the evidence goes from “probable” to “convincing” for post-menopausal women.

I just had my biannual check-in with my oncology nurse practitioner, and she said she’s urging her patients to restrict alcohol intake to three or fewer servings each week (where a serving is defined as 12 ounces of beer or 5 ounces of wine). Choose your libations wisely, my friends!