Party Flavors

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Photo credit: Rachel Benavides


With another Super Bowl in the books, party faire has been strongly on my mind. Why is it that a get together must warrant reckless abandon of health consciousness? I challenge the assumption that celebrations must require an obligatory binge on sweets and fatty treats. Let’s celebrate with friends and family, enjoy a meal together, and part ways without having to let out the stretchy pants.

Here are three party dishes that are delicious, and won’t leave you with an appy hangover.

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Lettuce wraps.   Photo credit: Rachel Benavides

Thai Lettuce Wraps

These Thai lettuce wraps are a low-carb finger food that is high in nutrients and fiber. Best of all, they’re a fast and easy treat that plate up beautifully and disappear as soon as you place them on the serving platter.

Serves 4 appetizer portions

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 10 minutes


Pork filling

2 tbsp sesame seed oil

½ onion, chopped

1 jalapeno, mostly seeded, finely minced

1 lb ground pork

Red pepper flakes, to taste

Pinch of salt

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 heaping tbsp fresh ginger, grated

6 or so tbsp low-sodium soy sauce

1 generous splash mirin (rice wine)

1 splash rice wine vinegar

1 tbsp packed brown sugar

Wrap and Toppings

12 large lettuce leaves, rinsed well and dried (Recommended: Bibb)

5 baby carrots, julienned

Cabbage, shredded

1 bunch fresh cilantro

Juice of 1 lime

Directions:  Heat oil in a saute pan on medium heat.  Add onion and jalapeno, sautéing until tender. Add ground pork, salt and red pepper.  When pork is almost completely browned, add garlic and ginger, cooking for an additional minute until fragrant.  Stir in liquids and brown sugar.  Increase heat to high and cook until liquids reach a rolling boil. Remove from heat.  Finish with squeezed lime.

To assemble wraps: place pork filling, carrot, and cabbage on a large lettuce leaf. Top with cilantro and finish with freshly squeezed lime juice.

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Constructing klobasnek.   Photo credit: Rachel Durrent

Cheesy Meatball Klobasnek with Basil Marinara

Often referred to as savory kolaches, these stuffed rolls are a compact version of meatball subs.

Serves 6

Prep time: 30 minutes

Inactive prep time: 1 hour, 50 minutes

Cook time: 35 minutes



1 cup milk

1 stick unsalted butter

2 egg yolks

1 tbsp, 1 tsp active dry yeast

1 tbsp sugar

½ cup warm water

4 cups bread flour

¼ cup sugar

1 tsp kosher salt

32 oz fresh mozzarella, shredded


2 lbs ground grass-fed beef (may substitute ground pastured pork)

½ cup onion, finely chopped

2 tbsp bread crumbs

2 tbsp parmigiano reggiano

2 heaping tsp dried Parsley

1 tsp dried basil

2 cloves garlic, minced

¾ tsp salt

½ tsp red pepper

1 egg

Olive oil to coat pan

Basil Marinara:

14.5 oz can diced tomatoes

2 cloves garlic, minced

½ tsp dried basil

Salt and red pepper, to taste


Dough: In a medium sauce pan, warm milk and butter over medium-low heat until butter has melted, but before liquid comes to a boil. Remove from heat and let cool to lukewarm. Whisk in egg yolks.

In a small bowl, dissolve yeast and 1 tbsp sugar in water. Let ferment for 5 minutes.

Mix remaining dry ingredients in a large bowl. Add milk and yeast, slow incorporating wet and dry ingredients with your hands or a wooden spoon. Knead for 3 minutes until a soft, pliable dough is formed. Let rise for one hour. Begin preparing meatballs.

Meatballs: Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl and mix until well incorporated. Spoon beef mixture into golf ball sized meatballs.

Coat a large sauté pan with olive oil and place on medium heat. Brown meatballs on all sides, about 5 minutes for each side. Remove from heat.

Divide bread dough into golf ball sized portions (about 1 ¾ oz). Roll to 4-5” round. Place meatball in the center of rolled dough and top with ¼ cup shredded mozzarella. Bring edges of dough together and pinch to seal. Cover with a clean tea towel and let proof for 45 minutes. Prepare basil marinara.

Basil Marinara: Combine all ingredients in a medium sauté pan. Heat until boiling, stirring frequently and breaking tomatoes apart with your stirring spoon.

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Turnip green dip   Photo credit: Rachel Benavides

Turnip Green Dip

Fresh bacon adds great flavor and a chewy bite to this dip without imparting as many damaging nitrates found in cured bacon. Turnip greens are also higher in vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, and calcium than spinach.

Serves 6

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 30 minutes


1 lb fresh bacon, chopped

½ onion, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

¼ cup white wine

4 heaping cups packed fresh turnip greens, stemmed and chopped

1 cup sour cream

8 oz cream cheese

4 oz mayonnaise

½ cup parmigiano reggiano

¼ tsp red pepper

¼ tsp salt

¼ cup fresh mozzarella, shredded


In a large sauté pan, cook bacon until crisp. Remove bacon from pan and reserve on a lined plate.

Sauté onions in drippings over medium heat for 2 minutes, or until almost translucent. Add wine and garlic and cook 1-2 minutes. Stir in turnip greens and remaining ingredients except mozzarella. Cook 6-8 minutes, or until cream cheese is melted. Stir in reserved bacon.

Transfer to baking dish and top with mozzarella. Broil on high for 4-5 minutes until cheese is golden brown. Serve hot with crudité or toasted baguette.


The Great Smoothie Debate

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Photo Credit: Rachel Benavides, The Bend Magazine

Smoothies have gained popularity in recent years and have become a go-to “healthy” option. While smoothies can enable even the pickiest of veggie haters to gulp down a serving of kale, they can also be packed full of sugar and calories. Here’s what you need to know about smoothies before investing in a high-performance professional blender.


– Smoothies are a great way to clean out the fridge and your intestines. (Too much?) Throw any produce that needs to be eaten quickly (with only a few exceptions) and blend until you have a nutritious snack filled with fiber. Bonus: The good bacteria in your gut loves to feed on the fiber found in fruits and veggies.

– Satisfying your sweet tooth with a smoothie that capitalizes on the inherent sugars of fruits and vegetables is a much better option than most desserts. In addition, smoothies that are produce-based offer a wide variety of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

– Smoothies are convenient to make and very portable. If you’re choosing between a green smoothie and a drive-thru breakfast sandwich nine times out of ten the smoothie is the better option.


– Smoothies are almost always high in sugar. True, the fructose found in fruits is better for us than the corn syrup found in sodas BUT, since smoothies are blended into a homogenous liquid, we consume them a lot faster than it would take us to chew an apple or finish off a serving of carrot sticks. They also tend to raise our blood sugar more than the whole fruit/starchy veg. Further, they tend to raise our blood sugar more quickly than when we eat the whole piece of fruit. You’re much better off eating an orange than drinking a fruit smoothie that has been further sweetened with honey or agave.

– Smoothies can leave us feeling unsatisfied. We also tend not to stay full for long after drinking a smoothie. This is because the hormone our body uses to determine whether or not we are satisfied  is dependent on the mechanical stretching of our stomach. A liquid smoothie may travel through our stomach without activating our hormone so that no signal is sent to the brain telling us that we’re no longer hungry.

– Smoothies are only as good as their ingredients. Vegetables that are picked prior to ripeness never have the opportunity to absorb as many nutrients from the soil as produce that is vine or tree ripened. Vegetables and fruits sprayed with synthetic fertilizer can also be deficient in certain minerals. Even if a vegetable is organic and vine-ripened, the vitamin content can decrease over time. The amount of water-soluble vitamins like vitamin C and the B vitamins (niacin, riboflavin, B12, niacin, you get the drift) tend to lessen over time with exposure to heat, light, and water.

Just as all meals should be, a nutritious smoothie is balanced. These are the necessary components for a health-promoting smoothie.

1.     Protein: Examples are 8 oz milk, 1 cup unflavored greek yogurt, 8 oz almond milk. Nuts (about 14 walnut halves or 24 almonds) and nut butters (serving size 1 tbsp.) may be considered a good source of protein and fat.

2.     Fat: Servings sizes of healthy fats include: 1/8 avocado, 1 tbsp. coconut oil, 1 oz flaxseed, 1 oz hemp hearts, or 1 oz chia seed

3.     At least 1 serving of vegetables: 2 medium stalks celery, 1 cup fresh kale, 1/3 cup frozen spinach, half whole beet, 1/3 cucumber, or 3 oz carrots.

4.     Sugar from fruit: 1/2 cup pineapple, 1 medium-sized apple, 1 large banana, 1 cup berries

Do enjoy a smoothie now and again, but don’t regularly use them as meal substitutes. Think of your smoothie as a nutritious treat. You’ll be right on both accounts.

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Photo Credit: Rachel Benavides, The Bend Magazine

Smoothie Bowl

Serves 1

Prep time: about 5 minutes


2 cups frozen fruit (banana, berries, peaches, pears, oranges, mango,

1 cup liquid (milk, plant-based milk substitute, plain Greek yogurt, coconut water, water, or ice)

1 tbsp healthy fat (nut butter, coconut oil, avocado, nuts, flaxseed oil, flax seeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds)

Optional: 1 cup vegetables (sweet potatoes, greens, beets, squash, jicama, or


Toppings: 1 tbsp of your choice (fresh fruit, dried fruit, granola, seeds, nuts, coconut, raw cocoa nibs, bee pollen)


Place all ingredients (except for toppings) in a blender. Blend until smooth, scraping down sides as necessary. Top with fresh or dried fruit, seeds, or other options listed.

The Sugar Struggle Is Real: Five Tricks to Kick Cravings for Good

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Here’s how it happens: someone brought cake to work, and you had two (okay, three) slices. The donut box was left open and who can resist those Bavarian crème-filled beauties? You answered the 3 pm beckoning of the vending machine down the hall, again.

These are only a few of a million sugar indulgent situations that we face on a daily basis. Evolutionarily speaking, we are preprogrammed to salivate at anything sprinkled or frosted. High-calorie foods are good investments for a species that spent 50,000 years scrounging for food. Our brains remember that surge of happy juice we got from our last cupcake and we can’t seem to help ourselves. These days, however, when food (especially the overly processed, low-quality kind) seems to be EVERYWHERE, we have to smarter than our genes.

Identify Your Triggers
The best way to avoid a food craving is to prevent what triggers it. Do you cave every time you pass the break room? Try a different route. Have a hard time resisting sweets at lunchtime? Pack a lunch and make it whole fruit instead of a 44 oz sweet tea. There’s still some ice cream in the freezer and we don’t want it to get freezer burnt! Don’t buy the sweets you can’t resist, thus forcing yourself to drive to Dairy Queen. Figuring out what triggers a craving, be it circumstance, time of day, habit, emotions, or hormones, is key to empowering yourself to resist it. Next time you find yourself with your hand in the cookie jar, slow down and analyze how you got there.

Prevent Cravings with Healthy Habits
Another great way to prevent a hankering for Honey Buns is by eating nutritious food regularly throughout the day. Snacking on nutrient-dense food every three-four hours leaves you satisfied and less likely to grab some sugar-laden convenience food. Meals and snacks should include a source of lean protein, heart-healthy fat and fiber to keep you energized and prevent post-prandial crashes. Avoid sugar substitutes, which perpetuate sugar urges.

Taking Sugar Head On
A recent study has found that merely focusing on the negative long-term consequences of giving in to cravings can significantly reduce their intensity. Researchers used an MRI to study subjects’ brains response to pictures of junk food. Thinking about future implications reduced the urge to eat and increased brain activity associated with inhibitory control. Remind yourself that you are in charge of your actions, even if you may not always feel in control of your body.

Remember: Cravings Only Last For a Short Time
The typical duration of a craving is 15 minutes. Keep this in mind and distract yourself for a quarter of an hour. Phone a friend, take a walk, pray, meditate, clean your bathtub, check your emails…the list of things you can accomplish in 15 minutes is practically endless. Researchers recently found that subjects could resist cravings by tapping on their heads with their finger for 30 seconds. Thirty seconds of repetitive movement may save you thousands of calories.

Forgiving Yourself After an Indulgence
Studies have shown that everyone has cravings, regardless of their weight. No one is perfect. It’s unrealistic for anyone to expect that they will never, ever eat another piece of birthday cake. If we’re honest, having a small portion of sweet goodness every once in a while can actually help you stay on track. You are not a failure so don’t treat yourself like one by sabotaging yourself and your health goals. Instead of giving up and devouring the rest of the turtle cheesecake in a fit of self-loathing, forgive yourself and move on.

The Good News
The more often you can resist cravings, the less likely you are to have them. Start crushing cravings today and feel better than ever.

Oh Sugar, Why Must You Torment Me So?

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I watched the clock intently: 10:32 pm and slowly counting. The baby was sleeping soundly in the next room. My eyes followed my husband as he headed to bed. Now’s my chance.

Five minutes later, standing in front of the fridge, spoon and empty pint of chocolate peanut butter Haagen Dazs in hand, I was humiliated. Disgusted. I looked around me in shamed shock, wondering what had just happened.

Nati always has room for ice cream.

Nati always has room for ice cream.

Preprogrammed to Crave Sugar

Em's first taste of ice cream.

Em’s first taste of ice cream.

If you suffer from sugar cravings, you may be wondering if you were born this way or were conditioned to have a penchant for gummi bears. A fetus will drink more amniotic fluid if it has been injected with a sweetener. In fact, this is a common medical practice to treat excessive amniotic fluid. In addition, sugar can actually have a small analgesic effect when infants ingest it. So, even in the womb we are genetically and evolutionarily wired to crave sweets.

Sugar on the Brain

Sugar consumption stimulates the release of two chemicals. After chowing down on that 3:00pm Snickers bar your brain lights up like a Christmas tree. Dopamine floods the reward center of your brain, making you feel like an addict who just indulged in their drug of choice. Serotonin, a neurotransmitter that has a calming effect on our mood, is also released. Sugar eventually disrupts nerve cell communication and attributes to brain fog.

Sugar: The Full Effect

Sugar affects almost every system of our bodies, and not in a good way. Sugar raises our risk of heart disease by increasing triglycerides and decreasing our “good” HDL cholesterol. Continual excess sugar consumption leads to insulin resistance, a precursor to diabetes and metabolic syndrome. Sugar causes the release of hormones, which trigger an inflammatory response, thus people who eat more sugar increase their cancer risk. The sweet stuff may even be to blame for those premature wrinkles!

High-Fructose Corn Syrup, One Bad Mamma Jamma

This concentrated sweetener made from corn affects our body differently than glucose, the sugar our cells prefer. Fructose does not trigger our satiety cues or lower ghrelin, the hunger hormone, so we don’t feel fuller when we ingest it. Metabolizing too much fructose can overwhelm the liver, causing fatty liver disease. Fructose has no known health benefit to date.

Natural Sweeteners: Friend or Foe?

Local honey used for a vinegraitte. Photo courtesy Rachel Durrent.

Much like table sugar or corn syrup, honey, molasses, and maple syrup are all sources of simple sugar. Even though they offer additional benefits: minerals, antibacterial and hypoallergenic properties, or calcium and iron, as in the case of molasses, these sweeteners have high sugar contents and should be moderated.

A Sweet Victory

The struggle against sugar cravings is real. Every cell in our bodies was made to want sugar, to NEED it. However, there are ways to conquer the beast, to step away from the donut and toward a healthier existence. In the next article, we will focus on tactical maneuvers to combat sugar.

Meet the New Meat

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Meat production is not a new thing to Columbia, Missouri. Drive out of town in any direction and you’ll reach a meat processing plant within three hours. Meat in Columbia, however, is different. A lot different.

The average American consumes 200 lbs of meat every year. In order to feed the animals that eventually end up on our dinner plates, we have to devote over 3/4ths of the produce from US farmland to animal fodder. And here’s a statistic that will floor you: a pound of beef  “requires 298 square feet of land, 27 pounds of feed, and 211 gallons of water” and that’s not taking the gasoline it takes to ship it all across the nation into account. Considering population growth and the increased demand for meat from developing countries, many scientists have shifted their focus and resources to coming up with viable alternatives that leave a fraction of the carbon footprint.

Ethan Brown is the CEO of Beyond Meat, a company that turns soy and pea protein, along with amaranth, into a viable meat substitute that looks just like chicken. Brown partnered with Fu-Hung Shieh, a food scientist previously employed with Quaker Oats. Shieh uses a fancy-schmancy extruder machine that is responsible for everything from Fruit Loops to cookie dough. Beyond Meat chicken is gaining notice from the likes of Bill Gates and New York Times Best-Selling cookbook authors. You can currently find Beyond Meat products in select Whole Foods.

Chicken from Beyond Meat. Courtesy Beyond Meat

Chicken from Beyond Meat. Courtesy Beyond Meat

Only miles away, scientists are growing meat using a 3-D printer and a petri dish. It takes several weeks of printing an embryonic goo and incubating it until 700 beef cells are combined to make a small piece of muscle. This ground-breaking technology, marketed under the clever name Modern Meadow, was the brain child of theoretical physicist Gabor Forgacs, who originally used it to make transplant organs as well as medical research. Modern Meadow still has a considerable way to go to have the capability of producing meat for mass consumption, but for now they’re making a sizeable income manufacturing leather.

Whatever the seemingly outlandish, or slightly gruesome, method of producing alternative-to-meat proteins, they are likely not going away any time soon, and neither is the problem they are trying to fix.