Sunday, February 26, 2012

Gluten Free Cosmetics and Food at Sprouts

Photo Credit: Flickr Hail Merry Foods Gluten Free Mint Chocolate Tart
I've been a fan of Sprouts for over a year. I went to my first Sprouts in Thousand Oaks when I worked in Agoura Hills. After I discovered their low prices on fresh, organic produce I even drove there to shop during my lunch break. Thankfully, there is a Culver City Sprouts closer to where I live now. Disclaimer: I have not been paid by Sprouts, bloggers or any of the brands I mentioned for my review.

Los Angeles has introduced me to more healthy eating options such as: vegan cuisine, raw food diets and gluten-free goodness. In the San Francisco Bay area, these options were too expensive and the selection too limited at retailers. In contrast, Los Angeles has Tender Greens salad restaurant with my favorite vegan lunch, "the happy vegan" with green hummus and hazelnuts. I go to the Tender Greens in Hollywood. I like the taste of dairy products but I have an allergic reaction to cow milk in all forms. If you share my lactose intolerance, you may find some relief through Blogger Food Allergy Mama.

Back to Sprouts grocery store as opposed to dining out. What is the price point for Sprouts? Between Whole Foods and Trader Joes. The variety of special diet foods such as gluten-free, lactose-free items exceeds both competitors.

When I go to job interviews in Westlake Village, I stop by the town's Sprouts to check out two things: natural beauty products and gluten-free items. Sometimes these two Venn diagrams intersect in gluten-free skincare. I appreciate their vegan cosmetics too.

There are my top 10  brands for this month for both categories:

Photo Credit: St. Dalfour
St. Dalfour
Photo Credit: Amazon. com Eden Organic
Eden Organic
Photo Credit: Peacekeeper Causemetics
Peacekeeper Causemetics
Back to Nature
Lifeway Frozen Kefir
Jolly Llama
Photo Credit: Schar
World Centric
Photo Credit: Dr. Tung
Dr. Tung

Note: Sprouts also carries well-known gluten-free brands such as Pamela's. However I wanted the above list to include brands that were new to me.

If you are a parent, you might also be interested in the Blogger Gluten Free Mommy recommended by

Sunday, February 19, 2012

SmartyGirlHealthyRecipes Autobiography: A Taste of My Childhood

Photo Credit: Migrant Strawberries
Photo Credit: Amazon Esperanza Rising
You may have heard the "Entertainer" by Scott Joplin blaring from ice cream trucks in the summertime but I didn't. However, I was lucky to have fresh produce. My dad bought oranges from migrants and strawberries by the flat from roadside stands.
Photo Credit: Dad Peter Lam & Renee Marchol

I lived in a San Joaquin Valley suburb. Suburb may be the wrong label for Tracy in the 1980s. I remember my blue collar neighborhood with fondness. Kind dads would sit on their driveway in soccer chairs drinking beer after an honest day's work as plumber, assembly line worker, or mechanic. Their kids would play with me, running from lawn to lawn before dinnertime. My childhood made me appreciate stories such as Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan about the experiences of other children living in California.
Photo Credit: Renee Marchol in Tracy

Their wives worked at the cheese factory like my mom or at the Spreckles sugar plant not far down the road. My mom wore a white plastic hard hat and earplugs to her job at Leprino Foods. She worked in the dairy lab but she brought me twice to tour the factory and the mozzarella vats. Very interesting for me to watch metal paddles stir heated milk and men wearing plastic gloves press curd into blocks. I loved cheddar curds best! Heaven was eating Gina Leprino cream cheese with a metal tablespoon at home. My mom studied food science in the Midwest in the other dairy state.
Photo Credit: Flickr Stanford Tamales

I didn't eat too many non-Chinese foods at home but when mom cooked I ate enchiladas, tamales and lasagna with sumptuous layers of cheese that she purchased with her employee discount from Leprino's. Maybe all that calcium from cheese made me taller than some Chinese American girls and perhaps it gave me the healthy, white teeth my husband admires.

Photo Credit: Flickr Gourmand Breaks Blog Spanish Churros
Did you know that I grew up in a rural factory town full of silos, grain elevators and fields of corn? One of my classmates was popular because his family was known for growing asparagus. Instead of sugared cereals, I craved tender asparagus. I also liked to play with cornsilk. In elementary school, before my mom's graveyard shift at the factory, she volunteered to help make cornhusk dolls in my class. My friends were Spanish speakers and my most of my mom's friends were Portuguese. This meant that I ate churros, Christmas tamales and Portuguese sweet bread. I am such a lucky gal.

When my parents were away at work, my mom's mother would babysit me. She's sing hymns, knit and play Pop-o-Matic Trouble with me. It was a good childhood. In the afternoons, a musical truck would circle our neighborhood. My grandma would walk to the front yard with me and hand me cash to buy fish! Yes, fillets! Nope, not ice cream. A Portuguese-Italian fish truck would play music to alert my neighbors that he was coming through with freshly caught halibut, ling cod or salmon. My favorite Chinese American kid's dish was ling cold with steamed white rice and ketchup! My grandma would take a dark skillet, fry green onions and ginger matchsticks. Then she'd grill the fillet perfectly so that it had a bittersweet char in some spots.

Photo Credit: Flicker Acts 2 Hot Pot
Photo Credit: Renee Marchol & Grandma Sivia Chen
On weekends, I'd accompany grandma on a Greyhound bus to San Francisco. We'd stay the weekend with her friends.

They were happy people from Swatownese Chinese Church, a cool chapter that also immigrated from Hong Kong. At their homes, I'd be part of wonderful hot pot style seafood dinners. If you haven't experienced such a thing, please put that on your bucket list! You use golden baskets to lower thinly sliced meat and vegetables into a communal cauldron. This pot is filled with aromatic broth. You eat fresh vegetables such as dark leafy baby bok choi. You sup on glass noodles. You taste the freshest lean meats and seafood. You do this together as a friends and family during the winter.

I grew up where food was grown so I delight in Farmers Markets in Los Angeles and take interest in nutrition for children. Also I am interested in First Lady Michelle Obama's remedy to "food deserts"and Alice Waters's efforts to reform school lunches. My husband and I volunteer through Feeding America to do fresh produce sorting at a local food bank. Eating at Chez Panisse is on my bucket list. I also aspire to write about food and travel as well as Chef Anthony Bourdain, author of Kitchen Confidential

I'll share more in future posts. Until then, please contact me to share your favorite writers about food and health.

Best wishes!

Easy Healthy Salmon Recipe

Photo Credit: Renee Marchol's Kitchen Salmon
Photo Credit: Sashimi Salmon Image by Creative Commons Flickr Boo_licious
Yesterday I took a drive on the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) to hike with my huband at Point Mugu State Park. On the way there, we watched the ocean and began to crave fish.

At Vons in Santa Monica, I purchased fresh salmon for $7.99 per pound today. I only bought two servings because of my budget. I wanted to feed my husband some healthy omega-3 fatty acids to start the week. Thankfully the best deals seem to be on Sunday mornings. I know this Vons receives some unfavorable reviews on Yelp because of its run-down location. However, the staff are helpful and they keep the store clean.

My fresh salmon with a light, sweet ginger soy, smells like warm maple syrup and pancakes according to Nik.

Easy Healthy Salmon Recipe

1/4 tsp crushed organic ginger
1 cup low sodium soy sauce
1/2 cup white sugar or 3 TB honey or other sweetener
1/4 cup chopped green onions
olive oil
2 TB unsalted butter (optional)
2 servings salmon filet with skin

1. Place salmon skin side down in a skillet with olive oil, green onions and browned butter.
2. Cover fish with lid of skillet and cook on medium high for 10 minutes.
3. Mix sweetener, ginger and soy sauce in a measuring cup. Pour 1/2 over fish. Turn down heat for 15 minutes and keep covered.
4. Flip fish so that skin side is up. Pour remaining sauce.
5. Check to make sure the sweet sauce does not burn. Cook for another 5 minutes until fish flakes easily.

Serve with brown rice, polenta or greens!

Bon Appetit!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Valentine's Dinner New Orleans Shrimp Gumbo Recipe

Photo Credit: Flickr Kent Wang Gumbo
I visited NOLA twice before Hurricane Katrina. New Orleans stole my heart and I've talked about its decor, food and people ever since. Since NOLA is on my heart today, this is my Valentine's Dinner dish. 

I also recommend that every former girl scout go there. Why? Because if you are a former Bluebird or Brownie, you already have a patriotic streak. I am a child of immigrants so this means that my parents signed me up for scouting to increase my love for my country. One of the highlights of my dad's career was being sent to New Orleans to train French chemists visiting America.

Photo Credit: EvilTomThai Oyster
My siblings and I love Arnaud's for its Oysters Rockefeller and Turtle Soup.

Photo Credit: Flickr Cote Crayfish Omelette
We also love Copeland's on St. Charles street before they became a brunch-only restaurant.

One of my brothers was a fan of Copeland's sour cream and lemon pasta. Can't beat Bananas Foster for dessert. 

Going to New Orleans will make you feel even more proud to be an American. I am a Chinese American with an appreciation of African American culture. Go to the birthplace of jazz. Visit African American museums. Taste the melting pot of dishes inspired by the French, Spanish and Africans. See NOLA rebuild and witness its spirit of resilience.

Photo Credit: Flickr Aghrivaine Jambalaya
Photo Credit: Renee Marchol's Kitchen Gumbo
Yes, Southern food is not light fare. However, you can lighten gumbo for low sodium and high fiber diets.

Lighter New Orleans Shrimp Gumbo

2 andouille sausages sliced into half moons
28 oz tomato paste or 10 fresh tomatoes
2 TB dehydrated onion granules
1 tsp crushed garlic

10 oz frozen sliced ozra
6 oz clams with natural juice
2 TB all purpose flour
2 TB dried basil
3 TB unsalted butter or 2 TB margarine and 1 TB olive oil

4 cups of water
16 oz deveined, pre-cooked, peeled shrimp
4 cups cooked brown rice
1 TB condensed beef bullion
1/4 tsp white pepper

Step 1: Create the roux by browning the flour with the fat in a tall stockpot. Add the okra and fry the vegetables for 5 minutes.

Step 2: Add the tomatoes, onion, garlic, basil and bullion into the pot. Pour in the water. Stir the roux to combine with the liquid. Simmer for 45 minutes.

Step 3: Add the pre-cooked sausage and pre-cooked shrimp. Heat through for another 10 minutes. Serve the soup over brown rice.

Photo Credit: Flickr J.E.N.N.Y Okra
Note: Gumbo can burn easily because of the roux base and the stickiness of the okra. Resist the temptation to turn the stove on high. Simmer.

Seafood is naturally higher in sodium so reduce salt in this recipe by using fresh tomatoes rather than canned tomato paste. You can also rinse the clams before adding to the mixture and omit the clam juice.

Serve the hot soup over brown rice rather than white rice for higher fiber. The soup itself is low carb with veggies such as tomatoes and okra. Shrimp and clams provide lean protein.

The use of clams and the addition of sausage is not traditional. White pepper and basil are also my touches. Use parsley, green bell pepper and bay leaves for seasoning for a traditional flavor. I used basil and white pepper to compensate for the lower sodium.
Photo Credit: Flickr SweetFixNYC Bananas Foster

Let the good times roll!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Low Sugar Strawberry Shortcake Recipe

Photo Credit: Renee Marchol's Kitchen Strawberry Shortcake
I've learned to bake with Splenda and adjust recipes so that they are lower carb for my members of my family with diabetes. Did you know that such sugar substitutes create a paler pastry with less loft? What are three ways to remedy its appearance?
Photo Credit: Renee Marchol's Kitchen Shortcake Dough

Option 1:  Use a portion of real sugar.
Option 2: Use another 1/4  teaspoon of baking powder.
Option 3: Use a portion of whole wheat flour for fiber and a darker pastry color.

What was the result? At one Father's day event, my chocolate covered scones for diabetes were consumed by non-diabetics. Sugar-free chocolates have improved in texture, flavor and variety. You'll notice that you can buy sugar-free chocolate in bulk at Sprouts grocery store and by box at Sees candies.

Photo Credit: Renee Marchol's Kitchen Diabetic Strawberry Shortcake
Fat, sugar, carbs and protein play a role in texture of a dessert.

Photo Credit: Renee Marchol's Kitchen Strawberries with Sweetener
First, if your loved one can bear a little more butter, use a 1/4 tsp of butter to give the pastry flavor to compensate for the lack of real sugar. Secondly in some cases, the sweetness of honey goes a long way. You can use a hint of honey to sweeten a dessert and its sweetness will taste more potent than a teaspoon of white sugar.

Thirdly, real sugar helps to retain the pastry's moisture while baking. If the recipient of your baked goods can tolerate dairy, add a tablespoon of milk or soymilk for that same purpose. For added loft without the cholesterol, use 2 egg whites. Lastly, if your diabetic person is fond of ground nuts and doesn't have any nut allergies, lower carbs by reducing flour and using ground almonds.

Another low sugar dessert is a flourless almond cookie made with toasted ground almonds, egg whites and sweetener.

Follow Betty Crocker's Strawberry Shortcake Recipe and modify for a low sugar dessert using two of the suggestions above. You can experiment with Stevia, Splenda and house brands of sugar substitutes. Make adjustments in future batches for color, texture, and loft.

Step 1: Wash whole strawberries. Remove the leaves and hull the fruit. Use a straw to hull the strawberries. Press the straw through the strawberry's "nose" and the tube will take out the stem and the inedible parts.  I learned this strawberry hulling trick on Pinterest.

Step 2: Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

Step 3: In a large mixing bowl, cut shortening into flour with two knives. Add baking powder. Add sweetener of your choice. Add liquid protein such as cow's milk or soy/nutmilk. Stir in two eggs. Knead for 2 minutes to form a soft dough. Pinch handfuls of dough and press intio flat circles onto the parchment paper no wider than 2" in diameter. Bake for 13 minutes.

Note: Serve with sugar-free whipped topping or lite whipped cream.