mmmmmmm mustard

I’m a mustard addict. Hardcore. It’s odd if I don’t consume mustard at some point, everyday. I’ll eat it on anything. I’m not against ketchup, but I only like it mixed in with other condiments, like mayonnaise. And more mustard. Growing up, I used to eat a lot of mustard and cheese sandwiches. While everyone was pouring ketchup all over their eggs and hash browns, I was using spicy mustard.


I still eat mustard on my eggs, but now that I have to avoid most diary products and gluten, I’ve had to research the best gluten and dairy free mustards because a lot of spicy flavored mustards have hidden ingredients and a LOT of sugar. One of my absolute favorites happens to be a local mustard made in Pittsford, NY by the Karma Sauce Co. My first brush with their garlic mustard happened while eating sausage at Swans Market last summer. I bought them out of every jar that week.

The Karma Sauce Co makes three kinds of mustard: garlic (my fav), chipolte (my second fav), cold process (my third fav). What’s awesome about their mustards is they are made with very few ingredients and no refined sugar. (When sweetener is added, they use maple syrup or raw honey.) My rule of thumb with condiments and processed foods is the shorter the ingredient list is, the better. I aim for 5 ingredients or less. The garlic mustard has water, apple cider vinegar, whole grain brown mustard seed, granulated garlic, salt, and black pepper. The only down side of mustard is it is often high in sodium, although given how little processed foods I eat, I rarely worry about sodium. Still, something to keep in mind.

A quick online search on the benefits of mustard was a enlightening–mustard aids in digestion (much needed!), is anti-inflammatory, high in antioxidants, speeds up metabolism, lowers blood pressure, and can be beneficial in reducing the frequency of migraines (which I have had at least twice a month since I was 11.)

They also have amazing sauces with different heat indexes and I love how much they use butternut squash in all of them. I’m thinking I need to try their kats’up. Maybe it will convert me to a ketchup lover.



the habit loop: research on changing your habits

I’ve become very curious about how we develop habits–the good kinds and the bad kinds. My good friend Meredith researches nutrition and pregnancy at Cornell University, and after reading my blog post yesterday,  she sent me a few research articles on developing habits. I’m in the process of reading through them, and I’m learning a lot about what habits are and how we form them. So, I thought I’d share a wee bit of what I’m learning about the science of habit formation and the practical things we can do to develop new habits, particularly in relation to food.

In a nutshell: A habit is a pattern of behavior that we engage in without thinking about it. Habits allow our brains to save mental energy, thereby reserving more energy for performing more complicated tasks. Research has demonstrated that our brain helps us determine when to let a habit kick in rather than letting decision-making guide our behaviors. Research out of Duke University suggests that 40% of the actions we take every day are not “decisions” but habits. 40%! I thought I had far less habits than that but I guess when I think about what I do every day, most of the routine stuff happens on automatic pilot.

One of the articles explores Charles Duhigg’s New York Times best seller The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and BusinessThe gist of the book is that if we can understand our habits, we can break old ones and make new ones. Duhigg’s says this requires that we understand the three-step habit loop. I made this little diagram for y’all to keep in mind when you’re thinking about the habits you have:


The habit loop has 3 steps:
Step 1: the cue
*The cue is that “trigger” that tells your brian to go into automatic mode: to use a habit (rather than a decision-making process) in response to the situation you are in.

Step 2: routine
*The routine is the physical behavior, mental reaction/way of thinking, or the emotional response that is performed in response to the cue.

Step 3: reward
*The reward “helps the brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering” for future situations.

The argument goes that loops become even more automatic with time; the cue and reward “become increasingly linked to create a powerful sense of anticipation” so that a craving is created. The result: a habit is formed. Once something becomes a habit, your brain no longer fully participates in the decision-making. Unless you fight the habit, an automatic response will occur. Duhigg argues that the goal of changing habits is changing these automatic response patterns we’ve developed.

Soooooo, how exactly do we do this? Duhigg argues that we can alter our habits if we take specific steps to mess with our automatic responses. He suggests the following 4 steps, which I’ll explain here in relation to my own habits eating sugar:

Step 1: Identify the routine or behavior you want to change
I want to stop eating refined sugar when I am craving it. I want to stop drinking wine 4-5 nights a week. 

Step 2: Experiment with rewards: Try different rewards when you have a craving and write down your feelings after you have rewarded yourself.
I haven’t listed out my possible rewards for refined sugar, but avoiding wine at night: I’ve been “rewarding” myself with cups of herbal tea and sweet oranges.

Step 3: Isolate the cue.
Research suggests that common cues for habitual behavior are: location, time, emotional state, who else is around, and the action immediately preceding the cue. Paying attention to these cues is key.
Taking Duhigg’s suggestion, I’m going to write down what these 5 cues are for me every time I have a craving for sugar for a week, starting today. This might help me develop a better understanding of what cues my habitual behavior. 

Step 4: Have a plan.
Duhigg suggests that plans are important, and I couldn’t agree more. Planning meals ahead when you have food intolerances is key. If you know you have a craving or a habit at the same time every day, plan to reward yourself by doing something different at that same time. (i.e. I want to drink wine in the evening. Instead, I reach for tea instead of wine at that time.) Over time, you’ll begin to forget about the old habits and begin to develop new routines and better habits.
My current plan: Keep up with the fruit and herbal tea routine at the same time in the evening when I would rather drink a glass of wine. 

I’m really excited to see if I go about being very deliberate about breaking my sugar habit, what other habits I will discover in the process and what new habits I will create. Trying Duhigg’s approach feels more structured to me, which I need right now in my life, given how hectic my semester is. What I’m most curious about is how I justify having sugar when I want it. I think paying attention to 2 & 3 will be key for me.

If you join me in this endeavor, let me know what kind of success you have!


making and breaking habits

i’ve been thinking a lot about habits: how we form them, how we make them and keep them. the 30-day challenge i did with my gym in january made me realize how much i love having sugar in my life. it was really hard to avoid it completely, especially when i was stressed out. it was relatively easy to drink less alcohol and coffee, but sugar kept sucking me back in; when i was sick, when i was drained, when i was feeling like i “deserved” something. it was almost creepy how i justified it, despite trying to keep less sugar as my goal.


i saw this idea on pinterest the other day: the idea that it takes 21 days for form a habit. i’m a bit skeptical that it only takes 21 days to make something a habit. (a quick online search: the 21 day thing is considered a myth.) however, it didn’t take very long for me to form the habit of starting my day with green tea instead of coffee. plus, i love neon colored post-it notes, so i’m gonna give it a go with sugar again.

these are my first 21 days without sugar:


my goal is to remove one post-it every day until i’ve managed to not eat sugar for 21 days. i haven’t gone that long without sugar in over 2 years. i want to be able to get to day 22 and want to keep going. i realize this completely conflicts with my desire to make the perfect brownie in 2013, so maybe on day 22, i can try making a perfect brownie without refined sugar and take a bite and give the rest away.

in other news, i’m visiting a slaughter house tomorrow as part of my work with high school girls and food. i was told we could see the kill floor. i’m prepared to return from the experience convinced i need to return to being a vegetarian.

i’m bringing my camera because we have permission to take pictures and film. check back later this week for the highlights. er, maybe the low-lights.

throw it all in


*i’ve been making stews on sunday to eat during my busy week

*yesterday, i decided to just throw whatever i found into the pot and see what happened

*i think it turned out pretty tasty

*recipe below: feel free to adjust to whatever you have in your kitchen. i usually use quinoa but decided to use a black rice i bought that comes from canada–nutty and high and protein.


throw it all in stew

1 tbl olive oil
1 red onion, chopped
1/2 fennel bulb, chopped
*heat olive oil and add onion and fennel. stir till onion softens

1 tbls curry powder
1 tbls cumin
1 tsp oregano
1 small can tomato paste
*add spices and paste to onion and fennel. mix and stir for 1 minute

1 pint stewed tomatoes (i use my mom’s canned tomatoes, but any will do)
14 ounces broth (chicken or veggie)
2 sweet potatoes, chopped
1 cup black or brown rice (i cook the rice before i make the stew, only because the black rice i use takes a while to cook.)
*combine rest, stir and simmer until potatoes soften. season with salt and pepper to taste.





paleo fried chicken


*one aspect of my amazing job is that i have the privilege of working with amazing middle and high school kids from the inner city. we are currently in the process of making a documentary film about meat: where it comes from, how it impacts our health, who gets to access grass-fed meat and who only has access to conventionally-raised factory-farmed meat, and what the health benefits are  to eating one over the other. we spent a lot of time talking about what we eat, why we eat it, where it comes from. i’ve learned so much about my girls–what they love to eat, their community connections to food, why they love the food they do, why the are frustrated with what they are given in their school cafeteria (and how it’s not real food).

*they get really excited when i tell them i’m going to bring in food for them to try that they’ve never had before. over the last 4 weeks, i’ve brought in: 7 different types of oranges (i was giddy so many of them loved my favorite blood oranges); alternative milks (they loved coconut, almond and rice milks–hated soy and hemp milk); nut butters (loved peanut and almond butter–hated sun butter–cashew butter was kinda iffy); 4 different kinds of pears (they loved asian pears–one of my favs).

*when we talk about foods they love to eat, they always talk about fried chicken. these ladies love fried chicken. if i could eat their moms’ cooking, i swear i would be in for a treat because each girl swears her mom makes the best fried chicken in the city.

*i’ve had fried chicken maybe 1-2 times in my life. i had KFC once when i was in middle school. i don’t recall a single time my mother made fried chicken. my dad likes to grill chicken, but it was never breaded. i feel like i really missed out on something here.

*when i found this recipe, i was really excited: here’s my chance to try fried chicken!  i can’t wait to tell my girls about this recipe this week. i’m actually hoping i find a way to make it for them. they all know about my digestive issues and ask me a lot of questions about what i can and can’t eat and why. when we watched Soul Food Junkies last week, they were super excited when i made them air popped popcorn with olive oil. they could not get over how much they liked it more than microwave buttery popcorn. given my food journey and my commitment to food justice (more on that some time), this was an awesome moment for me: talking with teenagers about butter verses olive oil and what’s healthier and why was a highlight of my week. (one of the main reasons i love my job!)


*what i loved about this recipe is that even though the chicken is fried in coconut oil, there was nothing coconutty about the flavor: with all the spices (i went heavy on those) and the almond flour, i didn’t even taste any coconut, which kinda gave me some perspective–because some times i think that cooking with so much coconut oil will mean only tasting coconut in everything i make, which isn’t really what i’m aiming for. (had a summer when i cooked everything, including eggs, with coconut oil. couldn’t take it anymore.)

*i think i might be sold on fried chicken. paleo style.