Monday, September 25, 2006

There’s Power in the Pom of Your Hand

No, that’s not a typo above. It’s a pun, and admittedly a rather bad one. But I have to get my readers’ attention somehow.

The “Pom” I was referring to isn’t a cheerleader’s pom, either. (Is there such a thing as a “pom,” by the way? I’ve never seen those articles referred to in the singular form. Former cheerleaders, help me out.) Nope, I was actually referring to the homely looking edible that I like to think of as the piñata of fruits, since you have to give it a good whack to get to the treasures inside: the pomegranate.

Several years back, I had something like pity for the pomegranate. It seemed to be a rather neglected fruit, at least in this country. (Never mind that I hadn’t eaten one myself for a considerable time.) And so it was with delighted enthusiasm that I embraced its healthful properties when I was working for a beverage company and looking for a new product idea for my department’s annual innovation fair.

My own introduction to the pomegranate was with some mild bewilderment over exactly how to eat one. I don’t recall now if someone told me or I simply figured it out after slicing one open, but it was an enjoyable experience – crunching on tart-sweet seeds encased in juice-filled sacs that looked like little rubies. My only regret was that there wasn’t much payoff for the work involved. (It’s not for nothing that one wit has referred to the pomegranate as “the perfect diet food.”)

Neither do I recall exactly what gave me the idea to feature the pomegranate in my beverage theme much later, but as far as innovation went, I was pretty sure no one else in my group was going to be using it. After all, while the “piñata fruit” was popular in the Middle East, its juice sold by sidewalk vendors, I didn’t see much evidence that it had caught on in America. I briefly allowed myself grandiose visions of changing that with a couple of beverages I named “Pom-Pow,” for straight pomegranate juice, and “Peach-Pom,” or something of that nature, for a juice flavored with just a bit of peach nectar. (Okay, readers, these were working titles.)

My attempts didn’t set the health beverage world, or even my department, on fire, but I learned enough to gain a new respect for this culinary rough diamond. First, I was intrigued to learn that Iranians believe the pomegranate was the fruit that Eve fed to Adam in the Garden of Eden, rather than the traditional apple, although personally, I had a bit of trouble picturing that, since she would have needed something to cut it open with. On the other hand, the Good Book says that the pair tended the Garden, so they must have possessed some kind of tools. Well, as I’ve said before, this is not a religion blog and I’m no Biblical scholar, so you’ll have to consult your local theologian on that one. Other cultures have their own pomegranate traditions: the Chinese, for example, eat a sugared version of the seeds on a couple’s wedding day, to bless the newlyweds, while Greeks break open the fruit at weddings as a symbol of fertility.

Today we know that what a BBC News article described as “the fruity panacea” is loaded with vitamins A, C, E and iron, and that its antioxidant properties outweigh even red wine and green tea. (Antioxidants are naturally occurring substances in plants which protect our bodies from free radicals, or “bad chemicals” in our blood.) When I was putting together marketing concepts for my own beverage ideas, I was particularly fascinated to discover that scientists in the U.K. were looking into using a pomegranate-derived substance in the development of an AIDS vaccine, although I don’t know now what became of that study. But our ancestors didn’t need fancy studies or modern laboratories to figure out that the pomegranate, in spite of its slightly inaccessible nature, was a health “super food.” For many years healers in the Middle East, Iran and India have used all parts of the fruit to cure conditions ranging from conjunctivitis to hemorrhoids. It is even said that a paste of the leaves, massaged into the scalp, can apparently reverse baldness. Now that’s not something I’ve ever had a problem with, but take note, Hair Club for Men customers! What really tickled me was culinary historian Margaret Shaida’s statement that when she lived in Iran, she was given a bowl of pomegranates to help her recover from “Tehran Tummy” – a condition I’d never heard of before, but which I strongly suspect bears a resemblance to “Montezuma’s Revenge.”

About a year ago, I was in the bagged salad aisle of my local grocery store when I happened upon a product called “Pom Wonderful.” Holy cow, I thought – someone stole my idea! No, not really. But I was intrigued to find the line of both “straight” and flavored pomegranate-based beverages available in both juices and tea, in an American grocery store. Somebody had finally caught on, I thought.

That somebody was a California-headquartered company called POM Wonderful LLC. According to noted nutritionist Andrew Weil (, the company pays researchers to study the health benefits of pomegranate juice, gives doctors information on studies, and, naturally, sells pomegranate products. And some of those products sound pretty cool – like the Pomegranate Lychee Green Tea or the Pomegranate Peach Passion White Tea. (Hmmm...were some of this company’s researchers at that innovation fair I mentioned earlier?) If juice is more in your line, you can try flavor combinations of pomegranate with blueberry, cherry, mango and tangerine. For more information, just click on over to, or check out the produce aisle of your grocery store. Tell ’em Treader Lucie sent you.

The homely pomegranate is indeed a culinary asset, and America is indeed “catching on.” According to a company that tracks new products, 215 new foods and beverages containing pomegranate were introduced to the U.S. market this year, while as many as 258 pomegranate products were added in 2005. So check it out. Not only will you be doing something good for your health while you eat one, but you can impress your friends and family with your knowledge of its benefits and colorful history. Who knows – maybe you’ll spark a local trend.

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Of course I couldn’t talk about pomegranates without giving you at least one recipe including same. Enjoy! (Disclaimer: I haven’t actually tried it myself yet – I was too busy writing this entry.) This recipe originally appeared in Sunset magazine.

Fresh Pomegranate Chutney

1/2 cup red currant jelly
1/3 cup finely chopped green onions, including tops
1 cup pomegranate seeds (from a 1-pound pomegranate; see note below)
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1 tablespoon minced fresh jalapeno chili
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Salt and pepper

Put currant jelly in a 2-cup glass measure. Heat in a microwave oven at full power (100%) until softened, about 20 seconds.

Stir in green onions, pomegranate seeds, ginger, chili, coriander, and lemon juice; add salt and pepper to taste. Let stand about 15 minutes before serving.

Yield: about 1-1/4 cups

Note: Remove pomegranate seeds up to one day ahead; chill seeds airtight.

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Let me know how you enjoy those edible little rubies. And until we meet again - Keep on Treading!

Monday, September 18, 2006

The Era of Our Discontent, Part II: When Knowledge is a Double-Edged Sword

“…For I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need." – The Apostle Paul, Philippians 4:11-12.

I have to admit that every time I heard or read the above verse, I secretly thought – even if I never would have dared to admit it out loud – that Paul was, in essence, wimping out. After all, if you’re content in any situation, why would you ever reach for something more? It seemed a stagnant way of living.

Last week, however, when I was thinking about contentment and the seeming lack of it in our society, it finally dawned on me that not only was such a thought disrespectful to a great man, but I was most likely misunderstanding what he’d written all those centuries ago. I believe now that what Paul meant by contentment was not satisfaction, as I’d always interpreted the word, but peace of mind.

And what circumstances did he have to challenge his peace of mind! The above verse, after all, was written while he was jailed under appalling conditions. Just thinking about it makes me feel a bit guilty about that box of tooth-whitening strips in my bureau drawer – which box was purchased, of course, in a moment marked by lack of contentment.

Thinking about Paul brought to mind yet another of his sayings that always gave me a twinge:

“In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with braided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works.”

Well! I used to say to myself. Paul was a man, and a single one, at that. He didn’t know how women think, or how most of them instinctively long to be found attractive by the opposite sex.

Yet light seemed to dawn again as this verse came back to me. What I had once simplistically viewed as a condemnation of female adornment now sounded more like an instruction to put our priorities in order…that beauty of character should be our primary concern.

I don’t know if my interpretation is correct, and this is not a religious blog. But for a moment it intrigued me to think of what the apostle might say if confronted with today’s mania for plastic surgery, natural “enhancement” products, and the like. And amusingly, what set off my remembering the verse that has probably caused countless women to secretly cringe was reading about hair: specifically, that of singer Beyoncé Knowles.

What does Beyoncé have to do with St. Paul? Not a thing, really. But there I was, fresh off TV programs about plastic surgery and male enhancement products the night before, just powered on to my PC and connected to the Internet, when I was confronted with the following advisories from AOL:

“Copy Kate Hudson’s Look for Less!” “Get Beyoncé’s Skin and Hair Secrets!”

Since I probably weigh about 100 pounds more than Kate Hudson, I didn’t think there was any hope of my looking like her no matter what I wore. As for Ms. Knowles, we are of different races and she is 21 years my junior. Nevertheless, I couldn’t resist a peek at her “secrets.” I suppose I was inwardly hoping that she might have some previously unheard of weapon that would aid my own occasionally troublesome complexion.

The “secrets” turned out to be a slideshow of different hairstyles the singer has worn during the past eight years. I had expected some advice on how she kept her locks healthy and shining. Instead, I learned from her hairstylist that she “likes the feeling of it being big, long and free-flowing,” while her makeup artist informed the reader that the singer has two sides, one of which is “the natural side, which is about her being real and not wearing much makeup. Then there’s her adventurous side, where I can put strong green shadows on her eyes and fuchsia or orange on her lips.”

Honey, I thought, if you put those colors on me, I’d look like a clown, not Beyoncé! And I suspect the same would be true of many a gal.

But after I had a bit of a laugh at myself, I couldn’t help wondering if a number of young black women were viewing the same slideshow and trying to copy the singer’s look – only to discover that what worked on her didn’t necessarily work on them? That they were still themselves?

By an interesting coincidence, this same week I had been reading a book set in Pennsylvania’s Amish country. At one point, after pondering the seemingly endless choices for lightening my teeth, reducing my weight, vanishing my cellulite, fading my age spots, and so on, I found myself momentarily wishing that I had been raised Amish, where everyone dressed alike and wore their hair alike and didn’t diet or wear makeup or contact lenses or pluck their gray hairs or get braces…but still managed to date and get married.

Hold on. I might be more content, but I would look awful.

And speaking of the Plain folk…

Channel-flipping once more, I came across an interesting story about a Mennonite man who had raised some eyebrows in his community when he opted to have a “body lift.” In my view, he had a valid reason: he had lost about 100 pounds or so and been left with a good deal of sagging skin. Yet this was not his only plastic surgery procedure, and apparently some of his fellow Mennonites viewed his decisions as evidence of vanity.

That got me thinking about knowledge, and when “a little” becomes “dangerous.” It was good for this Mennonite man’s self-esteem to know that such a procedure as a body lift is available. But was it good for his relationship with a community that puts such emphasis on conformity and self-denial? And at an average cost of $13,000, was it good for his finances – especially when it was not his only cosmetic procedure?

The woman I talked about last week, who elected for cosmetic surgery of a sexual nature, agreed with her husband that it had improved their romantic life as well as her self-esteem. In her case a little prior knowledge was evidently a good thing. But what about the woman who cannot afford to have such a procedure done, or the man who buys a “male enhancement” product to find that it doesn’t deliver the desired results? What about the person who buys a tooth whitener that says it will lighten teeth “up to six shades” but feels they’ve only gone up four shades? I found myself wondering if we were heading slowly but steadily into an era of “sexual eugenics,” in which only the most taut/pearly-white/cellulite-free/surgically enhanced would be considered contestants in the romance race.

Perhaps you think I’m being overly dramatic. Frankly, I would not be sorry if that was the case. After all, whenever I look at the people around me, whether in my own family, among my friends, or at the local shopping mall, I see bodies ranging the gamut from obese to Paris Hilton-thin. I see crooked teeth and bald spots and age spots. And I’m encouraged to see how many of these average-looking folks are accompanied by a significant other, although they would seem to be the dream target of many marketers. But then I recall the article describing how some men find themselves concerned about their growing inability to relate to “real” women after a surfeit of airbrushed images, or the statistics about the rapid increase in cosmetic procedures among teenage girls. I remember a former coworker who, when describing a potential date, said nothing of his character but noted that his teeth were straight and white, and another coworker who could not have been more than a size six yet habitually wore a blue denim Oxford shirt over her clothing at work, because she felt she had “a multitude of sins to cover.” And I’m left with more questions than answers.

One possible answer came to me, however, in the form of a fantasy…a dream of a world free of advertising. Would we find our ideas of beauty, our desires and “needs,” changing if we were not surrounded by diets and creams and pills and strips? Of cars and houses with more gadgets? Unless we all join the Amish, I doubt we’ll ever know. But for a moment, folks, it was fun to picture.

In these last two entries I’ve focused on contentment based on physical appearance. Obviously there are other aspects to this issue, but the subject could fill a book. How about you? How does contentment play a role in your life? If you’re willing to share, I’d love to hear from you.

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For the first time since I began writing this blog, I have no idea what I’ll be talking about next week. But whatever it is, I hope to see you there. So until we meet again...Keep on Treading!

Monday, September 11, 2006

The Era of Our Discontent, Part I: False Hope and Discontent

Last week I had planned to continue blogging on Claude Bristol’s “The Magic of Believing,” an important book which I think can be truly life-changing if read with care and applied to daily life. However, a chance encounter with a couple of television programs over the weekend pointed me in a different direction (sorry, Claude), so Chapter Three will have to wait a little while.

Years ago I heard someone who was laid up at home with an illness describe daytime television as “a vast wasteland.” Following surgery in September 2000, I was in full agreement. Following this past weekend, I would have to amend his statement to include some parts of “late night TV” in that description, not just for the cheesy sets, stilted dialogue and highly dubious claims (I could devote an entire entry to the latter alone), but for what’s being sold along with the featured products – false hope and discontent.

The evening was proceeding normally enough when, comfortably ensconced on the family room couch, I channel-flipped over to The Discovery Channel and lit on “Strictly Sex with Dr. Drew.” Dr. Drew is Drew Pinsky, a physician and addiction medicine specialist who teaches at USC’s Keck School of Medicine and hosts the nationally syndicated radio show “Loveline.” Having seen him on TV before and finding it interesting, I stopped clicking the remote to learn about people who undergo various surgeries in order to improve their romantic lives.

I expected to be surprised, startled, bewildered and occasionally downright amused at some of the stories I heard, and I wasn’t disappointed. But it wasn’t until after the show had ended that my mental wheels really began to churn.

This was because of one woman’s testimony, or, more specifically, one woman’s comment. In an attempt to keep this blog at least PG-rated, I’ll say only that the body part on which she had surgery is peculiar to the feminine anatomy and not one that is normally displayed except for under intimate circumstances. And if she wanted to “enhance” it in some form, that was strictly between her and her husband, or so it should have been, in my old-fashioned opinion. What struck me was not just the nature of the procedure – one that I’m guessing many women haven’t even heard of – but her reason for having it done, in spite of her husband’s persistent denials on the show that there were no sexual problems in the marriage: “I didn’t look like the women in magazines.”

Almost immediately I wondered, “What magazines?” The only ones in which I’m familiar with the applicable body part being shown are medical journals or hard-core pornography, and I strongly doubt, as a woman, that women in general are drawn to seeking out these types of images for comparison. That left the possibility that the husband had brought things into the home that were making his wife feel physically inferior. If so, that matter is also strictly between the two of them. In the meantime, while feeling like something of a voyeur, I was riveted much as people are by train wrecks. The show continued from a male point of view, with another guest admitting to his search for physical enhancement. Finally, Dr. Drew’s last guest appeared, a plastic surgeon named Jan Adams (male, in spite of the first name). I was astonished to hear of further procedures that are either being researched or currently used, in particular, one of which involved the injection of collagen into another region that is normally accessible only under the most intimate of circumstances, if it even exists (that being a controversial matter in itself). The program ended with Dr. Adams’ somewhat laughing assertion that, no matter what problem assailed us, "there would always be someone out there to work on it."

That statement stopped me in my tracks.

Fast forward a few minutes to another channel – and no, it wasn’t the Playboy channel – where a man and woman were co-hosting a program dedicated to the wonders of a “natural male enhancement” product. While admittedly feeling more voyeuristic than ever, I was amused by the fact that the body part which one would guess is said to benefit from this product was never actually named. After several instances of this, it finally dawned on me that this was a classic advertising trick designed to avoid lawsuits from something that likely doesn’t work, as if the small print advisories that “Results may vary,” etc., and the repeated use of can rather than will statements were not sufficient alerts. I didn’t stick around to hear all the testimonials, but went to bed, where I found myself unable to sleep, largely due to the avalanche of thoughts and memories that these programs had unleashed.

Perhaps you’re wondering what a person’s choice to have sexually-based surgery has to do with this blog’s overall theme of fitness. What it really has to do with is the concept of contentment, or the lack thereof – something that can certainly interfere with our mental, physical and financial fitness.

I should know. While it’s tempting to point a derisively amused finger at the television set during programs like the ones I’ve mentioned, I’ve plunked down my money on products that promised I could have abs so flat they were almost concave, or upper arms like Linda Hamilton’s in “The Terminator” – just like the models on the cover. And I’ve done it in spite of the “Results may vary” or “Results not typical” disclaimers, if I even spotted them.

Why? Because of two things: discontent, and hope. Discontent with the present, hope for the future. A nearly universal condition, I suspect – one that is essentially at the root of all advertising. Unfortunately, the discontentment didn’t vanish when a product made me jittery, or gave me an upset stomach, or when I discovered that the cover model on one product was a model indeed – of the fashion variety – leading me to suspect that she probably looked that good before she started the fitness program in question…the one I could barely perform.

But does that mean that discontentment is always a bad thing? Surely we should want to be our best, and if a product or products can help us achieve that goal, then is any financial cost too great?

That’s where it started to get interesting…and too involved to cover in just one entry. So I’ll be talking about contentment, or the lack of it, again next week – along with what conservative Mennonites who opt for plastic surgery despite the raised eyebrows of their congregation, and the “hair and makeup secrets” of Beyoncé Knowles, have to do with the subject. I don’t profess to have all the answers, or even very many of them, but I’ll have some thoughts, and I would love to hear yours as well.

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Web Site of the Week. Last night I tried a crock pot recipe that I’d like to share with you, courtesy of Internet health guru Chet Day. For those of you who’ve never heard of Chet, he has a vastly informative home on the Web called “Chet Day’s Health and Beyond” at While you’re there you can check out his personal blog, his “Recommended Natural Health Tools,” health articles, skin care products, recipes, and weight loss tools. You can also sign up to receive his twice-weekly “Chet’s Crock” newsletters, each of which features a low-fat crock pot recipe, quotation, and health article. The following recipe came from a reader named Joan Elder.

Pineapple Salsa Chicken

3-6 skinless chicken breasts
One can of tidbit pineapple, drained
One can of black beans, undrained
One 32-ounce jar of mild to medium chunky style salsa

Place chicken breasts in the crock pot and add the rest of the ingredients. Cook on low for six to eight hours. Serve with warm tortillas and some rice.

Note: I used rice only, serving the mixture over it, but you can also pile it into a tortilla for a nice chicken burrito. Also, as the mixture turned out to be soupier than I had expected, I’d experiment with decreasing the amount of salsa, as well as increasing the amount of pineapple for flavor.

As always, if you find a web site you’d like to share or see featured here, please write and let me know.

Hope to see you again next week for "The Era of Our Discontent, Part 2: When Knowledge is a Double-Edged Sword." Until then...Keep on Treading!

Monday, September 04, 2006

Guilt – The Great Motivator

It has been said that fear is a great motivator. I submit to you that guilt is at least as effective.

I have been blogging for nearly four months now, and the theme of this blog was supposed to be personal transformation. Well, it still is. There was just one problem, one that has plagued me for most of my life: I was good at dispensing advice, I just wasn’t that good at following it.

Fortunately for all concerned, I was endowed at birth with that pesky little thing known as a conscience, and it had been giving me pricks for some time. Those pricks got a little sharper when an anonymous reader recently asked:

“How much have you lost so far? How are you really feeling since you started this journey? Healthier? Has your pant size gone down? Are you feeling firmer? How about your energy level? You've passed along lots of wise information but left out how Lucie is really doing. What's working for you and how? Tell us about your results.”

I was not completely satisfied with the quality of my answer, and I don’t imagine that Anonymous was either. In fact, looking back at the past few months, I was appalled at the extent to which I’d “backslidden,” as the Baptists would say. And it was so easy to do! Let me give you a few examples.

It’s time for lunch. Oops! Forgot those “Slim” and “Carb Right” supplements I was supposed to take 30 minutes ago. Never mind, I’ll get them in before dinner. Dinnertime arrives. Darn, forgot ‘em again. Never mind, there’s always tomorrow.

Evening walk time. Oops, looks like rain. Later, it’s still overcast but hasn’t rained a drop. Never mind, there’s always tomorrow.

Darn, it’s 4:00 p.m. and I just realized I forgot to read my daily Mem-Card (see blog entry of July 10, 2006) this morning. Never mind, there’s always tomorrow.

As the preacher likes to say: “Can I get a witness?”

Perhaps the sharpest thorn in my conscience, however, came after my recent job loss. I had once wished, half in jest, that I didn’t have to work so I could devote more time to all my motivational and health/fitness materials. Well, all of a sudden I had almost all the leisure time I could wish for. Then why were most of the aforesaid “helpers” collecting dust?

I can answer for the first couple of weeks. Not having taken a vacation in just over a year, I decided to take some much-needed time off for simply “vegging.” Week Three was scheduled for resuming a schedule.

Didn’t happen. Never mind, there’s always next week. Week Four was now scheduled for resuming a schedule.

Didn’t happen. Never mind, there’s always next week.

And that brings me to here and now and today. Thanks to the gentle prodding of Anonymous, Week Five became the week in which I am attempting to put myself back on track. After all, how can I tell other people about ways to improve their lives if I’m not really improving my own? That not only lets my readers down, but myself. So this morning it was back to…

Fifty morning and 50 evening repetitions of Matt Furey’s suggested mantra, “I can and will be what I choose to be,” as well as several morning rounds of “I feel lucky” in the mirror.

A meditation on Matt’s Mem-Card¹ for the day.

The resumption of daily vitamins² (even though they leave a somewhat fishy aftertaste in my throat), Carb Right², Slim², and a tablespoon of flax seed with at least one and preferably two meals per day.

Putting aside drinks such as non-diet lemonade and even my favorite hot tea for more water.

Setting aside hourly increments for writing and motivational reading.

The resumption of cold showers (I shudder at the thought, but I’m keeping it real, folks, and they really are invigorating – once you get past the initial bowling over).

And, of course, daily exercise!

I’m starting yet another new program this week (I see you out there, rolling your eyes) – “Eight Minutes in the Morning” by Jorge Cruise. By this time I shouldn’t need to tell you what attracted me to THAT product. (Hint: it’s in the title, and it sure isn’t “morning.” I hate mornings; they start too early in the day for me.) I’ll tell you more about it next week. I’ll also be returning to Claude Bristol’s “The Magic of Believing” very soon as well. Do yourself a favor, fellow treaders, and add this book to your library. It packs a lot of powerful information into a slim volume for a reasonable price and could very well change your life.

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Do you like to eat out? I do, and not just because I don't really like cooking and don’t have to do the dishes afterwards. To me dining out is a special treat, a break from low-fat frozen dinners and pre-packaged salad mixes. Because of that, I admit that I don’t usually count calories or eschew dessert if I have room for it when visiting a restaurant. But many people who are carefully monitoring their calories, carbohydrates and sugars want to enjoy the dining out experience without sacrificing their hard work at other times, and if you’re one of them, I’ve got good news: there’s a Web site that can help you make informed choices. The National Restaurant Association has created, which is collecting nutritional information on the four to ten healthiest dishes at restaurants in a community. Users can enter their town or zip code to search for eateries by food type or price range. The site’s formal launch, which will feature over 10,000 listings, is scheduled for January 2007, but check it out now for a preview.

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That’s all for this week, folks. I’ll be back next week with an update on how my return to a more structured schedule is working, a look at “Eight Minutes in the Morning,” and a few more words about the magic of belief. Till then…Keep on Treading!

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