Monday, November 29, 2010

Recipe: Homemade Pita Chips w/Hummus

I didn't make my own pita bread from scratch (I have always wanted to try that - next time!) but I did take inspiration from a friend (dietitian-chef) who makes her own pita chips at home.  These are unbelievable easy to make, but I do have two tips to ensure success (yes, based on experience) so that yours' will turn out better on the first try than mine did..

Pita Chips Directions:

Purchase fresh pita bread - make sure it is the type that can be split apart (i.e. it should be able to be "stuffed" with some type of filling when you cut it in half.

(1) Split apart the pitas into 2 rounds. You may need a knife to carefully do this.
(2) Then cut each half into 8 triangles.
(3) Place all triangles onto cookie sheets.
(4) Spray with olive oil (or very lightly brush with olive oil using a pastry brush)
(5) Sprinkle lightly with herbs or seasonings of choice, i.e. Zatar, sesame seeds, sumac,, garlic powder - I used the MIddle Eastern seasoning mixture called Zatar plus some sumac (see photo)
(6) Bake in pre-heated oven at 350 degrees for ~ 5 minutes.

Here are my tips for success (i.e. chips that are not burned!)
(1) Check after 3 minutes to see if they are crisp (shake the pan slightly - if they move easily on the tray, they are done enough). The original directions I found said to bake for 10 minutes. I first checked them at 7 minutes - oops and darn! The chips on the bottom tray were already black (sorry - no photos of those!) on both the bottom and top.
(2) Once done, remove chips from the cookie tray right away. Oops, I was admiring the perfection of my top tray of chips when I realized they were getting browner and browner before my eyes because they were obviously still baking away with the heat from the cookie tray. Well, even browner than I would have liked, they were still great.  I served them all, and they were all eaten with gusto!

(Photo: Homemade pita chips with Zatar and sumac seasonings)

(Photo: Close-up homemade pita chip with Zatar seasoning along with sumac - Great served with hummus or other bean dip)

I have re-posted my trusty recipe for hummus that is also on my website. Making hummus at home is so easy and much cheaper than store-bought, however hummus can now be found in most grocery stores in the deli section, which is an easy way to first try it. In fact, I often purchase it pre-made when traveling. There are many varieties. It is a very delicious and healthful alternative to many other spreads and dips. To make it at home, follow the basic recipe below and then have fun making your own variations.

Hummus (Standard recipe)

2 - 15 oz. cans of drained garbanzo beans (chickpeas) or use any white bean (tonight I used 3 cups of organic navy beans that I cooked up from dried beans)
1/4 cup lemon juice (fresh is best, but bottled will work okay)
2 - 3 cloves of fresh garlic (today I used 5 large cloves of roasted garlic)
3-4 Tbsp. Tahini (ground sesame seeds in a jar or a tin - found in all health food stores, the health food section of your grocery store or sometimes in the section with other imported foods)
1-2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
dash of salt (I don't often use this)
Garnish - I used chopped fresh chives in this photo, but today I actually used finely chopped garlic scapes that I am finally clearing out of my refrigerator (I'm testing just how long they really keep!)


Put all ingredients except garnish in your food processor or blender. Process until smooth, scraping down sides if necessary.

Many variations can be made on the basic recipe. After the garbanzos and basic ingredients are blended until smooth, then use a wooden spoon to mix in chopped chives, finely chopped sweet or roasted red peppers, or chopped spinach. Be creative. This recipe (using 2 - 15 oz. cans of drained garbanzo beans) makes a lot. If this is your first time making it, try cutting the recipe in half.

I use hummus as a spread on all of my sandwiches except PBJ, on bagels in place of cream cheese, on baked potatoes instead of butter or margarine, as a dip with vegetables, and even instead of mayo when making salmon salad or egg salad. The possibilities are endless. Sometimes I even just eat it with a spoon (yes I do!). It is not an exaggeration to say that I eat hummus almost everyday and never, never, never get tired of it. :-)

Carrot hummus and beet hummus are also great recipes to try. I mean this sincerely. My husband and I first had these vegetable-style hummus dips when visiting New Zealand. We made such quick work of the first type that our waitress asked us if we would like to sample the other one, too (which the chef was currently making for tomorrow night's menu). We were SO wowed by these two delicious variations of a traditional hummus recipe that I pleaded for the recipes to post on my website. Sue Bender, the chef and owner of Rocksalt Restaurant in Orewa, New Zealand, graciously agreed, and I have thanked her each time I make them.

You should be able to still purchase delicious locally-raised carrots and beets at your local farmers' markets, so wow the guests at your next party or potluck event by making any or all of these home-made hummus recipes along with your own pita chips. Easy, beautiful, delicious, and also healthy. Yum, yum, yum!

Our Thanksgiving grace this year:

"We give deep thanks for our multiple blessings, 
with particular gratitude for all the hands involved from farm to fork 
that helped to bring us this bountiful meal of delicious foods."

I like these words, succinct but just enough, just right to give thanks before every meal every day.

"Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - inch by inch, row by row"

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Junk "food" from the term "Junk Food"

Today's issue of the New York Times contains an article entitled "Junking Junk Food", which tells us among other things that 40% of the calories consumed by our children ages 2-18 now comes from "food" that is considered (kindly) to be "empty calories". Paired with that horrible statistic is the fact that more than 2/3 of our adult population and 17% of our children are now overweight or seriously overweight (i.e. the word no one wants to utter is "obese").

I have come to think that calling "junk food" and "snack foods" FOOD is doing a grave disservice to the word food. What is food anyway?

Here are some definitions of food on the Web:

  • any substance that can be metabolized by an animal to give energy and build tissue
  • any solid substance (as opposed to liquid) that is used as a source of nourishment; "food and drink"
  • anything that provides mental stimulus for thinking
  • Food is any substance, composed of carbohydrates, water, fats, proteins and water, that can be eaten or drunk by animals, including humans, for nutrition or pleasure. Items considered food may be sourced from plants, animals or other categories such as fungus. ...
Interestingly, I could not easily find any definition of "food" on the websites for The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), or The American Dietetic Association (ADA). It sure might be there, but I could not find it by simple searching through the general web or directly on their respective websites. 

Well, as a 30+ year member of The American Dietetic Association, my professional organization that promotes its members as "the nation's food and nutrition experts", I admit that I'm having confusing thoughts about this whole concept of "food". What is it that we are experts about if we cannot define it, at least to my understanding and satisfaction? In addition, maybe as an aside or maybe not, my professional organization has long promoted the ideas of "all foods in moderation" and "all foods can fit", admittedly another conundrum for me if ADA is not defining the term "food".

I'm still working on this for myself, but in the meantime, I propose that the word "food" be actively dissociated from the words "junk" and "snack" and maybe even the word "processed". Thus the title of this blog post: Junk "food" from the term "junk food". I think those pairings have done a major disservice to whole foods, those foods known to contain nutrients required for growth and health that can also be eaten and enjoyed for pleasure. 

• Web definition: Whole foods are foods that are unprocessed and unrefined, or processed and refined as little as possible before being consumed. Whole foods typically do not contain added ingredients, such as sugar, salt, or fat. ...

I do recommend reading the book by David Kessler, MD (a former head of the FDA) The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite. The content of this book is not a pretty sight.......but knowledge is power, and knowing that each of us has that power to "vote with our dollars and/or fork" three times a day (or more if we eat, i.e., snack, between meals), allows us to choose not only how we are fueling our bodies and promoting our own health and wellness, but what we are choosing for delicious (i.e., pleasure!) eating plus who (such as local farmers) or what distant corporation is going to the bank with our hard-earned dollars. 

As I said, I am still mulling this over in my mind. I have started asking dietetic students and interns who come to work for an hour, a day, or a summer on my farm to define food for me, at least to start thinking about and discussing with me what they think of as food, so that when they are members of ADA, they will have a clearer idea in the beginning of their career what they feel comfortable promoting!

Feel free to share your own ideas - you don't have to be a student weeding with me on the farm to do so!

"Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - inch by inch, row by row"

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Nutrition Services at Cancer Centers

Here is the link to two very well written articles explaining in detail (1) the knowledge base and benefits that a Registered Dietitian, especially one with the additional CSO certification in nutritional oncology, brings to the quality of cancer care a person needs and deserves and (2) the steps, steps, steps that one community-based cancer center in Denver undertook to incorporate nutritional services from an RD into  comprehensive care provided at their cancer center for every patient seen, from the point of diagnosis forward through treatment and into survivorship, and free of charge.

I have previously posted on this topic here and here. Usually I feel like I am "ranting" but here I feel like I am cheering. If your cancer center does not yet have a Registered Dietitian (or two or three!) as a member of the professional team of health care providers, feel free to copy these articles and take them into your oncologist and cancer center administrator and ask "why not?" and keep asking and keep asking.

The first article called out the belief that malnutrition is an expected outcome of cancer treatments as "outdated". The author could not have written a more accurate statement. I might not have been so polite - oh yes I would in that forum - but the reality is that maintaining adequate nutritional status during cancer treatments is critical to optimizing the best outcome from those treatments. AND it has been well-demonstrated that late intervention (the "crash and burn" scenario that the author describes) that I have mentioned in past posts is simply "too little, too late" and sad to say, usually wasted time, expertise, expense, and hope.

Nutritional screening should be incorporated into regular screening for all patients at every new visit to the outpatient cancer center, just as other "vital signs" are always assessed pro-actively and individually. These two articles give numerous examples of why and how this can be done.

Again, I urge you to print them out to give to your oncologist. In addition, do some "sleuthing" around your cancer center and find out who is (or will be) your cancer center's "nutrition champion" and give the articles to that person, too. Just as good nutrition does not happen by accident for any one person even without a cancer diagnosis, having a cancer center incorporate appropriate and optimal nutrition services for each and every patient will not happen by accident or default either (and certainly not at an optimal level), especially with the current standard being that an RD only has to be "available" to work with patients and their families.

Step, step, step! These two articles are BIG steps. Thanks to Rhone Levin, MEd, RD, CSO, LD and Shari Oakland, RD for sharing your expertise, hard work, and passion for and commitment to nutritional oncology.

"Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - inch by inch, row by row"

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Monday, November 15, 2010

What's New? The 2011 Cancer Victory Garden™ Calendar

I am member of the The Oncology Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group of The American Dietetic Association, which has created a gorgeous 2011 calendar inspired by my blog at called the Cancer Victory Garden™ calendar. These calendars will make delightful holiday gifts for almost everyone you know, including cancer survivors, gardeners, friends, family members, teachers, day care providers, and professional colleagues.

Each month features a beautiful picture of a different cancer fighting vegetable or fruit, along with text that discusses its health benefits and strategies for growing the produce in a home garden.

One or more calendars can be shipped to your home or work address.

Each calendar costs $10.00, plus a flat rate shipping charge of $5.00 (for 1 or more calendars).

To order calendars, make your check out to: ON DPG #20
(Check total = no. of calendars x $10/each + $5.00 shipping)

Mail the check to:
Maureen Leser
56 Boston Drive
Berlin, MD, 21811

Calendars will be mailed to the address on your check, or to another address as requested.

Funds from the sale of these calendars will be used to defray member costs of educational programs. In addition, ON DPG is making a donation to the Diana Dyer Cancer Survivors’ Nutrition Research Endowment at the American Institute of Cancer Research, which has provided research funds from proceeds of the sale of my book A Dietitian's Cancer Story since 2001 for AICR funded research projects that focus on defining nutritional strategies for cancer survivors to optimize the odds of long-term survival and increased quality of life.

If you have questions about the calendars, please contact Maureen Leser, MS, RD, CSO, LD, at mgoreleser (at) or call her at 240-994-0533.

If you are a member of the ON DPG you can preview the calendar at the ON DPG website:

If you are not a member of the ON DPG but are interested in previewing the calendar, please contact Maureen at mgoreleser (at) She will email a pdf that previews the calendar.

I have already seen these calendars, was given several complimentary copies, and also purchased several copies to give away. I hope you consider purchasing one or more - you will love them!

I'll end with how the calendar begins!

"Life begins the day you plant a garden"

~~ Chinese Proverb

Truer words could not be spoken!

"Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - inch by inch, row by row"

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Auditioning varieties - round 2

Nights are getting cold and the ground will start to freeze soon, so we made the decision to simply put all the 2009 auditioning varieties back in the ground for a second go at it next year. I took copious notes about such things as how many cloves per bulb and were they large or tiny or a mixture, were the bulbs easy to break apart, had the bulbs cured well or were the cloves already soft or even already starting to sprout, had the soft neck varieties been stressed in some way and bolted (i.e. sent up a garlic scape in June as if they were actually a hard-neck variety), did the bulbs simply fall off their stems (which means they are not a suitable variety for braiding), had the heads opened up so that the cloves fell off (not good for long-term storage and identification!), as just some of the characteristics I was evaluating. I also saved two cloves of each variety for tasting, which we need to do fairly quickly since separating a clove from its base plate (root structure) is one trigger to the clove to begin the sprouting process.

Here are photos of a few of the 18 varieties I planted yesterday.

Photo: German Red Garlic

Photo: Montana Carlos Garlic

Photo: Ontario Purple Trillium Garlic

Photo: Purple Glazer Garlic

Photo: Nootka Rose Garlic

Photo: Auditioning garlic varieties ready for taste comparisons!

Photo: Front yard milkweed just emerging.

Photo: Front yard milkweed, a full pod of seeds ready to fly through the neighborhood!

I included the last two photos of milkweed seeds getting ready to fly from the little prairie garden at our current home because they are so beautiful and they also reminded me of my own hair. I have sometimes wondered if I have spent more money on stuff to straighten my hair or at least control it than anyone else in the universe, so these images gave me a good laugh and even a renewed sense of peace with my hair. I have used less of all that stuff since my hair grew back after my 1995 chemo (it is great to have hair!), but I think that from this point forward, every time I reach for whatever taming product I have on hand, I will picture these beautiful milkweed seeds, count my blessings, and consider letting nature make its own version of beauty.

"Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - inch by inch, row by row"

Diana Dyer, MS, RD