Agua. Mizu. De l’eau. The Big H-Two-Oh.

It’s the middle of July, and despite the storms, heat, and humidity across the midwest, we’ve very likely not even hit the hottest part of the summer. August is yet to come, and as my home state, Michigan, is surounded by the largest freshwater sources in North America, I ought to make note of the importance of staying hydrated–no matter where you are.

WebMD has a good overview of what helps hydrate you. The notion that you must physically drink 8 ounces of water every hour (or every two hours; the reccommendations are inconsistent) is outdated. People neglect to remember that food contains water, just as our bodies contain water while seeming dry on the outside. The article mentions, oddly enough, watermelon as something that contains enough water to help you in your hydration quest. Other fruits and veggies, like peaches, tomatoes, and cucumbers, are also full of water.

While you cannot replace all of your water intake with hydrating food, it’s worth remembering that snacking on carrots, cucumbers, and ranch dressing or hummus, is also helpful.

Also remember that water does not have to be “ugh. water.” There are plenty of options for flavoring water. Iced tea, milk, and juices all count, too! Just remember to watch sugar intake for sweetened beverages. A question answered by a Mayo Clinic nutritionist supports the WebMD article’s claim that the dehydration effect of caffeinated beverages is negligible, so iced coffee and tea–even black–are okay once in a while.  If you’re exercising, something containing electrolytes that are lost through sweat isn’t a bad idea. Don’t go crazy with these, though, since sports drinks are meant as support for hard workouts, not everyday hydration.

Finally, I shall leave you all with my favorite recipe: Cucumber Lemon water. I drink a pitcher a day of this, when I make it. It’s super simple, and it makes ‘plain old water’ into something completely refreshing!

Ingredients:

  • 1 Lemon
  • 1/2 Cucumber
  • Choose one: Fresh Mint Leaves (or) 1-inch section of fresh Ginger

Directions:

Wash the lemon thoroughly. Parts of the rind will be going into the pitcher! Slice the ends off of the lemon, then slice the lemon into circles. Throw them in the pitcher, but do not squeeze them.

Wash the cucumber and peel if desired. Slice half of the cucumber thinly (a mandolin slicer helps immensely) and put into the pitcher as well.

If you’ve chosen the mint leaves, wash them and put a few in the pitcher. If you’ve chosen the ginger, peel it and cut it into eighths or quarters, then put in the pitcher.

Add water and ice, and stir, but do not muddle. After a few hours, the water will be ready, but leaving it overnight is the best. Once you’ve finished drinking the first batch, you can add more water and muddle the ingredients this time to double their life! The second batch will be a little more lemony, because of how much more juice you get from muddling the lemon than the cucumbers, but it will be equally refreshing.

Enjoy!

(As a bonus, once they’ve lived their life in your water, you can flush the ingredients down the garbage disposal with hot water to make your kitchen smell nice. Otherwise, everything is compostable!)

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My Favorite Wonder Fruit/Veggie: The Amazing Tomato!

I could sing the praises of tomatoes until I’m blue in the face, to be honest. Fresh off the vine, canned, baked, sauteed, stewed, raw–it doesn’t matter. Tomatoes are my best friend ever (no offence to my human best friends. But I can’t realistically sustain myself on your flesh. You don’t reproduce fast enough). It doesn’t hurt that they are loaded with antioxidants, vitamins, and other nutritional goodies.  That website has a good overview of everything, plus a long list of resources if you’re curious about looking into the studies themselves.

Here are a few of the many ways I like to eat my delicious red (and yellow and orange!) treasures:

  • Diced up and sauteed with olive oil and pepper over pasta. I don’t even need a real sauce, usually–a whole small tomato per serving of pasta is usually about perfect.
  • As hot soup with a hot sandwich. Tomato soup is perfect with grilled cheese, grilled ham and cheese, grilled turkey and cheese, Reubens, and so on. I make it myself sometimes, but usually I just go for the canned version with the least additives and no HFCS. Remember the rule of thumb: If you can pronounce everything on the label, and know what it does for the food, you’re usually alright.
  • Sliced, drizzled with olive oil and cracked pepper, with some mozzarella. One of my favorites to take for lunches, this is wonderful with some of the lower-acid heirloom tomatoes, since you’re eating them straight!
  • In just a big pile of sauteed veggies. I often will pull out a pan and, for dinner, saute up a pile of frozen veggies. I almost always add tomatoes to this instead of any sort of stir-fry sauce. Depending on the veggies, I top it with some cheese and serve it with sourdough bread, if the supermarket recently had any on their day-old rack.
  • Stuffed with ricotta and italian breadcrumbs. One of my favorite ways! I discovered the recipe by trial-and-error, so I’ll have to make them again before I can post it (The horror!), but you hollow out the tomatoes, reserve what flesh you take out (I toss most of the seeds usually), and mix it together with ricotta and some italian breadcrumbs in a food processor (I used a manual one. I don’t know if that makes a difference). Bake until the skins start bursting. Top with a white cheese (I used mozzarella. I really like mozzarella.) and serve! Magnificent.
  • Canned Diced, mixed with Velveeta. Okay, this isn’t remotely healthy, but I’ll be darned if it isn’t the most delicious party dip in existence!
  • With Cucumber and hummus on a sandwich. My favorite sandwich, of which I eat three or four a week, is this one. Sometimes I add sliced turkey, or spinach, or something, but most often not. Red Pepper Hummus (or garlic, or lemon, or whatever else strikes your fancy), topped with thinly sliced cucumbers and tomatoes, on a good whole-grain bread, with a spot of italian dressing. It’s delicious, quick, and easy!

I go through four or five tomatoes a week, usually, and perhaps my tooth enamel won’t thank me for it, but I can’t bring myself to remotely regret the deliciousness. What are some ways I’ve missed, to use tomatoes?

Brown-Bag Lunches

Working part-time is a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, you have so much other free time to fill. On the other hand, you don’t have any money to, for example, buy lunch near your work when you have those long days. Packing your lunch is the most economical thing to do even when you CAN afford to buy a panini from the cafe, though, so here’s my recipe for brown-bag bliss:

I’ve found that the best packed lunches are actually a variety of more snack-like items. Pick one or two from each list, and I guarantee you’ll have a complete lunch that will fill you up, for even less than Applebees’ $7.99 lunch combos.

Protein:
Ham and Cheese roll-ups–Thick-sliced deli ham, with a thin-sliced deli cheddar, colby-jack, or swiss. Two or three roll-ups should be plenty.
String Cheese–There’s plenty of interesting options out there now! Kraft has flavored string cheese, with things like Tomato-Basil Mozzarella and Cracked Black Pepper Mozzarella. String Cheese isn’t just for kids anymore!
Hard-boiled Eggs–One or two, with a dash of black pepper, or salsa, or whatever else you like your eggs with, pack perfectly! Peel them and put them in a small Tupperware container; they have some at my dollar store that are perfectly sized for two eggs.

Carbs:
Wheat Thins–A single serving size of wheat thins (or Triscuit, or any other whole-grain cracker) pairs well with sliced cheese (or the cheese sticks I mentioned!).
Cold pasta salad–Or hot, for that matter, if you want to throw it in the microwave. Watch your portion sizes, and make sure it’s a side-serving, not an entree, unless it’s more veggies than pasta. Creamy pasta salads should be accent foods.
Whole grain sandwich–My favorite has hummus, tomato, and cucumber on it, which possibly also qualifies it for the veggies portion of the lunch!
Leftover Rice–I make for myself the Zatarains Rice Pilaf for dinner some nights, but I obviously can’t eat a whole box in one sitting, so I portion the remainder out to take to work the next few days. It microwaves hot in a minute or so, and is very filling.

Fruits and Veggies:
Carrot sticks (Or celery, or cucumber, or bell pepper!)–Don’t bother with more expensive pre-cut baby carrots. It only takes a few minutes to cut a 3-lb bag of carrots into large matchsticks. Portion them out into snack baggies, and collect the snack baggies into the original carrots bag. Five minutes of prep-work gives you an excellent grab-and-go snack! Pair with ranch dressing or (my favorite) hummus.
Apples, oranges, bananas, or pears–All of these are easy to grab and eat on the run, if your break involves walking anywhere.
Tomatoes, olive oil and pepper–A little on the messier side of the spectrum, this is nevertheless a delicious, ‘gourmet’ addition to lunch. Pack it in a small Tupperware, since a baggie will be difficult to eat out of. If you want to add to it, they sell pearl-sized mozzarella balls that you can add a tablespoon or so of. Extra-Virgin Olive Oil and fresh-cracked black pepper is best, but you can make do in a pinch.

A little of everything is the best way to fill you up and get a balanced diet. The vitamins in fresh fruits and veggies, plus the energy from the combined carbs and protein, will keep you going for hours longer than a microwave ‘lean-cuisine’ meal, and it’s even cheaper than going to McDonalds!

Maybe, some day, Oatmeal and I will get along.

Yesterday, I mentioned a long-standing feud that I have with Oatmeal. I don’t like oatmeal. I have never liked oatmeal, but I have to eat it because it’s healthy.

For the longest time, the mere sight of cooked oatmeal was mildly nauseating. I could handle oatmeal baths, oatmeal raisin cookies, no-bake cookies… But a regular bowl of oatmeal? Perish the thought. I made it a point to try it every few years. Before this week, the last time I tried oatmeal was three years ago, sitting down for a bowl of oatmeal at Starbucks when the shop in my school had a morning sale on it for the winter. I put all of the provided nuts, fruits, and brown sugar into it, plus some more sugar, and a little milk. I think I was trying to make it into an oatmeal cookie.

But I failed, and only choked down three or four bites before I gave up and, hating myself for wasting food, threw it away. Unwilling to repeat the embarrassing mistake, I avoided oatmeal like the plague for a while yet. I only purchased the Oat Revolution packets on the condition that my roommate would, should I discover that I found it entirely unpalatable, eat the rest for me.

Fortunately, with the help of some Kashi cereal for texture, I managed to choke down the first bowl. It was horrible, mostly because I made it in too shallow of a bowl, so it got weirdly crusty and tough. Recognizing my mistake, I didn’t entirely give up, but it was a few days before I tried again, this time in a smaller bowl. I added a half cup of dried berry mix I had gotten at Wal-Mart for that very purpose, and managed to eat the entire bowl with slightly less gagging.

I doubt I will ever truly enjoy it, but since oatmeal is one of the healthiest, most filling hot breakfasts you can find, I will continue to seek out ways to make it edible for me. Here is a list of ways I’ve found so far:

  • Add dried fruit, like cherries, blueberries, cranberries, raisins, and such.
  • Add fresh fruit, like diced apples, which hold their crunch well enough in the mush.
  • Add granola or cereal to oatmeal after cooking, to add texture and give you something to bite into.
  • Blend it into a smoothie.

Okay, I haven’t tried the last one, but I’m considering it. I’ll let you know how that goes!