Mind the Gap

During a recent trip to London, we used The Underground daily to get around. Most Londoners are familiar with the phrase, “Mind the gap.”  It’s painted on the platforms of every underground station and train passengers are reminded  by a recorded voice to “Mind the gap”  when they exit the train at their destination. The “gap” referred to is the space between the train and the platform where passengers safely step upon arrival.

The phrase is iconic, but during this trip it hit me in a new way. It reminded me of the challenges so many of us feel when we are trying to make changes, especially significant changes. We know we want to get somewhere, but we don’t know how. Or we are afraid and our fear keep us stuck where we are. If we had some help to bridge that gap between where we are and where we want to go, we know we could do it and our lives would be measurably, even immeasurably, better.

Philadelphia was the first major city I lived in. Born and raised on the west coast, I was used to driving my own car. But as a city dweller, having a car was less practical. As a student, walking was my preferred form of transportation. Then, as a class assignment, we were to meet at a facility that designed commercial kitchens. Philadelphia is an easy city to navigate, so as per usual, I planned to walk. It was doable, but I would have had to skip at least one class to have enough time to get their. And I would have arrived a sweaty mess, as it was May in Philly. One of my classmates, who was from Philadelphia, suggested we ride in on the subway together. The thought of the subway scared me, but Laura assured me it was the only way to go and she would show me the ropes. So I made my first subway trip and lived to tell the tale. It was scary, but we got to our destination in record time and even had a few minutes to pop into a favorite shop because of the time saved. I felt a new level of independence.

The path to better health or performance can be like riding the subway for the first time. It can feel intimidating. Letting go of old habits can be scary. There can be concern that the route you are taking will involve too many challenges, too soon. Some people are afraid that the train might be too fast for them, so they stay on the platform, doing nothing, watching the trains that could deliver them to improved health and happiness, pass them by. Many people want to make the move from the platform to the train, but they get hung up at the gap and they do nothing. But what if you had a friend to guide you through the process? An old-pro who knew the route and could help you get to your destination? A companion in the process to hold out their hand from the train and help you to cross the gap? You could get to where you want to be. I’m here to help you to mind the gap. Trust me, it’s not scary. You can do it and you will look back and wonder why it took you so long to get off the platform.



CPAs and RDNs to the Rescue

We’ve seen the fitness equipment roll through, and now Turbo Tax is available at Costco. I’ll pick up a copy to organize my information, print it out, and then send it along to my accountant. Why not just send it in to the IRS? Because after years filing pretty-straight-forward returns on my own using tax preparation software, I came across a situation that stumped me and had to consult a professional. The end result was that because of his depth of knowledge and ability to look specifically at my situation, he addressed the immediate issue and then found that I was actually due a substantial refund. The software is a great tool, but it’s limited. Guess who has used the services of an accountant since then?

I love the fresh-slate idea that comes with a new year.  It’s a time to reflect on what went well in the past, and what changes we hope to make in the future. I recently visited a local book store and was overwhelmed by the number of books on display for January addressing better health. There were stacks of books about mindfulness, diet, and exercise. It occurred to me that if my initial feeling was overwhelmed, what must the lay person feel like walking in just trying to get some direction on where to go to get healthier? I’m also pretty confident that many of the titles I saw this year, will be gone in 2019.  Just like fashion, diet trends tend to come and go.

As a nutritionist, it’s a busy time of year as many people aim to make health changes part of their resolutions, often with a “kick start” diet. It really shouldn’t surprise me. Every day I am asked about this diet or that one, what I think about a particular supplement, tips for family members diagnosed with conditions that will require medical nutrition therapy (think diabetes, irritable bowl syndrome, fatty liver disease, to name a few).  My answer is often: “It depends . . .”, “Maybe . . .”, “That requires more information for me to answer.” Here’s why: every person is absolutely unique. What I recommend for a student athlete is going to be different than what I recommend for a middle-aged mother with early-stage liver disease. Even within the field of sports nutrition, recommendation for endurance athletes differ from those for strength training sports, and within the season cycle for each athlete.  And then there’s the detail of making it all work. How does the parent struggling with weight issues prepare foods for a family that includes a track star and a gymnast with IBS? The books on the tables don’t cover that, nor do most of the “Top 10 Tips for . . . .” that flood the internet. They don’t interpret lab results; they don’t know your home situation, so can’t coordinate multiple needs into one menu; and are hard pressed to make recommendations for specific supplements based on an entire medical picture; and they probably aren’t available to discuss your particular food hang-ups you’ve been carrying around since the ’90s.

This is where having some professional help can be invaluable. There are many tools available to get us started, including some good (and not so good) information available in print and on the web. You can bring your questions and concerns to someone trained to create individualized plans that meet your specific needs and will offer sustainable strategies for lifelong health and good eating. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (find a pro) can help you find a registered dietitian in your area, and with the capabilities of virtual medicine, many dietitians are available via on-line counseling. Sometimes the best “kick start” is going straight to the pros.

Let’s Talk Turkey

The countdown to Thanksgiving is on, and there really isn’t a lot of time for unnecessary fluff. Have you started defrosting your Thanksgiving turkey yet? Like most Americans, a turkey is the center of our Thanksgiving celebration, flanked by time-tested favorites. While there is much planning and talk about side dishes and desserts, today I want to focus on the the turkey, specifically preparing it safely.

At least 44 million turkeys are eaten at Thanksgiving and 22 million at Christmas, making turkey a clear front-runner in American holiday tables. Most Americans choose a frozen turkey, a fine choice since modern flash-freeze techniques preserve nutrition and flavor. Fresh turkeys come with the advantages of no defrosting lead time, but come at a higher cost and possible quality decline resulting from increased transit time without the preservation benefits of flash freezing.

If you will be preparing a turkey you bought in the freezer section, time’s a tickin’ to get that bad boy (bad girl, more likely; most whole birds sold are hens) ready for the oven. Here is the defrosting low-down according to our friends at the USDA. Before you panic, if you are reading this and realize you are too late to follow these safe defrosting guidelines, not all is lost. We have a Plan B.

There are three safe ways to thaw food: in the refrigerator, in cold water, and in the microwave oven. Note,  letting it sit on the counter is NOT an option.

(All thawing information has been taken directly from the USDA website. This is food safety, folks. I see no need to be creative, I simply want to help keep the holiday foodborne illness-free.)

Safe Methods for Thawing
Immediately after grocery store checkout, take the frozen turkey home and store it in the freezer.

Frozen turkeys should not be left on the back porch, in the car trunk, in the basement, or any place else where temperatures cannot be constantly monitored. As refrigerator space becomes prime realty during the holiday food purchase and prep period, it’s tempting to use any of these methods, but putting yourself and your holiday guests at risk of food borne illness simply isn’t worth it.

Refrigerator Thawing
When thawing a turkey in the refrigerator:

  • Plan ahead: allow approximately 24 hours for each 4 to 5 pounds in a refrigerator set at 40 °F or below.
  • Place the turkey in a container to prevent the juices from dripping on other foods.

Refrigerator Thawing Times 
Whole turkey

  • 4 to 12 pounds — 1 to 3 days
  • 12 to 16 pounds — 3 to 4 days
  • 16 to 20 pounds — 4 to 5 days
  • 20 to 24 pounds —5 to 6 days

A thawed turkey can remain in the refrigerator for 1 or 2 days before cooking. Foods thawed in the refrigerator can be refrozen without cooking but there may be some loss of quality.

Cold Water Thawing
Allow about 30 minutes per pound.

First be sure the turkey is in a leak-proof plastic bag to prevent cross-contamination and to prevent the turkey from absorbing water, resulting in a watery product.

Submerge the wrapped turkey in cold tap water. Change the water every 30 minutes until the turkey is thawed. Cook the turkey immediately after it is thawed.

Cold Water Thawing Times 

  • 4 to 12 pounds — 2 to 6 hours
  • 12 to 16 pounds — 6 to 8 hours
  • 16 to 20 pounds — 8 to 10 hours
  • 20 to 24 pounds — 10 to 12 hours

A turkey thawed by the cold water method should be cooked immediately. After cooking, meat from the turkey can be refrozen.

Microwave Thawing
Follow the microwave oven manufacturer’s instruction when defrosting a turkey. Plan to cook it immediately after thawing because some areas of the food may become warm and begin to cook during microwaving. Holding partially cooked food is not recommended because any bacteria present wouldn’t have been destroyed.

A turkey thawed in the microwave must be cooked immediately.


So, you have 5 sides to make, a table to set, and you still haven’t showered. The cold water method takes time and effort you don’t have. But, your microwave won’t accommodate your frozen turkey. It’s ok, don’t panic. The culinary crew at Williams-Sonoma Taste have you covered. Follow the link for directions for roasting your turkey from frozen.

Next stop, cooking the turkey following the guidelines outlined by the USDA:

(Again, all turkey cooking  information taken directly from the USDA website. This is about food safety first, and they are the authorities.)

Turkey Basics: Safe Cooking

A food thermometer should be used to ensure a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 °F has been reached to destroy bacteria and prevent foodborne illness.

Many variables can affect the roasting time of a whole turkey:

  • A partially frozen turkey requires longer cooking.
  • A stuffed turkey takes longer to cook.
  • The oven may heat food unevenly.
  • Temperature of the oven may be inaccurate.
  • Dark roasting pans cook faster than shiny metals.
  • The depth and size of the pan can reduce heat circulation to all areas of the turkey.
  • The use of a foil tent for the entire time can slow cooking.
  • Use of the roasting pan’s lid speeds cooking.
  • An oven cooking bag can accelerate cooking time.
  • The rack position can have an effect on even cooking and heat circulation.
  • A turkey or its pan may be too large for the oven, thus blocking heat circulation.


1. Set the oven temperature no lower than 325 °F. Preheating is not necessary.

2. Be sure the turkey is completely thawed. Times are based on fresh or thawed birds at a refrigerator temperature of 40 °F or below.

3. Place turkey breast-side up on a flat wire rack in a shallow roasting pan 2 to 2 1/2 inches deep.
Optional steps:

  • Tuck wing tips back under shoulders of bird (called “akimbo”).
  • Add one-half cup water to the bottom of the pan.
  • In the beginning, a tent of aluminum foil may be placed loosely over the breast of the turkey for the first 1 to 1 1/2 hours, then removed for browning. Or, a tent of foil may be placed over the turkey after the turkey has reached the desired golden brown color.

4. For optimum safety, cook stuffing in a casserole. If stuffing your turkey, mix ingredients just before stuffing it; stuff loosely. Additional time is required for the turkey and stuffing to reach a safe minimum internal temperature (see chart).

5. For safety and doneness, the internal temperature should be checked with a food thermometer. The temperature of the turkey and the center of the stuffing must reach a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 °F. Check the temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast.

6. Let the bird stand 20 minutes before removing stuffing and carving.

(325 °F oven temperature) 

UNSTUFFED (time in hours)

  • 4 to 6 lb. breast — 1 1/2 to 2 1/4
  • 6 to 8 lb. breast — 2 1/4 to 3 1/4
  • 8 to 12 lbs. — 2 3/4 to 3
  • 12 to 14 lbs. — 3 to 3 3/4
  • 14 to 18 lbs. — 3 3/4 to 4 1/4
  • 18 to 20 lbs. — 4 1/4 to 4 1/2
  • 20 to 24 lbs. — 4 1/2 to 5

STUFFED (time in hours)

  • 8 to 12 lbs. — 3 to 3 1/2
  • 12 to 14 lbs. — 3 1/2 to 4
  • 14 to 18 lbs. — 4 to 4 1/4
  • 18 to 20 lbs. — 4 1/4 to 4 3/4
  • 20 to 24 lbs. — 4 3/4 to 5 1/4

And, for those of you who like to prepare your bird in ways other than roasting, click here for alternative safe-prep recommendations.

Still need some help? Since 1981, the Butterball Turkey Talk line has been answering home chefs questions about turkey. Open from November to December, they field over 100,000 questions per season. If you need help, they are available via email, chat, or by phone (1-800-288-8372).

Now, we enter Part II of Thanksgiving: Leftovers

Nearly 80%  of those polled agreed that Thanksgiving leftovers were the best thing about hosting this fall feast, so let’s make sure those leftovers don’t make you sick.

Don’t Contaminate Your Leftovers: 

After you finish your holiday meal, get that food properly put away. Perishable foods should not be left on the table or counter for more than 2 hours, which is a conceivable amount of time it may take from preparation to the end of your meal. If guests have brought food, take into account the time their dish left the oven or refrigerator to the time it made it to your table. Bacteria grow rapidly at room temperature, which means if you let that food sit out, you may be breeding an overgrowth of harmful invaders that could result in foodborne illness, commonly called food poisoning. It’s as bad as it sounds. Food poisoning is not something anyone wants and is preventable.  You cannot see, smell, or taste the bacteria that may take residence in your Thanksgiving perishables. Believe it or not, bacteria can double within a 20-minute period. Mouthful of harmful bacteria with your leftover stuffing, anyone? Gross. The solution is to pack up leftovers as soon as possible. Place them in shallow sealable containers so they can cool down quickly in the fridge to get below 40 F.. Avoid over-loading your refrigerator, as this can block air circulation and increase the appliance’s internal temperature. Also, check to be sure that the temperature inside your fridge is 40 degrees F or below (look at the refrigerator thermometer to be sure).

Don’t Forget to Wash Your Hands: Kitchen food safety begins with proper handwashing. This Thanksgiving, and everyday, remember that it is imperative to wash your hands before and after handling any food, especially after using the bathroom, changing diapers, touching your nose, face or hair, or handling pets. Handwashing alone can cut the risk of foodborne illness by around 50 percent. Proper handwashing takes just about 20 seconds. All it takes is washing with warm, soapy water, long enough to sing two choruses of “Happy Birthday”  or the “ABC’s” while you lather (about 20 seconds). Remember to wash front and back of your hands, up to your wrists, between fingers and under fingernails. Dry your hands with disposable paper towels or a new, clean towel (not the dirty towel other people have been using to wipe their hands or dry dishes). If you are concerned about the burden of washing extra kitchen towels, think of the laundry a case (or household) of food poisoning might bring with it.

Next up: The New Superfood







Fall for Sweet Potatoes


Fall for Sweet Potatoes

As the weather turns cooler, the days shorten, and leaves begin to fall, like many people, I am drawn to the earthy warmth of hearth, home, and a warm, spiced beverage. Actually, it seems like more than 20 million people a season are drawn to certain warm, spiced beverages served up by Starbucks. Now in its 14th year, the Pumpkin Spice Latte (PSL) has sold in the tens of millions of cups. As a Washington native, I’m delighted that our home-grown darling has done so well and, like so many others, would like to participate in the pumpkin spice gig.

Like Starbucks, I like to use pumpkin pie spice in non-pumpkin delights, such as baked apples, acorn squash, and sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes, as their name implies, are sweet, which makes them a winner in lots of households with kids. Whether you grew up calling them yams or sweet potatoes, this gem of the earth is worth it’s place on your grocery list. But before I go on, let’s clear up some potential confusion: though often labeled as yams, what is typically sold in US markets is a variety of sweet potatoes. Yams and sweet potatoes are not related, even though they are both starchy, tuberous vegetables. Yams are native to Africa and Asia, so unless you are shopping in an international or specialty market, what you are buying is likely a variety of sweet potatoes. So why the name-game confusion? Essentially, it boils down to a history lesson that involves grocers differentiating the softer, more orange-fleshed sweet potato (“yam”) from the firmer, lighter-fleshed sweet potato (“sweet potato”) when the former became commercially produced. To sum it up, this piece is about sweet potatoes, and I will focus on the softer, orange-fleshed type often labeled as “yams” (though they aren’t) at your local produce palace.

One of the things I love about sweet potatoes is their versatility; they can be prepared to be savory or sweet. At our house we eat them roasted, mashed, and sliced. Sweet potato puree finds its way stirred into soups and pancake batter. I’ve used sweet potato puree in Mason jar oatmeal, muffins, quick breads, and cookies. And here’s the deal: because it is naturally sweet (it has about 1.5 times more naturally occurring sugar than pumpkin), it can be added to a number of recipes, and in the process, satisfy a craving for sweet, while packing a nutritional punch. All this without a lot of processed sugars! When we team sweet potatoes with pumpkin pie spice, our minds associate the creamy, spicy-sweet goodness with the flavors of fall, flavors of comfort, holidays, and home. This makes for a very satisfying food.

What could be better than a satisfying dish? One that is nourishing. Sweet potatoes are rich in complex carbohydrates and despite their sweetness, still rank low on the Glycemic Index with a score of 11. They are exceptionally high in vitamin A, and provide a healthy dose of B6, potassium, and manganese, as well as other vitamins and minerals. In honor of the PSL that inspired this article, here is a recipe to add to your fall line-up.

Mashed Sweet Potatoes
This is a “to taste” recipe. The ingredient amounts can be adjusted up or down, as you please, and to compliment the rest of your meal. I like to serve this dish with roasted chicken and a Brussels sprout salad.

2 or more sweet potatoes (you can reserve extras to make a sweet potato puree)
2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
~1/2 cup orange juice or milk
salt and pepper to taste
butter (optional)

Heat oven to 400 degrees F
Wash and dry two large sweet potatoes and pierce several times with a fork or sharp knife
Place the sweet potatoes on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake until soft, 45-60 minutes
When the sweet potatoes are very soft, even oozing a sugary syrup, remove from the oven. When they are cool enough to handle, remove the skin and place the soft flesh into a mixing bowl. Add the pumpkin pie spice, salt and pepper, and enough of the juice or milk to attain a desired consistency: less for a thicker end product. Using a masher, hand mixer, or submergible blender, mix the ingredients together. Give it a taste and if it needs more pumpkin pie spice, go for it! Return to the oven or microwave to increase heat to a serving temperature. Serve with butter for extra richness, if desired.