Saturday, February 12, 2011

The ABC’s of Vitamin D for a Bright and Happy Winter

(this is my monthly food column for Heartland Women)
February 2011

Last winter was brutal, which makes it not unlike this winter. Gloomy gray and blah brown are not happy colors, even when iced with a thick layer of fluffy white frosting. It’s not so much the cold and snow, but more like the complete and total lack of sunshine that takes its toll on me. Winter has been one of the biggest adjustments for me, since returning to the Heartland, after more than thirty sunny and mild Southern winters.

Last winter I slept - a lot. At night, I would crawl into bed and fall into a coma. In the morning, I would stumble to the couch and spend the day fighting to escape from sleep just long enough to get something to eat – and then sleep some more. Had I been able to collect my thoughts, I would have reasoned that this was not normal, and sought medical help. Pain ran rampant through my muscles and joints. Dishes sat dirty in the sink and piles of laundry sprawled out across the floor like a small mountain range. I was certain my picture had been added to every book or Internet site listing the characteristics of sloth. But I was far too fatigued to find out for sure.

This year, I vowed to redouble my efforts to take care of myself and maintain a respectable level of productivity. Acupuncture has worked on the pain in my muscles and joints and given me a new lease on life. And just last week I celebrated my two-year anniversary of regular workouts. I am a stronger person than I used to be, just two years ago. And, somewhere along the way this past year, I’ve lost 15 lbs. – but trust me, I’m not lifting a finger to go look for them. I am getting along just fine without them, thank you! This year, I was certain I would be ready to take on chronic fatigue, aches and pains and lack of mental focus.

Still, as the days grew shorter and the sun’s rays faded behind cold gray clouds, I dreaded another winter like the last one. Fortunately, a timely routine appointment with my new doctor just after the holidays changed all that. He suggested the possibility of an underlying cause for my doldrums and blood tests were ordered. I was skeptical, but longed to know that I would be able avoid the hibernating bear syndrome that gripped me last year.

Well, guess what? Ding – ding – ding! We have a winner!

It seems that a daily dose of Vitamin D is like a ray of sunshine on a cloudy day and that’s what I was missing. There are three good sources of vitamin D – a few foods, like salmon and shrimp, a vitamin supplement and best of all, sunlight. But, as we know, the sun goes south for the winter and, at our distance from the equator, cold cloudy winter days run together into months of dreary darkness. That lack of sunlight in our lives and, more specifically, on our skin, can lead to a serious lack of vitamin D -- and that can lead to aches, pains, mental fog and extreme fatigue. Now that I have added a regular supplement of vitamin D to my daily regimen, I am, once again, the productive and happy-go-lucky person I used to be. And I’m guessing my obsessive avoidance of the sun’s rays on my pale skin even during the summer means I should supplement some dose of vitamin D all year long. I'm going to check with my doctor and I would encourage anyone who feels less more sluggish in the winter than the summer to see her doctor. It may just be as easy as A-B-C to find out you need vitamin D too.

Oh, yeah! There’s more good news under the sun. I’ve also joined the ranks of the venerable Midwestern snowbird and flown south for a bit of nature's cure for winter blahs -- some sunlight and warmth. And that’s where I am right now – in Florida! – thanks to the generous hospitality of my dear friend, Wendy. I’ve been having a glorious week soaking in the winter sunshine of southwest Florida. It is just what the doctor ordered!

I’ve also taken up knitting, with Wendy’s help, and we have whiled away the hours talking and laughing, as we recalled funny stories from our childhoods, as well as, a few about raising our own kids. You know the kind I mean -- stories that weren’t so funny when they happened, but now they are priceless treasures you will remember to tell your grandchildren at the most opportune moment.

Even though our paths have not crossed much during the years since high school, Wendy and I have discovered we share lots of similar experiences and truly enjoyed resuming the conversation we began so long ago. Among Wendy’s many, many talents, she is an accomplished cook. My visit began with a simple dinner of huge stone crab claws and big, beautiful shrimp. As the week went on, I was impressed by her effortless ability to prepare meals that were fast, easy and oh-so-delicious – and healthy too! I’ve taken a few of her recipes for my own files and thought you might enjoy their light, bright flavors too – especially if you winter in Southern Illinois. The salmon recipe is an excellent food source for vitamin D. Other sources are shrimp, eggs, fortified milk and fortified orange juice.

1 ½ lbs. wild salmon fillet or 4 individual pieces
salt and pepper
1 can Rotel tomatoes with cilantro and lime
½ cup light mayonnaise
2 tbsp. butter
1 bag baby spinach
2 pkgs. frozen brown rice
¼ cup shredded Parmesan cheese

Cut the salmon fillet into 4 servings or use individual pieces; salt and pepper both sides. Drain the Rotel tomatoes. In a small bowl, mix the tomatoes and mayonnaise. Spread the tomato-mayo mixture on both sides of the salmon pieces. Place the salmon in a non-stick skillet; pour any remaining tomato-mayo mixture over the fish. Place a lid to cover the skillet and cook over medium heat for 7-10 minutes, or about 5 minutes per side. While fish cooks, place 2 tbsp. butter in a microwave-safe bowl and add the cleaned and trimmed spinach. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and microwave for 2-3 minutes to wilt spinach. Remove bowl of spinach and add rice; continue to microwave for 7 minutes. Remove spinach-rice mixture from microwave and toss lightly with ¼ cup Parmesan cheese. Serve the salmon along side the spinach-rice mixture and spoon remaining tomato mixture over the top. Serves 4.

1 ½ lbs. ground turkey
½ c. grated Parmesan cheese
4 green onions, sliced
¼ c. breadcrumbs
¼ c. Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic, minced
Kosher salt and freshly
ground pepper, to taste
4 English muffins or pita pockets
lettuce leaves
sliced tomatoes
sliced avocado
bread and butter pickles

Heat oven broiler. Combine turkey, Parmesan cheese, green onion, breadcrumbs, Dijon mustard and garlic in a bowl and mix gently with a fork. Lightly oil a broiler pan and place turkey patties on pan; broil to sear on each side for 1-2 minutes. For the remainder of the cooking time, move the turkey patties to a lower rack in the oven and continue to cook until internal temperature reaches 165 degrees - about 5-10 minutes on each side. Toast English muffins or pita pockets. Serve turkey burgers with your choice of toppings and condiments.

1 prepared 9-inch graham cracker pie crust
1 can sweetened condensed milk
½ c. fresh Key Lime juice or bottled Nellie & Joe’s Famous Key Lime Juice
2 cups whipped cream

Combine sweetened condensed milk and lime juice and stir until smooth and well blended. Pour filling into pie crust and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving. Just before serving, top with whipped cream.

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