In like a lion, out like a lamb?

As the saying goes, if March comes in like a lion, it will go out like a lamb. Well, if The Weather Channel is correct, we should have highs above 50 for the next 10 days! What has my life come to that I now think 54 is a warm day? Ahhhhh...I'm finally ready for winter to go hibernate and spring to rear it's pretty little head!

March 1st snow storm...aka the Lion.

Cute street near my apartment.

"The Boulevard"...Blackstone Boulevard

View of Downcity from the Jewelery District.

My "driveway." Needless to say my car wasn't having this. I learned to walk.

Nothing escaped the storm! The inside of my front door.

Once I opened the front door. Wow, wall-o-snow!


I heart PBS Documentaries

Yes, it's true. My movie choices definitely reflect that of a 50-year old. I love PBS documentaries and I'm not ashamed to admit it. What's helpful is that Andrew enjoys them too. In fact, he enjoys them way more than me. So before you judge me, know you're judging him too:D

I watched a documentary recently for work that was especially fascinating. It's called Unnatural Causes...is inequality making us sick? The series documents America's racial and socioeconomic inequities that affect peoples' health. The RI Dept of Health uses the documentary to educate residents, especially those in low income communities, about factors contributing to their health.

The premise: The western world continues to pour money into drugs, dietary supplements and new medical technologies, but what is really making us healthy or sick?

Unnatural Causes is a documentary attempting to get to the bottom of our health woes. "We're spending $2 trillion a year and rising on health care, more than twice per person than the average industrialized nation. Yet American life expectancy ranks 29th in the world, behind Costa Rica. Infant mortality? Cypress, Slovenia and Malta do better. One third of Americans are obese. Chronic illness now costs American businesses more than $1 trillion a year in lost productivity. It turns out there's much more to our health than bad habits, health care or unlucky genes. The social conditions in which we are born, live and work profoundly affect our well-being and longevity."

The following clip is the trailer which gives you a quick 5-minute summary into the series. It's amazing, albeit distressing, to see where America stands compared to other nations and to consciously evaluate why our health trends the way it does. This video is a good 4-1-1 on Public Health-the view that health is more than your stats at the doctors office; more than a common cold or treating disease. The movement of public health teaches that what you eat, where you live, what type of environment you're exposed to, the air you breathe, the amount of stress in your life, etc. shapes your health.

The videos are short, but I had trouble narrowing down to just a couple so I will give a brief explanation before each and maybe you can pick a few that sound interesting to you.

This clip hits at the core of inequity and social determinants of health. It's what I deal with often at work. We are plagued by problems begotten from previous national policies and programs that weren't healed by simply placing a band aid over them for decades.

I would call this one: The things you don't learn in history class. I have been amazed at how much I've learned about US history since graduating high school. I now see the "hole" in our history books--the sugar coating of our past. Either I was a really bad listener or our education system glazes over the skeletons in America's closet. I can honestly say that I never imagined seeing our president smoking a peace pipe, but I also would never have imagined seeing our role in stifling Native Americans' existence.

If it wasn't genetics, what was it? This clip documents the issue of low birth weight babies in America. This clip tells the story of a well-educated, African-American woman, who even with better economic status, still became a statistic.

I never understood the complexity and irony of health problems in America until I took public health courses in grad school and worked at a non-profit. I never noticed that the majority of fast food restaurants are located in low income areas. I also wouldn't have known that some wealthy suburbs have city ordinances banning drive-thrus, which ultimately prevents fast food chains from coming into the neighborhoods. In planning this is often referred to as NIMBY--"Not in My Backyard". We want power plants, sewage treatment facilities, prisons, homeless shelters, Wal-Mart, restaurants, etc. but we want it to be somewhere else, not near us...not in our backyard. As has been the case, the wealthy can fight back, while the poor can't fight for themselves. The mayor has political clout to keep something from being developed on open land in his suburb, but the low-income communities don't have any resources to prevent the demolition of houses and buildings in their neighborhoods for these same purposes.

Before working with marginalized communities, I never would have known that most low income neighborhoods only have convenience stores or corner stores, but no grocery stores. The families have access to liquor, candy bars, potato chips, and cigarettes, but no fresh produce. What is even more sad is hearing residents explain that they can go to a fast food place and get a whole meal (a burger and fries) from the dollar menu for $2.16 per person, but they can't get a meal out of what that would buy them in produce.

This video is very skeptical of the pharmaceutical industry, but it has some validity to be considered in terms of national agendas and policies neglecting preventative care.

I watched the full episode of this clip with a low income community at a meeting hosted by two students from the local alternative high school. I was so encouraged by how inspired the residents became about gaining knowledge and understanding, learning that their story wasn't unique and they weren't alone, seeing hope for their community, and watching solutions in action in other communities (Place Matters).

"The good news is that if bad health comes from policy decisions that we as a society have made, then we can make other decisions. Some countries already have, and they are living longer, fuller lives as a result."


Recipe of the Week

I made the most fabulous enchiladas the other night. You have to try them! Mexican is my new favorite cuisine.

Two-Cheese Turkey Enchiladas

1 lb extra-lean ground turkey
1 large onion, chopped
1/2 cup chopped green pepper
1 teaspoon Pure Cane Dark Brown Sugar
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 can (28 oz) crushed tomatoes, divided
1 pkg (8 oz) reduced-fat cream cheese
1/4 cup fat-free sour cream
1 can (4 oz) chopped green chilies
1 cup salsa
8 fat-free flour tortillas (8 inches), warmed
1/2 cup shredded reduced-fat cheddar cheese

Crumble turkey into a large nonstick skillet; add the onion, green pepper, brown sugar and seasonings. Cook and stir over medium heat until turkey is no longer pink. Stir in 1 cup crushed tomatoes. Reduce heat;
simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

In a small bowl, beat the cream cheese, sour cream and chilies until blended; set aside. Combine salsa and remaining tomatoes;
spread 1 cup into a 13-in. x 9-in. baking dish coated with cooking spray.

Spoon about 3 tablespoons cream cheese mixture and 1/3 cup turkey mixture down the center of each tortilla. Roll up and place seam side down in baking dish. Top with remaining salsa mixture; sprinkle with cheddar cheese. Bake, uncovered, at 350° for 20-25 minutes or until bubbly.

Yield: 8 servings.

Nutrition Facts

  • One serving: 1 enchilada
  • Calories: 329
  • Fat: 9 g
  • Saturated Fat: 5 g
  • Cholesterol:49 mg
  • Sodium: 776 mg
  • Carbohydrate:39 g
  • Fiber:5 g
  • Protein: 24 g
  • Diabetic Exchange: 2 starch, 2 very lean meat, 2 vegetable, 1-1/2 fat.

I even managed to create something pretty normal looking:)


Green Thumb?

So Andrew and I went to the amazing Wintertime Farmer's Market last month in Pawtucket. I purchased 3 plants/herbs for "Bring a Plant to Work Week." I planned for them to serve dual functions: provide our staff with fresh herbs and purify the air. Do small herbs help air quality? Half the purpose of bringing plants was this and I decide to buy little pots of grass-sized vegetation. Big helper, huh? Well, my first goal is to make sure they survive a week at home and then I will bring them into the office. I couldn't handle the ridicule of my agricultural savvy co-workers if I publicly killed them the first week.

Well, the lady at the Farmer's Market urged me not to over water the Rosemary and I took it to heart. Surprisingly, I'm a good listener, and when I want, I follow directions. She said the Thyme and Cilantro love water, but be cautious not to kill the Rosemary. Well, being new to this plant raising business, I balked and dropped the ball. At first we found out that we were both watering it and thought we would kill them by over watering so we made a pact not to water them for 3 days. Before we knew it we had killed the two-water loving plants. Great pact, huh?!

One day I came home from work and Andrew informed me that the Cilantro had seen its better days and was on its way out. I realized the soil was dry and thought the roots may not be receiving adequate water so I immediately took it out of it's cute coffee mug pot, and began resuscitation. Now, reviving a plant is a delicate process when water is involved. There is a fine line between hydration and drowning. Andrew said, "There is no hope for that little guy. Any progress and you'll be an agricultural savior...an agricultural messiah if you will." We laughed, I chastised his heresy, and we continued on with the "saving" business. I placed the pathetic ball of soil and Cilantro in a bowl and began watering it. Ooops, I over watered it and the water was pouring out everywhere. Well, it was time for dinner so I left it in the bowl drowning in it's own filth and excess.

After dinner Andrew walked past the bowl and said, "Didn't you leave this sitting in a pool of water? It's completely dry." We then began trying to over water the plant so we could watch it suck the water up through the bottom of the pot. Brilliant idea, huh? First, let's over water. Then, let's try to do something with about as much visible reaction as watching paint dry or a kettle boil.

Well, no prophetic story is complete without redemption. Within an hour, a third of the stems were standing upright again. Slowly, over the next few days/weeks the plant continued to revive and thrive.

This revival didn't occur without casualties though; there are a few wilted stragglers that never quite came back to life, but all in all, we've got a healthy Cilantro plant. The next step is to take these suckers to work. I've had them for about a month and have yet to adequately utilize them for seasoning my food. I figure I should at least spread the wealth before I kill them again!


Prospect Terrace Park

I have lived here for almost a year and never knew about an incredible park less than a mile from my apartment. When I saw a picture of it on a friends' fridge I had to see it so Andrew and I went to check out the sunset over the city.

We had hoped for something like this:

Unfortunately it wasn't our night. Nevertheless, it was still beautiful.

We saw the huge statue of Providence's beloved founder, Roger Williams, watching over the city.

We hung out with our coffee mugs checking out Downcity from all angles. The park boasts a great view of Downcity, the Capitol and the West End. This is why people love to live on the East Side...huge hill=great view + great workout.

At this point we're hanging out in a spot hoping to catch the sunset behind the capitol. There is a couple behind us having a dinner-picnic on a bench. We lolly-gag for a bit and then decide to go to a bench further away. When there are only 10 people in the park there's no sense in being in people's space. Well, as we're hanging out and talking I notice over Andrew's shoulder that this couple has gotten all smoochy-smoochy on us. Awkward. I'm a little weirded out and distracted by it until I realize that he's taking pictures of her and a ring. Yep, that's right, as if this guy didn't have enough stress in trying to execute the perfect engagement, two goof balls show up, hang about, talk, take pictures, and stand close enough that he can't give his mushy speech and prolong his torture. (Me: hanging out. Couple on left: trying to enjoy a picnic. Man: mustering up the nerve to ask his woman to marry him with strangers in his way)

You can't really see it, but between the trees is the engaged couple still basking in their excitement and me still being a nosy observer and peeping Kim.


I love it...

Who knew M&Ms could be so adorable?


That Creep at the Mall

Today I had a conference for work downtown, about a block from the mall. Naturally, I had to go check out the big sales Emy has been telling me about and stimulate the economy a little bit:D

Well, I had been there for a few hours and had the routine down: check out the sales; look at clothes til your arm gets tired, you can't hold anymore, or they offer to start you a fitting room; head to the fitting room; greet the attendant; politely say thanks for showing you to a room; try the crap on; give back 90%; etc. Well I had been at H&M for a while trying to find some dresses to go with my boots and was ready to head back to the fitting rooms for round two. As a result, I knew they didn't count your items there, so I proceeded as usual.

I walked into the entry and there was a lady standing there where they fold and hang clothes. We made eye contact and I smiled and she just turned down the aisle toward the last free fitting room. Obviously she was tired at the end of the day so I didn't hold her lack of enthusiasm against her. She turned and looked at me as if to say, "Is this room okay?", but of course didn't actually say that. I just smiled again signifying that I was accepting her offering of this fitting room. She looked at me again, I smiled, and then she entered the fitting room to proceed with the usual routine of checking for clothes left by other people before relinquishing the room over to my care.


She went into the fitting room and shut the door!!

"What just happened?" I thought. "Oh...my...gosh. She doesn't work here! She just happened to be standing in the wrong place at the wrong time." I quickly realized that her lack of enthusiasm was actually a mix of confusion and hesitation toward the woman awkwardly smiling at her and following her to her dressing room!! I was that creep!! I immediately turned and proceeded in the opposite direction, to the adjacent row of fitting rooms on the other side of the attendant area. I tried to put this little incident behind me and enjoy the fabulousness of the dresses.

But of course, when I finished in the fitting room guess who walked out right in front of me?! HER! And she looked me in the eye, again, (haven't we done this enough tonight lady?) and I could almost taste her look of disgust. She whispered something to her boyfriend, but he never turned back. I'm sure it was something like, "Don't look now, but the lady who kept looking at me and grinning is right behind us. Probably following me again." They of course walked straight to the register, my destination, so I diverted my path and pretended not to be done so as to never look her in the eye again. Ever.

What a creep! That's the last time I assume the trendy looking woman standing on the little X marked "fitting room attendant" is actually an employee!!

So my plea: If you ever encounter a nice, docile, friendly woman following you around in the fitting room smiling, cut her some slack and just take it as a compliment, you look trendy.


Date in Hell?...

...Date in Sprawlville!

Andrew received an Olive Garden gift card for Valentine's Day from his parents so we decided to go out for dinner. We looked up the nearest Olive Garden and it was in Attleboro, Massachusetts. No problem, that's only 7 miles away. Interestingly we'd been wanting to go to Attleboro. A friend from church works there and was telling us how terrible the town was. If he was using reverse psychology on us, it worked. We felt so intrigued to see this awful place that we planned on it even before the OG excursion. In fact, we went out to eat while it was light out just so we could see the town. Pathetic, I know.

Well, we had been trying to spend money wisely and we hadn't gone out too much since Andrew's been in town, so we were really excited for this outing. We got all dressed up for our fancy date and headed out on the town. Well, town quickly turned into townie. We soon realized that Attleboro was so sprawled that OG was 3.5 miles from the town center (a big deal when you're expecting a small town). After a few wrong turns, some impolite words, and 20 minutes of irritation, we arrived in the downtown. It was cute, but dying. Traditional, historic storefronts occupied by less than desirable businesses. We drove around in circles for a few minutes and then headed back out to OG for dinner. Not much of a looker. We came, we saw, we went.

We pulled up toward the restaurant and realized that we had to turn onto the opposite side of the street to get to the restaurant. (The little sign is on the other side of the road telling you to go the opposite direction than seems logical to get to the parking lot with the big sign!)

The intersection was so convoluted that they forced you to enter a large parking lot on the left, use the outside lane like a service road, turn left under the highway and pull into the parking on your left...three lefts, aka, what would have equaled a right turn into the lot in the first place except it wasn't allowed. There was no entrance. And to make things crazier there were no stop lights on the main street, no no, they are all in the parking lot. What?! I have to stop at a light next to my parking space?!
Notice that mess of intersections that look more like something you see in the L.A. highway system? That's the parking lot traffic structure! What on earth are all those lanes for?! Really, Mr. Developer, are there that many Saturday morning shoppers in this town? The population is just over 40,000...what do you think, they all shop at the same time?!

View Larger Map

By this point we're absolutely floored by the desolate suburban conditions we're in and we've kicked into psycho urban planner mode complaining about suburbia, blaming the developer for the parking lot fiasco, cursing the city for the entrance dilemma, you get the drift....two planners on a rampage.

Well, when we get done laughing at how horrible our experience had been thus far we notice that not only are we in the world's largest parking lot, but that we're in the world's largest parking lot and way over dressed. We watch people in gym clothes, basketball shorts, cut off jean shorts with combat boots, sweatpants, you name it, walk into OG. We're not trying to judge what the other people are wearing, we're mostly feeling really awkward, overdressed, and out of place. We'll never pass as townies. They'll know we're outsiders the minute we step inside the Italian mecca. Well, we didn't drive all the way there to shrink back with our tails between our legs, so we go in. First, we can't find anything we want on the menu, next our waiter mistakes the salad for soup and gives us about 2 cups of dressing on our bottomless bowl of salad, and then we experience the saddest "Happy Birthday" singing we've ever seen at a restaurant. Usually waiters and waitresses at least pretend to be happy for you, sing, smile, fake well wishes....these people didn't even try.

Full, but thoroughly disappointed, we drag our overdressed behinds back home. No offense Attleboro, but you stink. Thanks for the gift card though, Mr. and Mrs. P.!!


All in a week's work

I have had a lot of fun this week designing flyers, creating a newsletter, and making a poster for the health groups I work with:D Here's what I did this week! Busy week!

"Focus group" flyers.
A focus group is a meeting with a group of people, often residents of a specific area, so they can get information from people in addition to the quantitative data from the U.S. Census, Dept of Health, City, etc. This group is interested in understanding teenage pregnancy, delayed prenatal care, food insecurity and nutrition in their rural community. I got to make flyers that will appeal to different cohorts: adolescents, parents, etc.

I also created a poster for disseminating the results of a teen medical home study. The big white space is where the handouts (see below) will be mounted. I feel so techy when I get to make stuff like this:D


Small State, Big Problems

Thank you NY Times for calling us out! I don't regret my move to RI one bit, but to keep you all in the loop, this is what life in the Little Rhody is like: NY Times, March 1, 2009

In summary: Second highest unemployment rate, small state=too much back scratching, high foreclosure rates, less educated residents, mob culture, corrupt politicians, fifth-worst business climate in the nation, etc. etc.

Jealous? Surely not. You don't have to move here, just come visit!:D On a positive note RI does have 11 colleges including Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design (two top universities), the most beautiful housing stock, hills, green spaces, beaches, you name it. If you can dream it, it's at least within a 3.5 hour drive!

PS This picture from the article is across the street from my apartment! Beautiful building, sad current state. But don't panic, it's on the far end of Main Street away from the busyness of downtown, which by the way, once the highway is relocated will be thriving once again:D And, no that's not Andrew and I walking, unfortunately.


Donut Day

A co-worker of mine had a birthday party this weekend with a Betty Crocker theme. She is anything but ordinary and her party proved to be so as well. Some of you may or may not be aware of the 1971 Betty Crocker Recipe Card Library--avocado green box, 610+ recipe cards, 90% disgusting recipes (i.e. chicken in gelatin) with a fabulous presentation, etc. Prior to Saturday night I was unaware of the ugly food of 1971 aka the horror of the 1960s and 70s cooking influences.

I received an invite in the mail which included an invitation, a recipe card, a return envelope and instructions explaining what to do and urging that if I cannot attend to return the recipe. I now understand why Ellen wanted all of the recipe cards back, these things are psycho vintage cards not to be lost. The goal was for each person to make the item on their card and make it look as close to the picture as possible. Recipes would be tested and voted on for "Best Tasting," "Worst Tasting," and "Most like the Photo." Interestingly, this party idea was a common usage of the card library as outlined in the NY Times.

I received the "Happy Traveller Sing Along" card...aka donuts. At first I panicked when I read the words "deep fry." I don't have a deep fryer, I don't know anyone with a deep fryer, I didn't want my entire apartment to smell like grease, and I didn't want to burn the place down with a grease fire. I toyed back and forth between baking donuts and buying a box of plain Entenmann's Donuts and just decorating those.

Well, Andrew convinced me that it would be a fun activity to do together so we should make them. I found a no-fry recipe from my favorite cooking source, Taste of Home, and we went to work preparing and baking donuts. And by we, I of course mean, Andrew. I wasn't feeling well Saturday, the big day, so I laid in bed dictating the recipe to the chef.

A thousand apologies for opening my mouth and speaking. I have the worst camera voice. Andrew didn't know I was filming--I was using my regular camera--he thought I was just waiting for a good pose to take a picture. Since I was being sneaky my playful voice kicked in which is unfortunately about 12 octaves higher than the average 6-year old, but unfortunately not pitched high enough so that we cannot hear it at all. Anyway, Andrew is too entertaining to not post these, so putting my pride aside I am putting them up:D

After waiting an hour for the dough to double, which it didn't, we moved on to step two. "Punch the dough." A difficult task when it didn't rise. Next, get the dough out of the bowl and roll it. Easier said than done. This was where the prep got interesting.
1) Use enough flour so that he dough doesn't stick to the counter: Failed. This is the look of a disgruntled chef.

2) Use a rolling pin to roll dough to 1/2 inch thickness. What rolling pin? Luckily, my Andrew gets to watch the Today Show every day and he saw last week that you don't actually need a rolling pin, just something round, like a wine bottle. Well, when you're not classy enough to have wine...you use Svedka.

3) Cut with a 2 3/4 inch donut cutter. Not surprisingly, I didn't have one laying around, so we worked with what we had: a wide mouth cup and a water bottle cap:D

Making-do with what you have: priceless!

The donuts were "brushed" aka drowned, since I don't have a brush, with butter and ready to go into the oven.

We then began the task of making the glaze and frosting. Interestingly, donuts themselves have very little sugar in the cake part, it's all in the topping. I think it's the first time I've ever made frosting from scratch so I was pretty disturbed to know that it's made up entirely of confectioner's sugar and butter! Yikes. Not a healthy breakfast.

Our instructions were to make the recipe look exactly like the picture on the recipe card. Unfortunately, the Happy Traveler Sing Along donut picture had chocolate, butterscotch, yellow and white frosting; glaze, sprinkles, shaved coconut, shaved almonds, etc. Too much for me to buy to only use once. Needless to say, the doughnuts didn't look too close to the picture:(

This was our best attempt and our final product. Not terrible, not great.

We also ran out of frosting and had a batch of lame rejects to be left at home!! Luckily, they taste okay so they'll get eaten eventually:D

At first I was pretty stressed that it wasn't going to look exactly like the picture. I had to stop and realize that I'm not in school anymore, it's not for a grade, I don't need a 100%, I wouldn't get kicked out of the party for it not being perfect, and and life got a lot easier. This was the realization when we agreed to no-fry, use only two frostings, and only one topping. Apparently, I'm not the only perfectionist out there and more interestingly most people emulated the picture to a T. Here are some of the other dishes. I believe if you click on it, you will see an enlarged version and can probably see the recipe card photo for comparison.

This had to be the most disgusting, yet it didn't win that category. Chicken in gelatin!!! Gross.

A couple of the tuna recipes. It seemed like everything contained tuna...yuck!

Our sad little donuts sitting next to some pretty good replicas.

If you're curious to check out some of the ridiculous recipes and photos, check out this site. Click on a category at the right and then click "begin" and click through the many recipes for each category. It's all about the presentation. Complicated and impressive, yet inedible!

Most deceiving. Looks like a layered cake. Wrong!! The layers are salmon, chicken salad, and olive...with a cream cheese spread.

These are some of the recipes that were seen at the party, some you'll even see in the pictures I took, posted above--pretty impressive dishes!: