Tag Archives: food

What My Cat’s Vet Taught Me Before the Probiotic Craze

Several years ago, our veterinarian recommended giving yogurt with live, active cultures to our cats with digestive issues.  He had read some research that said it helps with IBS.

I had no idea.  At that time, I wasn’t a big yogurt person.  All I knew was that I preferred Yoplait’s thick and creamy on the rare occasions I ate yogurt.  (Today I wouldn’t touch it due to the additives, plus it does NOT have live AND active cultures.)

A year or so after our vet suggested yogurt came the Activia commercials with Jamie Lee Curtis.  And then the probiotic pill commercials.  “Buy this to keep your digestion ‘regular,'” the commercials tell us.  Later, my partner’s gastroenterologist actually confirmed that probiotics are necessary.

So, our vet’s knowledge carries over to humans.  Who knew?

What are Probiotics?

Probiotics are the live good bacteria that your gut needs to function properly.  Gastroenterologists will actually prescribe a probiotic if you have stomach issues and can’t find any other underlying cause.  Or if they find you do not have any of the necessary good bacteria in your stomach.  That’s what happened to my partner.  She had NO bacteria whatsoever.  While no bad bacteria is a good thing, having no good bacteria is bad.  That can still lead to digestive and other stomach issues.

There is also research that suggests there is a link to gut health and your brain.  While there isn’t a lot of concrete probiotic research yet, there is enough to show this is more than just commercial hype and a new health fad.

If you don’t have digestive issues, you may not need a pill, but eating probiotic rich foods is still a good thing.  Non alcoholic fermented foods (like yogurt) and beverages supply probiotics.  I’m experimenting with fermented foods myself, but for now I’ll focus on yogurt.

What yogurts are the best?

My yogurt
My yogurt

As I said, CHECK THE LABEL.  The probiotics are the live AND active cultures.   My personal preference is to have at least L. acidophilus and B. lactis on the culture listas these are two of the three probiotics in my partner’s doctor prescribed Florajen3.  There are many other cultures, as well, that may be just as beneficial since which probiotics are the best still seems to be a guessing game.  So, if you see live and active cultures, at this point you don’t need to stress over what they are.  Unless you really want to stress over it.

I also recommend that you know everything that’s in your yogurt.  I now make my own yogurt (including strawberry yoplait-style for my partner).  The best yogurt is too expensive, and I want control over what’s in my yogurt and how it tastes.  If you still want to buy your yogurt, just read the label.  There are yogurts (like Siggi’s, a thick Icelandic style yogurt) that use just milk and cultures for their plain yogurt.

And for the record, Dannon’s Activia has their own patented culture.  But I’m not aware of any independent research that actually says their probiotic is better than any others.  If you check their ingredient list, Activia only says it has active cultures, and also has one of the rare ingredients that I recommend you stay away from . . .


Carrageenan!  That’s a known cancer causing ingredient that’s used as a thickener in quite a few dairy (and non-dairy milk) products.  Research also indicates it can promote glucose intolerance than can lead to diabetes, and exacerbate the condition if you already have it.  The Food Babe and her followers have put pressure on organic companies to remove it, and several are now phasing out their use of carrageenan.  I don’t like to be a food alarmist, but this is one additive I will not knowingly ingest.

In a later post, I will share my yogurt making recipes and tips.  If you want to start now, feel free to do a google search.  There are tons of how-to pages.

Yogurt is super easy to make, so if you have any cooking skills at all, you can do it!


Lazy French Onion Soup

photo credit: 3 cebollas via photopin (license)

I love both French onion soup and caramelized onions.  Sometime last fall, I came across  Foodie With Family’s recipe for both, in the SAME post!  If you are a French onion soup fan too, you NEED to check her post out!

I tried the slow-cooker onions right after I read the post.  The cooking does take a long time, but the benefit is that the entire house doesn’t smell like you’re cooking onions.  When you have a smell-sensitive person living with you (even one that loves onions) and an old house with horrible ventilation, that’s a HUGE bonus.  I did have to take the lid off at the end of cooking to evaporate some of the condensation, but the smell was still minimal.

When I was done, I just stuck the onions into sandwich sized ziploc bags, froze them, and forgot about them until I was cleaning the freezer out on Sunday.  I’m the only one in my household that likes french onion soup, so before then, I hadn’t made it for almost twenty years.


When I was single, I made a vegan version using soy sauce as the flavoring agent (from a PETA cookbook, so it’ll probably be on their website).  My taste for soy sauce has waned over the years anyway, so I don’t expect I’d like it the way I used to, and there was never really a beef base that I thought would be suitable for the soup. I did recently watch a Cook’s Country episode where they used dried shiitake mushrooms for a vegan beef-style soup base, so I may try that if I get around to growing a patch of shiitakes.

Growing shiitakes seems to be pretty easy. We have a mushroom farm in the area, and last year I had gotten a great harvest out of their “table top farms.”  Even if you are like me and NOT a mushroom fan (I usually avoid ‘shrooms at all costs), shiitakes are tolerable, and I have no doubt they would make a good, meaty soup base that won’t taste like mushrooms.  However, unless I’m growing them myself, they can make a good dent in the pocketbook.

Back to the French onion soup–since I’m not a practicing vegetarian at this time, Sunday night I made a more normal French onion soup, only I put next to no effort in it.

For the “real” recipe–go to Foodie with Family’s link at the top of the post.  For the lazy recipe, continue.

I had no suitable cheese for the soup, nor had I the patience to make the crouton topping, so this is my compromise:

Lazy French Onion Soup for 2

Adapted from Foodie with Family

2 packs of frozen caramelized onion (the size of sandwich Ziplocs)

1 500 ml tetrapack of chicken stock (or homemade veggie or chicken stock)

approx 1/4 cup of Better than Bouillon beef base (or your favorite beef or beef-style base)

A cheesy bagel, toasted (and buttered if you wish)

1.  Put the onions, stock, and base in a saucepan.  Cover and cook on high until just starting to bubble, stirring occasionally.

2.  Pour into your bowl, serve with the bagel.  Any leftovers can be stored in the fridge for an even easier lunch.

My soup (bagel not in picture).

Thai Papaya Salad (Som Tam Esan)


Papaya Salad is my favorite salad–spicy and served with a side of sticky rice, it makes a tasty and healthy meal.

I learned to make it at a Thai buddhist temple in Utah.  Unfortunately, it was yet another rough period in my life, my worst period for rightful guilt, so I didn’t actually enjoy my time there like I wanted.  I also felt trapped (which I still do, but in a different way) and didn’t feel like I deserved to have them help me.

However, I still enjoyed the food and the rituals.  I do miss listening to the monks chant in person.  While there are plenty of videos out there, it’s not the same as being there.

IMG_20150213_190224Several years back my partner found Thailand: The Beautiful Cookbook, which is indeed a very beautiful cookbook with truly authentic Thai food and information about the regions and culture.  Here I found my favorite recipe for papaya salad that helped me tweak the version I learned.  I prefer to use tamarind over lime juice, as it helps balance out the heat, and I have yet to prepare it with green beans.  Good thing is, I’ve found that Thai recipes are more of a guide and it’s typical to change up the ingredients and their quantities to your own taste.  Read about the Thai Food Philosophy at thaitable.com, which I found to be helpful.  Our local area has a strong Hmong community, and the Hmong people are from a region that covers Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam, and they’ve tweaked recipes from those three countries into their own.

The recipe from the cookbook is to the right, my tweaked recipe is below.  You will more than likely need to get green papaya at an Asian market, along with the tamarind and fish sauce.  The sauces you may get lucky and find a grocery store with a real asian section, as I have been surprised at the selection of some stores I’ve visited recently.  You will probably need to get the Thai chilis from the asian market as well, and I recommend fresh–but you can naturally grow your own as well!  My preferred peeling and shredding tools are from the Asian market as well.

The Tamarind concentrate I use (sorry for the blurred pic).

Papaya Salad (Som Tam Esan)

1 medium dark green papaya

4 garlic clovesIMG_20150213_183855

6 green Thai chilies (if you are brave–I use 3, which is still pretty spicy)  Red chilies work fine if you don’t have access to green

2 tomatoes, cut into wedges or a handful of grape tomatoes cut in half (I usually add extra tomatoes

1/2 cup chopped green beans (optional)

2 tablespoons fish sauce (can be omitted if you are vegetarian or the fish odor is offensive, just use more salt to taste)

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup lime or tamarind juice (my preference is tamarind, and it may be called concentrate or paste as well)

  1. Peel the papaya and rinse with running water to remove the acid, then dry with paper towels (can be omitted–I haven’t found a difference when I’ve skipped it).  Remove the seeds and then shred/grate the papaya and set aside.
  2. Place the garlic cloves and the chilies in a mortar and mash with a pestle until crushed into chunks.  Add the tomatoes and lightly mash to “bruise” them–this seems to make the tomato more susceptible to absorbing the other flavors, plus helps impart the tomato flavor.
  3. Add the remaining ingredients and combine everything with the pestle and a spoon.
  4. Serve cold, preferably with sticky rice.


Integrating the tomatoes with the chilies and garlic

All photos in this post are my own.

Meatless Monday–Five Alarm Chili!

This is a recipe I modified from Cook’s Country’s Five Alarm Chili.  It’s a very easy recipe, and so far the best I’ve made (my partner even likes it, which is saying a lot).

Chili ingredientsIngredients (note:  only drain the canned ingredients where noted):

1 dried ancho chile, finely chopped

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 16-oz can Bush’s chili beans in medium chili sauce (can also use hot or mild to vary the spiciness)

1 16-oz can of kidney beans (drained)

2 10-oz cans Ro-tel tomatoes with green chiles

1 4 oz can diced jalepenos

1 4 oz can diced green chiles

Optional:  1 tablespoon beef or vegetable base

Add the oil into a dutch oven and heat on medium heat until starting to smoke.  Add the ancho chile and stir for a few minutes until the chile softens a little bit.

Add all the canned ingredients and the beef/veggie base (if using), bring to a boil then reduce heat to low and let simmer for about an hour.  If sauce isn’t thickening up enough, stir in a tablespoon or so of cornstarch OR slowly add instant mashed potatoes and wait a few minutes to thicken.

Quick and easy–a perfect winter weeknight meal!