Easy Baked Maple Glazed Arctic Char Without Smoke Alarms

The very easy, delicious Easy Baked Maple Glazed Arctic Char recipe has long been a staple in our weekly dinner rotation but it hit me recently that I hadn’t made it since the weather turned cool. Originally, I discovered this recipe on the blandly named, All-Fish-Seafood-Recipes website. It’s perfect for a healthy dinner on a busy weeknight: excluding the fish and the optional toppings, this recipe calls for just 4 ingredients – and they’re likely in your pantry already:

  • maple syrup (real!)
  • soy sauce
  • fresh ginger (I use ground ginger that I keep in my refrigerator)
  • cornstarch, dissolved in 1 tablespoon water

Always delicious, you can find the full recipe with my notes added here: Easy Baked Maple Glazed Arctic Char. And if you want more information about why char is a great, healthy dinner choice, read my post, Arctic Char – Better Than Salmon.

What reminded me to make this recipe last week was that my 91 year old mother-in-law said she was going to try it for the first time. Luckily, when we called the next day to ask how it turned out, she said she didn’t have 2 of the ingredients (!) so hadn’t made it yet. I felt lucky she hadn’t attempted it yet because I ran into a never-happened-before issue when I made it this week, and need to warn her about it.

Backstory: my ‘old’ oven died over Thanksgiving – cliche, I know, but luckily disaster was averted. Cue newly installed ovens, an unwelcome surprise expense weeks before the holidays. Sigh. But I was excited to test out the oven, so I prepped the fish with the four easy-as-pie ingredients, as usual, and popped it into my new oven.  Within five minutes it began emitting copious amounts of smoke. Like I was, well, smoking something!

img_3088_EasyBakedMapleCharAs I often do, I baked the fish in the top oven and roasted brussels sprouts and Ina Garten’s Garlic Roasted Potatoes in the lower oven. Lower oven was A-OK. But the upper oven smoked so much we threw open windows and doors to the arctic (sorry!) air and felt lucky the house smoke alarms didn’t go off.

This dish always smokes a bit. Sometimes a good amount. I mean, baking a sugar-soy glazed dish in a 450 oven will of course burn the sugar and set off smoke, but this level of smoke was unprecedented.

I’m not sure if my brand new oven is running too hot – I guess i’ll get an oven thermometer and test it out. And I’ll try it on a lower rack next time, and warn my mother-in-law to do the same.

I’d be interested in any other suggestions. The fish was the same, delicious dish – the smoke affected just my kitchen, not the taste. But do try this recipe for a fast, healthy weeknight dinner – and let me know what happens smoke-wise!

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Cholesterol Results 2014

So I finally bucked up and got my cholesterol tested in November and the results were surprising.  First of all, my cholesterol – after a year of reasonably careful eating and a lot more exercise, but no Metamucil or Fish Oil pills – actually moved in the right direction.

Details in a second.

Not only that, my new cardiologist (again, more in a sec on why I needed to finally see a cardiologist) actually called my cholesterol results “enviable.”

Enviable, people.

This shocked me. Especially because I gave up on the fish oil pills which apparently now, in a total turnaround from past belief, don’t help much with cholesterol. (It’s frustratingly difficult to keep up with what’s recommended –  and what is no long considered effective – for managing cholesterol without statins.)

That said, in the face of a genetic predisposition toward high cholesterol, I’ve managed through diet and exercise to avoid cholesterol medication.  Though truth be told, that’s more likely due to the American Heart Association’s 2013 revised Guidelines For Managing Blood Cholesterol than anything I’ve done… if the Guidelines hadn’t been revised, I’d probably still be having the statin conversation with my doctor.

In any case, here are my exciting (ha ha) cholesterol results.

My overall cholesterol is UP and now measures 246 – which used to be considered high but is apparently now not so big a deal.  Not a big deal, I guess, because my LDL (bad) cholesterol keeps falling (“goal” is less than 130 and mine is now 123) and my HDL (good) cholesterol keeps rising (“goal” is higher than 46 and mine shot up to 95).

NOTE: I put “goal” in quotes because these goals are no longer really in line with the new Guidelines; I find it fascinating that they are still reported as “goal” when the only goal according to the new guidelines is LDL (bad) cholesterol over 190 along with other heart disease risk factors that have nothing to do with cholesterol results.  Bizarre that this is still ‘outdated’ a year later.  Or maybe not bizarre, just sad.

In any case, I’m excited about the results.  Here’s a chart for those who prefer graphs.  If that’s not you, skip to cardiologist discussion 2 paragraphs below!

KLS Chol Trend Thru 2014

You’ll see the red line of total cholesterol is still high and rising – but no one seems worried about that, since the green line of LDL (bad) cholesterol is falling along with the purple triglyceride line … and because the blue line of HDL (good) cholesterol is rising.

Things certainly do change – I’m so glad I never started on a statin back in 2010-2011 when my numbers looked like a statin was in order.

Now, on to cardiologist.  My cholesterol results were surprising – and nicely so. But at same blood test I found I am positive for a blood clotting disorder, so that was a major bummer.  It’s not treated – and not dangerous unless you take hormones (which of course I was) so that had to stop immediately.

And then it turns out my blood pressure has risen quite dramatically.

Likely the stress of this past year – along with wondering and worrying about the blood clotting disorder.  Hence my doctor-referred trip to the cardiologist.

So my new cardiologist and primary care doctor are sorting out how to deal with my (hopefully short-lived) blood pressure issue … and on the plus side, I really liked the new cardiologist.  And when we discussed cardiac risk and my cholesterol trends and family history, he also thought that getting a handle on what my cardiac risk really looks like is a good idea.  So I had two more blood tests – and YAY – these are the very tests I’ve written about thinking made sense for me in Cholesterol Tests Your Doctor Hasn’t Told You About.  Finally!

So I had blood tests for both C Reactive Protein (CRP is a measure of inflammation in the body and high levels have been associated with heart disease) and also a full lipid analysis that will measure LDL density, ApoB and more.  I am really relieved to finally be getting a handle on cardiac risk.  Lastly, am debating about getting a Coronary Calcium test done – it’s a CT test so there’s radiation involved (and Aetna denied coverage) so I’ll likely wait until the blood test results come back to decide.

So on plus side, my cholesterol tests are now ‘enviable’ but am waiting for the blood test results to come back and really help hone in on cardiac disease risk. Oh, and trying to figure out how to get my blood pressure back to normal.

So I’ll end 2014 with a question for you: how’s your cholesterol? And, um, blood pressure? If you don’t know, please resolve in 2015 to have them checked.

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Heart Surgery

I mentioned in my last post, Losing Lox, that my folks were staying with us for a few weeks. What I didn’t mention was why.  And heart surgery is the reason.

My step-father had an aorta valve replacement nine years ago. The ‘epic’ valve that was supposed to last 15+ years didn’t even make it 10. Epic Fail. (Sorry, could not resist).

So now, at 82, it was clear that he needed open heart surgery, again. Fortunately he is in great shape (other than the so-very-leaky aorta valve) and was thus a candidate for surgery — if he was diabetic or overweight, surgery might not have been an option. More fodder for eating well and exercising daily. But more on that later.

We found ourselves both grateful and worried. Grateful the condition could be fixed. Worried because this was a significantly more complicated surgery than the first valve replacement – so much so that his much-trusted cardiologist in Sarasota counseled he should NOT have the replacement of the replacement valve surgery done in Florida. He needed a surgeon and hospital with more expertise.

After a month of searching we concluded the best option would be for them to come to stay with us in Connecticut so the surgery could be done at NY Presbyterian – one of the top 3 cardiac hospitals in the country. They arrived in mid-January for the surgeon consult, surgery was scheduled ASAP which in this case was nearly three weeks later on February 4th (this surgeon is BUSY) and they need to stay here, near NYC, until the post-surgery follow up appointment on 2/27 where he will be cleared to fly home.

It’s been a long – a very long – process.  Personally, I was more worried before the surgery that his very compromised heart would give out while waiting for the surgery. And now post-surgery, his vitals and color look so much better that I feel palpable relief. My mom is the reverse — she had been living with him with his compromised heart so long that that was ‘normal’ — she was worried, of course, but it was what she was used to. And in a way, she’s more worried now, after the successful surgery, because everything is new and scary. Why is he suddenly hot, then cold? Why no appetite?  Why so much napping and not a lot of energy?  Me, I see he actually has more energy than before, but it can be hard for others to see that.

So we read and then re-read the excellent material provided by New York-Presbyterian (if you ever need heart surgery and live near NY, get thee to NY Presbyterian – they were amazing on all fronts) to see what normal was. And though the visiting nurse said the ‘feeling cold from the inside’ is something she does see as a symptom, it’s still hard not to worry.

So I am trying to channel the worry into action. One of the things they harp on in the hospital is ‘walk your way to health.’  Seriously, after a 5 hour open heart surgery, they have the patients sitting up in chairs THE NEXT DAY and walking within 1-2 days.  It’s astonishing.

And the at-home walking program is very clear.  The NY Presbyterian folks want their heart patients to walk 0.1 miles, two-times a day –  the FIRST day they are home from the hospital.  Day two that is upped to 0.2 miles, twice a day.  By day 7 — yes, just 1 week after returning home from open heart surgery — my dad must walk 0.3 miles, twice.

He and my mom thought this was too much.  So they didn’t do it the first day. Well actually, they did try.  They walked a few feet – three different times.

I explained that wasn’t good enough.  That the reason the doctor wants him walking ever-longer each day is to build cardiac strength.  That to build cardiac strength, it’s vital to walk the amount he’s supposed to walk – ALL AT ONCE.

They stared at me in disbelief.

And then, metaphorical whip in hand and cheerleading all the way, I told my mom to wipe that concerned look off her face, put on her ‘you can do it’ smile and help.

And we all three did it.  On day 2 home from the surgery, my Dad walked the 50o feet (0.1) mile all at once.  And said he felt better!

Not only that, his pulse rate barely increased and his color got better — all clear indications that the walking was doing him good.

Day 2 there was no argument.  Just ‘how many laps, Karen’ and off he went.  And again, he felt good while doing it.

Today the cardiac PT person is coming to the house and my Mom plans to ask what h/she thinks about how much my Dad should be walking. Sigh. I know she’s concerned and she has every right to ask. But I will be there to chime in — that he should be walking the program his surgeon provided. That every time he does the prescribed walk, his pulse goes up only 10-12 beats per minute and he is not out of breath. That he NEEDS to walk.

All that said, it’s still a difficult recovery.  My dad has no pain (amazing) but he is weary and bored and tired of it all. Which is totally understandable.

The thing my dad keeps saying to my husband and myself is to ‘take care of your heart – you don’t want to end up like this.’  And he’s right. Never have I had a more visceral visual representation of the benefit and importance of living lo-co.

Frankly, some of this is genetic (which is why I mentioned he’s my step-dad – the heredity part of this doesn’t apply to me.) But a lot is related to cholesterol and lifestyle. My dad takes fish oil and a statin for high cholesterol, along with blood pressure meds.  So, continuing eating lo-co – and doing a better job than I have been – is important.  But watching the exercise literally help breathe life back into him is miraculous – and more motivation for my own exercise program.

Elliptical, here I come.

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Cholesterol Results – Static, No Statins

Bless me, doctor, for I have sinned.  It’s been 11 months since my last cholesterol test. (Sorry, could not resist putting this in Catholic confessional format!)

So, I finally worked up the courage to have my cholesterol tested a few weeks ago and the news is – well – fine.  Not great.  No movement in the right direction.  Indeed, some movement in the wrong direction. BUT the following magic words were uttered by my doctor, “We can keep monitoring – no need to start you on statins.”

She didn’t say ‘yet’ but I know she was thinking it.

Some of my friends/blog readers have been asking me to report actual results.  I’ve hesitated because I’m not sure the actual numbers are relevant.  But maybe it would be helpful to share – so geek that I am, I graphed my cholesterol test results.

 

Not a graph geek?  Prefer words to numbers and line charts?  Here’s a summary:

The February 2002 and August 2008 were ‘baseline’ results from regular physicals. Following the red line, you can see the 228 and 211 total cholesterol levels that are a result of my family history of high cholesterol. Sigh.

The big spike up in August 2010 – total cholesterol of 267 and a big bump up in LDL (bad) cholesterol – were alarming.  Indeed, that was the impetus for starting this blog to learn more about cholesterol and manage it via diet and exercise to stay off statins.

The last three data points – March 2011, November 2011 and October 2012 show that my blog/focus on diet and exercise to keep my cholesterol in check have been relatively successful. Since starting the blog, here’s what’s happened:

  • Total Cholesterol in 2011 was down at the 225 range, which is decent for me.  But my latest 239 number reflects my faltering discipline in recent months. Probably I’ll never meet ‘goal’ of  under 200, but clearly I did better in 2011…gotta’ get focus back.
  • Triglyceride level is stubbornly hovering above the 130 goal. As explained in Do You Know Your Non-HDL Cholesterol, I need to cut starches and impose a limit of 1 glass of wine per night.  This is proving to be my Waterloo.
  • HDL (good) cholesterol is increasing, which is good.  This can be counter-intutitive… so think of H for HDL – and that you want this number to be HIGH.
  • LDL (bad) cholesterol went up to 138, which is not good.  (Think of L for LDL – and that you want this number to be LOW.) As I stopped taking Metamucil and fish oil pills in recent months, I need to get back on the right eating/exercising track and see what happens.

So that’s where things stand.  Not a lot of change, but one amazing result: no Lipitor for me. Sorry Pfizer, but goal met.  Woot.

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Contaminated Fish Oil Brands

Fish oil supplements are in the news again, as the January 2012 issue of Consumer Reports tested 15 fish oil brands and rated whether they met quality standards vis-a-vis contaminants.

Why take Fish Oil? My doctor ‘prescribed’ them because of my high triglycerides. (She also suggested I cut down to no more than 1 glass of wine per day, but….) According to The Mayo Clinic, fish oil provides these benefits:

“There is evidence… that DHA and EPA in the form of dietary fish or fish oil supplements lowers triglycerides, reduces the risk of death, heart attack, dangerous abnormal heart rhythms, and strokes in people with known cardiovascular disease, slows the buildup of atherosclerotic plaques (“hardening of the arteries”), and lowers blood pressure slightly.”

You can read more on the Mayo Clinic site – and you might want to check out this Consumer Reports article, Is fish oil right for you?  The Mayo Clinic also recommended that diabetics should only take fish oil if they’ve discussed it with their doctor first.

Photo: Consumer Reports

OK, so you’ve talked to your doctor and you want to start taking fish oil pills. Now what? Just go to the store, right?

Nope.

Because the market for supplements (fish oil and others) is unregulated … and fish oil pills have been found to contain contaminants.

Mercury.  PCBs.  Other stuff you don’t want to ingest.

Yikes.

This is not a new issue (see my Heavens To Mercury post for more info, including the Environmental Defense Fund’s list of best/worst choice for Fish Oil brands. On the ‘worst choice’ of this list were RiteAid, Solaray, and KMart brands).

But what is new is that Consumer Reports recently conducted their own testing. In their labs. Nice and objective. Love that.

Turns out, you might want to avoid some big, well-known brand names of fish oil including CVS, Sundown, Nature’s Bounty, and GNC – as these brands had PCBs. (I was horrified that my husband had been taking Sundown so tossed that right out). You also might want to avoid Costco’s Kirkland brand which had an enteric coating issue.

Another heavy hitter, Nordic Naturals – which is sold in high end health/organic stores – was also on Consumer Reports list.  For spoilage, not PCBs. But Nordic’s already fought back and CR has issued a ‘correction.’ In mid-December, a correction to a January article. Gotta love the web.

But I digress. Back to Nordic Naturals. To me, this correction is irrelevant because Nordic Naturals is even more expensive than the Metagenics brand my doctor’s office sells. (Which she specifically ‘prescribed’ for me because I eat too much tuna so she wants to be 100% sure I don’t get any mercury-laced fish oil pills.) Since Metagenics is outside-lab tested and proven to be free of contaminants and Nordic Naturals is NOT, and they’re roughly the same price, I don’t see why anyone would buy Nordic Naturals brand.

But that’s just me. So given all this, what brand should you choose? IMHO, any of the 9 brands on the Consumer Reports list – or Metagenics.

Having tossed my husband’s fish oil pills last week, I just bought a giant jar of Nature Made 1,200 mg from WalMart as that was on the CR ‘met quality standards’ list. (Though my husband does not have high cholesterol so I need to ask why he’s even taking these?!)

As for me, I’ll either stick with the Metagenics my doctor ‘prescribed’ or try the Nature Made brand.

And hope they lower my triglycerides so my daily glass or 2 of wine stays my daily glass – or 2 – of wine!

 

 

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