Teff ginger molasses cookies

September 16, 2010 |  by  |  cookies, healthy, minerals, molasses, nutrition  |  11 Comments  |  Share

Teff is one my new favorite grains. I admittedly was weary at first–for some reason I always associated its name with Teflon, the non-stick pans. Obviously, this does not sound delicious, so you can see why I put off trying it for quite some time. Until today. This morning I made these cookies and much to my surprise, fell in love. They are hearty, full of amazing nutrients, protein, and iron and are satiating beyond belief. Not to mention they are spicy gifts of goodness to your mouth. I think I’ve found my new power bar.

Teff is a tiny, itty, bitty grain that originated in Ethiopia. Its name was derived from the Amharic word teffa which means “lost,” due to small size of the grain and how easily it is lost if dropped. Because of it’s small size, it is usually ground into a flour. This makes its nutritional value nearly identical to that of the whole grain–not a whole lot is lost in the grinding process. Teff also has no gluten, so it’s perfect for people who are gluten intolerant. The list of ingredients in these cookies may surprise you, they certainly did me. Powdered mustard for a spicy kick, tamari which beautifully weaves together all the flavors, and cloves put this recipe in a class of its own.

I like to have little things like this for road trips or big trips. Recently we flew across the country and for one of the flights I was stuck without any snacks. For five hours I was taunted by a hamburger-like thing sitting on my tray table, going cold and gray. The shards of iceberg lettuce weren’t that much more appetizing, so I settled on the tiny Hershey’s bar. But after eating it, the sugar hit my brain like a brick wall and I felt tired, cranky, and even a little sick. Oh to have had these Teff cookies then! You live and you learn, at least in this case I certainly did–never fly without your own snacks.

Teff Ginger Molasses Cookies, via Terry Walters Clean Food
“Nobody will ever believe that [these cookies] are made without wheat, eggs, milk, butter or brown sugar.”

2 cups brown teff flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon powdered mustard
1/2 cup almond butter or sunflower seed butter
1/2 cup molasses
2 teaspoons tamari
2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon powdered ginger (my addition)
1/2 cup maple syrup

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Combine all dry ingredients, stir them, then add the wet ingredients. Mix until just combined, do not overmix. Line cookie sheet with parchment paper. Drop batter by heaping teaspoons onto cookie sheet. There is not need to roll, flatten or shape mounds. Simply place in oven and bake 12 minutes. Remove from oven and place directly on wire rack to cool.
Makes 24 cookies.

Enjoy!

Oat Bars, recipe #1

August 20, 2010 |  by  |  agave nectar, berries, healthy, oats, snacks  |  4 Comments  |  Share

I’ve been searching for a good tasting, healthy, snacky, oat bar. Something that I can make a batch on Sunday, individually wrap (even stick in my freezer) and grab and go. Ideally, I’d like it to have a little bit of crunch and something that will stick to the ol’ ribs, not just fill me with carbs. And not be packed with white sugar, but still satisfies the sweet flavor. So, I did some preliminary searching on the inter-webs and found a few recipes. The first one of the “oat-bar search series” I’m sharing with you was from a website that I come across every now and then, Kath Eat’s. She’s a nutrition consultant like myself and has a huge resource of good recipes.

These bars are packed with flavor. For the dried fruit, I used dried blueberries, coconut, and golden raisins and they were fantastic together. They are all hugged by a cinnamon finish, leaving a pleasant aroma on your palate and nose. There is no added sugar in these either, which I liked. All the “sweet” comes from the dried fruit and it definitely works. In fact, the bit of salt that is added to the batter initially hits the tongue on first bite, very subtlety. But what it does is sets you up for the lovely and languid bursts of sweet you get from the fruits, and even the coconut (the coconut is not “sweetened” per se, but is considered part of the sweet-flavor family). My one complaint is the texture. They are made with egg, which makes them a bit chewy, spongy even. Texturally, I am looking for something that is a little bit crisp on the outside, and has a delicious pull to its chew. Sometimes I like things breaking off in my mouth with a satisfying crunch, but for the oat bars, my mind is craving crunch with some satisfying chew. If you have any favorite oat bar recipes, please I’d love to hear about them!

Cheers!

Baked Oatmeal Snack Bars, recipe from Kath Eat’s

Ingredients

1.5 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
3/4 cup dried fruit (Kath used 1/4 cup cranberry trail mix, 1/4 cup raisins, 1/4 cup chopped dried “just banana” from TJ’s; I used 1/2 cup dried blueberries, 1/4 cup golden raisins, and 1/4 cup unsweetened coconut shreds))
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp kosher salt
1.25 cups milk (regular, soy, almond, rice…)
1 egg or egg substitute
1 tsp vanilla

Method:

1. Preheat oven to 350*
2. Mix dry ingredients.
3. Mix wet ingredients.
4. Pour wet into dry. Stir to combine.
5. Pour into a 9×9 baking dish either coated in cooking spray or lined with parchment.
6. Bake for 40 minutes.
7. Cut into 9 squares.

Makes 9 servings . Each bar is appx. 165 calories, 3 grams fiber and 5 grams protein.

You can double the recipe and use a 9×13 baking dish. While delicious, the only sweetness in these comes from the dried fruit. Add in 1/4 – 1/2 cup brown sugar if you like.

The variations are endless: cranberries, coconut, all kinds of dried fruit, nuts, etc.

Quinoa Basil and Fresh Corn Salad

July 8, 2010 |  by  |  healthy, nutrition, quinoa, salad  |  8 Comments  |  Share

When it gets hot out, I like to have good things ready and waiting for me in the kitchen. Fresh fruits, cold fresh veggies, some dips (like hummus or salsa), and a variety of summer salads. Making things in bulk is key for me–the hot days make me less inclined to turn on my oven or stove. Chopping extra carrot sticks or making extra salad, it really is a life saver when you sweat just thinking about the afternoon sun. We don’t have air conditioning which in the temperate Portland climate is fine for 50 out of the 52 weeks of the year. But it’s those scorcher weeks that make me want to do nothing but sit in the shade and sip icy cool mint water (ah, to dream!).

Last night I made another great summer salad and knew I had to share it with you. This salad was RE-FRESH-ING–and freshness, in it’s many forms, is something we all search for especially when we’re feeling overheated. The spicy coolness of the fresh basil mixed with the sweet crunch of fresh corn from the cob was a combination I hadn’t tried before, and it was delicious. I’m originally from the Washington DC area and summers there are, well, ridiculous. Many of my family and friends still there haven’t actually enjoyed the summer because it is TOO hot; they stay indoors where their air conditioners make it bearable from the 107 degrees F and 98% humidity–and I don’t blame them, that’s hot. Over the course of the past ten years, they’ve reached record highs in temperature–and it keeps getting hotter! As a kid, I remember the city would code the days: code orange, red, and purple, and they would highly advise to keep children and the elderly inside on those days. But my friends and I still road our bikes to the pool because staying inside was just not an option! (I wonder if they’ve created a code black day for today’s standards, because that was over 15 years ago.) However, the intensity of the weather there certainly has brought me pause. Summer, I believe, is a time to be enjoyed. But with people being trapped in their air conditioning because it keeps getting hotter each year, I wonder how the next generation will fare with “enjoying” the summer months. Not the shade, nor icy cool mint drinks brings people respite from that kind of oppressive heat when just 20 years ago, it did. Keeping cool and fresh in the summer means different things for us all depending on where we live–and I think every little thing you can do to take care of yourself during these hot days can do wonders for both your body and overall mood. After all, isn’t life about the little things? :)

Quinoa Basil and Fresh Corn Salad, recipe adapted from Vegetarian Times
1 1/2 cups uncooked quinoa, rinsed well
1 tsp. salt
2 cups fresh (about 4 ears) or frozen corn
1 cup tightly packed basil leaves, finely chopped
1/2 cup diced sun dried tomatoes (soaked in hot water for 15 minutes prior to slicing)
1/2 cup diced red onion
2 Tbs. olive oil
3 to 5 Tbs. fresh lemon juice (1 to 2 lemons)

In medium saucepan, combine quinoa, salt and 3 cups water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Cover, reduce heat to low and simmer 12 minutes.
Add corn, cover and cook until quinoa is tender but still a little crunchy, about 3 minutes.
Drain quinoa mixture and transfer to large serving bowl. Toss well with fork, fluffing quinoa. Set aside to cool slightly.
Add basil, peppers and onion. Stir in oil and enough lemon juice to give salad a distinct lemony edge. Adjust seasonings to taste and serve.
Serves about 6, enjoy!

On another note, I was featured on a fantastic blog called Copycat Mashup. The premise is where two artists are taken and “mashed up” to create a totally new project, inspired by the original artists work. Who knew I could be mashed up with sculptor and mobile artist Alexander Calder? Check it out–I hope they enter a pie next year in Pietopia!

I also wanted to introduce you to my friend and very talented photographer Abbey Hepner. All of her photos are pure magic and simply stunning. She did a small photo shoot for me last month and they turned out better than I had even imagined! Check out the rest of her work on her website and her blog.

Summer Salads and Central Oregon

July 6, 2010 |  by  |  berries, cake, dinner, healthy, nutrition, pasta, salad, travel, vegetables  |  6 Comments  |  Share

Versatile, seasonal, and low-cost. Those words are music to my ears! Especially when it comes to fantastic tasting summer salads for the many BBQ’s, get togethers, and parties the warmer months spur on. I’ve been really enjoying two salads in particular: a pesto pasta heirloom tomato salad and a wheat-berry spinach salad. Pesto is super versatile and is the perfect playground for imaginative flavor combination. You simply start with a green base: basil, mint, Italian parsley, or spinach to name a few. Then you add in a little zest: fresh garlic, scallions, red onion, green onion, etc. Next, you might want to bulk it up a little, try: pine nuts, fresh crumbly parmesan (Trader Joe’s sells some of my favorite Parmigiano-Reggiano), sun-dried tomatoes, etc. Of course, don’t forget the olive oil, nothing less than 1/4 cup will do–it needs to be nice and juicy. And there you go! This particular pesto salad I used Italian Parsley, sun-dried tomatoes, fresh garlic cloves, salt, pepper, and olive oil. It was fresh, summery, and delicious! Next time, I think I may try adding some Parmesan too, just to mix it up a little.

Parsley Pesto
1 bunch fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley
4 cloves fresh garlic
4 sun dried tomato halves, soaked in hot water for 15 mins
1/4 cup olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
optional 1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

Pulse in your food processor until a past, fold into pasta (I used Oreccheti pasta, one of my favorite shapes). Add sliced heirloom tomatoes and stir. Serve and enjoy!

Wheat berries are one of my favorite grains. I love their chewy texture and how satiating they are! I also love them because their flavor expands and develops the better you chew them. As someone who tends to eat on the fast side (or more like wolfing down food! I just get excited I guess), this has been a great food to eat for me to meditate a little more on the amazing range of flavors and textures a food can provide. Wheat berries tend to be more of a winter food, however, I’ve found that using them in cool summer salads have been great. I like the tangy flavor of the feta mixed with the subtle sweetness of the wheat berry and the green crunch of the fresh spinach. A dollop of olive oil, a squeeze of fresh lemon, a little pepper and wha-la, summer wheat berry salad!

Wheat Berry Salad
1 cup wheat berries, boiled in 4 cups water for 70 mins on low
1 package of feta cheese (I say the more the better, but this is total personal preference)
1 clove fresh garlic or 1 scallion, minced
1 bag or package of fresh baby spinach
1/2 small lemon juice
1/8 cup olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Wash wheat berries in a strainer until the water runs clear. Boil 4 cups water and add the washed berries, cook on low heat for 70 minutes. Strain berries from cooking water and transfer to a bowl. Add feta, garlic or scallion, spinach, lemon juice, and olive oil and stir. Let sit for a few minutes to let the spinach soften just a bit. Serve at room temperature and enjoy!

I made the avocado cake again and decorated the top with fresh raspberries (from my Aunt’s garden) and fresh strawberries (from Mt. Hood). I like cake.

Andrew and I went on a trip through Central Oregon for the holiday weekend. Oregon never ceases to amaze me–the coast is so beautiful but central Oregon has sun (and more sun!), desert, fantastic hikes, views of the Cascade’s that will blow your mind, and cute towns with good brew pubs. We first went to Crater Lake. We tried to go last year but the lake was hidden beneath a thick blanket of smoke from smoldering forest fires (they happen naturally from lightning). So we went again to get the full majestic and breathtaking views it has to offer.

Looks a lot like the Caribbean! Crater Lake’s water is clear and amazing.

We also went to Bend and Smith Rocks. The desert was beautiful–hot sun, but the air was cool. The temperature did not rise above 78 degrees F. We camped there then drove home the following day on some scenic back roads.

From left: Mt. Bachelor, The Three Sisters, Mt. Jefferson.

Andrew took this photo!

We stumbled upon these beautiful falls and a lake most appropriately called Clear Lake. Row boats beckoned us, so we went out on the lake for a break from our drive. This alpine lake was a gem to stumble upon!

Cheers for summer!

Vegan Chocolate Cake with Avocado

June 23, 2010 |  by  |  cake, chocolate, healthy, nutrition  |  11 Comments  |  Share

Last week, a friend of mine sent me a recipe for chocolate cake. This cake, unlike the regular good-ol’ butter variety, is made with avocado for it’s main source of fat (because we all know that in order for a baked good to be truly good, there needs to be some good fat in there!). I had never tried substituting avocado for butter before, but was definitely up to the challenge. This cake is vegan, and one of the best vegan cakes I’ve ever tried, at that. Vegan baking used to scare me a little–if there isn’t butter or eggs in it, what IS in it? I used to think. But, after experimenting with lots of recipes and sampling delicious vegan baked goods from the numerous vegan bakeries around town, I’ve decided they are absolutely equal players in the baking field.

I was pleasantly surprised with how light and moist the crumb of this cake was as well as how much chocolate flavor each bite packed. I was even more pleased about the fact that I was eating something packed full of healthy fats (the avocado), no white flour (whole wheat pastry flour), no white sugar (brown rice syrup and sucanant), and it was delicious. What is happening here? I wondered out loud. My mind used to get so boggled when thinking about baking things that wouldn’t make my teeth fall out, grow an extra tire around my waist, make my blood sugar soar, or all of the above. But, it’s possible! I think I am more amazed than anyone here, haha.

Give this cake a try! You won’t be disappointed. However, if you are looking for something super sweet, you might not enjoy it as much. But that is precisely why I did! I could actually taste the chocolate flavors and not just an overpowering sweetness. There are a couple of options for frosting too! I made a simple, very non-vegan frosting with some cultured cream cheese, whipped cream, and maple syrup. My friend made a fantastic coconut cream frosting (vegan) that, she said, rocked her world. And I’ve also seen another recipe for a spinach-whipped cream frosting. No joke, but she said it was good! I’d have to try it to believe it though. This cake is really versatile when it comes to toppings, so take your pick and go for it!

ps–Just a gentle reminder that Friday is the last day to enter Pietopia this year! Just 300 words (about a short paragraph) and and a recipe and you could win!

Cheers!

Vegan Chocolate Avocado Cake, adapted from the edible perspective
3 cups whole wheat pastry or all-purpose flour
8 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 cup brown rice syrup
3/4 cup sucanat or granulated sugar
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup soft avocado, well mashed, about 1 medium avocado
1 cup water
1 c almond milk or rice milk
2 Tablespoons vinegar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour two 8 or 9-inch rounds or 1 9 x 13-inch pan. Sift together all of the dry ingredients except the sugar. Set that aside.

Mix all the wet ingredients together in a bowl, including the super mashed avocado.
Add sugar into the wet mix and stir.

Mix the wet with the dry all at once, and beat with a whisk (by hand) until smooth.
Pour batter into a greased cake tins. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Let cakes cool in pan for 15 minutes, remove from pan and place on rack to cool completely before frosting.

Whipped Cream Cheese Frosting
1 package regular cultured cream cheese
2 cups heavy whipped cream
1/4 cup maple syrup

Whip the cream cheese and maple syrup until smooth. In another bowl, whip all the whipped cream until stiff peaks form. Add a few scoops of it to the cream cheese, folding it in and then blend well, then add the rest and whisk until completely blended.

Black bean brownies and agave nectar

June 16, 2010 |  by  |  agave nectar, brownies, healthy, nutrition, sugar  |  9 Comments  |  Share

What’s that, you say? Black Bean brownies? Yes, you didn’t read that wrong. These little dense chocolate squares of goodness are packed with dark chocolate flavor that melts in your mouth. They are flourless, heightening the chocolate-effect to a whole new level. So if you are gluten intolerant, this is a fantastic option for you.

I admit, I was curious. How would these turn out? Would they be…good? Or would they be just another new-fangled, health-crazed, recipe trying to turn a classic into something “healthy”? I had to find out. Reading through the recipe, I couldn’t tell how they would taste (namely because I had never purred beans into a baked good) but I was pleasantly surprised.

The only thing that caught me off guard was the cup and a half of agave nectar it called for. I mean, that stuff is sweet. For every tablespoon of honey, you only need about a teaspoon of agave–it’s intense. The thought of that much agave made my mouth pucker a bit. There is also a lot of controversy about agave nectar being a good sugar substitute. Unlike sugar, it has a very low glycemic index. Diabetics can use it because it doesn’t interfere with their insulin levels–meaning it doesn’t make their blood sugar go wonky when they eat it. However, the reason it doesn’t interfere with our insulin levels is because agave is processed in the body, through the liver, as fructose. Fructose does not get converted into blood glucose (or energy in the form of sugars from foods we eat including: whole grains, fruits, and even regular ol’ sugar–the most concentrated form), but rather it gets stored in our body as fat. Hmm.

Also, in order to get agave to it’s edible sweet form that we all know and can buy in bottles in the store, it goes through quite the process of refinement. This means that all of the natural enzymes that would normally help the body digest these high levels of fructose are gone, thus leaving our liver to do a big job of sorting through and processing everything. What do I think about agave? Moderation, moderation, moderation. I prefer over all raw, natural honey or maple syrup–they are my absolute favorites. I used to use a lot more agave (in my tea, on toast, etc…) but I don’t do that any more. The studies that I have read make me hesitant to eat too much of it–as it is constantly associated with being as bad, if not worse, for you as the dreaded High Fructose Corn Syrup. And in reality, they are both made quite similarly.

And knowing all this, I still made these brownies. I love the quest, the challenge, the different ingredients! And call it what you will, but it was so interesting to see how they would turn out in both flavor and especially texture. I am smitten with the flourless-ness that the black beans provided–they were as rich, moist, and dense as a flourless chocolate cake. This made my mind swirl with other ideas about using purred legumes in things! They also turned out to be a bit too sweet for my taste. If I ever end up making them again, I am going to play around with a combination of other sweeteners like molasses, maple syrup, honey, and brown rice syrup. (The recipe said to use a 1:1 ratio for honey as a substitute if you don’t have agave–if you try this, let me know how they turn out!) Make no mistake, these are not “healthy” for you! But they are fun to make, delicious to eat and share with friends. Did I mention they will satisfy major chocolate cravings? Yes, in a big way.

Cheers!

Black Bean Brownies, recipe adapted from 101 cookbooks

4 ounces unsweetened chocolate
1 cup unsalted butter
2 cups soft-cooked black beans, drained and rinsed well (about 1 can)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons instant coffee or espresso
3 tablespoons cocoa powder (I found adding this gave them a richer, deeper texture and flavor)
¼ teaspoon sea salt
4 large eggs
1½ cups raw, dark agave nectar (dark agave I feel heightens the chocolate flavor vs. the light agave which literally just adds “sweet” to what you use it in).

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Line an 11- by 18-inch (rimmed) baking pan (or jellyroll pan) with parchment paper and lightly oil with canola oil spray.

Melt the chocolate and butter in a glass bowl in the microwave for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes on high. Stir with a spoon to melt the chocolate completely. Place the beans, 1/2 cup of the walnuts, the vanilla extract, and a couple of spoonfuls of the melted chocolate mixture into the bowl of a food processor. Blend about 2 minutes, or until smooth. The batter should be thick and the beans smooth. Set aside.

In a large bowl, mix together the remaining 1/2 cup walnuts, remaining melted chocolate mixture, coffee substitute, and salt. Mix well and set aside.

In a separate bowl, with an electric mixer beat the eggs until light and creamy, about 1 minute. Add the agave nectar and beat well. Set aside.

Add the bean/chocolate mixture to the coffee/chocolate mixture. Stir until blended well.

Add the egg mixture, reserving about 1/2 cup. Mix well. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Using an electric mixer, beat the remaining 1/2 cup egg mixture until light and fluffy. Drizzle over the brownie batter. Use a wooden toothpick to pull the egg mixture through the batter, creating a marbled effect. (I ended up not doing this and it was absolutely fine). Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the brownies are set. Let cool in the pan completely before cutting into squares. (They will be soft until refrigerated.)

Makes 45 (2-inch) brownies.

Apricot almond whole wheat bread

June 10, 2010 |  by  |  bread, healthy, nutrition  |  17 Comments  |  Share

Tart, crunchy, crumbly, hearty, warm, soft, textured, sweet, and aromatic. A nutshell description of what you would encounter if you made this bread at home. It is so much more than that though–it’s an experience. First, it fills your house up with the warming smells of yeasted whole wheat bread as it rises and bakes. Then, as you are enveloped by the soft blanket of bready-aroma, you bite into a warm piece smothered in fresh butter–a little drips down your chin–and a zing! of apricot hits your tongue as you crunch into a small grounded piece of toasted almond. The bread is so warm and moist (the coconut shreds helped with that), that you don’t even need the butter and honey you find yourself spreading on top. But today, today you are being a little bit wild, a little decadent, even a little mischievous. Because if we were “good” all the time, life would be really dull and boring.

It felt good to be bad, but the funny part is, this bread is not bad for you–it’s great for you. And I’ve been enjoying it for breakfast and an afternoon snack since I made it! I am discovering that there really is a place for my beloved baking in the world of health. Not everything comes out like cardboard, a sugar cube, or a well oiled piece of paper (although, this has definitely happened). I find when I let my creative inhibitions flow, recipes like this literally emerge and I am quite satisfied. So much so, that I feel a bit mischievous. And I like it :).

Cheers!

Apricot Almond Whole Wheat Bread

5 cups whole wheat flour or spelt flour (+ about 1 cup more +/- to get it to more of a bread dough like consistency vs. a paste consistency)
1 package fast acting yeast
2 cups plain, organic, kefir (or buttermilk, or plain whole yogurt)
1/4 cup warm water
3 organic eggs
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 cup real maple syrup
2 tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 cup melted butter
1 cup unsulfured dried apricots, cut into pieces, soaked in boiling water for 20 mins.
3/4 cup shredded coconut
1 cup chopped almonds

In a 1/4 cup warm water, sprinkle the yeast and let it get nice and foamy. Meanwhile, combine the flour and kefir. Add the yeast and mix for about a minute. Add the eggs, sea salt, maple syrup, honey, baking soda, melted butter, apricots, and almonds. Knead until firm and spongy–I used my kitchen aide bread hook for this recipe and had to add about 1 more cup of flour to get it spongy. While stirring, add a 1/2 cup more at a time while kneeding with the bread hook to get it from a paste-like consistency to a more bread-like one. Even then, it may feel a little more soft than normal which is OK. Let rise until doubled in size (this will vary too, mine didn’t double but it rose enough where I was confident in putting it in the oven, when I did, it rose beautifully during the baking process), in a warm place. Bake at 350 for 45-55 mins, until a toothpick or knife comes out clean. Serve warm and enjoy!

Molasses, minerals, and your liver

June 5, 2010 |  by  |  healthy, minerals, molasses, nutrition  |  6 Comments  |  Share

Spring has sprung late this year in Portland. With over 20 consecutive days of rain, hard rain, we’ve all been very much so ‘under the weather’, so to speak, up here in the Pacific Northwest. Everyone from the students in my yoga classes to the usually chipper staff at my local grocery have been in a little bit of a funk–myself included.

During this past month of rain and cold, I haven’t found myself craving my normal spring palate of foods. Fresh, crisp greens such as Napa or Savoy cabbage, spring peas, and even fruits like my favorite strawberry have eluded me. Instead, I’ve been eating things like dark rye bread with a thick layer of molasses butter spread on top, hearty curries, whole grains, legumes, and even more seaweed interspersed throughout different dishes and meals. All of these foods are heavier, warmer, denser, and, interestingly, are high in minerals (especially the sea weed).

Eating this way while the sun has been in (what seems like) permanent hiding has felt good–yet it isn’t my normal behavior at this time of year. So I started to investigate, looking to find exactley why this is from a physical standpoint. I just want to say here that the body is amazing–it will tell you exactley what you need when you need it, or don’t need it, if you know how to listen to what it is trying to tell you! Why is this? Or better yet, how does this happen? Subtle clues–like cravings or hunger pangs,–or sometimes not so subtle clues–like headaches or digestive problems– will queue you in to what you need. In my case, my body was screaming for more minerals, and even a little comfort, through the grounding, warming foods I’ve been recently eating.

The molasses was what really struck me as odd. I’ve never before really enjoyed the taste of just straight molasses–it has such a heavy, dark flavor that is sometimes quite unpalatable for me. So why all of a sudden am I craving it? Molasses is jam packed with some amazing minerals and vitamins that I’ve been needing more of: magnesium, or the super mineral I like to call it, actually helps the body absorb calcium extremely well, iron, copper, calcium, potassium, manganese, vitamin B6, and selenium. These minerals are important for everyone, but especially women to get enough of. Maintaining healthy levels of iron in the body is important as an integral component of hemoglobin, which transports oxygen from the lungs to all body cells, and is also part of key enzyme systems for energy production and metabolism. If you have an iron deficiency, you are probably feeling tired more often than you’d like. It’s also fantastic for your hair, skin, and nails.

I also referenced one of my favorite resources, Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford, and found another theory that interestingly overlaid with the purely physical explanation of mineral deficiency. The sweet flavor, explains Pitchford, is appropriate in every season and especially desirable for harmony during seasonal changes. Examples of warming, sweet foods include spearmint, sweet rice, sweet potato, mochi, rice syrup, molasses, sunflower seed, pinenut, walnut, and cherry.

Pitchford goes on to further explain the Chinese Medicine theory for the source of disharmony–too many desires (whether for sex, fame, power, security, money, etc.) can blind our proper judgment so that inappropriate actions and diet may be chosen. Most importantly, Pitchford states, is that regardless of diet, emotions themselves when driven by the desire-complex of greed, anger, and resentment greatly damage liver function. In Chinese Medicine, the theory is that unresolved emotional issues are stored physically as residues of excess in the liver, while emotional clarification unlocks and releases them. Therefore, as the diet improves, it is necessary to liberate emotional obstructions–if they are not, an emotional cripple can find a way to pervert even a sound diet so that it supports his or her current disturbances.

Pitchford has even created a list of the both physical and emotional symptoms of liver deficency and then lists the dietary principals and steps to be taken to heal the liver. Interestingly enough, foods that harmonize the liver are also regarded as important for eating in the spring, including whole grains, legumes, vegetables, and molasses.

The investigation into my sudden molasses craving proved to be more complex and interesting than I imagined. Those cravings for molasses had as much to do with mineral deficiency as they did an emotional state– they may have also been part of an age old tradition the intelligence of the body tapped into of preparing oneself for the spring and warmer weather in the summer. The “deficiency in the liver”–a major cause of this being emotional stress–certainly brought me pause and awareness to how I am thinking, and more so how much I am thinking about (aka: worrying) things. It’s also given me some important insight to seasonal eating, my body’s needs, and the importance of minerals for me in my daily diet. Have you been craving anything in particular lately?

Molasses Butter, via Debora Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everybody

1/3 cup blackstrap molasses
1 stick cultured, pasture fed butter (just found this great butter, it’s incredible!)

In a pot, heat the molasses with the butter until melted. Remove when totally melted and whisk until completely blended. Pour into a small mason jar, let cool. It can live on your counter, no refrigeration needed.

Try a teaspoon of this in your oatmeal, on toast, in french toast batter; put a little bit in your bread dough, muffins, and cookies. Enjoy!

Sugar, another side

May 31, 2010 |  by  |  healthy, nutrition, sugar  |  10 Comments  |  Share

Excessive sugar consumption, writes Annemarie Colbin author of Food & Healing, is believed to be involved in a host of very common problems: hypoglycemia or hyperinsulinism, diabetes, heart disease, dental caries, high cholesterol, obesity, indigestion, myopia, seborrheic dermatitis, gout, genetic narrowing of pelvic and jaw structures, crowding and malformation of teeth, hyperactivity, lack of concentration, depression, anxiety, psychological disorder, insanity, and even violent criminal behavior. In addition, it raises our insulin levels, inhibiting the release of growth hormones, which depresses the immune system. Too much sugar, literally, can make you sick.

So why all the fuss? Considering all the damage that sugar can do to our bodies and minds, why do people love it so much? How come certain people just can’t seem to get enough? After reading this long list of ailments, I took a long pause. I started thinking about my own personal draw to sugar, especially during my more formative, learning years. I remember it tasting good, there were a lot of things I could make with it, and I literally craved it. Even as recent as six months ago, if I was needing comfort, I would run to the kitchen to bake a dozen chocolate chip cookies to calm myself. But interestingly, I’ve noticed I haven’t done this in about four or five months. The education I am receiving at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition could have something to do with it, but it was what Colbin explains next that hit home for me.

If the whole earth is a system, she explains, and living systems tend to keep themselves balanced as they evolve toward forms of higher complexity, sugar eating must fit somewhere in earth’s balancing act. Throughout this book, she gives energetic properties to different foods. One theory is that sugar is associated with strengthening our ego awareness and enhancing our personalities because she has labeled it as expansive (light, scattering of thoughts, associated with short bursts elation/happiness).

Now I was really interested to see where this theory would go—somehow I felt like I was being directly spoken to.

Colbin is not the first to make such statements. Rudolph Hauschka, a German scientist, scholar, and researcher at The Clinical Therapeutic Institute at Arlesheim was the first to discuss sugar in this effect. Sugar has done its job, says Hauschka, when people develop a full consciousness of themselves as individuals and of their place in the universal order.

This certainly makes a lot of sense when thinking about children and teenagers addiction to sugar and sugary substances. They can’t get enough! Because they are in process of gaining their independence and finding themselves. With this in mind, I came to realize my lack of desire to bake super sweet goodies has dropped off a cliff since I’ve been feeding myself on a deeper level and doing something that I am absolutely passionate about. I am not craving sugar because I have found a purpose—something that I love and am excited about. Holistic health was such a natural segue that it was effortless in my decision to follow that path—always a clear sign for me that something is right. Colbin and Hauschka make it clear that, once we become clear and comfortable with ourselves, we don’t need sugared sweets anymore.

Something that I find fascinating is the interconnectedness, the wholeness of our direct relationship we have with the food we put inside our bodies. Not only does it make us feel a specific way physically, but it has psychological and emotional effects as well. Interestingly, this theory put into words something I had been feeling for quite some time and I was compelled to share it with you. What are your thoughts or observations about sugar?

Chia Pudding

May 28, 2010 |  by  |  coconut, dessert, healthy, snacks  |  4 Comments  |  Share

Ah, sugar–we go way back–as far back as I can remember, actually. I would go into the kitchen and bake something when I felt bored, alone, or entertaining myself. I have a very clear memory about how I started baking: I was maybe 8 or 9 and I had been bugging my mom quite a bit about “being bored”. I’m so bored! I would whine to her. She would rattle off her regular list of things I could go and occupy myself with: go play outside, read a book, play with your dollhouse (yes, I interior decorated that thing like you would not believe!), and she’d always throw in “you could always do some chores” in which case I usually found myself something to do pretty quickly. But one day, she added to the list, bake some cookies, and I thought “hey, I can bake some cookies!”. It was one of those self-realization childhood moments–yes, I CAN do that! For an eight or nine year old, that was pretty big.

So I got in there and never looked back. The kitchen became a place of empowerment and positivity–I could make things and make them well. I could create new flavors, smells, and textures all by myself that were delicious. I found refuge in the kitchen. And the irony is the kitchen is a place my mother and her generation worked so hard at getting themselves out of. But positive reinforcement after positive reinforcement (oh, this tastes wonderful! or, Trish, can you make us some of your wonderful _______?) I felt drawn into that room like a bee to honey.

These past three years however, my approach to cooking and to self-healing has grown yet again. Instead of using sugar to give myself a hug, I now use it more sparingly and only for special occasions. And I find that I enjoy it that way even more (and after years of using sugar in one way, this actually surprises me a bit). I also have found that the less I eat granulated sugar in my foods, the less I crave it. I used to get really emotional just reading about the attributes of sugar (seeing words like bad and addictive, etc etc…), thinking to myself the whole time “no one’s taking away any sweets from me!”. Hilarious, I know. But quite revealing when it came to understanding my body’s needs vs. my heart’s needs.

I found these Chia Seeds at my local New Seasons market in their bulk section. Try Whole Foods or your local food co-op too :)

So how the heck does Chia Pudding fit into all this? Well let me tell you. It’s one of the best desserts I’ve had in ages and there is no sugar in it. It is sweetened with a little real maple syrup, but the whole fat coconut milk is what really satisfies the sweet tooth. Chia seeds (yes, I’m talkin’ about those seeds that are used to make the infamous Chia Pet–cha cha cha chia!) are great for lowering cholesterol and helping with thyroid issues, along with many other things. And it has to be whole coconut milk–in case you missed the Better Bites post about Healthy Fats, check it out. Light coconut milk is missing most of it’s amazing mineral and healthful properties. Whole coconut milk is not only delicious–and seriously one of my favorite foods on the planet–but it is full of good things like potassium and phosphorous and it is a natural immune system builder. I find that a little goes a long way too because it is so rich, just how I like it!

I use Native Forest canned coconut milk because it is BPA free

The pudding comes out in the consistency of tapioca. These little amazing seeds get a bit gummy and chewy like a tapioca would, expanding as they sit in the coconut milk. You can really use any type of liquid milk or juice for this–mango juice, apple juice, green juice for a more pudding-type consistency–coconut milk or regular whole milk, for a more cream-like consistency. It was even better the second day–a much thicker consistency more like ice cream, after leaving it in the fridge in a tupperware over night. Cheers!

Ch-ch-ch-Chia Pudding via Find Your Balance
4 Tbl. chia seeds
3/4 cup organic whole-fat coconut milk
1 Tbl. maple syrup
Topping options are endless: fruit, nuts, shredded coconut, cocoa, cinammon…

In a bowl, combine seeds with coconut milk. Stir well. Let mixture sit for 20-30 minutes. Stir every 5-10 minutes. The consistency will become thick and tapioca like. Add maple syrup and stir. You may refrigerate at this point for a cool treat, but it’s also good at room temperature. Add toppings and enjoy!