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Staying Healthy This Thanksgiving Season

Published November 11, 2012 by Maryanne

One of my raw organic salads: oranges, kale, carrots, celery, flax seeds

This is an article I wrote for the Verona/Cedar Grove Patch, published November 19, 2010. It’s still relevant, so enjoy!

STAYING HEALTHY THIS THANKSGIVING SEASON

By Maryanne Christiano-Mistretta

Thanksgiving is upon us and there is so much to be grateful for. But one of the things we often take for granted is our health. During the holidays people assume they get a “get out of jail free” card when it comes to their well-being, gorging on fattening foods and lying around during the four-day weekend watching football.

Would you like this holiday season to be different? I’m sure everyone would love to have more energy and eat freely without dieting. I’ve compiled some tips that have helped me stay slim and energetic over the years, especially during the winter months when our bodies are less active. Try some or all of these tips and you’ll be surprised that they actually work and may even make you lose weight – instead of gain – during the long Thanksgiving weekend!

1. Don’t forget to take your vitamins. During a long holiday weekend, people deviate from their schedules and something simple like taking vitamins can be overlooked. It’s important to remember to keep your health in check and your energy high. If you are feeling tired or fatigued, you will overeat.

2. Drink water. I make water my number one drink because there are so many positive benefits that come with it. Water is a wonderful appetite suppressant. It also helps you lose weight because it flushes toxins from your body. When your skin is hydrated you look younger and fresher. Drinking water aids in digestion and alleviates constipation. During holiday gatherings I make a game of it by drinking an ounce of water every hour. When it’s time to go home, I had my recommended eight ounces.

3. Get up and move. People like to relax during the holidays, and I can be very guilty of that too. But you will feel better if you don’t submit to the temptation of lingering around the dinner table nibbling or hitting the couch to sleep or munch on chips. There are many other things to do: take a walk outside, play with the children, volunteer to walk the host’s dog, clean up or even visit more people! I’ll never forget the year I visited four different homes on a holiday. It seemed like I was eating and drinking all day and I was almost afraid to step on the scale the next morning. But when I did I was actually two pounds lighter! All the running around and mini meals, rather than one big meal, worked in my favor!

4. Food exchange system. You don’t have to stress about giving up your favorite foods during the holidays, but if you can cut corners in certain areas without sacrificing taste, your digestive system will thank you. Mashed potatoes can be replaced with mashed cauliflower or turnips. When seasons right, they are just as delicious. Health food stores have tons of delicious cookies sweetened with fruit juices instead of refined sugars. You can even make your own. Raw nuts are less fattening than nuts that are roasted and salted. Raw carrots, instead of chips or pretzels, are great for dipping – but choose salsa or hummus instead of a creamy onion dip. Salads don’t have to be boring. I always add lots of fun stuff to mine like capers and sun dried tomatoes. Use colorful vegetables and even fruits to make it look enticing!

5. Gross yourself out! This idea is kooky but it works. If you think about what some unhealthy foods are made of, you may never want to eat them again. Cheese is one of the biggest holiday downfalls for most people. It’s on every appetizer and dessert platter. It’s assumed that cheese is just made from milk, but cheeses contain an ingredient called “rennet” which is a natural complex of enzymes produced in the stomach of a cow. Some of my friends who consider themselves vegetarians didn’t even know this. If this fact grosses you out enough to stay away from the cheese platter, you will spare yourself the extra fat and calories.

There’s a popular holiday recipe called “ambrosia” that is made with marshmallows. Most people don’t realize marshmallows are made with gelatin (which is a brittle protein made from animal tissues such as bone and skin). Marshmallows aren’t healthy because they are loaded with sugar, meaning empty calories. My healthy version of ambrosia is a holiday hit! Just combine raw shredded sweet potato (it tastes like pumpkin!), coconut, raisins, organic apples, pineapple and maple syrup. Let the dish sit at least an hour in the refrigerator. It’s delicious!

Take my tips to heart, or with a grain of salt. Or come up with your own. And I wish everyone the happiest and healthiest Thanksgiving ever!

Super Fats!

Published October 7, 2012 by Maryanne

Another healthy obsession of mine!

I can’t stress how tired I am of going to Whole Foods and hearing vendors promoting their products using the “fat free” card.

I’ve said it once. I’ve said it twice. I’ve said it a thousand times. FAT IS NOT THE ENEMY!

Fat is GOOD for you.

And FAT DOES NOT MAKE YOU FAT!

Fat is a vital nutrient. Fatty acids are good for healthy skin, muscular strength and growth, and vitamin absorption. Fats contribute to a healthy nervous system and can help lubricate your joints.

Now I’m not talking about hydrogenated, saturated fats and trans fats. I’m talking about GOOD FATS such as: avocados, cold pressed olive oils, nuts, fatty fish, and my favorite: raw extra virgin coconut oil (see above photo!)

In addition to the benefits of healthy fats, additional health benefits gained from using raw extra virgin coconut oil include: stress relief, proper digestion, thyroid function, increased immunity, healing infections, relief from high blood pressure and even WEIGHT LOSS!

This stuff just melts in your mouth.  I use this product most often in non-homogenized yogurt and on my Ezekiel low-glycemic raisin bread. And sometimes I’ll use it on a baked sweet potato, the combination of the two tastes like a marzipan treat!

This delicious treat is so tasty, sometimes I just spoon it out of the jar and enjoy!

Step aside super foods and super fruits — make way for the super fats! And I nominate raw extra virgin coconut oil to be at the top of the list!

How to Choose a Veggie Burger

Published July 14, 2012 by Maryanne

De Canto’s Best Burger — Quinoa flavored

Since it’s summer and there will be a ton of outdoor parties and barbecues, I’ve decided to compile a list and guide of the top three easy to find and reasonably priced veggie burgers, as well as the “to avoid” burgers and the reasons.

Vegans and vegetarians can email this article to friends and family this summer so they know what to prepare for you on the grill!

How cool is that?

Top 3

1. De Canto’s BestBurger. I just tried this burger and it’s not only 100 percent natural, it’s pretty close to raw. There are limited ingredients in each one. The original has: sunflower seeds, organic brown rice, celery, carrots, squash, onion, red cabbage and seasoning. It’s soy-free, gluten-free, dairy-free, yeast-free, corn-free, wheat-free, oil-free with nothing artificial and low in sodium (only 140 mg!) And it is DELICIOUS, although a little heavy on the stomach — perhaps from the cabbage.

I’m excited that they have a quinoa flavored burger, which I’m dying to try, as quinoa is a complete protein and so very good for you!

2. Dr. Praeger’s California Burger. This was voted the best burger to lose weight by Dr. Oz. And I have to say, even though De Canto’s is a bit healthier, Dr. Praeger’s is my FAVORITE, as it just melts in your mouth. It’s all natural and has all the ingredients you could find in your own cupboard: carrots, onions, string beans, oat bran, soybeans, zucchini, peas, broccoli, corn, soy flakes, spinach, expeller pressed canola oil, red peppers, arrowroot, corn starch, garlic, corn meal, salt, parsley, black pepper.

3. Amy’s. God bless Amy’s, I’ve been using her products for YEARS! The veggie burgers are YUMMY, but they have a bit more sodium than the previous two and they also use a little bit organic cane sugar. However, on the plus side, all ingredients are organic. Note that they do contain soy and corn.

Bottom 3

1. Boca. I never liked these burgers. To me, they are the worst tasting veggie burgers on the market, plus they are loaded with artificial ingredients, cheese and milk.

2. Garden Burger. They taste good, but I haven’t had them in years because they put artificial ingredients in them. They do use dairy in some of their products, but it is kosher. The Veggie Medley and Black Bean are vegan.

3. Morning Star Garden. I don’t think I’ve ever tried these mainly because of all the artificial ingredients. If you can’t pronounce something, it doesn’t belong in your body. I mean, really, what the hell is this stuff?: DISODIUM INOSINATE, DISODIUM GUANYLATE, KONJAC FLOUR … SCARY!

DISCLAIMER TO ALL – While this list is meant to be a healthy guide, do not take your eating so seriously that you do not enjoy life! Nothing is more of a buzz kill than a militant Hitler-esque vegan or health freak that turns his/her nose up to something that isn’t up to his/her high standards.

If someone loves you and invites you over, but picks out the wrong veggie burgers, do yourself a favor and just ENJOY the damn thing! Stress and a bad attitude will have a worse effect on your health than a pinch of DISODIUM INOSINATE will!

Seriously!

A Sauce To Die For!

Published July 14, 2012 by Maryanne

The following is an article I wrote, published in The Montclair Times, January 11, 2006, after I interviewed Sopranos actor, Joseph R. Gannascoli, who had created an all natural Italian pasta sauce.

Quite a few people got a kick out of the fact that Gannascoli admitted to me — a reporter — that he was a food fence!

I asked him, “Is this ON THE RECORD?”

He said, “Yes.”

So, here is the full article, one of my favorites that I ever wrote — ENJOY!

The Sauce of All Sauces: ‘Sopranos’ Actor Joseph Gannascoli Creates Sauces ”To Die For’

By Mary Anne Christiano of The Montclair Times

Most chefs say their sauce is to die for, but when the chef is a gangster, he might mean it a little more literally.

Or maybe not. After all, this chef only plays a gangster on TV.

Joseph Gannascoli, who plays Vito Spatafore on “The Sopranos,” the noted series on HBO cable television, has crafted natural, additive-free sauces to be introduced in his new book “A Meal to Die For.” Both the book and the sauces made their debut on Tuesday, Jan. 10.

There are three sauces to choose from: “Roasted Garlic and Eggplant,” “Wild Mushroom” and “Sunday Sauce.” According to Gannascoli, his sauces feature ingredients, such as wild mushrooms, not often used in other sauces on the market today. The garlic in the “Roasted Garlic and Eggplant” sauce is roasted, not sautéed, which makes the taste sweeter, and there is sherry in the Sicilian “Sunday Sauce.”

Gannascoli, who recently lost 160 pounds, said he tries to eat healthy and that’s why he decided to concoct sauces without any preservatives. “I’d like to see my sauces in Trader Joe’s,” he said. “It’s a novelty.”

While the sauces start out with pretty basic ingredients, Gannascoli suggests doctoring them up. For instance, olives and capers can be added to the “Sunday Sauce” and put over fish. “If I wanted to cook mussels, I can add white wine to the ‘Sunday Sauce,'” he said. Gannascoli also suggests putting the “Wild Mushroom” sauce on pizza.

Before Gannascoli got into acting, he was a chef for 20 years. “People always loved my sauce,” he said. Leaving law school, Brooklyn-born Gannascoli decided to open up a restaurant in Manhattan.

The self-taught cook has been inventing dishes since his youth. He said, “When I was a kid I wanted to be this great chef. All cuisine is interesting, Japanese, New Orleans, Italian …”

During the 1980s and 1990s Gannascoli fulfilled his childhood dreams by opening up a few restaurants while dabbling in acting. But he said he always got bored and started gambling. After losing $60,000, Gannascoli paid off his debts and decided to pursue acting in Los Angeles. He made a few movies but couldn’t take being away from home.

“I went home, opened up a few more restaurants, didn’t gamble as much,” Gannascoli said.

Then Gannascoli got the break he was waiting for, being cast as the character Vito Spatafore in HBO’s Emmy Award-winning show, “The Sopranos.”

It’s possible that Gannascoli’s fictitious character in the show about organized crime in New Jersey lives in Montclair. “I think my home is in Montclair, or close to it,” he said. Gannascoli lives in Long Island and is not too familiar with the area.

After reading a story about a gay character involved in organized crime, Gannascoli decided he wanted his character Vito to be unique and suggested they make him come out on the show. When asked if Gannascoli’s character Vito is anything like him, he said, “No, I love women too much. I just got married!”

However, the character in Gannascoli’s book, “A Meal to Die For” is so similar to Gannascoli he says it’s almost autobiographical.

“It’s based on my life,” he said. “It’s a culinary novel of crime. I think it would make a great movie. It has food. It has the mob. It’s funny.”

The lead character, Benny Lacoco, is a “food fence” who wants to become a great chef. Lacoco moves hot items such as olive oil and expensive wine.

“I was a food fence for five or six years,” said Gannascoli. “But I never got ‘pinched’ [arrested] as they say.”

But even as a food fence, Gannascoli stayed true to his exquisite culinary tastes — if the quality wasn’t there, he said he wouldn’t sell it.

In the future, Gannascoli hopes to get into a bigger food line. He said, “Barbecue sauces, spreads, olive oils … I want to pitch my own cooking show. I want to expand and do as much as I can, while I can.”

How to Respect a Vegetarian

Published May 28, 2012 by Maryanne

fruit

Happy Memorial Day Fellow Bloggers!

It’s a day to respect what our soldiers fought and died for. This morning I lit my candle and took a moment of silence three times throughout the morning and afternoon.

Today also marks the day that starts off the summer cook-outs. As a vegetarian, it’s hard enough getting through the winter holidays with people not getting it. Now there’s a whole slew of summer holidays to get through with people not getting it.

It really is a shame that people don’t make more of an effort to understand the vegetarian lifestyle. Yes, some of us are vegetarians because we love animals. But we are also vegetarians because we care about our health and are conscious about what we eat.

So here are my top five issues with people who don’t understand the vegetarian lifestyle and hopefully someday in the future, life will be a little bit easier for all of us.

Top 5 Tips for Non-Vegetarians

1. TRY the food that a vegetarian brings to your party!  I’ve been to numerous parties where I was the only vegetarian. I’d  bring food and not one person touched my dish. I find this insulting and hurtful, especially because I’ve been told by a lot of people that I’m a great cook — vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike. Some even said I should open my own restaurant. Vegetarian food doesn’t meant it’s tasteless or just “grass.” That old  “rabbit food” joke went out the same year your mullet did, so we vegetarians are just sick of hearing it!

Most people can afford to lose a few pounds anyway by eating something healthy, so just be a sport and you may be pleasantly surprised.

2. Fruit and vegetables are delicious without unhealthy toppings! Strawberries are delicious. Period. They do not need whipped cream on them or to be smothered in cheap ass milk chocolate. String beans are very tasty raw. They do not need to be put into a casserole with breading and cheese overload.

3. For the love of God, give the veggie burgers a separate section on the grill. A friend did that for me once and I was absolutely tickled! That was very thoughtful and unexpected! No vegetarian wants a veggie burger with meat juice.

4. CHEESE IS NOT VEGETARIAN! I can’t say that loud enough. It contains milk and rennet, which comes from an animal sources.

5. We Eat a Helluva Lot More Than Pasta and Vegetables. To everyone in the 21st Century who is entertaining guests, I highly suggest buying a vegetarian cookbook or do some heavy duty “Googling.”

I dread going to yet another party, wedding,  or gathering where the only thing I could eat is pasta, potatoes and salad. And cake is made with animal lard, so when I refuse cake do not be offended.

It would be nice if there was something sweet I could enjoy at the end of my meal, besides a generic fruit salad purchased at an A&P. There’s a ton of vegetarian and vegan desserts that can be purchased pre-made or you can experiment and make yourself by just doing a Google search for “simple vegan desserts.”

So to all the non-vegetarians in the world, please be a little more creative. I beg you!

–Maryanne Christiano-Mistretta

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