The Big C


My family has been dealing with the Big C for the last five years: My dad has had four different cancers in this time. Cancer is a sinister illness involving genetic changes that cause abnormal cells to grow out of control, clog function of vital organs and tissues, and lead to poor quality of life. Cancer and traditional therapies, while important for destroying cancer and improving longevity, cause terrible symptoms and side effects. In this case, the best medicine is prevention.

Some cancers are genetic. Exposure to environmental factors, pollution, or excess sunshine can cause cancer. Even the foods we eat and not being active can cause cancer. So what do we do? Here’s your nutrition Rx: Eat your fruits and veggies! Likely the most important part of a healthful diet, the CDC reports that only 14% of adults and 9.5% of adolescents eat enough fruits and vegetables. These, in addition to nuts, seeds, legumes, and whole grains, contain fiber, water, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals that preserve life and prevent cancer. The American Cancer Society recommends eating at least 2.5 cups of fresh fruits and vegetables every day. Focus on vibrantly colored fruits and veggies and those high in fiber, such as pears, because these combat cancer development. On the other hand, skip processed and fatty red meats, saturated fat, and sugary snacks/beverages. In a nutshell, move more, drink more water, ditch the processed junk, and choose the freshest, least processed foods. Time to fill your prescription!

Snacking Made Simple

badam_cashew_nuts_hiresI teach in a culinary school where some of our classes are six hours long, back-to-back. Some of our students (and faculty) are in hot, steamy kitchens for thirteen hours every day! Unfortunately, this scenario happens too often: A student who hasn’t eaten enough suddenly becomes lightheaded. We’ve all felt this way, often as a mid-afternoon crash, but there is a simple solution that prevents fatigue, improves concentration, and decreases money spent on that 3:00 PM coffee run. Eat a simple snack!

Vending machine fixes, such as candy bars, chips, pastries, or soft drinks, are usually high in refined sugars that may give you a quick boost but eventually cause a crash that decreases performance. For snacks with real staying power, you may need to plan ahead – but I promise this will only take five minutes! Choose carbohydrates plus fiber, fat and/or protein. Good choices include fresh fruit plus nuts or nut butter, trail mix, low sugar granola bars (aim for <8g sugar), or hummus and veggie sticks. These snacks are excellent, portable choices, and are often sold in single-serve packs at the grocery store. Having spent many years working with children, I find that a designated snack drawer or shelf in the pantry or fridge may be the easiest solution for busy lives – and snacks that are appropriate for you are appropriate for kids, too! Can’t avoid the vending machine? Bring fruit with you and look for nuts, seeds, baked chips or pretzels. Your body and brain will thank you!

Black Rice Salad with Cherries, Pears, and Gouda

Black Rice Salad with Pears sm

This simple and hearty salad is full of fresh fruit and contains fiber. Its lightly sweet flavor comes from the ripe pears, cherries, and just a touch of fresh-squeezed orange juice in the dressing. It also features wonderful savory notes courtesy of the rice, gouda cheese, and walnuts. Put them all together and the result is a beautiful salad full of unique flavors, colors, and textures.

Try this salad for dinner on a hot summer day. Cook the rice and roast the onions in the morning and you’ll only need 10 minutes to complete this dish in the evening. Serve the salad alongside something simple from the grill, or as a vegetarian meal in and of itself.

1 small sweet onion, large dice
1 tablespoon canola oil
4 cups cooked and cooled black rice (or use any type of rice you like)
20 black cherries, halved and pitted
3 ounces gouda cheese, cut into small cubes
⅓ cup walnut pieces
2 ripe USA Pears, such as Bartlett or Anjou, medium dice

¼ cup fresh-squeezed orange juice (from about one orange)
2 tablespoons whole grain mustard
2 tablespoons canola oil
½ teaspoon salt

Note: You will need to prepare and cool the rice before starting this recipe.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Place the diced onion in a small baking dish and toss with the tablespoon of canola oil. Roast the onion for 25-30 minutes, stirring once during cooking. Remove and allow to cool. In the meantime, prepare the dressing by combining the ingredients in a small jar and shaking vigorously. Set aside until ready to use. In a large bowl, combine the cooked and cooled rice, roasted onion, halved cherries, gouda, walnuts, and pear slices. Shake the dressing again to combine and pour over the rice mixture. Gently toss the ingredients together. Serve the salad at room temperature or return to the refrigerator to store and serve cold.

prep time: 40 minutes
yield: 4 – 6 servings

Roasted Pear Pasta with Cinnamon and Feta

Roasted Pear Pasta with Cinnamon and Feta sm

Here is a wonderful, warming pasta dish full of unique flavors. Roasted pears, cinnamon, feta cheese, and toasted pine nuts make for a surprisingly delicious combination, and this meal comes together in a snap. You’ll fill your kitchen with the aroma of sweet, roasting pears and spicy cinnamon before you get your first bite of this creamy pasta. Enjoy this dish as a meal on its own, or pair it with a simple green salad dressed with Pear and Roasted Carrot Vinaigrette.

1 tablespoon plus 2 tablespoons butter
3 firm ripe USA Pears, such as Bosc or Red Anjou, cut into ½-inch slices
12 ounces penne pasta
1 tablespoon salt (for the pasta water)
½ teaspoon cinnamon, plus more for dusting
¾ cup crumbled feta cheese
¼ cup pine nuts, toasted

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a small, microwave safe dish. Spread the pear slices out onto a sheet pan, drizzle with the melted butter, and toss gently to coat. Roast the pears for 15-20 minutes or until just tender. While the pears are roasting, fill a large pot with 4 quarts of water plus 1 tablespoon of salt. Cover and place over high heat to boil.

To toast the pine nuts, place them into a small sauté pan over medium-low heat and stir frequently until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Set aside until ready to use.

When the pasta water boils, cook the penne according to the package instructions. Drain the pasta and return to the dry pot. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons butter, cinnamon, feta, and pine nuts. Stir together to melt the butter and combine the ingredients. Lastly, gently stir in the still-warm roasted pears. Transfer the pasta to a platter or bowl and sprinkle with a few pinches of cinnamon to garnish.

prep time: 30 minutes
yield: 4 servings

Shrimp Tacos with Pear and Cabbage Slaw

Shrimp Tacos with Pear and Cabbage Slaw sm

This taco recipe comes together quickly and is full of wonderful flavors. The shrimp filling is juicy, sweet and full of bright flavor from the fresh cilantro and mint, and the tangy crunch of the cabbage and pear slaw makes for the perfect topping. Make this recipe for a 30-minute weeknight dinner or serve it as part of a taco bar at your next party alongside grilled meats and various salsas.

1 cup of your favorite green salsa, spicy or mild
1 tablespoon honey
1 ½ pounds shrimp, peeled and rinsed
¼ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro
½ a small head green cabbage, very thinly sliced
2 firm ripe USA Pears, such as Red Bartlett, julienned or diced
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice (from about 1 lime)
¼ teaspoon salt

12 corn tortillas, warmed
Additional salsa verde for serving

For the filling: Place the salsa verde and honey into a large sauce pan and begin to warm over medium heat. Once the sauce is simmering, stir to distribute the honey and add the shrimp. Cook the shrimp, stirring often, until just pink and firm, about 4 or 5 minutes. Turn off the heat, stir in the chopped herbs, and set aside the filling until ready to use.

For the slaw: Combine the sliced cabbage and the julienned pears in a medium bowl. Squeeze the lime juice over the top and sprinkle with the salt. Gently toss the ingredients to combine.

To serve, place a large spoonful of the shrimp into each warmed tortilla and top with the cabbage and pear slaw. Serve with additional salsa verde, if desired.

prep time: 30 minutes
yield: 12 tacos

Emotional Eating

emotional eatingWe’ve all done it… You had a bad day and before you know it, you’re reaching for a pint of ice cream or bag of chips. We’ve been raised to react to emotions this way, from the first time your mom gave you a cookie when you fell down or earned an A on a spelling quiz. It’s so common that I have never met a single client, student, or friend who does not emotionally eat sometimes! So, how do we combat it?

The best way is to resolve the problem. Why are you sad? Why are you stressed? Some things we can’t correct, such as a death or divorce, but we can solve how we respond. If you can’t resolve the problem, the solution is how you respond to the urge to binge. The best methods may be talking it over with a friend, exercise, rest, or calming activities, such as yoga, massage, or meditation. Exercise releases endorphins, natural mood boosters, and sleep, yoga, and meditation can decrease stress hormones. No matter your vice for when the going gets tough, you can handle the binges. Stock your fridge with yummy, healthy snacks that you’re drawn to, maybe pear and banana slices plus peanut butter, low-fat popcorn, or a single serving of your favorite ice cream. The good news is that this, too, shall pass and you’ll be back on track in no time!

Diabetes? Eat More Pears!


This weekend I attended the American Diabetes Association’s Chicago Expo, a free educational event for those with diabetes. At the pear booth, I noticed the question we were asked most was “How are pears good for diabetes?” Just like any carbohydrate-rich food, grains, fruits, vegetables, dairy, etc., the naturally occurring sugar in fruit is broken down in the gut and absorbed into the blood stream, causing blood sugar to rise. This is good and necessary! Every single cell in the body needs carbohydrate because it is the primary source of energy for the body. Think about how much you move every day. Your large muscle groups use a lot of energy from carbohydrate and fat. But, energy from carbohydrates is especially important for the brain and central nervous system. In fact, the brain alone requires at least 120 grams of carbohydrates daily. [1, 2] It is best to obtain carbohydrates from whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, and low-fat dairy, because of the other nutrients found in these foods—vitamins, minerals, protein, fatty acids, and fiber.

Pears are a good choice because they naturally contain 6 grams of fiber, 24% of your daily needs. Fiber helps to stabilize blood sugar by slowing absorption of carbohydrate into the blood stream. This limits sugar spikes and makes energy available to body tissues over a longer period of time. [3] Indeed, fiber is good for everyone because of this very factor; you will feel fuller for longer and won’t experience sugar crashes. So when you’re craving something sweet, do something good for your body and bite into a pear!

Creamy Spring Pea Salad with Pears

Creamy Spring Pea and Pear Salad

Here is a quick and fresh salad recipe to welcome spring. Based loosely on the classic pea, bacon, and mayonnaise salad famously served at every Midwestern potluck, my version uses fresh sugar snap peas, bold radicchio, smoky bacon, and sweet, ripe USA Pears for balance. Toss the fruit and vegetables in a simple, creamy dressing and chill until crisp. Serve this salad on the first day you fire up your barbecue—it will pair perfectly with anything from the grill.

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice (from half a lemon)
2 teaspoons sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons finely minced shallot
¼ cup sour cream
¼ cup mayonnaise
6 slices thick-cut bacon, cooked, cooled, and chopped
1 head radicchio, quartered, cored, and thinly sliced
1 pint fresh sugar snap peas, strings removed and sliced on the bias
2 ripe USA Pears, such as Green or Red Anjou, medium dice

For the dressing: Combine the lemon juice, sugar, and salt in a jar with a tight-fitting lid and shake vigorously to dissolve sugar. Add the shallots, sour cream, and mayonnaise and shake again to combine. Refrigerate until ready to use.

For the salad: In a large bowl, combine all of the ingredients (you may reserve a small portion of the bacon for garnish). Toss thoroughly with the dressing, cover, and refrigerate for one hour (or up to 24 hours). When you’re ready to serve the salad, remove from the refrigerator, toss again gently, and transfer to a clean platter or bowl. Garnish with the remaining bacon, if desired.

prep time: 30 minutes plus chilling
yield: 4 servings

Pear and Rhubarb Upside-Down Cornmeal Cake

Pear and Rhubarb Upside-Down Cornmeal Cake

Here is a lovely spring take on an upside-down cake! Sweet pears and tart rhubarb combine to make a beautiful pink glaze atop this golden, buttery cake with the crunch of cornmeal. This cake is a great way to use under-ripe pears, as fully ripe pears will become too soft during baking. Serve a slice of this beautiful cake for breakfast alongside a cup of tea, or for dessert with a scoop of vanilla ice cream alongside.

¼ cup butter (half a stick)
½ cup light brown sugar
¾ cup butter (1 ½ sticks), softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup buttermilk
1 ¾ cup flour
½ cup finely ground cornmeal
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
3 firm USA Pears, such as Bosc or Anjou
3-4 medium stalks rhubarb (about 2 cups chopped)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Lightly grease a 10-inch cake pan or cast-iron skillet with butter or cooking spray. Cut a circle of parchment paper to line the bottom of the pan, coating the paper lightly with butter or cooking spray as well.

Combine the ¼ cup butter and the brown sugar in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Stir frequently until the butter melts and combines with the brown sugar to form a thick glaze, about 3 minutes. Pour the glaze into the bottom of the prepared pan and gently spread it to the corners with a spatula. Set aside until the cake batter is complete.

For the cake, combine the softened butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer and whip with the paddle attachment until light, fluffy, and pale, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs and vanilla, and whip until combined. Next, add the buttermilk and blend at low speed to incorporate, scraping down the sides if necessary (the mixture will look curdled). In a separate small bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt, and whisk together to mix. Add the dry ingredients to the mixer, and run the machine until the dry and wet mixtures just come together to form a batter. Set aside while you prepare your fruit.

Cut the rhubarb into a medium dice (pieces ½ inch or smaller), to ensure that it will become soft during baking. Peel and quarter the pears, trim away the core, and then slice into approximately ¼-inch slices. Arrange the pear slices around the pan in a circular pattern, overlapping slightly. You will likely have 2 to 3 layers of pears. Next, sprinkle the rhubarb over the top of the pears as evenly as possible. Lastly, scrape the batter into the pan and spread to the corners with a spatula.

Bake the cake for 65-75 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow the cake to cool for 30-45 minutes before running a knife around the edge and inverting onto a platter. Gently remove the parchment paper circle, slice, and serve.

prep time: 25 minutes plus baking
yield: 8-10 servings

Bite Into A Healthy Lifestyle!


March is National Nutrition Month, and this year’s theme is Bite into a Healthy Lifestyle! What could be easier? March is a wonderful time to adopt an eating and physical activity plan that is focused on consuming fewer calories, making informed food choices, and getting daily exercise. I often tell my clients and students to start with the next bite. What I mean is that perhaps you haven’t been eating that well, perhaps winter was a nutritional slump for you, or maybe you went a little crazy at the all-you-can-eat buffet last night. That’s okay, because each day is a new day. But to achieve and maintain a healthy weight, reduce risk for chronic illnesses, and live a healthy life, you have to start with the next bite.

Spring is here and fresh fruits and vegetables abound, making it so easy to bite into a healthy lifestyle! Most Americans need to eat more plant foods, particularly fruits and veggies. Perhaps start by adding a fresh pear to your afternoon snack, or start your dinner with a small salad. Switching one sugary or fatty snack each day for a healthier option makes a big difference down the road. So go ahead, bite into life!