Category Archives: Food

Food at the Center

As Americans, we think of food as something that should fill our belly and please our mouth. Sure, food should do both these things, but it seems like we underestimate the importance of nutrition. Food should also provide vitamins and nutrients – nourishment.

Do you like how I use we here – my seemingly passive aggressive way of saying other people? But, I don’t really mean other people, by we I mean me, the me I was in my 20s. I spent the first 25 years of my life with a vague recollection that broccoli was good for me. Clearly this post is all about the new me lecturing the old me. Good, now that we’ve got that out of the way…

When I was diagnosed with cancer, my gastro intestinal problems were so bad I was hardly eating. I was starving, malnourished. None of my doctors ever mentioned nutrition. The cancer video they showed in the chemo room only encouraged us to “treat” ourselves to our favorite sugary, fatty foods.

Research increasingly points to the link between nutritional deficiency and illness. A new study shows the lack of nutritional education at medical schools. Most schools don’t provide the recommended 25 hour minimum.

If doctors don’t talk to their patients about nutrition aren’t they leaving out an important part of healing? But where does nutrition fit in the already long and complex medical training?

Combine that lack of knowledge and information with the dismal state of hospital food and it seems like the medical system needs a Jamie Oliver-style cafeteria overhaul. Dr. Preston Maring might be the perfect candidate. He’s a gynecologist and obstetrician with three decades as a surgeon, who is well known as a former physician-in-chief at the Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Oakland. He’s established an organic farmer’s market outside the doors of the hospital

He believes that “… in the health professions, the kitchen must become as crucial as the clinic.” He believes that “Food is at the center of health and illness and so doctors must make all aspects of food — growing, buying, cooking, eating — a mainstay of their medical educations, their personal lives and their practices.” I think I love him.

He tries to make sure local fresh food is served at the hospital. He has a blog that offers advice and recipes. He even has a culinary road show he takes to health care institutions around the country. He’s got big plans, starting with getting doctors to eat healthier themselves.

I was lucky enough of find a nutritionist who revolutionized my eating habits and helped transform old me into the new, vegetable-pushing, overbearing blogger I’ve become today (so proud!). I’m grateful for her and I hope that other people fighting serious illnesses find someone, whether it’s a nutritionist, Dr Maring or another like-minded medical professional to help them find what they need.

Fructose is the New Gluten

Josie’s new doctor (my new hero) says that many kids with lactose intolerance are also unable to break down fructose. With a little Googling I discovered that fructose mal-absorption is associated with mood swings and mood disorders. Between eliminating the gastrointestinal discomfort of lactose intolerance and the moodiness of fructose intolerance things are really making more sense around here. This is revolutionary, truly.     

Fructose, a natural sugar found in fruits and included in many processed foods, has been more difficult than lactose to eliminate. Of course, it’s in fruit juice and high fructose corn syrup, but it’s also in products sweetened by fruit juice.

I noticed right away that fructose was the first ingredient in Josie’s multi-vitamin. Apparently we were giving her a nice little dose of crazy every morning to start the day. Super. As soon as I could I went to my co-op grocery and spent several hours (okay, minutes) reading children’s multi-vitamin labels, trying to find one that was fructose-free. Finally I found one that didn’t list fructose but did include a “natural berry flavor” and decided to give it a try. 

We skipped her vitamin completely for a few days. Then one Sunday morning I gave her this new vitamin. She was beet-red screaming, crying, grasping for air, within 15 minutes. I had to get in bed with her and rub her back to calm her down. Apparently, there can also be fructose in the ambiguous catch all: “natural flavors.”

The lack of transparency on food labels, and the experimentation method of determining ingredients reminds me of the early days of my gluten-intolerance. I’m going to tell you guys right now, this family, is on the leading edge of food intolerances. It’s one of my talents, one of my gifts if you will, spotting trends in exclusionary food diets. I’m warning you now, fructose, it’s the eliminated ingredient of the future. You heard it here first. Fructose is the new gluten.

PS – The results are in and HMN finished 2nd overall in the ‘Parenting category’ of the Best of Western Washington contest. I’m so pleased to be second! Really, thank you guys so so much. You’re the bestest. XOXO

Awash in Squash

Garden Update: first it was the broccoli, then the greens, now we’re awash in spaghetti squash. The vine took over the 4’x10’ bed then tried to crawl across the aisle and up the bean trellis. A few weeks ago I noticed that the vine had withered and died and I decided that even though they were still a little under-ripe it was time to bring them inside. I had 8 of them lined up along our kitchen counter.

I think we may hand a few out at Halloween. Here kid, have a giant under-ripe squash. Boo!

Or maybe we’ll hand out kale. The kale I planted in the spring never bolted, it’s still growing and producing. A few weeks ago, I thinned out a few plants but I still have three. They’re taller than I am. I tied their stalks loosely to stakes so they won’t blow over. I expect them to walk into the house and curl up next to the fire any day now.

Hey kid, would you like a Reese’s peanut butter cup or… a stalk of kale?

Anyway, what are you awash in this fall? Are you planning to grow anything over the winter?

Here’s one of my favorite spaghetti squash recipes. It’s kind of like lasagna only without noodles and with squash so really nothing like lasagna. Forget I said that. Of course, it’s gluten-free. I made a Josie a special dairy-free section without the cheese.

Recipe: Spaghetti Squash Gratin with Tomato Sauce


  • 1 2 lb spaghetti squash
  • 1 lb ground buffalo (or beef)
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 2 minced garlic cloves
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
  • 2 28oz cans whole tomatoes drained and chopped
  • 3 oregano sprigs
  • 3 thyme springs
  • 1/2 c grated Parmesan
  • 2 tsp chopped fresh oregano
  • 1 tsp chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 15oz carton ricotta


  1. Preheat oven to 400.
  2. Pierce squash with a fork and place it on a baking sheet. Bake for at least an hour or until tender. Cool. Cut squash in half lengthwise. Throw away the seeds and use a fork to remove spaghetti-like strands to measure 4 cups.
  3. Brown ground buffalo (or beef) in a frying pan.
  4. Heat olive oil in a large sauce pan over medium heat. Add garlic and cook for 2 minutes. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, crushed red pepper, tomatoes, oregano and thyme sprigs. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Discard oregano and thyme sprigs. Mix in browned buffalo, Parmesan, and remaining salt, pepper, oregano and thyme.
  5. Layer squash, tomato and buffalo mixture, and ricotta cheese in a 9×13 baking dish. Bake at 400 for 50 minutes.


Back in the spring when it was clear something was wrong in our house, when Josie started behaving like a colicky baby, waking up for two hours every night and screaming for two hours every day, I took her to a new pediatrician. He came highly recommended for complex cases and was considered to be fairly woo-woo. A friend told me he had a naturopathic physician in his office – my dream come true.

At our first appointment, he ordered more blood work, an EEG of the frontal lobe of her brain, and a breath tolerance test. The tests were going to be such a pain and I really didn’t think they were going to find anything. Here was an MD I respected who was taking my thoughts and concerns seriously and making suggestions and all I wanted to do was roll my eyes and say, an EEG, really?

The EEG was awful. It didn’t hurt her but I did have to hold her still for a long time then try to get her to fall asleep. The blood draw was hard to get. It took 3 visits and multiple tries. By the time we were done, Josie was crying, I was crying and I think the phlebotomist was on the verge.

When those tests came back normal, I decided we needed to take a break. The final piece, the breath tolerance test was supposed to take 3 hours and I just didn’t have it in me. A few months had passed when I finally decided to schedule it, not because I thought it would yield illuminating results, but because I wanted to see this doctor again and I didn’t feel like I could go back without following through with his recommendations.

So I started talking to Josie about the test a few days in advance. I explained that we’d go in the morning, that we wouldn’t have any breakfast, that she’d drink a glass of special juice, then breathe into the tube every 30 minutes for 2 and a half hours. They’d be able to tell by her breath if something (lactose) was giving her tummy ache. If she was unable to digest lactose they would find a level of hydrogen in her breath that would reach its peak after two hours – that’s why we had to stay so long.

We arrived the morning of the test, loaded down with bags of her favorites books and toys and a few snacks for when it was all over. We’d had three breath samples, and had been there for about an hour when the tech came out and told us we were done. We could go home.

But… Wait… I mean, we haven’t even touched the DVD’s yet. She’s only just now started rolling on the floor. We still have toys to play with. We’ve been pacing ourselves!

We were done. They sent us home after an hour because she’d already reached the top level, demonstrated the strongest reaction possible. They didn’t even want to see what happened when the level of gas in her tummy peaked at 2.5 hours.

Apparently our girl is totally off-the-charts lactose intolerant. You guys, I almost didn’t have her take the test because it was a hassle and because I didn’t think it was the real problem.

This is something I’ve had a problem with in the past. There are so many tests I wish I’d had. The things I could have learned – that I had endometriosis, that I was allergic to gluten, that I was B12 deficient. I should have let the doctors do their jobs. Here’s what I’m learning: when looking for the cause you’re bound to run into some dead ends, but you’ve got to go down those roads to see where they lead anyway because eventually, one of them may actually lead to a castle or a princess or a pony in a field, and I’ve always wanted a pony in a field.

Up Next

It’s raining and snotty here. The berries on our neighbor’s vines are all spent – no more cobbler. Josie was sick Monday and Tuesday and awake coughing and hacking into the night. Sailing season is over.

It would be a den of sadness over here if it weren’t for my sister-in-law’s visit from New Hampshire. Earlier this week we were walking through the grocery store with a certain, runny-nosed, three-year-old when I had a realization: it’s almost pomegranate season.

If you’re one of those people who hate pomegranates because they’re such a pain to eat, listen up. First, choose a fruit that’s heavy for its size. Then, when you get it home, fill a bowl with water. Cut into the skin with a knife and submerge the pomegranate. Separate the fruit from skin underwater. This keeps the juice from spurting all over your clothes. Once it’s dissected, the peel will float to the surface and the seeds will sink. You can scoop the skin off the top and dump the seeds into a strainer to let them dry. Put them in a container and store them in your fridge. I love them on yogurt and cereal.

You? How do you like your pomegranates?

Race Relations

We’re sitting in a gluten-free bakery/café last weekend waiting for our “pizza” and nothing-at-all-like-mac-and-cheese-but-still-kind-of-good dish (you know, that’s the key to gluten-free eating, just banish the thought of what it should taste like and you might really enjoy it). Anyway, the “pizza” crust held together by nutshells wasn’t really good but that’s a story for another time. We were relying on a completely stoned, dreadlocked barista who seemed overwhelmed by my Groupon, as if she hadn’t seen 2,000 of them already, and things were not looking good. The food was taking for-ev-er.

I use the word “sitting” loosely. Jose is alternating between hiding under a neighbor’s table playing peek-a-boo with strangers, and running down the long hall to the kitchen. Dining experiences need to be planned well in advance, prepared for with crayons and paper and toys and discussion. The restaurant should be kid friendly, the food fast, and no one should be hungry when the expedition first sets out. In short, it’s never a good idea for us Ellises to “stop in” anywhere for food, but we seem to need to re-learn that over and over. We are doing a pretty good job of disrupting everyone’s fine Sunday afternoon with our last minute decision to stop for lunch. Josie is somewhere in the general vicinity of our table when a black man sits nearby.

“Mommy, why is he brown?”

Silence… [shit]… I thought she was supposed to ask that question when she was, like, 4. Damn it kid, I have 1.25 years to prepare my answer to that question! Instead of coming up with a good response, I say, “Hey, let’s read this book together.” Smooth.

In the car many minutes later, I’m ready. I ask her what color her skin is. Brown.

What color is Mommy’s? White.

What color is Jada’s? Brown. Alyssa’s? Donnel’s? Etc. Brown, brown, brown.

I make a mental note to put the Josie Book on top of her pile of bedtime books so we can revisit the pictures of her infancy and her birth mother.

What color is your hair? Black.

What color is Mommy’s hair? You get the idea…

I say something like, well, your skin is brown because some of your ancestors, your grandparents’ grandparents’ grandparents, were from Africa. Mommy looks more like some of her ancestors who were from Norway.

She’s quiet for a minute. She stares out the window. Then: “Sometimes my ancestors… My ancestors, sometimes they blow bubbles for me.”


My vegetable beds have gone totally Darwinian – the squash, melons and cucumbers are all tangled up in each other, the kale is five feet tall, and the spaghetti squash vines have taken over one bed and are reaching over the aisle and climbing the green bean trellis. It’s scary out there.

Here’s the problem: I can’t throw away vegetable starts. I don’t do seeds unless they can be planted directly into the beds. When the season is right, I go to the local nursery and buy a variety of organic starts – whatever sounds good. This means I buy six or eight plants when I usually need about three or four.

Take kale for example, I bought a container of six, but when planted the recommended 18” apart I only had room for four. It seemed like there was so much empty space and the starts were so itty-bitty. I couldn’t just throw them away. I imagined my baby kale crushed in the yard waste bin. So, of course, I planted all of them about 12” apart and planned to thin out the smaller more sickly ones later. When that time came they were all so healthy and doing so well. How could I rip such a lovely food-producing plant out of the ground and throw it away? Do you see? This same thing happened with the onions, leeks, chard, kale, all manner of squash, celery, beans, and the lettuce. There’s some crazy shit going on out there.

So now, instead of broccoli, I am awash in chard and kale – greens, greens everywhere. I bring a cooler full to the Wednesday night sailing races and I walk around the parking lot, just me and my bunch of greens, pushing them on anyone who will take them. I add kale to everything – pea soup, stews, spaghetti, and, yes, it was not my proudest moment, but I even add them to tacos.

I’m constantly on the lookout for good greens recipes. I’m fond of a white bean and chard or kale soup and also Martha Stewart has an awesome recipe for brown rice and chard risotto, wrapped in a blanched chard leaf (like a burrito) and topped with tomato sauce. It’s great but exhausting to make.

My new favorite is this one. I substitute chard for spinach and it’s oh so good. Rice, onion, egg, chard and lots of cheese baked together? Really, you can’t go wrong.

Have you got any good greens recipes for me? Please, please help me with our chard consumption. I’m begging you.


Scenes from the weekend. Seriously? One measly crab and raindrops in the bucket? I’m not impressed, August, not impressed at all. 

It’s time for some randomness.

First, I’ve been listening to David Sedaris reading Barrel Fever while driving in my car. I’m in such a good mood all the time. I laugh at odd times, away from my car and alone. I think it’s his funniest work, and it’s so much better when he reads it aloud. Glenn’s Homophobia Newsletter. You Can’t Kill the Rooster. I just hear the titles and really don’t need to hear anything else.

Another thing that is bringing me great joy: Luna and Larry’s Coconut Bliss. I haven’t met an ice cream I liked this much in years. It’s made of coconut milk so if you’re not a fan, you probably won’t like it. If you do like coconut, try it, cappuccino in particular. Don’t let the dairy-free and sugar-free business fool you. It’s good.

The final thing that is making me happy… I recently survived my sister’s mattress quest. Oh, it was painful and drawn out for both of us. There were several calls and emails of links and me going no, no, no. We don’t want their special “green tea moisture reducer” or whatever other crap the mattress is treated with. Finally, with a little help from my good friend Google we found this place in Berkley that sells untreated kids’, inner spring mattresses for $400. It’s just a basic mattress with a natural flame barrier (wool) that still meets all government standards without chemicals. When I called they said they don’t advertise it because they make it themselves and she doesn’t think they could keep up with demand (?!). Seriously, anyone looking for a business idea? Here’s a red hot tip: make a cheap chemical-free kids mattresses. Doesn’t have to be organic, doesn’t have to be fancy, just chemical free. In the meantime, I’m not sure if these guys ship but it’s worth asking.

Have a lovely week!

Good News for Friday

No, it's not a cow, but it is a farm animal.

We need some good news around here (rain! more rain!), and guess what? I found some. The Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility reports that:

“Use of genetically engineered bovine growth hormone (rBGH) to induce more milk production in dairy cows reportedly has declined over the past few years. …the number of U.S. dairies using rBGH is now about 9 to 12 percent, down from 15.2 percent in 2007. The number of cows injected is 10 to 14 percent, down from 17.2 percent.”

We don’t want it, we don’t buy it, they stop using it, or they use less of it. Isn’t that wonderfully simple?

As for Rehydration…


After the most recent McDonalds debacle, orange drink is clearly out of the question (as if it wasn’t already, but oh how I used to love it!). The latest news involves lead found in juice and packaged fruits. Wednesday the Environmental Law Foundation “filed Notices of Violation of California Proposition 65 Toxics Right to Know law, alleging the toxic chemical lead was found in a variety of children’s and baby foods. The specific food categories included apple juice, grape juice, packaged pears and peaches (including baby food), and fruit cocktail.”

The complete list of lead contaminated juices includes brands I trust like Santa Cruz Organics and Trader Joe’s. The list also includes a few non-contaminated brands.

Josie doesn’t drink much juice because it seems to make her crazy – like jump on her trampoline while Mommy counts to 75 (one count per jump) then sing the alphabet song twice without stopping kind of crazy. Have I mentioned that we have a mini-trampoline in our living room? A few months ago I met with the coolest organizer/decorator in the world. Can you see us standing around, me with my notebook in hand to take down her brilliance, her rubbing her chin with index finger and thumb (she wouldn’t do that but just play along). We move furniture, we reconfigure, we solve all the problems of the room then… Hey, you know what would look great right here? A mini-tramp, yeah, one with blue padding around the edge decorated with green frogs and a giant foam handle. Just far enough from the fireplace that if she falls, she won’t hit her head but close enough to the kitchen… Yes, right here in the center, let me just move this coffee table out of the way, OMG its perfect!

Moving on… We try to eat unprocessed whole foods and this is just one more case for that. Packaging and processing can cause all kinds of trouble. But what’s a child to drink? I’m going to put Josie on an all-water, retrieved from pure mountain streams, rehydration plan. She will drink this pure-mountain-stream water only from a stainless steel cup, scratch that, she will drink only from her cupped hands, her cupped hands washed with organic handmade soap and air dried. And the stream will be high in the mountains, no scratch that, she will drink only melted fresh mountain snow from organic-soap-washed, cupped hands. Then I will obtain a sheep and I will dress her in clothes made of wool. She will only eat lettuce from the garden. Bathing will become unnecessary. If you need me, I’ll be in the forest, gathering sticks and fallen branches to whittle into shoes.