Monday, November 30, 2009

Another mid-week meal for busy families

Quincy’s black bean quesadillas:

6-8 8” tortillas (soft)
½ buttercup squash (bake cut side down for 30 min or so at 400
2-4 cloves garlic
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 ½ cups cooked black beans
Handful of fresh spinach or swiss chard, chopped
Fresh cilantro (optional)
2 cups grated cheese

Bake squash and scrape out flesh.

Saute onion and garlic for 5 minutes. Add squash and sauté ‘til warm (another 5 minutes or so.) Season with sea salt and pepper. Remove from heat.

Spread ¼ cup of the squash mixture on half of the tortilla, top with a sprinkling of black beans, then a bit of cheese, then chard or spinach, finish with a bit more cheese and the cilantro if using. Fold the empty side over the layered side, press gently. Repeat with remaining tortillas.

To cook:
Either brown them in a fry pan (a few minutes each side until lightly browned) or cook them on the BBQ on low-to-medium heat (watch carefully).

Using a pizza wheel, cut each tortilla into thirds. Serve with all of your favourite Mexican sides (salsa, guacamole) and carrot-cabbage salad (recipe below).

Some tips:
Bake your squash ahead of time and freeze the flesh. Then all you need to do is thaw it before getting your fillings going.

Try replacing the squash with sweet potato (baked or boiled)

Try feta or mild chevre (soft goat’s cheese) instead of cheddar or mozzarella.

Soak and boil black beans from dried for more flavour and texture (I find the canned a little mushy). It's easy, just soak 1-2 cups of dried beans overnight in plenty of cold water. Drain, add fresh water to cover by a couple of inches. Bring to a boil and simmer 'til cooked to your liking (an hour or so). Freeze extras so you always have them on hand.

Carrot & cabbage slaw

2 cups grated carrots (use the bigger holes on your box grater)
2 cups grated red cabbage (I use a flat cheese slicer to make my cabbage thin and ribbony)
Toss this with basic dressing (see below).

1/3 cup olive oil
2T cider vinegar or white wine vinegar
11/2 T maple syrup
1/2 t salt
ground pepper

Before serving, squeeze half a lemon over the slaw and add the zest of one lemon. (Hint: zest before squeezing - it's much easier.)

Walnuts are yummy sprinkled over too.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Cell phones and radiation -- things you should know!

We have all heard about cell phone safety when it comes to driving. But few people know there is a new body of research looking into a different kind of cell phone safety, namely the potential health effects of using cell phones. As it turns out cell phones emit radiation (I had no idea) and because many people have the devices stuck to their ears for hours on end some scientists are concerned that our bodies might be receiving more radiation than is safe or healthy.

There is much research yet to be done, but preliminary data from several reports points to increased occurrence of brain tumors and salivary gland tumors in people who have used cell phones for 10 years or longer. Other reports link behavioral problems in children to cell phone use.
If you have your doubts consider this: Last month Maine’s House and Senate voted to approve for consideration a bill that would require all cell phones and their packaging to carry a warning label, advising children and pregnant women to keep the device away from their heads and bodies.
The National Cancer Institute in the U.S. says that although studies have not shown any consistent link between cellular telephone use and cancer, scientists feel that additional research is needed before firm conclusions can be drawn. (Did you catch the word “consistent”?)

So while scientists are researching away, many government agencies in Europe are busy making recommendations for children to avoid using cell phones and for everyone else go looking for devices with the lowest radiation output.

Until manufacturers are required to label the phone’s radiation output be thankful that the Environmental Working Group (EWG) has measured the output for us. They tested over a thousand devices currently on the market (in the U.S.) and have ranked them by radiation. You can search for you phone, PDA or smart phone in their online database to see where it ranks. The database is also a helpful tool if you’re looking at getting a new phone. You can search the database at

EWG also developed some simple guidelines for how we can all be safer with our cell phones (from a radiation perspective). Download their guide to safe cell phone use at the web address above. In the meantime, here are some of the highpoints of EWG’s recommendations:

• Buy a low-radiation phone. Look up your phone, or search for a new phone, in their guide. (Check under your battery for the model number.)
• Use a headset or speaker. A headset emits much less radiation than your phone and using speaker phone mode keeps that radiation away from your head.
• Less radiation is emitted when your texting compared to talking, and texting keeps the radiation away from your head.
• Stay off the phone if you don’t have a strong signal. Your phone will emit even more radiation when it’s working hard to get the signal to the tower.
• Limit children’s phone use. Young children’s brains absorb twice the cell phone radiation as an adult’s.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A quick, healthy meal for busy families

It's easy to feed your family healthy delicious meals from scratch when you have a stack of great recipes that are quick and easy to prepare. If you want to try this one, be sure to put the brown rice on to cook before you start preparing the stew.

Chickpea stew with tomatoes
Serves 4-6

1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic
1 ½ t cumin seeds
1 T grated fresh ginger
3 tomatoes, chopped or a cup of tomato sauce (chunky)
1 t ground coriander
1 t ground cumin
1 t tumeric
1 t salt
Pinch of red pepper flakes
¼ t cardamom seeds, ground
3 cups cooked chick peas
1 cup water or broth
4 T chopped cilantro

Heat 2 T oil in a good sized pot or sauté pan. Add cumin seeds and sauté for a few seconds. Add onion, ginger and garlic. Saute until onion is soft. Add tomatoes and remaining ingredients (except cilantro) and cook until bubbling.

Serve over brown rice and sprinkle with cilantro.

Quick tip:
Try cooking your own chick peas from dried and you’ll never go back; the flavour and texture are addictive. I cook a big batch and freeze them so I always have them on hand instead of relying on canned.

Here’s how:
Soak 2 cups of dried chick peas overnight in lots of cold water. Drain in the morning, cover with more cold water, bring to a boil and simmer until cooked to your liking (you may have to add more water along the way). If your beans are fresh this should take no more than an hour.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Be careful with plastics

I have a love-hate relationship with plastic. It has simplified our lives in many ways but we’d all be better off with less of it in our lives. Avoiding plastics altogether is practically impossible (and may be not necessary) though there are some kinds of plastics that you really should get out of your life.

Plastics are graded by type using a number system established by the plastics industry. The numbers that you see inside the recycling triangle represent what poly-this-or-that the particular plastic is made of (ex. polyethylene, polyvinyl, polypropylene). These numbers make it easier for recycling facilities to sort them.

Plastics with the numbers one, two and five are the plastics that you can recycle in the blue bins. Pop bottles are made of number one plastic, a grade that is one of the easiest to recycle. Health Canada is taking a closer look at this grade though since it hit the market without a full safety assessment. Number two plastic is a little heavier (milk jugs). My go-to book “Ecoholic” rates it as “Not a bad plastic, compared to the others.” Likewise number five plastic isn’t considered too bad. You’ll find this number on yogurt containers.

There are two plastics that you want to rid your life of. One is PVC, or vinyl (graded as number three). It is toxic when manufactured, off-gasses throughout its life, and is everywhere, from vinyl shower curtains to some brands of plastic wrap and some children’s toys. If ever there was an evil plastic this is it. PVC products often have softeners added to make them more pliable or clingy. This kind of plastic has that distinctive “new toy” smell caused by phthalates, which are potential hormone disruptors and thought to be carcinogenic. PVC has also been found to increase breast cancer risk.

The other plastic to avoid (for food and drink) is number seven. This is the plastic that contains the chemical bisphenol A, the hormone disruptor that the federal government has banned from baby bottles. Unfortunately it is also in the plastic that lines most packaged food cans.

Since plastics aren’t stamped with safe use guidelines here are a few tips:
• When a plastic is labeled microwave safe it doesn’t mean it isn’t harmful to your health. It only means that it shouldn’t melt when heated. To be safe don’t heat food in plastic containers, no matter what number is stamped on it. Chemical leaching is intensified when the plastic is heated.
• Avoid plastic wrap if possible. If you just can’t give it up, at least don’t use it in the microwave. Instead, use a lid or failing that a dish towel.
• Any plastics that you use for food should have the numbers one, two or five on them (inside the recycling symbol). These are the food-safe numbers. Items marked with these numbers are also recyclable. Don’t put food or drink in any containers marked with the number seven.
• Rid your house of soft plastic bath toys and vinyl shower curtains.