Tag Archives: low sodium advice

Low Sodium Salutations

Hello New Friends!

Whether you have found this blog through the totally awesome mention in Better Homes and Gardens September Issue or my mom called you and told you to check it out, I just want to begin today by saying…WELCOME!

So old readers, say hello to new readers. And for everyone checking this blog out for the first time, let me tell you a bit about Sodium Girl.

like French fries. A lot.

I also like dancing–especially when there isn’t any music–and pretending to know how to pop and lock. I like immersion blenders; padron peppers; Shabu Shabu; pets with funny names; people with pet names; carbonated water; signing up for things like “circus school;” and laughing. Laughing is my favorite.

I love writing on this blog. And having your eyes (hello, new eyes!) join me as I make my way through this silly, sodium-free life.

I love knowing that when I make salt-free risotto cakes, you are making salt-free risotto cakes too. And that when I spill quinoa on my floor, you’ll be better prepared for kitchen mishaps of your own. And that at least two (if not three) times a week, we all join here to celebrate the fact that we can improve our health with our own two hands, some vinegar, and a pinch of cayenne.

Mostly, I love knowing that with every challenge I face and (without question) eventually conquer, I can help you do the same. And you’ll help me make new discoveries as well.

So new eyes and old eyes, I am so glad you are all here.

Now here’s how you can use the site: there are a couple of posts that are helpful for getting started.

Check out this video to “meet” me and hear how I changed my perspective from feeling limited to limitless.

And if you’re hot to get started on your own journey, check out these posts on dining beyond your kitchen–specifically on how to order in restaurants and how to travel both in the US and abroad. Think: foreign languages.

Of course, if there is a recipe you are looking for, try typing in some key words in the search bar on your right (do you see it? Scroll a little lower. Yes, right there!). Or post a comment below and I’ll be happy to direct you to what you are looking for.

If you have any other questions, whether it is about salt-free pickles or restaurant recommendations, post a comment as well or email me at sodiumgirl at gmail dot com.

(But just so you know, I’m faster at responding to comments on the site).

And next week, get ready for my new website–with an Amazon store, Yelp restaurant recommendations, and an actual Recipe Index–to be revealed. Stay tuned.

As for what I need from you?

Keep asking questions. Keep experimenting. Keep using your dietary needs as an excuse to live the best life possible and eat food that puts salty plates to shame.

And as always, chow on.

Oh, and say hello!

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Love Letter to Smoosh

Some people collect stamps. Coins. Spoons. Automobiles. Things that are orange. Even small, porcelain cat figurines.

I collect moms.

Always have. It isn’t something that I consciously decided to do. It was just something that happened. I’d make a friend and in a matter of time, I had also bonded with his or her mother. And their mother’s friends. And so on.

I guess I am just a sucker for a squishy, marshmallow hug from a mom. Or the way they know how to fix the bow on your dress or clean the dried ketchup from your face with a little bit of magic mom spit. Which somehow is not gross at all.

And while you’d think in over 28 years (wait, am I 27 or 28? I actually can’t remember right now, I’ll have to ask my mom), that I would have collected enough maternal fairy godmothers. But I recently was blessed with two more moms to add to my growing list. My cup of moms seriously overfloweths. And yes, sketchy charming dude, they all look young and hot enough to be my much cuter sisters.

But if you’re wondering, okay now, which one is the real mom? The one that took my macaroni necklaces and boogers with equal love and revelry? Well don’t strain your eyes too much, because it isn’t really that hard to tell.

My mom (better known to me as Marcia or Smoosh) is the one that looks exactly like me. We are absolute carbon copies of each other. We talk the same. We giggle (and snort) the same. We joke and goof around the same. We share the hardship of similar autoimmune diseases. And we even wear the same clothes – or rather, I steal things from her closet and never give them back – which fit perfectly on us both, be it two feet shorter on me.

Smoosh is my absolute best friend in the world and everything about us is the same. Except for one thing: cooking.

While food excites me, Smoosh has to remind herself to eat lunch. I usually manage to eat two. While I find the kitchen and creating new dishes a relaxing, reinvigorating experience, Smoosh finds it intimidating and would rather cook her green beans in the microwave than figure out how to use a steamer. And while I search and scavenge to put as much flavor into my cooking as possible, Smoosh is perfectly content with a piece of chicken breast and a side of broccoli. With nothing on it. (See: cooking in microwave).

But that was then.

Turns out you can teach a Smoosh new tricks. And as my right hand super woman throughout these past, almost six months of endless cookbook cooking, she has transformed from a timid novice to a kitchen tornado.

She now dices, slices, and even knows what a turnip is. She cooks quickly and confidently and isn’t afraid to experiment. Or offer me advice on how to improve my recipes. How quickly things change. She is a cooking caterpillar that has blossomed into a fearless food innovator. And like all things mom related, she has some sage advice to share.

To inspire and encourage those who are new to the kitchen and new to low sodium cooking, I asked Smoosh to share some thoughts on the last six months. And as she has always done before, her talent quickly surpasses my own. I mean, I taught the women everything she knows about fashion. She used to wear monochromatic sweatsuits and now she shows up to my doctor appointments in jeggings, knee-high suede boots, and a sweater cape. And I’m the one in monochromotic sweats. With morning breath.

So to ring in this mother’s day weekend, please enjoy this little piece from my maternal angel, sous chef, and conjoined twin. And feel free to collect her for yourself. Her heart is big enough to pass around.

To all my moms, happy mother’s day.

And Smoosh, rock on.

Letter from Smoosh, timid cook extraordinaire:

Chef would not be a word used to describe me. I can cook, but it was never something I loved to do or found relaxing or fun. I did as little as possible in the kitchen. And when my darling daughter suggested that I be one of her recipe testers, I was not only aghast, but intimidated.

Me? Are you sure? She explained that I would be the perfect tester, because if I could follow the recipe and actually produce the desired dish, then she would be confident that just about anyone else could. (Note from Sodium Girl: I now realize how backhanded this comment was).

With that “empowering” sentiment, I decided to embrace my new title and job with enthusiasm. My first attempts went slowly, and I realized that I was not only unfamiliar with my kitchen, but unfamiliar with the grocery aisles. I realized I had to slow down, take my time reading the recipe, and learn to navigate the produce section. I felt like I was on a scavenger hunt, often resorting to seeking out the kindly clerk to guide me to my item.

After a few testing trials, I took my mentor’s advice and went to the nearest kitchen store and outfitted myself with a few new pans and improved utensils. I also found that hidden in my own kitchen drawers were never before used items such as a mandoline, a garlic press and a zester. I was on a great adventure and having fun.

I can now say some 20 recipes later (note from Sodium Girl: she’s being modest, it was more like a bajillion) that I love cooking. I am excited about each new recipe and can now even multi task my way through more than one recipe at a time. I love buying the fresh ingredients, assembling all the items on my kitchen counter and then making my way through a recipe, from the first chop to the final bite!

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Pomegranate Molasses Granola Bars, Sort Of

I’ve always been pretty good at making up my own rules.

When my grandparents babysat me, I convinced them that we always ate cookies before dinner. It helped prep the stomach for the nutrients to come. When it rained, I never wore shoes. What’s the point? My feet were going to get wet anyways. And in college, I pretty much majored in the art of rule making. They called it Creative Writing.

From early on, I gave myself license to do what I wanted. Which, turns out, is a very important life skill. Because the truth is, most of the time, things don’t often go quite like you’ve planned. That’s not to say that things won’t eventually work out. They always work out. But just when you think you’ve built a straight and narrow path from point A to point B, something’s bound to gently nudge you off the road and force you to re-imagine your route to that final destination.

Which, yesterday, was a pan of granola bars.

I began my Thursday with the intention of creating a chewy, low sodium, salt-free granola bar that I could munch on for breakfast, during a bike ride, or while hiking in the hills.

I had grand plans for this granola bar. I was going to take oats, chopped dates, apricots, and cranberries and mix them with honey, brown sugar, and pomegranate molasses to make a treat that was full of sugary calories, but not too sweet to eat. I mixed, I melted, I baked, and I waited. These granola bars were going to be great.

And then, from the oven they came. A golden brown block of granola. That, much like my achey body on some mornings, refused to budge from its baking bed.

I knew that as soon as I tried to remove the granola, it was going to crumble and fall apart. Dreams of a perfectly rectangular piece of granola were shattered.

And as I stared at my brick of toasted fruit oats, I knew I had two choices: give up and crumble apart myself, or, come up with a new plan. Redefine the path from A to B. Reinvent the rules. And decide that this recipe was never meant to be for granola bars. This was for making granola bites.

If you live with a chronic illness or any kind of health limitations, this is the same choice you are faced with everyday. You wake up each morning with your grand plans and then, something – whether it is a doctor appointment, the need to find a low sodium snack in a salty world, or the fact that your joints just won’t move like you want them to – will cause those plans to get derailed.

But like my granola, you have a choice. You can either view the disruptions as impermeable road blocks. Or you can simply go build a ladder out of wood or marshmallows (remember, you make the rules) and climb right over them.

Sure, there are plenty of times I’m faced with moments where I can’t do things like I want to. But it doesn’t mean I can’t come up with a different solution that gets me to the same end goal.

So go ahead, find control in making up your own rules and in making some granola this weekend. Feel free to not follow my directions. Maybe your version will even successfully come out of the pan.

Happy weekend. Chow on.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup diced dried apricots
  • 1/2 cup diced powdered dates
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
  • 1/4 cup of orange juice and zest from entire orange
Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 dg F.

Place your oats in a baking pan and toast in the oven until they turn lightly golden and begin to smell oaty, 10-12 minutes. Take out of the oven and place in a large mixing bowl.

While your oats toast, chop your dried apricots and dates, either with a knife or a quick pulse in the food processor. Add them and the cranberries to the mixing bowl with the oats.

Lower oven to 300 dg F and cover an 8×12 inch baking pan with parchment paper (or grease well with unsalted butter).

Then, in a small pot, melt the butter and allow it to brown and smell nutty, 5 minutes. Add the sugar, honey, molasses, orange juice and zest, and bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook for 2 minutes and then pour immediately into your mixing bowl. Stir the contents until well combined and pour onto your parchment covered baking pan.

Place pan into the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes. The granola will be a darker brown when it is done and it will still be soft when you take it out. Allow to cool and harden at least 1 hour before cutting. Whether it comes out in squares or chunks, it will be delicious.

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Look What I Made Wednesday – Questions and Answers

Today we are going to take a slight departure from our normal Wednesdays and I’m going to tell you about all the things I love.

I love the rain.

I like the sound of it. I like the way the air smells after it. I particularly like it when I am not wearing shoes.

I don’t necessarily love the rain – achem – when it comes in April. April is supposed to be about flowers, spring cleaning, and candy. Which I love to eat after dinner and for breakfast.

But I like the rain – ok, I’ll say I love it – even during the spring because it gives me an excuse to make hot cocoa. Which I love and haven’t been able to drink due to the high sodium content of milk and hot chocolate mixes.

But now, thanks to So Delicious Coconut milk and these nifty vegan marshmallows

I am loving me some orange, coconut hot chocolate right now. In April. With marshmallows floating on top. As a snack.

This, I love.

I also love to write and eat and write about eating. Especially on this blog. And I really love it when I hear from you.

So I wanted to dedicate this Wednesday’s post to some of your most recent questions. And hopefully you love the idea as much as I do.

Q: How did you define your sodium boundaries?

A: First and most importantly, remember that everybody and every body is different. For me, I found that by limiting my sodium intake to 500-1000 mg per day, I was able to go off of dialysis, avoid a kidney transplant, and maintain my health with diet and daily medications.

But whether you are counting sodium or calories, you don’t want your diet to take over your mind or life. So I made some simple rules for myself:

  1. I don’t eat any food that has naturally more than 100mg of sodium per serving. This means avoiding most shellfish, but surprisingly not clams. And I can safely enjoy the majority of beef, poultry, fish, vegetables, and fruit.  Just be aware of your portion sizes and how it affects the sodium levels of the food you are consuming. Three ounces of steak may only be 90 mg of sodium, but once you start eating a twelve ouncer, well you’re talking about a whole new ball game.
  2. As for packaged goods, I try to avoid them. Over 70% of America’s sodium intake comes from processed food. But like any human being, if I need a shortcut or an ingredient that is hard to find fresh, I only use canned products that have 40 mg of sodium per serving or less. And remember what I said about serving sizes. If I am using tomato paste, which runs around 30 mg per 2 tablespoons for one particular brand, I would use it if I only needed 2 tablespoons. But I would pass if I needed a cup.
  3. And ultimately, you have to educate yourself and define your own parameters. Grab the Pocket Guide to Low Sodium Foods or check out the USDA National Nutrient Database. And read up. Once you can easily identify the sodium levels in foods, you can make choices quickly and hassle free.

Q: You mentioned that you have a card you bring with you to restaurants that lists your dietary needs. Is it on your site somewhere?

A: There are a couple good posts (if I do say so myself) that talk about successful dining tips here and here. But because you asked, here is the exact note that I email restaurants – if I’ve made reservations ahead of time – and always keep tucked in my purse. You will obviously need to change the name, but I think you get the point:

Jessica’s kidney’s failed seven years ago and as a result, she has to keep a very strict NO SODIUM diet. We thank you in advance for taking her needs seriously and using this list to help preparation:

Jessica CANNOT eat:

*no salt, no salted butter, no salted broths or sauces

*nothing pre-seasoned with salt or seasonings and sauces that contain sodium

*no vegetables or grains that have been blanched or cooked in salt water

*no shellfish (shrimp, lobster, crab, scallops, mussels)

*no soy or Teriyaki

*nothing that has been smoked, pickled, braised, or brined with salt

*no pre-canned or pre-packaged vegetables

*no dairy or cheese (besides the ones listed below)

Jessica CAN eat:

*all fresh beef, poultry, white fish, and clams

*all vegetables and fruits

*olive oils, most vinegars (check for sodium on label), wine, garlic, citrus, onions, fresh herbs, sweet butter

*unsalted reduction sauces and broths

*cream, most creme fraiche, and most mascarpone

*all grains and pastas (made without salt) cooked in unsalted water

*all spices (without sodium) and chillis

Q: On Wednesdays, I can never find the recipe that coordinates to the beautiful picture you posted. What’s going on here?

A: Right now, as I plow through the initial manuscript of my cookbook, hump days are pure teasers. In “Look What I Made Wednesdays,” I’m just showing one of the latest concoctions for my upcoming tome (okay,100 recipes) of low sodium treats. So savor with your eyes…for now.

Q: Okay, will do. But in the meantime, do you have other recipes I can print out and is there a search button?

A: Yes, there are recipes. Yes, there is a search button (it should be to the right side below “Archives”). And yes, I’m working on a better recipe system for the site.

Actually, I am working on a better site! As of next week, I am giving Sodium Girl and 21st century makeover and there will be all sorts of cool new gadgets, widgets, and recipe indexes that will make low sodium cooking even cooler than before. So thanks for hanging in there with me as we turn this duck into a low sodium swan. Or something like that. And in the meantime, if you can’t find a recipe for something, shoot me an email or post a comment below.

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Serious Spice

Readers, meet Furikake.

Furikake is a magnificent Japanese seasoning made of sesame seeds, bonito flakes (dried fish), nori, and that enigmatic fifth flavor, umami.

And guess what? While most Furikake mixes contain MSG, you can find no-salt, no MSG versions at your favorite Asian market. With just a few shakes, you can infuse dishes with exotic Eastern flavors. And your new friend, salt-free Furikake, can be used to spice up pickling blends; home-made sushi; or as a decorative and delicious topping for a simple rice bowl.

Furikake can even help you more accurately recreate low sodium versions of traditional Japanese dishes, like this onigiri ball.

Now, meet my friend Max.

He writes for a little online site called Serious Eats. You may have heard of it.

Max likes Furikake too.

As well as cardamom. Grains of paradise. Kodampuli. Vadouvan. Sumac. Pandan. Hyssop. Fenugreek. And Cinnamon.

If it looks like I just made all those words up, I swear, I didn’t. They are all real spices. That’s the truth.

But even if you held a salt shaker to my throat, I couldn’t tell you what they look like. How they smell. Or what kind of foods to pair them with. So I might as well have invented them.

My friend, Max, on the other hand, can give you all the dirty details. He’s a spice hunter. He can wax poetics about mace and paprika until the cows come home. And, of course, he’ll provide an innovative recipe in which to use them too. Not the cows. The spices.

Max and his column on SeriousEats.com – Spice Hunting – are an essential resource for low sodium cooks everywhere.

As a Spice Hunter, he is proof that flavor comes in all shapes, sizes, and languages. Not just white, small, and salty. And in following Max’s lead, you will quickly become a more creative and risk-taking cook. And your food and cocktail chit chat will become increasingly more interesting too. Who needs to talk about weather when you have coriander to contemplate?

So I encourage you all to dive head first into Max’s world of spices. Taste the rainbow, or maybe more appropriately, the United Nations of flavor and see how just a sprinkle of something different can awaken even the simplest of meals.

And if Vadouvan sounds more like voodo than dinner, start with his Top Ten List of the spices that should be in your pantry right now. Who knows what new food friends you’ll make?

Happy hunting.

Chow on.


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The Simplest Recipe

As a low sodium eater, lunch is the most difficult meal of the day, especially when you are constantly on-the-go.

Most people eat lunch out, during a busy work day or while ticking off a long list of errands. And for the salty population, there is a plethora of options to choose from: an overflowing turkey sandwich, a bowl of hot chicken soup, or even a slice (or two) of pizza ordered by the office.

But for us, the salt-less crusaders, choices are slim: steamed white rice from the local chinese take-out, a create-your-own salad bar, or maybe the occasional French fry (thank you Frjtz).

While I am thankful for these snacks, I have to be honest – sometimes my belly wants more. Sometimes I want to eat a lunch that will not just keep me full, but one that will make me smile, taste bud to taste bud.

So here’s the most perfect, simple solution: leftovers. In my not very humble opinion, most low sodium dinners fare quite well the second day around (except fish). And by eating that amazing risotto you made last night, again, you not only pay homage to your hard work and save a couple of bucks, but you are guaranteeing yourself a fully satisfying, low sodium meal.

On this hump-day, I give you the simplest salt-free recipe for a delicious lunch. Go ahead and plan that tupperware party, it’s time to pack up some goodies and as always, chow on.

Ingredients:

  • well-sealed plastic container
  • leftovers

Directions:

1. After cleaning up dinner, place leftovers into a well-sealed plastic container.

2. Refrigerate over night.

3. The next day, pack the leftovers in your computer bag or purse (make sure there are no leaks in your tupperware!) and take with you.

4. Wait a few hours and around lunch, take out tupperware, reheat, and eat.

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Staying Alive – Herbs

Earlier this week, I tweeted about herbs (see above) and the arsenal of low sodium flavor one can uncover when cooking with them.

As a quick aside … just in case some of you do not know what “tweeting” is – and yes, I realize that is probably .2% of the population – let me explain. I’m not talking about tooting in public or partaking in illegal substances. I’m talking about dispensing advice (or for some, a poetic recounting of the frozen yogurt they just ate) on the site Twitter, using 140 characters or less. It’s like the radio of the future, where anyone can broadcast.

But enough about social networks, servers, and handles (this is computer talk, not a to-do list for your next dinner party). Let’s get back to the basics. Let’s get to the herbs.

Perhaps you actually followed my 140 characters of advice and you picked up a few bunches of aromatic greenery this week. Maybe you snapped up some parsley for a pasta dish or cilantro for taco night. Mmm, taco night. Or maybe, just maybe, you went for broke and you grabbed a bushel of marjoram without even knowing what it tastes like or what it is. I applaud you.

Being the smart cook that you are, you also probably leafed through your pile cookbooks and favorite food sites to find a recipe that really honored your special ingredient. Mint, dill, chive, or tarragon – whatever the herb was, you made it the star.

But a few days later, those bright colors and tastes, that successfully perked up your low sodium foods, started to wilt away in the fridge. Nothing is more depressing than seeing a whole bunch of herbs go to waste. Well, dropping your perfectly cooked Thanksgiving turkey on a dirty floor is a close second, but if no one is looking, you can easily remedy that situation.

So the question then becomes, what do you do with your leftover herbs? How do you keep all that flavor alive? How do you stretch your dollar and your creative mind?

And without you having to ask, here are my answers:

1) Learn how to properly store your herbs. Just throwing them in the crisper is not going to keep them crisp. So unless you like limp basil, check out this breakdown by Real Simple magazine. I think it is great advice, especially the part on drying your leftovers. And this explanation, from Simply Recipes, is also very helpful. Not only will it keep your herbs from the compost bin, it will keep your used Ziploc bags from the trashcan. A win-win for you and the environment.

2) If you know you are going to buy fresh herbs, don’t just look for one recipe; flag two or three for the week. In these tight-wallet times, we have become accustomed to reuse our grains or proteins as leftovers – chicken cacciatore one day, tortilla soup the next. Using herbs shouldn’t be any different, and if you actively plan to use your fresh herbs in as many meals as possible, you might discover new combinations. Mint doesn’t just work well with fruit, it also pairs successfully with peas.

3) Infuse, infuse, infuse! Instead of letting those herbs die, let them live in perpetuity by mixing them with oils or butter. Give your EVOO the star treatment with Alton Brown’s recipe for herb oil, and gussy up unsalted butter with this simple recipe from CHOW (just leave out the kosher salt). The next time you’re making sauteed vegetables, a simple pasta, grilled steak, or pork tenderloin, add herbaceous notes with some of your special, homemade oils and butter.

4) Your turn. I may have the blog, but I know I don’t have all the answers. So it’s your time to shine. Tell us how you turn twigs of unused rosemary into your next masterpiece. What do you do with your leftover fresh herbs?

 

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