Over the Salt

Mindful choices for healthy and low sodium cooking


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Cooking with low salt

I’ve learned a bunch of things in the past year about reducing or eliminating salt from our diet. Most of the heavy work was right at the beginning, where I read the ingredients on every can, jar, package and bottle of food in the house. I was so surprised to find how much sodium and potassium were in almost everything. And if it had low salt, then the sugar and fat were higher than usual. Through a process of elimination, and re-learning to cook with raw ingredients, we were able to keep the salt minimal, and well within the impossible-sounding 1500 mg a day we were presented with at first. Nowadays, it is a rare thing indeed for Raven to exceed 1000 mg a day, and my own salt intake is around 1500 most days.

We had been reading cans for a while (for sugar content), but had missed the sodium as a health risk. Now we are shopping in the produce rows at the grocery store, for the most part, and cautiously adding other “safe” foods along the way. The amount of processed food has gone down so much, we are losing pounds effortlessly without feeling like it is any kind of diet.

It does take practice, and mindful attention, but I have to say it is worth it. My sweetie is taking the heart meds and diuretics (which helps) and has dropped 60 pounds now. For me, just following along and eating the same food has dropped 45 pounds. That’s like a small person. It certainly leads to more energy to do the things we want to do, and playing with recipes has been a whole lot of fun.

Have been collecting recipes and photos along the way, and the next little while will see me posting a bunch of vege bakes, fabulous potato dishes, and quick ways to make caramelized onions. Hope you are enjoying our journey as much as we are – R


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Golden nectar fruit cake

GoldenNectar-RiaLoader

I have been learning to bake, one step at a time. My approach is to master a single recipe, then try variations on that one with other ingredients, calling my sister in Australia for midnight inspiration as often as not. For the holidays, I wanted to make a fruitcake like I remembered from childhood, but without the bits I didn’t like, such as peel, cherries and nuts. Of course, I called my sister to get a recipe, and some suggestions on how to experiment, as she’s my inspiration for such things. She suggested I start with the Divine Date Loaf recipe, soak a bunch of raisins, sultanas, currants and diced apricots in alcohol, and add them until the batter couldn’t coat any more fruit. This sounded good to me, and I proceeded to experiment from there.

Variations on Divine Date Loaf

  • Substitute gluten free flour for plain flour
  • Use barley malt syrup instead of molasses
  • Add a cup of honey for sweetness
  • Soak about 3 cups chopped sultanas, raisins, apricots,
    currants in 1 cup rum + 1 cup brandy for 3 days, stirring each day.
    Add cup of honey, lemon crystals or zest to this mix.
  • Cook at lower temperature (300 instead of 375 degrees) for 40 minutes
  • Stand small loaf pans in water bath to prevent burning
  • At the 30 minute mark, turn off heat and put aluminum foil on top of pans (prevents burning)

I made 4 mini loafs and a bunch of muffins in large silicon muffin moulds. It was golden, delicious and like nectar. Mmmmmm.


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10 ways to a healthy breakfast

file9831244402030Andrea’s breakfast post inspired me to write down some thoughts about eating a healthy breakfast. Just a few months ago, I’d grab a pre-made protein drink from Odwalla or Boultons and run out the door with it, in a style I called eat-while-running away. On arrival at work, I’d stop at Tullys and grab a coffee with soy milk. By lunch time, the lack of a healthy breakfast made me desperate for real food, and I’d eat more of the wrong stuff. The cycle kept repeating itself.

When I started reading labels more closely for sodium content, though, those convenience drinks stopped making it into the shopping basket, and coffee was replaced by tea, which was much more tasty. I started thinking about food in a more wholistic way, more as a series of choices that would blend together to keep my energy balanced throughout the whole day.

My considerations for breakfast are (1) high protein (2) low salt and (3) tasty and nutritious. I just noticed that I like to garnish with strawberries or grapes when I looked at the images. Here are my 10 favorite ways to a healthy breakfast.

  1. Fabulous fruity oatmeal
  2. Baked savory frittata
  3. Flatbread roll-ups
  4. Divine date loaf
  5. Living yoghurt
  6. Rock cakes
  7. Protein smoothies
  8. Fresh fruit salad
  9. Tiny quiches
  10. Sweet and savory fried rice

1. Fabulous fruity oatmeal

FabOatmeal300One of the best dishes of oatmeal I had in recent years was at a restaurant. It was a shallow bowl of oatmeal with mango puree and raspberries in the center on top. This started my love affair with fruit in my oatmeal, and not just the usual raisons. I tried fresh fruit in season, little cups of fruit in juice (peaches, pears, oranges), diced prunes and dates, mango slices and bananas. Sometimes, I tried more than one at a time! I stopped adding milk, yoghurt, cream or any dairy to the breakfast. I also stopped adding sweetener most of the time, as the fruit was sweet enough. On the odd occasion, I’d add a little maple sugar, date sugar or honey, depending on what fruit choice I made. If the fruit was not juicy enough on its own, a little mango nectar is a perfect addition.

2. Easy savory frittata

EggMuffinHeaderI was first introduced to these by the fabulous Jane. When we were at the ICU, she sent along what she calls egg muffins to help keep me fed on healthy snacks. A couple grabbed from the refrigerator, and taken along in a plastic bag would keep me going all morning. They had some onions and green peppers, garlic powder, pepper and salt. And love of course; love is always the most important ingredient. It took a couple months before I was making my own; they are made in a muffin pan, and can have many optional ingredients. Nowadays, I make a dozen on the weekend in half an hour, and carry them with me for quick snacks on the go. Heated for 30 seconds, two make a perfect breakfast. Savory frittata recipe>

3. Flatbread roll-ups

rollup300Almost any flatbread will do for this recipe, depending on what you have on hand. I like fresh corn or flour tortillas, potato flour flatbread, pancakes or crepes, or even the various thin-bread you can get now in most stores. The roll-up is just the medium to keep the ingredients off your fingers. I like using fillings like peanut butter and honey, banana, strawberries and nutella, potato salad, stir fried veges and tofu, vege bolognese, eggs and cheese, leftovers of various kinds – mashed potatoes with chicken breast and tomato for example.

4. Divine date loaf

dateloafOne of my favorites from childhood. Date loaf or date bread is tasty, nutritious, and full of bliss. It has dates, molasses, date sugar, flour, egg and butter, though not in that order. My sister has a great post on how to make it here. Delicious for breakfast, or an in-between meal snack. It is also easy to eat slices on the road, while driving. Divine date loaf recipe>

5. Living yoghurt

yoghurt-smallI’m a big fan of yoghurt with live cultures, especially probiotics. It helps balance your stomach, which is perfect after a night where you stayed up too late, or ate weird food the day before. I like to add fresh sliced fruit, berries and a little local honey for the burst of flavor and for color. Colorful foods wake up my senses in the morning. Usually, this is paired with a protein drink made from fresh juice and WPI (whey protein isolate) for the energy.

6. Rock cakes

RockCake300I know, that sounds like an odd name for a breakfast food – rock cakes. However, it is the Australian name for scones with dried fruit in them. If you are making scones and the dough gets overworked, the scones will not be as light as what Americans call biscuits, and which we Aussies call scones. So stick some golden raisons, chopped dates or fruit peel in them, and serve with butter and jam. A drizzle of honey adds joy.

7. Protein smoothies

Smoothy300Simple and delicious. I make these every morning, and take one to my sweetie to help him wake up. I found that protein wakes my brain up faster than tea or coffee, though tea in the morning is a must for the day. I like orange, guava, mango and pineapple juice, and use some or all as a start and about 18 oz. We like Whey Protein Isolate, or WPI, as it dissolves completely. We get it from Super Supplements, though my sister tells me she also found it in a health food store in Sydney. Mix it up with a blender, or shake it in one of those handy mix bottles with the round ball in it. Serves two. Optional additives are vegetable juices, a blended banana, flax seed oil or wheat germ. The juice gives an energy boost, and the protein sustains you through the morning. One thing to keep in mind is to use whole juices, rather than extracts, and if you fresh squeeze your fruit, it’s like a taste of paradise.

8. Fresh fruit salad

fruit300All the texture, flavor and delight to the senses. Fresh fruit, in season, is a fabulous way to begin the day. Don’t forget to include baby tomatoes (also a fruit) in the mix, with edible flowers if you like them. One of my favorite ways to enjoy fruit salad is to prepare a batch for a few days, slice up cheese ahead of time and serve the cheese on the side.

9. Tiny quiches

mini-quicheThese small quiches are just the same as large ones, only cuter and made in a tiny muffin pan. Colleen’s pastry recipe is a good choice for the crust, nice and thin. Add mushrooms, scallions, veges or salmon and bacon if that’s how you roll. Mix the eggs up with heavy cream for a rich taste, and cap it with grated cheese. Quick and easy once you have the pastry made, and you can make pastry in batches to freeze. Cook in a 375 degree oven for 12-15 minutes. While a few of these are great for breakfast, keeping some on hand is helpful for casual guests or afternoon tea as well.

10. Sweet savory fried rice

friedriceSweetFried rice is just as good for breakfast as it is for dinner. As a dish, it started life as a way to use up leftovers like day-old rice, odds and ends of vegetables, plus whatever spices you have on hand. When you take the notion of good coconut oil, sweet ingredients like corn, zucchini, maui onions and some crushed pineapple, and add golden raisons and an egg, it’s just about the perfect breakfast. Serve over wilted baby greens and, if you’re adventurous, stir in a nice big spoonful of jam. Fried rice recipe>


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Lime and Thyme Pasta

LimeThymeHead

Wok cooking at it’s easiest. Pasta dish with mushrooms and tofu, (though it is just as good with chicken breast), finished with coconut cream. Roasted finely-chopped garlic and thyme, sliced portabello mushrooms, added some Worcestershire sauce and fresh squeezed lime juice, cooked pasta shells and diced tofu, a cup of coconut cream, and thickened with a teaspoon of starch. Easy, savory and filling in less than 20 minutes.


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Easy savory frittata

EggMuffinHeader

 

In the morning, I like easy better than coffee. This quick egg recipe allows me to prepare snack meals for the week and grab them to go. All I need is a muffin pan, a dozen eggs and some imagination. Other ingredients are seasonal, like fire-roasted corn, snap peas, sweet peppers or gem tomatoes. The recipe makes a dozen tiny frittata that are delicious both hot or cold.

Ingredients

  • One dozen eggs
  • Cheese – shredded
  • Optional vegetables – whatever is fresh – finely chopped
    • sweet onions
    • sweet tiny peppers
    • fire roasted corn
    • shelled sweat peas
    • mushrooms
    • summer squash
    • zucchini
    • potatoes or sweet potato
  • Enough liquid to make up 800ml total batter
    water or cream, both work
  • Garlic powder 1/4 teaspoon
  • Pepper to taste
  • A pinch of garam marsala or savory herbs

Making the recipe

  • Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees
  • Crack the eggs into a large measuring beaker
  • Add enough liquid (water or cream) to make 800mls
  • Beat the mixture and add the spices, set aside
  • Prepare a non-stick muffin pan with butter or oil (I like butter)
  • Grate the cheese and add a desert spoon to each muffin cup
  • Chop the vegetables and sprinkle over the cheese, until cups are 2/3 full
  • Give the egg mixture a last stir (herbs may have settled) and add to the muffin cups
  • Bake for 22-25 minutes
  • They are done when risen and lightly springy on top.

Savory bites

I usually make this in a large muffin tin and the recipe makes 12. However, my sister tells me that mini muffin pans make cute bites that are perfect for afternoon tea. Share the recipe link on facebook and follow us to get more fun recipes.

Store the indivual frittata in an air-tight container or in small bags ready to grab for work. I like to heat them and serve in rolled flatbread. My thanks to Jane for introducing me to the idea of the frittata and providing a couple dozen when I was visiting my sweetie in the hospital. These little protein bombs kept me going.


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How much is too much salt?

SaltShakerWe say there’s too much salt in prepared food, but how much is too much? For a person who has had a heart attack, a low salt diet is one where there is a maximum of 1500-2000mg of salt a day. For context, a teaspoon is about 2300mg of salt.

What surprised me most, I think, is that we thought we were eating healthy food. Organic soups (canned), vegetarian dishes from our favorite Thai, Indian, Chinese and Mexican restaurants were frequent visitors to our table, especially during busy weekdays. However, we’ve since realized that those delicious recipes had terrible loads of harmful salt in them. Canned chili was 920mg a serving, however, that was counted as 2 servings per can; a single can was 1840mg of salt. A jar of curry sauce says 400mg per serving, which sounds great until you read more closely, and realize the small jar has 6 or 8 servings per jar. Corn bread is 200mg a 2″ square, a slice of bread can be up to 400mg a slice, and a slice of pie between 200mg and 400mg depending on the number of servings you cut.

We have turned into much more careful readers. We examine every label to figure the amount of servings and divide to find the actual numbers per container. As we’re doing the math with the very real consideration of avoiding another heart attack, theres some pressure to pay attention. Very early we determined that a main meal can have a maximum of 500mg, and we would stay below the 1000mg as a total per day most days. That’s turned out to be a good thing, both for Raven (who had the heart attack) and for me (who has dropped a bunch of pounds water weight).

Salt retains water. Reducing salt, reduces water weight gain. The body does not have to work so hard to deal with the extra water. And the heart, which is a pump, needs to work less hard to pump that water around. Seems simple enough. In a person with a healthy heart, less water means more energy, and less weight.

What I’ve learned from this? There’s too much hidden salt in mystery food, so we’ll take the mystery out of it and cook our own food. Much of it will have no salt at all, and is “free food”, that is free from salt. To make it tasty, we add spices, balance the flavors and eat fresh fruits and vegetables in abundance. Baking our own goodies is a fun way to add love to the process.

I still have my artisan salts from the Murray River, Tibetan Pink, Salish Black and Hawaiian salts. I use them occasionally as a finishing touch for dishes, but only a few grains at a time. We’ve learned that we can have a little of anything we crave, and feel grateful that life and love continues to be rich and flavorful.

Article copyright Ria Loader 2013

Photo credit: mconnors from morguefile.com


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Healthy Mexican burritos

My sweetie was telling me how he’s been reading restaurant sites to find the nutrition information. He was looking for Mexican food, something that he’s not been able to eat lately, due to the high salt. Can you hear the quest music in the background? I could. I was on a mission for the weekend to find low salt alternatives so we could make our own Mexican food.

making a skinny burrito - photos by Ria Loader

Skinny burrito – photos and collage by Ria Loader


The key elements were soft tortillas, fajita mix – peppers and onions, salsa with cilantro, refried black beans with low everything (fat, salt, additives), and fresh avacado. How hard could it be? I found most of the ingredients at Central Market, a great local place near our house. They make their own tortillas there, and I found an alternate that was pre-packaged. Some salt (about 180 per tortilla), but acceptable. Father’s day was coming up, so their kitchen had made fresh salsa. Don’t worry, we also came up with a no salt recipe. The beans came from a can, low fat, and only 300mg for a half-cup of beans. As we’d be using much less than that for a serving – more like 2 tablespoons, we’re looking at 100mg there. The whole meal came to 400mg of salt, well within the once-a-day-with-salt-meal-allowance. I will write a separate post on how much is too much salt. For now, let’s go with the daily amount of up to 1500-2000mg (or less than a teaspoon) of salt.

Tortillas
Your local market may have a low-salt variety.
Most have up to 200mg
Think about using corn ones if you are gluten sensitive

Fajita Mix
Sliced red onions
Sliced mixed red, yellow, green peppers
Fry in a skillet with olive oil until cooked and a little blackened

Black Beans
Easy to heat in a microwave or small saucepan
No additions unless you like extra spice

Salsa
Fresh tomatoes (1 cup chopped)
Fine chop fresh sweet onions (1 cup)
Cilantro to taste
Variation: Add mango, peaches or pineapple for some zing

Avacado or Guacamole
Use fresh slices of avacado (half an avacado per burrito)
Variation: Your favorite guacamole recipe
(we’ll have one later)

Making the skinny burrito
Cook the beans and the fajita mix, set aside
Heat the tortillas in a skillet, or microwave (dampen paper towel over the plate, heat for 10 seconds)
Assemble the contents in the center of the tortilla
Add shredded cheese
Roll the tortilla up and enjoy!

Variations
You can add rice, chicken, cooked meat, shrimp to the mix to make it a regular burrito

This experiment tasted amazing! I made up an extra one, put it in a gallon baggy, and nuked it for 30 seconds at work the next day. It was just as delicious a day later, and much more convenient than the mystery food at the cafeteria. Let me know if you try it out, and what you think.


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Eating foods in season

strawberries with curried cashews - snack

Strawberries + Curried Cashews

I love the idea that we live in a time when we can get any produce at any time, at least hypothetically. Yet recently, I’ve come to notice that foods that are forced to grow out of season just don’t taste as good. The out-of-season foods may be uniform in size and shape, and they are made to pack and travel well; that makes them reliable in a sense. Yet what is missing, for me, is the concentrated flavor and organic variation that makes the food visually and aesthetically pleasing. As an artist, I cannot imagine wanting to draw a perfect apple or raspberry; that would make for an artificial-looking image composition at best, more like wax than something edible. Apparently my taste buds feel the same way!

Lately, I’ve been making fresh fruit snacks from whatever fruit is in season, usually from local growers. Organic is a preference, where available, though a good wash removes most of the chemicals. I choose fruit that is just at, or nearly past, its peak, firm but starting to get a little soft. Ready to eat today or tomorrow is my general rule, and it has to be “smelly”, that is to say ripe. If there is no scent to the food, then I walk away. From May onwards, local farmers markets are opening in school parking lots and community centers, and that’s my favorite place to shop for fresh produce. It’s always good to learn something new from the grower, and the sensory experience of seeing the food and being amongst community members makes me feel connected. Being in the moment, and noticing what my body wants to eat is also part of the experience.

Balances of sweet and savory appeal to me most, things like pears with curry cashews and chopped dates, pistachios sprinkled over nectarines, accompanied by a sharp cheese (Beecher’s Flagship), some pickled onions, snappy crackers (Ritz baked). Here are some snacks I’ve enjoyed from March through May in Seattle.

pear and honey cashews

Pear + Honey Cashews

mango and strawberries

Mango Strawberry Parfait

strawberry and nectarine with dates

Strawberry Nectarine + Dates


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Vegetarian fried rice

Vege fried riceWhen we were deciding what to have for dinner one evening, I noticed we had some firm tofu on hand, and thought about doing a tofu scramble with some carbs. That led to wondering how hard it would be to make our own fried rice, rather than picking it up from the local Thai place. After heading to Bing to find some recipes, we thought we could put something together that may work. Our local favorite Thai place makes a killer basil fried rice with vegetables. My goal was to make a personal version that was just as delicious, and with no added salt.

Making the recipe
I like to use a non stick wok, though a skillet works just as well for most folks. First, I fried up an egg in a the wok and put it aside for later. Sauteed onions, sweet corn, tiny tomatoes (so sweet!), diced firm tofu, added garam masala spice (I like the savory flavor), stirred in a cup of cooked jasmine rice. I added the egg last, some basil infused oil, and dried basil. It took around five minutes to chop things, and 10 to cook it from start to finish. I’ve made it with several variations since, and it’s always delicious. Most often I take some for lunch the next day too.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup Cooked rice
  • 1 sweet onion, diced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon basil (chopped)
  • 1/4 cup corn
  • 1 cup chopped firm tofu
  • 2 eggs

Variations

Leave out the egg, add nuts or dried fruit if you like.

For seafood lovers, add some shrimp instead of tofu.

Photo credit: Ria Loader


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Over the Salt

Salt in various forms - image by frenchbyte from morguefile.comLet’s face it. There is too much salt in canned food, packaged food, and snacks. Gone are the days when salt was a rare condiment, when sitting “above the salt” indicated wealth or prestige. Now we’re in a world where salt is used as a preservative as much as a flavor enhancer. Sometimes, the amount of salt in recipes is too much for good health. Nowadays, I use much less salt in cooking, and when I do use it, I do so mindfully.

When my spouse had heart failure a few months back, a low salt diet became necessary for his recovery. Otherwise, he would have too much fluid build up in his body and lungs, and that would be what I’d call a very bad thing. When I took a look at the pantry, almost all the food had to go. Soups? Out. Frozen dinners? Gone. Breads? Only a few brands would work. Mystery food from restaurants? Gone forever. Needless to say, this prompted a re-evaluation of what constituted health food. It also meant an urgent call to my sister, Colleen, to provide recipe help. As a chef, I was sure she would have the scoop on approaches to take. I also asked my extended social networks, in person and online for suggestions.

I experimented with sauces, spices and snacks made from fresh ingredients. By reading all the labels, it was even possible to find brands that were okay to use as part of recipes. When my sister came to visit for a few weeks from Sydney this spring, we had a lot of fun finding recipes that could work as-is or be adapted. We’ve decided to share those here, and continue experimenting together as a Sydney to Seattle collaboration. We hope that others will join us in trying low salt, savory dishes that taste delicious.