Saturday, April 7, 2012

March month roundup

Before I go any further, I need to give a huge "CONGRATULATIONS!" to all my friends and classmates who got Matched.  See, April 1st is known to dietetic/nutrition majors as "Match Day," the day anyone applying to a dietetic internship finds out if they got matched to an internship.  Less than 50% of people who apply get matched to an internship so I find it really awesome that everyone I know that applied got matched!  Way to go!  (I still have a few more classes I have to take before I can apply, so I get to escape the stress of applications for one more year...)  So, to everyone who got matched....congrats!  Now, take a deep breath and go de-stress.

Sorry this post is a week late.  School and work are both in crunch mode right now and I've written a little for this post each night this week.  Seems there's a lot of the month-long celebrations that I missed in March, so this post is going to be extra long. 

So what was March and what celebrations did I miss? 

National Nutrition Month

I touched on this briefly, but didn't talk about it a whole lot.  If you read any of the major news websites or the health section of any newspaper, you probably read something about National Nutrition Month.  Ideally, you swuld pay attention to the nutrition of everything you eat all the time, not just for a month, but I don't think anyone would enjoy that.  The whole point of National Nutrition Month is to raise awareness about making healthier choices when you eat. 

Maybe next year for a challenge, I'll try to find nutritious alternatives to all the non-nutritious foods that are celebrated in March.

National Peanut Month

Well, there was a celebration of some sort on March 8, since that was National Peanut Cluster Day.  Provided you do not have a peanut allergy, peanuts are pretty cool.  You can roast peanuts and try it with different seasonings, making them either savory or sweet.  You can make peanut brittle with them, use peanut oil for cooking or for making salad dressing, dip apple slices in peanut butter, make cookies with peanuts, or add peanuts to a dish like kung pao chicken or to salads for an added crunch. 

Or, you know, you could just eat the peanuts.  I prefer to just crack open a peanut and eat it, but some people like to eat boiled peanuts.  I still haven't brought myself to try that- the thought of soft peanuts just weirds me out.  When I work up the nerve for boiled peanuts, maybe I'll try this recipe, since I like spicy foods. 

Hrm, I wonder if it's a coincidence that National Peanut Month is also the month that Major League Baseball starts up.  "Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack..."

National Sauce Month

This is another celebration I think everyone could participate in.  Most people have one or two sauce recipes that is their go-to sauce recipe.  Are you the type who always buys ready-made sauce?  Try making your own.  There are hundreds of super-easy sauce recipes online.  Practical Kitchen does a good job of rounding some up for National Sauce Month. 

National Celery Month

Celery can be hit or miss with me, depending on the soil it grows in and what it's treated with.  Sometimes, celery has a salty flavor and I just don't like to eat those celery bunches raw.  I like to take those bunches of celery, slice them up, and add them to stir-fry vegetables.  In fact, I did that this month.  Having cooked vegetables on hand is a big help on those days when I'm pressed for time.  I added no flavors to these vegetables, just gave them a quick cooking so they wouldn't spoil and then put them away for later use.  One night, I mixed the cooked vegetables with soy sauce, crushed red peppers, fish sauce, and whole wheat spaghetti noodles and made an Asian-inspired stir-fry noodle dish.  Another night, I tossed the vegetables with penne pasta, an Italian herb blend, and some olive oil and paired it with a white wine from Italy.  Extremely versatile, cooked veggie mixes can be spiced up in lots of different ways.

Of course, the quintessential celery snack is Ants on a Log and children love making and eating this snack.  Simply spread peanut butter of your choice on washed and cut celery sticks, then top with a line of dark raisins.  Voila!  Ants on a Log.  Recently, I learned there are quite a few variations of the snack.  Replace the raisins with dried cranberries and you have Fire Ants on a Log.  Replce the peanut butter with cream cheese or cottage cheese and you have Ants on a Snowy Log.  Replace the raisins with M&M's and you have Beetles on a Log.  There are so many possibilities!

And, of course, don't toss out the leaves at the top of the stalks - those are great for soups or omelets.  They have a tangy, almost bitter flavor so the leaves are best cooked.

National Flour Month

There is way too much information about flour for me to touch on this in this post.  Entire chapters of some of my textbooks are devoted to flour.  What's Cooking America has a nice primer on the different types of flour.  BHG gives a little more detailed information and directions for substituting one type of flour for another.  Most people will probably only ever need all-purpose flour.  Currently, there are five different types of flour in my pantry: all-purpose, whole wheat, bread, cake, and rice.  I'm still not sure if the cornmeal we have counts as corn flour, but it is highly likely that it counts as flour #6. 

If you are following a recipe for the first time, use whatever type of flour it calls for to get the best result.

Are you a teacher or just interested in conducting your own experiments?  Science Buddies has a great child-friendly activity for hands-on learning about the different types of flour.

National Frozen Food Month

I briefly mentioned this on Frozen Foods Day.  Again, I'm not a fan of foods you can purchase frozen at the store.  Instead, I like cooking and freezing my own foods.  There are many books that are all abotu dishes that are perfect for freezing half for later consumption.  Or you can always try making freezer jam or popsicles.  Granitas are also a wonderful frozen food you can make that's perfect for those hot summer days. 

Instant noodles can be very convenient -
but be sure to pay attention
to the sodium content. 
National Noodle Month
Argh, I can't believe I missed this!  I love noodles, especially Asian noodles.  I'm a huge fan of pho, chow mein, udon, and Okinawa soba.  (Yes, there is a difference between regular soba and Okinawa soba.)  I'll also eat ramen and use spaghetti noodles.  Noodles are very versatile and you can find noodles in just about every culture.  I've never actually made noodles from scratch but quite a few books make it seem like something I'll have to do at some point.

Of course, instant noodles can be an absolutely delicious meal to stock in a drawer at work for those days when you forget your lunch.  Just remember that they all tend to be very high in sodium.

National Caffeine Awareness Month

I am a tea fiend.  So much so that my doctor ordered me to cut back on the caffeinated tea and drink more decaf because I started having muscle twitches.  I get the majority of my caffeine from tea, since I don't drink coffee or soda very often and I avoid energy drinks beacuse they make my heart race.  (Plus, I think most of them just taste bad.)  You can also get small amounts of caffeine from chocolate.  Not a fan of fizzy drinks, tea, or coffee?  You can also get caffeine in other liquid forms, which you can usually find at any gas station.  Prefer pills?  You can also get caffeine in pills.

The Mayo Clinic has a lot of information about caffeine, touching on such topics as: how much is too much;  the caffeine content for various drinks,  what caffeine does to blood pressure, caffeine as a weight loss tool, and caffeine and blood sugar

Just remember that like any other stimulant, caffeine can affect your body in many ways.  Be sure to pay attention to how your body reacts and talk to your doctor if you have any concerns about consuming caffeine.

National Maple Sugar Month/3rd Saturday of March = Maple Syrup Saturday

When I think of maple syrup, I think of the Northeastern US and get an image of a spout drilled into a tree with thick, gooey maple syrup pouring out into a bucket.  Okay, so my mental image might be a little outdated and romantic, but it seems that it does have some amount of authenticity.  Morse Farms in Vermont has a little bit of history on their page about maple syrup and maple sugar.  Apparently maple sugar is made from maple syrup and was used in the war for the US's independence because it was an alternative to foreign sugar (aka cane sugar.)  Currently, maple sugar is quite a bit more expensive than white granulated sugar (maple sugar is ~$17 a pound while white granulated is somewhere around $3 for five pounds) but this is probably likely due to the small scale production of maple sugar and the difficulty of producing maple sugar. 

Want to try making your own maple syrup or sugar?  The University of Maine's Extension has a how-to PDF for those with access to a sugar maple or red maple tree that's at least 10 inches in diameter.  Love to Know Gourmet has instructions for making maple sugar.

National Hamburger and Pickle Month

This is a food observation that I think is pretty unnecessary.  May is Hamburger Month, has Hamburger week, and one of five possible Hamburger days.  And pickles get their own weeks and days at other times during the year.  So doesn't this seem a little repetitive?  And do people really eat hamburgers without pickles?  Well, I suppose if someone doesn't like pickles, they'll eat a hamburger without pickles.

For those that do like hamburgers and pickles, I suppose the debate then becomes: do you prefer having the flat pickles on the hamburger or do you go for a spear/full pickle on the side?  Then of course, the debate goes on to: what kind of pickle is best with a hamburger?

2nd week  of March= Chocolate chip cookie week & National School Breakfast Week

While I mentioned that the 2nd Week of March is Chocolate Chip Cookie Week and I celebrated by making a chocolate chip cookie pie, I didn't talk about National School Breakfast Week.  I'm a supporter of national school lunch and breakfast programs.  One of the things I learned in class that I think is very interesting is that the school lunch program came about because it made for good national defense.  That's right - the school lunch program has its roots in the military.  And then when we learned that children do better in academically if they've had breakfast...well, the school breakfast program was born.  If you're really interested in the history of the school lunch program, the USDA has a lot of information to share about it. 

3rd week of March = American Chocolate Week

I'm not sure what constitutes "American" chocolate.  As far as I know, cocoa plants are not grown commercially in the US.  They are however grown in Central and South America, and since the week isn't "North American Chocolate Week," I suppose you could include Central and South America.  I think the week is supposed to celebrate chocolate creations made in the US, though.

Worldwide Chocolate has a short list of American chocolates and links to where to buy them.  I think a lot of people automatically think of Hershey's when thinking of American chocolate.  (One of these day's I'll make it out to Pennsylvania for a visit.)  The Historic Division of MARS runs the American Heritage Chocolate website, which is full of lots of information about the history of chocolate in the United States.

I also wonder if this is in reference to the old, now-no-longer-made car originally  known as American Chocolate (later known as the Walter).  Maybe this celebration isn't about food at all!

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