Sunday, February 12, 2012

It's About Health, Not Religious Freedom

This post is quite the departure from how I usually use this blog, but this issue concerns me enough that I will use every outlet at my disposal to get my story out there, because my story is the story of many women. 

I know I have a lot of friends and family against mandated coverage of birth control & other issues surrounding women's health for moral/religious reasons. There are a lot of articles out there arguing both sides of the current political debate surrounding this issue, such as this one about Rick Santorum's stance. I know articles like this mostly only reach people who already agree with the side of the issue it argues. But this is so important, too important for us not to listen to each other. It's such a personal issue for me, and it is difficult to discuss publicly, but this debate is making something that should be personal very very public. In this political climate, it's important for women to share their personal stories to reframe the discussion. Please, even if you ignore every article out there, at least read my personal story to see why it's not an issue of sex or morality for me or my Republican, Catholic parents. This mostly food-related blog may not be the best forum to change people's minds, but the framing of this issue is hurting so many, and this is one way available to me to share my story. Feel free to pass it along. 

I, like many many women, have polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS. Hormonal birth control has saved me from a lot of pain and many other medical problems including costly, invasive emergency surgeries (after having gone through one before being treated). It has since probably saved my ability to have children in the future, and may prevent my condition from causing cancer. It very literally may save my life. And even though sex & birth control had nothing to do with why they prescribed it to a 15-yr-old sexually inactive girl, my family's insurance did not cover my medicine because my very conservative, religious state didn't require them to. Luckily, my very Republican, CATHOLIC parents were willing to pay to protect my health and were financially able to. I would certainly not call my treatment cheap, or "a few dollars a month." But they never even considered it a moral issue, not for a moment, not even for the blink of an eye. Because of COURSE they would protect their daughter. 

Yet the same insurance in the same state covered Viagra. Which one is all about sex?* And even if it IS about just sex for some women who take it, one person has a different moral code and religion than another. It is their right to make those decisions, and hormonal birth control is valid preventative medicine in those cases. Let us choose what to do with our bodies, and you can choose what to do with yours. Viagra should be covered for sexual health, as should drugs for women's sexual health. Denying coverage changes neither behavior nor beliefs, and this argument should not be framed as such when people's health & lives are at stake. Everyone should of COURSE want to protect their daughters, wives, sisters, mothers, aunts, grandmothers, nieces, cousins, friends - ALL the women in their lives. That should be our moral obligation.

And remember, making it available does not force anyone to use birth control. If you are morally or religiously against birth control, don't use it. To the Catholic Church and other religions against birth control: You have the religious freedom to preach to your congregants not to use birth control. They have the religious freedom to follow your teachings and to not use it. Availability does nothing to alter teachings or beliefs. If someone doesn't believe in it, having hormonal birth control covered by their insurance is not going to change that. Not having it covered by insurance will not alter my or anyone else's opinion that it is okay to use, but it can seriously affect someone's health. This issue should not be framed as a religious freedom debate. This is about health. And that's how we should talk about it.

*Note: There are also non-sexual applications for Viagra, but I would like to see numbers comparing percentages of Viagra prescriptions used solely for sexual purposes vs. percentages of birth control prescriptions used solely for sexual purposes. Viagra is openly acknowledged to be used mostly to treat ED, even in prime time commercials - that's how comfortable society is with men's sexuality vs. women's. And women are prescribed Viagra for sexual function, too, but I wonder what attitudes would be toward it if it was used by mostly women. The current discussion frames women's sexuality as immoral and icky - to the point public figures are willing to risk our health to signal to voters their negative feelings toward it, and yet men's sexuality is freely acknowledged as acceptable and a RIGHT. Let's move on from letting sexism irrationally dictate our health care. Let's reframe this discussion. NOW.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

"Orange" Soup... *ahem* I mean, Tomato Soup

Recently I shared memories of lunches reading with my brother and mom while we ate soup. As soon as I got my Blendtec, I set about creating an adult version of the "white" soup, or Creamy Mushroom Soup, I favored those childhood afternoons. I figured I might as well delve into reverse engineering my mom & brother's favorite, too: "orange" soup, or Creamy Tomato.

This time I started simple, since that's what ended up working previously. You know what - simple was all I needed! In the Blendtec, this fresh soup is just about as easy as opening a can of Campbell's. Using a standard blender adds only minimal extra work.

Fresh & Easy Tomato Soup

Amounts for 1 serving. Multiply amounts by number of servings you'd like - it's best fresh, so try to avoid leftovers. Only blend as much as 2, MAYBE three servings at once, depending on the size of your blender carafe. Blend additional batches for more servings.

1 tsp. Better Than Bouillon Vegetable Base dissolved into 1 cup hot water (or 1 cup of your favorite vegetable stock)
2 whole roma tomatoes, woody nub removed (for a standard blender, chop tomatoes)
Up to 1 tsp. agave nectar (depending on how sweet the tomatoes are - at the height of the summer tomato season, you won't need any sweetener)

Place all ingredients into blender and secure lid tightly. Select "Soup" option on the Blendtec to get hot, delicious soup straight from the blender. For a standard blender, puree until completely smooth, then transfer to microwave safe bowl or a pot on the stove to heat.

For a more complex flavor, try adding one or more of the following ingredients. Amounts given for one serving; multiply for additional servings.

3 leaves fresh basil
1 strip red bell pepper
Small wedge yellow or sweet onion
Small wedge avocado
1/2 inch cube of cheddar cheese (or equivalent of shredded for a standard blender)

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Steak, Stir-Fried

I realized I couldn't even remember the last time I cooked red meat. I guess that explained the craving. So I picked up a steak at the butcher and threw this quick stir-fry together from items in my crisper and pantry. Super yummy lunch; this really hit the spot. As good as just about any Chinese delivery.

Easy Broccoli Beef

Serves 4.

1 lb. boneless sirloin steak, chopped into roughly 1inch cubes
1/2 tsp. garlic salt
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
2 Tbsp. corn starch
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tsp. seasoned rice vinegar
1/2 tsp. ground or fresh grated ginger
1 tsp. sesame oil
about 10 dashes chili oil
1 Tbsp. Truvia stevia sweetener (or 2 1/2 Tbsp. sugar)
1 cup beef broth
2 Tbsp. peanut or vegetable oil, divided
2 cups broccoli florets
1 red bell pepper, cut into roughly 2 inch strips
1 yellow onion, cut into roughly 2 inch strips
2 large garlic cloves, pressed
2 cups cooked brown rice

Sprinkle cubes of steak on all sides with garlic salt and pepper. Set aside to rest for 15-30 minutes. Meanwhile, in bowl or measuring cup, mix cornstarch with soy sauce, vinegar, ginger, sesame oil, chili oil, and sweetener/sugar. Add beef broth and blend with a fork. Set aside. Blot steak cubes dry with paper towels. In large skillet, heat one tablespoon of the cooking oil over medium high heat. Add steak cubes in one layer. Sear on one side without turning for about 1-1 1/2 minutes, until just browned. Flip the chunks and sear for another 1-1 1/2 minutes until browned on the other side. Remove from pan and set aside. Add remaining tablespoon of cooking oil to the skillet and swish it around to recoat the surface. Add broccoli, bell pepper, and onion to the pan and stir-fry until the broccoli is just tender, about 7-8 minutes, stirring often. Add pressed garlic and continue to stir-fry another 30 seconds. Add steak cubes back into the skillet with the vegetables and toss to combine. Blend sauce mixture again with the fork. Pour over skillet contents. Toss everything together over heat until sauce has thickened, about 1-2 minutes. Mound 1/2 cup rice on each plate. Divide stir-fry evenly into four portions and pour over rice.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Creamless Creamy Mushroom Soup

Growing up, I have fond memories of lunches around the kitchen table with my mom and brother, each of us with a bowl of soup, a hunk of cheese, and a book in our hands, our heads buried in literary worlds while hot liquid filled our stomachs. My brother and mom preferred "orange" soup and "orange" cheese (Campbell's Tomato Soup and a big slice of cheddar), while I always insisted on "white" soup and "white" cheese (Campbell's Cream of Mushroom Soup and a big slice of mozzarella). As an adult, I've never lost my love for soup, cheese, or a good book. But Campbell's doesn't cut it any more, and with age I've also developed an intolerance to cream. Creamy soups, chowders, pastas, and soft serve - how I miss thee! But I never give up the fight to find ways to enjoy those old favorites with my new restrictions, a fight I've documented on this blog (such as here and here).

When I got my Blendtec for my recent 30th birthday, I immediately resolved to create a cream of mushroom soup that took me back to those days around the table with my family. I started to experiment immediately. I tried all sorts of ideas that sounded good in my head - white wine, onions, leeks, cream cheese. They were all too harsh or, in the case of the cream cheese, disappeared entirely. It turned out, as it often does, simplicity won the day. The glutamates in soy sauce bump up the umami-rich nucleotides in the mushrooms for full, savory flavor. A little garlic for depth, a touch of cornstarch to mimic the creaminess of the soup of my youth. Voila. That's all it takes.

"Creamy" Mushroom Soup

Serves 2.

12 oz. sliced crimini mushrooms
2 Tbsp soy sauce
2 cloves garlic, pressed
1 1/2 cups light, unsweetened almond, soy, or other milk substitute, or even milk, if you prefer
1/2 tsp corn starch

In a preheated skillet sprayed with PAM, saute mushrooms and soy sauce over medium-high until tender, about 6-7 minutes. Add garlic and continue to saute for another 30 seconds - 1 minute. Remove from heat. In blender carafe, add "milk," cornstarch, and all but 2/3 cup of the mushrooms. Blend until entirely smooth and combined. Add the remaining 2/3 cup of mushrooms and pulse a couple times until the slices have broken up into smaller pieces without blending them in entirely. Transfer to a pot on the stove and heat over medium. Simmer for a few minutes until mushrooms are heated through. Salt and pepper to taste. Hunk of "white" cheese and tattered paperback optional.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Smoky Kale Chips

It's been awhile, hasn't it? I've been having a lot of fun with other people's recipes (yes, mostly America's Test Kitchen, you know me so well) and playing with my new Blendtec the husband man gave me for my 30 birthday, so I just haven't had a lot of new creations to pass on. I'll start sharing some Blendtec recipes as I work them out, especially ones that can be created with a standard blender. But for now, how about a nutritious snack to hold you over?

Since my original Kale Edition post, I've only included kale in stir-fry and soup recipes on here. I thought it would be fun to introduce you to another use, one in the form of a crispy, salty snack (my favorite kind!) Kale chips are easy to make. All you really need is oil, salt, kale, and an oven. But, like potato chips, you can get creative with the seasoning to find your favorite flavors. Here's a combination I've been especially loving at the moment, but it does require a special ingredient.

I often infuse olive oil for an extra layer of flavor in any recipe. Well, I admit I'm currently hooked on a flavored olive oil I didn't make myself. The Smoked Olive has a whole range of oils infused with smoky goodness. I'm head over heels for the most intense in the line, Santa Fe. If I'm paying for it, I want FLAVOR. This is like a marriage between local foods I love and the southwest cuisine I grew up with. And others agree; it's won awards! It adds a warmth and depth to kale chips that I find utterly addictive.

Smoky Kale Chips

1 bunch kale, ribs removed and ripped into pieces, washed and THOROUGHLY dried
1 Tbsp The Smoked Olive Santa Fe Chili Smoked Olive Oil
1 Tbsp imported balsamic vinegar (stronger flavor than domestic)
1 tsp salt, more to taste if desired

Preheat oven to 300. In a large bowl, massage kale with oil until evenly coated. Add vinegar and salt and massage again until evenly coated. Spread in a single layer on a large rimmed baking sheet. Optionally, place them on a rack set inside the baking sheet to promote greater airflow.

Bake 30-40 minutes until crisp. Start tossing the leaves and checking for doneness at 20 minutes and again every few minutes after that to avoid burning. Remove from oven and sprinkle with additional salt while hot, if desired.