From London and Lisbon ,With Love

Yes, I wish it was me who went to Lisbon and London, but sadly, my husband was traveling by himself.  He was actually traveling for work, which is of course a benefit when you live overseas.  I was busy at home taking a statistics course while he was away, so I definitely was occupied.  The good news too is that I just finished my paper, which was a research proposal.  So, I will keep this post brief and head to the living room for some relaxation and celebration.  Now all I have left are comps and then GRADUATION!

Since Ryan is super wonderful he brought back some gifts from his time on the mainland (Europe that is…we are closer there than we are to the US).

This is a prime example of why he is super wonderful.  Ginger (the fur ball formerly known as a dog) desperately needed a new collar, and we could not find one around here.  He happened to wander into Harrod’s and found a dog collar.  Now, if you know anything about Harrod’s you will know to just expect things to be pricey.  As a result, it didn’t even seem that unusual to him that a collar there would be expensive (under $75 so do not get carried away with your thoughts) because this is what he had already anticipated.  Our dog is a real princess for a medium sized dog.  She hears a noise and hides behind us.  She would rather walk around the puddles.  Therefore Ryan saw this bling-alicious collar and thought it was perfect for the dog.
It is quite nice.  Only later after a closer look did he realize he had just purchased our dog a lovely collar encrusted with Swarovski crystals.  Too funny!  It matches her personality and fur perfectly.  Now she really has an attitude problem!

When I told my grandmother the story (because it was really funny that he bought her this collar, which she did need a collar, but still funny it has nice crystals), her first question was “What did he get you?”, so here is what he brought back for me, plus a Harrod’s T-shirt and a few other little goodies.
You seriously can’t go wrong with Cadbury’s.  Actually, this is what I asked for.  I didn’t specify which kind, just Cadbury.
He also brought us an assortment of Cadbury candy bars.
I love the look British food label.  If you are not familiar with their label concept, they use GDA, or Guideline Daily Amounts.  Here is a sample from the Food and Drink Federation website:
This is their version of a tool to help consumers understand what is in their food.  When it lists per portion and then you do not see what is listed as a serving size, you do have to look past this highlighted part and read what a serving size is actually.  The other difference too is that food labels in Europe list nutrition facts per 100 grams, which for us used to the US system, can be confusing, so most food labels also list the per common serving.  For example, the big candy bar above has this little label placed next to what would be familiar to us as a food label, and then lists all the nutrient information in the first column per 100 grams and then in the second column as per chunk (AKA square from the candy bar).  I do find the salt part confusing as I will assume they mean sodium, not just any salt, although I could be wrong.  It could be sodium chloride or potassium chloride or any of those salts.  I'll just assume sodium chloride as their designation for a sodium marker.  I am thinking that I need to look into this one a little more closely to see what they are educating people on and their specific guidelines.

Moving along, this was my special treat.  While in Paris over the summer we discovered how delicious macarons were, so when we found them in London, he had to stop in.
He brought us back a few of these little guys.  So good!
Since the only way off this island and in to Europe is through Lisbon, he had some time to shop for goodies there too.  These are cookies I found over the summer at the airport.  They do not always have this kind, but we always check, so I was extremely surprised to see that he found them on this last trip through.
He also picked up this amazingly crazy fig cheese.  Now, it says fig cheese, but there is no dairy in here.  It comes from the Algarve region, which is the southern portion of Portugal with amazing beaches.
This is just like fig newton filling, but better, and it is filled with almonds too.  What a nice find!
DSC08072 DSC08073
QUESTIONS:  Have you ever been to London/England?  Have you ever had a Cadbury candy bar?  Do you like figs?  Have you ever heard of GDAs?

Thursday Thoughts: Statistics

It's Thursday, so you know what that means...

Thursday Thoughts

If you are new to my blog, or haven't been reading on Thursdays, this is a segment where I post my thoughts about various nutrition and health related topics, or maybe even something else if it is really an intriguing topic.  Most of my current views and opinions come from experience working as a dietitian and as college instructor in nutrition courses.  Most of that learning is science based or observational from the clinical setting.  In general, I hate over-generalizations, so for many of the things I post, I expect there is one or two exceptions because broad sweeping generalizations are always bound to miss out on something. 

For those of you who don't know, I am working on a second Master's degree and last week was my final class, which you can probably guess was statistics.  The way the courses work here are that we have some time before class to do work, then the professor comes to us from the US for a week (Tues-Fri 6-9:30 and Sat-Sun 8:30-4:30), then we get 1-4 weeks after class to finish the final assignments.  Right now I have been neglecting reading blogs, not intentionally, but as a result of the work required for this course.  I have also had less time to get my own blog updated regularly.

With that being said, this post will of course be on the short side, but I do want to address this topic, and what better time than when it is fresh in my head.

1) Stats are often misunderstood.  Make sure that when you see a shocking number or statement using a statistic that you think about it carefully.  These are often used as a way to grab the reader's attention, and while they often share great information, other times they may be used to distort what is going on or may flat out misrepresent what is really going on.  Think about if the numbers can really make sense in the way they are explained.  Having a basic understanding of what statistical terms mean can help you to better evaluate things that you read or hear about.

2) Don't forget to consider the fact that when stats are shown and are not seen in the full context, you lose some of what was going on in the study.  All the variables can't be addressed in one simple sentence bearing a statistic.  You should always question and want to know more information.  I see diet information all the time, but if I don't know the sample size, the control versus experimental groups or the time of the study (among other bits of information) it is like hearing someone make a comment about someone else and have it printed in a magazine out of context.  In other words, it does not capture the whole story and may be used just for shock value or the benefit of whoever is the author.

3) Numbers don't lie, but people can.  It is very easy to manipulate numbers to show what the author wants you to see.  This also goes along with taking things out of context.  It is easy to list numbers, but without more information it may not mean much.  I once saw a stat that showed China would have more college graduates in some specific program (? engineering) than the US would total students.  My first thought was that China has a much larger population than the US, followed by thoughts about what they offer as a country for their majors.  It may be true that the US school system has some issues, but the stat seemed like a huge negative comment about the US school system, but to me I just wondered what other information this was based on because it did not seem like a reasonable comparison.  I have seen others where if you think about it, they stat is comparing apples and oranges and there is information left out.  Again, stats offer dramatic stories, but you need to really think if this stat is accurate in what it is telling you.

4) Whenever you can, if you intend to use the statistic you read about for anything other than your own information, check to see what the stat was really describing.  I know not everyone has access to journal articles and not everyone has the skills to sift through what those articles mean (it does take practice, it doesn't just happen over night), but if you are thinking about using something you read and it involves a statistic, make sure you go back and review the primary source of the information.  It does no one any good to pass on bad statistics.  You may find that it is a great piece of research and that the statistic was used correctly, or you may find that a lot of other information was left out and that was not at all what you thought that statistic was implying.

5) My last thought is mostly a reminder that statistics do not prove things.  They do not show causation.  Research does not provide clear proof or show that one things causes another.  Statistics can however show links or correlation between things.  There may be a relationship present, but not proof.  I think the only ones I remember from my MPH program was that the link between smoking and cancer and the link between asbestos and mesothelioma were proven.  This means there was very clear statistical evidence, and that rarely happens.  There are almost always multiple variables and it is never that clean cut.  As I said at the start, statistics are often misunderstood, and I think often misused as well.

Not all research is good research and just because something gets published does not mean it was good research either.  But it is a start.  Research can always generate more research and it is the role of research to search for links and support for guidelines and policies and for other fields to get support for what they need.  It is up to everyone to critically evaluate everything the hear or read to prevent falling into the trap of letting others think for you by never questioning what you are told.  As a science based person I work hard to find as many reliable sources as I can for subjects I work with, and then for anything else I read, I always question what is really being said.  I am aware of the bias present in almost all writing.  We are only human so it is hard to stay objective, but that is why it is important to not believe everything right away without questioning it, if even just a little.

Well, those are my thoughts for now on statistics, mostly from the side of the issue of misuse.  Statistics play an important role in everything we do because research relies on them and then policy relies on those.  I never said it was a perfect system, but it is the one we use and therefore the stats need to be used correctly to ensure the proper policies and guidelines are in place.  Data is only as good as the way in which is analyzed.  It can provide some very strong information for things we do daily, as long as it is analyzed in the right way.

QUESTIONS:  Have you ever taken a statistics class?  What are your thoughts on statistics?  Have you ever seen a stat used and you really questioned what it was indicating?  Do you believe everything you read/hear or do you question these things.

Concert Inside a Volcano

Yes, you read that correctly, and I know you are wondering how exactly that is possible or why anyone would climb inside a volcano.

The island where I live is actually 4 volcanoes, all of which are inactive (LOL so they say, haha).  One of these formed in a way where the lava filled and then receded and I believe at the next eruption it actually broke through.  As a result, this lava tube formed and created a hollow space.  There are only 2 like this in the world, and only 1 of which you can enter, and it just happens to be a few miles from my house.
Because of the unique design of the cave (as they call it here, but it is a lava tube in a volcano), known as Algar do Carvao, music is often played inside because of the natural acoustics.  When we heard that a hang drum (this is the translation, but it is a type of hand drum) performer was set to play on a Friday night, we could not pass up the chance for a concert in a volcano.

I was impressed to see so many people show up for a concert here, but then again, we do not get much on the island in the way of entertainment.  It was a nice, clear day so I had to take a picture.  This is the first time I have been here and it has not had some fog (maybe the second time, but I swear it is a rare occurance).
Here are some pictures from inside the cave.  Yes, it is hard to see, as we are in a cave/volcano.
Here is the guy getting his drum out.
Then it was time for him to start.  I believe he said he was from Austria.  I think the instrument itself is Swiss, but it was hard to make sense of the information.  He spoke to the crowd in English because he does not speak Portuguese.
Here are some videos of the music:

After the concert, which left us a little damp from the “leaky” cave walls, we ventured out for dinner.  Since we were halfway across the island, we went over to Angra, which is the capital.  The restaurant did not open until 7 pm, so we happily enjoyed a German beer at the bar.  Do not let this glass fool you, this was indeed a German beer.
I contemplated ordering the vegetarian dish because it is so rare to find a vegetarian section in a menu.  Sadly, I could not resist the fresh fish that I know I will miss when we leave the island. 
One thing I love about this restaurant is the items they bring while you wait for dinner.  There is an herbed butter, cheese and olives.
There is also goat cheese and pimento spread.
Plus, there is the nice warm bread to go with it all.
Ryan ordered a steak.  I love that the potato chips served with it are homemade.
I ordered the boca negra, AGAIN!  I love this fish and I am sure I will never see this again once we move from this base, mostly because I have no idea what it is in the US, if we even have it there at all.
Always nice to get a salad too.
QUESTIONS:  Have you ever been to a volcano?  Have you ever seen this kind of drum before?

For more about the volcano and other photos of this from another trip CLICK HERE!

Local Finds and Sodium Follow Up

Thanks everyone for your great comments on my sodium post.  Some of you mentioned the food companies, and I think with sodium guidelines, we should be targeting these companies.  This is the first line of defense.  People will be unable to meet the guidelines if the foods they have available to them are not made lower in sodium.  Obviously, it would be best to have them switch to whole foods, as many of you mentioned, which would focus more on fresh foods/produce.  But, it is unlikely we can get the whole population to change their habits at the drop of a hat, so putting pressure on the companies with lowered guidelines is a good thing.  I just don't think we should expect this of people yet (or the population as a whole) because honestly, they just aren't ready yet...but they will be once we reach the old goal of 2300 mg daily.  I would guess that if food companies decreased sodium by 25%, many people would not notice the difference and this would help the population as a whole decrease their sodium.  Let's see if companies can make the switch in response to lower guideline...I sure hope so!

Speaking of sodium (LOL), here is a veggie chorizo I found at a local Portuguese health food store.  I have had it sitting around for some time (I believe Ryan was not too interested in giving this a I experimented while he was out of town). 
 I also still had a bunch of onions, so I decided to make a nice breakfast scramble.DSC08043
This was just eggs, with the onion and soy chorizo.  The next day I made one again and topped it with blue cheese.  Both meals were delicious.
I also found these at another local health food store.  I asked the owner what these were, and to tell me in English, but we still never found the English name.  So, curious as I was, I bought them.

When I got home I used Google Translate to determine that these are Incan berries, AKA golden berries, AKA cape gooseberry.  That was great to know, but I was still clueless.  So, if you are like me and have no idea what Incan berries are, here is some information I found online:

"The cape gooseberry is native to Brazil but long ago became naturalized in the highlands of Peru and Chile and became identified with the region. It was being grown in England in 1774 and was cultivated by early settlers at the Cape of Good Hope before 1807. Soon after introduction to the Cape the plant was carried to Australia where it quickly spread into the wild. Seeds were taken to Hawaii before 1825 and the plant is naturalized on all the islands at medium and somewhat higher altitudes. Only in fairly recent times has the fruit received any attention in the continental U.S."

"Incan berries are considered a good source of vitamin P (bioflavinoids) and are rich in pectin. Hundreds of studies on bioflavinoids have demonstrated they possess antiviral, anti-carcinogenic, anti-inflammatory, antihistamine, and antioxidant activities. They make a delicious, tart, and highly nutritious and exotic "raisin." They are high in phosphorous, vitamins A, C, B1, B2, B6, and B12. They are also extremely high in protein (16%) for a fruit."

"The Inca berries are characterized by a special flavor that makes it one of the most favorite types of berries in the world. The taste of these berries is noticed to be very sweet, which is accentuated by a tangy taste that makes it quite popular among the people.
There are several benefits of having Inca berries, which is the main reason behind its popularity as an adaptogenic food.
  • -These berries are very rich in their nutritional content and are found to be a good source of beta carotene, protein, thiamine, phosphorous, vitamin C and niacin. It has been noticed that the protein level in these berries are much higher than any other fruit.

  • -Owing to their laxative effect it is notice that the Inca berries will be very beneficial in ensuring fine health of the intestines.

  • -Inca berries are rich in bioflavonoids, which are found to be very beneficial and acts as a good antioxidant, apart from having anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic properties."


          • Here they are out of the package.  They do look a little like raisins.

      With a all information online claiming these as a super power when it comes to antioxidants and nutrition, could they taste any less amazing than they sound on paper...heck no!  These are super delicious.  They almost had a hint of fig flavor and were tangy and sweet.  I love these little berries.

      I really find the information about protein interesting.  I think when it comes down to it, after converting from 100 gram portions and what not as information was more readily available on UK and Australian sites, it seems 1 portion has around 2 grams of protein, compared to other fruits coming in just below 1 gram.  So it does seem it is high in protein for fruit, but do not let this fool you, it is not a high protein food.  You would need about 3.5 servings of this dried fruit to equal the amount of protein in around 1 ounce of meat (or egg, cottage cheese, whatever protein serving equivalent).  Those calories can add up fast trying to get a good amount of protein out of them.  But, they are very tasty and do contribute to protein needs for the day.

      QUESTIONS:  Have you ever tried soy chorizo?  Have you ever heard of Incan berries?  What is your favorite dried fruit?

      Thursday Thoughts: Sodium

      It's Thursday, so you know what that means...

      Thursday Thoughts

      If you are new to my blog, or haven't been reading on Thursdays, this is a segment where I post my thoughts about various nutrition and health related topics, or maybe even something else if it is really an intriguing topic.  Most of my current views and opinions come from experience working as a dietitian and as college instructor in nutrition courses.  Most of that learning is science based or observational from the clinical setting.  In general, I hate over-generalizations, so for many of the things I post, I expect there is one or two exceptions because broad sweeping generalizations are always bound to miss out on something. 

      I am choosing this topic because I know it is getting some press now with a new guideline coming out lowering the daily recommendation from 2300 mg to 1500 mg.  So, here are my thoughts...

      1) This 1500 mg recommendation is nothing new.  This is the amount the body needs daily for functions within the body that need sodium.  This has always been the guideline from the American Heart Association, or at least the past few years because this is what I have found in my textbooks and that I use in classes I teach.  This is the RDA value as well.  The higher number, 2300 mg, is used on the food label for the %DV listing, and can also be seen listed in the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.  I think that some shock among people hearing this guideline, which is not a new number, is due to the fact that is seems like a big jump from the number they were told before, the 2300 mg guideline (sometimes seen as 2400 mg).  When the average intake is more like 3000 mg (3436 mg on the American Heart Association website) a jump to cut back so much seems, well, like a big reduction.  Basically, it seems like asking a lot because it is asking a lot.  It is one thing to say let's go from 3000 to 2300, but another to say let's go from 3000 to 1500 mg.  I think in the eyes of those setting guidelines, the jump was not so much from 3000 to 1500 but more like 2300 to 1500 mg.

      2) Do I think a new and lower guideline is going to be beneficial?  My answer is no.  This comes from experience where guidelines have been changed in the past, made more rigid (or an increase in some cases) before the original guideline was ever achieved.  I am a big fan of setting a goal, meeting it, and then reevaluating to set a new goal.  I am not however a fan of setting a new goal before anyone was ever able to have success with a previous goal.  I remember when we would tell our clients to aim for 5 servings of fruits and veggies a day.  Then one day in an RD meeting at work we went over new guidelines coming out saying to aim for 12 servings a day (I think it was 12, at least I know it was over 10).  My first thought was "Boy, this is going to be a huge stretch".  I was still trying to get people from 1-3 servings a day up to five and now I needed to try and get clients/patients to go from 1-3 to 12 a day.  This seemed like a huge lofty goal and I just wasn't comfortable with this.  My issue wasn't with the guideline, as I know more fruits and veggies are beneficial, but my issue was with the huge increase in a goal that would be nice but did not seem realistic without ever having reached the first goal to begin with.  So that is exactly how I felt when I heard about this new guideline released for 1500 mg.  Sure, I think reducing sodium has health benefits and it would be great if everyone could do this, but I am also realistic about what the major of Americans can do, and I do not think a new goal should be set until we can get the majority of Americans down to the previous reduced (from the average intake) guideline of 2300 mg daily.

      3) Why are American diets so high in sodium? My though on this is likely the same as yours.  Foods made to last a long time are high in sodium.  Americans consume foods in forms known to last longer.  It is beneficial for busy families and those trying to save money.  Foods in cans and foods in the freezer, plus overly processed, prepackaged, shelf stable foods are higher in sodium because it is a natural preservative.  Like my use of the word natural here (for my thoughts on that one click here.  Not everything that is natural is good for you.  Sodium is a natural preservative, but does that doesn't mean we can eat sodium rich foods liberally.  Salting foods to preserve them has been around for a long time and I imagine was really helpful back when refrigerators and freezers did not exist.  When we cut back on foods that need to be preserved, we can cut back on sodium intake.  Looking for reduced sodium and no added sodium products is a great start to cutting back.  Another thing I have learned is that once you start cooking more at home and using less salt, you really notice it when you eat those prepackaged foods, and it no longer seems appealing.  I tend to not even add salt, even if the recipe calls for it, because I can add so many other things add flavor without the negative effects of sodium adding up in my daily diet.

      4) If you are concerned about heart health and the link with sodium, work on not only decreasing sodium in the diet, but also increasing potassium, which is a mineral just like sodium.  Potassium has a protective effect for heart health where as sodium exhibits a negative effect.  Overall, stick with guidelines for both.  You can't eliminate sodium altogether because some is needed in the diet.  Too much potassium could have some negative effects (like in renal failure), but for most people eating a balanced diet rich in fruits and veggies, it is easy to meet the guidelines for potassium without getting too excessive.  The recommendation for potassium is 4700 mg, but since potassium is not required on the food label, it will be hard to tell how much you get on average daily just by using labels.  Some foods containing potassium include bananas (which always are mentioned first, but there are better sources per serving), avocado, tomato, spinach, orange, mango, beans and lentils, along with others.  A nice list can be found here.  As with all things, balance is the way to go.  Cutting back on sodium and getting enough potassium is a a good way to go for heart health.

      5) For someone consuming around 3000 mg of sodium a day, a decrease to 1500 mg may seem unrealistic and maybe even a turn off and cause people to question where these guidelines come from and who is "making this stuff up".  Is that really happening, I don't know, but I can see this huge jump as a turn off for someone who is eating a lot more sodium than the old guideline even suggested.  In the meantime, I think if you are consuming over the old recommendation of 2300 mg, still work on cutting back to there before striving for 1500 mg.  At any rate, cutting back from 3000 to 2300 mg is a reduction of about 30% sodium, and I would think that a 30% reduction will still have a benefit even if not down all the way to 1500 mg.  If you are already at 2300 mg, it may not be so far fetched to work on cutting back even more.  To go from 2300 mg to 1500 mg is a decrease of about 35%.  Basically, the goal is to cut back by about 1/3.  When needing to cut back to even 2300 mg and wondering how to do this, think about how many times you eat a day, including snacks.  Imagining splitting the sodium "allowance" up for the day among those.  I used to visually show this to clients with 600 mg x 3 meals, and then 250 mg for 2 snacks.  No, I did not tell all my clients to eat like that but rather used this as a discussion point to show how it can be done, just one example, and show that it is doable.  Guess what?  A "healthy" frozen entree often hovers around 600 mg, so even a prepackaged food can fit into a diet meeting those sodium guidelines.  Many people may not get near 600 mg for breakfast, freeing some of this sodium "allowance" up for later in the day.  The good news is that sodium is on the food label, so you can easily track this.  Everyone will be different and so each person needs to see what they want to aim for for sodium at their own meals and snacks.

      Overall it is nice to have the guideline match what other guidelines have always used based on body needs and heart health, but I think this new guideline assumes the American population on average (and as a whole) met the old guideline in the first place.  As far as I can tell, this is not the case.  I think we need to improve the nation's health and nutritional status, but huge cut backs and goals is not the way to achieve this.  We need to focus more on meeting older (and higher in this case) guidelines and looking at why, after how ever many years, we have not met these goals.  The focus should be more on what health professionals can do to help Americans cut back on sodium in their diets because just saying eat less than we said before is likely not going to do the trick.  Words are great, but actions make all the difference in the world.  In my opinion, any reduction, even a small one, over the excess consumed now (for sodium or anything else in excess) is a success and an improvement to health.

      QUESTIONS: What are your thoughts on this sodium and the new guidelines?  Any tips for cutting back on sodium?

      My New Favorite Online Store

      First off, you know you have a problem with shopping online when the employees of the mail room:

      1) know you by name and know your mailbox number too
      2) immediately ask when you walk in the door, “How many packages today?”
      and 3) stare in amazement when you walk out with only 2 boxes

      So yes, that’s me!

      Well, two weekends was no different than usual.  I will remind everyone that I live overseas, in a remote area, no shopping mall, small BX, and a mail plane that only comes once a week.  Therefore all packages are put out mostly on the same day (sometimes Saturday and Sunday will be some packages).  Let me also remind everyone that not every package we get is from something we ordered.  I think of this experience like summer camp and I get “CARE) packages from friends and family.

      So here was what arrived that weekend.
      That was 6 packages.  Well, I admit to ordering 2 pairs of shoes from DSW.  One of these was also the last of Ryan’s Christmas presents.  It was a vest from LL Bean and it was on back order.  I think one was a CD from Ryan’s college that contained a recorded class.  One was a stack of magazines from my mom.  They just keep coming and coming, but I like Conde Nast Traveler and Self, but the more gossipy ones that I like to read at the gym.  Then there was my first package ever from Nuts Online.

      My sister had ordered from there before.  I know, I know, there are probably tons of companies out there that sell the same stuff, but I took my sister’s recommendation and scoped out the site.  Within  minutes I was hooked.  (I will mention now that I am not in any way paid or sponsored by this company, I am just really pleased) They have nuts, dried fruit, snack mixes, flours and then candy too.  I was more concerned with the flours and dried fruits.

      When my package arrived I opened it and was greeted with this:
      My eyes grew wide and my tummy grumbled and I smiled a little.  Want to know why I smiled?  The packaging.  I live in the world’s most humid location.  Everything here grows mold.  Cardboard food boxes grow mold.  Everything in my kitchen needs to go in plastic bags and even then some moisture gets in.  This packaging had me so excited because this means my food will last and not grow mold in my kitchen.  These are some quality bags.  They reseal easily and keep the products fresh.

      Check out what I ordered:

      Chickpea flour and almond flour: There is no way I could find these in the Azores at all. 
      I love dried fruit!  These are strawberries and kiwis.  We have already finished the kiwis.  I love fresh kiwis, but I will admit, I love them so much, that I enjoy the dried ones too. 
      If you are curious about price, just like anywhere, they range.  Some products, like the kiwis at only $3.99/lb, are below what I would expect.  That was great.  There are other products that are pricey, but I must say they prices were not any different from what I would expect to pay in a store for the same items.  For example the organic dried fruits and some of the more exotic and unique berries.  Another confession, since I live overseas and they ship APO and I can’t get some of these things anywhere around here, I don’t mind paying a little extra just to have them, maybe just once.

      Next up are fava beans and whole wheat shell pasta.  I plan to make some mac and cheese next week with these shells. 
      These are their veggie chips.  Loved them!  Finished them!
      I also love mushrooms.  So when I saw the dried mushrooms, I got really excited and had to order these.
      Treats like this are sold in a 2 oz container, and some others I saw I think were 3 oz containers.  The nuts and fruits came in 1 pound and then larger, like 5 pounds.  I also see that you can order by the case.
      Well, that is it for my first purchase.  Does it surprise you any that I have ordered more? My sister even ordered yesterday and so did my mom.

      I also have a funny story about when I picked up my package.  The woman behind me saw my package and said to me that they love Nuts Online and asked what I ordered.  I started by saying whole wheat shells, fava beans, chick pea flour, dried kiwis and she laughed and said “Oh, that is so not what we order” and she was laughing.  She continued to say they ordered candy, so I quickly replied, “Maybe I should start off by saying I’m a dietitian and a vegetarian” and while both laughing she agreed that made way more sense.  I did confess to her that I like candy too.

      QUESTIONS:  Have you ever heard of Nuts Online?  Where do you buy dried fruits/nuts?  Specialty products, like almond flour?

      Tilapia Awesomeness and Stuffed Peppers

      Tuesday night I wanted to make an entree that would go with some of our leftovers.  We had tons of mashed potatoes and onions left after the pierogie cooking we did, and I couldn’t let those go to waste.  Since I don’t eat chicken, beef or pork, and the mashed potatoes provided a lot of carbohydrate for the meal, I decided a fish dish using onions would be best.

      I found this recipe online and it was a perfect match.  This is balsamic baked tilapia served with the mashed potatoes and a side of steamed broccoli.

      I started by sautéing some red pepper and onion.
      I used the frozen tilapia I had already had.  That was another reason I wanted to find a tilapia recipe.
      After adding a few more ingredients, including some balsamic vinegar, I spread the onion and pepper mixture over the fish.
      Here is the special ingredient, in my opinion.
      Crumbled blue cheese really compliments the balsamic flavor.
      Into the oven the fish dish went, while I heated up our mashed potatoes and checked on the broccoli, which was steaming in the rice cooker/steamer.  I loved how the blue cheese baked right on top.
      Wanna know the first thing Ryan said when I placed this in front of him?  He commented on how colorful this meal was.  Although the potatoes added a lot of white, visually, they really complemented the flavor.  Oh, and it went great with a glass of red wine.
      From time to time I ask Ryan is there is anything special he would like for dinner.  I love that he gives me general ideas and not specifics.  I still have freedom and he gets something he wants.  This time he said “How about a stuffed pepper?”.  Wow, I never would have thought of that.  I had never made stuffed peppers before so I was curious to give it a try.  I also had been wanting to make orzo for some time, and this seemed like the perfect excuse to blend what he wanted with what I wanted.

      I had picked up this pasta at the local Portuguese store.  It was not exactly orzo, but it was the closest one I could find.
      So I gave it some thought and with some suggestions from Ryan, I decided to make a mushroom orzo dish to use for filling the peppers.  I did some internet searching and came across this recipe.
      I couldn’t resist taking all these pictures of mushrooms.  I LOVE mushrooms!  Sadly, they are not Ryan’s favorite, but I think he is starting to enjoy them more (probably because I serve them at least once every other week).
      DSC08002 DSC08003
      I had a hard time not sticking my head over this steaming pan because it just smelled so good.
      I found a separate recipe for stuffed peppers,  It’s a Giada recipe, so I thought that would be a great one to try, even if it was only to see how I was supposed to bake the peppers.  I did learn from that recipe that the orzo should only be partially good, so it was a good thing I checked that out.

      I added the orzo and mushrooms together, and then I decided to add a little fresh grated parmesan cheese.
      Next, I had to get my peppers ready.  It was hit and miss on the peppers at the commissary.  I picked the ones I thought looked the best.
      I was really surprised that the peppers were this cute when they looked like little bowls.  I must seriously have hated peppers before because I never knew they were so much fun.  I will confess that I have only started eating peppers, cooked and raw, in the past 12 months.  I am noticing that with cooking more, my tastes and preferences are changing.  I am very excited about this.
      So I stuffed my cute little peppers.  Here is the before and after pictures.
      DSC08009 DSC08010
      Both recipes were a success.  I saved both and even passed the tilapia recipe along to my step-sister.

      QUESTIONS: Do you like blue cheese?  Have you ever made stuffed peppers?  What do you stuff peppers with?