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How to have a better New Year

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I was glad to see an article in the cooking section of the Huffington Post that listed some things to do in the effort to have a better 2014. It was not all directed at food, but rather at lifestyle, so I will confine myself to the two specific pieces of advice that we all could benefit from. They are two dictates as far as I am concerned, and I would not dream of deviating from them.

First: stop dieting. Diet food, that which is made from substances and chemicals that produce bulk without calories, is not good for you. It's that simple. Diet soda, for example, may be sweetened with aspartame, which is poisonous if you consume enough of it. The bad basic effects of carbonated beverages are magnified by the addition of chemicals that will be forced into your system by the continual pressure created in your digestive/excretory system by the carbonation, which does NOT go away after you drink it. Those bubbles are being generated all through your liver, kidneys and bladder. Medical professionals that I know have warned me not to drink soda after my deathly encounter with acute pancreatitis.

Dieting in general, though, is more a result of peer pressure than health pressure. When we see celebrities dying of strokes and heart attacks, we cannot blame it on weight--simply because celebrities tend to be bone-thin. Women in particular are the major supporters of the diet and exercise industries because they are pressured to be thin rather than healthy. Quitting a diet and turning your attention to your overall health rather than your clothing sizes can save your life.

Recently I witnessed this very thing. A friend of my husband was taking a particular drug called a statin, and it resulted in a loss of sexual drive. He was not happy about that and his doctor changed him to another medication, with good results. But another man I know had tested for testosterone and it was found to be nonexistent in his blood profile. He was considering some kind of male testosterone enhancer until he got interested in his overall health and changed his diet. He also changed his sex life some weeks later, in that it re-commenced as his testosterone regenerated naturally.

This is anecdotal evidence, but the second man is quite a bit older than the first. I do not conclude from these two stories that you ought not to take your meds; I do not conclude that weight does not matter. I do conclude that building up your general health will help your whole body to normalize.

The second thing that the article said was this: cook more. The author meant that you should eat food that you have prepared yourself, which is better for you. I can relate to that! I seldom eat in a restaurant anymore.

Have you ever seen Restaurant: Impossible, with host Robert Irvine? He goes to failing restaurants and rejuvenates them, redecorating and overhauling the menus. The thing that you see over and over is poor sanitation: physical dirt on the floors and in the machines; hazardous food storage; pest infestation; sloppy methods on the part of cooks and servers. It is enough to put you off restaurants, unless they stand or fall on their reputation for organics or so-called health food.

As long as a restaurant does not actually fail their health inspection, they can stay open. If they don't refrigerate their eggs or chicken properly, or if the chicken is sitting in a bacteria bath of dripping water, you can pay the price and it will be too late. I am haunted by a little girl whose story was covered in a television piece about listeria contamination--she incurred permanent and irreversible brain damage from the high fever even though she survived.

So cook more at home, eat what you cook and please, if nothing else, consider the Big Six because we eat so much of them! How many jars of mayonnaise and loaves of bread do we buy each year? And instead of hauling heavy cans of prepared soup, why not make your own out of fresh ingredients? If you live alone or as a couple, you can make one recipe of Marinara Sauce and have pasta for weeks. Barbecue Sauce and Tomato Sauce are so common in our diets that over a year, you can really save money by choosing to spend one day off per month making them. And while you are minding the pot on the stove, your bread could be rising, getting ready to provide you with fresh-baked, beautiful accompaniment to your soup.

Try this for an easy soup some cold night this coming week:

CAFE MARGOT PANTRY SURPRISE SOUP

Ingredients:

4 cups broth (chicken, beef, vegetable, turkey)
1 stalk celery, sliced
1 medium shallot, diced
2 carrots, sliced

Possible additions (among others):

2 Tablespoons tomato paste
1 small can diced tomatoes
A handful of noodles or other pasta
1 drained can of cooked chicken, chopped
A handful of cooked leftover meat
1/2 cup ground beef
1/2 cup frozen peas

Assemble your broth mixture and bring it to a simmer. When it is hot, add any other ingredients you want to include.

Simmer the soup until everything in it is cooked; a sliced carrot will take about 20 minutes. Serve the soup with sliced bread and butter, or vary your bread routing by making dinner rolls instead.

You will find that if you like to put frozen peas in your soup, they will cook much more quickly than the sliced carrots, so time them by allowing the carrots to cook for 15 minutes before you add the peas.

Frozen vegetables will put a stop to the simmering of the soup, so I advise that you run them under cold water briefly to thaw them before you add them to the hot mixture.

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