Sunday, May 27, 2012

Review: Eco-friendly Palm Leaf Plates

I was recently provided the opportunity by Marx Foods to review their Palm Leaf Plates, listed online as "eco-friendly" and "disposable." While Marx Foods has provided these plates free for my review, the following written opinions are solely my own based on my experience while using Palm Leaf Plates.

To get a little background information for what I am reviewing, I went to the Marx Foods website to look at the variety of plates offered, read about how they are made, and most importantly (for many people) - checked pricing.

Now, pardon me while I get a little nerdy. Given my background in environmental science and my respect for the land and sea, something new I learned and absolutely love is that these plates are made from palm leaves that have already fallen from the tree. The Adaka (or Adakka or areca nut) palm trees are not cut down, palm fronds are not cut from the trees - there is no deforestation or stripping of the trees. Tree huggers, rejoice! The collected leaves are rinsed in water, hand-washed in water and turmeric (that's right - the spice), rinsed once more in water, then allowed to air dry. In order to maximize resources, various shapes of plates and bowls are cut from each stretched and flattened palm leaf, and then heat pressed into shape. Pretty cool, right? I'd be interested in learning a little more about where the leaves are collected (the mighty Internet tells me these trees are found in the tropical Pacific, Asia and India), if fair trade/fair wages are involved in employing local residents, etc.

Just how durable are these plates? I used my plates to serve hearty helpings of teriyaki chicken and broccoli over udon noodles. The teriyaki sauce is thick and in excess, so some sauce puddles on the bottom of the plates. The plates are thicker than your standard paper plate and have a feeling similar to that of corn husks.        

The first thing that I noticed was, while the plate held the weight of the meal, it began to buckle when I picked it up with one hand. My guess is that because the food was hot, the heat caused that to happen. 

By the end of the meal, the plate was still in tact, and none of the sauce seeped through.

As my boyfriend - who works in industrial design - noted when he began to peel apart one of the plates, the creases in the plate are all oriented in the same direction. The interpretation here is that if the palm leaves were stacked in multiple directions prior to heat pressing (think of the way plywood/pressboard is made), they may be less likely to buckle. Since we are certainly not experts in the design or production of these plates, this is purely an educated guess. 

To fill another curiosity, I decided to put a small palm leaf plate under one of my house plants to serve as a tray for excess water. These plates aren't necessarily designed to hold water, but I decided to test it anyway! The plate did warp (as expected from the information provided on the Marx Foods website), but did not leak. 


So how about cost? These plates will empty your wallet a little faster than purchasing their paper or plastic counterparts. A standard dinner size plate (9.5 inches x 9.5 inches) in a pack of 25 plates is sold for $34 and a pack of 100 plates is sold for $77. Packages of salad plates (6.75 inches x 6.75 inches) sell for $31 (25 plates) and $69 (100 plates). As with most products that are harvest and produced in a sustainable and fair manner, your price supports far more than the tangible product you hold in your hand. Similarly, the cheap price you pay for traditional foods and products excludes the environmental cost the production of that food or product has on our environment and resources. While I can say for certain that I would not be willing to purchase these plates every time I have a backyard BBQ, I would certainly consider them for other special occasions. They would be great for a rustic or country themed wedding, particularly when compared to the cost of rentals, a fun little wine and cheese party with your girlfriends, to carry a shared dish to a potluck, etc. Sadly, these plates aren't made to be re-used, so that makes the cost hurt a bit more.

Overall, the palm leaf plates are durable in the sense that they don't leak, but depending on the heat of the food, the plates may warp a little. The cost is higher than the typical disposable product, but is created in a far more sustainable manner. Since palm leaf plates are compostable, I rinsed the excess sauce from the plates, and into the compost they'll go in the morning. I'm eager to see how long they last before beginning to break down!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Chicken teriyaki udon noodles

Do you have a favorite recipe that you feel like you could eat almost every day? I have definitely found mine. Browsing recipes online, I came across Caramelized Baked Chicken Wings on Cathy's Kitchen Journey. The flavor of this wing sauce is superb. I do generally love stir fry and teriyaki sauce, but this steps it up a notch, and I love that it's comprised of fairly standard pantry ingredients.

I've made some adaptations to the original recipe, which are as follows (makes enough sauce for 2-3 servings):
  • 1/3 cup of low sodium soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon of honey
  • 1 tablespoon of ketchup
  • 1 teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon of minced garlic (I use pre-minced, from a jar)
  • 1/2 teaspoon of ginger paste
  • 1/2 teaspoon of cornstarch (to thicken)
Combine all of the above ingredients in a saucepan (my measurements are more of the "eyeball" type rather than exact) and heat, stirring with a fork or whisk, until the sauce becomes bubbly and begins caramelizing. Heat and stir for about 1-2 minutes more. The prep and cooking time for the sauce is fairly quick, so be sure to time it appropriately with the prep and cooking for the rest of the meal.

Chicken: I cut up about 4 oz. of boneless, skinless chicken breast and cooked over medium heat in a frying pan sprayed with extra virgin olive oil. 

Broccoli: I rinsed, cut, steamed and drained the broccoli from one medium-sized broccoli crown.

Udon Noodles: I was originally planning this meal with rice noodles, but my classy neighborhood grocery store doesn't carry rice noodles...I should have known. The last time I bought them, I did so at my co-op, so udon noodles it was. Boil them for about 5 minutes until they are tender, then drain.

Once the chicken was finished cooking, I stirred it in a little bit of the sauce to cover all of the pieces of chicken. First I plated the udon noodles, then the chicken and the broccoli, and finally I poured the remaining sauce over the entire scrumptious pile of food. So delicious.

The full prepared recipe I made was 500 calories. I didn't have a full appetite for dinner, so I ate about half and saved the rest for lunch the next day. It reheated surprisingly well, too. 

Monday, May 14, 2012

Sunny Days

What a beautiful weekend we had - sunny and 80 degrees both days. I don't spend time in the gym on weekends, but I had plenty of exercise with all of my outdoor activities.

At the farm on Saturday, we moved all of the tools in the barn and made an area to hang all of the horse blankets for the off-season. God knows how many years' worth of dust I spent up during that! Someone also pulled down a tree in front of the barn, so that had to be moved. I picked up the tree trunk and started walking. It was a small-ish tree...maybe 6-8" in diameter and about 12 feet long...but away I went dragging it around the barn, across the top field, through the gate and all the way down into the middle of the farm until I reached the burn pile. No joke, I probably walked a quarter of a mile with that thing. Then I ran up the hill going back to the gate. Dang. I stopped on the way up to admire this hoof print in the ground:

How's your luck, buttercup?
On a farm that's been established for more than 50 years, there are all sorts of treasures to be found. The one I'm really excited about is an old metal bathtub. I said it would be a great planter for a garden, so Jill said "Take it! It's yours!" Wooooohweeee. I decided we should leave it at the farm, clean it up and plant a pretty garden in it. I can't wait to get started on that project. I went to Home Depot yesterday and bought a steel brush, primer and paint. Once we figure out where to put it ( to get it there...), I'll fill it partly with mulch and then soil. I've already decided what plants to put in it, too.

After the treasure hunt, another working student and I brought two of the horses to the outdoor arena. Because these horses stay in a herd, they can get pretty antsy when you separate them. Especially when one of the horses being separated is the boss. Make him leave his boys, and he will be sure you know how unhappy he is about it. We pulled slats from the outdoor arena fence to create a quick-escape in case the horses got too antsy. I walked our new boy Jeffrey up and set him to work right away walking over cavalettis and doing figure-eights through cones. He didn't mind wandering around the new environment at all, and enjoyed some extra snack time. When we decided the boys did a good job and we could stop work on a high note, we walked them out the gate, took off their harnesses, and let them run free. Watching a thoroughbred gallop down a hill is a beautiful thing.

See you later, Jeffrey. 
Sunday was no day of rest in my backyard. Mission: build a cat-proof fence. I've been finding some "gifts" left in my vegetable garden by my neighbor's thoughtful cats. Off to Home Depot Ash and I went for all the building materials for a fence and a real-deal gate. Oh yeah...hinges, latch and all! For four hours we worked and worked and worked planting a few new flowers and herbs, pulling weeds, taking down the old fence, putting in posts for the new fence, attaching the new fencing material and finally cleaning up. The last part of the project is building and attaching the gate, but we were running out of daylight and had to stop working for the night. By Wednesday, the garden is going to look fantastic. It already looks so much better. All of the beds were made so neatly this year, and the plants were arranged with adequate spacing and supportive structures. I can't wait until it all fills in. I should have taken some before pictures to do a comparison, but I'll just have to settle for after. I was having an absent-minded moment and could not find the charger with my camera battery of course still in it. How one loses a charger that was last seen plugged into the wall, I will never know. Hopefully I find it tonight.

I hope everyone had a great weekend! Take advantage of all these beautiful spring days!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Journey and the Destination

It's been just over two weeks since I began logging my food and exercise with My Fitness Pal. A year or so ago I tried to participate in a fitness challenge a group of food bloggers did together, but didn't last very long. It was just too difficult to keep legitimate track of anything. The database of food and exercise in MFP is phenomenal.

To give a starting point, here is how I set up my account:

Age: 28
Height: 5'5.5"
Weight: 128.6 (I later changed it to 129.6 when I realized that must have been a fluke w/ my scale)
Goal Weight: 125
Weight Loss Goal per Week: 0.5 pounds (changed to 1 pound based on MFP calculation)
Calorie Goal per Day: 1400 (calculated by MFP; changed to 1200 when adjusting the above category)

As I later learned, MFP calculates a recommended weight loss goal per week, and mine was calculated at 1 pound. When I changed my weekly weight loss goal, my calorie goal per day was adjusted to 1200.

Each day I enter my food and exercise as accurately as possible, and I believe there have only been 1 or 2 days where I have exceeded my calorie goal - all other days I have finished the day under 1200 (or 1400, previously). But, try as I might, my body has not changed one bit (yes...I've been looking at that big, red 0 for two weeks now).

I think there are a few reasons why I haven't had any change. First, I'm not trying to shed tens of pounds. While someone working on a larger weight loss goal may lose the first 5, 10 or even 15 pounds quickly, I'm merely trimming off a few pounds. I've always heard people say the last 5 pounds is the hardest, and that's pretty much all I'm going for, so I may have a tough run of it. That being said, I really shouldn't expect much out of just two weeks.

Next, since because my eating habits have always been pretty much what they are now, I'm not sure that focusing so much on food is going to do much for me. Which brings me to the strongest point: I need to work harder. My big night at the gym is Thursday nights, when I have a 1-hour ballet class followed by 1-hour of Zumba. Ballet is a mix of strength and cardio, and Zumba is about 99% cardio (we hold squats a couple of times during our dances). If I really want to see a difference in the way my body looks (which has been my main goal - I only figured dropping a couple of pounds would come with that as part of the toning process), I need to log more hours at the gym. Maybe another fitness class, but definitely some time spent using the weight machines and a little more cardio to burn fat as I tone up with the weight machines. I do lose calories with some at-home exercises and activities, but I can't imagine that has the same impact as dedicated gym time.

What does all of this mean? Moving into the second part of my first month using MFP, I'm going to put a stronger effort toward gym time. I am lucky to having a flexible work scheduling, allowing me to start my day any time between 9 and 10. That means if I wake up early, I can take care of household business so my evenings are chore-free. Goal number 1: wake up an hour earlier. I also have two pups who are eager for more time outdoors. Goal number 2: get those puppies walking, even if it's just the 3/4 mile loop around the block. If I change into gym clothes and walk the dogs when I get home from work, that means I'll be warmed up and ready to head to the gym. Goal number 3: spend 1-2 more hours in the gym each week.

Tomorrow's Friday and usually a rest day after the long Thursday night at the gym and all the chores at the horse farm on Saturday, so Monday will begin my newly dedicated efforts!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

100 Calorie Dessert

Dessert: so good, but sometimes so bad. It doesn't have to be! The season for fresh berries is arriving (or has already arrived in some areas) and those sweet little treats make a delicious dessert. Rinse and cut your berries, and top with Cool Whip Light. Instant dessert!

1 cup of mixed berries and 2 tablespoons of Cool Whip Light - only 99 calories!

500 Calorie Dinner

Since using My Fitness Pal, I'm more aware of the contents of each of my meals - if I have a heavy lunch, I should have a lighter dinner if I don't have time to exercise. Similarly, a lighter lunch leaves room for a heavier dinner. All in all, the key is portion control, which can be difficult when there is a plate of your favorite food in front of you! One of my favorite comfort food dinners is chicken parmesan and it is so simple to make.


  • boneless skinless chicken breast (thin sliced or strips)
  • olive oil/cooking spray
  • bread crumbs or cracker meal
  • grated parmesan-romano cheese
  • pasta or pizza sauce
  • shredded mozzarella or Italian cheese blend

I began with thin sliced boneless skinless chicken breast browned in a cast iron skilled sprayed with olive oil (I love my oil mister!). Once each side was browned, I removed the chicken and dipped it in a beaten egg, then a mixture of bread crumbs (I've also used cracker meal in the past, or a mixture) and grated parmesan-romano cheese. I then placed the breaded chicken breast pieces in a glass baking dish, topped each with a table spoon of Trader Joe's fat free pizza sauce, and then a tablespoon of shredded Italian four cheese blend on each chicken breast slice.

My sides were a piece of Texas toast (since I don't eat bread very often and usually cook for one, it's nice to keep a box of Texas toast in the freezer because I don't always have fresh deli bread otherwise) and brussel sprouts sprayed with olive oil and sprinkled with garlic powder. I slid a cookie sheet with the Texas toast and brussel sprouts into the oven alongside the dish with the chicken, and baked it all at 425 for about 15-20 minutes.

The end result is a full meal that is just over 500 calories: I used about 6 ounces of chicken, sliced 5 brussel sprouts in half, and cooked one piece of Texas toast. Eliminating the Texas toast would cut out 120 calories. Overall, not a bad meal, and it would be especially good after a tough workout at the gym!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

My new best friend

If you read that last post, you'll know I've been disgruntled with my eating habits lately. Partially due to following in line with Ashley's habits, but let's be real here - mostly my own fault. I could always prepare myself a separate meal or choose better options when we go out to eat. Now that meal planning is back on track, I'm going to borrow from my cousin and direct you all to her excellent review of an app we're both nuts about - My Fitness Pal.

I've always considered myself to have fairly healthy habits - I make the majority of my own meals, happily eat most fruits and vegetables and have a moderate activity level. But let's be honest here - now that I'm an adult spending the greater part of my waking hours in a law office, I'm exercising my brain more than the rest of my body. I'll also admit (shamefully), that more often than not, I drive to the office. Yes, me, the environmentally conscious individual who lives a mere 3 blocks (equating to a less-than-10-minute-walk) from her place of work, drives a car. Why? Because I've gotten too damn lazy. I'd rather roll out of bed at 9 and scramble to slip in the office door just as the grandfather clock chimes 10 times than wake up at a decent hour, play with the dogs, take my time getting ready, and enjoy some fresh air (oh right, this is Philly) on my way to work. Honestly, I'd love to do all of those things, but, like I said...I've grown lazy.

We all need a boost from time-to-time, so I'm looking to MFP, and my friends, for some motivation. I've only been using the app for a week, but I love it. Like my cousin, I love scanning the barcodes of my food to enter my daily calories. When I want to search the database, I'll log into my MFP account on the computer to make the process a bit easier. One thing I'd like to put a little time into, and I think will be time well spent, is creating meals. For example, I made falafel last week and went through the process of entering every part of the meal - the canned chickpeas, the pita, tomato, the avocado, the this, the that. If I were to combine all of those ingredients into a meal, I'd enjoy the ease of entering 1 item into my food diary rather than half a dozen.

Along those lines, since it can be somewhat of an annoyance to have to scroll through the database to find all the components of a meal, that alone is a motivator. It's even more of a reason to east simple, fresh meals, even when going out to a restaurant. Last weekend, Ash and I went to a Mexican restaurant for dinner, and I ordered chicken fajitas. The plate comes with it's own tray of toppings, but I kept it simple adding only rice, cheese and avocado to my chicken.

Overall, I think this is something I can stick with long-term, because once I'm in the shape I want, I can reset my account so that it helps me maintain my weight, rather than lose weight. In the past I've kept an online food journal, but I've never counted calories, paid too much attention to serving sizes or otherwise used any sort of precision when keeping track of my eating habits - I just watched for general trends. Now I have a friend to keep my on track - My Fitness Pal!